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Operating Effectively

Once a group is up and running it's important to ensure the positive energy and momentum don't fade. Several key areas contribute to a group's ability to operate effectively:

PLANNING AND GOALSETTING

Having a clear direction is key to a group's success and growth. Check out creating a vision, mission and goal setting in the Set a Direction Section for more information on this important step.

Planning, annual goals, evaluating results:

Planning is vital to any organization. Without it, organizations tend to lose the 'forest through the trees' and eventually, stagnate.  Not moving forward can result in a multitude of symptoms including a lack of collective will toward a common purpose, less than optimal public image and internal tension.  What can be improved upon is a commitment to a planning cycle. 

Too often, planning is seen to be additional work for all involved.  Participants put aside their 'real' work to engage in planning, as if planning is a special initiative.  When planning is treated this way, by the time it occurs, there is often so much information gleaned from participants, it can seem overwhelming.  It also begs the question, 'why have we done what we have done?', and the answer is that much is likely reactionary rather than strategic.

Synergy Groups can benefit from adopting a planning process that forms that basis of its work.  That is to say, treat planning not as an 'add-on' but as the core of the organization and its activities.  Practically this means adopting a planning cycle that serves as the driver of Board meetings (frequency and content), staff (if applicable) work plans, and can be used as a snapshot of what the group has done, is doing, and will be doing.  Establishing and adopting a planning process often aids in staying on course and achieving results. The results intended are understood by all, the activities to achieve are monitored and measured, and the results are shared and celebrated. 

A planning process should incorporate a review of the previous year, monitoring of the current year and a look ahead to the next year (and beyond).  A simplified process might look something like:

Planning graphic

This process is meant to be fluid and revolving.  In January, the approved business plan is initiated, while the previous year is evaluated.  Of course the previous year was monitored throughout, but now can be formally evaluated.  Were the planned activities carried out and what was the result on the goals and objectives? In the 2nd quarter, while continuing to manage and monitor the current business plan, efforts would be made to scan the environment.  This could be done through meetings with stakeholders, a review of data, discussion with public officials, etc.

In the 3rd quarter, beyond managing and monitoring the current business plan, a formal review of the strategic plan, including mission, vision and values, would be undertaken.  One strategy being used more and more, is to 'bump' the plan forward each year by another year.  For example, a strategic plan that covered 2007 - 2010, could be reviewed, adjusted and augmented to now be the strategic plan 2008 - 2011. This way, the plan is regularly being reviewed and the organization is always looking forward three years.  It alleviates the challenges of new initiatives being started every few years to develop strategic plans.  The fourth quarter would see the finish of the current business plan and approval of the business plan for the next year.

To assist in the development of strategic directions and building upon the mission, vision and values, it can be helpful to determine focus areas, those main areas of concern or interest for the organization.  These can also be called core business areas, or a host of other terms.  From there, strategic goals can be developed, within these focus areas, which are typically long term substantive ends statements of what is going to be achieved. 

To be successful, strategic planning should be entrenched as part of the group, not as a special initiative. The strategic plan then serves as the foundation for the business plan, which includes annual objectives.  These objectives need not be lofty, but rather describe the operations that contribute to the strategic goals. 

In fact, everything that occurs within the organization needs to be listed within one of the annual objectives.   If there is an activity that is occurring not within an annual objective, either the objectives should change or the activity should cease.  Again, planning should be seen as part of what the organization is and the objectives should be linked with the broader strategic goals and can be further categorized into mission objectives and enabling objectives (those support functions which allow the mission objectives to be achieved), or external and internal objectives. 

 

planning heirarchy

Of course, all objectives need to be monitored and measured. Measurements can be quantity and/or quality - both are valid and valuable in evaluating.  Quantifiable measurements are definite and empirical while qualitative are based on input and opinions. 

Lastly, all resources of the organization - funds, human resources, facility, etc. can be allocated to the objectives.  For the broader costs (eg. insurance), a costing model can be employed, where determinations are made on costing out the expenses.  This allows one to see the true cost of an activity, not just the direct costs.   By including budgeting within the planning process, conscious decisions are made on the weighting of the different activities which contribute to achieving the goals.

EFFECTIVE MEETINGS

Meetings are not necessarily everyone's favourite activity. That said, meetings can be an effective way for any group or organization to work towards its goals. It also means meetings need to be effective to keep people interested, participating and feeling like something is getting accomplished.

Facilitation is one option groups choose to ensure meetings are focused and effective. See finding a facilitator for more information.

