Category: Consult

  • Helping the people who help the people

    Outside it’s a crisp and foggy Autumn morning, but here inside the Midnightsky studio it’s warm and inviting. In the middle of the room there is a long, wooden table offering almond croissants, hot chocolates and cups of tea.

    I’ve been invited to sit down with Tracey O’Neill, Board member at the Australasian Association for Managers of Volunteers (AAMoV) and Luke Hockley, Director of Midnightsky.

    We’re going to hear the story of how AAMoV created itself a better chance of a successful future. And we’re going to hear how Midnightsky worked with AAMoV to help them find the clarity to take that opportunity.

    But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start by explaining who is AAMoV and what they do.

    AAMoV is the independent voice of volunteer leaders. Over the last 20 years AAMoV has grown into an Australasian network and is run entirelyby professional and passionate volunteers. Thenot-for-profitorganisation works across the community, in different sectors and organisations.

    There are many thousands of volunteers in our communities. Each volunteer needs a manager to make sure that they have the support they need to be effective, safe and relevant. And in turn, each manager needs support to do their job well. As Tracey says, “If you want impact for volunteering, if you want your organisation to be safe and if you want your volunteers to be engaged, then you need someone with a high level of skills. And they need the resources.”

    The volunteer sector has many managers who are ready to be challenged and learn some advanced leadership skills like, Strategic Planning, engaging with Executives and Board, and how to influence organisations. AAMoV provides professional development and also advocates for the appropriate resourcing of volunteer leaders.

    So that’s what AAMoV does and why they do it.

    Naming the sticking point

    But before we go any further, consider this; some managers of volunteers are paid and some are unpaid. This means that the unpaid managers are volunteers themselves. Essentially, they are volunteer volunteer managers.

    And across Australasia there are state peak bodies for volunteers and national peak bodies, whose mandates are to support volunteering and the outcomes for the community. That includes supporting the volunteer and paidvolunteer managers. However, AAMoV is the only peak body whose sole focus is to support volunteer managers.

    AAMoV doesn’t want to duplicate, or compete with, the important work of the peak bodies. But AAMoV does recognise that there are some fundamental differences between their core purposes. It is this key difference that allows AAMoV to work directly with paid volunteer managers to make sure they receive the professional development and support that they need, and also work in partnership with the peak bodies who are developing the skills of unpaid volunteer managers.

    But flashback to several months ago and the Board of AAMoV had not yet gained this clarity. They were getting stuck on a hard question; why should AAMoV exist? And that’s the key challenge that brought AAMoV to Midnightsky.

    As Luke says to Tracey, “If I go back to the moment when you first spoke to me what I got was, ‘We know there’s a need for something in this sector but we’re not clear what part of that need we can fulfill, and how we can do it as a volunteer organisation without burning ourselves out or duplicating others.’ I could sense confusion and frustration that you were not quite getting there.”

    Tracey agrees, “Either we could continue the way we’re going, or we would cease to exist because we were just not achieving anything. We’d already lost members because we weren’t giving them a clear message. The more the Board talked about it, the more we realised that we didn’t have any clarity around who we were. The Board agreed that a workshop sounded like a great idea.”

    The good work started even before they got to the workshop. Luke shares one of his facilitation secrets. He says, “In this pre-workshop conversation, I’m asking, ‘what does this group need to get them where I want them by the time we meet?’ I get them to a point where they have processed enough information, and given me what I need, to get the most value on the day. Facilitation is what happens in the room, but facilitation is also what you set up everyone for success – including me! I also gave the Board a clear framework for where strategic goals, objectives and outcomes fit, which is separate to a workplan where all the activities fit.”

    Tracey says, “Doing that piece of work in planning, that’s when we started getting excited. As a Board, we were defining who we were and who we wanted to be.”

    Unsticking the sticking point

    Through facilitated conversation, the workshop resolved the difficult but fundamental questions. There was a pivotal moment when Luke asked the group, do you need to represent the whole of the sector, or do you need to represent paid volunteer managers and leave the unpaid managers to someone else?

    Tracey remembers, “It was the one point where we realised we could make a decision without all agreeing. We needed to detach our personal feelings to make the best decision for the sustainability of the organisation. Suddenly things felt achievable. Suddenly it felt like we can do this. And it gave us a pathway to create good relationships with the peak bodies.”

