Friday, 26 June 2009

Where is the Blog Going?

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting as much lately. It's easy to dismiss not writing by talking about how busy I am. I don't travel as much any more, so I don't have that airport waiting room time to compose blog posts. I'm no longer a consultant, so I don't have the varied clients to provide blog fodder.

All those are true, but they don't explain the reason.

This morning I came across the blog of "The Bunny Suit Girl". One of her posts seemed particularly applicable to my situation:

Bitterness at work and blog entries
they really seem to be directly proportional
When I was unhappy at work
I had so much to blog about
Now I'm relatively happy
I barely write a line
No wonder,all those famous poets in Ancient China
most of them had very unhappy career
I am happy with my current position. Before taking it I hadn't realized how important it is to me to work for an organization that is making the world a better place.

I mentioned before that I will be spending more blog time on not for profit issues. I also plan to turn this blog into more of a column than just accounting software advice.

I would also like to find topics that spur others to add their comments. One thing that has surprised me over the past year is the lack of comments. At first, I took it personally, until I noticed that most accounting bloggers get few comments. So rather than thinking of this as an accounting blog, please consider it as a blog by an accountant and throw in your $0.02!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Action, Approval, Information - Which is it?

"Bill, I'm not sure what you're asking the committee to do with the material you sent out for the meeting." The man on the phone was the committee Chair and he wanted to be sure he understood what was being asked of him before going into the meeting.

That was my mistake. As the resource person supporting the work of the committee, my job is to organize the material so that its purpose is crystal clear. For example, there are only three things you can ask of a Board or Committee:

  • Action - You're asking them to do something
  • Approval - You need their approval in order to move something forward
  • Information - You are reporting back to them
If the Chair is clear on what is being asked of the Committee, (s)he can set the right tone for the discussion. If the supporting written material is already organized so that it flows towards a clear objective, less time will be wasted. With clarity of purpose and well organized supporting material, the work of the Committee can be done quickly and effectively.

It's when there is no clear purpose that Committees often flounder and meetings become protracted. Members end up trying to second guess the intent of the material before them or worse, re-write it completely. When that happens, when you look around the room and see a lot of tired faces, the best thing is to refer the work back to where it came from with instructions to re-draft it.

By this I do not mean to imply that Committees should be manipulated into one specific direction. If the intent of the work before them is clear, it is also easier to reject it or send it back for more work. My personal experience with Committees is that they respect a well reasoned argument and will put a lot of energy into reviewing it if the information is brief and well presented. They will usually come up with comments that I had not considered, so that the end result is better than it would have been had I been working alone.

Which brings me to the topic of brevity. Churchill famously insisted that all briefs be reduced to a single page, but your Board / Committee probably wants a little more background than that. Readable writing is more important than just the length, although if a brief is perceived as being too long you run the risk of your Committee not reading it at all. If writing is not one of your strengths, by all means delegate! There are lots of freelance editors who will help you structure your thoughts. Here are some tips:
  • Use bullet points - they break up the monotony of the text and make it easy to find the important parts of your argument,
  • Use sub-headings - they organize your work -- try reading just the sub-headings, they should give you a feel for the whole document
  • Keep your sentences short - avoid compound, complex sentences
  • Avoid the passive voice - keep your prose active
What has your Board experience been like, whether from the staff viewpoint or the Board member's? Please join the discussion and leave a comment.