What’s Your Purpose?

What is your purpose?  Why does your organization exist?

This is a critical question.  To bring people along, to get them excited and motivated to advance your organization they need to understand what you are striving for and why.  They need to understand your purpose.

No one can do the work associations strive to do alone. You can’t be everywhere, solve every problem and lead every team. So you need to ensure that your team (be they staff or volunteers) understand your purpose and can make informed smart choices to support the purpose.

Don’t assume that everyone knows your organization purpose.  Each of us interpret goals, activities and expectations based on the information we have, where we sit and the work we do.

So, what can you do? Ask Q box purpose - cropped

Help your team understand your purpose.  Discuss why you exist, hear people’s perspectives, listen to their questions, understand their concerns, their ideas and gaps in information. This will help you frame a plan to bring everyone along and help align everyone on one team where they can see past their role and help you to build the organization forward.

“Creating the condition in which the best work is most easily achieved is the job of any leader of any group of any size. ~ Margaret Herrferman, Beyond Measure

Have a favorite question?  Please share it below to be featured in a future post.


What’s next?

How much of our time is spent focusing on the present, the things that must be taken care of right now? In our always connected world thinking, exploring and imagining often seem like luxuries we simply don’t have time to take on. But narrowly focusing on today can blind-side you to shifts and opportunities that will impact your industry, profession or organization.

Imagine what might be possible if you spent just one hour a week considering what your organization might do, be or how it could operate in the next one, two or three years.

Most industry changes don’t happen overnight. It may seem that mobile technology, the economy, or competition just pop up, but chances are we just missed the shift. Occasionally looking up, considering what’s going on in and outside of your organization will help you see when a shift might be coming.

Exploring what is going on with your team, colleagues, partners or members can help to expand perspectives of your organization, member (or potential member) needs and build comfort and understanding of what might be coming in the future.

Getting started is not that hard. Smart discussions can engage people, surface perspectives, ideas and opportunities and motivate your team. If you open these discussions, you MUST be prepared to listen. Auto response to future discussions or any talk of change is often to refute, deny, disagree or just simply shut it down. These responses can be harmful. Remember the last time you were asked for your opinion only to have the asker question, ridicule or refute your suggestion? It’s not fun and for many people it is the perfect excuse to step back and decide to keep their head down and just do the easy work.

Being open to new ideas requires some work, a lot of listening and asking questions. You can build these skills. An easy entry point is simply asking a thought provoking question and invite people to share their perspectives, ideas and questions. Questions to consider:

  • What might we do next year that is impossible now? What can we do this year that was impossible last year?
  • What impacts our ability to serve our members, industry or potential market? How are these changing?
  • What is impacting or influencing our members and their work? How might this impact their interest/ability to work with us?

When ideas, concerns, potential challenges or opportunities come up, keep the discussion moving. Ask:

  • What information could help us better understand the issue/opportunity?
  • How might needs or interests change?
  • What can we do now to strengthen our organization to better serve our members/market?
  • What one thing while seemingly impossible could make a tremendous difference?

Not quite ready to lead the charge in future thinking? Take two months to build your personal comfort by developing your awareness and understanding of issues. Commit one hour a week to exploring issues that impact your business/industry, potential trends and forces or related industries. Try checking out online resources, talking with colleagues or others in your field or related fields, or seeing what your competitors are up to.

How Do You Foster Change?

“How do you change the habits of already successful adults?”*

I’ve been struggling with how to help individuals change their habits and try a new approach lately. So when I came across this question, I jotted it down and have not been able to let it go. At first it was the simple challenge of how do you do get adults to change their habits. But it quickly became a more fundamental question. If you cannot encourage individual change, how do you build organization capacity? How do you foster innovation? How do you encourage organizational development?

Individual ability and willingness to change is at the core of organizational change.

  • You can teach people new skills. But, they must be motivated to utilize the skills.
  • You can bring in new ideas. But, colleagues must have an open mind to consider and build the ideas.
  • You can introduce new ways of working. But, colleagues must be willing to try new activities, engagements and structures.

If individuals are not motivated to step out of their personal comfort or interest zone positive change rarely occurs.

So, how can you create space that encourages adults to change their ways?

In her book teaming, Amy Edmondson outlines the concept of a learning frame–an approach to work that aims to accomplish identified goals and simultaneously learn how to do the work better.  (Contrasted to an execution frame, an approach to work that focuses primarily on getting the work done.)

