Monday, October 29, 2018

The Facilitator's Job

I was asked to facilitate one of the breakouts at the last conference I attended. (If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that last week I said I had six more conferences and workshops to attend before the end of the year.)

The conference organizer reached out to me, I assume primarily because of my position as the President/CEO of the trade association that represents the technology that would be the focus of the breakout, and asked me to take on this role. Even though I knew the discussion in the breakout was likely to get technical, and that my long-ago Bachelor's degree is English Literature was not likely to help me, I never hesitated. Yes, of course I'll facilitate the breakout.

Here's what the conference organizer said would be my job: "Your breakout session will be an open mic format for participants to talk about their perspective on the technical challenges, market barriers, and future direction for [subject of breakout session]. Please be flexible and ask people if they would like to speak. Please remember to take good notes (ask someone to help you if you need help). You will need to write up the findings and present them in the main room following the session. Thank you and good luck!"

It wasn't much to go on, but it was enough. I did just a little homework before the session, familiarizing myself with some of the latest information I had on the breakout's subject. I even put some of that information together in a few slides, but I wasn't sure I was going to use them. I figured I would have them as a backup in case participation fizzled or started to wane.

Turns out I didn't need them. There were plenty of people who wanted to talk in my session and I quickly saw that the real challenge was not going to be getting people to contribute, but identifying a list of summarized comments that everyone in the session would agree fairly represented the group's thoughts and opinions.

That, you see, is really the job of a facilitator. It is not just making sure everyone has a chance to speak, and it is not just transcribing everything that everybody says. Facilitators often do those things, but the real job of a facilitator is to listen carefully to all of those ideas, identify the common ideas and concepts, and then repeat them back to the participants to ensure they are being fairly recorded.

And that's pretty much what I did. Like I've done a dozen or more times before, I live-edited a document that was projected up on a screen for the whole audience to see. To keep some order, people who wanted to speak were given no more than five minutes to make their case. I let that go on for the first half of our session time, listening the whole time for common ideas and concepts and populating my document with them. Then, with apologies to anyone who had not yet had the chance to speak, I revealed the list I had been working on to the room and asked for everyone to react to it. Was it accurate? Did it fairly summarize the major themes that we had all just heard emerge over the last hour?

That created a lot of back and forth, and that was exactly what I expected and wanted. One person wanted one of the bullet points changed. Another person wanted to add another bullet point. A third person thought the third bullet point should be nested under the fifth, but a fourth person disagreed, explaining how he saw the two bullet points as discrete concepts.

For much of this discussion I was simply the scribe, editing the document in accordance with each person's suggestion, but each time checking with the room to see if anyone disagreed. Wearing my facilitator's hat, I then made sure that disagreements turned into discussions, and discussions turned into compromises that both parties -- and the room -- could live with.

In the end we had about four slides of content, summarizing the discussion of the group. When I presented the slides in general session a few minutes later, I observed breakout participants in the audience nodding their heads in approval. I had accomplished what I had sought out to do -- fairly capturing the general themes and recommendations inherent in the group's discussion.

I didn't write this post to pat myself on the back. I wrote it to make the point I've made once or twice before on this blog. Some people are impressed with my ability to do what I've just described -- to listen to a group's discussion and to work collaboratively with them to distill it down to its basic elements. This was not the first time that I've received accolades from participants and observers on my ability to do exactly that. And although perhaps I may have some natural talent for parsing ideas into words (English major, anyone?), I firmly believe that not only can this skill can be learned -- it has to be learned by anyone who wants to call themselves and association professional.

The facilitator's job? From where I sit, it's just another word for association management.

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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, October 27, 2018

The Ring of Ikribu by David C. Smith and Richard L. Tierney

There’s a complex and somewhat awkward story behind this one. Not long ago I sampled a podcast about the works for H. P. Lovecraft and the many authors who write in the “cosmic horror” genre he almost created. I stopped listening after a handful of episodes, but my interest was piqued by a few discussions I heard about stories that attempted to blend the “sword and sorcery” tropes of fantasy fiction with those of the ancient and inhuman gods of Lovecraftian horror. Among that group were supposedly a series of novels written around the character of Red Sonja.

Now, I vaguely knew who Red Sonja was. She was a kind of a female version of the character of Conan the Barbarian. When Arnold Schwarzenegger was cutting his teeth as Conan in 1980s cinema, they even made a movie about her, with Brigitte Nielsen cast in the title role.

A few minutes on the Internet, however, showed me that I knew a lot less about Red Sonja that I thought I did. My copy of The Ring of Ikribu contains an introduction that describes the birth a Red Sonja as a character and the genesis of the series of paperbacks that begin with The Ring of Ikribu. Perhaps you already know it. First there were the Conan stories, a creation of Robert E. Howard. Then there were the Conan comic books, an adapted creation of some people at Marvel Comics. Then there was Red Sonja as a recurring character in the Conan comic books. And now, writing in 1981, there are Red Sonja stories -- the demands of a fan base driving the change from fiction to comics and back to fiction again.

So these were the expectations that I brought to The Ring of Ikribu and how it came into my possession. I wanted to see Lovecraftian horror in a fantasy context. And although there is certainly a cosmic horror subtext to the novel, the bulk of it more properly viewed as Red Sonja’s origin story.

On the Lovecraftian side, there is Ikribu and his ring.

“This god, Ikribu -- he was said to be a god of blood and battle. The black armies of ancient Kheba and Ishdaris worshipped him as a war god and sacrificed thousands to him in sacrificial battles, and even before then he was said to be one of the Elder Ones -- those beings who created man and all other life forms in order to feed on the energies generated by suffering and death. Some of their artifacts were especially created to draw men into paths of madness and doom -- to channel these energies the Elder Ones crave -- the Ring is said to be one of these. A Ring of power, a Ring of madness!”

It is an interesting idea, and the novel certainly does contain men struggling to possess the ring, men who come to and cause enough suffering and death to temporarily satisfy the cravings of the Elder Ones. But that story is the novel’s B plot. The A plot clearly goes to Red Sonja and her odd and somewhat anachronistic devotion to sexual purity.

She was tall and fair-skinned with a head of long, tousled, flame-red hair -- and she was armored. A long-sword swung in the scabbard at her side, a knife at her hip. She wore a brief vest and skirt of silvery scale-mail that covered her breasts and hung from her waist, but left her limbs and midriff bare -- good armor, but too little of it for practicality and evidently worn less for protection than as a symbol of her untamed spirit.

This is Sonja’s first introduction to the reader, as yet unnamed, a stranger happened across in a tavern, about to defend herself and her “spirit” from the predations of raucous men. What follows aligns with many of the tropes we are all familiar with. Good has pure motives. Evil is a slave to violent passions. A hero only kills when threatened by the treachery of a villain.

Eventually, however, we are allowed to learn Sonja’s full story.

“Olin, I suffer from a destiny.”

“Tell me your destiny, Sonja.”

She looked him in the eyes, read concern and love and torment there. She told him: “When I was a woman-child -- when my family was destroyed by mercenary bandits -- I wished that I could wield a sword and thereby equal my father and younger brothers.”

“I know that.”

“When they were destroyed, only I was left alive. The brigands forced me to endure their pleasure, and then left me to die in our house. They set it afire, but I escaped.”

“How does this--”

“I wandered into the forest, Olin, sobbing and broken and bleeding, thinking I would soon die -- wanting to die one moment, the next wanting fiercely to live for vengeance.”

Olin said no more.

“I was visited by a Vision -- a spirit or a god, perhaps. I do not know. It filled up my soul and gave me the strength to become what I yearned for in my heart. With my father’s sword I slew one of the brigands, and in the following years tracked down the others. But within that instant of the Vision, Olin, I was transformed from a whimpering, broken young girl into a woman whose sword skill could equal any man’s in the world.”

Olin was silent, trying to imagine such a thing.

