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 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:

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,, 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]

The CFO Role – Cost Control or Value Added?

By Eric A. Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International

There are some interesting future trends to be tracking regarding the the CFO ROLE and the business domain he/she leads. Technology and in particular shared technology is one of the key drivers in how their role will be changing over the next ten years.

cross fuinctional teamsShared data and cross-functional training give employees and their teams more real-time access to data and the acumen to use the information, they can assess the financial impact themselves, instead of relying on finance to do it for them. The consulting group, Accenture, estimates that by 2020, “more than 80% of traditional finance services will be delivered by cross-functional teams.

Traditional communications and control centers are becoming more nimble and responsive. They are consolidating previously separate in-house financial reporting services such as compliance, treasury and investor relations. This is resulting in task-specific professionals being able to better focus on optimizing their areas of responsibility in support of their company’s strategies.

How is your business reacting to these changing trends? Is your CFO more involved in creating and driving strategy? Are new technological and cross-functional training tools being deployed to stay ahead of the competition? Have your systems become too complex, creating new “siloed” systems? Does your CFO understand how to deliver strategic initiatives through project and program management? Does your organization have the core competencies to transition from transaction-based activities to value-added tasks?

All of this implies a shift to finance teams being more involved in planning and analysis with more advanced digital platforms. A key outcome is reduced complexity, increased productivity and reduced costs.

The strategic impact of these trends significantly affect long-term growth and viability for all types of organizations. As you consider how you might address the challenges of these trends, one valuable solution is to evaluate your organization’s competencies to address these challenges and take steps to improve skill sets, create strong cross-functional capabilities and deploy the needed technological tools.

For further details on this topic you can click here to read an article in CFO magazine.

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.

Fall Weather Causing Writer’s Block?

Have you ever run into “writer’s block”? Seriously, I usually don’t have trouble finding things to write about and share, but this month I’ve been stymied!

Perhaps it’s the change in weather. While September is ending on a warm note, fall is definitely in the air. The leaves are turning. The mornings and evenings are cooler, and there’s a crispness to the air.  I just want to sit out on the porch and read.

Then again, maybe it’s because I’ve been preparing for the late start of the social media marketing class I teach online through Yavapai College. The college changed learning platforms over summer, from Blackboard to Canvas, so I’ve had to re-build the class in the new platform. It was a bit time-intensive, but it’s fairly intuitive, and I think it will prove to be a better learning platform for the students.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently been immersed in speaking Spanish with some friends from Argentina. They’ve been visiting with very close friends who speak very little Spanish. Since Eric is natively fluent and I’m quite proficient, we’ve spent quite a bit of time conversing with them in Spanish. As a result, I find I’m talking to myself in Spanish instead of English! That’s a good thing, but it’s derailed my thought process a bit.

TIPs to overcome writer’s block

glass of water and skyA quick internet search for tips to overcome writer’s block turned up this link: 7 ways to overcome writer’s block, by Chuck Sambuchino,

One suggestion is to stop trying to write and do anything creative. Paint, draw, write poetry, design pictures in PhotoShop or Illustrator, etc. (I may have to try this, although it makes me feel unproductive, and I hate wasting time).

Another is to get up and move – do tai chi, exercise, go for a walk (been there done that already this morning). Another tip is to write early in the morning. Now that I agree with! I am my most creative in the morning, and it helps to read or watch stimulating, creative, motivational quotes or stories to get my mind flowing.

His #7 technique is the most interesting though – the glass of water technique. Before bed, fill a glass of water and speak an intention to the water. When you wake up in the morning, drink the water and then sit down at the computer and start writing. I may have to try that!

What’s your favorite way to end writer’s block?


Digital tools modernize change management

Our line of work in creating strategic plans, coaching executives and managers through implementation, and change management in their organizations is constantly under pressure. there is an ever-present desire to find ways to simplify how it’s done, and shorten the time frame in achieving measurable results.

Business leaders resist the amount of work and time typically devoted to creating and updating strategic plans. The increasing pace of change in our business environment throws monkey wrenches into our well-laid plans. Yes, we are always seeking that silver bullet that will magically keep our plans on track, shorten the time frame to success, and basically keep everyone happy and productive.

Intuitively I know no such silver bullet exists, but in my own continual search for it, I occasionally come across a nugget, not a bullet, like this one that might actually help me and my clients.

