Unknown Unknowns

unknown

When clients come to us when they are under stress. They are stressed because they are moving to a new management model, from volunteer management to professional management. They may be under stress as they have just been forced to layoff staff, which is tough on all concerned. They may be under stress because the organization is not doing as well as it had been in the past and yet the core numbers are consistent. What ever the reason, they are under stress and it is our duty to reassure them and to make the bad man go away.

Stress is a killer, not only of individuals, but of organizations, creativity, collaboration and that great undefinable “fraternity”. We deal with this by assisting the development of a strategic plan, “where do you want the organization to be in three years”. We have already asked this question in our interview process. What? You interview your clients? Well of course we do. When we are asked to “present” to a board because they are interested in hiring us, we treat it as a job interview. We are not trying to sell them on how great we are; we are trying to see if it would be a good fit. The cost of staffing up, the investment of time in “onboarding” a new client, the stress to our staff to learn the behaviour of their members is difficult and we would not entertain the idea unless we thought it a good fit. Now excuse me for being crass, but it is a lot like dating. If this is successful we will be spending a lot of time together, so shouldn’t we have common interests? So a coffee, a drink, a movie, dinner then after a few weeks one could hope to find a place in their medicine cabinet for your toothbrush. So we ask the question “where do you see this organization in three years?” That answers a lot of questions. Are they in survival mode? Do they have a vision? What are their strengths, their dangers, their opportunities?

Year one is stabilization. Changing management will open a lot of wounds. We ensure their bylaws are relevant to their current needs. I am certain that you know of organizations where certain directors have served “forever” even if the term of office is 3, 5, or 7 years. We ensure they are up to date on their banking requirements, and their government filing requirements. You would be surprised at how many organizations do not have their current directors filed with the government or CRA.  Believe it or not, the CRA is actually checking who signs the tax return now. We implement systems and policies. Update and modernize the membership data base. Note that when you thought you had 750 members, 350 of them were non-paying affiliates or had not paid in years. That explains why membership revenue has been dropping. This requires work, and our staff is familiar with this. We put together an operational plan for the year. When is membership renewal? When was the last membership increase? When is the AGM? When is the conference? What sort of commitments has the organization made and how long is the term of those commitments? Can they be renegotiated? How many monthly events are there and what is the nature of those events? Do we have the right type of insurance? Do the bylaws indemnify the directors? We introduce the new management team to the membership. Who does what, who to call. Our goal in year one is to protect the organization, its directors and to stabilize the member experience and create the base from which to improve it.

Years two and three are growth years. This is when we start to implement the vision of the board. Where do you want to go? OK, now let’s look at available resources. Can we do what you want with the resources at hand? No? Then we need to prioritize. We communicate this to the members. What is the organization doing? Why? How did they do? It doesn’t all have to be success, it does have to be attempted and reported. People understand failure, but they will not accept non-participation. That is why they are members, for the organization to stand up on their behalf. We will involve our government relations department, our marketing department, our event department, our compliance department. Who ever we need to examine where the organization needs to be aware of issues and opportunities. This is where the fun begins, but even though this is implemented in year two, the planning begins in year one. We are aware of proposed legislation which may impact the industry because we put processes in place to be aware of that. We are in constant touch with the board, or executive committee related to their industry, the organization, upcoming events, potential issues, all the items that a professional management team would provide to the directors of a professional organization. The stress drops away as the directors now feel much more comfortable with their roles, and the fate of their organization.

As Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defense, once pointed out “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” It is the unknown unknowns which cause the most stress.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Unknown Unknowns

  1. Jeffrey Tobin

    Another helpful article. I’m glad I’m on your email list. Thank you.

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