About Jeri Denniston

Jeri Denniston is a certified Strategic Management Professional with proven performance in strategic marketing, social media strategies, management, public relations, and business planning. During her career she has mentored and trained co-workers and staff in communication and leadership skills, facilitated board and management retreats, led workshops in strategic management and systems thinking, and directed strategic planning projects for the development of new products and markets in the financial, marketing information and publishing industries. Skilled in digital marketing, she teaches internet marketing and social media & mobile marketing at Yavapai College. Jeri's language skills include high level fluency in Spanish and proficiency in French. She has a masters in international management from Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, AZ.

Strategies and tactics in Tour de France

“I’m a sprinter. It’s my job,” said Mark Cavendish

Strategies and tactics. Roles and responsibilities. Mark Cavendish’s response clearly shows he knows his role, when the interviewer asked him how he did.

The strategies and tactics of each team change continuously during this 21-day race. The Tour de France, which started on July 2nd, is the world’s most grueling bike race. It crosses France, dips into the Pyrenees and then the Alps, before finishing on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Strategies and Tactics are Fluid

Each team of 9 riders and multiple support staff, is a highly organized and coordinated machine. Everyone on the team has a role and each person understands their role and the impact he has on the rest of the team. As Cavendish said, his job is to gain points in the sprint finishes, and try to win as many stages as possible. This helps the team move up in the overall General Classification, and it gains him individual points, as well as potential podium positions at the end of each stage. So far, Cavendish has 29 stage wins to his Tour de France career – more than any other rider in the 113 years of this race.

Teams wouldn’t succeed unless everyone knew their role. One leader is chosen as having the best potential to win the yellow jersey and thus the Tour de France. The rest act as support crew to keep him safe from crashes and make sure he’s positioned well to win points and lead the race. Some are mountain climbers who excel in the Pyrenees and Alps climbs. Others are domestiques who ferry water bottles from the team cars to their fellow team mates and create lead-out trains for the favored sprinter(s) on the team. Their job is to keep the leader and the sprinters safe and well positioned to win during the 21 days of the race.

The strategies and tactics of some teams are to concentrate only on improving their standings in the General Classification with the goal of getting both a team win and the overall yellow jersey. For them, the early stage wins are less important than making sure their key guy and their sprinters are safely positioned and don’t lose time to any other teams.

Other teams focus on earning King of the Mountain or Sprinter jerseys, and building the strength, endurance and collaboration of their team members. These teams may be newer to the Tour de France, and haven’t developed their members into the well-oiled machines of BMC, Team Sky, Movistar, or Astana.

The Tour de France is an excellent example of strategies and tactics at work, as well as teamwork and leadership. Over the course of the 21 days, each team’s strategies and tactics may change depending on external factors, such as weather, illness, crashes, and competitive challenges from other teams. The overall leader could crash out of the race or get so ill he has to abandon. If that happens, the team needs to pick another leader to rally the rest of the team around.

Listen to the interviews and you’ll gain insights into some of the strategies the teams are using to be successful.

How might you apply some of these same concepts to your business? What can be learned from the Tour de France?

Leading by walking around

Leading by walking around is a great management techiniqueThis article about leading by walking around (http://bit.ly/leadbywalking) stimulated recollections about my own experience while working at National Decision Systems. The first three years were the best experience of my career. Why? Because the CEO did exactly as this article suggests. He led by walking around.

He wouldn’t just call people on the phone or send emails. He dropped by their office unannounced and asked thought-provoking questions. Visiting people where they work is an excellent leadership technique to follow and one I made sure to model.

I remember one such visit to my office after turning in my report on the most recent user conference I had run. My first thought was, “Oh, oh. What did I not do right?”

He wanted to know why I thought the conference was successful. How did I measure success? Wow! No one had asked me that before. I had to really think about it. The purpose was to generate new sales, which we did. It was also to get customers more engaged with the products….which we did. So that met two of my measures of success. The 3-day event went smoothly for attendees – that was another measure of my own. Yes, there were hiccups, but only I was aware of them, and I resolved them right away. The customer feedback was also excellent, so that also told me we hit a home run.