An article from McKinsey by Boris Ewenstein, Wesley, Smith and Ashvin Sologar titled Changing Change Management, provides a compelling insight about one strategic element common to some recent successful change efforts.

Two clear challenges

The McKinsey article’s sub-title mentions two clearly visible issues or challenges for implementing change:
1) “Research tells us that most change efforts fail.”
2) “Yet change methodologies are stuck in a pre-digital era.”

The article’s main premise is that our traditional approach to change management is outdated and that using digital tools is the key to modernizing that approach. Aha! I say. While digital tools are not a new nugget for me, I did reap some new insights on the approaches to implementing those tools for more effective change management.

It has not occurred overnight but we have seen global companies that are now clear industry leaders disrupting their industries, experiencing astronomical growth and generally, success. Amazon, Uber and Facebook come to mind as examples of those who have employed digital tools to create their footprint in the world of business.

The McKinsey article mentions some of the digital tools many companies have employed and all have one thread in common. It is the result of closer, more rapid communication with their customers primarily and their other stakeholders as well. All brought about by the use of digital tools. That communication is now rich with data, tons of data, and not just junk data. Useful data that drives better, faster and more focused responses to fix problems and leverage successes.

Out with the old?

Does this mean we toss out our traditional methods and approaches for planning and executing change initiatives? I say no. We still need the training, practice, and discipline involved in the planning retreats, applying the best practices we can uncover for leading and managing people and for ensuring sustained continuous improvement in everything we do. Only now we must apply these digital tools to accomplish that faster, better and create more lasting change in our organizations.

I know I can’t tackle rewiring my home’s electrical system on my own without training in basic and advanced principles and practices. But, possibly, I can get that training faster with digital training tools. However, the practice is essential to prevent a disaster to myself or others, so a wise move would be to apprentice the work. Likewise, I know a business can’t avoid the work required to create long term plans and deliberately create the processes and systems to support the resulting change initiatives. They can only enhance the speed of achieving results and sustaining those results with the digital tools mentioned in the McKinsey article.

In our business, we are using more and more digitally-based communications with our clients, such as webinars, online courses, feedback resources, and more regular communication. We are still working on finding more effective touch points that are not intrusive. These all involve changes in practices and the culture of our business, just as it does for everyone else.

Why we have too few women leaders

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg looks at why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions — and offers 3 powerful pieces of advice to women aiming for the C-suite. Women Leaders systematically underestimate their own abilities.

She focuses on three things women must do in order to stay in the workforce and make it to the C-suite.

  1. Sit at the table
  2. Make your partner a real partner
  3. Don’t leave before you leave

Feedback Moments can Lead to Root Cause Solutions

One of the things we talk about in our practice is the importance of accepting, and in fact, seeking out feedback, both positive and negative. Without feedback, you have no idea of how your project, idea, or behavior is impacting others. Feedback is also an important part of your strategic plan, for without it, you don’t know if you’re progressing down the right paths to achieve your future desired outcomes.

What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall GoldsmithMarshall Goldsmith, in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, talks about looking for feedback moments as a method for improving your personal behavior. Here are some of the ways he suggests to get feedback by paying close attention to how others react to you both verbally and physically.

1. Make a list of people’s casual remarks about you. For one day, write down all the comments you hear people make about you, both positive and negative. At the day, review the list to see if there are areas you need to address. Do this for a week, both at work and at home and see if there is a pattern that you need to change.

2. Turn the sound off. When you enter a meeting, observe everyone as though you couldn’t hear them. What are they doing? Where are they sitting relative to you? Do they make eye contact with you? Look for the subtle behaviors that might be obscured by their voices. Get to meetings early so you can see where people sit and how they acknowledge you when they enter the room. This will give you important feedback about what they think of you and areas where you may need to improve your interpersonal skills.

3. Complete the sentence. Pick one area where you want to improve; then list the positive benefits you’ll get by improving in that area. This method will help you get at the root cause of the behavior you want to change. The first few sentences will be more corporately focused or correct, but by the time you get to the fifth or sixth sentence, you’ll start to get at the heart of the issue. Keep doing this until you have no more sentences to complete.

Getting at the root cause of a problem

This last exercise is an excellent one to do with a team when problem-solving an issue. Go around the room and have each person complete the sentence, writing each one down on a flip chart. Continue doing so until everyone runs out of sentences to complete. Then review the sentences and see if there is a pattern or theme that is actually the root cause of the problem.