    Luke agrees, “The Board was able to see that you were not going to desert that group of people, the unpaid volunteer managers. People were able to see that the decision to partner with other organisations was like an open door, not a closed door. That’s when people realised that you can have everything, you just don’t have to be responsible for everything.

    The organisation’s new Vision was created, ‘The power of volunteering creates a just society’. And its Role is, ‘To unleash the power of volunteering by ensuring professional leaders of volunteers thrive.’

    Tracey says, “We’re so passionate about our sector and what we contribute to the successful outcomes of volunteers. That whole wording of ‘unleashing the power’ really spoke to us.”

    Creating a clear path

    And it sounds like that passion and energy has already had an impact in the months since the workshop.

    Tracey says, “We have now created our Objectives. We’ve developed really clear Board membership position descriptions and committees that those positions lead. We’ve articulated who is responsible for particular objectives in our Strategic Plan and how we report back to the Board. That’s made it really fantastic for us because it has shared the workload between the Board members. And it’s made it easy for us to make decisions on things that would have been difficult in the past.”

    Now, it would be great to give you a fairy tale ending. It would be great to tell you that AAMoV has achieved everything in its Strategic Plan, that it has built deep and fruitful relationships with all the peak bodies, and that everyone is living happily ever after. But change and growth takes time and care. Happily, AAMoV are off to a good start.

    As Tracey says, “It still feels really daunting. But we’re really excited. This process has enabled us to be really targeted about what we do. Before it felt like we were all just going to throw our hands up in the air and say it’s too hard. Now it doesn’t feel like giving up, it feels like giving it a go. We’ve got to do things differently and we’ve got to find ways to engage people. We’ve got to give it a red, hot go. We owe it to our members.”

    As Tracey, Luke and I finish up our hot drinks and head out into the day we find that the morning fog has lifted and suddenly the skies are bright blue again. It certainly feels like a good day to give it a red, hot go. Particularly when you are helping to create smart, professional and thriving leaders in a caring, volunteering world.

    by Cressida Bradley

    Check out more stories in the category: Consult, In the Village

  • Engaging your key audiences gets the good work done.  

    We may know the right thing to do. But do we always do it? And how do you inspire others to do the right thing?

    The Consumer Policy and Research Centre (CPRC) built the Building Customer Trust report; a clear, practical and engaging toolkit that shows electricity and water companies how to build trust with their most important stakeholder, the customer.

    Quite simply, CPRC researched ways that electricity and water companies create good customer experiences and now they are encouraging the adoption of these best practices across Victoria.

    As we learned in our previous article, it is CPRC’s role to drive policy development and better protect consumers. CPRC’s Acting CEO at the time, Petrina Dorrington, says that, “We had an initial report, but we didn’t know how to get the businesses on board and embed the principles in the community.”

    The initial CPRC research revealed a number of key principles and several case studies from which businesses could learn. So the organisation wanted to make it easy for the electricity and water sectors to engage with and apply their research.

    CPRC engaged Midnightsky to lead them through a process that Petrina says is, “strategic, creative and gets the best out of people.” The final report made the original, solid information clear and inspiring, as well as engaged key stakeholders in the power of the research.

    How did the report achieve this?

    Using language that speaks to your audience
    One key part of the process was to look at the language of the report. The report distilled the many research principles into four, making it more likely that businesses will remember and apply the information. The report used warm and direct language to reflect one of CPRC’s key aims; to build trust between people and their electricity or water supplier.

    The original research title was changed from the pragmatic but cold, ‘Principles of a fair consumer experience’ to the report’s more welcoming title that resonates with both industry and community, ‘Building Customer Trust’. And similarly, the language throughout the report was simplified to help communicate the messages more directly.

    Getting audience skin in the game
    The second key part of the process was to engage the broader water and electricity sector to build ownership in the report. This simple action can be extremely powerful.

    Workshops were held with key stakeholders, including utility companies and community reference groups, to gather out their feedback on the four key principles.

    The workshops also sought their input on the best actions that will help businesses to embed the practices. Petrina says that, “the workshops created excitement as the participants started to see how the report could contribute to positive relationships with customers and, in particular, support the most vulnerable in our community”.