Leading by walking around makes an impact

The CEO’s appearance in my office to sit down across from me and ask my input made a real impact on me. I modeled my own leadership that way with my direct reports. Instead of sitting in my office and calling them in, I got up and went to their desks to ask questions and get their input. I did this with people in other departments as well. If I had a question that needed answering, I walked over to their office and asked the question. That action helped me build great working relationships throughout the company and a willingness to help even when it was outside their immediate scope of work. If they knew the answer or how to get it done, they would pitch in.

Leading by walking around helps you build those relationships. You also learn so much because you give others the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise. This type of technique should not be to deliver bad news or only to give praise. If the only time you visit someone’s office is to do either of these, then eventually the staff gets jaded.

Visit your people in their offices to ask thoughtful questions and find out what they know. You might be very surprised and learn a few things yourself!

Agile Decision Making Framework is Flexible

The answer is Yes, you can! The question is, can you use the Agile Decision Making Framework for anything besides strategic planning?

Adapting the Agile Decision Making framework to social media planninggThe beauty of the Agile Decision Making Framework is that it can be applied to any type of project – even marketing and social media planning. The framework helps you focus your thinking by answering five strategic questions as you work your way around the template.

Many social media plans I’ve seen start with identifying your ideal customer and their specific needs. While this is important, it’s not the place to start.

Define your outcomes first

As with strategic planning, you need to start with your future outcomes. That way the actions you take are designed to help you achieve those outcomes. Otherwise, you’re just throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping some of it sticks.

Using the Agile Decision Making Framework, start with Phase A, answering the question, Where do we want to be?  What do you want to accomplish through social media marketing? They should support the higher level outcomes of your organization’s overall strategic plan. Once you’ve determined which social media outcomes can help support those, you can begin to focus on your ideal customers and their needs. In the process, you’ll need to also identify which social media platforms they use the most so you focus your efforts there when you’re ready to take action.

Once you’ve completed Phase A, move on the Phase E. This will help you identify the future external factors that could have an impact on the actions you take today.  These become your future Opportunities and / or Threats that you need to consider so you’re prepared to respond should any of them occur. Why look at the external environment you ask? Because your business doesn’t operate in a vacuum. What happens locally and even globally can have profound effects on your customers, their needs, and their desires for your products and services.

With social media, you have to continually be tracking these future trends because new platforms emerge and popular ones lose favor. You don’t want to be stuck on an island by stuck on an islandyourself after your customers have moved over to another platform. If you don’t periodically focus on Phase E, you could be missing the boat!

Once you’ve reviewed Phases A and E, you can move on to Phase B. This is where you identify the specific targets you want to reach and track through social media, answering the question, How will we know when we get there?

These may include the number of click throughs on your links, or a specific increase in customer engagement on your Facebook page, or a percentage increase in website traffic and/or subscribers to your email list. The more specific, the better, so you can track your efforts and see what progress you’re making.

Phase C comes next, answering the question, Where are we today?  The first three phases were focused on your future outcomes, your ideal customer’s needs, external trends, and specific goals. This phase looks at your current situation. What are your Strengths and Weaknesses related to social media? Are you just starting? Do you have a strong team working in this area? Do you need to hire a consultant to help? How well do you know the various platforms – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, etc.? How well versed are you with Google Analytics and Google Adwords? Those are the kinds of skill sets you want to list under your Strengths and Weaknesses. You should also fill out the Opportunities and Threats areas, which came from the external scan you did in Phase E.

By now, you should begin to see some major themes evolving. These become your high level strategies which you list under Phase D, answering the question, How will we get there? These are the specific actions you need to implement to close the gap between your current situation and your future outcomes. Some high level strategies might be training, hiring external talent, creating a social media policy, and customer engagement. Under each strategy will be specific actions you need to take, such as finding online training webinars, advertising for talent, researching social media policies you might adapt to your organization, and creating a content calendar.

Using the Agile Decision Making Framework makes the process of creating your social media plan fairly simple and fast. The next step is to write it up and share it with your team. Then start to implement it!

Planning without action is just dreaming.

Millennials Will Change the World

Oh to be young again!

When I watch Ted Talk videos by Millennials who are smart, confident and know what direction they want to take with their lives, I wish I were 30 years younger to share in that future. WOW! I mean, really, WOW!