Here are some resources to help your group with facilitating its own meetings, planning meetings and creating agendas:

Organize and structure meetings:

Sample Meeting Agendas:

You wouldn't head out on a vacation without a sense of where you're going and where to stop along the way. The same concept applies to meetings. Effective meetings start with an agenda - the map - to shape how the meeting will progress. Without an agenda, meetings can lack focus, miss important issues or discussions and fail to accomplish anything concrete. A clear agenda also allows the person chairing the meeting to better manage time, keep discussions on topic and ensure nothing gets missed. Items can always be added, time permitting, and agendas can also be a useful tool in following up on action items from the previous meeting to ensure the group is moving forward.

Remember that the keys to effective meetings lie in creating useful and manageable agendas, sticking to those agendas, balancing input from all members and keeping goals in mind throughout discussions.

DECISION MAKING

It's beneficial to identify how your group makes decisions and ensure all members understand the choice. Options include consensus (majority agrees after discussion and those who don't agree are OK with the decision) and votes (majority rules).

Samples of how other groups handle decision-making:

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR COMMUNITY: GETTING THE WORD OUT

Many synergy groups emphasize information sharing as a key objective. Here are some tips on getting the information out beyond the people who regularly attend meetings:

  • Word of mouth - Get out and tell people! Word of mouth is an excellent way to get people out to a first organizational meeting and follow up meetings and events. It gives you an opportunity to explain what a synergy group is, what's important and answer any questions that might arise.
  • Neighbouring synergy groups - Check in with groups you share borders with for industry member contacts who might also operate in your area, as well as community people who live near the boundary. You can also ask other groups what they've found works well (or not) in communicating with the community in your area.

    Send public event invitations to to these groups to be shared with their members.
  • Newsletters - These can be mass distributed or sent to a mailing list (once you collect names). Mailing lists can be developed by gathering names at public events, regular meetings or even through the media.

    Newsletters are a great way to get information to a large number of people, but they do require some time and expense. There is also a risk that for all the cost and effort, many people will not read it. However, others will and this could be a good way to disseminate information in your synergy group's region.

  • Media/Press Releases - Using the media to help spread your group's message doesn't have to cost money.  Community papers are especially interested in something new going on in their region, coming events etc. You can often get free coverage anywhere from the Coming Events/Community Events sections to news stories.

    It's worth taking the time to learn about writing press releases or other submitted material. Smaller newspapers often welcome submissions and will run them as-is if they are well-written and include relevant information.

    Always include contact information for more information - both for the reporters and readers/listeners. You can also buy an ad in a paper or a radio station. Some groups build relationships with the local newspaper and can submit regular columns updating community members on the groups activities and upcoming meeting dates, information nights etc.

    Sample media releases from the Central Mountain View Action Group:

  • Operators' Groups - These groups can provide contact information on which members of an industry are active in your area or they can send out the information to their members on your behalf.
  • ERCB field office for listings of local operators
  • Develop a website -Synergy Alberta offers groups a professional, cost-effective and low-maintenance website. Groups can choose to create a webpage through the Synergy Alberta website to share more information with their communities and stakeholders.
  • Open Houses - Many synergy groups host Open Houses or Information Nights to share information with members of the public in their communities. There are many formats for these events including an informal 'trade show' where group members set up booths or displays for attendees. Other options include presentations (with or without question and answer periods) or a combination of booths and presenters.

    Open house resources:

HIRING HELP

Like purpose and funding, Synergy Groups vary widely in whether or not they chose to contract or hire someone to assist their group. Alternatives include volunteer-run (no need to hire), facilitators for specific events only (strategic planning or public events), ongoing facilitation/administration support, part-time staff, full-time staff and office space.

Whichever direction a group chooses, here is some information on creating job descriptions, advertising your job opening and hiring a candidate:

Admin Hiring Tips

Sample Job Related Forms

For additional HR related information including human resources management, employment standards in Alberta workplace health and safety and more, refer to:

INCORPORATING YOUR SYNERGY GROUP

Societies are formed by five or more people who share a common recreational, cultural, scientific, or charitable interest. A society may not incorporate primarily to carry on a trade or business.

Although a society does not need to incorporate, there are several advantages to formally incorporating a society including:

  • Society members are not held responsible for debts of the society.
  • A society may own property and may enter into contracts itself, as opposed to its individual members entering into the contract.
  • The public's perception of a society is one having a more permanent status than an unincorporated group.
  • An incorporated society may be eligible for government grants and to become a registered charity with Revenue Canada. (Source: servicealberta.ca)

More information: