Tuesday 23 December 2008

My crunch hunch

Optimism is dead. Regarding the wider economy, at least.

You no longer hear the occasional optimist saying things will pick up in the spring. Everyone agrees that things are going to get worse.

As winter suddenly bites in January and February, the only thing getting brighter will be the sky as the days gradually lengthen. The economic outlook will get darker.

The post-New Year lull can often feel a bleak time of year but in 2009 it could be dreadful.

Over 80 percent of marketers are investing in CRM because of the economic downturn but this sudden focus on relationship marketing comes too late.

With brand and product homogeny, and the relentless growth of online retailers fueling the Long Tail, differentiation by customer service is increasingly important. A concept widely promoted in the 80s, it is sad that so few brands really embrace it.

Charity brands from the NSPCC down are losing direct debit donors at an increasing rate, and commercial brands such as Dixons are reporting rapidly dropping sales. The sorry demise of Woolworths, it has been said, is only the beginning.

Improved customer service seems to be one of the few ways left to avoid catastrophe as the recession bites.

(Interesting, then, that just at this critical moment BT axes 10,000 posts ... and if you have ever had the misfortune of calling BT Customer Services, you will agree that this move does not inspire confidence in future levels of service.)

Marketers must start to engage with customers – really engage, by taking time out to sit on the phones and take Customer Services calls for example! Similarly, fundraisers must start to engage with donors, for example by regularly spending time with Supporter Services, opening post and seeing what they're saying about their appeals.

In September, CAF and ACEVO reported that 88% of charity CEOs expect income to drop over the coming year. And recent press reports appear to be confirming this outlook.

While 62% of charities expect to increase fundraising investment to mitigate the effects of the recession, according to IoF/PwC/CFDG's Managing in a Downturn research, some charities are already on a slippery downward slope. They are the ones whose copies of Relationship Fundraising have been gathering dust for the past decade, while they’ve persisted with the charity equivalent of the assault on Falluja.

So what can you do to stem the attrition of donors, and protect your income in 2009?

If I were back in that position, I would seek to communicate – at least twice between January and March – the following key messages…



‘Your money’ is the vital phrase. And it is one that I think deserves a moment’s reflection.

This slightly old fashioned notion of it being ‘my money’ is very relevant in times of recession. It’s my money. Why should I continue to give donations on the vague promise that, ‘this is what you will do with it’?

I want to see what you did do with it.

Otherwise, I’m not so sure about giving you any more.

As Karen Osborne puts it, this ‘delivery on the promise’ is what donors want – and it is the best way to unlock their next gift.

The good news is that Bluefrog has developed several solutions to this challenge that are already reaping rewards for clients.

My hunch is that unless charities lead on this message in 2009 they will end the year with fewer than half the active donors they have now.

Monday 22 December 2008

Keep the change

Managing change well can result in stronger, better teams. Managing it badly just produces a box of bad or bitter apples, with many good apples falling out along the way.

Leading people through change is always tricky. Whilst there will usually be around ten percent who are positive, there will always be another ten percent who are negative.

This latter group – the ‘mood hoovers’ – need skilful handling, including the judgement on when not to waste any more time on them. This is especially true when one of the aims of the process of change might be to shed this ten percent.

But it is the remaining 80% who need most careful handling.

When it’s all over, you need them to hit the track sprinting.

My thanks to performance coach Struan Robertson for what follows. I was lucky enough to be coached by Struan for a couple of years.

To emerge from change with your 80% intact, you need to start with a plan.

And your plan needs to fill in some blanks. It needs to fill in the blanks in people’s heads.

When change begins, everyone has questions. But the answers are blank – unless you are ready to fill them in for them.

If you don’t, the mood hoovers will be only too pleased to help.

The questions people have can be summarised with five Ps:
  • Picture
  • Purpose
  • Process
  • Payoff
  • Part I play

Your people – let’s call them changelings – appreciate knowing what’s going on. It is incredibly stressful to be in the midst of something over which you have little control and about which you know nothing. You won’t be able to tell them everything, sure, but you can convey that you are telling them as much as possible.

Changelings need to see where this is going.

Why? Why is this happening? Why are things changing?

People are amazing. If they can see why something’s happening, they can adjust much more quickly than you’d imagine.

Changelings need to know.

If you’re restructuring or merging with another organisation – or simply introducing a new procedure – your changelings will react much better if they know roughly what will happen when.

They will also stick with you through the various stages if they know how things fit together.

Will it be worth it?

Or if I run with you through this process, if I back you on this, will I regret it?

In many ways, changelings need to answer this for themselves, but you need to give them enough to go on. And it needs to be more than empty reassurance.

Changelings aren’t daft.

Part I play
This is the most important P.

If I can’t see how I might influence the outcome, I will start to switch off.

Changelings need to feel involved, and as with Payoff, they should be able to fill this one in themselves. You have to make it clear that they need to engage.

And this leads nicely onto another dimension of managing change: coaching staff through it. For the mathematically minded, the following equation states an immutable law of change…


A changeling [often] has no control over the EVENT.

But they have 100% control over their RESPONSE.

A simplistic but insightful analogy is that of the brown bug.

A brown bug lived in a brown field, and everything was familiar. The brown bug was good at being brown – surviving and thriving.

One day the field turned green. Being a brown bug in a green field was not good. Predators were drawn to her and potential mates avoided her.

So the brown bug had a choice: leave and find another brown field or stay and become a green bug.

She decided to stay and embrace the change. And as it turned out, things were much better in the green field. Food was much more plentiful – and happily, potential mates were very fit indeed.

A little trivial for most business changes, but the principle is sound: each person can choose how they respond, and if they respond as ‘change agents’, i.e. actively and positively engaged, you have a great team.

In summary, it really boils down to conveying three things to your teams:
  1. that they have been considered
  2. that they are appreciated
  3. that you want them to be onboard

Go on! Lead people through change.

Thursday 18 December 2008

What is genius?

Well this is...

As is this...

Genius is the ability - and inclination - to look at something through your lens and turn it into something new.

Or to come up with something totally new.

Most people focus on ability, and there are myriad blogs, books and videos about increasing your ability. But true genius emerges only when you have the inclination to let it out.

Consciously switch your head on, open your eyes and ears, plug into it.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Moonlighting - sheer betrayal

18 months is a long time to be shackled in charity HR bureaucracy.

Endless 121s, consultation meetings, capability procedures and finally disciplinary procedures. All in an attempt to ascertain why a previously satisfactory, if a little dull, manager had suddenly unplugged from the grid.

Even his team weren't sure what he was doing - working three days from home and only two in the office left plenty of room for speculation.

The best explanation I could come up with was that his wife must have some form of mental illness.

But no amount of guesswork could prepare me for the shocking discovery that he and his not-ill wife had set up an ad agency from home ... highlighting its 'ethical' credentials.

But moonlighting is hard to spot unless you micromanage - especially if, as in this case, the individual does just enough to avoid dismissal. There were so many other competing priorities that I never had long enough to focus on this issue in enough detail. If I had, I might have spotted the inconsistencies, and may have saved his team twelve months of frustration.

Sadly, one thing's now sure. His betrayal of his team means my starting point is "no" if someone asks for flexible working.