Monday, February 29, 2016

4DX Is Harder Than It Reads, Part 2

This is the second part of a longer post about my real-world experience in trying to adapt the strategy execution system, The Four Disciplines of Execution, or 4DX, to my small-staff association. To read Part 1, go here.

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So, having chosen our association's success metrics--measurable indicators closely tied to the outcomes we seek to achieve, which are within our ability to affect, and which tend to get lost in the whirlwind of program activity--as our Wildly Important Goals, or WIGs, I was ready to move forward with the experimental implementation of 4DX in my association. And, last week, after alluding to my own assessment that that experiment hasn't gone as well as I hoped, I said I would go into some of those details this week.

Here they are, the three factors that have, in my opinion, most contributed to our difficulty:

1. The whirlwind is tenacious.

Everyone in the organization has a lot to do. And even though I was thoughtful about carving out time on the plates of the people asked to lead the data collection and reporting aspects of the WIGs, and about restructuring our existing weekly staff meeting so that it could serve as WIG meetings (where we report our progress and discuss ways we could better drive them forward), some of these activities are still taking a backseat to what often feels like more pressing and impactful concerns. It's an association. There are conferences to plan, industry reports to compile and promote, e-Newsletters to write and disseminate, workforce development programs to oversee and coordinate. Getting the WIG data, putting it in a chart or other interpretable and actionable format, and leading staff discussions around what it means and how we should adjust our behavior, isn't at the top of anyone's to-do list. Frequently, not even mine.

2. It's not clear that the WIGs really matter.

Success metrics are a relatively new factor in our association, and it's not clear, even to me, that all of them really matter when it comes to the outcomes we're trying to achieve. There are 22 of them, and some of them have multiple or multi-faceted goals associated with them. And some of them are admittedly experiments, activity-based surrogates for the true outcomes we seek. I firmly believe that, especially in our sometimes uncertain environment, picking a metric and tracking it will not only help us determine if it is the right metric, but will also build needed metric-tracking competencies that our organization might not otherwise develop. But a staff member that responds in kind to that directive quickly determines the value of certain metrics over others, and those that are proven less valuable naturally begin receiving less attention.

Partly in response to that dynamic, and partly to give the best WIGs more focus in our whirlwind of activity, I decided mid-year to attach financial bonuses to some of the metrics. Ten metrics made this cut, and the message was that if the goals associated with them are achieved, the entire staff would receive a designated bonus at year-end. The proposal was met with enthusiasm when first rolled out, but as time wore on, and some of the goals fell unachieved by the wayside, the remainder have been sucked back into the whirlwind. A certain kind of fatalism appears to have taken over, and more than one staff person has told me that they don't believe the metrics actually are things they have the ability to affect.

3. I've been leading the effort from behind.

I've talked about 4DX and its principles with my two senior staff people. I gave them a copy of the book to read, and we discussed how to try and apply its principles in the organization. They participated actively in the debate and discussion over choosing our success metrics as our WIGs, and, when we moved forward, we were all in agreement on that front.

But I haven't talked about 4DX with the rest of the staff people, the very people we're now asking to take leadership roles in WIG meetings and the tracking and reporting of their lead and lag measures. 4DX, WIGs, lead and lag measures--these are not terms that we have used or discussed openly in the office, choosing instead to frame the initiative in our own vernacular. I thought this was preferrable, especially since some of our own strategic practices and elements have been changing in the last few years. I didn't want to introduce yet another lexicon into that confusion. I was also, admittedly, concerned that other intelligent people would reasonably draw other conclusions that the ones I drew from the experience of reading 4DX. Nor did I want everything in it to be seen as a mandate from the boss. I consciously only wanted to experiment with pieces of it.

And in addition to all of that, I haven't been pushing hard. I'm the leader for a handful of the WIGs myself, and I do my best to lead by example in that role, scrupulously tracking the data, bringing it into the appropriate WIG meetings, and leading the resulting discussions about extra actions to take when and if we start falling behind any of the lead measures. I've encouraged others with the same responsibilities to do the same, but I haven't mandated it. I want to see what they do with it, see the value that they themselves can bring to the process. I'm not interested in seeing them "jump-to" just because I told them to do something. If the experiment is going to work, I initially thought, the habits and mechanisms of the process have to be embraced and embedded into our organizational culture.

There's probably more going on in the organization than that, but as I pause for a few moments of reflection, these are the three factors that seem to have most complicated our experiment with 4DX.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Monday, February 22, 2016

4DX Is Harder Than It Reads

For whatever reason, my May 2014 post on the management book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution (also known as 4DX) has been getting some traction lately. Two people have reached out to me in the last month to see how my experiment with this strategy execution system was working out. And I'm going to assume that in a world where basically no one comments (much less reads) blogs anymore, two humans taking the time and trouble to contact me directly means I have definitely hit a nerve.

So, how is the experiment going? Not as well I hoped, I'm afraid.

First of all, let me reiterate, as I did in May 2014, that I got a lot out of the experience of reading the book. It promises a lot in its subtitle, “Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals,” and it delivers what I take to be a deceptively simple and oddly compelling system for doing exactly that. It's an easy and thought-provoking read, but putting its concepts into practice in my organization has been somewhat more difficult.

The difficulty starts with pretty much what I end the May 2014 blog post with: speculation on what should I choose as my Wildly Important Goals, or WIGs. The point of WIGs is to create focus in what is otherwise a whirlwind of activity. A single or a small set of "wildly important" goals that the team can devote their attention to, with each WIG tied to a metric that can both be tracked in regularly-scheduled WIG sessions and affected by the activities of the team.

To illustrate by way of simple example, a WIG might be to grow membership from 1,000 to 1,500 in a year and the WIG sessions might be scheduled weekly where the number of members in the association is plotted weekly against a line that extends from 1,000 members on Day 1 and 1,500 members on Day 365. As long as the actual number of members grows at a pace that keeps it above that line, the team keeps doing what it's doing. If it falls below that line, the team must discuss and change its behaviors and practices, attempting to put the growth curve back on the appropriate pace.

I love the concept, and it's clear that picking the right WIG is really important. I had trouble deciding if I should "aim high," with a WIG tied to our association's mission or a small handful of WIGs tied to our main areas of strategic priority, or if I should "aim low" with many more WIGs tied to important programs and program objectives in the association.

"Aiming high" would achieve the goal of keeping the WIGs few in number, creating more focus in a typical "whirlwindy" association environment, but it would also, frankly, make it difficult to find something we could track and affect on a weekly basis. Our mission, after all, is to strengthen the fluid power industry, and our strategic priorities define large-scale areas of association activity: grow the fluid power workforce is an example I've used before.

