Just Keep Thinking…

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about Lebanon. Of course, that’s probably because I just told people that I took a week’s vacation there. There’s something about an exotic locale that piques people’s curiosity.

The conversation often goes something like this:

How was the trip?  Did you have a great time?

Kadisha Valley, Lebanon

Kadisha Valley at Sunset, Bcharre, Lebanon

Yes!  It was fabulous!  We were visiting our daughter, and she took us to some of the most beautiful sites we’ve ever been. Did you know that Lebanon has the world’s largest and best preserved Roman temples ? And the city of Byblos is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world? At sunset, the mist seems to pour into the Kadisha Valley, making it appear like Brigadoon.

Really? I didn’t know!

And of course, how could they know? The news from Lebanon is all about how the wars in the neighboring countries are affecting this land the size of Connecticut on the edge of the Mediterranean.  Our newspapers are filled with stories about Syria and Israel.  Many stories of Syrian unrest are given a Beirut byline because reporters are filing from the safety of Lebanon.

Then I tell them that Lebanon is a country of beautiful, gracious people, living in a lovely land, and struggling under the burden of being on the edge of war-torn countries that use Lebanon as a proxy battleground. Their population of 4 million citizens now carry the weight of an additional 1 million refugees.

Students dancing in Byblos, Lebanon

Students Dancing, Byblos, Lebanon

The government and humanitarian organizations are working hard; the refugees are evident on the streets and in camps. The ordinary citizens go to work, come home, live their lives; young people attend school, go to clubs, dance and party.  They fight incredible traffic and pollution, and stay out of unsafe areas. Life goes on, but progress is not made.

As someone who makes a living helping nonprofit agencies as they develop a vision, craft a path to achieving that vision, and execute that path toward the vision, I am at a loss at how to process the burden this country is under.

I had hoped to find some lesson from the trip to bring back, that would be an appropriate topic for a blog post about governance, nonprofits, strategic planning, leadership.

Instead, I think the lesson is that sometimes, you just have to keep on thinking.

Have some thoughts to share on this subject?  Get in touch with me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com.


The Magic is Gone

“Follow Jane Doe to customize what you see in this email.”

“People who bought this book, also bought….”

“Because you liked this movie, you might also like…..”

When Amazon, Netflix, LinkedIn  and Facebook curate what they show me, I find out about movies I would never have otherwise known about; books and articles that are right up my alley.

Rabbit and Hat But I miss The Magic of Serendipity.

I’m a serial reader, and often go back to the same authors again and again. But in the library, I browse the books next to that author, and I’m exposed to writers that have nothing in common with my current favorite other than the first 2 letters of their last name.  Serendipity.

General circulation newspapers keep me informed of things going on around the country and the world, not just topics I’ve decided to stay informed about. Even if I don’t really care about what’s happening in Antarctica, the paper covers it, and I at least glance at the headline. I find connections between ideas and events I would otherwise overlook. Serendipity.

Attending conferences, asking how participants ended up in this field, I emerge with connections made by doctors, lawyers, cab drivers, librarians, therapists. Serendipity.

I’m not a curmudgeon pining for the old days. Curating by Amazon, LinkedIn and their ilk allow me to dive ever deeper into areas I already know I care about. This is a good thing.

Serendipity EquationBut how do we get exposed to other ideas? To other subjects? To other fields?

When we’re caught up in a particular field like nonprofits or, more specifically, local homelessness, the religious response to hunger or LGBT issues, it is easy to be so focused that we essentially wear blinders. We lose the opportunity to look beyond the all-consuming topic. We don’t give ourselves permission to read speculative fiction, or nonfiction beyond our own sphere.

We lose the clash of ideas and thoughts that spark creativity. We lose the spontaneous creativity that lies in the serendipitous Aha! moment emerging from seeing connections between 12th century commerce and the current distribution of food in the state.

Having diverse viewpoints on my board of directors leads to robust discussions about our issues. Just as important, though, are the serendipitous comments made about things outside our realm that spark creative ways of envisioning our future.

