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Strategic Planning
  • Where Are the Ground Rules When We Need Them?

    It is more and more common that when groups are forming, they create ground rules as guides for productive behavior. Many ground rules are similar: Start on time, end on time, disagree respectfully, don't interrupt each other, listen deeply, stay on topics, no attribution of who said what, etc. Some groups have just a few and others have a long list.

    What happens to the list of ground rules after that first meeting? Usually the ground rules are buried in the meeting notes never to be seen again. They are not too useful in that state.

    I like to have the ground rules on a piece of battered flip chart paper that I bring to every meeting I facilitate with the group. (I have often forgotten to bring the ground rules and then regretted not having them.)  If people start interrupting each other or getting off track, I can use the ground rules we created together to help people adjust their behavior. I can just go and stand by the list and sometimes that's enough to make people aware of behavior that is not what the group hopes for. I sometimes remind groups of the ground rules which can easily be forgotten in the heat of a discussion. Sometimes I ask the group frankly: "We have a ground rule that we are not observing. Do we want to change it or get rid of it?" 

    It is a delicate balance between coming off as a jerk and being a gentle shepherd of the process. That's why it's so important that the group create its own ground rules. As a group facilitator or leader, you are helping them observe their own rules, not yours.

    Every group violates its own ground rules sooner or later. We are all human beings. The point is that when we do slip up, we apologize, correct ourselves and keep going forward. The healthier the group, the greater the likelihood individuals will self-correct when their ground rules are violated.

    One group at Maricopa Community Colleges has its ground rules printed on the back of members' name tents, so they are always in close sight. A group at Madison College has its ground rules posted in its conference room. Another option is to have the ground rules at the bottom of every agenda.

    Ground rules can be a useful guide to shaping group norms and behavior, but only when they are in plain sight.

  • World Cafe Magic for Involving People

    The World Café is a technique for really engaging people in questions and issues that matter to them. It combines doodling or drawing on the table followed by discussion and the opportunity to move to a different table with a different question and another round of writing, drawing and discussion.

    You know the scenario. An all-hands meeting is called to discuss the strategic plan or a topic that everyone should know about. The leader dutifully shows a PowerPoint and asks if there are any questions. After a few seconds of thudding silence, someone makes a comment or asks a question. The vast majority of people do not participate. These kinds of meetings are a waste of everyone’s time.

    I have been having great success with the World Café as a technique for really engaging people in issues that matter to them and to their organizations. In the World Café, participants sit at tables that are covered with paper. They are invited to write or draw their answers to a focus question which is posted on the table. A “table host” invites people to share their responses. Everyone listens for themes or connections. After 15-30 minutes (depending on the questions) people move to a different table with a different question posted on it. The table host remains.

    In this second round, the table host makes sure everyone introduces themselves and participants look at what the prior group wrote or drew on the table. Additions, arrows, comments, are added and the conversation continues.

    A third round usually occurs which is similar to round two except that participants help the table host prepare a list of themes and also identify any clear differences of opinion. Each table host reports out on themes heard in a 3-minute summary.

    I have used the World Café for strategic planning, asking questions such as, “What changes are occurring outside of our organization that we need to be aware of as we plan for the future?” or “What are some ways we can harness the energy of social networking technologies in our work?”

    I like to make the atmosphere as café-like as possible with coffee mugs for markers, vases of silk flowers, colorful place mats and restaurant menu-holders for the focus question. Of course, French café music is playing as people walk in.

    The World Café has much to recommend it. First, it is a friendly conversation. The questions themselves are interesting. Full participation is built in. Everyone’s point of view is welcomed, regardless of job title or demographic. Different modalities are tapped into—writing, drawing, speaking, listening. Participants are asked to synthesize and look for patterns which requires higher order thinking than just generating ideas.

    Sometimes the drawings left on the tables are zany. Sometimes they are just stick figures and sometimes the artwork is breathtaking. The words and artwork can be photographed and made into a montage that makes a great cover for a report of the event. I have designed and facilitated half a dozen World Café events in the past six months and people uniformly seem to enjoy the experience. One of seven design principles for the World Café is that people should have fun.

    The World Café is the 1995 creation of a global interdisciplinary group known as the Intellectual Capital Pioneers. “Awakening and engaging collective intelligence through conversations about questions that matter” is the motto. Juanita Brown and David Isaacs have written a comprehensive “how-to” book covering the seven design principles and more. The World Café: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter (Berrett-Koehler, 2005). The helpful (and artful) web site is http://www.theworldcafe.com/.