"Aiming low," on the other hand, would give us many more WIGs than the authors of 4DX would recommend, but by focusing on programs and program objectives, we would be a lot closer to the things we could both measure and affect through staff activity. Things like increasing the number of members accessing our resources online, or increasing the number of positive messages about our industry and its technology we push out into the community, may be activity-based surrogates for the outcomes we seek, but they are still the kinds of things we need to pull out of the whirlwind and give more focus.

In the end, I decided to take a kind of middle path. We've been working with our Board over the last year or so to define something we call "success metrics." Strategically, they live below the level of our mission and strategic priorities, but above the level of our programs and program objectives. If you go back and look at the simplified strategic plan chart I included near the bottom of May 2014 post, the success metrics are basically what are identified as the "Objectives" there. Multiple programs combine together to move a success metric, and multiple success metrics combine together to achieve strategic priorities. If the priority is to grow the fluid power workforce, then one success metric might be to graduate more fluid power-educated students from our partner universities, and the programs associated with that metric might be things like providing scholarships and building more fluid power teaching labs at those schools.

The point is there are fewer success metrics than there are programs, they are more closely tied to the outcomes our association seeks to achieve, they are within our ability to track and affect, and they tend to get lost in the whirlwind of program activity. Perfect candidates, I thought, for our WIGs!

So having made that excellent decision, why do I say that our experiment is not going as well as I had hoped? I'll go into those details next week.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave

If memory serves, I picked this one up in a used bookstore in Charlottesville, Virginia. Had I been there a few years prior, I wouldn’t have given it a second glance, because I only recently learned who Nick Cave is. Some movie I had seen had Red Right Hand as part of its soundtrack, and I knew upon hearing it that I had to track down the mind that created that piece of music. So imagine the scene in the used bookstore, realizing and recognizing that in addition to writing some of the most haunting and diabolical pop songs, Nick Cave has also written at least one novel.

And when I flipped the paperback over and saw this:

These proofs are not to be quoted for publication. Publication date is tentative. Please consult the finished book or the FSG Publicity Department before scheduling your review.

I was hooked. I had to have it.

Of course, later on, at home, 0.62 seconds on Google told me that The Death of Bunny Munro was published (in 2009), that it is the second novel Cave has written, and that his bibliography includes other books of poetry, plays and song lyrics.

No matter. Let’s dive in. So, what kind of novel is The Death of Bunny Munro? That is perhaps best answered by answering two other questions.

What kind of character is Bunny Munro?

Frankly, a repellent one. Here’s the opening paragraph.

‘I am damned,’ thinks Bunny Munro in a sudden moment of self-awareness reserved for those who are soon to die. He feels that somewhere down the line he had made a grave mistake, but this realisation passes in a dreadful heartbeat, and is gone--leaving him in a room at the Grenville Hotel, in his underwear, with nothing but himself and his appetites. He closes his eyes and pictures a random vagina, then sits on the edge of the hotel bed and, in slow motion, leans back against the quilted headboard. He clamps the mobile phone under his chin and with his teeth breaks the seal on a miniature bottle of brandy. He empties the bottle down his throat, lobs it across the room, then shudders and gags and says into the phone, ‘Don’t worry, love, everything’s going to be all right.’

Bunny is a salesman (the Willy Loman parallel is flirted with, but never fully exploited, in my opinion) and the woman he’s talking to on the phone is his clinically depressed wife, who Bunny will discover as having hanged herself when he gets home from the current trip he is on. Before then, he will encounter:

1. A prostitute. Her fluorescent pink knickers pulse against her chocolate-coloured skin. She scratches her cornrows and a slice of orange flesh peeps behind her drug-slack lower lip. Bunny thinks that her nipples look like the triggers on those mines they floated in the sea to blow up ships in the war or something, and almost tells her this, but forgets and draws on his cigarette again and says, ‘That was my wife. She suffers from depression.’ Yes, the prostitute was in the bathroom while Bunny was talking to his wife.

2. An odd couple in the hotel restaurant. A man with reptilian teeth, the bright spot of his scalp blinking through his thinning hair, strokes the jewelled hand of a woman in her mid-forties. He meets Bunny’s gaze with a leer of recognition--they’re both on the same game. The woman looks at Bunny and Bunny checks out her expression-free eyes, cold beneath her Botox-heavy brow. He takes in her bronzed skin, peroxided hair and gelatinous lips, the freckled cleavage of her vast modified bosom, and experiences a familiar tightening in his crotch. Bunny zones out for a while and then in a flash remembers the woman, a year ago, maybe two, in a hotel on Lancing seafront, pre-surgery. He recalls waking in a horror of confusion, his body smeared alarmingly in her orange fake tan. ‘What?’ he cried, slapping at his discoloured skin. ‘What?’ he cried, in panic.

3. A waitress. Bunny looks up and becomes aware of a waitress standing over him holding in front of her a full English breakfast. Cheeks, chin, breasts, stomach and buttocks--she looks like she has been designed solely with a compass--a series of soft, fleshy circles, in the middle of which hover two large, round, colourless eyes. She wears a purple gingham uniform, a size too small, with white collar and cuffs, her hair raked back in a ponytail and a nametag that says ‘RIVER’. As Bunny disimagines her clothes he thinks for a fraction of a second of a pile of custard-injected profiteroles, then a wet bag of overripe peaches, but settles on the mental image of her vagina, with its hair and its hole.

4. A “delirious burlesque of summertime unfolding before him.” Groups of scissor-legged school-things with their pierced midriffs, logoed jogging girls, happy, rumpy dog-walkers, couples actually copulating on the summer lawns, beached pussy prostrate beneath the erotically-shaped cumulus, loads of fucking girls who were up for it--big ones, little ones, black ones, white ones, young ones, old ones, give-me-a-minute-and-I’ll-find-your-beauty-spot ones, yummy single mothers, the bright joyful breasts of waxed bikini babes, the pebble-stippled backsides of women fresh from the beach--the whole thing fucking immense, man, thinks Bunny--blondes, brunettes and green-eyed redheads that you just got to love, and Bunny slows the Punto to a crawl and rolls down the window.

That’s all in the 18 pages between the opening scene in the hotel room and Bunny’s discovery of his wife’s dead body. And his first thought upon that discovery?

Her face is the purple colour of an aubergine or something and Bunny thinks, for an instant, as he squeezes shut his eyes to expunge the thought, that her tits look good.