“I took up the wandering way. In my years of travels since then I have seen much, suffered much, been to hell many times, followed roads mired with gore and others paved with gold and splendor -- but never, Olin, never in all that time have I given myself to any man. Were I to do so, I feel I would damn myself, sever myself from my destiny and my past. In return for my skill with the sword, Olin, I swore a vow of chastity to that Vision in the night. And no man has ever touched me since that night when I was defiled while my parents and brothers were slain and burnt.”

Her quest is therefore one of vengeance -- another overused trope -- fueled by an artificial shroud of purity that her vow of chastity bestows. And it is, I am somewhat sad to realize, yet another man attempting to control the sexuality of yet another woman. In the story, Sonja is independent, free and in open conflict with the oppressive characterizations of men. But it doesn’t take much critical analysis to realize that it is the form of the story itself that provides Sonja’s tiresome and anachronistic subjugation. The story, after all, is written by men, and features a woman bound by the sexual ethics of their own making.

And Sonja’s full vow -- going beyond the simplicity of chastity -- doesn’t much help.

“Sonja,” said Olin gently. “Sonja. Can no love ever win to you?”

She looked him straight in the eyes, with an honesty that went beyond mere truth. “Should I be meant to love a man, Olin, then that will be proved by his besting my in swordplay.”

Ugh. Exactly how is this a “woman worthy of Conan,” as the paperback epigraph proclaims?

In a world where other woman accept what they are given, Red Sonja gets what she wants. And woe to the man who thinks that her sleek body and mane of flame-red hair could be his for the taking -- for her sword-arm is as strong as her will, and Red Sonja belongs to no man.

Clearly, she belongs to no man. But neither do any men belong to her. But you’re not fooling me. Neither situation is an expression of her will or untamed spirit. They are the exact corners of the sexual prison that the authors have penned her in.

There are five more books in this series. Perhaps I will give one or two more a try, looking for more of that Lovecraftian horror than any kind of release of Sonja from her jail cell. There is some hope of that. At the end of this chapter, after the battle against Ikribu and his slavish thralls has been won, Sonja confronts the very idea that brought about so much suffering and death.

“You presume to despise us,” said the Stygian, “yet you and all other humans enjoy life to the extent that you do because of Orders like ours dedicated to appeasing the Elder Ones. Be thankful that our burden rests not on your shoulders.”

“Perhaps someday,” said Sonja, her eyes blazing, “we may find the strength and knowledge to oppose and destroy these monstrous beings, rather than ‘appease’ them. Would that my sword might be employed in that conflict!”

Indeed. Now that would be a novel worth reading.

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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, October 22, 2018

Other People See Connections You Don't

I attend a lot of conferences and workshops. I attended one last week and I'm attending another one this week. In fact, looking ahead on my calendar, I've got six more conferences or workshops to attend before the end of the year.

Obviously, it's a big part of my job. And, as was brought home to me at the conference I just attended, one of the big advantages to all this time out of the office is getting a chance to hear what other people think. Because, frequently, what other people think is not what I think. We're at the same conference for the same reasons, but they are coming from a different place and have a different take on it than I do.

That can sometimes get uncomfortable. Association members -- or at least members of my association -- can be painfully direct and honest. If they don't see the value in what your association is offering, they have no compunction about telling you. And their advice for improvement is also as freely given. Divorced as their comments may be from the resource realities of your organization, they're going to let you know what you should do.

It's always best, in my opinion, to accept this kind of feedback with respect and graciousness, and then use the opportunity to engage the member in some open brainstorming. You say you want X, but the association can't afford X. What is it about X that makes you want it? What is the need you have that X would help fill? Are there other ways to meet that need? To deliver the value you seek?

Getting a member into this headspace can be extremely beneficial. Because they are different from you, because they have different perceptions, and see different connections, there's no telling what kind of elegant solution is going to arise from these open and honest discussions.

It happened this past week and, if I'm lucky, it'll happen at each of the six conferences and workshops I have between now and the end of there. Six new solutions to six old problems? That's something that's worth getting on all those airplanes.

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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, October 15, 2018

Talk About How You Will Live Your Values

It worked. There's not much more to say than that.

