Engaging Volunteers Through Social Media

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Engaging volunteers through social media offers many opportunities to motivate and inspire volunteers to support your organization. Focus on their interests and skill sets to design activities that will engage them more.

Last year I wrote a short article about Ten Ways to Engage Staff with Social Media. It was designed for large and mid-sized organizations seeking ways to get staff to support the larger organizational initiatives. We continually hear that the key challenge organizations have is not in creating the strategic plan and identifying the strategies and actions, but “implementing” the plan at all levels in the organization. How do you tap into the hearts and minds of your staff to motivate them to support these strategies while they perform their daily work commitments?

These 10 techniques I suggested in the article are also relevant for non-profit and charitable organizations with limited staff and which rely on volunteers to do much of the organizational work. This occurred to me the other day as I led a group of volunteers through a review and update of an association’s social media plan. We generated many ideas, but haven’t identified who will execute and how they will do this. So we face many of the same challenges as well.

In these busy times when everyone is over-tasked with work and family responsibilities, how do you get those same people to commit to helping your non-profit organization grow? How do you get your board members to actually do the work rather than just show up for meetings?

Social media offers a variety of platforms to keep volunteers engaged and informed. It’s important to think of creative ways to help them share information, to inspire them to action, to make the volunteer work fun, rather than a chore. Here are five ideas to help you understand and inspire your volunteers.

  • Think about who your volunteers are. What’s the average age? Do they work full-time in high powered jobs? Do they have long commutes between home and office? Or do they work from home or have flexible hours? Do they have young families or elderly parents to care for? Are they fully committed on weekends to soccer and football matches, ballet and music lessons, or elder care concerns?
  • What time commitment is needed to achieve your outcomes? Let your volunteers know what the expectations are. Can they support the organization while commuting to and from work? Social media can help them do this. Does their employer support volunteerism and give them time and budget dollars for this? Social media offers many ways to promote that organization’s support of your non-profit.
  • What are your volunteers’ other interests? Think about how you can weave support of the non-profit into their daily lives and interests – through contests, online games, online auctions, sharing stories, etc. Create platforms that are easy and fun to use, making it enjoyable to participate. Share heart-warming stories that inspire them to be involved.
  • What are your volunteers’ individual talents? Ask each one to identify their one specific talent, something they excel at doing and therefore really enjoy. If they could spend 8-10 hours a day doing just that, what would it be? Then build the volunteer activities around those skillsets. That way you have people pursuing their own passions rather than agreeing to take on a task they don’t really want because no one else has stepped up or that’s the vacancy that exists. Focus on their skills and interests, and you’ll eventually fill the needs for the major job functions and then some. With their help, you may find creative ways to outsource some of the more mundane, but necessary tasks.
  • Ask your volunteers to manage one of the social platforms – the one they use the most. You may find several agreeing to manage together as a group because they understand that platform and use it every day for themselves and/or their work. Set minimal criteria for branding and messaging, but give them creative license to create fun and interesting ways to engage others. Set challenge stretch goals with rewards to turn their activities into fun competitions with other volunteers. Regardless of our age, we all love to win!

Those are a few ideas I hope to implement with my social media committee. Perhaps I‘ve stimulated other ideas in your mind. If so, please share. If you would like a copy of my article about Ten Ways to Engage Staff With Social Media, click the button below.

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10 Tips for Successful Virtual Meetings

Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International   June 2013

Meetings are a necessary part of business whether we like it or not. More and more frequently people are meeting via the computer with counterparts who may be spread across the globe. This requires key skills to ensure these are successful virtual meetings. Some are standing meetings that occur every Monday or Friday. Others are ad hoc meetings, scheduled around a specific topic or project.

If you’re a project leader, you may find these tips helpful for holding successful virtual meetings. Many also apply to face-to-face meetings.

