Friday, November 15, 2013

A Vision for the Future of Environmental Education

Click on image to go to full size show and wait a moment for the animation to begin.
I am currently working with Create Plenty - a Portland-based organization focusing on creating awareness about plastic pollution. They have a pilot program in the Portland Public Schools called the International Plastic Quilt Project. You can learn the latest by visiting their blog.

Looking forward, we have big dreams for the future of environmental education in the form of the Young Zeronauts program. Watch the presentation to learn more!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy April Fools!

What will associations be like in the future? Let's find out! (Special thanks to the PULP-O-MIZER!)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

One Conversation at a Time - a Former Community Organizer Looks at Leading Change

Much of what I know about leading change I learned in Detroit as a community organizer. My education required walking one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, past abandoned houses along filthy streets that were empty as soon as darkness fell. It was a place where police patrols were rarely seen.

It seemed a daunting challenge. Where does one begin? Fortunately, on the first day of my training as a community organizer, I learned the most important lesson of all, preached by the union leader Cesar Chavez, "First you talk to one person, then you talk to another person, then you talk to another person..."

That’s how I began. Each day I would drive around the neighborhood looking for people with whom to talk. I would pick a street and then pick a house on that street and then knock on the door. All too often, people wouldn’t talk to me. Some wouldn’t even open the door! But some folks did take the time to talk. I would listen and learn what questions people were asking. I asked those questions when I met other people in the neighborhood.

One day, I ended up on Genoa Street where I met a young woman named Delores. She wanted to change the neighborhood. And it turned out she had a friend, Ruth, a few doors down, who felt the same way.

That’s how the community building process began. In a few weeks, we had the initial meeting of the neighborhood group; we began to take action. We got the city to send a crew out to clean the streets and unclog the sewer drains. Then we got the police to send a representative to speak with us about increasing the number of patrols in the neighborhood. And so it went. Each small victory gave the people in the neighborhood something to talk about. We were making change one conversation at a time.

A number of years later, at a business conference, I heard Robert Rodin, author of Free, Perfect and Now, describe how he led his company, Marshall Industries, through a process of radical transformation:

“Marshall’s transformation was launched by questions without conclusions, through an ongoing dialogue that put our management system on trial…[this] let me discover who shared my frustration and could be taught my sense of urgency; and helped me identify potential allies and build a broad platform of support…By teaching people to ask the same questions that I was asking myself, we would learn how to find the answers and discover the basis for our organizational redesign…it was a year well spent.”

Aha! He was doing what I had been taught to do as a community organizer: Lead change one conversation at a time. That seems to be a fundamental truth. No matter what type of organization, what industry, or the nature of the change process, it always starts with people having a conversation.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Staying in Touch with the Board - What to Talk About

Staying in touch with the Board is obviously of great importance, whether via phone calls, email or other means. But what do we talk about? How do we support and improve board performance as well as enrich the experience of serving on the board? The answer lies in organizing your "staying in touch" efforts around three broad categories of information:

Information needed to conduct the Board’s business: 

This includes the “usual suspects” such as Board minutes, updates, etc. The important point here is to make sure there are no surprises (i.e., Board members saying, “Why weren’t we told about this earlier?”). 

In addition, you can stay in touch by offering your reflections on what worked well at the last Board meeting and what could be improved. Use this as the basis for an ongoing dialogue with Board members. 

Information/knowledge that enhances a person’s ability to serve on the Board:  

Quite simply, an educated Board member is a better Board member. Use the process of staying in touch as an ongoing education program focusing on two areas. First, broadening and deepening the Board members’ knowledge of your organization (e.g., facts and insights about the membership) as well as the industry, profession or cause you represent. Second, you can develop a reading list of articles that serve as Food for Thought to provide new and strategic perspectives about the issues confronting your organization. 

Information that enriches collaboration among Board members and with staff:  

Another way to stay in touch is to provide Board members the opportunity to share information about themselves, their experiences and their talents. Think of this as an ongoing Getting to Know You process. It lets them share stories and deepen relationships between Board meetings. This information will also help staff better understand and work with the Board.

And speaking of staff, consider providing a Getting to Know Staff blurb as part of the staying in touch process. Highlight staff expertise and accomplishments and give them the opportunity to offer their expert opinion about issues facing your organization.

'nuff said!

Related articles:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

When Volunteers Gossip!

Gossip is more than idle chitchat. It can be very distracting, demoralizing and a veritable time-suck. What to do when your volunteers come to you with gossip, especially negative gossip, about other volunteers or staff?

Make Sure Your Organization Has an Anti-Gossip Policy!

From the beginning, it should be made clear that gossip and the following types of activities will not be tolerated in your organization. 
  • Talking about someone in a negative or critical manner when they are not present.
  • Repeating hearsay information about another person (i.e., spreading a rumor).
  • Violating a person's confidence by repeating information meant to be confidential. 
This should be discussed, and ground rules should be established, during volunteer orientation or the first meeting of a board or committee.

Have a Shared Definition of Gossip

Make sure everyone, volunteers and staff, have a shared agreement on what constitutes gossip. Take the time to discuss and develop a working definition so there is no confusion on the topic. You can begin the conversation by offering these criteria for evaluating whether someone is engaging in gossip:
Is it fact or fiction? Has the person verified whether the information is true before passing it along?
What is the intent? Is the person spreading a rumor with the intent to harm another person's reputation? In what way does such information serve a useful purpose?
Does it honor the values of the organization?  Is this person honoring the values of your organization when he talks (or sends an email, etc) in such a manner?