Stacey Ferreira - Millennials are ScrewedThese young people like Stacey Ferreira have it together. They aren’t stupid or lazy. They have different expectations based on the world they’re exposed to. These Millennials have a different outlook on work/life balance. They want to be productive. Millennials want to have an impact on changing what doesn’t work. They aren’t afraid to share their opinions and ideas with top executives. If you don’t like what they have to say, so be it. If you do, use it. These 2 billion Millennials are out to change the world.

That’s so different from when I was starting my career. Those were the days of learning corporate gamesmanship. Remember the book, “Games Mother Never Taught You”? It’s about all the terminology women need to know and the game-playing that goes on in traditional corporate workplaces run predominantly by men. That was about understanding the football and baseball strategies and terms and applying them to what was happening in the work place. If you wanted to get ahead, you learned to play those games. And I got so tired of it. What a waste of time!

Millennials have a totally different outlook. It’s not about who plays the game best, it’s about doing it together to improve the product or strategy or workplace or world. These are collaborators, working together in open offices, not turf warriors protecting their kingdoms. I would love to play in that world instead of the one I grew up in.

But the future is about the younger generation. We adults who have been there and done it differently, need to stand aside and support them, nurture their creative spirits, and help where we can.

What an amazing generation this is!

The Art of Possibility: Rule Number 6

Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “Kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws. The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again 20 minutes later by an hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and a n apology. When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?” “Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so god damn seriously.’” After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?”

           “There aren’t any.”   

~ from The Sixth Practice in The Art of Possibility

 

I’m re-reading The Art of Possibility by Dr. Rosamund Stone Zander and Boston Philharmonic Conductor Benjamin Zander. The chapter, Leading from Any Chair, discusses the “silent conductor” in all of us – the importance of leading from wherever you are in life or work. We don’t need to be managers, CEOs, and senior executives in order to lead. Everyone can be a leader, regardless of age or position. We lead by helping others do their best. If we know how to perform a task, we demonstrate and explain the process to another person trying to learn it. We don’t wait for “the boss” to tell everyone how it’s done. We don’t hold back from showing someone else because we want to be better than him or her. We help them learn so we can all do our best. In this manner, we are all leading as “silent conductors” from any seat.

The art of being a “silent conductor” is to listen and watch for passion and commitment from others. In The Art of Possibility, Zander suggests the leader look in the eyes of those individuals and invite them to share. Speak to their passion. Ask yourself, “who am I being that they are not shining?” That gives you, as the leader, the opportunity to be a “silent conductor”, to ask for feedback, and pass the leadership baton.

Even children can be leadersIn The Art of Possibility, the chapter on Rule Number 6 is about humor and lightening up. Often we take ourselves too seriously. As leaders we frequently try so hard to prove our worth, to succeed against all odds, to be better than everyone else, we forget that the goal is “together we all win”, not “I win, and therefore you lose.”

Our “Calculating Self”, as Zander calls it, wants to survive in a world of scarcity. It’s the voice that tells us take actions that get us noticed, to be strong, to be right, to win at all costs. It’s the voice that drives us on, always striving for something just out of reach. We’re never satisfied.

It takes many forms: the parent who acknowledges his child’s B+ and says, “That’s good, but with a little more work, you could have gotten an A.” Or the boss who tells his people, “I expect your work to be perfect; regardless of what it takes to achieve that.” Or the educator who tells her students, “Follow the outline exactly without deviation.”

Rule Number 6 reminds us to “lighten up” and stop taking ourselves so seriously. There are many paths to success and we each have different approaches. Rarely is there only one “Right Way”. So when you find yourself falling into the trap of the “Calculating Self”, stop and ask yourself:

What would have to change for me to be completely fulfilled?”
“What new possibilities might emerge if I were to change my thinking?”

Is it the situation or the people you are with? Is it an expectation you have that others can’t live up to? What change will bring about peace of mind to you and to others? Perhaps it’s merely to interject a little humor into the situation.

Laughter is a powerful tool for dispelling tension and opening up possibilities; such as . Zander’s comment to the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra when they were practicing Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. The students were tired and tense, having just taken standardized tests, and were missing notes and key entrances in the music. He said, “Take it straight through the second movement, and NO MISTAKES. If you make a mistake…..a five-hundred pound cow will fall on your head.”

And that’s what The Art of Possibility is all about….seeing possibilities where none seem to exist. You can find the book on page 4 of our Strategy Book Store.