Last week, in Behaviors Are a Necessary Part of Values, I wrote about an upcoming discussion on values at my association's Board meeting. I said then that, in my experience, when it comes to values statements, there is actually something more important than choosing the right top-level words to describe your values. That you have to describe as accurately as possible the behaviors by which you'll know that the values are or are not being lived. And that my focus at the meeting was going to less on the words they wanted to choose and more on the Board table behaviors by which they will define them.

Well, now that discussion is in the past and that's exactly what we were able to do.

We started broad. Our outside facilitator laid some essential groundwork for the values that are most often associated with high-performance Boards and teams. But when it came time to discuss what those values might mean for our Board of Directors, we were able to shift the focus from the abstract concept of each proposed value to the concrete actions by which our Board either had or would like to live that value in practice.

Again, it's one thing to say that your Board members need to display Courage when they gather around the Board table. It's another thing to say that your Board members display Courage when they challenge each other's assumptions, when they speak up as a lone voice of dissent, and when they ask questions until they truly understand the stakes of each decision they are asked to make.

But here's the best part. When the Board meeting was over, and we were enjoying a quick and casual lunch before people began darting off to catch their flights home, more than one Board member said that it was the discussion on behaviors that made the critical difference for them.

I was worried, one Board member said in a comment typical of others. The information the facilitator presented was interesting, but I was suspicious of its value for us and our Board. But once we started talking about how we wanted to live those values, everything just clicked. This was one of the most useful conversations we've ever had around our Board table.

It was great. Our work on values isn't finished, but we've made a tremendous first step. And grounding the conversation in the behaviors that we wanted to exhibit made all the difference.

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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, October 13, 2018

Unbelievable by Katy Tur

Picked this one up on a whim. The subtitle, My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, is one of those subtitles engineered by savvy book publishers to maximize coherence with the zeitgeist of the times. It is one hundred percent true, but it is also somewhat misleading.

Here’s a taste of what I mean.

My car isn’t moving. I look up ahead. The light is red.

Don’t worry. Once it turns green, we’ll start moving.

The light turns green. My car doesn’t move.

It’s fine. Just take a deep breath. Some jerk is probably just blocking the intersection. He’ll move.

The dashboard clock shows 6:33.

Fuck. Am I going to miss this flight?

I’m in a cab about a mile from LaGuardia Airport. I can’t quite see it yet, but I know it’s there just beyond this row of houses, on the other side of the parkway. All we need to do is roll three meager blocks, turn left on the overpass, and I’m there: on my way to Iowa, the first state to cast a ballot for president.

For seven months, everybody in the world of politics has been talking about who will be the next president and why. But all of it is pure theory until Iowa.

“Sir, any idea what’s going on?” I ask the cabdriver.

He shrugs. I close my eyes and try to breathe.

Katy, it’s fine. We’ll start moving any second.

When I open them, I see cars are peeling off ahead, abandoning their place in line. Not a good sign.

The dashboard clock shows 6:40 P.M. I check my phone: yup, 6:40 P.M.

Forty-seven minutes until takeoff.

My winter coat suddenly feels tighter. My face is hot.

“Sir, can you turn the heat off?”

I roll down the window and begin to sway back and forth in my seat. I crane my neck to look ahead.

“Sir, turn on 1010 WINS. Maybe we can catch the traffic.”

Too late. They’re on to weather. The top headline is still snow removal.

Shit, shit, shit.

“Sir, is there anything you can do? Can we take another street?”

No, he says. This is the only street to the overpass.

I start to spin.

Why did he get off the parkway? We were moving just fine. Why can’t anyone do their job? No, it’s my fault. I should’ve told him to stay on the highway. Why didn’t you tell him to stay on the Grand Central?

My worst qualities are bubbling over. My mind is like a washing machine with too much detergent, spinning way too fast. I blew up my life for this assignment, believing, in the way of Noël Coward, that work could be more fun than fun. But the gamble hasn’t yet paid off, and it never will if I don’t make this flight. It’s Monday night, the day before the seven-day countdown to the Iowa caucus begins. All the other reporters who are dying to take over the Trump beat are already in Iowa. And, given an opening, they will gladly take it.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

“Pop the trunk,” I say. “I’m going to run for it.”

