Archive for Organization Blogs
Ever feel like your brain is stuck in a rut? This cool little mindgame, demonstrated by a fun & free video, will help you become more of a free thinker. Give it a try!
Depending upon how you view the world, this mindgame will either strike you as being ridiculously effortless or frustratingly difficult. It challenges you to see the world in a way that you aren’t used to. Have fun with it. Show it to enough of your friends and you’ll soon be rewarded with at least one “total freekout!”
Paradigms are sticky modes of thought. They provide templates for our brain to easily identify and categorize information. They guide a lot of our opinions and motivate many of our actions. As we age and solidify our views, we accept more and more paradigms into our though process. While making for quick thoughtless decisions, these patterns can also cause us to stereotype, mislabel, underestimate and misjudge things.
Many of our environments actually impose paradigms upon us. The challenge is to identify those environments and isolate their effects. If you let them, they will exert control over your actions without you even realizing it.
In high school, the social environment may very well make you feel like everyone is drinking when in actuality they are not. In work environments, you may feel that everyone takes a little extra time at lunch, when only a few people really do. At home, you may feel as though your father or spouse is unusually imposing, even if his approach is on par with that of most caring family members. It’s up to us to challenge the potential stereotypes in our lives, particularly those which could negatively impact our relationships or life choices.
Though sad, it is true that most people in life will not be successful, are not very careful and do not give enough thought to their choices. Unfortunately, these are the same people who tend to set the trends and enforce the paradigms that may be limiting you. Aspire to be the trend setter, not the follower.
For more on this topic or to see more posts like this, visit TimothyShoemaker.com
When I was much younger, I truly believed that collaboration was only made possible by an absence of group conflict. I was sold on the notion that organizational harmony was not only possible, but was the natural and inevitable result of an empathetic leadership style. Like many others in business, parenting or volunteer organizations, I committed myself to a democratic and responsive approach. I assumed that others would see the value of that approach and offer the same in return. After nearly twenty years of organizational leadership, I can say that these well-meaning suppositions were as futile as they were naive. In fact, my efforts to avoid conflict not only proved frustrating, but undoubtedly robbed my organizations of their true potential.
People are problematic. It’s just who we are. Even like-minded people bring differences to the table. Even civil discourse has a habit of exposing discord and even the world’s greatest diplomat will be exposed to her fair share of conflict, perhaps more so. But let not your heart be troubled, this is a wonderful thing.
Disagreement is not a sign of fragility or failure within your group. Don’t let the fear of conflict temper your enthusiasm or subdue your efforts. Truth be told, conflict is not only a natural, but extremely beneficial attribute of healthy collaboration.
Disagreement exposes thoughts, strategies, initiatives and traditions to the cleansing light of proof. I can think of many examples where a wonderful-sounding idea failed to produce the intended results. Had the idea only been washed through the suds of critical examination, many well-meaning resources could have been reallocated towards more successful endeavors. Or perhaps the original idea could have been tweaked to provide better results.
Disagreement can also have a palliative effect upon group dynamics. Issue-based conflict tends to expose incompatibilities amongst teammates. Whereas healthy organizations are fully capable of using conflict to facilitate productive exchanges, unhealthy organizations find themselves degrading into unpleasant territory. Usually, this is due to one or more people who are overwhelmed by their own weaknesses. Intolerance, pessimism, selfishness, arrogance or dismissive personalities just don’t work well in collaborative environments. These are the traits of independent contractors, and they can have a devastating effect upon the atmosphere of your group. It’s best to identify them early on, and respectfully part ways.
The organization’s role is not to avoid conflict, but to become adept at welcoming it and practiced at resolving it. The leader’s role is to embrace the usefulness of conflict and to set a productive tone of civility. This can be intimidating at first and will forever present a challenge. But it is a goal that every organization should have on their short-list. There are few better feelings than that experienced after your team has breached a difficult subject, exposed it to an honest and forceful debate, and amicably arrived at a well-vetted solution. That’s power, potential and productivity all wrapped up in one. True collaboration. Go get it.