  1. Use video. If possible, engage webcams. This makes it possible for people to see one another and feel like they’re in the same room. Skype premium limits video calls to 10 people at once and all must have a Skype account.  Google Hangouts lets you have up to 15 people on a video conference at once. GoToMeeting allows up to 6 to video conference at once. Another option is ooVoo.com which allows you to have up to 9 video participants at once, but the free version comes with ads. Choosing the paid version eliminates this.
  2. Know why you’re meeting. Having outcomes or a purpose for the meeting ensures that everyone understands why they need to attend or even IF they need to attend. It’s a waste of everyone’s time to hold a meeting just because you always meet on Mondays. If there’s no purpose or reason to meet, cancel the meeting.
  3. Have a written agenda. Even though you’re meeting virtually and using webcams, it’s still important to have a written agenda and share screens. That way you can stay on track and/or get back on track if someone takes the conversation off topic.
  4. Put the expected outcomes at the top of the agenda. State the purpose of the meeting at the outset, and make sure everyone understands what that purpose is. You can always refer back to these outcomes if the conversation evolves into something else. And circle back around before you end the meeting to ensure that everyone agrees the outcomes were met.
  5. Set a specific time limit and stick to it. Everyone will appreciate your sticking to the timeline, and even ending the meeting early. The more frequently you do this, the greater likelihood you have of getting people to show up. They know what to expect and that you will keep the conversation moving. They will also be more willing to stay longer at times when it’s necessary because it’s not the norm.
  6. Take notes or have someone else take notes. As the meeting organizer, you can choose to take notes while sharing your screen or ask someone else to do so. Letting people see the note taking helps keep them engaged and lets them correct any misunderstandings in the moment. If you assign note-taking to someone whose screen is not being shared, allow time before ending the meeting to review those notes and make any necessary corrections.
  7. Schedule the next meeting before you end this one. Since you have everyone online already, chances are they have their calendars handy. Get agreement on the next meeting, if one is necessary, and then send out the meeting announcement shortly after this meeting ends. That prevents it from getting lost in their email box during the course of the week. Send out reminders with a link to the online meeting at least once more before the next meeting.
  8. Agree on who needs to attend. It may not be necessary for everyone on the team to attend every meeting. Depending on the agenda topic, it may only be necessary for IT folks to be present at one meeting, and marketing or operations folks at another.  If you do hold meetings with various team members and not the whole team, then schedule periodic meetings with the entire team and have the various team members report on their areas of expertise. This brings everyone up to speed on the whole project rather than just their portion of it, and ensures everyone is still working towards the same outcomes.
  9. Identify action items and accountabilities. Clearly list the actions that will be taken between meetings, along with the individuals responsible and dates by when they will accomplish them. This helps to move projects along, and gain commitment from team members.
  10. Follow up. As the team or project leader, you need to follow up with your team through emails and phone conversations to ensure they have the tools they need to complete the actions they’ve been assigned. This is an opportunity for you to also answer any specific questions they may not have asked during the meeting, or to assist with any roadblocks they may have encountered in executing their tasks.

BONUS TIP: Thank everyone for their participation. This one is so often overlooked. When people step up and volunteer to take on specific tasks, thank them for doing so. This helps to build team spirit and make people feel that their time and expertise is valued. Don’t go overboard, and be genuine about it.

Meetings are only successful if the outcomes are accomplished. Holding good meetings, keeping everyone informed, sticking to agendas, and following up with individuals between meetings are important task for the project leader.

Make Strategic Management a Game

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International    11-8-2012

Takeaways: Think of fun, creative ways to engage your staff. Turn your strategic management system into a game everyone wants to play. It’s critical that the boss both communicate AND model the behavior he/she expects of everyone else.

The EMyth Revisted: strategic management as a gameIn August, I related a story Michael Gerber told in his book, The E-Myth, which described the unique experience he had (and continues to have) at the Venetia Hotel in the Redwoods outside San Francisco.

You may recall, the hotel went out of their way to make his experience memorable by anticipating his needs, including a brandy waiting for him before he turned in for the night, the brand of coffee he likes, and the newspaper he prefers to read in the morning. They had installed a strategic management system that anyone could follow.

Make Your Strategic Management System A Game

The question was “How did the hotel get the staff to actually follow the system?”  This is key. Many companies have policies and “systems” they’ve instituted but no one follows them. First, the owner took the business seriously – he viewed the hotel as a reflection of his personal values and who he was. Thus, if a staff person didn’t take their job seriously, it reflected on the entire operation.

