Thinking about Thinking

20 04 2010

So many possibilities in each of our futures. The Association of Fundraising Professionals was a great conference for confronting some of these possibilities. So here’s an invittion to think about it.  Thoughtful Philanthropist

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Well, did we accomplish anything?

5 04 2010

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?

17 03 2010

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!





Anyone Know Why We’re Meeting?

7 02 2010

Cheating the Meeting Reaper: Avoiding Death by Meeting III

Congratulations! You’ve limited your meeting attendees to those who need to be there.

Now, how are you going to keep from wasting their time?

Your valuable volunteers are smart. They can come up with great ideas and engage in really substantive conversations that result in good policy. That only works though, if they’ve been given time to think about the subject. If your attendees have advance time to think about the subject, they come up with more in-depth questions and analyses that will help you come up with a better decision.

So, the best way is to prep for the meeting by:

  1. Limiting the meeting focus to no more than 1-3 topics
  2. Making sure that everyone has all the materials they’ll need in advance.
  3. Creating a timed agenda

Declare in advance the purpose of the meeting and the subjects that will be dealt with. Your volunteers should know that if the topic is not on the agenda, it will not be entertained. Harsh? Not as harsh as seeing 15 people around a table spending time on subjects they’re unprepared for, and which are really not their purview.

Similarly, if you want to have a focused meeting, attendees should be given the courtesy of having their materials in advance. No more sending out last month’s minutes the same day as this month’s meeting. No more handing out financial statements at the start of the finance committee’s report. No more handing out background on new policies at the moment the discussion begins. There’s no reason for meeting time to be spent on clarifications; with advance notice, all the initial questions for clarification can be asked of the committee chair before the meeting.

Be fair to your volunteers — and fair to your organization. Your smart, enthusiastic volunteers deserve to be given the tools to do what needs to be done. Hampering their efforts only hinders your organization.

Finally, once you know that all the materials will be in the hands of attendees in advance, you can create an agenda that shepherds the meeting towards focused discussion. That’s the timed agenda. [See Sample Meeting Agenda.]

Think about your own time management. Consider the effect of having an appointment you have to get to. When you’re at your desk, knowing that you have an appointment coming up focuses your mind and helps you avoid distractions. The same thing happens when you have a timed agenda.

If committee reports should only take 10 minutes, these reports will be brief and on topic. Details are in the written, advance reports. There is more compliance when the Board President says, “We have a lot to cover, let’s send that topic back to committee.”  Do emergent situations happen? Of course. But they should be the exception, not the rule. The timed agenda makes sure that the 90 minute meeting spends 60 minutes on important, policy-making decisions, instead of having those decisions left for the last 15 minutes.

The result?  Your attendees know what to expect when they come to the meeting. They know they’ll be able to engage in substantive discussions about important topics.

Most importantly, you end up with satisfied, productive volunteers, eager to tackle the big challenges.

Next: Keeping the Meeting on Track

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 11, 2010. Join us!






Why Am I Here?

21 12 2009

Cheating the Meeting Reaper: Avoiding Death by Meeting II

Meeting attendees sit around a table, still doodling on their pads. They’re wondering why they were invited. Is there a diplomatic way to depart? You’ve already planned this as an important meeting, so there must be some other problem. One strong possibility is that you didn’t think about the invitation list.

Once you’ve decided that you need a meeting, the next step is to consider who should be there. This is just as important as the agenda. Having the right people at your meeting makes it much more productive, your staff is happier, and your volunteers are more enthusiastic.

Time is your most valuable asset. In any service business, and especially nonprofits, payroll is your most costly expense. Every hour a person spends in a meeting is an hour that is not being spent elsewhere. If you ask staff to step away from their work and come to a meeting, it should be worthwhile. Otherwise, you are wasting your agency’s resources.

Volunteers are also agency resources. Consider your Board of Directors. Of course, the entire Board should be at full board meetings. But committee meetings and ad hoc meetings are a different story. Inviting an important board member to a meeting to which he has little to contribute is a sure way to diminish his enthusiasm. Caring about the mission may not change, but if he sits there wondering if it is worth his time, he may think twice about coming to the next meeting.

Make sure that every person invited to a meeting is invited for a reason, and you know what that reason is.

Decisionmaker – someone who has to be fully informed to make a good decision on behalf of your agency
Opinionmaker – someone who has insight and opinions that will be beneficial to the decisionmakers
Information provider – someone who has factual information or experience that will be beneficial to the decisionmakers

I’ve been in organizations where everyone was invited to every meeting. Needless to say, after a while, they started coming late or leaving early….if they came at all. It’s like crying “WOLF!” Sooner or later the villagers stop coming to the aid of the little shepherd, and even the people who should be at your meetings will not be there. You’ve lost your willing workers.

Who should be at a meeting? People who will have to make a decision based on the discussion, and people who have information to contribute to the discussion. That’s it. Don’t leave out someone with extensive front line experience just because he’s a lowly staff member. Conversely, don’t invite someone just because she believes she should be there. There may be extenuating circumstances, but carefully consider the pros and cons.

True, an important board member may be offended not to be invited to a committee meeting; yet that same board member may stifle discussion, have the reputation of not being discrete, or have a hard time thinking beyond personal self-interest. Not inviting him may create ill will, even if the discussion is more robust. Similarly, inviting a really great person but whose input is minimal is also wasteful. Inviting a valuable board member to a meeting where she will have minimal input risks losing her enthusiasm.

In these cases, finesse the situation. Plan the meeting with the people you need, and if these upper echelon individuals might be offended to not be included, take them into your confidence. Let them know that you are having this meeting, but didn’t want to waste their time since there are other things that only they can do. They may still want to come, but at least they are the ones who made that decision.

Good luck! As a leader, you have to husband the resources of the organizations, and use them wisely. When it comes to attendees at a meeting, the most important thing to remember is that extraneous people is wasteful of time and talent.

In the words of Robert Burns, “The best laid plans of mice and men go aft agley”  Since  plans can and do go awry, you still have a few more tools available. Timed agendas and meeting management techniques will help corral overbearing speakers and keep the meeting moving. More on these in subsequent posts.

Note – My colleague, Susan Sherk, and I will be presenting Cheating the Meeting Reaper at the 47th annual international conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, April 2010. Join us!





Is This Meeting Really Necessary?

23 10 2009

Cheating the Meeting Reaper: Avoiding Death by Meeting I

It’s a universal experience: sitting in a meeting, wondering when it will end, and too polite to just leave. Of course, that’s just putting it mildly. For most of us, there comes a time when we are mentally screaming, “Get me out of here!”

If we’ve all had this experience, why are there still meetings like that? I contend it’s because nobody has taught the leaders how to run a meeting, and participants how to participate.  It’s not their fault if they’ve never been given the right tools! So herewith I start a quick overview of meeting management. Feel free to add your own thoughts. Subsequent posts will include input from several sources, including my own experience on both sides of the gavel.

So let’s cover:

  • Do you need a meeting?
  • Who should be at the meeting?
  • Building and timing an agenda.
  • Prepping the participants.
  • Managing the meeting.
  • After the Meeting.

First of all, do you really need a meeting? That’s right, meeting management implies that you’re having a meeting. So the very first question should be, ‘is this meeting necessary?’ Every meeting should have some purpose that will move your organization forward in some way. Make sure you are clear on the purpose of the meeting, and make sure that every participant knows that purpose. Otherwise, why take your staff away from other work?

There are 3 main reasons for calling a meeting:

  • Inform
  • Discuss
  • Decide

Inform: Many people say meetings should not be held just to keep people informed. I disagree. If important information has to be internalized, emails are just not enough. Paradoxically, this is particularly true in an information rich environment. When everyone receives 60+ emails a day ‘just FYI,’ something has to be done to make truly important information stand out. If there is information that you need everyone to hear and understand, a quick meeting is a good way to convey its importance.

Discuss: If you have an issue that needs the input and reactions of several people, it’s most efficient to get everyone together. Distribute the data and concerns via email, then follow it up with a working meeting. We each have our own best ways of taking in information and processing an issue.  Straight email correspondence just doesn’t convey the nuances of people’s reactions. We’ll cover how to follow up this meeting at a later time, but right now, let’s just say that this is a good reason to have a meeting.

Decide: If several people have to buy-in to a decision, then it’s important that they have the opportunity to participate in the process. This is a good time for a meeting. Decisionmaking meetings should follow information and/or discussion meetings, and may sometimes be conducted in the same session. However, it’s important there be enough time for everyone to digest the information before being asked to make a decision.

Add up the hourly rate of everyone at a meeting, and consider what you’ve spent by bringing them together.  Now consider how much you’ve lost if it wasn’t necessary. If you don’t have a concrete reason that is important to the organization, don’t meet!

Note – My colleague, Susan Sherk, and I will be presenting Cheating the Meeting Reaper at the 47th annual international conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, April 2010. Join us!





Maybe you SHOULD fear social media!

23 08 2009

Social media is all the rage among people who advise corporations and nonprofits on how to reach their audiences. You have to be on top of it! It’s a whole new world! It’s not like the old media; you have to be transparent! Well, maybe not.

As someone who has been involved with nonprofit organizations in many guises and worked for and consulted to for-profit companies, I can tell you that something which is ‘all the rage‘ isn’t necessarily what you want to be doing immediately. Back in the day, Sears made its impact not by being the first to sell something, but by being the one that capitalized on what others were selling. Obama’s campaign didn’t invent tight messaging and using media, it just did it much better. Even Google didn’t invent searching, they just advanced it to the point that it was really useful.

So being cautious does have its place. I said cautious, of course, not head-in-the-sand. Sears and Google knew what was happening, and they watched, learned, and improved. The same with learning the best ways to use social media.

An earlier post here offered 7 tips for employees who Tweet, Facebook, or otherwise use social networking media. It was called “Don’t Be Stupid.” Now I recommend an excellent set of posts by Tom Cuniff, on the ICPG blog, for organizations contemplating entering this world.

Tom Cuniff is focused on the for-profit world — it’s a blog about consumer packaged goods, after all — but his words of wisdom are very well written, and really nail the fears of companies and organizations in embarking on social media. This post is titled “What if your CEO is right to be afraid of social media?” It’s pro-social media, but acknowledges the risks.

Just my style – a pragmatic look at ways to make our work in the nonprofit world better.