No matter who you are, or what you’re doing, it’s time your organization took a look in the mirror. There are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations operating in the U.S. today. As staggering as this number is, it ignores the innumerable PTA’s, neighborhood groups, recreation committees and other ‘off-the-books’ type associations that we parents are most likely to be involved in. Amongst this vast and diverse group of formal and informal organizations, there exists a common -and sometimes crippling- identity crisis. Many of these groups don’t know who they are.
Every group needs to embrace and project a well-defined set of attributes. It’s members, and the bystanders with whom the group may interact, need to have a clear understanding of the association’s ideals, motives and behavioral characteristics. Without this forethought, the group will be handicapped from the start. High turnover, fluctuating commitment and disproportionate efforts will surely characterize the membership. Without a well-developed group identity, some team members quickly find themselves tired, disappointed or disillusioned. Innovation and quality will be sacrificed for convenience. Ideas will fail for lack of follow-through, and team morale will quickly become a figment of the organization’s past.
“No matter what your cause, there exists an inventory of people waiting to work with you. They just don’t know it yet. Make a commitment, to earn their commitment.” – Author’s Note
Most of our organizations are hastily brought together, and tentatively held together, by a small impassioned group. We call this “the committed core.” Though the term sounds kind of neat, we need to do whatever we can to avoid it. For while its true that short-term collaborations can subsist on personal friendships and individual efforts, none can survive this way, much less thrive this way. Intense individual efforts limit the breadth and longevity of a group’s effectiveness. What we need instead, is steady collaborative progress accomplished through a well-proportioned delegation of responsibilities. In order for this to happen, there must be a strong group identity. This identity is what draws other members into the group, and secures their commitment to common goals, principals and beliefs.
Short-term affiliates and exploratory new memberships are the fast food meals of the organizational realm. You’ll see these people float in and out of your ranks. While this kind of help can get things done, it doesn’t necessarily translate into “progress” for your organization. If you want your group to grow, and your efforts to be reinvested, you’ll need to fill your ranks with assets that are committed to the advancement of your association. If you want to know which type of membership you currently have, try this quick test. Walk into your next meeting and pose the question, “Who are we?“. Not “What do we do?”, or “Why are we here?”; as those answers are self-evident. Instead, you want to know:
When you do this, you’re guaranteed to get a few weird looks, and at least as many different answers. If you press the discussion just a bit, you’ll be surprised to find how many people have been sitting next to you, or working alongside you, without a clear reason ‘why’. Worse yet, without a definitive and conspicuous group identity, you’re guaranteed to find some team members with an ambiguous or subjective view that is out of whack, or even contrary to the group’s intended purpose. Neither of these circumstances are tolerable.
So it’s time to get specific with your membership, and craft your group’s public persona. Be ready for resistance. Some groups purposely avoid creating a clear and deliberate profile. Sometimes this is due to a lack of vision. Other times, it is because group leaders fear that the organization will appear exclusive, and in so doing, limit their prospective membership. In practice though, the opposite it true. The more clearly you describe your group, the more alluring you make it for those who hold similar attributes. In marketing, this is referred to as a ‘targeted audience’. And just as decades of advertising experience has taught us, the more directly you target your audience, the more productive your pitch. So even if half as many people show up to your meetings, you can rest easy knowing that those who do, will be twice as motivated, committed and productive.
Setting Your Identity
A strong group identity will transcend the individual personalities of your team members. It will infuse your efforts with clear and present meaning. What’s more, it will serve as a powerful beacon for those who may want to collaborate with you.
Developing this identity isn’t hard. Start with 3 to 5 Core Values or behavior characteristics (ex. Courage, Innovation, Credibility, Compromise). Articulate your Motivation and set your group’s Compass. Determine how you will incorporate, or express, these elements in your efforts. Lastly, discuss how you might Transform others from bystanders, into team members. This can be done on a single sheet of paper, in as little as thirty minutes. Once refined, it should be reiterated as often as possible, and relied upon to guide your group’s behavior.