Employee Rewards Can Be Motivational

Recently, I came across a book I haven’t opened in a long time. It’s called 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, by Bob Nelson. The book (which was updated in 2012 to 1501 Ways to Reward Employees) lists a variety of ways to use employee rewards as a way to recognize achievement. These include no cost ideas such as one-minute praises and bravo cards, to low cost ideas like bringing the person a bagged lunch for a week from a gourmet sandwich shop. It also lists ideas for more expensive rewards, such as trips, dinner for two, and various types of gift certificates.

In my experience, how the employee rewards are delivered is critical. If the praise isn’t heartfelt and the recognition is done to fulfill the requirements of a weekly recognition program, the staff will not feel appreciated. It won’t feel authentic and they will grow to resent it.

Employee rewards must be authentically delivered and heartfelt.So before you launch a recognition program, be sure to clearly define the scope of the program, and the types of behavior you want to recognize and why. Are you doing this just because you heard from others that employee recognition is important? Or are you doing this to try to shift behavior, create a new culture, and/or work towards a long term organizational goal?

Ken Blanchard has written a great deal about the subject of leadership and building high performing teams. Praise needs to be authentic and heartfelt. Don’t praise just to go through the motions. In his book, The One Minute Manager (recently updated), he talks about catching people off guard doing something right. Then giving them praise at that moment. Those are the “one-minute praises”. Don’t wait until the staff gets together for a team meeting and then give the praise. It will come off as not authentic and something the boss is doing to prove what a great boss he or she is. The staff will resent it.

On the other hand, if it’s appropriate to give praise in a public setting such as a staff meeting, do so, but make sure you gave the individual a one-minute praise beforehand, even if it was days before. The public recognition will be an additional and more well-received reward; especially when the behavior being recognized fits within the scope of the rewards and recognition program you’ve established.

All that being said, here are some unique ideas I came across in the book, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees:

  • Close a few hours early one day and take everyone to a shopping mall. Give each person $25 to spend and tell them to gather together in one hour. Then share and compare what each person bought with their $25 and why they chose the items(s) they did. This could be instead of a holiday or sales bonus.
  • Hold occasional fun contests. These should be planned by the managers, not the staff. If staff members are assigned on a rotating basis, it becomes another chore or work-related task, not a fun event. Contests can include St. Patrick’s Day or Halloween costume contests, or themed pot luck dish competitions. Rewards can be cash and/or gift certificates for restaurants, movie theater tickets, sporting events, etc.
  • Celebrate a Day of Excellence once a year with fun learning activities for all employees. Or let each staff person choose a day during the year that is their “special day”. Managers then surprise that person with fun activities during lunch or late in the afternoon of that day.

Let us know your thoughts about employee rewards programs and any unique ideas you have implemented in your organization.

Use Servant Leadership to Feed Your Passions

Every time I sit down to write an article I get writer’s block -where to find my inspiration. Some people say, just start writing. Eventually, something will develop into a coherent article. Or focus on your passions and see what develops. The problem is that there are several things I am passionate about and they don’t seem interrelated – servant leadership, helping organizations create positive employee cultures, helping women succeed, designing and implementing online marketing strategies, social media marketing, smart phone apps, technology that increases productivity, gluten free cooking, oil and water color painting, writing. I could go on.

Let’s start with servant leadership

I really believe this is an important leadership style, and have always done my best to lead this way. It comes second nature to me. Perhaps that’s because my mother was my role model. She led by example and through coaching. My biggest success comes from helping others find their “aha” moments. Seeing others develop to their fullest potential, following their passions, is very gratifying. When I Googled servant leadership, I found this definition on greenleaf.org which describes my leadership style perfectly:

That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived? (source: https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/)

I see this in the online social media marketing classes I teach through Yavapai College. If I can impact one or two students who tell me “they got it; they learned so much and are eager to put that learning into practice”…Wow! That’s a win for me. It makes the hours of preparation and planning worthwhile – and the time put into updating the curriculum and re-recording the learning modules.

Applying servant leadership elsewhere

As a consultant I no longer have direct reports to lead and manage. So how can I put this passion for servant leadership into practice elsewhere? One way is with the work I do with and for my clients. Helping them achieve their goals is very satisfying. That I get paid to do so is also gratifying. However, if the work I do for them is not helping, then I don’t feel I’ve delivered the value they deserve. It’s not always because of what I did or didn’t do. Frequently, it’s because the client didn’t follow through on their end to implement or complete the project or process. I did my part. They didn’t want me to go further. Then they dropped the ball. It’s frustrating for me because I can see the potential result down the road if we could just continue a bit longer. The servant leader in me wants to pick up the ball and run with it…but if the client isn’t willing, I need to move on.

