Wednesday, October 26, 2016

leadership dot #1608: equal access

Today brings one more lesson from the One Iowa workshop I referenced yesterday.

The facilitator, Keenan Crow, noted that addressing discrimination or oppression is not about making everything the same for everyone. Instead, the goal is to provide equal access for all. 

He used this illustration to demonstrate the difference:

Think about an eye doctor.  

If we treated everyone the same way, everyone would receive the same prescription and same glasses. While this would work for some, it would not work for most.

Instead, we should strive to provide equal access -- meaning making it possible for everyone to see an eye doctor. It is better to offer access to the service than to find one solution to address individual needs.

Think about what your organization is trying to do be inclusive and to avoid discrimination. If your emphasis is not on equal access, you run the risk of leaving out one group when you provide special rights to others.

-- beth triplett

Keenan Crow, One Iowa Outreach Coordinator at the Iowa School Public Relations Association Fall Conference, October 20, 2016, West Des Moines

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

leadership dot #1607: George W

I recently attended a workshop about concepts underlying LGBT identities. Representatives from One Iowa used this simple yet powerful exercise to help people understand how cultural context influences our perceptions of identity and reactions to others.

Keenan Crow said that George W was his favorite president, and asked us to picture in our head what he wore to his presidential inauguration. [You can do that now.] Most said things like a tie, suit, flag lapel pin, coat, etc.

Then he showed the picture below.  [Scroll down]

George W stood for George Washington, not George W. Bush as most people assumed. And on George Washington's inauguration, he wore a powered wig, ruffled shirt, high heeled shoes and tights. If someone wore that today, inferences would be made about their identity or sexual orientation, but in the culture of the time what Washington wore was perfectly acceptable. Both men, at the same function, being inaugurated to the same office -- all the same parameters except for time -- and that made all the difference.

The next time you are tempted to jump to conclusions or make inferences about a person or an idea, remember George W. You need to first understand the context before you can understand anything at all.

-- beth triplett

Keenan Crow, One Iowa Outreach Coordinator at the Iowa School Public Relations Association Fall Conference, October 20, 2016, West Des Moines

Monday, October 24, 2016

leadership dots #1606: fly the W

I am cheering for the Cubs to win the World Series. And it's not because they haven't won a Series in 108 years. It's not because many of my friends and my whole family are life long Cubs fans (as was I until I moved to St. Louis.) It's not because I have anything against the Indians.

I am rooting for the Cubs because I love it when the non-sexy, behind the scenes grunt work of building an infrastructure and crafting a culture pays off in a big way. And that is what has happened with this organization.

After assembling his cabinet, General Manager Theo Epstein started with a 4-day meeting of 150 scouts, coaches and minor league staff. He knew that he had to build the organization from the ground up and impart his vision of what the Cubs of the future could be. That was four years ago.

Since then the club has addressed almost every aspect of the organization. They added 77 new positions (but still have the smallest front office in baseball.) They invested $6 million in technology so they could modernize operations and rely more on statistical measures. They built new facilities for the farm team, for scouting in the Dominican Republic and for offices in Chicago. They spent $750 million to upgrade the neighborhood around Wrigley and make substantial improvements to the park itself. The Cubs renegotiated broadcasting contracts and worked with the Disney Institute to improve customer service. 

Oh, and they acquired a manager and made player trades that favored a new infusion 
of energy and those who wanted to play in the culture they were trying to create. They modeled in the minors the culture they wanted in the Big Show, that of "playing loose and with confidence." 

The Cubs honestly communicated the long term plan with their fans to align expectations. The owners acknowledged that the team would become worse before they became better. They were right.

But now, here they are. Seeing the results of a half-decade of systematic effort. Reaping the benefits that come from an aligned culture, supportive infrastructure and methodical progress toward a larger goal. 

Yes, I am cheering for the Cubs -- and for all other organizations who do the work off the field to enjoy success on it. Learn from them so your organization can fly its own W flag too.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, October 23, 2016

leadership dot #1605: clarity

The implementation of EMV chip readers was supposed to have occurred by October, 2015, but as anyone who has been in a retail establishment lately knows, the transition is still in progress.

Most outlets now have the machinery, but a maddening number of them still work only with the "swipe" function rather than the chip. From just looking at the machine, there is no way for the customer to know whether to insert the chip or to swipe, which I am sure results in undue frustration for people on both sides of the counter.

I was recently at a convenience store that provided a perfect solution to the dilemma. They inserted a blank gift card into the chip mechanism and wrote "no chip." Problem solved. Everyone can know with clarity what to do with their credit card in that machine.

I am not sure why the manufacturer did not provide a similar feature, perhaps more eloquently stated and professionally done. All chip readers could have come with an insert that said "Chip feature in progress," or something similar instead of having people fumble through for the months that installation was in progress.