    I really like the World Café approach because everyone has a chance to be part of the conversation. Viewpoints that would never see the light of day in an unstructured meeting are aired and discussed. Points of agreement are found where people thought there were none. Participants leave the meeting better educated in the issues, knowing more people in their workplace, and better able to execute organizational strategies because they have a deeper understanding of what they mean. And there’s nothing like shared meaning to inspire people to do their best work. ***

    World Cafe Table Setting

  • Until We Get Our Act Together?

    It’s an old fashioned approach to think we have to know all the answers before we are willing to communicate with clients, colleagues, customers or stakeholders. Inviting them to contribute to solutions is respectful and appreciative. This open approach is also very likely to shed useful light on the problem itself.

     

    “We can’t say anything until we get our act together!” This is repeated countless times every day by leaders facing complex problems. Whether it’s a manufacturer dealing with a mechanical failure, or an agency installing a new system, or a college creating intellectual property guidelines, the underlying issue is the same-Leaders usually don’t want to discuss problems publicly until they have the answers figured out.

    This reluctance to openly discuss situations that are not yet resolved is a carryover from patriarchal, authoritarian command and control systems. We are accustomed to that way of doing things-the people on top figure it out and then tell everyone else. Our underlying fear as individual leaders is that we will be seen as less than competent if we discuss an issue without knowing how we are going to resolve it.

    Ten Questions to Ask
    It’s an old fashioned approach to think we have to know all the answers before we are willing to communicate with clients, colleagues, customers or stakeholders. Inviting them to contribute to solutions is respectful and appreciative. This open approach is also very likely to shed useful light on the problem itself.

    Here are ten questions to shape a discussion around any problem for which we don’t yet have answers. Questions 1-5 are those we provide answers for and questions 6-10 are those we ask of stakeholders.

    1. What do we know about the current situation?

    2. What are the questions? What is it that we don’t know yet, but will need to find out?

    3. What are the barriers and bottlenecks we know of so far?

    4. What information is lacking?

    5. What will we do to fill the information gap?

    6. What are some ideas for addressing the issues, barriers, and information gaps?

    7. Where could we find models for benchmarking?

    8. What additional partners might make sense?

    9. What are possible unintended consequences or connections we should think about now?

    10. Who would be willing to work with us on this issue?

    If you are uncomfortable with standing in front of your clients, customers, stakeholders, employees without the answers in your back pocket, be open about that too. You can say, “I usually like to have everything figured out before coming before you, but this issue/problem will be best solved if we put our heads together on it.”

    We don’t need to have all the answers, but we do need to let people know what the timeline is and how we will ultimately develop the solution.

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  • Bringing Your Strategic Plan to Life—A Communiversity Session

    A strategic plan can be a powerful and energizing force uniting members of a nonprofit organization in working together toward shared aims. What distinguishes plans that are engines for growth and improvement from those that mainly stay on the shelf?

    On Monday, March 8, I shared research conducted on the UW-Madison campus which identifies several factors that correlate highly with successful execution of a plan. We discussed tools that ranged across developing the plan and evaluating it, communicating the plan,  implementing, and budgeting. Melinda V. Heinritz, Executive Director,  Wisconsin Historical Foundation, shared planning approaches that have resulted in significant gains for her organization.

    The Communiversity Session was sponsored by the UW Center for Nonprofits. I will send you the handout, just contact me at kathleen@kathleenparis.com.

  • How Is Collaboration Going?

    Thanks to the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, you can measure for free how well collaboration is going.

     

    It is increasingly important that agencies and institutions collaborate with one another, both to stretch financial resources further and to provide the best services. Duplicative services or processes hostile toward other organizations are too costly for today’s shrinking finances and expanding human needs. Collaboration has become a watchword in human services and education. Even in the for-profit world, suppliers who formerly competed ferociously with each other, are working together in new ways.

    So although organizations are attempting to collaborate more than ever, there is still some fuzziness about what collaboration might really mean. People use the terms cooperate, coordinate, and collaborate interchangeably. The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation classic Collaboration Handbook: Creating, Sustaining and Enjoying the Journey by Michael Winer and Karen Ray (1994) distinguishes between cooperation, coordination, and collaboration. The authors describe a continuum of increasing intensity and risk-sharing that begins with cooperation, moves to coordination, and approaches collaboration.

    Cooperation is short-term and informal and involves mostly sharing of information and virtually no risk. Coordination is a more formal relationship focused on a specific aim and requires some division of roles and responsibilities and some increased risk. Collaboration is a long-term relationship with much planning and communication, new structures for making decisions, and full commitment to a common aim. Both the risks and rewards are fully shared. (Winer and Ray credit Sharon L. Kagan, Teachers College, Columbia University for this model.)

    The idea of a continuum has helped me see that while some clients need to establish true collaboration, others can provide better services simply by better coordination. But it’s always worth the discussion to intentionally decided where we need to be on the continuum.

    For organizations that need to establish or shore up collaborative relationships, the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation has created a free on-line “Collaboration Factors Inventory” at http://wilderresearch.org/tools/cfi/index.php/. The questions are research-based and the score indicates areas in need of strengthening such as communication, role clarity, communication, funding, mutual respect, community support, and the like. There are even open-ended questions for comments. The free inventory may also be taken by everyone in the collaborative if one person registers the group and sends out a link. This is a fantatastic tool for stengthening collaboration. Kudos to the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation for making it available to all of us!

  • Collaboration in Action

    Collaboration in Action

    We have an opportunity to get up to speed on today’s most pressing leadership and human productivity issues. Human resource leaders in the Madison area are collaborating to offer a day of hot topics  as part of a larger conference of the IPMA-HR Central regional conference. This collaborative learning event takes place on Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at the Madison Marriott West. (The full IPMA-HR event runs June 6-9.)

    I have the honor of being one of the speakers and a co-sponsor. I’ll be leading sessions on “Bringing Your Strategic Plan to Life: A Guide to Implementation” and “The Clover Practice™ for Leaders.” The tantalizing list of presentations by veteran presenters also includes:

    • Retaining and Developing a High Quality Staff
    • How to Ramp, Rally and Revive Employees on a Flat Budget
    • Social Media: New and Creative Ways to Communicate
    • Employee Onboarding and Reboarding: Getting Employees Up to Speed Faster in New or Cross-Trained Positions
    • Using Conflict to Promote Labor/Management Collaboration and Success
    • Generation Soup: Inspiring Today’s Multi-Gen Workforce to Higher Performance
    • Understanding a Multi-generational Workforce
    • The Supervisor’s Role in Building a Customer Service Culture
    • The Supervisor’s Motivational Tool Kit
    • Increase Productivity, Innovation and Profits by Working Harmoniously with Human Nature
    • Sustainable Health Care; Strategies to Support Healthier Decisions
    • Health Care Reform is Here, What to Do Now?
    • Communicating Successfully in Person or Via Technology: What Works and When
    • Building the Future, One Coaching Question at a Time
    • Succession Planning and Performance Management for Engagement and Results
    • Preferred Learning Styles and the MBTI
    • Making a Difference with Mediasite

    The day will begin with a fun walk-run and be capped off with Suzy Favor Hamilton, 3-Time Olympic Runner, 9-Time NCAA Champion, Motivational Speaker, Realtor speaking on “Perfection is Not Success”

    The collaborative nature of this event attracted local cosponsors including Madison Area Quality & Improvement Network (MAQIN), Station 1 Consulting, Inc., Wisconsin Association of Mediators (WAM), Wisconsin Center for Performance Excellence (WCPE), Wisconsin State Training Council, UW-Madison Executive Education, and UW-Madison Office of Human Resource Development.   

    You can still register for this day of rich learning and networking. The fee for Tuesday, June 8, which includes a continental breakfast. is $125. Walk in registrations will be accepted. Feel free to call me if you have questions at 608-445-1085.

  • Three Secrets to Implementing Your Strategic Plan

    I have facilitated close to 200 strategic planning processes. Here are three secrets for a successful strategic planning process. Also you can join me for a webinar “Successfully Implementing Your Strategic Plan” on Thursday, June 17, 12:00-1:15 p.m. CDT. The Magna Publications program is aimed at higher education, but the techniques are applicable to any organization.

