Author Archives: jonathan_roberts

Unknown Unknowns


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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Corporate Culture can make you or break you

I just read a very interesting article written by an ex-Microsoft employee. In it he identifies seven points related to the Microsoft Culture which need focus. I implore you to read this, and think about the impact on your organization. You may find yourself rubbing your chin in thought.

  1. Say “Yes” instead of “No” and support someone’s wild, unusual, different idea. No is easy. Yes is difficult, and perhaps better.
  2. Try. Failure should be supported for the learning it provides.
  3. Vision is a long term thing. Vision can guide you over the inevitable speed bumps. Give up on vision and those bumps become insurmountable.
  4. Sniping and negative comments are a cancer in any organization.
  5. Staff alignment. Managers and product masters are not the same. Not every great product person is a great manager. And not every great coach is a great product person.
  6. Being diverse means rewarding and encouraging different paths to success. It doesn’t relate to race, sex or religion. It relates to different ways of thinking.
  7. Managers should be invisible. Their job is to clear the way for their talented team to do its job and making sure their employees are getting recognition and credit.

So take a few minutes; grab your relaxing beverage of choice; fire up the tablet and check out seven-things-satya-nadella-should-do-next-to-truly-change-microsofts-culture/


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Why Board Training?

Just read an interesting article published by CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation called “The Board Pardaox“. The gist of the article is that lackluster board performance is a significant contributor to E.D. burnout. While the report identifies that a majority of ED‘s are satisfied with the performance of their boards, about 1/3rd are not.

Now where the ED takes satisfaction with the actions of the board into consideration, generally the board provides support in financial oversite (73%) and ambassadorship (65%), but support slides downhill the closer we get to ED guidance (45%) and organization policy (32%). That is not really surprising as most directors have a strong financial understanding, (and it is easy to question hard numbers) while policy and direction are not so well defined. But that is where the organization needs help! Other governance coaches I have talked to identify this as a familiar problem.

The root of governance means to steer; to provide direction. The ED’s job is to execute; to DO! The board needs to make it easier on the organization and itself by creating policies on how the organization is to behave. This makes board meetings faster as the decision framework is already laid out. Does it fit? – Yes or no. Perhaps this hard nosed approach requires the policies to be reviewed, but that is all in the job of the board. It is NOT the job of the ED. The ED can suggest that this area or that needs to be reviewed, but the dirction to change or implement a policy needs to come from the board.

The article indicates three areas where the ED can contribute to the improved performance of the board:

  1. Recognize their own essential role in helping to improve the performance of the board.
  2. Invest time, in partnership with the board, in identifying and cultivating new board members.
  3. Build their own financial management skills, and provide information and context to help the board better fulfill its role in both financial oversight and ensuring  financial sustainability.

Interesting, but where the article identifies 3 areas for the ED to focus on it also identifies 5 areas where the board should improve by implementing widely accepted best practices. So the onus really is on the board.

  1. Creating a job description or list of responsibilities for the board as a whole, and recruiting board members who have the skill sets needed to help the board fulfill those responsibilities.
  2. Creating a statement of expectations for individual board members, and conducting an annual or periodic assessment to determine whether board members are meeting those expectations.
  3. Conducting an annual performance review of the executive director.
  4. Conducting periodic training for board members on how to read the organization’s audit and  financial reports.
  5. Engaging in inancial or business planning to better understand the organization’s finanal sustainability.

Zzeem provides training and facilitation services to assist non-profit boards to accomplish all these points. Contact us to help you work on your board training plan.

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#Non-profit leaders. LinkedIn privacy policy has changed. Protect your online identity. Here’s how.

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LinkedIn Privacy Settings

For those in the non-profit world, and any others using
social media be aware that LinkedIn has changed their privacy settings. By
default LinkedIn can use your image for promoting advertising on the site. Here
is a synopsis from the LinkedIn website:

“When LinkedIn members recommend people and services, follow
companies, or take other actions, their name/photo may show up in related ads
shown … to LinkedIn members.”

To change your personal settings:

  1. On LinkedIn, click your
    account name and choose Settings.
  2. Click the Account
  3. Click Manage Social
  4. Clear the checkbox for LinkedIn
    may use my name, photo in social advertising
    and click Save.

LinkedIn claims they will not do this, but they do maintain the right to
do it.

Make your own decision


Filed under Association Management, Social Media

Want a More Engaged Membership?

Want more engaged membership? Learn the five pillars of sustainability. #tobeysheadliners

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Filed under Association Management Issues, Governance, Member Engagement, Member Value Proposition

3 Tips to Keep Your Professional Education Program Fresh

Association-Fresh-Is it time for fresh thinkingA friend of mine has a dog that needs to lose weight. The vet recommended a simple strategy that guarantees weight loss. Just feed your pet the same meal day in, day out, he said. It doesn’t matter how good the meal is, over time it will become so boring that the dog will get no pleasure from it and he will reduce his consumption.

Membership organizations often put their members on the same diet. The result is reduced member engagement and ultimately a drop in membership.

If we keep feeding our members the same meal, no matter how excellent, they will look for variety elsewhere – and we will lose them.

So how do we keep our professional education programs fresh and interesting for our members?

We know from working with our clients, that most association leaders do not see professional development programs as events. An event is something that is engaging and entertaining. A professional development seminar is something we do because it’s good for us.

Most associations see an invisible line between an event and an educational seminar.

This is a mistake. If we focus on making learning more of an event there is a subtle but important shift in focus. Treat your learning program as a series of events.

The only thing that must be predictable is that you are providing value. The way you do it, should be a creative process that is constantly evolving.

So here are three tips to keep your professional education programs fresh:

1.  Make it fun.

  • Choose speakers and trainers who are adept at engaging their audience.

2.  Make it interactive.

  • Make sure that the learners have an opportunity to interact with the speaker and the other learners.

3.  Try something new.

  • Add a new networking game to get your members outside of their cliques
  • Bring in a speaker with a controversial view
  • Change the order of the agenda
  • Change the time of day
  • Change the venue

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Filed under Association Management, Member Education, Member Value Proposition