Make Sure People Know How to Respond to Gossip

Provide training to staff and volunteers so they know how to spot and respond to gossip. This includes specific behaviors such as what to say in a face-to-face situation, how to handle an email, and to whom one should report egregious acts of gossiping. In addition, make sure staff and volunteers understand there will be consequences (e.g., volunteers can be stripped of their positions and staff can face disciplinary actions). 

The Bottom-Line: The work of staff and volunteers is too important to be undermined by gossip. 'nuff said! 

Related articles:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Helping the Decision-Impaired Board

 "I think we qualify as a decision-impaired board!"

Is your board decision-impaired? You may recognize the symptoms:
  • A sense that the board is spinning its wheels and rehashing old issues.
  • Heated discussions based on few facts but lots of opinions.
  • Awkward moments when the board realizes it has lost track of the original topic.
  • The frequent introduction of “wildcard” issues which were not originally on the agenda.
  • An inability to explain to members why the board made a certain decision.
  • A decision is ostensibly agreed to by the entire board but in reality not supported by every board member.
  • A nagging feeling that decisions, when they are finally made, do not represent the best thinking of the board.
Is it possible for the decision-impaired board to improve? Take heart for the answer is yes. Let’s look at how to target a board’s competency in decision-making:

Step 1 – Self-Assessment: 
In order to improve, the board will first need a framework for understanding its overall strengths and weaknesses during group decision-making. It needs to answer three basic questions:
  1. How do individuals in the group prefer to make decisions, process information and set priorities? What are respective strengths and weaknesses of the individuals in the group?
  2. In what ways do these differences in individual styles lead to either to conflict or harmony among the board.
  3. What is the group’s overall strengths and weaknesses? Is there a balance of different decision-making styles or is the group top-heavy in one area but not another?
What is the best way to assess the board? The Leadership Spectrum Profile®. The profile identifies six types of priorities a person is likely to favor and how that priority influences his or her decision-making process:
 Leadership Spectrum Profile 

Innovation and survival
Develop new ideas, products and services
Fast growth
Gain market share and win customers/new members
Manage risk and establish order
Build infrastructure, create systems and processes for high performance
Maximize results
Improve processes and procedures  for effective resource utilization and return
Maintain success
Develop committed workforce, build capabilities, & support culture/identity
Position for the future

Surface assumptions, practices, and issues; and create strategic options
© 1998-2002. The Leadership Spectrum Profile®. Enterprise Management Ltd.  All Rights Reserved

Using the Leadership Spectrum profile, one decision-impaired board found all its board members were Challengers or Inventors.  From the standpoint of developing strategy, this was a definite plus, as the association needed to position itself for future.

From an operational standpoint, however, the board was very weak and this was reflected in its chronic inability to make timely and sound decisions. In fact, the association was in jeopardy due to financial difficulties. The board realized it had no individuals who were strong as Developers or Performers. As a consequence, the board paid little attention was paid to metrics for or processes to improve its performance. 

With this realization, it became clear why good decisions about operational issues were hard to come by. The board responded by saying, "Okay, when it comes to issues of performance and board development, we have to slow down, take the time to ask the types of questions a Developer or Performer might ask. In that way we can compensate for our weaknesses in those areas.”
To recap, using the Leadership Spectrum Profile provides a framework so the board understands how to:
  • Balance strategic and operational decisions.
  • Lead and implement change.
  • Develop credible and constructive communication practices.
  • Manage conflict and facilitate creative problem solving .
Step Two – Establish Guidelines for Effective Decision Making:

Once a board understands its strengths and weaknesses in decision-making, it needs a practical set of guidelines and processes. The following set of questions, which represents the steps to sound decision-making, are the basis for those guidelines.

IS THIS A BOARD PRIORITY? Is this issue a priority for the association and for the board? If so, why? Is the board meeting the best venue for addressing this issue? Or can it be addressed in another venue?
WHAT IS THE OBJECTIVE?  What is the goal or objective? What is the board trying to accomplish by making this decision? Have we clarified the problem or issue? What is the problem that really needs to be focused on? Does everyone agree we that we have a well-defined problem statement?
WHAT ARE THE FACTS? What's the situation or background? Does the board have all the facts it needs to begin the discussion or should we table the discussion until more information is gathered?
WHAT ARE THE DECISION OPTIONS? What are all the possible decision we might make? Which ones are most feasible or on-target?
WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA? Before we begin making a decision, have we identified and agreed to the criteria we will use to make our decision?
WHAT IS THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS? Are we clear how the group will go about making a final decision? Is it consensus? Majority vote? Another methodology? 

Step Three – Practice!

It is not sufficient to ask the Board to read an article or provide a fifteen minute presentation on decision-making skills. This rarely improves board performance. The fastest, most effective path to improved decision-making is hands-on training; the Board should set aside time so it can practice – go through the process of applying specific skills and guidelines so they understand the practical applications and benefits. I have seen Boards, as a result of a day of practice, make dramatic improvements.

In conclusion, I would like emphasize the following: if you want to improve the decision-making capabilities of your board, you need to invest the time for skills training and hands-on practice.