We Have Data! Now What?

Perfectly executed and statistically valid survey results won’t help you unless you actually do something based on the results. The trick is to design the survey and your business processes to enable action. Here are a few tips for doing so.

What questions will help us to determine results and make changes?
This is the most important of the three: considering what questions will best help you to improve the program, service or product about which you are gathering data.

If you offer a training seminar, is the satisfaction of the attendee during the event the most important aspect or are the improved outcomes they create on their job using this new knowledge? Probably the latter, although it is much more common to survey the former.

Who can best answer those questions for us?
Following what to ask is then who to ask it. Continuing the example above, if the key metric is improved job performance, then the right people to ask about that are probably the supervisors or managers of the people attending the event rather than those who were there.

It can often be extra work to identify and contact those who can actually answer your questions but it is critical if you want data that is valuable and enables you to take action.

Build in time and resources for analysis and action.
Even when you ask the right people the right questions, you won’t get anywhere unless you build in time and resources to really go through the results.

Who can make decisions about what to do? Who can best analyze the results and recommend alternatives and changes if warranted? Put time on their calendars before the surveys goes out so they will convene to review results and make decisions.

If you do the above you’ll be much more likely to improve the quality of whatever it is you are surveying about.

Funding Web Projects from Reserves

Should financial reserves be used to fund the development of a website instead of from current revenues? The answer lies largely in the strategic value of the project in question.

Financial reserves are the funds that many non-profit organizations literally hold in a reserve. Since they don’t pay out profits to owners or shareholders, bottom line revenue goes into the bank and is typically invested. These reserves may serve different purposes but they have a role in providing financial security, rainy day resources, and in some cases capital for new ventures within the organization. Funding a website project would qualify under the latter.

My grandfather, a serial entrepreneur in his day, said this: “You can borrow money to make money but you should never borrow to pay for the groceries.” Wise advice all around and it definitely applies to funding your website development and operations.

Delving into reserves to create new capacity, to expand your website infrastructure, with the expectation of significant returns over several years is often a good thing to do. Using reserves to pay for staff or one-off projects is almost always not. The decision to invest reserve capital should always have a tremendous focus on creating significant and sustained new value. It should not be used to cover spot costs or very short-term needs.

This is why web strategy is so critical in a large development project: it gives you and your organization the greatest chance of creating significant returns online when reserve funds are in play.

Announcing a new blog from David Gammel: Orgpreneur.com

I am very pleased to announce a new blog I am writing for those who embrace entrepreneurship in the pursuit of goals that matter: Orgpreneur.

The first few posts include:

Why You Must Make a Buck to Make a Difference
Why Entrepreneurship Matters to NPOs
Why You Must Put the Hairy Baby on the Table (one of my favorite stories from early in my career)

I hope you’ll check it out and subscribe!

Preventing Problems When You Leave a Web Designer

All business relationships come to an end eventually. Needs change, goals change, people change. Here are a few tips, learned from helping many people who didn’t do these, to prevent disruption when you decide you need to leave your web design or development firm.

  • Own the relationships with your web hosting company, rather than going through your web design firm. You must have total control over your hosting environment (servers, internet connection, back-ups, etc.) by having a contract with a hosting company. Worse come to worse, you can have them cut off access for your web firm.
  • Control your domain names with your own registrar account. Many smaller organizations will end up with their web designer or firm managing their domains on their behalf. To minimize risk, your company should have that relationship with the registrar and have direct control over the domain name settings with them.
  • Have fresh copies of all web assets backed-up and archived, including data. This ensures you have the raw material of your site and could get it up and running on another host and domain name in relatively short order.

You can’t prevent all problems but the above steps are very prudent precautions to take if you are working with a solo designer or a major firm. Your website is too important to leave it at risk of significant disruption due to a changing business relationship.

Questions to ask when you run the website.

Good news! You are now in charge of the website!

Now what?

Here are a few critical questions to consider when you take over the website. Discuss these with your team, your boss, and your peers.

How well does the site support our strategic outcomes?
What is your organization trying to achieve? How much of a contribution is the site making to those goals? What more could it do to provide value?

This is the first thing you have to understand before you can really do anything significant with the site.

Which segments of our target markets are the most relevant for us online?
Of all the markets your organization serves, which are the most relevant to your online goals? How well does your site target and serve those people?

Attracting welders to a knitting site probably doesn’t do anyone much good. Make sure your site has the right audience. If it doesn’t, you have a great opportunity to have a tremendous impact by getting the right people to the site.

Do we have the tools, technology and skills to execute effectively on our current goals?
Does your content flow freely to the site without errors or revisions? Do you have process bottlenecks? Are some things that should be simple to achieve highly complex?

As the new leader of the website, you have an opportunity to spot problems that have become invisible to everyone else yet are a big drag on productivity. Fixing some of these right off the bat is often relatively easy and gives you some early wins for your team and organization.