My suitcase is the size of a refrigerator, and it is fighting me down this godforsaken side street in Queens. The wheels weren’t made for snow and it’s too goddamn big. I didn’t want to take it. I have a rule: carry-ons only. I don’t have the time to check a bag, because I don’t have the time to watch a banged-up black belt spin in a circle from now until eternity. I’m not Sisyphus and this isn’t purgatory.

Or is it?

Damn this damn bag. I hate it. I’d like to leave it on the side of the road like a rotting couch. But there’s no telling when I’ll get back home to repack. Not “home.” Forget home. For six months I’d been living at the Standard hotel, the quieter one on the Lower East Side. Sure, it sounds luxurious. Room service, maid service, the balm of a perpetually stocked minibar. However, it turns out there’s only so many bags of Smart Puffs you can wash down with a shot of Hendricks before you start to long for a proper kitchen. Jeez, by the end I would’ve settled for a hot plate. Instead, just a few weeks ago, I convinced a friend to let me stay at his place. Truth be told, it was not that much of an upgrade. The room at the Standard was 250 square feet. His apartment is four hundred square feet -- half of which are now covered with my clothes.

I’m breaking my carry-on rule because I have to pack for at least a month, maybe longer. I also have to pack for multiple climates. On February 1, the Iowa Caucus will be cold. On February 9, the New Hampshire primary will also be cold. But on February 20, I’ll be in South Carolina, where it is warm. And on February 23, I’ll be in Nevada, where it is even warmer. You get the picture. If Trump wins or, at the very least, doesn’t drop out, I’m going to need every scrap of clothing in this bag.

Did I just drop something?

I turn around. It’s dark and there is snow everywhere. Lots of it. Two days ago, the city got more than two feet, and most of it is still on the sidewalks. If I did drop something, and it’s likely I did, there’s no way I could find it.

Please don’t be my portable Wi-Fi.

I’ve already lost one of those.

I dig my phone out of my jacket, a giant red parka.

Thirty-two minutes. Pick up the pace, Katy.

My bag is not my bag anymore, it’s a child throwing a tantrum. Every time I spin around to give it a good yank I can feel my backpack opening. I’ve jammed it with notebooks and peanut butter packets, all of which may be dropping out like seedlings I’ll never see again.

Is that a shoe? The toe is facing up. Jesus, did someone get buried?

The overpass that leads to the airport is crowded. Fellow travelers just as desperate as me are pushing and dragging their belongings in the snow. With all the foot traffic, it’s really just slush now. Big dirty heaps of it. Someone once said that New York is the only city that makes its own gravy. And this is New York gravy at its finest. Cold, brown, chunky, gross.


I catch myself before my face lands in it. My legs aren’t as lucky. I’ve fallen for New York City’s favorite prank: the camouflaged curb. I’m soaked up to the knee and my shin is throbbing. I hit something down there. Don’t ask me what. The curb? An open sewer grate? A discarded toaster? I look down. My pants are ripped and I’m bleeding. This is either going to kill me or spur some sort of superhuman slush-based mutation. (Fingers crossed, it’s the ability to fly.)

No one tries to help me. In fact, people are looking at me as if I’m crazy. Probably because I look crazy. I’m dripping wet from the waist down. I’m talking to myself. Charging cables are hanging out of my backpack like a makeshift bomb. And I’m walking into an airport with a suitcase the size of a Ford Bronco.

Trump calls LaGuardia Airport a third-world country. How does he even know? For him, there are no terminals, no gate agents, no boarding groups, not even hard departure times. The extent of Trump’s complaints about LaGuardia are what he can see out of his private jet window. He gets to drive right onto the runway, right to the stairs of his very own 757 with the twin Rolls-Royce engines. He doesn’t have a coach seat. He has a white leather captain’s chair with his initials embroidered in gold.