Cave lays it on thick, and anyone who has any squeamishness about the use of female genitalia as a literary device--metaphor, meat cleaver, or McGuffin; you be the judge--should read no further. I usually don’t bother myself with this kind of thing, but this may be the first post I’ve written about a book that’s worthy of a trigger warning.

You've been warned.

Bunny takes another bite of his Big Mac and knows what everybody knows who is into this sort of thing--that with its flaccid bun, its spongy meat, the cheese, the slimy little pickle and, of course, the briny special sauce, biting into a Big Mac was as close to eating pussy as, well, eating pussy. Bunny put this to Poodle down the Wick one lunchtime, and Poodle, self-proclaimed sexpert and barracuda, argued that eating a tuna carpaccio was actually a lot more like eating pussy than a Big Mac, and this argument raged all through the afternoon, becoming increasingly hostile as the pints went down. Finally Geoffrey, in his near-Godlike wisdom, decided that eating a Big Mac was like eating a fat chick’s pussy and eating a tuna carpaccio was like eating a skinny chick’s pussy, and they left it that. Whatever. Bunny wipes at a blob of special sauce that runs down his chin with the back of his hand. He licks his lips as Emily the cashier throws Bunny another look and scratches at her acne. Bunny can see her nipples actually harden under her uniform, and the effect this has on him is so monumental that Bunny hardly registers that his son is asking him a question.

That’s on page 147, and it was right about there that I started wondering if the pulp would ever end. Bunny Munro, as alluded to in Cave’s opening paragraph, is clearly a slave to his own appetites, sexual and otherwise, and there are only two things, I decide suddenly, that are giving me the strength to slog through the hyberbolic gratuitousness of it all.

One, will Bunny change? Will he actually have a story arc? Will he take control of the aimlessness of his life before it comes to the end foretold in the book’s title?

And two, is Cave a skilled enough writer to pull that off without being maudlin or grotesque? Is he, in fact, digging a hole of depravity (dare I say, much the way Nabokov did in Lolita) with the intent and expectation that he will, in the end, be able to rise above it, to dazzle us, to make us happy to have been dragged through his muck so we could experience the transcendent sublimity he has waiting for us at the end?

So, onto the second question.

What kind of writer is Nick Cave?

Frankly, a disappointing one. There are times when his prose sings. If you look past the subject matter, you may have already realized that by reading some of the selected passages above.

The zipper gapes open in his trousers and faded blue tattoos peek from the sleeves of his jumper and the open neck of his shirt. The skin on his face is as grey as pulped newspaper and the gums of his dentures are stained florid purple, the teeth bulky and brown. A sullage of colourless hair spills down the back of his egg-shaped skull, like chicken gravy.

Descriptions and turns of phrase like these abound, but they are too often ruined by a crutch that I can only assume was eliminated by a conscientious editor before the final novel went to press.

He finds the Adult Channel and a televised phone-in-sex-line and he allows an East European girl named Evana, who has a tight, hot, wet pussy and the bedside manner of a mallet or something, to coax Bunny through the most forlorn wank, he thinks, in the history of the world.

Or something. What are those two words doing there? Read it again and take those two words out.

He finds the Adult Channel and a televised phone-in-sex-line and he allows an East European girl named Evana, who has a tight, hot, wet pussy and the bedside manner of a mallet, to coax Bunny through the most forlorn wank, he thinks, in the history of the world.

Better, right?

Then why does it keep showing up again and again? Or something. Maybe someday I’ll go back and count them all, but you can be sure that I wouldn’t be mentioning it here if it didn’t feel like they showed up every other page or so.

Okay. Here’s a little bit of Fiction Writing 101. Or something works in a character’s speech...

‘The thing is--if a Zulu warrior wants to spear an antelope or a zebra or something, he doesn’t go stomping through the bush with his boots on and hope the antelope is gonna stay put.’

And sometimes it can work when the narrator is representing a character’s thoughts…

The boy notices that the people look like the undead or aliens or something as he weaves his way through the crowd.

But when the narrator himself uses or something, the author is signaling to the reader either that the narrator is flighty and unreliable, or that the author behind the narrator has run out of creative ideas.

His father keeps walking in a peculiar way and beating at his clothes with his hand and looking over his shoulder, and the sea mist continues to roll towards them, like a great white wall, blurring the line between the real world and its fogbound dream or something.

Don’t do it. In the pure narrative voice, the sentence is always stronger without the or something tacked onto the end of it.

...blurring the line between the real world and its fogbound dream.


Now, that’s a forgiveable sin, especially in an uncorrected proof, but after a lot of thought, I have to say that the device Cave uses at the very climax of his novel isn’t.

The death of Bunny Munro comes in the form of a traffic accident with a Dudman cement mixer, the car in which Bunny and his son (Bunny Junior) are riding mangled, Bunny ejected, and then struck by lightning. No, really. Thrown from his car and then struck by lightning. Talk about a bad day.

But upon first read it is difficult to tell if Bunny has actually died, because his first person perspective continues for another 24 pages. First, he is raped by what I can only assume is the devil.

Then he sees the smeared, scarlet face with its black hole of a mouth, its raw, red tongue, its yellow eyes, its goatish horns, all come down upon him like a lover, and he experiences a searing penetration between his splayed buttocks.

No. Really.

Then it’s a new chapter and Bunny is staying at a hotel in some English resort community, where he has apparently invited all the women he has ever abused or lusted over in his long career as a womanizing pig. They’re gathered and evidently waiting for him in the hotel ballroom.

Bunny walks on stage to blind and uproarious applause. He enters an apron of red light that spills across the stage like splashed ink. He registers the foot stomps and cheers and whistles, and for a brief moment Bunny feels the air of compacted dread loosen around his heart and thinks that, all things considered, his plan may not be so foolhardy as he had previously thought and sending out the invitations to these women was perhaps not such a dumb idea after all.

Now, I like to think I’m a careful reader. I’m already suspecting that this isn’t real, that Bunny is having some kind of Bullet in the Brain experience, that all of this, the anal rape and this ballroom scene, is just something passing through Bunny’s mind with the electric current of the lightning that struck him, and that at some point Cave is going to put Bunny and the reader back on the wet pavement beside the smashed cement mixer.

Which, in fact, he does.

But before that happens, Cave has Bunny come clean and throw himself on the mercy of all the women he has wronged.

‘I was a salesman, all right,’ says Bunny, ‘peddling misery, door to door,’ and he closes his eyes and surrenders to his own swooning testimony and his body is picked up and sent floating about on little prayers of refracted light. He places his hands inside his shirt and traces his fingers along the embossed scar that the electric charge has written into his body and talks about the nature of love and how frightened it made him feel, how the very existence of it terrified him and had him running scared and, with beads of red perspiration blossoming in the palms of his hands, he talks about the suicide of his wife and his own accountability in that dreadful act. He talks about the terrible absence of her in his life and in the life of his boy.