Once you’ve identified the root cause, you can begin to work on resolving the problem by asking, so it this is the root cause, what do we need to do to change it? Ask each person for ideas and write them on a white board or flip chart. Prioritize the answers in terms of 1) what can be done immediately, 2) what can be done in the next 3-6 months, and 3) what can be done in a year. If there are costs associated with the solutions the team has chosen, identify them, or assign someone to research what the costs will be.

Focus first on what can be done immediately; identify specific tasks for each solution, and assign a person to lead each one. Once the most pressing solutions are completed, focus on the next list of those that will take 3-6 months to complete, and so.

This way you have identified the root cause of a problem, the solutions to resolve it, and taken action to create change.

Volunteer Burn-Out is a Non-Profit Dilemma

Takeaways: 1) Age demographics and volunteer burn-out are dilemmas for member-based non-profit organizations, 2) Why clear and concise communication is paramount, 3) Why change must be embraced with a revolutionary approach.

Member-based non-profits inherently are subject to the dreaded disease of volunteer burn-out. As I scan the world for member-based non-profits and consider their membership age demographics, two things are crystal clear.

First, the most obvious one is a seriously older demographic, from the few members left of those who were adults in the mid 1900’s to the huge population of baby-boomers worldwide.

Second,  very few of those organizations are working really hard at recruiting and engaging new members of ages 25 to 45. Those that are, struggle to connect across the generational chasm that has generally tripped up humanity for centuries.This has deepened in the last 170 years with the rapid cultural changes brought on by technological advancements.

Balancing planning with action is a common struggle for non-profits, and if they are membership-based, perhaps even more so. This may be more evident among organizations that are 30 years or older, but it also affects those that are newer and have instituted some mature processes and structures.

I am looking at two very worthy member based non-profits. One is experiencing continued success but mild growth in membership. All of its programs are very well received by the communities it serves and its members are overwhelmingly deeply engaged. The other is experiencing membership decline, slow action among its leadership, a lot of activity in planning for the short and long term, and is struggling with its value proposition and member engagement. The first one is over one hundred years old, the other a respectable 15 years young.

A common thread I find in successful organizational development continues to be that of clear and concise communication. Communication of vision, values and goals in a timely and simple manner continue to be the key ingredients to successful member engagement. Why? Because it provides key support and direction to the leaders of the local groups to keep everyone moving toward the same overarching goals.

I see a number of aspects to what I call The Maturity Dilemma. One is that mature member-based organizations generally have a long-established way of doing things that worked for their generation of members. This creates a culture that is comfortable for that age group but likely misses the mark with other age groups. Another aspect is human nature’s normal resistance to change. Throughout our lives we have been taught to seek long-term conformity and stability, in spite of things changing around us all the time. We are not taught to thrive in change and therefore continue to hold this aversion to it. We have not developed the skill sets to thrive in change. So the organizations we lead tend to suffer from the same shortcoming.

Like all systems in the world, yet another aspect to this Maturity Dilemma is entropy. Our member-based non-profits are becoming so comfortable in our “way of doing things” that we simply never respond to the changes taking place OUTSIDE our organization.

I propose that like nearly all for-profit organizations, we must stay more in tune with our “markets” and our external environment. We must establish the processes and structures that will embrace change and help us thrive. We must, in a word, become “revolutionary” from within.

What does that really look like? To me it looks like making change happen fast, like in most revolutions. It looks like planning quickly, acting decisively and being prepared to adjust quickly to the changes we are creating. It looks like we must rapidly evaluate how to leverage the positive results of the changes we make and just as rapidly mitigate the negative results of those changes. It looks like we must not fear failure but instead react quickly to correct it.

I am not suggesting this is easy. In fact it is counter-intuitive to human nature and how we have been taught. We have to be, as author James B. Swartz so eloquently put it, “Seeing David in the Stone”, a reference to the courage displayed by those who pursued a vision without a manual to show them the way. We have many, many tools at our disposal to start us on our way. Planning strategically or tactically is key among them, but balancing that planning with rapid, decisive action is what will win the day. Forcing ourselves to maintain that balance will also drive us to communicate those plans in a timely and concise manner, thereby short-circuiting the entropy that creeps up on our organizations in uncanny mimicry of Alzheimer’s Disease.

If you would like to discuss this topic further, please contact me. My expertise in accelerated change management and deep knowledge of non-profit organizations may be helpful to you!