My own seat is somewhere at least two terminals away. All around me people are blowing their stacks: stranded, delayed, freaking out into their phones and the thirty-degree air. It’s like I’m back in Jakarta, except for the weather and the font on the license plates of all the cars going nowhere.

I run through a lattice of sidewalks best described as post-earthquake and finally arrive at the Delta check-in. There is no line, because evidently no one can get to the airport today. The agent looks up as I arrive, panting and red-faced.

“I’m on the flight to Des Moines.”

“Tonight’s flight?”


She doesn’t look at her screen. She just knows.

“That flight takes off in twelve minutes.”

“Yeah, I know. I have my ticket on my phone … but I also have this bag I need to check.”

We pause and gaze at the Montana-sized suitcase at my feet.

“Again, ma’am, that flight leaves in twelve minutes. We stopped checking bags.”

I try to reason with her, never sounding less reasonable myself.

But I’m Diamond … but you can’t take off if no one can make the flight … but you can send my bag on the first flight tomorrow … but I have to be on TV in the morning!

The agent confers with a manager for a minute or two, then hands me a paper ticket and says, “if you can get that bag through security, you can try to make the flight. But the gate is already closed and you’re not making the flight.”

I thank her and start to run, newly energized. At security, there is no line, because, again, no one can get to the airport. That’s the good news. The bad news is the TSA agents get a good, long look at me and my bag. They’re puzzled, then amused, then outright rooting for me. I’m not sure I can lift the bag onto the belt, let alone get it into the X-ray machine. But I try.

It scrapes through and I practically leap through the metal detector to meet it on the other side. I’m not sure whether the agent us studying the bag in the monitor or if the bag is stuck. It’s six minutes to takeoff when the bag is back in my hands, now deemed safe for flight.

Holy crap, I can’t believe they let me in with this. I’m going to make this flight. I am going to make this flight.

My internal monologue sounds like the Little Engine That Could -- I know I can. I know I can -- as I run to my gate. I get there with three minutes to spare. The plane is still there, but the gate area is empty. The boarding door is closed and the counter is deserted. It’s just me and another straggler, looking at each other, toddlerlike, searching for an answer in the other’s eyes. We need to find someone. Anyone.

“Do you see anybody?”

The guy looks at me helplessly.


I look around. The only other person in sight is a guy cleaning up.

“Can you call down to the gate and see if they can let us on?” I ask.

“What?” he says.

“Can you call down to the gate and see if they can let us on!” This time it is more a demand. Either he empathizes with my desperation or he is worried about provoking a crazy woman. Either way, he calls down.

“Someone is coming,” he says hanging up the phone.

Two excruciating minutes later a flight attendant appears from behind the closed door.

“Can you please, please, please let us on,” I ask pointing at the other traveler behind me. The useless straggler.

The agent looks at my bag -- my motherfucking shipping container of a bag -- and down at the flight’s passenger manifest and laughs.

“You must be Katharine Tur. Was wondering if you’d make it. Sure. Come down. I’ll stuff that in the flight attendants’ closet,” he says, pointing at the bag.

I take a deep breath and thank him enough times to make it awkward while I board.

Safely in my seat, I dig my phone back out of my coat and write this down. No one is going to believe me.

It’s 7:27.

A week later, Trump loses Iowa.

That’s Chapter 7. Notice how, like the rest of the book, it’s far more about Katy Tur than it is about the campaign of Donald J. Trump. Why did he lose Iowa? Beats me. I was stuck in travelers hell with Katy Tur.

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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, October 8, 2018

Behaviors Are a Necessary Part of Values

I have a Board meeting this week, and a major part of the agenda will be discussing and defining the values by which our Board needs to operate if it is going to successfully govern our association and ensure the successful execution of our strategy.

It was not my idea to have this conversation (although I heartily support it). It was my Board chair who felt the discussion was necessary. From his view, the Board has the other two legs of its three-legged stool nailed. It understands its governance role and has developed a unified and effective strategy for the association. What it needs now is more intentionality about its culture and the values that define it.