And now, admittedly, Cave has me wondering. Bunny sent out invitations? He touches the scar the lightning bolt left behind? Maybe this is really happening. Did Bunny somehow survive his tragicomic accident and now really is confessing himself in front of the women he has wronged?

But no. Listen to what Bunny is saying. This sentimentality, this pathos, this human feeling--it is all out of place. Bunny has exhibited no sign of it in the previous 270 pages of boozing, smoking and whoring. No matter how many times he has been struck by lightning, Cave doesn’t expect me to believe that he has honestly changed his ways. Does he?

Of course not. He’s just setting me up for the coup de grace. For how do the women react when Bunny asks forlornly for their forgiveness?

River the waitress approaches Bunny and throws her arms around his neck and cries strawberry tears upon his chest and forgives, and Mushroom Dave embraces Bunny and forgives, and the little junkie chick smiles up at him through her ironed hair and kohled eyes and forgives and all the girls from McDonald’s and Pizza Hut and KFC hold onto Bunny and kiss him and forgive and Mrs Pennington moves forward with her wheelchaired husband and lifts her arms up and Bunny embraces her and together they weep and together they forgive and Bunny moves through the crowd and feels a chill in the air and notices a ghost of frost curl from his lips as Charlotte Parnovar dressed as Frida Kahlo hugs him with her muscular arms and forgives and the blind Mrs Brooks reaches out to him with her ancient hands and forgives and people kiss him and hug him and pat him on the back and forgive--because we so much want to forgive and to be forgiven ourselves--and Bunny sees Libby, his wife, through the crowd, dressed in her orange nightdress and as he moves towards her the crowd parts and he smiles into a prism of light and green oily oversized tears fall down his face and he says, ‘Forgive me, Libby. Oh, Libby, forgive me.’

They embrace him. The kiss and hug him. They forgive him. Because we so much want to forgive and to be forgiven ourselves. And his wife Libby is a dead giveaway that this isn’t real, that this is all happening in Bunny’s lightning-addled mind in the seconds before he himself passes on. Which means, of course, that no one is forgiving him. He is really just forgiving himself, isn’t he? Forgiving himself for being such an unbridled ass and narcissistic screw-up his whole life.

And I’m left wondering whether that is okay. Whether it is enough in a novel such as this for a character such as Bunny Munro to forgive himself in the last few moments before his death. Bunny forgives himself. So what? Should that count as a character arc?

It’s a tough call. I can read authorial intent into it if I choose, but honestly, the experience of reading the rest of the novel doesn’t prime me for it. Indeed, looking back on the experience of reading The Death of Bunny Munro, I feel myself thinking about its author as young Bunny Junior comes to think about his father in a scene 60 pages before his ultimate demise.

The boy looks at his father and a stone-cold realisation hits him--he sees in the appalling orbits of his father’s eyes a resident terror that makes the child recoil. Bunny Junior sees, at that moment, that his father has no idea what he is doing or where he is going. The boy realises, suddenly, that for some time he has been the passenger on an aeroplane and that he has walked into the cockpit only to find that the pilot is dead drunk at the controls and absolutely no one is flying the plane. Bunny looks into his father’s panic-stricken eyes and sees a thousand incomprehensible dials and switches and meters all spinning wildly and little red bulbs flashing on and off and going beep, beep, beep and he feels, with a nauseating swoon, the aeroplane’s nose tip resolutely earthward and the big blue fiendish world come rushing up to annihilate him--and it scares him.

I’ll admit I never felt scared reading The Death of Bunny Munro, but the experience was a lot like the wild “aeroplane” ride that Bunny Junior describes.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, February 15, 2016

Choose Your Objective Before You SWOT

Most people are familiar with the handy strategic tool called the SWOT analysis. SWOT as in Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, two internal and two external assessments that are often helpful to perform in a group context in order to fashion effective strategy.

One thing that's often missed, however, turning this helpful exercise into a colossal waste of time, is the need to pick an objective before conducting your SWOT. With an objective in mind--be that objective the mission of your association or the expected outcome of a program--a SWOT can help you figure out how to tackle it. Leverage strengths, minimize weaknesses, seize opportunities, and avoid threats. But without an objective in mind, the exercise does little more than generate a bunch of words.

Perhaps you've seen it happen? Or perhaps you've even participated in such a fruitless exercise? The facilitator says you're going to list all the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, and the all the opportunities and threats facing it, and you're off the the races--flipchart paper getting filled up and pasted on the walls, words upon words upon words.

Where, someone should ask, is the focus in all of this? Anyone who has done one of these unfocused SWOTs knows that the same items tend to show up as both strengths and as weaknesses, as both opportunities and threats. When you have a growing membership, but they don't participate as much as they should, it's hard to know if your membership is a strength or a weakness. When your members's businesses are increasingly profitable, but they starting to buy each other, it's hard to know if the business climate of your industry is an opportunity or a threat. Decisions are usually made by the loudest voices in the room, or worse, items wind up in more than one place on the matrix.

Many of these troubles go away when you place the SWOT in the context of a specific objective, With an end goal in mind, hopefully written in big, bold letters at the top of every piece of flipchart paper, the conversation gets a lot more focused.

Our objective is to defeat a piece of pending legislation that will be harmful to our industry. What organizational strengths can we bring to bear on that objective? What organizational weaknesses will hamper our effectiveness? What opportunities in the marketplace can we capitalize on? What external threats are likely to work against us?

Answering these kind of questions will be a lot more helpful. They can turn your SWOT from a simple team-building exercise to an essential part of your strategy and execution function.

And, please, as a parting word, if there is anyone out there still calling it a SWAT analysis, just put the association down and walk away.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Why the Wild West Isn't All Bad

I recently read a thought-provoking post at the "Small Staff, Big Impact" blog. Thought-provoking, for me at least, likely in a way that the author didn't intend.

The post, Solving your App-ocalypse: Strategic planning with your technology, provides some tips for how associations can better organize and connect a technology development strategy with the mission-centric goals and objectives of the organization. In describing the unfortunate places some associations find themselves in this landscape, the post describes several scenarios, one called the "Wild West."

