Friday, July 31, 2015

Transparency—the management concept equivalent of penicillin!

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

When the signers of the Uruguay Round Multilateral trade agreement emphasized the need for transparency in the way the newly created World Trade Organization (WTO) would make its decisions, it heralded an end to the back room wheeling and dealing that had categorized the organization that it would replace. It was a transformative decision.

Isn’t the concept of transparency a good litmus test for any decision? The simple question—would you do what you did if anyone and everyone knew? One manager told me he advised his staff never to write anything in an email that they would not mind seeing on the front page of The Washington Post!

Transparency weeds out the harm that “insiders” can do to an organization. Transparency kills corruption in its tracks! Or to use another commercial jingle: Try it, you’ll like it!

Friday, July 24, 2015


By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Virtually every association membership survey our firm has undertaken over the past 17 years has shown that members most appreciate the local contacts they have with their association--as opposed to their relationship with the more distant national headquarters or even more distant international headquarters operations, if they have one. “Out of sight, out of mind” certainly holds true at this level. This means that in gathering and keeping members organizations that have an existing chapter network usually have a built-in advantage over organizations that do not.

But, having said this, we also know of many instances where either unruly or dormant chapters can cause mangers back in headquarters to pull their hair out in frustration. So which is it?—are chapters useful, or are they a management pain-in-the-neck?

The truthful answer is “both.” Chapters are an incredibly good tool for mobilizing the grassroots, and finding and keeping new members; but they are far from being maintenance-free. Those organizations that have the best chapter networks have understood that they are dependent on fallible, time-strapped, volunteers who mean well but who often lack the experience, knowledge and resources to do lead their chapters the way they might like; so headquarters has a big role to play if these well-meaning volunteers are not to end up embarrassed, harassed and bitter at their experience.

Well-run chapter networks have the following:

• A team or at least a person back at headquarters dedicated to working with the chapters
• A leadership recruitment plan for identifying and cultivating future chapter leaders
• A leadership training program designed to equip chapter leaders with the skills and knowledge they will need to do their jobs effectively
• A tracking mechanism through which chapters can compare their performance
• A list-serve through which chapter leaders can learn from each other
• A “chapter starter’s kit” that includes “best practices” and answers to frequently asked questions as well as a list of dos and don’ts
• Products and services developed at headquarters but offered through the chapters. (This might include ways in which distant chapters can participate remotely in association meetings and conferences in other parts of the globe.)

Successful chapters have the additional advantage of keeping headquarters on their toes. It is not uncommon to see large and successful chapters out-shine headquarters on occasion!—but this is a good problem to have.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The three things our clients need to do to transform to an innovative culture

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

The three things our clients need to do to transform to an innovative culture:

1. Be absolutely committed in their belief that what they do matters

• low staff turnover
• belief in the organization’s vision and mission and passionate about their role(s) in helping to realize them—as measured by achievement of strategic objectives

2. Have what Thomas Edison once described as his “idea factory”—an interactive, fact-driven structure that consistently turns out cutting edge products and services, as perceived by the market(s) the organization serves

• growing sales of products and services that the organization produces at prices that cover the full costs of production

3. Embody an outward turning culture that celebrates a core belief that each other’s success is as important as their own.

• The number and quality of successful strategic partnerships the organizations cultivates

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Fact-based Decision Making

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

When I was a staffer on Capitol Hill I recall hearing two different stories told quite often during debates on the Senate floor.

One was: There are three types of lies in the world—simple lies; damn lies; and then there are statistics!

The other was: As the Bible says, “Come let us reason together.” We all have our points of view on which we differ, but we should at least be able to agree on the facts—they are what they are. Facts are stubborn things….

Both assertions are true of course. No one needs a course in statistics to know that the gathering and presentation of facts is a serious matter and that a lot of pseudo-science underlies a lot of the “facts” we see cited in advertising that bombards us every day. But it is also true that no rational debate can occur and no sound decision can be made that is not founded on the facts. This is true in all cases and particularly true in board of director meetings—those groups of leaders made up of “type A” personalities, all of whom are quite certain they know the way forward…..

As association managers, we have all had to herd cats on occasion, haven’t we? In this, facts have a way of focusing attention in the right direction. Lacking this compass, we are faced with rule by the most dominant personality, the loudest voice, or the one most skilled in Machiavellian intrigue.

But what are these facts on which your organization makes its decisions? Are they what is true for your board of directors, according to their experience?--your membership, according to their needs and perceptions?—or are they what is true for the market at large? When they differ, which set of facts weigh most heavily on the scales for your organization?

Friday, July 3, 2015

High Tech or High Touch?

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

This news lead caught my attention:
“Supermarket giant Kroger Co. (KR) is winning the war against lengthy checkout lines with a powerful weapon: infrared cameras long used by the military and law-enforcement to track people.”

Aren’t those association managers of membership organizations who feel they are offering their members something special by eschewing technology in favor of more personal human interaction gambling that a personal touch will outweigh a member’s consideration of cost and time as factors that they value most? As much as I value (sometimes) talking with a human being, when it comes to service, I much prefer not waiting in line or being put on hold before being able to get the product or service I want. Don’t most people feel the same?

Although the upfront costs of technology may be high, these costs are or should be paid for by the first or second year through the savings in efficiency that they generate. So while the human touch may have its charming side, managers would do well to recognize this approach is silently siphoning off capital your organization could be using to create the new products and services you need to maintain your organization’s relevancy and competitiveness in an increasingly competitive landscape.

I like the military reference of this news headline—because it seems to me a manager’s role in part is to wage war against organizational inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Will Kroger’s approach work?—maybe, maybe not but their managers deserve credit for their creative and right-thinking approach in seeking to provide better service.