As we've prepped the agenda we've looked at multiple culture systems and examples for Boards, for-profit and non-profit alike. We're actually bringing in an outside facilitator to guide our Board through this landscape, and help it select the words and definitions that make the most sense for it and its role in our organization.

It's been an interesting experience for me. A few years ago I guided my staff through a similar process: identifying the values that we needed to embrace at the staff level in order to better drive the success of our organization. We came up with some important words then; words like Leadership, Enthusiasm, Integrity, and Teamwork. Those are good words to frame your values around, and they may or may not be the right words for our Board. But when it comes to values statements, there is actually something more important than choosing the right top-level words to describe your values.

You have to describe as accurately as possible the behaviors by which you'll know that the values are or are not being lived.

It's one thing to say that your Board members need to display Courage when they gather around the Board table. It's another thing to say that your Board members display Courage when they challenge each other's assumptions, when they speak up as a lone voice of dissent, and when they ask questions until they truly understand the stakes of each decision they are asked to make.

Our staff values document is full of these behavior statements: observable actions that define the practical meaning of our values. Without them, the values are just words open to anyone's interpretation. Without them, our values statement has no clear purpose in our organization. Whatever direction it provides is unfocused and probably counterproductive.

So when my Board gathers later this week for its discussion, I'm going to focus less on the words they want to choose and more on the Board table behaviors by which they will define 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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Monday, October 1, 2018

Is My Bonus Plan Needlessly Complicated?

I had lunch with a colleague this week and our conversation turned to staff bonus plans. In prefacing my description of the bonus plan I've put in place for the staff at my association, I described it (with a bit of tongue in the cheek) as "needlessly complicated." This, frankly, is based on some feedback I've received from my team. After explaining it to her, however, she said she didn't think it was complicated at all. Maybe you can be the judge.

The total possible bonus I offer is 5% of a person's salary. That 5% is comprised of three parts:

1. Association Goals. As I've described multiple times on this blog, each year our Board sets a Strategy Agenda for our association, and from that Agenda I develop an Operational Plan. A big part of that Operational Plan is a set of measurable goals that are designed to move us forward on the metrics of success that the Board has built into the Strategy Agenda. This year, there are 54 of these goals, each related to a key operational area of our association, and each requiring some level of teamwork across the organization if it is to be achieved. A bonus equal to 2% of each person's salary will be awarded for the percentage of these goals that are achieved. In other words, if 100% of these goals are achieved, everyone will receive a 2% bonus. If 75% of these goals are achieved, everyone will receive a 1.5% bonus. If 50% of these goals are achieved, everyone will received a 1% bonus.

2. Individual Goals for the Individual. In addition to these association goals, we have also identified an individual bonus goal for each staff person. These goals: (a) are directly related to each person's area of responsibility and influence; (b) will require the staff person to stretch themselves out of their comfort zone, and (c) if achieved, will represent the creation of new value for our members or for the organization. This individual goal is worth a 2% bonus to the individual. If they achieve it, they receive a bonus equal to 2% of their salary. If they don't achieve it, they receive no bonus.

3. Individual Goals for the Team. For every individual goal that is achieved, everyone of the team receives a bonus equal to 0.1% of their salary. Because there are ten individual goals for ten individual staff members, that means that if all ten people achieve their ten individual goals, everyone on the team receives a bonus equal to 1% of their salary. If only five of the staff members achieve their individual goals, then everyone receives a 0.5% bonus. If only one person achieves their individual goal, then everyone gets a 0.1% bonus.

Hopefully you can see how that all adds up to a 5% maximum: Up to 2% for the association goals, up to 2% for each individual on their individual goal, and up to 1% for the team for the success rate of the individual goals.

Hopefully you can also see how I've mixed rewards for personal success with rewards for team success. We all need to work together to achieve association goals, so those rewards are shared. We each have to contribute individually if we are to achieve our individual goal, so those rewards are not shared. But everyone should have a stake in making sure their team members achieve their individual goals, otherwise we risk decaying into jealous arguments over who has "easy" and who has "hard" individual goals.

Now, you tell me. Is that needlessly complicated?

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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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