Like the actual Wild West, everyone is left to make their own decisions about what IT tools they will use. Often an issue in smaller organizations where people don’t have time to think strategically, staff will just use the first tool they find that solves the immediate issue, without considering other tools already in use or the long term strategy. The result is bits and pieces of information are stored in a range of places without a good way to find content after a project is complete. Additionally, because tools are not standardized, staff have no where to turn when they run into issues. Instead they’re likely to just reach for the next “solution” they find, only further compounding the problem.

And here's the provoked thought that the author probably didn't intend. Is that really all bad? I don't think so. In fact, to a certain extent, I have been encouraging more "Wild West" thinking in my small-staff association for a number of years now.

There are association environments where individual staff people have no power when it comes to technology. The boss, or the IT department, or some shadowy cabal between the two, makes all the decisions about which technology tools will be made available. It's a resource issue, after all. Technology costs money, even more when it comes to providing tech support. And the thinking goes that if the organization decentralizes that authority, not only will a "Wild West" of incompatible systems hamper the association's effectiveness, the unchecked spending and budget overruns will bring the association to its knees.

It is, in fact, the "Red Tape" scenario that the linked blog post goes on to describe right after the Wild West scenario--equally undesirable in the eyes of the author.

I agree, but the Wild West scenario has some benefits not described. I contend that by placing responsibility on the individual staff person for solving their own technology issues, it encourages professional development, innovative thinking, and better customer service.

We live in a world where the pace of technology development in the marketplace is running faster than any centralized association process can hope to move. It doesn't matter if it's the bad Red Tape scenario, or the more strategic technology planning process the linked blog post will present as the positive alternative, no small-staff association can match the innovation cycles of the Googles and Amazons of the world. So don't set up the expectation with your staff that the association is going to provide them with technology solutions that both anticipate their needs and make their jobs easier. It won't. And you don't want them sitting on their hands waiting for the answers to be given to them.

Far better to ask them to wade into the environment looking for solutions that might help them, experimenting with those that seem interesting, and sharing those that work across the organization. Decentralized is key, not just because the centralized authority is, in comparison, a lumbering giant, but because the individual staff people are much closer to the members and the real problems that are keeping them from delivering better service.

When staff do this, they learn more about the world around them, they are more attuned to possible solutions to vexing problems, and they streamline the way the association interacts with its members. Professional development, innovative thinking, and better customer service, all rolled into one.

Yes, "bits and pieces of information ... stored in a range of places without a good way to find content" is a real problem. But, there are hundreds of technology tools out there (many of them free) that don't create those kinds of problems. Anyone who has seen tools like Doodle, SurveyMonkey, or Poll Everywhere spread like wildfire through their organizations will understand what I'm talking about.

There are downsides to the Wild West. But, especially for small staff associations, I believe the benefits outweigh them.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Freedom Betrayed by Herbert Hoover and George H. Nash

In order to convey what I thought of this book, it may be helpful to begin at the end.

I do not need [to] end these volumes with more than a few sentences. I was opposed to the war and every step of policies in it. I have no apologies, no regrets.

I had warned the American people time and again against becoming involved. I stated repeatedly its only end would be to promote Communism over the earth; that we would impoverish the United States and the whole world. The situation of the world today is my vindication.

Despite these physical losses and these moral political disasters, and these international follies, Americans can have faith that we will grow strong again; that the march of progress will sometime be renewed. Despite the drift to collectivism, despite degeneration in government, despite the demagogic intellectuals, despite the corruption in our government and the moral corruption of our people, we still hold to Christianity, we still have the old ingenuity in our scientific and industrial progress. We have 35 million children marching through our schools and 2,500,000 in our institutions of higher learning. Sometime these forces will triumph over the ills in American life. The promise of a greater America abides in the millions of cottages throughout the land, where men and women are still resolute in freedom. In their hearts the spirit of America still lives. The boys and girls from those homes will some day throw off these disasters and frustrations and will re-create their America again.

The election of a Republican Administration in 1952 is the sign of this turning.

These words were written by former American president Herbert Hoover. They are the closing words, in fact, of something that has come to be called his Magnum Opus, a lengthy dissection and criticism of American foreign policy under the Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman adminstrations. It is a tome Hoover tentatively called Lost Statesmanship while he worked on it in the waning years of his life, but which was never published, and which now has been released as Freedom Betrayed by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University with an extensive foreword written by and supplementary materials edited by Hoover historian George H. Nash.

And when I read these words, penned as they were on the eve of first Eisenhower adminstration, I can’t help but wonder what Hoover would think if he somehow magically returned and visited America in 2016. Would he think that his faith in an “American renewal” had been fulfilled, or further betrayed by the eleven presidential administrations--Republican and Democratic--that have passed since 1952?

Having read more than 900 pages of his thoughts and beliefs--most of it clearly stated and unadulterated--it seems like a foregone conclusion that “freedom,” as Hoover defined it, has only been more and more betrayed with each passing year.

Freedom Isn’t Free--Or Easy to Understand

Understanding Hoover’s definition of freedom, and his perspective on the Roosevelt and Truman presidencies, is greatly aided, I believe, by Nash’s 50+ page introduction. “To understand the history of Hoover’s Magnum Opus project,” Nash says, “we need to know its prehistory: the context out of which the text eventually emerged.”

When Herbert Hoover left the White House on March 4, 1933, he did not, like most ex-presidents before him, fade away. After a period of self-imposed quiescence at his home in California, he burst back into the political arena in the autumn of 1934 with a best-selling book entitled The Challenge to Liberty. It was a forceful, philosophical critique of the ascendant statist ideologies of the 1930s: Nazism, fascism, communism, socialism, and “regimentation”--his term for Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. To Hoover, FDR’s policies were no mere grab bag of moderate measures designed to reform and “save capitalism” but rather a dangerous, collectivist assault on the traditional American system of ordered liberty. “The impending battle in this country,” Hoover told a friend in 1933, would be between “a properly regulated individualism” and “sheer socialism.” For the rest of his life, he resisted without stint the lurch to the Left initiated by his successor.

This is absolutely key to understanding Hoover’s motivation and the times in which he lived. Liberty and government action, in Hoover’s way of thinking, are opposites. The latter does not protect the former. In fact, it dissolves it. And the amount of government action that had taken place before, during, and after World War II under Roosevelt and Truman had left Hoover in near despair.

“There is no island of safety in the world,” he lamented. “The whole world is rapidly moving toward Collectivism in some form.”