How you frame your efforts influences how others respond and engage. A learning frame encourages collective learning, collaboration, piloting to test new ideas and analysis to learn from the experiments and inform future efforts. It invites people to participate in the effort, values their contributions and cooperation, and encourages learning as a part of the experience. It can nurture their motivation and willingness to engage, learn and ultimately change.

So much of what we do in associations is cyclical–conference/ trade show planning cycle, membership renewal cycle, volunteer engagement campaign cycle. It can be really easy to fall in to a “get it done” attitude or an execution frame.

But, fostering a culture focused on a get it done/execution frame, can lead to an organization culture that views change as a negative experience to be avoided. This can encourage people to hold on to their ways, purposefully tear down new ideas or avoid any change.

If you are taking on a change initiative, would like to foster a culture more comfortable with change or want to enhance the capacity of your organization, consider how you frame your efforts.

  • How do you foster active engagement in work efforts?
  • How do you share goals and vision for efforts?
  • How do you encourage questions?
  • How do you create opportunities for people to share their insights?
  • How do you encourage collaboration?
  • How do you value team member contributions?
  • How do you encourage trying new ideas or steps?
  • How do you acknowledge mistakes and openly discuss what can be learned from them?

How you lead impacts how your team engages at work.

If you have not read Teaming by Amy Edmondson I encourage you to pick up a copy.  It is a great resource for leading teams, change and organizations.

*The question came from a smartly titled post Transforming Culture is Simple: All It Takes Is Changing People by Dr. Larry Senn on TLNT.com


Lining up to Fail?

No one aspires to fail.  Most people would prefer their name not be included in the story explaining a failure.

But, if you want to design new experiences, a unique product or a better way of working, failure is a reality.  Trying something new or different will inevitably result in missteps, challenges and failure.

You can play it safe and try to avoid failures by staying in the protected known space.  Or you can influence the kind of failures that might occur and how you and your organization respond to them.

In her book teaming*, Amy Edmondson identifies three types of failure:

  • Preventable failures – Failure in routine operations typically resulting from a deviation in process in a well understood activity.
  • Complex failures – Failure in complex operations typically resulting from a breakdown in a process or system (can occur when a task is too difficult or process is composed of many elements that can break down when a novel situation is encountered).
  • Intelligent failures – Failure in innovative operations typically resulting in areas where knowledge is less developed, experiments must be run to test ideas and gain new knowledge.

The idea of a continuum of failure can make it a lot easier to discuss failure and intelligent risk taking in your organization.  The categories make it clear that not all failures are the same.  Some should absolutely be avoided, but some failures are a key component of learning and developing expertise.

Preventable failures are the kind that occur in everyday activities – typos in member communications, oversights in scheduling and prepping for meetings, etc.  These generally happen when people are in a hurry or do not have the skills or insight to correctly execute an action.  These are avoidable.

Complex failures tend to happen when systems get so complicated and dense that one missed entry or oversight can result in a system not working.  These happen as we add steps, requirements or activities to systems (approval processes, meeting development, AMS systems, etc) and at some point they breakdown under the sheer weight of it all.  These failures we can work on, we can review systems to ensure they are manageable and that we have appropriate project management.

Intelligent failures occur when you step outside of your mastery space and innovate.  These happen when we test new ideas, when we experiment with new models or products.  These are smart failures.  Managed correctly these are the ones that can help you innovate and succeed.

You want to avoid preventative failures and even complex failures.  However, these will occasionally occur and how you respond to the situations impacts what people will be willing to take on.  A few things for you to consider:

  • Do you embrace the messenger?  You want people to identify problems that they see, so make it ok even expected that staff identify problems/challenges.
  • How do you encourage discussion? If you create space to question and discuss ideas, challenges and risk and listen you can learn from situations (and even identify issues before they become big problems).

Failure free is absolutely crucial in some industries – bridge construction, airplane building come to mind.  But, in associations we typically have wiggle room.  Experimenting and trying new things helps us to remain relevant, keep members engaged and attract smart staff.

Unfortunately, risk taking and failing aren’t openly embraced and celebrated in most organizations.  But these are critical considerations for leading associations in the competitive and evolving space we operate it.