He told the manager when he was hired, “The work we do is a reflection of who we are. If we do sloppy work, it’s because we’re sloppy inside. If we’re late at it, it’s because we’re late inside. If we’re bored by it, it’s because we’re bored with ourselves, not the work. How we do our work becomes a mirror of who and how we are inside.”

He continued, “Work is only an idea before a person does it. But the moment a person does the work, the impact of the work on the world becomes a reflection of that idea – the idea behind the work – as well as the person doing it. In the process, the work you do becomes you, and you become the force that breaths life in to the idea.”

The point being made is that the boss, the owner, took the time to explain the purpose behind the work that each person does in the hotel, broken down into three thoughts:

1 – the customer is not always right but whether or not he is, it is our job to make him feel that way.

2 – everyone who works here is expected to work toward being the best they can possibly be at the tasks he or she is accountable for.

3 – the business is a place where everything we know how to do is tested by what we don’t know how to do, and that the conflict between the two is what creates growth and meaning.

Define Structure. Make it Fun.

The boss took the time to create a clearly defined strategic management structure based on how to behave in the world – a values system – through which the staff can test themselves and be tested. For all intents and purposes, he made this People Strategy a game.

The game symbolizes the idea the owner has about the world and his/or her contribution to that idea. The degree to which your staff “buy into” playing the game depends entirely on how well you communicate AND EXEMPLIFY your idea, your value system to them. You do this through new staff orientations, an Operations Manual, your organization chart, job descriptions, and written Performance Appraisals.

But most of all the owner or “boss” communicates this through his or her own performance and actions. It has to be seen and experienced before the staff will voluntarily perform in a similar manner.

In the next article I’ll share Gerber’s Rules of the Game. In the meantime, think about how you model your expectations of your own staff. Are you living and acting the values and behavior you expect of them?

Strategy Execution is Key to Success

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International 2-20-2013

Takeaways: The area where most companies fall short is in strategy execution by not tying individual performance to the key strategies they need to implement. Y-Change provides an organization-wide tool to track projects and strategies across the enterprise, including individual performance.

We’ve heard it time and again – the area where most companies fall short is in strategy execution. They spend countless hours up front planning and engaging their staff in providing solutions and getting their input on the key strategies. But then when they begin to implement them, they usually fall short of plan. Why?

Many companies do a lot of things right. They dig deep to find what’s working and what’s not. They involve their key stakeholders both within and outside the organization. They ask for and integrate feedback into the plan. They streamline processes, create new structures to improve communications and work flow. Yet, the old habits still creep in and it’s back to business as usual.

A June 2008 Harvard Business Review article by Gary L. Neilson, Karla L. Martin, and Elizabeth Powers of Booz & Company, shares the case of “a global consumer packaged-goods company that lurched down the reorganization path in the early 1990s.” It’s a perfect example of where many firms fall short on the execution side. They overlook the key ingredient – the people in the organization who have to execute the strategies.

Tie annual reviews to strategy execution

By not tying individual performance to the key strategies, the company found that their people weren’t being held accountable for executing the strategies well and effectively. People do what you “inspect” not what you “expect”, as our former mentor Stephen Haines liked to say. In addition to creating the right structures and providing people with adequate resources to do their work, it is critical to tie their annual reviews and the rewards system to the key strategies you want everyone to focus on. Without that, they will naturally revert to doing the work that generates the rewards. It’s human nature.

Y-Change Cascade of Planning and Implementationg

Cascade of Planning

A key tool for managing strategy execution at all levels is Y-Change. This online software tool tracks all the strategies and key actions at every level in an organization, along with accountabilities and project deadlines. It’s even possible to tie in each individual’s performance review plan to the high level organizational strategies so you can see the chain and interrelationships from the lowest level all the way up to the CEO’s office. This powerful tool is used by many organizations of all sizes and in any industry because it is fully customizable to the needs of the organization.

If you would like to see a free demo, click here.