Remember, no matter what your cause, there exists a vast inventory of dormant supporters; people who are ready to work with you, but don’t know it yet. Your group identity will be the spark that ignites their effort. Make a comittment to earn their comittment. If this is the only thing you do at your next meeting, it may just be the most productive meeting you’ve ever had.
In Part I of this series, Got Influence? we described the subtle, yet vital role played by a person or organization’s level of influence. Aided by the benefit of influence, a person or entity can quickly achieve the momentum they need to effectively accomplish their goals. Without it, though, you will be forced to do things the old fashioned way, the hard way. This will cost you valuable resources, forestall the accomplishment of your goals and limit the breadth of your success.
Truth be told, work without influence is only “old fashioned” to those who have recently come to understand the tremendous role played by this often-unseen force. It’s impact is both ancient and omnipresent, but until you incorporate it into some aspect of your strategic mindset, you may as well be laboring in the stone age. The most successful and productive people have learned to use their personal connections to amplify, multiply and emulsify their efforts. In so doing, every step forward becomes a leap. Every door opened, unlocks three more. Each successive project becomes less cumbersome than the prior.
“People without influence expend too much energy jumping through hoops, wrestling with bureaucracy, negotiating with lower management and commiserating with others in the same position.” – Author’s Note
One way to look at influence is as an ever-expanding, interwoven network of reciprocal favors; a barter system. The goal of the game is to take whatever resources you have control over, and market them to people who may someday be in a position to return the favor. Though not all enter this game on equal footing, the fact is that we all have resources to leverage.
If you’ve got millions of dollars, you’ll invest in the right campaign contributions, you’ll donate to charities run by the right people, you’ll lubricate business deals with the right companies and you’ll socialize in circles which are well-traveled by people pursuing the exact same strategy. With each step, your influence will grow exponentially.
Granted, not everyone has tons of money (and we’re going to overlook some of the means frequently used by those who don’t), but there are plenty of legitimate ways for the common man or woman to build influence. Start by outlining what sphere you hope to gain influence in. Identify the people who occupy the executive positions in that sphere, and begin working your way towards them. Make yourself relevant to them. Invest your efforts in their efforts. Insert yourself into the peripheral of their social circle. Find out what interests them, and determine how to become a resource, or develop a reputation, in that area.
Find a way to become a social, professional, legal, or philanthropic asset to them, and make sure they know it. If you can’t reach them, start with their friends, family or colleagues. Better yet, start with someone above them. View your development of influence as a ladder. The higher you go up the executive ladder, and the closer you get to the shot-caller themselves, the more power and scope your influence will have.
The goal of influence isn’t to control everything, but to gain preferred access to it. People with influence solve most of their problems with a phone call. People without influence expend much of their energy jumping through hoops, wrestling with bureaucracy, negotiating with lower management and commiserating with others in the same position. They become frustrated and tired.
Those last two sentences should stick in your head. For as natural as these observations will seem to some, I know that others amongst us find this subject uncomfortable; maybe even unethical. To be honest, I still find myself in this category. But no successful person has ever benefited from naivete. Adhere to your values. Stay true to your principals. Conduct yourself with honor, but don’t forfeit another ounce of your effort to ignorance. Somewhere, right now, another person or organization is out there investing in their influence. Don’t let them pass you by.
Read Part I of this Series: Got Influence? by Timothy Shoemaker
Many people enter organizations or endeavors with the fairytale belief that the merit of their cause, or the strength of their efforts, is enough to accomplish their goals. While both of these attributes are worthy, their ultimate value may prove to be disappointing, particularly if those goals include some type of organizational or institutional change.