Amazon and Netflix use algorithms to give us more of the same.  It’s time to find a book or a movie that has nothing to do with anything you’re currently working on, and that is nothing like anything you’ve read recently. Watch a documentary about a subject you’ve always been curious about but didn’t indulge.serendipity definition

Ask your board members to talk about their lives outside of their board service.

It’s time to break out and look for serendipity.
Our creativity relies on it!


Have some thoughts to share on this subject?  Get in touch with me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com.

Vision is overrated.

Vision. Vision. Vision.

bridgeEveryone talks about making sure your board has a vision. To paraphrase Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady — words, words, words, I’m so sick of words…don’t talk of Vision, Show me!

Whatever happened to implementation???

Look, I’m not saying the first step isn’t important – it is! Without vision, you stagnate. If you don’t know where you’re going, you waste time spinning wheels.

But once you know what you want to become, it takes decisions and details; process and payments; learning the laws and following them; checks and balances; good management and good manners. And all the while, staying focused on the vision.

But JUST having a vision isn’t enough. Nonprofit leadership is fostering that vision, planning to make it reality, inspiring everyone to get on board, and then, well, making it happen.

Vision AND Implementation. It takes both. As consultants, we do our clients a disservice if we stop at the first step.

Well, did we accomplish anything?

Congratulations, you’re about to end the meeting on time. But wait! Before you adjourn, you have one more task.

Set up the follow-up.

Successful follow-up is when everyone does what they’re supposed to do, based on what happened at the meeting. That means:

  • Set up the follow-up
  • Make sure there are good minutes
  • Personally contact each person with an assignment

Set up the follow-up. This happens AT the meeting, before adjournment. Make sure everyone is clear on his or her assigned task. A quick itemization works: Joe, you’re going to meet with the Mayor. Sandy, you’re going to prepare an announcement about the new mission statement we just approved.  Mary, you’re going to work with the bookkeeper, get her up to speed on the credit card process, and test it before it goes live.

Next, assign a ‘buddy’ to make sure that everyone who wasn’t at the meeting will be contacted and brought up to speed: Jack, can you call Mark and let him know what happened tonight? Jean, can you get with Judy? etc. It’s a great way to reinforce that this was an important meeting. Things actually happened here and you think it’s important that your nonattendees are also in the know.

Now you can go home. But you’re not home free.

Make sure there are good minutes. Minutes are the records of your actions and assignments. They’re not verbatim recitations of every word. Instead, they provide a sense of what occurred and what the group decided. If you follow the agenda, the minutes can record a) whether a discussion ensued, b) any motions that were made, c) the results of any votes, and d) any assignments that were made.

Any action items and decisions should be set off in some way, often in bold italics. At the end, reiterate any action items, so you and your attendees have a single place to look them all up quickly.

Don’t reiterate information items! Attach committee reports and financial reports,  and reference them.

Next, as committee/board chair, take those action items in the minutes and get moving. It’s your job to be in touch with everyone who is supposed to do something! Make sure they:

  • Know what they’re supposed to do
  • Have the resources they need
  • Know the timeline
  • Can report at the next meeting

As a final follow-up, at least a week before the next meeting, contact them again.

  • Make sure they’ll have a report in time to be distributed at least 3 days BEFORE the next meeting
  • Ask how much time they need at the next meeting.
  • Use that information to start creating the next agenda.

Then….start the process again.

Congratulations…with this follow-up, you’ve completed a full cycle of creating a well-run, productive meeting. You’ve figured out why you’re meeting, and who should be there. You’ve set up the meeting to be successful. You’ve created a timed agenda — and stuck to it. You’ve made sure that the time spent at the meeting is productive. You’ve allowed everyone to have a voice. You’ve ensured that the decisions and assignments will be completed.

Be proud! And pass it forward. Your successors will be in a much better place for your having paved the way.

