Sunday, August 16, 2020

2013 - George – George – George (Lessons in Planning)


George - George - George - 3 types of leaders and planners.

2013 - George – George – George (Lessons in Planning)

(40 Summers 40 Lessons Series)

Top-Down Planning

“George” was the nickname of a major non-profit organizations attempt at creating a universal membership and program management system. At the turn of this century, this agency spent millions of dollars and thousands of man hours working on what was thought to be the best system that would provide for the needs of everyone of the agencies in the country. It turns out that as they planned and spent, no one ever thought to ask the front line staff who dealt with the agencies customers as to what they thought or perhaps needed.

The best intentions are often misguided and I believe that top down planning to determine the needs of those on the ground require a great deal of ego at that the top.

Many of you may know and have been a part of the long term or strategic planning process. It is (in the past) about taking a group of stakeholders to a retreat and having a consultant lead mission planning and "wordsmithing" and then that plan becomes a dust catcher on a shelf. (Oversimplified version, I know) 

There is a great article by Henry Mintzberg (Harvard Business Review) called, “The Fall and Rise of Strategic Planning” that may interest you. Feel free to do an online search of that publication and make sure to note the year, 1994.

As the leader of an organization like a camp, solid leadership is necessary. Often times to be able to look out on the landscape and position what and who is needed to help define the plan. Get those folks in place, help equip them, and then get out of their way.

Middle-Out Planning

I have participated in several planning sessions with middle management in my career. The pattern that I have discovered can be summed up from a controller that I worked with. His name, George, had spent 11 years in that organization and he spoke about how change was needed at every level of the organization.  

He spent his work week providing the much need financial analysis and controls in regard to cash flow and planning. Working in a multi-million dollar non-profit, his work is vital when it comes to having accurate information for annual reports provided not only to donors and volunteers, but also for the needed 990 reports for tax purposes. And, when it came to seeking funding from foundations in the form of grants, the information had to show not only accuracy, but how a need would be met and how many individuals would be impacted by the funding.

Back at our planning session, there was discussion of how things needed to flow with-in the organization. I suggested a stream lined system for budget planning. This particular organization was using Lotus as a planning tool. Those of you unfamiliar with Lotus, I am not talking about the classic 1957 car manufacturer. I am talking about the software designed in 1982 and discontinued by IBM in 2012. Let me restate that - 1982.

This particular planning was taking place in the last decade. George said, “Lotus is the single best software ever designed to manage budget planning.”

What I learned that day, is that most of the time when middle management is involved in making plans and decisions about the needs and influence to better serve customers, they often make decisions that reinforce what their needs are and not that of the customer.

Relying on the defenders of the status quo is a misguided approach to planning and leadership. Doing the same things to support those who are adapting to change on the front lines often leads to more of the same.

Bottom-Up Doing

George Finnerty was a volunteer I worked with for nearly a dozen years and I learned so many lessons and this is perhaps the best one. He would just say something like ask yourself, “how does this help camp? If it is a good decision, which will help the kids, then that’s the right thing to do.”

I began to use that filter on so many levels. Over the years, working with young staff and helping they realize that because they want to try and do something “new and innovative” it had to pass the test. “How does this benefit the camper experience and fit in our mission and values?” I never asked the question in that manner. I asked questions that helped me understand what they had in mind and in my head; I was seeking to answer that question on behalf of the participants.

As I have served at different camps and organizations, I have hit the
“That’s the way we have always done it” wall on numerous occasions. It is sometimes mislabeled as “tradition.” One of my favorite leaders, Catherine Meyer, recently shared that one of her take a way lessons of working at camp was, "
Adhering to tradition for the sake of tradition is, 99 times out of 100, more harmful than adapting and apologizing for harm done to make a space safe for everyone.

Those of you who have used a fax machine to send a copy of a flier or letter, you know that upon receiving that fax and making copies of it to share with others; there is often degradation in the ink and image.

In camps (and many organizations), I have often times believed that some “traditions” are just that. Someone had a great image of a program, activity, game, or event. It was replicated for several seasons. That original provider or leader left and the program was replicated for several more seasons. At some point one of the campers who saw the activity happen, became part of the staff. That person made modifications and the activity continued.

Hard to read, imagine this after copying it, faxing, copying and faxing again.
(I did not attend this event)
(It may have been found in a lodge at camp after cleaning up from summer staff 1981)

At some point, the program becomes a memory of what happened when someone who was not even there, provides their version of what was once a “great game.” Just like a copy of a fax, that had been copied and faxed and sent again several times and faxed again. I am not sure that is what Alexander Bain intended when he invented the FAX machine in 1843 (not a typo).

I take one of my planning lessons from George Lucas. He storyboards all his stories that lead to his film making. As a visual learner, I love my color coded note cards and using them to plan training sessions, pair staff leaders based on their personality types, and even take notes on calls and training sessions.

Here’s what I know. When planning for the future and the near future, always make sure that you included those who are using your product, service, or program. Leadership at the top should be listening (carefully) to what is being said at that level. Avoid the approach of using or listening to information from those in the middle. They are often just looking to perpetuate their role and function for fear of losing a misguided notion of control.

I have never been in control of anything. I ask my staff who is in charge of camp. And I wait as they reach the same conclusion that it is and always will be the campers (customers/members). They know it and they deserve the best from us in planning and leading in a manner that serves.

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