Only 13 days into the month of March and already I have heard this sentiment expressed in meetings of three different organizations: we should do a podcast! Awareness and consumption of podcasts has steadily increased for years. For insights and ...

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We Should Do a Podcast!

Only 13 days into the month of March and already I have heard this sentiment expressed in meetings of three different organizations: we should do a podcast!

Awareness and consumption of podcasts has steadily increased for years.  For insights and evidence about the growth in podcast popularity, look to these posts and fact sheets from Edison Research, Ad Age, Pew Research Center, and the always helpful Jay Baer. In fact, I am writing this post while listening to Pod Saves America and Think Again (from Big Think), two of my favorite podcasts.

But a podcast should not, dare I say cannot, be a tactic chasing a strategy.  Yet a fear of missing out (FOMO) seems to drive some podcast advocates more than a clear set outcomes and success metrics for how this potentially resource-intensive media approach would serve their organization's mission, vision, and overall communication strategy.

Not wanting to burst others unbridled podcast enthusiasm in these conversations, I ask probing, yet relatively nonthreatening questions, including:
  • How might a podcast further advance the current communication strategy?
  • What new stakeholders groups might a podcast reach or for which existing stakeholders might a podcast better reach?
  • Which issues or messages might a podcast amplify more powerfully than other media?
  • What stories do we have to tell that might be best served in a podcast format?
  • How might podcasting leverage the caring and capabilities of more volunteers or more partners in supporting our work?  
While your mileage might vary, I have found greater success with these more strategic level questions (whether asking them as a volunteer, a board member, or a consultant) than ones that presume we will do a podcast and all we have to figure out is who, how, and when.  This approach echoes Simon Sinek's advocacy for focusing on the why first, albeit it here on more of a programmatic level.

It is human nature to see others experiencing success with something and want to copy it in our own efforts.  But we must resist doing so without a strategic examination of whether or not doing so aligns with our mission, vision, values, and strategies for success.  Having a set of questions and/or a more comprehensive process in place for doing so needs to be a part of every organization's culture.


Let's Take a Field Trip!

Remember how exciting it was to take field trips as a kid?
Escaping the daily classroom grind for something different and interesting?

I am convinced that field trips, or what I call Discovery Trips, are one of the more effective, but underutilized staff development opportunities around. As I noted in my TEDx talk on lifelong learning (four years ago today), intentional diversity and ongoing discovery are part of a lifelong learning commitment.

To make the most of this simple idea, collectively decide on what would be of value to discover. For what areas or issues do you seek new ideas and insights? What different exposure might help stimulate some fresh thinking? What places or issues have you previously not explored? The answers will help you purposefully select locations and sources for your field trips.

Team members could visit different locations/experienced for broad learning or the same one (perhaps at different times) for deep learning from a single source. Using a common observation framework for notetaking helps facilitate subsequent debrief and discussions as a team.

The debrief and application is critical, but don't make it overly complex. Try this simple framework:
  1. Observation: What did you notice?
  2. Implication: What might that mean for our work?
  3. Application: How do we want to be/do different as a result?
Don't micro-manage trip scheduling. Let people plan their own outings consistent with their energy and workflow. Do give them a deadline for completing their discovery trip and do schedule the team debrief well in advance.

Consider making this an informal and ongoing part of staff development. Imagine giving every team member $10-20/quarter (perhaps less often if you are a very large org) to visit a museum, restaurant, coffeehouse, or store to learn about service, experience design, & more. If you are in a large organization, perhaps require they partner with someone outside their department.

Discovery (aka Field) Trips may be of particular appeal to introverts on your team. They can take one on their own or with a partner.  The trips also can neutralize hierarchy since everyone engages equally, as well as involve people in cross-functional sharing and learning.

I've curated virtual field trips as an appetizer for participants in a strategic planning or design thinking session to do online prior to an in-person meeting. Engaging everyone in field research is an effective way to get them fully involved in discussions from the onset.

Over time, colleagues may start viewing their daily life as a field/discovery trip and bring back ideas from what they notice. Wouldn't that be great?

P.S. For a more comprehensive look at Life's A Great Teacher and lifelong learning, here is a 25-minute video of my talk at an ACPA convention.


Renting Your Seat at the Leadership Table

One of the best lessons my mentors taught me is that you don't permanently own your seat at the leadership table no matter how talented, knowledgeable, or caring you might be. Part of leadership success is knowing when to exit and create space for the enthusiastic contributions of others.