Now, let me be honest. There were times when I really struggled with this perspective. The way Hoover speaks of liberty and individualism seems almost childish to these modern ears. When measured on a continuum with absolute individual liberty at one end and absolute statist collectivism on the other, the America of 2016 is a vastly different place than the America of 1944. And although it may have been possible in 1944 to pull America back to the place on the continuum that Hoover preferred, I don’t see how it is possible--or perhaps even advisable--to attempt to do so in 2016. As much as I tried to keep my thoughts confined to Hoover’s historical context, I kept asking myself, page after page, what Hoover would think of America today. If he was convinced that Collectivists were about to take over in 1953, then he would clearly think that they had won if he came back to us in 2016.

But that’s not really true, is it? The “Collectivists” haven’t won, at least not in the way Hoover would have defined “winning.” Is America further along towards the absolute statist collectivism end of the continuum? Sure it is. Indeed, America’s move in that direction is something even I bemoan from time to time.

But doomsayers like Hoover are always saying that the end is near (today, it sometimes seems so more than ever) even while the clockwork regularity of history quietly proves them wrong time and again. America is more “collectivist” today than it was yesterday, but it still has individual liberty, too. The extremists from both ends of the continuum want us to believe that things are all bad or all good, when in fact the history of America has shown that the nation has an almost unique ability to blend the two poles together.

Here’s an example. As a doomsayer, I couldn’t help but notice how frequently Hoover equated the battle against the ideal of Communism as a battle against the nation of the Soviet Union. This is the determined focus of his opening chapters, where he cites long lists of quotes from Communist ideologues and politicians, and even longer lists of Federal employees who have self-professed ties to the Communist Party, to help demonstrate how targeted and successful the Soviet attack against America has been. Here’s a portion of Hoover preamble paragraph before his list of known Communists in the American government:

In order that there can be no doubt in the reader’s mind as to the scope of the Kremlin’s subterranean war against our official institutions, I give the following sample list of 37 Federal employees, together with dates and official positions. I have selected only those persons who at one time or another confessed their Communist Party membership. This list is but a minor fragment of the total roll, but is given here as an indication of the widespread Communist activity in our government.

Well and good. Except, is it really fair to equate “the Kremlin’s subterranean war against our official institutions” with “widespread Communist activity in our government”? Every American who joined the Communist Party is an avowed agent of the Soviet Kremlin, working to destroy the freedoms on which America was built? Or is it possible for an American to be a “Communist” without being a “Russian spy.”

I ask because even within the history lesson that Hoover’s own book provides, the world situation seemed a lot more complicated than the logic Hoover is using. The fight against Communism--whatever one thinks of Communism itself--was fundamentally a struggle of ideologies, not necessarily nations. Communists within the American government could have been (and, sometimes, evidently were) moles and provocateurs placed there by the hostile government of the Soviet Union, but they also could have been (and, more frequently, evidently were) patriotic Americans who believed that the Communist ideal or certain Communist practices were rational actions against real or perceived social problems. One man’s Communism, after all, can sometimes be another man’s government work program.

But remember, to Hoover, liberty and government action are antagonists, not bedfellows. Any collectivist government action is by definition Communism, and therefore antithetical to liberty.

Although it appears that there were others who saw the distinction I see, even in Hoover’s era. Germany, Japan, and eventually Italy--the governments of which in the late 1930s were certainly no lovers of liberty--also recognized the threat that Communism represented to their power structures, and entered with each other into something called the Anti-Comintern Pact. The Pact pledged the signed nations against an enemy it called the Communist International, or Comintern for short. That’s not Russia, nor the Soviet Union, nor any other traditional nation, but a quasi-governmental entity bounded by ideology instead of geographic borders.

There is another perspective. A march to a progressive future is not the same thing as a march to Communism, as difficult as it may be for the Herbert Hoovers of the world--past and present--to see the difference.

Who Lost Our Statesmanship?

Needless to say, Hoover is very critical of Franklin Roosevelt throughout Freedom Betrayed, or Lost Statesmanship, as I mentioned he originally intended to title his book. Both titles reflect the crime Hoover seeks to convict FDR of with his analysis, well summarized in one of his many summing-up chapters.

As I said at the beginning, we can look at these actions by Roosevelt from two points of view. We can deify him as a great statesman, dragging and pushing an unwilling, obstinate people into the duty of another world crusade for freedom; or we can construe his actions as blundering statesmanship, an attempt to cover the failure of the New Deal, an effort to reelect himself to satisfy his consuming desire for power and as one overcome by war madness of egotism. In either construction it is certain that his steps were intellectually dishonest, his statements untruthful and his actions unconstitutional. The hideous consequences will unfold as the narrative proceeds.

Funny how there is no middle ground in Hoover’s analysis. FDR was either an angel or a devil, with Hoover, of course, leaning towards the latter. But such a simplistic dichotomy made this reader think that there had to be some excluded middle that Hoover was either unwilling or unable to see.

Personal Opinion and Invective

Now, if you choose to read Freedom Betrayed, remember that it is an unpublished manuscript, a Magnum Opus that Hoover never could quite finish editing or expanding. One of his goals late in the writing process was to purge the manuscript of all personal opinion and invective, wanting the document to be received unequivocally on the truths it conveyed. But, honestly, I found the most interesting and engaging sections to be the ones loaded with Hoover's personal opinions and invective that managed to escape his editor’s pen.

As an example, here’s his take on the global situation on the eve of the Second World War, captured in a short chapter he titled “A Tragedy to All Mankind without End.”

Within all the urgent dispatches by heads of state, prime ministers, the running about of ambassadors, and all the hurried high-level conferences, there was being enacted on the world stage in the month of August one of history’s most terrible tragedies. Hell itself could not have conceived a more frightful drama. Its title could have been Doom.

The audience was all the nations of the world--two billion terrified human beings. The leading parts were acted by Hitler, a consummate egoist, the incarnation of the hates of a defeated nation, cunning, intent on conquest, without conscience or compassion; and Stalin, intent on spreading Communism over the world, a ruffian, cold, calculating, an Ivan the Terrible and Genghis Khan reborn. Boiling with hatred of each other, and despising the free nations, they were united only in a determination to destroy the free men--and then each other.

All about them were the malevolent spirits of imperialism, of wicked ideologies, of lust for personal power.

Wandering about the stage were the figures of Chamberlain--aristocratic, uncertain, swayed hither and yon by the cries of his critical countrymen, but a man of more moral stature; and Daladier--a politician, well-intentioned, but vain and terrified.

There were other actors in the wings: Mussolini, crying “Me too”; Polish Foreign Minister Beck, trying to play both sides; Roosevelt, now and again appearing on stage, alternately urging Chamberlain and Daladier to “Stand up to them!” and crying “Peace, peace!”, then vanishing from the stage again; Churchill, prodding the British leaders to unmoral agreements.

