Old Members Are The Future!

Deirdre Reid wrote a post this week about dealing with a dearth of young leaders in associations. I’m going to take a good crack at the idea we have to increase the percentage of young people in our organizations and I wanted to give Deirdre credit for kicking off this idea when I read her post.

By 2050 over 25% of the population in the U.S. will be 60 years or older according to government projections. 1 in 4! That’s compared to about 18% today. Given overall population growth, that represents more than 50 million new people 60 years or older in 2050 compared to now.

Old people are the future.

A lot of associations complain about how old their membership is. Given the way demographics are going, we better get used to it!

I also wonder how many of the 50 and 60 year old members of today were active leaders of their association 30 years ago. I’d wager a beer that it’s a very low percentage for many organizations. Our personal activities are driven by the professional and life stages in which we are immersed. Perhaps we are being too hard on ourselves about not having a lot of youth involved in the organization. Perhaps they just truly don’t care or we aren’t in the business of providing the value they are looking for at this point in their lives. Or there simply aren’t enough of them!

It is always worthwhile to take a step back and give our assumptions a few solid kicks and see which of them fall over and which stand up to scrutiny. Maybe you should be trying to get more ‘old’ members engaged rather than tilting at the young member windmill.

Accountability Demands Performance

An article about Netflix’s vacation policy this week caused a bit of an envious stir online. The policy? Take as much time off as you want, just make sure you are getting done what you need to get done.

Accountability! Flexibility! Hooray!

Here is the secret to why this actually works for Netflix is not abused: They fire average performers.

From the article:

People who don’t produce are shown the door. “Adequate performance,” the company says, “gets a generous severance package.”

Anyone who would abuse these open policies (approvals are not needed for travel or entertainment expenses either) is shown the door long before it would become a problem because, by definition, high performers are producing above average results.

You can’t give freedom and demand accountability without actually holding people accountable. That is the terribly hard part of the equation for a lot of organizations.

I Learned a Lot about Delegation During CPR Training

When I took a class on CPR a few years ago the instructor gave us one of the best lessons I’ve ever had on delegation.

She said that when you come across some who isn’t breathing, you need to get someone else to call 911 for emergency response before you begin CPR. Yelling “Somebody call 911!” turned out to be the wrong thing to do in this scenario. There is a great chance that no one will call 911 if you just yell for anybody to do it.

The instructor said that you should make eye contact with someone nearby, point at them, and say very firmly “You! Call 911 and have them send help to this address!” Maintain eye contact until they confirm and pull out a cell or go to find a phone. Then you can start with the CPR.

It is so easy for leaders to make this same mistake in working with their teams. The leader says that he wants someone to take care of this issue, problem, or opportunity and then is shocked when no one does so.

Ambiguity is the enemy of effective delegation.

We all must be as specific as possible: I am delegating to YOU. I expect YOU to achieve these outcomes with these parameters.

Try it the next time you need to hand off something. I’m looking at YOU!

Opening the Books to Staff

Great story in the New York Times today as part of their series on small businesses. The post is about how a new factory owner revealed and explained the financials of the company to the staff and placed accountability on them to make the changes necessary to save turn the operation around. A choice quote:

Starting Over in Lexington: Blowing the Doors Off

Seeing an opportunity to diversify the plant’s products and clients, we took it over, saving 100 in jobs in the process. But we didn’t write a blank check: we told the employees that we would teach them financial literacy, that we would open our books to help them understand how the place works and think more like owners, and that the onus was on them to turn the place around. We also told them they had 36 months to turn it into a sustainable operation.

I talked about this in one of the e-mails sent as part of my Orgpreneur Weekly Tip (you subscribe, right?). If staff don’t know where the money comes from and how it gets spent they can’t predict or help with causes and effects that influence the bottom line for your organization.

Show staff the money! This factory in ‘blowing the doors off’ their revenue goals in part because the employees figured out how to make it happen. They were able to do this because they had knowledge they needed to do so and ownership of the results.

Example of a Goal That Matters in Action

An Apparel Factory Defies Stereotypes, but Can It Thrive

I read this story in the New York Times over the weekend about Knights Apparel, a company that manufactures t-shirts and other clothing for college book stores. The founder and CEO, Joseph Bozich, wanted to not only offer a great and profitable product, he wanted to address a critical issue in the apparel market: being successful without paying wages that keep workers below the poverty level.