Servant leadership - feed your passionAnother way to put servant leadership into practice is through volunteer work. I’ve done this over the years with a nonprofit I co-founded in 2002, ArtsBusXpress. I continue to contribute knowledge, leadership and time because I’m passionate about their mission – to fund transportation to the arts and sciences for school children in San Diego County. The impacts are far-reaching, which makes it a gratifying project to support.

Recently, my husband/partner and I joined the Bradshaw Mountain Kiwanis Club. Our friends who are heavily involved with 4-H and the Boy Scouts have re-started the club in order to help kids in the community. One of the big projects is the annual Kiwanis auction, now in its 68th year. It’s run by the Prescott Kiwanis Club, but through our friends, the Bradshaw Mountain Kiwanis club has participated in order to raise funds for the Lonesome Wranglers 4-H Club.

How does this tie into servant leadership? By taking a leadership role in the Bradshaw Mountain Kiwanis Club. helping to acquire auction items, and spreading the word through online and social media marketing, I will help both clubs achieve their goals. The Prescott Kiwanis Club’s fundraising goal is $155,000 this year. They raised a little over $151,000 last year. The Bradshaw Mountain Kiwanis Club goal is to match or surpass the amount raised for 4-H last year.

In the process of talking to business owners about the Kiwanis Auction to get auction contributions, I will also have the opportunity to ask them about what they do, what their goals are, and how they want to promote their business. This may lead to a deeper conversation about what I do and why I’m involved in this project. Who knows?

The goals are multiple: 1) help the kids by raising funds through auction items and donations, 2) help local businesses gain visibility and feel good about their philanthropy, and 3) feed my passion for servant leadership by helping others achieve their objectives. Looks like a win-win-win situation!

So what’s your passion?

Fear of Failure…or Success

Rebecca Massey quit a safe, reliable job to pursue her dream of writing. She saved up money, and reduced her expenses by moving out of the city to a small place hours away from her friends. She faced her fear of failure and found new freedoms and success.

Her article struck a powerful note with me, since we’ve essentially done the same thing. In 2005 I left full time employment in a corporate job to work independently with my husband. I didn’t know what specifically I was going to do for work, but I knew I couldn’t continue in the job I had. Because Eric and I had worked jointly on consulting projects for five years during the ‘90’s, I was quite confident we could do even better. My health was suffering at my corporate job. Was it scary? You Bet!! But we survived, and in fact, we’ve done better than survive. We adjusted to sharing an office, working together on some projects and independently on others. We have found we work well together. We’re fortunate because not many couples can do this. We each follow our passions and collaborate where it makes sense.

wide open spacesIn 2010, we made further lifestyle changes, shifted priorities, and adjusted to a different routine. We left the city life of nearby shopping, freeways and paved roads, and moved to a small community in Central Arizona where people live on acres of land, grow vegetables, and raise cattle, chickens, goats, sheep and pigs. Life is slower and much more casual. The lifestyle focus is more about what you do, how you do it and how you contribute, less about what you have. With a larger property to look after, extraordinarily landscaped yards are less of a priority. Since many homes have unpaved driveways, everyone’s cars are dirty for a few days. However, just like in city living, neatness counts.

How you treat your fellow human beings is what matters. Here the focus is on service to others rather than self. Sure, you need to make enough to pay the bills and put some money away for the future. But paying bills and saving is a lot easier when your expenses are a third what they were. That leaves you time to focus on your goals without the stress of making ends meet. It also leaves you time to enjoy life, to relax, to travel, and to really enjoy old friends when you see them again.

Do we still have to fight that nemesis, Fear?

Yes. It still manages to raise its ugly head from time to time. But as I read between the lines in Massey’s article, The One Poisonous Thing That Really Prevents Success, Inc.com, not facing the challenge is worse than living with the fear. Don’t let your mind play tricks on you. Don’t listen to the messages in your head that say you’re too old to pursue this or the market is saturated, or there’s too much competition, or you have nothing new or valuable to offer.