So what can you do to encourage intelligent risk taking?  One of the first steps is fostering an environment that encourages smart risk exploration.  Here are a few things for you to consider:

  • How do your leaders encourage experimenting?  How do leaders encourage people to take on new/innovative activities?  How do you engage people in the desired activities and discussions? How do leaders step out of their comfort zone?
  • What are the perceived consequences of failure in your organization?  How do leaders respond?  How do colleagues respond?  What is the next assignment for the staff involved?  How do you talk about failures?
  • What do you reward?  Do you talk about small wins or only spectacular splashes? Do you celebrate people trying something new (even if it didn’t work just as you planned)?  Do you recognize people for making a difference for a member?

No one wants to fail.  But it happens.  So, create a place where failures are taken in stride, learned from and built on and you will likely find success and people who are willing to journey with you.

“To avoid failure is to limit accomplishment.” ~ Will Rogers

*teaming is a wonderful book exploring how organizations learn and innovate. I highly recommend checking it out.

Ready, Set, JUMP?

What do you want to do?  Successfully starting a project requires that you know what it is you are trying to do.  Sounds reasonable right?  Unfortunately, I have witnessed many individuals, teams, committees and even myself, get so excited about an idea that we jump into the project without articulating or even understanding the challenge. 

“It’s not that they can’t see the solution. They can’t see the problem.”G.K. Chesterton.  

Yes!  As I noted in a recent post, Framing Whats The Big Deal, if you don’t know what you are trying to solve and who you are trying to solve it for, anything can look good.”

Save yourself some frustration, frame your challenge before you jump into the project.  Here are a few questions to help you get started:

  • What is the problem(s) we are trying to address?  (Is this the root problem or a symptom of a bigger issue?)
  • What constraints impact our work (resources, time, scope, etc)?
  • What forces, trends or other issues are impacting the problem positively or negatively?
  • How would addressing the challenge make our organization stronger?

Spend some time preparing, you’ll be glad you did!

The Power of Questions

“What do you think?”  About what…your idea, the timeline, the member engagement, marketing strategy?  What is it you want feedback on?

I have sat through too many meetings where someone pitched an idea and then casually tossed out “what do you think?” In my experience, this question elicits a response from people who don’t like the idea or those advocating for the idea. You probably knew these responses before you asked for feedback. What about everyone else?  Don’t you want to tap their expertise and insights?  Then pose a question(s) that focuses on the key issue and invites them to engage.

Good questions are the best tool to create a meaningful conversation, to explore, to learn.  A good question frames the issue you would like to explore and provides parameters to help people start thinking.

Here are a couple of my favorite questions for exploring issues.

  • What is the most significant challenge to achieving ___?
  • What forces or trends impact the issue?
  • What knowledge or insight could help us understand this issue?

Since February is closely linked to the famous question “Be mine?”  I am making February the month of questions.  I will share some of my favorite questions, and I hope that you will pass along yours as well.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” – Voltaire

Framing: What’s the big deal?

Why take time to frame your challenge?  Because if you don’t know what you are trying to solve and who you are trying to solve it for, anything can look good.

Seth Godin’s recent post, Who are Your Customers is a great start to understanding your target audience.  Your audience is not just demographics.  (Would it help your organization serve me if you knew I am a white, 40ish female?)  You need to understand your audience in order to support or inspire them.  Do you know where they turn for resources and insights (who they trust)?  Do you know the challenges they face?  Do you understand the environments they work in?

Understanding your audience and the challenges they need to solve (not what they want, what they need to accomplish) will help you to frame the challenge your organization can address to better serve your members.

Clayton Christensen and colleagues developed the Job To Be Done theory that essentially says your audience is not seeking a specific product or service, they are purchasing or hiring solutions to help them solve a problem.  A simple example, you don’t need a drill, you typically need a hole.  A drill is simply one of the tools you could hire to help you solve the challenge.

To truly innovate in your space, don’t just watch what your audience purchases or the products they say they need, understand the challenges they face and the context they face them in.

Engaging people in your innovation

Innovation is not a solo sport.  It requires you to be aware of and understand opportunities, explore options and perspectives, be knowledgeable on the issues, develop ideas and test them. You could try to do this by yourself.  But, I would not recommend it.

Bringing together people with diverse experiences, perspectives and knowledge will make the process more fruitful. (In the association community we often compound the experience by engaging volunteers, staff, colleagues and experts in our innovation projects.)  While diverse groups can help the overall project efforts, successfully engaging them doesn’t just happen, it takes real work.