As you read it, you can note the passion for their work that the executives, their workers, and their customers have for the idea of creating apparel while paying workers a living wage. This is the dynamic that goals that matter create.

The kind of endeavor you are in, for profit or not, doesn’t really matter. What does is a goal that motivates your leadership and staff while drawing to you the customers or constituents you need to make it happen.

Fly the Airplane

I just finished Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, in which he discussed how instituting checklists can reduce risk and increase positive results in many areas of management and operations.

One of many stories that caught my eye in the book was that of the checklist for engine failure in single engine Cesna planes. These craft, flown by a solo pilot, have a set series of actions that the manufacturer recommends taking when the engine fails, giving the pilot the best chance possible of getting the propeller back in action.

The first item on the checklist? FLY THE AIRPLANE.

Solo pilots become so absorbed in restarting the engine that they are prone to forget flying the gliding craft so that when they do restart the engine they haven’t already nosed over into the ground.

This is a very important point when in crisis, either professional or personal. We have to keep flying our planes. Whether that is making sure important tasks are still being completed during overwhelming crises at work or taking care of healthy family members even while caring for another who is critically ill.

If we don’t keep flying the plane we won’t have much left to work with once the crisis has passed. And they all do pass eventually.

As Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through Hell, keep going.” Keep flying the plane.

Mid Year 2010

We are officially half-way through the Year 2010.

How’s it going? Hit your goals? Made good progress? Delighted someone yet? I hope so!

There are 6 months to go in this year which feels like a lot of time, just like it did in January.

Take a moment by yourself or with your team and identify one thing that you absolutely want to make sure is achieved this year. Map out the next three actions you should do to move it forward. Put them in your calendar, freeing up time for it if necessary.

If you don’t make it a priority, who will?

Launch Lessons from Five Guys Burgers

A new Five Guys burger restaurant just opened in our town, which I had been eagerly anticipating. I used to eat at the original restaurant in Arlington, VA, back in the early 90s. When I stopped in to the Salisbury shop for the first time they had been open for about four days.

I got my order and sat down at a table next to a guy who was wearing a Five Guys t-shirt but without the demeanor of someone who flips burgers. As I unwrapped my burger I noticed it had all the wrong toppings on it. It must have shown on my face because suddenly I hear from the next table, “Not what you wanted?”

I said it wasn’t, he confirmed my original order and then headed back to the kitchen. A few minutes later he was back with a new burger, another round of fries, and offered his apology.

Great customer service, no? I asked if he were the owner of the store and he said he was. He was doing something very smart for a business leader: he was sitting in his store during peak operations in the first week, watching how it went. Taking care of my individual burger was nice but the real important thing for him as the owner was that he had evidence of a broken process, poor training, or a simple one-off error. It was data he could act on, discovered during the shakedown cruise of his restaurant.

The first cruise of a new ship is often called a shakedown because components that will fail early usually do so during that first cruise. They identify those problems, fix them, and then have confidence that the rest of the ship ought to hold up for the normal lifetime of those components.

Same principle applies to launching a new restaurant, a new product or a new service. Pay a lot of attention during the shakedown run. Stay close to the action and see what isn’t working as planned. Being close lets you catch these items quickly and do something about it.

Bridging Silos

Breaking down silos is a frequent organizational mantra. However, if taken to the extreme, you end up with a pile of rubble and scavengers making off with your grain.

The simple truth of the matter is that no organization can be made perfect, they all have their inefficiencies, politics and barriers. Sometimes the more effective approach is to bridge silos rather than break them down. You are much less likely to bring the whole edifice down on your head if you focus on punching strategic holes in the towers and connecting them rather than trying to take on the entire power structure.

Sometimes the silo is more powerful than you. But almost any organizational silo can be pierced by an intrepid orgpreneur.

Build these bridges based on creating results, getting things done, routing around office politics that have things gummed up. You’ll soon be known as the person who gets it done without trying to reinvent the organization first.

Getting Change Right with Seth Kahan

I’m very excited to share this podcast interview with Seth Kahan, author of Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out.

Seth has consulted with everything from Fortune 100 companies to some of the top NPOs and associations in the world, helping them to get change right.

Some of the key topics Seth covers in the interview include:

  • How important collaboration and engagement are to making change happen;
  • Why the increasing speed of change is creating significant differences among the generations;
  • How to create a touch stone event that creates powerful commitment instead of temporary compliance.

Seth shares a lot of great stuff and I hope you get as much value from our talk as I did.

Download the MP3 of the interview here.