Using Systems Thinking to Shift Culture

By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International    11-18-2011

Takeaways: Systems Thinking is an excellent tool to stay ahead of changes in the world around us. Understanding and applying it in organizations improves communication, reduces unintended consequences, and changes the internal culture.

What is Systems Thinking and why should it be important to ALL business people? The easy answer is that it’s the way the natural world works. The more difficult answer is that it means looking at organizations as living systems existing within a universe of nested systems. In the USA we have deliberately been educating ourselves and others to focus almost exclusively on analytic or tactical thinking. This has been to the detriment of using or building our abilities to think strategically, which is, in fact, thinking systemically.

The answer to WHY it should be important to any of us is that in our environment of increasingly rapid change, we absolutely must have long-term strategies that keep us focused on long-term outcomes and that also permit and support us in making the tactical adjustments to stay on track.  In essence, this means managing a business with strategic intent and operational flexibility. Sounds straightforward right? It really is, but it does take some skill, and more importantly some discipline, in applying strategic and tactical thinking correctly to address and solve problems.

This does not mean we have to change how we think about everything all the time. It means we need to learn and practice thinking strategically and systemically, and know how and when to do so.

Having formed or altered our culture to make it unimportant to think strategically, we have only begun to learn how to think this way to enhance our business management over the past 60 years or so. Management thought leaders agree that only during the last 20 years has Systems Thinking begun to be acknowledged as one of the most important skills that managers and leaders at all levels of an organization must master. Not as a panacea, nor to replace analytic thinking, but to know when to use each type of thinking and how to leverage them in the workplace.

This may sound like a high-level, academic topic that is overkill for small businesses or workgroup teams, but I’m going to illustrate how and why the opposite is true. The skill-set to practice Systems Thinking in the workplace is relatively simple, and the learning curve quite short. The key to making it pay off is the more difficult piece of clearly understanding that it implies a culture shift in your organization at the individual level to accommodate this type of thinking.

Natural Sciences Led Systems thinking Development

Let’s first take a look at where this discipline comes from. The natural sciences essentially led the development of applying Systems Thinking to solving their work problems. In human medicine, a few centuries ago, people began to recognize that all of our bodily systems are interconnected. When one system is affected, most or all the others are also somehow affected.

This is simply common sense to us today, but even this was largely misunderstood until the mid 1900’s. Recognition that organizations are also living systems made up of people who are living systems, and that they are also subject to the natural laws of life and therefore should be dealt with in that context, actually began in the mid-1900’s.

Today, associations around the world are devoted to the science of systems thinking. Educational institutions are embracing the skill sets from this discipline for the purpose of improving management techniques of all types of organizations. Of greater significance to business people, is that major corporations, non-profits and governmental entities have proven the worth of Systems Thinking in management. Moreover, they have enjoyed impressive success as a result of embracing Systems Thinking skill sets, generally outperforming their counterparts. Want some examples? General Electric is one. WD-40 is another much smaller company. Southwest Airlines is another. Sundt Construction of Arizona is another. The National City Police Department in California is another, notably a small city’s governmental department. I mention these to illustrate that Systems Thinking can be applied by any type or size organization.

So what? So this! Every business faces the common challenge of having not just good, but really great, communication among and between all levels of management. If you run a small auto shop, a 30-person professional services business, a medium size retail operation, lead a team of bankers, are a superintendent of a school district or lead a global manufacturing firm, you surely have to ensure your staff, teams and managers are constantly and clearly communicating with each other and with you to be confident your customers receive consistent high value. How will Systems Thinking skills help make this happen?

A Little Bit of Theory

With an understanding of just a little bit of the theory behind Systems Thinking and some brief instruction on skill-building, owners, managers and employees can gain a clearer understanding of how they can easily and much more effectively communicate problems and solutions within the organization. What you get is much faster decision-making that is also more likely to be better decision-making.  A key element of Systems Thinking skills is that everyone in your organization can more clearly see his or her contribution to keeping the customer happy and coming back for more business.