On one of my first “innovation” projects I was privileged to work with an incredible team.  (We invited some of the most amazing people in our community, and they agreed.)  I wish I could say it was a huge success. But, it wasn’t.  It was good, and we learned a lot.  I really wish I knew then, what I know now. Now I know that to be truly successful we needed to invite people from outside our community, design experiences that engaged them, encouraged them to share their knowledge and experience, united them in a shared challenge and invited them to explore areas that others might deem ridiculous.

One of my take aways was, don’t discount people being unwilling to step outside their comfort zone. People can feel uncomfortable or unwilling to step up and share their perspective or crazy idea for many reasons. (Culture plays a big role in this, and I will explore that later.)  But you can help to alleviate this feeling by creating experiences that invite people to engage, shows them that you value their knowledge and contribution and creates environments where it is ok to toss out half-baked ideas.

The innovation plan you develop should engage diverse individuals, value the people and their contributions, frame the challenge, share project goals, engage people with the other participants, invite them to share their perspectives and challenge them to create something new. This is not easy. But it is necessary for innovation.

Here are a few of my go to resources when I start framing new projects.  I hope they are helpful as you consider your project.

Jeffrey Cufaude, Idea Architects.  Jeffrey is a wonderful facilitator and he has graciously shared facilitation tips on his website (www.ideaarchitects.org). Search “facilitation Friday” to access the tips.

Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers  The Gamestorming team created a webpage sharing games and other related resources  www.gogamestorm.com

IDEO Method Cards.  The Cards highlight 51 research methods (most are very approachable) to help you better understand the people you are developing a new resource for.  More information at http://www.ideo.com/work/method-cards

What’s your favorite facilitation resource? Please share it.

Innovation baggage

Simply mentioning the word “innovation” can send people spinning.  Some picture iPhones, Amazon or disposable diapers.  While others might sigh as they envision colorful retreat spaces where people are lead through “frivolous creative” exercises to generate ideas for unnecessary stuff.  These perceptions aren’t bad.  But the fact that your team could have such varied visions of innovation can make it difficult to have effective discussions about innovation in your organization.

Demystifying innovation is a helpful step in engaging people in innovation. Creating a common description of what innovation is or could be helps to break down individual perceptions of innovation and create space for people to engage in a discussion of how you could utilize innovation in your organization.

Developing an agreed upon innovation description is useful place to start.  This can be as simple as adopting a published description, such as:

  • “Innovation is change that creates a new dimension of performance” ~Peter Drucker, The Drucker Institute
  •  “Innovation is the introduction of something new” ~ Merriam-Webster dictionary online
  •  “Innovation is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulated needs, or existing market needs.” Wikipedia, December 3, 2013

Or developing a description that fits the vision and culture of your organization.

I use a fairly simple innovation description “creating a new value for stakeholders.”  I like this description as it addresses key points for innovation:

  1. You must actually create something, not just come up with ideas.
  2. You need to serve a stakeholder. You identify who the stakeholder is – staff, the organization, members, customers, partners, etc.
  3. You must generate value for the stakeholder. Something that is perceived by the stakeholder as valuable, not just your perception of the value offered.

The description is fairly easy for people to adapt to their personal situations, which makes them more inclined to engage.

In my first association innovation project we tried using an innovation description that in hindsight, was just too complicated “an intentional management process with its own distinct set of processes, practices and tools to search for, evaluate and implement a new way, a better answer or a previously unseen possibility.” I appreciate our intention and understand the reasoning, but the description was challenging to share and engage people around.  In associations we are often trying to engage, please and serve many audiences.  But, I encourage you to keep it simple.

What are we doing here?

For the last four years I have explored, discussed and pursued innovation in associations.  I have been fortunate to work with amazing people who were willing to explore some unchartered ideas with me.  Some of the stuff we did was great, inspiring and yes, advanced organizations.  Other times, it was messy, challenging and sometimes it was just plain difficult to get people to listen.  Still, some of the execs stuck with it and they are doing amazing work.  Their efforts are changing their organizations…how they work, what they do and the space they operate in… and they are changing people’s perspectives on what we can do in the association community.

I believe innovation works in associations.  So in this space, I plan to explore innovation. How it works.  What are the conversations to be had?  What are the ideas to examine? What can innovation look like?

Have a question, suggestion or example of innovation, please share it.