Yet while at the table we do have to adopt an owner's mindset for the responsibilities and consequences of the contributions and decisions we make while still understanding we are temporary custodians and part of an ongoing leadership legacy. This is true whether we serve in a formal leadership position or if we are someone who simply has accrued access and influence that gets us attention.  Unless we are founding members of an organization, many have come before us and many are still to come.

Embracing our temporary role as owners applies to both formal leadership positions and informal leadership in the moment or a meeting: contribute, but ensure others can do so also.  Effective leadership orientation and transition can reinforce this premise.  Here's an example from my distant past.

1980-81 Executive Board, Illinois Association of Student Councils
As a senior in high school, I had the tremendous honor of serving as the state president for the Illinois Association of Student Councils.  One of the most powerful memories I have about assuming that leadership position involves a simple scrapbook provided to me during orientation to my office.  Bulging at the seams, the scrapbook contained a page or two dedicated to pictures, clippings, and written advice from each of the previous state presidents.

During my term, I often returned to their thoughts for inspiration and perspective.  Each reading helped change my thinking about "making my mark" on the association. The pages reminded me I was one of many. My job was to build on what others had created, add my contributions to it, and turn it over to the next person ... both the scrapbook and my seat at the table.

The time to begin planning for leadership transition is the day you come into office, not a few weeks before you are going to leave.

What rituals could you create to reinforce the understanding you want your volunteer and staff leaders to embrace about their temporary seat at the table?

Enabling and Accelerating Value Acquisition

1. Don't forget: joining is not the same as belonging.
Smart organizations transition new joiners to a sense of belonging and identifying as a community member by quickly connecting them to both the community at large and to specific individuals, resources, and opportunities of interest. I recommend at minimum a plan of action for one day, one week, and one month after someone joins.

2. Foster belonging with customized cultivation.
Smart organizations learn about a joiner's needs, interest, and motivations by gathering relevant data in a simple streamlined manner during the membership application process at minimum.

While other data collection opportunities should be used during a member's experience, failure to collect even the most basic interests during the application process means the membership confirmation and initial invitations cannot be customized. The communications sent are generic, impersonal, and less welcoming. The initial data gathering can be as simple as the tangible-intangible question illustrated or a "APICS What's Your Goal?" as described in this Associations Now blog post from Joe Rominiecki.

3. Focus on enabling and accelerating members' acquisition of value.
A key strategic question smart organizations answer is: How do we make it easier for individuals to self-manage as they desire their membership experience, enabling them to acquire the value they most seek as quickly as possible?  Accelerants should be offered in multiple forms such as these approaches for helping joiners feel welcome:
  • a self-guided online tour
  • video welcomes from members with similar interests
  • a phone call from a membership ambassador with common affinity
  • a public welcome on social media channels
  • an invitation (with discount?) to attend a program of interest 
  • an optional new member "sponsor" who serves a one-stop point of contact
4. Invert the invitation.
Historically in many (most?) organizations people had to become members to contribute as a volunteer.  What if volunteering with others might be what sells some prospects on joining your organization? Inverting the invitation, using volunteering and contributing as a gateway to membership, allows prospects to become connected to your community, both its members and its purpose, in ways that may leave them saying "I want to be a part of this."

5. Help prospects "see themselves" succeeding in your community.
If diversity is about attracting people from different groups, cultures, and interests, inclusion creates an environment where they can succeed. Smart organizations ensure member-facing communications use language, visuals, and examples that are inclusive of your existing community and the diversity you seek for the future. Even smarter organizations ensure that the actual membership experience facilitates success for the more diverse prospects they might attract.

6. Target a type of member.
It may be easier to accelerate members' value acquisition if you aren't trying to be all things to all people. Some organizations see serving members "from cradle to grave" as their purpose or ambition. Given the considerable resources such a focus requires, success may be found in a more narrow niche as suggested by Jason Fried in the book Rework.

Fried's assertion is for "customers," so it may not hold the same potential for associations seeking to be the "voice of the profession" or otherwise be the single home for anyone associated with their profession or industryBut even groups seeking to be such broad umbrellas can benefit by narrowing their value propositions given limited resources:
  • We are best positioned to serve individuals who ...
  • We can enable and accelerate value acquisition for those specific members even more if we ...
7. Promote impact and results.
In many instances, prospects can access content, community, and other traditional value propositions from more than one organization.  It is not unusual to see almost the same list of products and opportunities promoted on the websites of organizations competing for the same potential members.