In the audience, frozen with fear, helplessly awaiting execution, were the little peoples--the Poles, Finns, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Bessarabians, Bukovinians, Bulgarians, Serbians, Rumanians, Czechs, Greeks, Belgians, Dutch, and Norwegians.

The last act was Stalin’s sale of his alliance. If Chamberlain signed it, there would be handed to the Communists the free peoples of eastern Europe. But his British integrity and conscience would not permit him to sign. If Hitler signed with Stalin, these small nations were destined to be ravaged, and then Communism would gain such power that it would spread over the world.

Had there been a Greek chorus to this tragedy, its chant would have been “Doom, doom--scores of free nations will perish. Hundreds of millions will become slaves.”

I had been too close an observer of the action on the world stage over twenty-five years not to watch these scenes with dread.

Out of it all would again march forth the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse--War, Death, Famine and Pestilence--with a fifth Horseman bearing propaganda loaded with lies and hate, and a sixth Horseman bringing airplanes and submarines to kill men and innocent women and children. A seventh Horseman, even more sinister, would be Revolution, in which men betrayed and killed their own blood and kin.

The foul treachery dealt to civilization by Stalin and Hitler spread fear and panic everywhere. Telephone and telegraph messages, ambassadors and messengers sped over the earth. Millions of anxious human beings, with the horrors of the First World War still fresh in their minds, hung upon the press and radio. In despair they awaited the Second World War.

The guns began to bark on September 1, 1939.

More of this kind of analysis, full of invective and benefitting greatly from hindsight as it is, would have made for a more interesting read, than the long lists of “facts” and quotes out of context that Hoover seemed determined to hang the core of his argument on.

Lessons for Today

And still, some of Hoover’s analysis seems eerily prescient. Here’s something that Nash calls out in his introduction.

Perhaps “the most important of all these lessons,” Hoover added, was that “democratic government now, and for many years to come, probably could not stand the shock of another great war and survive as a democracy.” Before long he would assert that any war fought by America against fascism would require fascistic methods. At the beginning of 1938, he put it only slightly less starkly: “Those who would have us again go to war to save democracy might give a little thought to the likelihood that we would come out of any such struggle a despotism ourselves.”

Makes me wonder what Hoover would think of the Patriot Act and the ever-expanding Authorization to Use Military Force.

And how about this?

There are those who think to re-educate the German, Japanese and Italian youth by forcing United Nations teachers into control of their schools. There are obvious difficulties--ideologies cannot be imposed either by foreign teachers or machine guns. Change must come from within the hearts of the people themselves.

...Wrong ideas cannot be cured by war or by treaty. They are matters of mind and spirit. The lasting acceptance of any governing idea lies deep in the mores of races and in their intellectual processes. Liberty does not come like manna from heaven; it must be cultivated from rocky soil with infinite patience and great human toil…

A perspective that may explain why some of the nations in the Middle East haven’t embraced Western-style democracy as reverently as some of America’s recent leaders predicted or would have liked.

A History Lesson

And much of Hoover’s text is a great history lesson. I learned more than I ever had before of China’s role in the World War II; both Chinas that is--the recognized “democratic” China led by Chiang Kai-shek and the emerging communist China led by Mao Tse-tung. Hoover is critical of FDR’s weak support of “democratic” China, especially when he details how he believes Russia, an ally with China, the United States, and the United Kingdom in the War, worked to undermine the recognized China so that the communists could take over. FDR was complicit, in Hoover’s view, in that crime as well.

The Great Men of History

And some of the inside peeks at some of the "great men" of history are absolutely fascinating. Here’s a report from Polish Prime Minister Stanisław Mikołajczyk, relating an encounter he had with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill over the division of Poland at the end of the War.

I reminded him [Churchill] again of the Atlantic Charter and other pacts that directly or indirectly pledged sovereign rights to Poland.

“I shall tell Parliament that I have agreed with Stalin,” Churchill declared flatly. “Our relations with Russia are much better than they have ever been. I mean to keep them that way. … We are not going to wreck the peace of Europe. In your obstinacy you do not see what is at stake. … We shall tell the world how unreasonable you are. …”

“I am not a person whose patriotism is diluted to the point where I would give away half my country,” I answered.

Churchill shook his finger at me. “Unless you accept the frontier, you’re out of business forever!” he cried. “The Russians will sweep through your country, and your people will be liquidated. You’re on the verge of annihilation. We’ll become sick and tired of you if you continue arguing.”

[British Foreign Minister Anthony] Eden smoothed matters for a moment, but Churchill came back strongly.

“If you accept the Curzon line, the United States will take great interest in the rehabilitation of Poland and may grant you a big loan, possibly without interest. We would help, too, but we shall be poor after this war. You are bound to accept the decision of the great Powers.”

I reminded him of his gloriously worded speeches early in the war, speeches that decried the taking of territory by force, and I spoke of the better treatment the Allies were according to such turncoat Axis enemies as Italy and Rumania. He dismissed the argument.

“You’re no government,” Churchill said. “You’re a callous people who want to wreck Europe. I shall leave you to your own troubles. … You have only your miserable, petty, selfish interests in mind. I will now call on the other Poles. This Lublin government may function very well. It will be the government, that is certain. …”

I resented everything he said and told him so. … I was furious at the man and could not conceal it.

“Mr. Churchill,” I said, “I once asked you for permission to parachute into Poland and rejoin the underground, which is at this very hour fighting the Germans. You refused to grant me that permission. Now I ask it again.”

“Why?” he said, surprised.

“Because I prefer to die, fighting for the independence of my country, than to be hanged later by the Russians in full view of your British ambassador!”

Now, if true, and there is a lot here that reads a little too much like a patriot spinning the most patriotic tale he can in the face of ignoble defeat--but, if it is true, than what a shocking portrait it paints of Winston Churchill. Was he really this domineering and power-mad? Is that the way discussions are typically held between prime ministers?

But as scary as that is, here’s something even scarier. This time it’s Churchill describing an encounter with Russian Marshal Joseph Stalin.

… At ten o’clock that night we held our first important meeting in the Kremlin. There were only Stalin, Molotov, Eden, Harriman, and I, with Major Birse and Pavlov as interpreters. …

The moment was apt for business, so I said, “Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Rumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions, and agents there. Don’t let us get at cross-purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have ninety per cent predominance in Rumania, for us to have ninety per cent of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?” While this was being translated I wrote out on a half-sheet of paper:

     Russia - 90%
     The others - 10%
     Great Britain (in accord with U.S.A.) - 90%
     Russia - 10%
Yugoslavia - 50/50%
Hungary - 50/50%
     Russia - 75%
     The others - 25%

I pushed this across to Stalin, who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all settled in no more time than it take to set down. …

After this there was a long silence. The pencilled paper lay in the centre of the table. At length I said, “Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper.” “No, you keep it,” said Stalin.