    1. Keep the planning committee small—9-12 people. Have multiple opportunities for many people to have input into the process—focus groups, world cafes, surveys, listening sessions, surveys, and the like. A small committee has at least three benefits. First, it is more feasible to get people together with a smaller committee. Second, a group size of 9-12 people has been shown to be more productive than larger or small groups. Finally, a smaller group can analyze data from the stakeholders and make some strategic choices more readily than a larger group. A larger group is more likely to be comfortable with not making clear choices. And strategic planning is about making informed choices.

    2. Use the data. I am continually surprised at the low levels of awareness people often have about what is really going on in many organizations. So often there are pat answers for questions that are not at all supported by data. Common knowledge is notoriously unreliable, so it is essential that a group charged with planning the future of an organization be supported with current data. It is usually not enough to “talk at” the planning committee with the data. The group needs to do something with the data—discuss what it means, compare to other groups, make sense of it.

    A technique I use is to provide various reports to the planning group and ask them in small groups to analyze and then share with the larger group what it all means. (An example of data might be a recent employee survey or a report on gains and losses.) Such activities make the information much more real for the planners.

    3. Assign a “point person” for every priority. Every priority or major goal in the plan must have the name of a point person assigned to it. The role of the point person is not to do all the work, but to ensure that the priority is moving forward as planned. The point person:
    * Is the one to go to with ideas
    * Connects people who are working on similar efforts
    * Helps get the priority moving if it gets stuck
    * Reports on progress at least annually.

    What makes the point person role unique is the fact that one individual is the custodian of a priority or goal even though he or she probably does not have functional authority over all the players. Typically an institutional priority (E.g. expand technology support for learning, serve new groups, provide new offerings) are cross-functional and probably cannot be achieved by one unit. Hence the need for a point person to unify the effort across the organization.

    For more information, see http://kathleenparis.com/home/main/strategic-planning/.

  • Getting Serious About Email Marketing

    I just read that only 3% of US homes do not have Email

    I just read that only 3% of US homes do not have Email which means, of course, that the overwhelming majority do. And given the fact that so many people access their Email on their phones, it’s important to think about how the email message and graphics are going to play on that tiny screen. These stats were provided by Active Web Group which also advised that the majority of electronic devices are used at home from Thursday afternoon through Sunday evening. Another good guide for when to communicate. Sometimes organizations and groups want to avoid investing in Email and electronic marketing with the comment that “Not everyone has Email.” That argument really doesn’t hold up anymore.

  • Bringing Your Strategic Plan to Life!

    Most strategic plans are never implemented. Organizations may put a great deal of time and effort into creating a strategic plan and then neglect to implement it.

    To paraphrase author Patrick Below, the purpose of planning is not to create plans. The purpose of planning is to create results.

    I have watched my clients create amazing results with planning and intentional implementation activities. Now I have put everything I know that works for making the plan happen into one book, Bringing Your Strategic Plan to Life: A Guide for Nonprofits and Public Agencies (iUniverse, 2011). The book is just out on Amazon and lists for $13.95. I wanted to keep the price as low as possible so organizations could purchase multiple copies for leaders and board members. This book is short on theory and long on what to do right now. I provided a lot of space for taking notes and filling in the questions, forms and formats. I hope readers will mark it up with highlighters and notes to themselves and really make this resource their own.

  • Three Ways to Use Your Operating Principles

    Leaders may know intuitively that having clearly stated operating principles or values is a healthy step for an organization. But once they are created, what happens next? Follow the example of netlogx and learn three ways to unleash the power of the principles.

    Creating operating principles or values statements is a way to build trust. Operating principles describe the way members of an organization behave in interactions with each other and those they serve—customers, clients, students, stakeholders. Having operating principles clearly spelled out makes expectations crystal clear. Operating principles also give anyone in the organization a way to talk about behavior that is outside the boundaries.

    Although common themes can usually be seen, every organization will express operating principles differently. If your office or work group has established operating principles—bravo! You have taken a step towards creating and maintaining a healthy workplace. What’s next? How can you put them to work?

    1. Talk about them as a group

    netlogx is an Indianapolis-based information technology and security company  poised to expand not only nationally, but internationally. While growing, the company also intends to retain its status as a family-friendly preferred employer.