My colleague, Susan Sherk, and I are presenting more detail on meeting management at the International Association of Fundraising Professionalsmeeting in Baltimore, on April 12, 2010. Join us in BUZZ Theatre, and then meet us at the Bloom Metz Consulting exhibit!

Hey! Why’d you cut me off?

Cheating the Meeting Reaper : Avoiding Death by Meeting IV

Let’s see…right place, right time, right people, few topics, timed agenda…what else do you need for a good meeting?

Aha! Control! Yes, all the good intentions in the world aren’t going to keep your meeting on track. This is the job of [pause for effect] Super Leader!

All kidding aside, the meeting chair is responsible for keeping the meeting on track. In a board meeting, that’s the President. In a committee meeting, it’s the committee Chair. Make no mistake, though, someone has to be in charge, and that someone has to make it known that he or she is in charge.

Start on time. This simple step sets the stage, and lets the attendees know you mean business. Don’t wait until everyone gets here. It’s discourteous to the people who came on time, and encourages everyone to dawdle. A corollary to this rule is: Don’t go over what’s already been covered in order to bring people up to speed. It takes up time, and rewards the dawdlers. Eventually, attendees will learn that they have to get to the meetings on time.

Assign a Queue Keeper. When discussions ensue, this is a way to keep order among the many people who want to speak. We all know committee members who dominate discussions. Those who rarely speak up may find their voices trampled by the dominant speakers. The solution is to have a designated Queue Keeper. Each attendee who wants to speak raises a hand and the QK puts his/her name on the list; each person has an opportunity to speak in turn. This method serves several purposes.

  1. Each person is assured of an opportunity to speak.
  2. People no longer have to spend their attention and energy getting noticed. Instead, they spend their time actually listening to the other participants in the discussion.
  3. Because there is time between wanting to speak and when that thought will be spoken, people jot down their ideas so they won’t forget them. This means that when they do speak their minds, their contributions are more concise and precise.

Using a Queue Keeper may feel awkward the first few times, but the benefits will soon be apparent to everyone.

Stick to the timed agenda. Periodically reference the agenda and the time, so attendees are also aware of its status. If you’ve slightly misjudged the amount of time it will take to get through a subject, there may be some slack elsewhere. But if a topic starts getting very lengthy, act appropriately. There are four main possibilities.

  1. The subject warrants more serious discussion than originally thought. In that case, table the topic until the next meeting, when you can give it the attention it deserves.
  2. Attendees are repeating previously made points. Here, the Chair has to stop the discussion by saying, “does anyone have anything new to contribute? If not, will someone call the question?”
  3. There isn’t enough information to really come to a conclusion, and the discussion is spinning its wheels. In this case, the Chair has to stop the discussion and put it back to committee – either the originating committee or an ad hoc committee for this particular topic.
  4. Rarely, you may have a fourth situation. You may encounter an urgent question for which a lot of discussion still needs to take place.  In this case, you can decide to drop a later agenda item, or conclude that a specially called meeting for this particular topic should happen very soon.

The important thing to keep in mind is to give each agenda item the appropriate attention. Big items should be given enough time for productive, substantive thought and discussion.

Of course, in the case of committee reports, an agenda item may take too much time because the speaker is running over. Then the Chair should politely, but firmly, ask how much longer this will be since “we have many items to cover,” and request only the highlights.  As a committee report, the information should have been sent out in advance anyway, and the speaker should only be hitting highlights unless a vote is needed.

Finally, end on time! Meeting management is not rocket science, but it does take control. It means the Chair should be firm and consistent. There may be an occasional grumble the first few times you stop a discussion. But when your meeting ends in 90 minutes, instead of 2 and a half hours, your attendees will thank you!

Only one more topic left in Cheating the Meeting Reaper! Follow-up. Stay tuned.

My colleague, Susan Sherk, and I are presenting more detail on meeting management at the International Association of Fundraising Professionals meeting in Baltimore, on April 12, 2010. Join us, and then meet us at the Bloom Metz Consulting exhibit!