Think about what you know, what you’ve learned that others haven’t. Think about what makes you unique. Or how you approach a problem differently from others. Or how you solve puzzles easily when others are frustrated. Or how you see the big picture and end goal down the road when others are still mired in the weeds in front of them.

If it helps, write down your fears on a sheet of paper. Then make another column beside that list and write down how you feel now (or how you would feel) having faced those fears and made some changes. Are you less stressed? Are you living life more fully? Do you find more time and energy to be creative? Do you sleep better without the aid of pills or alcohol? Are you eating better? Is your work more fulfilling?

I find I have more time to be creative, to explore my passion for both Gluten Free cooking and creating inventive meals with Eric…and to just enjoy life. We have created a work-lifestyle balance that enables us to travel and still support our clients. Our schedule is our own. That’s hard to beat!

If you’d like to explore how to take this step yourself, contact me. Jeri[at]dennergroup.com.

Build Successful Teams by Improving Your Conversational Capacity

Eric & Jeri Denniston, Denner Group International

Conversational CapacityRecently we attended an afternoon workshop with Craig Weber on the topic of improving your Conversational Capacity to build successful teams. He brought up a recurring topic that we often see when working with teams, boards and organizations overall. The missing piece in many organizations is leaders’ understanding of how to maintain open, balanced dialogue among team members. This also applies to those who are following the leaders. A more open dialogue leads to greater understanding and teamwork.

That doesn’t mean the dialogue can’t be passionate or heated at times. In fact, that’s good. But the goal is to stay in what he calls “the sweet spot” between Minimizing and Winning.  What we find useful and different about this “sweet spot” concept, is that it makes it easier to focus when you have that “sweet spot” target.

On the Minimizing side, we tend to shut down, cover up our opinions, ask leading questions or withdraw from any discussions. We do this with our body language as well as our verbal interactions. We may show agreement in the meeting and then afterwards start an email dialogue with colleagues expressing just the opposite viewpoint.

On the Winning side, we want to be right. We raise our voices, get defensive and aggressive. Our speech gets rapid and animated and the volume goes way up.

Achieving that “sweet spot” is maximizing Conversational Capacity. Among the tips Craig mentioned that we see working best are building skills in candor and curiosity. Candor to ensure you are being understood clearly and doing so by dissenting with respect when appropriate. Curiosity to ensure you are seeking the root cause of problems or issues and not pre-judging. Another tip we liked is to keep a journal of triggers that take you far into Minimizing or Winning and away from the “sweet spot”.

The skills involved in achieving high Conversational Capacity can be fun to practice in work teams and can yield rapid and good results, improving team performance.

If you would like to learn more please contact us.

Small Non-Profit Boards Have Bigger Challenges

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

A common frustration I’m hearing from small non-profit Boards is how to get their Members more engaged. This is especially critical when the non-profit has a small board and no paid staff. The board then becomes the hands-on staff.

How do you get members to show up for board meetings? Even when the meetings are virtual instead of face-to-face, an insufficient number are present, making a quorum difficult. That means the organization can’t get business done.

Is it a sign of the times? Are people just not willing to commit? If you agree to sit on a board, you are usually obligated to show up for a minimum number of meetings during the year as stated in the Bylaws. It is the duty of the board Chair to hold all board members accountable to this. With today’s technology, many organizations have shifted to virtual meetings and decisions via email. Travel, personal and work conflicts have made this an essential practice. So with this kind of flexibility, you would think that board members could make the commitment to show up, even if all they do is call in. However, it is still important for the board member to be mentally present and not distracted by whatever environment they are in.

Most people make a commitment, put the time and day on their calendar and make if part of their day. There are times when one can’t make the meeting due to business or personal conflicts, but for the most part, if it’s on the calendar, then the commitment should be met.

Is it a Generational Issue?

I’m finding that younger generations are either less organized or less willing to make the commitment their older, Baby Boomer counterparts do. Boomers grew up volunteering. It’s in their nature, thanks to parents who included them on the many volunteer commitments they had. Maybe it truly is a generation issue and those in their 30s and 40s (the Gen Xers) don’t have that same sense of commitment. Could this be true? After all, this is the generation that grew up as highly educated latchkey kids, in single parent households, and learned to be very independent. As they matured, married and are raising their own families, they’ve become the helicopter parents, overly devoted to family and a strong work-life balance. (read this blog for a deeper understanding about Gen-Xers). This generation is also one with a strong entrepreneurial bent – they grew up unable to get jobs out of college, and so they created their own (founders of Google, Amazon, Twitter).