The truth is, neither resolve nor hard work can accomplish much without influence. Absent influence, an idea is as impotent and unbinding as a figment of your imagination. Influence is the leverage that converts ideas into action. Unfortunately, no amount of reason, or even popularity, can serve as a substitute. Influence is a prerequisite to change. This can be a hard pill for some to swallow, particularly if you are among the young, the passionate or the self-reliant. I know this first hand, as I have myself evolved through each of these categories.
“The cultivation of influence is an essential investment, for it can make effortless, what would otherwise be impossible.” – Author’s Note
Influence is an asset that persuades compliance via obligation or association. It is an executive-level tool that sways decisions, opens doors and facilitates connections. For most, it comes by way of their professional, political or social status, and is derived through their control over relevant people or resources. Influence can also be obtained vicariously, through the leverage of friends or acquaintances who hold influential positions. Finally, influence can be bartered through the use of favors, gifts or services. Regardless of how it is obtained, the key question we must all ask ourselves is, “How can I obtain the influence I need to accomplish my (or my organization’s) goal.”
This critical question should be asked as early as possible, and needs to become an integral aspect of any action plan. In fact, the cultivation of influence should become the key component of any efforts you undertake. To some, this may seem to be an indirect, counter-intuitive, or maybe even disingenuous way of accomplishing a goal. But I encourage you to think otherwise. The fact is, the accumulation of influence is an investment that will ultimately enable you to accomplish far more, while exerting far less.
The leverage of influence is the cornerstone of the American political system. It is the lifeblood of most executive-level professional dealings. It is a key component of most corporate business deals and, if you’ve had trouble accomplishing your goals, it is probably the missing ingredient in your strategy.
Though hard work and resolve may ultimately bring your goals within reach, a lack of influence will impose terrific consequences upon your efforts. You will work twice as hard. It will take twice as long. You’ll use twice as many resources and you’ll make twice as much noise. All of these negative circumstances have opportunity costs for you or your organization. Exhaustion, frustration and tempestuous interactions are likely to accompany your hard-fought progress. Along the way, good ideas will be lost and meaningful projects will go incomplete.
Influence can make effortless, what would otherwise be impossible. Moreover, the absence of influence renders you, or your cause, subservient to those who have it. For some of you, these few paragraphs will have offered nothing new or exciting. I also know, however, that some of you have just experienced a revelation of thought. I was one of you. The concept of influence did not come naturally to me. It took a long time for me to accept it, and I often wonder what could have been, had I done so sooner.
The challenge for all of us is to continually evaluate and improve our efforts. We must identify what’s working and what’s not, who’s succeeding where we aren’t, who’s getting more done with less effort, and who’s got it figured out if we don’t. Until you have it, a lack of influence will play a key role in each of these questions. We must never forfeit our values, our integrity or our self-respect. But we must never turn a blind eye to the importance of this omnipresent and universally effective asset.
Read Part II of This Article: Cultivating Influence by Timothy Shoemaker
The journey that ultimately discovered the Americas was at many times believed to be foolhardy, overreaching, even fatalistic. To be sure, Columbus and his men were beaten, famished and unspirited, well before they got a glimpse of the promise land. Yet centuries later, their efforts continue to be heralded as encompassing one of the bravest and most consequential endeavors of all time. Many of us can draw parallels between the story of Columbus, and that of our own efforts. We carry noble passions, that drive us to go beyond what others seem to think worthy. Yet we also carry the prudent concern that our valuable investments may be lost to a goal that will never come to fruition.
Timothy Shoemaker is a writer, speaker and educator from New Jersey.
The moment we begin to question the valor of our commitment, is the moment when we must be at our strongest. Over the years, we’ve all had our ups and downs. Running, or even contributing to an organization of people can be guaranteed to give you some heartache and regret. Daring to pursue that which is difficult, is guaranteed to reward you with difficulties. No matter how passionate you are about the pursuit, and no matter how much you love working with your people, the road less traveled is going to be bumpy. Success is rarely achieved without adversity. The test of time for those who will ultimately change the world, boils down to how they handle the ups and downs of collaborative achievement. Even the best of us get frustrated and question the merit, value or plausibility of our efforts at times. The trick is being able to detach from the emotion, persevere in the face of frustration, and inspire others to do the same.