    At the start of the company’s expansion journey, Audrey Taylor, Managing Partner and the executive team identified a draft of operating principles and then took the draft to the entire group of 30+ team members. The aim of this all-hands meeting was to make the operating principles more real for everyone. The question was, “Think of a situation in which netlogx will ‘live’ each of these principles.” Working in small groups, the netlogx staff described many current activities and scenarios where the operating principles were clearly already in full swing. An additional operating principle was suggested by the staff and added to the official netlogx list. (Talking about what the principles look like in action is essential if they are going to guide behavior. Especially for the new team members in the group, the netlogx discussion evoked a response of “Wow, this is really a great place to be.”(netlogx Operating Principles are shown below.)

    2. Use to screen new team members

    netlogx expects to at least double its staff in the next several years. The operating principles make a nuanced screening tool for selecting new team members. Using the list in the interview, ask the question, “Which of our operating principles appeal to you most and why?” This gives people who are most likely to fit into this culture an opportunity to show it. People who really resonate to the principles will be able to provide examples of how they have encountered situations that relate or why they believe the principles are important. Anyone who can’t make a personal connection with at least several of the operating principles is probably not a good gamble.

    3. Use in performance review

    In addition to discussing goals and objectives in a performance review, ask team members how they have “lived” the operating principles in carrying out their work. Ask them which of the principles are most challenging to live out on a daily basis. This conversation may point towards particular professional development. For example, a manager may reveal that he or she is very uncomfortable to give team members negative feedback (e.g. communicate honestly), even when a change is clearly needed. This can be addressed with online learning, role-playing, identifying a mentor, attending a seminar or workshop, or “bibliotherapy,” like the always excellent Crucial Conversation Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition (Patterson, et al., 2012).

    Most every organization will violate its own operating principles at one time or another. Perfection is not the goal. Awareness and sincere intentions to live by the principles are what matter. If tended to over time, as described here, the principles can shape behavior and soak into the bones of the organization. When the principles are violated, give team members (or yourself) a “do-over” and move forward. A slip doesn’t mean the operating principles aren’t working. In fact, acknowledging a slip is an indication that the principles are alive and well.

     

    netlogx Operating Principles

     

    Integrity

    Possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles and professional standards

    Respect

    Express consideration or thoughtfulness in relation to somebody or something

    Communication

    Connect clearly, honestly, directly, frequently, and with empathy with anyone in the organization

    Recognition

    Acknowledgment of achievement

    Empowerment

    Make decisions, learn from the outcomes and thereby develop a greater sense of confidence or self-worth

    Initiative

    Embrace challenges, managing expectations and taking practical and pragmatic responsibility for their work

     

    Note: Humor is an underlay for all the principles.

    For more information, visit netlogx.

  • Planning Ahead for Difficult Meetings

    Have a difficult meeting coming up? Here are 16 questions to ask yourself as you prepare.

    Successful meetings, especially those that are potentially difficult or high stakes, require advance planning and preparation. Following is a list of questions to think through before the meeting begins.

    1. Are the purposes and expected product(s) of the meeting crystal clear?
    2. Is the agenda “actionable” In other words, are the items written as verbs—decide, review, recommend, discuss, select?
    3. Is the room arrangement optimal for the work at hand?
    4. Are the right people included?
    5. Are ground rules agreed upon?
    6. Is it clear up front how the final decision(s) will be made (consensus, voting, secret ballot, etc.)?
    7. Are planning and decision-making tools used (affinity process, dots, criteria matrix, etc.)?
    8. Has the group identified the characteristics of a good decision (least expensive, reaches a particular group, reflects our values, etc.)?
    9. Are basic meeting roles shared (leader, facilitator, scribe, timekeeper)?
    10. Is a neutral outside facilitator used for highly emotional discussions or decisions?
    11. Is time allotted for silent independent writing before group discussion?
    12. For large groups, is discussion begin first in smaller groups, then the larger body?
    13. Are appreciative questions posed (What has gone well? What do we want to continue doing? What values do we want to hold onto as we move forward?)?
    14. Have processes been built in to ensure that everyone can participate (round robin responses, 3 x 5 cards, interviews in pairs, World Cafe)?
    15. Have we tapped into the power of the visual (discussion questions posted on wall or screen, voting with dots, data displayed graphically)?
    16. Have we discussed security?

    Finally, if you walk into a meeting and there is no agenda prepared, suggest that one be created on the spot. At least one organization I know of has empowered any employee to decline or even walk out of a meeting that has no agenda. Who has time to waste?