Prove results, however, are a distinguishing competitive factor.  95% of our members report contracting business from our qualified lead web referral system" is far more compelling than "membership helps you grow your business."  Of course, it is difficult to be selling proven impact if you aren't conducting the research to measure it, or worse yet, aren't providing the programs and services that help deliver it.

8. Renew more than just the financial commitment.
As I have written about before, I see renewal as being more than just dues payment, important as that is.  We describe the process as membership renewal, so the strategic question is: What member affinity do we seek to renew in addition to the financial commitment of dues? Smart organizations view the process as a chance to not just re-up the financial commitment, but also the emotional commitment and connection to the community and the pride and value one feels from being associated with it as a member.


During a recent panel conversation on membership in which I participated, my fellow panelists and the attendees discussed Member Get a Member campaigns.  A light bulb went off for me during that conversation and I suggested a Member Sponsor a Member campaign. Say what? 

As an experiment, imagine your org inviting a small group of existing members to recruit a prospect and sponsor their first year of membership, These sponsors could be afforded discounts to offer their prospect ... on membership, attendance at your annual conference, etc.  The core principle is that instead of just getting someone to join (and then fend for themselves), sponsors help facilitate the transition from joining to belonging for individuals they sponsor.

For more on this topic, here is a PDF with nine posts about cultivating engagement.


Moving from Ideas to Action: Nine Simple Ways for Workshops

In author Daniel Pink's most recent "infrequent and irreverent" enewsletter (you should subscribe), he highlighted six book recommendations in a simple, but powerful way: sharing a core idea from the book's content and his take (or one from the book) on how to put it in action. By making these takeaways explicit, Pink helped me determine if I might wish to read the book itself.

Moving from ideas to action is a goal for many (if not most) learning experiences and content in all forms.  Yet often we leave this up to readers or learners to do for themselves. Nothing is wrong with doing so, but in our information-overloaded world, we may wish to emulate Pink's approach to increase the value of the content we share.

Let me model doing so with this post.  The Idea: using an Ideas+Action summary to increase the value of a learning experience and to facilitate insight sharing among workshop participants.

The Actions: Here are ways to use this format and tool during an in-person session.
  1. Create a workshop handout with multiple Idea+Action spaces. Throughout your program (after major content blocks, before a change in topic, or at other logical intervals) invite participants to reflect on the session and to complete one or more Idea+Action blocks to capture their learning. Here's a PDF of a takeaway sheet I used for a recent masterclass that is similar in spirit.
  2. In the workshop outline/schedule shared with participants list the core idea for each content segment and provide a blank action space for participants to complete as the session progresses.
  3. Make Idea+Action cards. Have learners complete and post during a session. Invite people to browse others' learning during breaks or schedule a "Gallery Walk" for them to do so as a part of your actual session content. Scan all cards and distribute a PDF of them post-session.
  4. Or do a rapid "read and pass" of all the completed Idea+Action cards. Have people pass their card to another, read the one they are given, and then repeat until time is called and cards are returned to their creators (make sure to add names to cards to facilitate this).  To add a bit of physical energy you could have people stand during the exercise.  People also could dot vote on ideas they really like and top vote-getters could then verbally expand on their thinking.
  5. You could pair people for a Think-Pair-Share. Individuals note an idea on a card and then trades cards with
    their partner who then completes the action section. Cards are swapped back and the ideas are discussed. Pairs could join together, swap cards, note additional possible actions, return cards, and discuss.
  6. Mindmap the ideas+actions. Provide a mindmap with all of the ideas noted. Participants branch off the ideas noted and add actions associated with each one. The mindmaps could be personal size, poster size for tables to complete as a small group, or mural size to decorate a wall in your meeting room.
  7. Do an Ideas+Action Drawing. Have participants complete cards and place in a box or bowl when instructed.  Periodically during your session draw a few completed cards, give a prize to the people who submitted them, and invite them to expand in their takeaway.
  8. Display a core idea as a slide and invite participants to Tweet corresponding actions using a specific hashtag to facilitate post-session searching.
  9. Engage small groups in moving from ideas to actions. Provide a few cards to small groups and have each group's reflect on a content segment and note one core theme/idea per card. Have groups swap their cards with another group. Each group now notes possible actions related to the ideas on each card. Repeat this swapping process as desired.  
    What are other simple ways you find effective to facilitate workshop participants capturing core ideas and identifying useful actions?

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