If the answers were easy and the journey undaunting, everyone would be doing what you are trying to do. In the end, we must remember that no goal has ever been achieved by giving up. No problem was ever solved by surrender. Have the fortitude to keep driving. Have the strength to persevere. Indulge yourself in the acknowledgment of difficulty, but carry forward with the knowledge that your destination lies just over the horizon. It’s true that if you turned back now, no one would blame you…Except maybe yourself.
For those of you looking for a quick and easy fundraiser, Friendly’s now offers a “Friendly’s Fun Night”. You advertise the night, and a portion of all sales get donated back to your organization.
Abraham Lincoln, arguably the most important American President, once proclaimed, “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” What Lincoln, Ford, and many other historical leaders have alluded to, is the fact that unity must remain the primary focus of a successful organization. For far to many young organizations, this vital lesson remains invisible -hidden beneath the shadow of other concerns. An incredible roster of private companies, political parties, rock bands and yes, local organizations, have faltered for lack of this essential perspective.
It is almost instinctive for an organization to focus on things like growth, financial success, or individual objectives, over the quality of the group’s working relationship. Most often, however, this will result in “Death by Frustration“. Their collaborative effort, even when powerfully successful, ultimately becomes unsustainable due to the high-maintenance costs of in-fighting and fractured egos.
Timothy Shoemaker is a speaker, writer and educator from New Jersey.
One of the most prominent examples of this played out in the waning days of the Revolutionary War. It was 1781, and though they didn’t know it, the Continental Army was just months away from victory. Six regiments of weary soldiers were quartered at Jockey Hollow in New Jersey. Their efforts had left them tired, success seemed elusive, and the conditions of war had depleted their morale. On January 1st, several thousand of these disenfranchised soldiers mutinied. Their ranks were defeated, from the inside out.
Captain Adam Bettin was one of the innocent men that died on that day. He was not killed because he was an abusive or brutal man. Nor, however, was he killed by accident. He lost his life because he tried desperately to maintain control over an organization that was self-destructing. Ironically, the mutineer’s plan was not to abandon the cause, and their anger was not directed at their commanding officers. Even though they had mutinied against the organization that had brought them together, they had no intent on abandoning it. Unfortunately, group morale had suffered to such an extent that a few disenfranchised members were able to fracture the bonds once tying the group to the group’s purpose. Without this nexus, failure became inevitable.
“To change the future, your group has to be part of it.”
The message left to us, many of whom have been joined together by goals or similar ideologies, is to foster a partnership that is capable of supporting long-term, naturally sustainable, collective effort. The fact is, very few things of importance can be accomplished without the unity and collaboration of like minds. Real progress can only be achieved under the power of sustained effort, consistently applied over time. Without careful direction, it is a natural tendency for organized groups of people to forfeit these greater pursuits in favor of short-term agendas or petty differences amongst individuals. The challenge for leaders, for organizers, is to foster unity as both a precursor and close companion to forward momentum.
Luckily, unity can be fostered in part by forward momentum. The trick, though, is not to mistake short-term success as evidence of a healthy partnership. You’ve got to judge your successes by their effect upon the team. Likewise, you must evaluate your team members, not simply by their effectiveness, but by their net effect upon the team. Did that fundraiser bring you closer, or leave a bitter taste? Was your group left energized, or exhausted? Were your members left feeling more qualified, or more petrified of working together? If you’re purpose is short-term, you can get by with just pointing a few energetic people in the right direction. But if your task will take more than a quick sprint to accomplish, you’ve got to pay close attention to the people and partnerships that are developed. To change the future, your group has to be part of it.