Does your new responsibility signal a great shift that the site must reflect?
Big picture: does your new role signal a broader change in the organization? If so, make sure you consider how that new high-level direction can be best supported by your team and website.

Get a mentor.
Finally, be sure you have a mentor or two to help you explore and master this new job. A mentor can be your boss, another internal leader, a colleague or someone outside the organization. The key thing is to have someone who will ask the tough questions of you to make sure you are focused on creating results and executing effectively to do so.

I offer coaching and mentoring to web and IT leaders if you desire an independent, external, source of feedback and advice.

The Opt-in Panopticon

A story is making the rounds about a Swiss woman who was fired by her employer after they saw her active on Facebook while she had told them she was too ill to work with a computer and stayed home.

Regardless of the facts of the story above, it does illustrate a new dynamic that we are all wrestling with as a society: how to balance our personal, private, and professional identities online.

Welcome to the opt-in panopticon, where you chose to make your online activity easily observed by others.

A panopticon is a type of prison design proposed by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. The design allowed every prisoner to be viewed from a single point, which creates the perception among prisoners that they are always being observed, even when they are not. The design is still influencing prison design today.

In the context of social media, we are moving to an online environment where we are all prisoners and guards in the panopticon. The more you use social media to reflect your current status and actions (think Twitter or Facebook status updates) the more you are placing yourself into a self-imposed panopticon. You never know who might be following your actions so you must behave as if everyone is following them. This includes: friends, family, spouses, children, employers, employees, clients, members, IRS agents, you name it!

This is certainly a rather negative analogy and ignores the benefits of social networking and other participatory media. However, it is a genuine factor to be aware of and prepared for.

Some things to consider for yourself and your staff or volunteers:

  • Educate staff and volunteers to this new dynamic and how the separation of personal and professional online is increasingly hard to maintain;
  • Set expectations for representing the organization online;
  • Be forgiving. The next variation of Warhol’s famous aphorism may be that we will all be stupid online for 15 minutes. If you fire everyone who makes a mistake online you’ll have very few people left!

What do you think? How might this impact your organization and how you work with your staff and volunteer leaders?

Creating New Ideas for Your Association Web Site

I had a great time presenting on Sunday at ASAE’s Great Ideas conference about how to create your own ideas for your association web site.

I emphasized in the session that:

  • Anyone can do this, you do not need permission.
  • Ideas are literally all around us if you open your eyes to them.
  • Creating and implementing new ideas is inherently an act of optimism, which will make you stand out from the crowd these days!

I had a few people come up afterward saying how enabling they found the ideas of the presentation. They were not ‘tech’ people and, before my talk, didn’t think they could do much of this themselves. Untrue! If you can simply edit content on your site (or have someone do it for you) you can immediately begin improving it.

Here are the slides for your reference.

I also offer this same presentation as a staff workshop. If you see value in empowering staff to do more with your web site, drop me a note and we can discuss putting a program together for you. Your members will thank you!

Are Your Web and IT Teams Fixing or Improving?

On a global consulting forum I belong to, Alan Weiss suggested that one thing to explore on a regular basis with direct reports is whether they are spending their time mostly fixing things or improving them. This is a great question for your Web and IT teams as well.

For teams that involve technology such as the Web and IT, it’s critical that they have a primary focus on improving the value of what others in the organization can achieve. IT and Web technology are pre-requisites for almost any endeavor these days. Teams that focus on improving and creating new value will increase the ROI of your technology investments and create an organization that constantly increases the value you offer to your constituents.

If your teams spend most of their time simply putting out fires, then they are leaving a lot of value on the table.

Don’t get me wrong, being able to troubleshoot, debug, and investigate the weird glitches and problems that technology entails is an important activity and skillset. However, it’s not why your teams exist.

Do You Need a Partner or a Vendor?

With the extent of outsourcing and software-as-a-service models, executives are focused on creating strong partnerships with their technology vendors more than ever before.

However, make sure you really need a partnership before investing in creating one.

True partnerships between the people of separate organizations require a lot of effort and dedication to create and maintain. This can create powerful results. You must make sure those results are worthy of the relationship investment, however.

How can you know? Here are a few criteria:

  • The service or technology is a significant investment for your organization.
  • The service or technology enables you to achieve highly valuable outcomes.
  • You, as a customer, are of significant importance to the vendor. If you are a small fry client, you will typically get small fry attention.
  • The technology or service is not a commodity, easily interchangeable with others.

If you and your vendor don’t fit the criteria above then you are both possibly wasting your time and effort on a partnership when one isn’t required.

Related Resource: Creating High Value Partnerships with Technology Providers

Session Summary on Super-charging Web Teams

Mark Athitakis, senior editor with ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership, posted a great summary of my presentation last week at the ASAE Technology Conference.

In the session, titled Super-charging Your Web Team: Recruiting, Training, and Managing Your In-house Web Talent, I shared my top tips and secrets on how to maximize the value that your web staff can contribute to your organization. You can read Mark’s notes here on ASAE’s wiki.