Curiously, this generation had the highest volunteerism rate (29.2 percent in 2010), despite their heavy workloads and family commitments. One of the areas that garners their attention is education, largely due to many having school-age children at home. Millennials, those born after Gen X and in their late teens and early 30s now, will become the largest members of the workforce. These are the future managers, the technology kids who prefer mobile communication, communication apps, and collaboration tools, provided they increase productivity and communication. With a volunteer rate of 21 percent, their focus is also directed towards education and youth activities.

Perhaps it’s Not in the Corporate Culture

Another issue may be related toward employer attitudes toward volunteerism. Some companies and managers just don’t support it. It’s not within the corporate culture. For many small businesses, it’s difficult to support other than in traditional ways such as United Way fundraisers or donating products to an event. According to an article in the Ivey Business Journal, only 20 percent of small businesses support employee volunteerism vs. 52 percent for all companies in the US. While there are many benefits to supporting employee volunteerism, there are also costs, which impact small businesses more than large. This may be one reason non-profits find it challenging to attract the right diversity of board members and keep them engaged, especially if it’s not a priority at work.

Board Turnover Means Low Engagement

Turnover on the board is another issue. Just as the organization is trying to get everything organized, several board members leave. That means starting from scratch again to build the board. When you have a large board, it’s less of an issue; but for small boards, this can be devastating. Keeping members engaged and excited about the organization’s mission and purpose, and making sure each understands how they can contribute to further those become critical to reducing board turnover.

Getting the right people on the board who are willing to commit for at least one year, to recruit their replacement, and also do the hands-on work needed, is critical for smaller organizations. It’s easy to try to just fill seats, but if you can’t get people to show up, it becomes frustrating and more work for those who do. The organization just can’t move forward.

Here are 7 tips for ensuring you get the right people on board and getting organized:

  1. Identify the skill sets you need. Before you ask someone to join the board, carefully evaluate what skills you need. At minimum, an organization needs someone skilled at finances and accounting (treasurer position), a marketing person, an organized leader (perhaps to take the role of president or vice president), and someone skilled at digital marketing to handle email communications, website updates, and social media promotion. A fund raiser who is skilled at asking for donations and managing grant writers. A Board Secretary to document the activities and decisions made by the board.
  2. Look for a cross section of ages, talents, and experience. You want people on the board who span the ages from late 20s to 70s. This way you get the different generational perspectives. You also want people with differing levels of experience and talents so you can match the needs to their skill sets, interests and professions.
  3. Ask board members to choose the areas they want to support. Not everyone is good with numbers or comfortable updating websites. Make sure each board member has the opportunity to contribute according to their preferred skillsets. You will get better engagement because they will be doing what they like, not just what needs to be done.
  4. Interview candidates beforehand. Have two people interview prospective candidates and write up reports on the results. This gives you two perspectives when presenting the candidates to the rest of the board. Have a frank discussion at a board meeting about the candidates before you invite them to join the board. Make sure you have consensus first so when they do show up for the formal board meeting and induction, it’s mostly a formality. You will have done your homework ahead of time.
  5. Follow the Bylaws. Keep the Bylaws updated, and make sure everyone understands their contents. When members don’t show up for the minimum number of required meetings as stated in the Bylaws, invite them to leave the board. This is becoming more and more critical with increased oversight of non-profits by US Federal regulators.
  6. Establish an Executive Committee. Even if your board is small (fewer than 9 people), you can set up an Executive Committee, perhaps 3-4 people. This committee acts on behalf of the board and enables the organization to get business done and move the organization forward even when a quorum is not present. Your Bylaws will dictate the extent of authority this committee has. It’s essential in order to do business – especially if your board meetings are not satisfying quorum requirements.
  7. Create a calendar of regular board meetings one year in advance. By doing this, there’s no excuse about not knowing about the board meeting. Schedule the board meetings and get them on a calendar that is shared with everyone. They don’t need to be monthly; they just need to be on the calendar and communicated to all.

Hopefully, these will provide smaller organizations some structure to follow to help them build their boards more successfully and grow their organizations.