This is accomplished in part by intelligent recruitment efforts, in part by a steady stream of ideological reinforcement, and in part by leadership that remains sensitive and responsive to the working relationship of the team members. Make your people know that they are appreciated. Respect their input and keep them informed. Foster their individual development, alongside that of that of the organization. Have the courage and compassion to encourage the departure of those who are happiest when working alone. Believe in your people as if they were the cause itself, because very often, they are just that.
Every organization needs to develop a unified plan of attack. In the classic book of military strategy “The Art of War”, Chinese General Sun Tzu conveys many harsh, but diversely applicable tidbits of wisdom. In reading through the book’s translation, as everyone should at some point, it doesn’t take long before you are struck by the concisely conveyed strategic brilliance of its author. Though written and revered by those who would make war, this ancient piece of literature provides intellectuals of all sorts, an invitation to explore their goals and evaluate the means by which they seek to make accomplishments.
In a chapter called “Attack by Stratagem”, Sun Tzu explains that the preferred route to victory is not by way of death or destruction, but by peaceful means. Conflict produces damage, it creates victims and it devalues resources. In armed confrontations, these losses are conceptualized as broken bodies, burned homes and crumbling infrastructure. In organizational dealings, collateral damage can manifest as broken relationships, burnt bridges and crumbling support. In neither case, can victory truly be enjoyed, if it comes at the heels of such needless loss.
For all of us, the ideal goal is to build relationships and respect along the path towards success. As anyone who has ever tried this now knows, it is rarely possible. You will not always agree with those whose mind you must change. You will not always be invited into the ground you wish to gain. You will not always be greeted with the respect and acceptance that you would offer those yourself. But then again, you cannot let any of these circumstances stay your progress in the name of cordiality. While some would take that last sentence to be a justification, it was meant as more of a challenge.
Timothy Shoemaker is a speaker, writer and educator from New Jersey.
Sooner or later, most of us will run into a person or entity that will frustrate our efforts. Either due to action or inaction, these man-made obstacles are common to nearly every effort that seeks change on some level. While we cannot let our organizations sacrifice progress in the name of cordiality, it is equally unenviable for us to pursue progress without regard for cordiality. The challenge then, perhaps better labeled as an Art, is to balance the virtue of your efforts, with the nobility of your ideals.
Many of our organizations will at times be placed on a crash course with some form of resistance. Since we can’t always swerve around it, our goal is to mitigate the outcome to something along the lines of a fender-bender, rather than a ten car pile-up. Some essential rules of etiquette can help in this regard:
Get It Right The First Time
A good speaker knows his audience before he opens his mouth. A good organization knows it’s obstacle before seeking to address it. If you’re dealing with a shot-caller, make sure you consider how his decision could affect his superiors and subordinates. Take a moment to explore their background, and invest some effort in addressing any underlying issues that could be adding to your impasse.
Consider the flavor of your position. Could it be posed in a more inviting way? Corporations spend millions on this stuff. For example, ask a twelve year old to choose between “Pro-Life” and “Pro-Choice”. It’s like choosing between ice cream and candy. Ask that same child to choose between “Pro-Life” and “Anti-Abortion“; the answer comes much quicker. Like the child in the previous example, your audience is not likely to know your subject the way you do. It’s important that the finesse of your interaction targets their “gut response”. While you’re at it, bleed emotion out of any communication. Use less hand gestures in person, and less punctuation in writing (no bold, capitalized or underlined words). Use five words, instead of ten. Don’t use “I“, when “we” or “the organization” is appropriate.
“Semantics” says you? “Survival” says I. The manner in which you package your organization often means much more than the legitimacy of your cause, or the energy of your efforts. People can agree to disagree. Strong working relationships can be fostered, even amongst a storm of contention. That is our goal. And that is the challenge presented to those of us whose efforts hope to reach the mature and hard-fought pinnacle of success.
If you are like most of us, your goal is altruistic, your intent is benevolent and your actions are righteous. Make sure that your efforts are well-crafted, and success will find you.