Let’s get back to the how. If your firm has managers meeting regularly with top executives, not only do stronger personal relationships occur, but their ability to more comfortably and clearly communicate problems and discuss solutions is improved. If you add to this a common understanding of the various systems in the organization and those surrounding the organization, the wealth of intellect driving decision making is enhanced exponentially.

This can be accomplished by either having external facilitators conduct periodic scans of the internal and external systems of the organization or having an internal facilitator do the same. There are pluses and minuses to external and internal facilitators but that’s a topic for another article. This is an application of Systems Thinking that can be simply and easily practiced in the workplace at a low cost. No theory, just do it, and do it regularly. You might be astonished at the results you get.

For a more in-depth understanding of applying Systems Thinking in the workplace you might like to take a stab at the MIT Beer Game Exercise (http://supplychain.mit.edu/games/beer-game). It is commented on by Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline (pp 47-54), if you wish to understand its significance in how easy it is to overlook external factors affecting our businesses.

For simple tools to assist you in practicing the fundamentals of Systems Thinking in managing a business of any size, visit our website or contact me at your convenience. I can be reached at eric[at]dennergroup.com.

You Can Cut Costs Without Cutting Jobs

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International   4-12-2010

Takeaways: Involve your employees as business partners to identify creative ways to cut costs without cutting jobs.

let people use their brains.
you’ll be amazed at the ideas they’ll generate to cut waste.

This is a tip in the book Lead with LUV by Ken Blanchard (One Minute Manager series author) and Lead with LUvColleen Barrett, CEO Emeritus of Southwest Airlines. Southwest embodies the philosophy of “take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers. It’s spread throughout the culture of the organization and has helped them generate profits despite downturns in the economy. They proved that it is possible to cut costs without cutting jobs.

As every other organization has had to do, Southwest had to take a look at costs in order to eliminate waste. They did this without eliminating jobs by soliciting ideas from their nearly 35,000 employees, turning to their staff as business partners.

One flight attendant suggested they remove the Southwest logo from their trash bags, saving the company $100,000. A simple, yet substantial idea. During Desert Storm when fuel costs were so expensive, a group of employees created a program called Fuel from the Heart, where employees could sign up to designate a certain amount of money to be withdrawn from their paychecks to help cover the cost of fuel.

The book, Lead with LUV by Ken Blanchard (Blanchard Group) and Colleen Barrett (retired CEO of Southwest Airlines) is also about Servant Leadership and what it means – keeping your focus on your customers and your employees first as the path to creating a great company.

One of the quotes I especially like in the book is “Leadership is about going somewhere – if you and your people don’t know where you’re going, your leadership doesn’t matter.” Even if everyone does know and understand where the company is headed, making it happen is another thing altogether. That’s operational leadership, according to Barrett.

“This is the servant part of Servant Leadership,” she says. “It’s what leaders focus on after everyone is clear on where they are going. It includes policies, procedures, systems, and leader behaviors that cascade from senior management to front line employees and make it possible for the organization to live according to its vision and values and accomplish short term goals and initiatives.”

In a nutshell, she says “treat your people right, and good things will happen.” It certainly has worked for Southwest Airlines.  Founded by Herb Kelleher and later run by Colleen Barrett as President, Southwest has continued to succeed while other competitors have and are experiencing difficulties.

A Two-day exercise is all it takes

How does a company implement a cost cutting process similar to Southwest’s approach? One way is through a facilitated two-day exercise that focuses on cutting costs, not jobs. We take a cross section of your staff from all departments and levels and take them through a series of brainstorming exercises to identify ways they can individually and jointly cut waste. Then they crunch the numbers to determine what the cost savings might be, and present their ideas to the CEO and Executive Team for approval to move forward. The Executive Team makes an on-the spot decision- either a thumbs up or a thumbs down – or asks for more information.

Clients we’ve taken through this process have found an average of $1.5 million in ongoing annual cost savings, without eliminating jobs or investing in any new equipment or technology. The industry doesn’t matter. Giving your people permission to use their brains is the key.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about how to implement this at your company.  Or call Eric Denniston at 858-357-9600 extension 4 or email him at eric[at]dennergroup.com.