Wow. Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Churchill, egoist and domineering as he was, is given pause by the boldness and terror of the act he had just committed. And Joseph Stalin’s response to the suggestion that they hide the evidence of this crime? No, you keep it.

But let me get back to that part about Churchill once decrying the taking of territory by force, because, I think, it is one of the linchpins on which Hoover’s whole story turns.

Four More Words

In August of 1941, before Pearl Harbor and before the United States had officially entered the War, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met on a warship off the coast of Newfoundland. One result of that meeting was something called the Atlantic Charter--a policy document that defined Allied goals for the post-war world--initially just the United States and Britain, but adopted by others as they joined the war effort. There were eight clauses, here, as summarized by a Wikipedia entry:

1. No territorial gains were to be sought by the United States or the United Kingdom;
2. Territorial adjustments must be in accord with the wishes of the peoples concerned;
3. All people had a right to self-determination;
4. Trade barriers were to be lowered;
5. There was to be global economic cooperation and advancement of social welfare;
6. The participants would work for a world free of want and fear;
7. The participants would work for freedom of the seas; and
8. There was to be disarmament of aggressor nations, and a post-war common disarmament.

A grand vision for a new kind of world, generally. But that third clause would come to be a sticking point. Its full text read:

THIRD, they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;

But it was evidently revised by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at their conference in Yalta in February 1945--revised by tacking four more words on the end of the statement. the aggressor nations.

Hoover argues, correctly, I think, that this changed to whole import of the Charter. Originally a statement of vision for the entire world, with the four added words it was now a rulebook for how the nations abused by the Axis powers would be treated. For the nations or peoples abused by one of the Allied nations--and from Hoover’s point of view, that meant most importantly by the Soviet Union--clause three no longer applied. Their rights to choose the form of government under which they live, and the Charter’s mandate to see their sovereign rights and self-government restored to them, would no longer be observed. Churchill more or less made this explicit in his encounter with the Polish Prime Minister.

Hoover’s book contains the text of many such statements and declarations--documented, I presume, in the official records of the many high-level conferences the Allied powers held during and just after the war. He analyzes them with a real proofreader’s eye, teasing meaning and sometimes perceived conspiracies from certain edits and certain turns of phrase. But this change to the Atlantic Charter is, I believe, the epitome of the lost statesmanship from which Hoover derived his original title for his Magnum Opus. Hoover is passionate about the inalienable rights of everyone on the planet, not just those blessed to be born in the United States, and in siding with what he believed to be the corrupt and evil Soviet Union, his text clearly reveals that he believed the U.S. governments under FDR and Harry Truman abdicated their responsibilities to protect and defend those rights. As he says, before FDR:

Four American Presidents and … [six] Secretaries of State, beginning with Woodrow Wilson, refused to have anything to do with Soviet Russia on the ground of morals and democratic ideals. They … refused diplomatic recognition. They did so because here is one of the bloodiest tyrannies and terrors ever erected in history. It destroyed every semblance of human rights and human liberty; it is a militant destroyer of the worship of God. It brutally executes millions of innocent people without the semblance of justice. It has enslaved the rest. Moreover, it has violated every international covenant, it has carried on a world conspiracy against all democracies, including the United States.

This perspective is hard to dismiss. As far as I know, these are clearly stated facts. And the only defense against them may be that a pact with the Soviet Union was necessary to defeat Germany and win the war. I know from reading Hoover’s Magnum Opus that he believes that proposition is based on a false premise--there would have been no war involving the United States, he claims, had the United States not inserted itself into European affairs.

I wonder whose Magnum Opus I need to read to help decide if he was right about that.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, February 1, 2016

Can Holocracy Work Inside Your Association?

Holocracy strikes me as one of the latest buzzwords--representing a generalized concept of super-charged success that everybody wants but doesn't really understand. And lest you think I am being elitist, let me say up front that I put myself squarely into that camp.

One definition of holocracy I've seen goes something like this: A flat organizational structure where each employee has the autonomy to choose what they work on, and has equal ownership over and a say in what’s created and delivered to customers.

When I read something like that, my brain immediately begins to contemplate the possibility of something like that working in my association. Not in an association--an association is an abstract concept that can come with any necessary set of preconditions to make holocracy work; but my association--my association is a concrete entity with an established culture and comprised of a set of known individuals, each with their own skills and biases.

That reality is why I titled this post "Can Holocracy Work Inside Your Association." Asking if holocracy (or innovation, sustainability, data-driven, or any of a dozen other buzzwords bouncing around the blogosphere today) can work inside an association is a waste of time. Of course it can. Given the right set of preconditions, holocracy, et. al., can work in any organization. The question is not can it work, but what are the preconditions it needs to work and do those preconditions exist in your organization.

I'm not going to even try to offer a complete list, but when I look at the above definition of holocracy, and I think about shaping the culture of my association in a way that would facilitate its adoption, the first precondition that comes to my mind is complete buy-in by the Board of Directors.

Because holocracy is not compatible with how our Board and its current governance function works. The Board defines strategic goals, it hires an executive, it approves annual budgets developed by that executive, it holds that hired executive accountable for achievement of those goals within the approved budget. These are generally considered best practices in the association world--clearly separating governance from management. But they make me wonder how compatible they are with the idea of holocracy.

I suppose that you could argue that holocracy as defined above can exist at a level below the Board. That an executive, operating in an environment like ours, could still set-up a holocracy within the organization--communicating the strategic goals defined by the Board, allocating the budget-approved resources to each individual, and giving them free rein to choose what they want to work on and an equal say in what's created and delivered to the members. Let them hash it out. The crowd is always wiser than the individual, right?

But even in that structure, I think the Board is going to have to approve that strategy, and it's going to have to show results without the accidental and intentional duplication of resources within the organization. Even smart and conscientious association staff are going to have disagreements about what tactics are showing results and which aren't, and if everyone has the ability to direct their own resources--or at least to vote on what is done next--turf battles and conflicting priorities are going to occur.

Don't get me wrong. Turf battles and conflicting priorities are not unique to holocracy. Every organization has them. But in the association model I described, the Board has put one person--the executive--in a position to decide and minimize them. As near as I can see, a holocracy subverts that intentional structure, so any executive in such a structure that wants to experiment with holocracy had better seek the input of her Board before doing so.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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