If your organization is continually asked the same question or sees its customers hesitate about what to do (eg: which door to enter, where to find the restrooms, what something costs, etc.), spell it out for them. Even if it is a simple sign written with a Sharpie, eliminating the little annoyances goes a long way in the overall customer experience.

-- beth triplett

See Dot #1329, chips, January 21, 2016 for more on this topic

Saturday, October 22, 2016

leadership dot #1604: recombobulation

A friend sent me this photo from the Milwaukee airport. It's the space just outside the TSA checkpoint and is identified as the "Recombobulation Area." 

It's an appropriate word, since after you pass through security you often feel like you need to put yourself back together. Shoes, jewelry, pockets and luggage are all disrupted and disheveled and you need to take a few moments to get yourself back into the condition you were when you first entered the line.

While Milwaukee literally labeled a space for recombobulation, I think that similar zones are needed in far more locations. Maybe malls could have one at Christmas? Or it could be a special room in a home where parents could go after a children's play date or party. Offices could have them for employees to use after divisive meetings or stressful deadlines. They would be useful for visitors in hospitals or for anyone who has to visit an emergency room.

We all get discombobulated at points in time. Even though there likely isn't an official space for you to decompress, I urge you to create one of your own. Take a moment to breathe and to gather your composure before you continue on to the next gate.

-- beth triplett

Thanks Demetria!

Friday, October 21, 2016

leadership dot #1603: storytelling

Yesterday I presented a workshop for the Iowa School Public Relations Association. My session title: An orange, a crayon and a paper bag -- Storytelling in 2016.

The premise of the session was that, in today's world where choice abounds -- even for K-12 students -- and state funding is limited, it is vital to for school districts to demonstrate value. And value comes from creating distinctiveness. I used the three items in the title as the basis for exercises to help participants gain practice in creating distinctions. 

You may find them helpful as your organization strives to claim its role in a crowded field or aims to set itself apart from others to gain funding, membership or other benefits. I have written about these items separately, but think about them as a trio that can flex your creative muscle to master the difference between describing and telling a story.

The Orange exercise, the Crayons exercise and the Paper bags exercise can be found at these links.

Another exercise that is helpful in stimulating thought on distinctions is the matching exercise. While it may seem counter intuitive that finding commonalities leads to articulating differences, it does when you go beyond the obvious.

I used flash cards of simple pictures (like what is available in teacher's stores) and asked the group to find what matched. As an example: It was easy to see that a fox matched the owl as both are animals, but harder to notice that the fox also matched the airplane as both have tails and noses. The owl also matched the airplane because both fly. 

The storyteller's job is to see new ways of connecting ideas, and today, everyone is a storyteller. Practice creating distinctions among seemingly ordinary or similar items to help you vividly communicate your organization's value.

-- beth triplett

Dot #608: orange, January 30, 2014
Dot #427: colors, August 2, 2013
Dot #138: paper bags, October 17, 2012

Thursday, October 20, 2016

leadership dot #1602: overhead

Yesterday I wrote about overhead projectors, and today I will share thoughts on a different kind of overhead -- specifically the one that non-profits use to categorize their administrative costs.

I recently participated in a webinar with industry professionals who are leading an effort to redefine the perception of overhead expenditures being automatically viewed as negative. These leaders maintain that by placing a disproportionate emphasis on the overhead radio (the % that goes to administrative salaries and office costs), non-profits are hesitant to invest in the infrastructure that could help them more effectively achieve their mission.  

The premise of the webinar was twofold: 1) that not all non-profits should be judged by the same metric -- as international networks have a very different cost structure than do research organizations than do advocacy groups, etc. and 2) that no single metric should be used to evaluate an entire organization. 

While the dilemmas may be clear, the answers to them are not. This was the first of a 3-part webinar series to discuss the matter and to help guide a conversation about how organizations should measure their impact, manage toward results and demonstrate the effectiveness of overhead expenditures. 

There was even talk of creating a new name to label overhead (examples: core funds, vessel funds, operational costs, a new word -- caust -- that combines cause and cost, or the tongue-in-cheek variant of "things-we-need-in-order-to-do-our-job-of-helping-people-damnit"), believing that overhead has such an ingrained negative connotation that it cannot be overcome.

Whether you are a member of an organization or a personal donor, the debate around overhead should matter to you. How do you measure whether your dollars make a difference in achieving the mission? How can you compare one organization vs. another, especially when they address similar causes (eg: breast cancer)? What does it cost to do good?

The struggle that non-profits are having relating to overhead has relevance to any group attempting to share data and meaning in a two-dimensional way. It is an ongoing tension between complexity and simplicity in the quest to communicate meaning. Pay attention to the overhead conversation to learn how your organization can find that balance in its messaging.

-- beth triplett

To learn more, download GuideStar's white paper: Six Tips for Busting the Overhead Myth

Information from GuideStar Webinar "How Much Does it Cost to Do Good? Conversations on Nonprofit Overhead, Part One; October 11, 2016