    The report is already making its way into the right hands. It was launched in September 2017 by ‘Thriving Communities Partnership’ , a cross-sector community and industry collaboration that includes Yarra Valley Water.

    So next time you’re talking with your Electricity or Water supplier and you leave the conversation feeling heard, reassured and satisfied, it may have something to do with the good work of the good people at the Consumer Policy and Research Centre and their ‘Building Customer Trust’ Report.

    by Cressida Bradley

    Check out more stories in the category: Consult, Knowledge Bank

  • How to kick perfect goals while the posts are moving

    Or creating a clear and effective Strategic Plan

    The Consumer Policy and Research Centre (CPRC) recently achieved the strategic equivalent of the triple somersault, half twist in a pike position off the 10 metre diving board with a 9.0 difficulty rating; it found clarity and purpose in a new strategic direction, expanded the trust and support of its main funder, and continued to kick perfect goals while the posts were moving. Sorry, mixing my sports metaphors there.

    Oh, and did I mention that they were also recruiting for a new CEO throughout the strategic planning process? So CPRC had the additional challenge of creating a Strategic Plan that should provide enough direction to keep the organisation moving and enough certainty to guarantee funding. And the plan should also allow any new visionary CEO to take ownership of the plan and make key decisions or reasonable changes. That has just increased the strategic difficulty rating to a 9.9. So how did they do it?

    A key decision that led to their success was to develop a Strategic Plan that spanned three years, but included a review after the first year. This would allow the new CEO to make reasonable changes and learn from the organisation’s experiences.

    CPRC is a Victorian Government funded broad-based research centre that helps to drive policy development and better protect consumers. Until recently, the CPRC was known as the Consumer Utility Advocacy Centre (CUAC). Apart from a name change, the recent transformation also expanded the organisation’s purpose and scope of activity from being an advocacy body to take on a research role and the responsibility to deal with broader ranging consumer issues across all sectors.

    The Board and staff went through a process with Midnightsky that guided the organisation to a confident, shared understanding and clarity that could be communicated with key funders, new leadership and all staff.

    Acting CEO, Petrina says that the resulting Strategic Plan, “gave us the basis to show the government where we were going, which aligned with what they were thinking too.”

    Midnightsky helped the organisation navigate the significant change by asking it to reconsider some fundamental strategic questions: what is its purpose, what is it going to do to achieve that purpose, how is it going to behave along the way, and how will it know when its achieved success?

    In other words, the organisation re-articulated its Vision, Role, Values and Goals. These are key aspects required to inspire and focus any organisation and its stakeholders, including staff and funders.

    Since the development of the Strategic Plan, the new CEO, Lauren Solomon, has built the research agenda for the organisation. This research agenda has become part of the whole Strategic Plan and contributes to the organisation’s vision.

    The clear and direct language of the new Strategic Plan continues to emerge in reports and other communication tools as the organisation’s strategy is embodied by the CPRC team and implemented through their activities.

    by Cressida Bradley

    Check out more stories in the category: Consult, In the Village, Knowledge Bank

  • Connecting your strategy and story

    The forest and the trees…

    Our strategic consultation services help you build and connect your strategic plan, your strategic communication and your content.

    Your work is more powerful when your strategy and story are built upon the same foundation.

    Strategic planning provides the clear foundation for your work and establishes your narrative. Strategic communication planning helps you deliver your strategy by making sure you connect the right message with the right people. And content development spreads your story and the impact of your work by engaging people as you deliver your message.

    We can help you

    • Position your organisation or project, know who you are, what you do and why its important
    • Set the pathway for success. Understanding your goals, how they can be measureable and the culture you need cultivate to achieve them.
    • Build the story that you will share with the world in a way that is integrated with this positioning
    • Tell the story in engaging ways.

    This includes…

    Strategic Planning – Vision, Role, Values, Strategic Plans, Positioning Audits

    Understand what you want to achieve, what you’re going to do, and how you’re going to behave along the way with a clear Vision, Mission and Personality. Build a clear Strategic Plan that sets up your narrative and allows your whole team to contribute to that Vision.

    Communication Strategies – Audience, Key messages, Communication Plans, naming and brand hierarchy, positioning products and services, communication audits.

    Telling a compelling and consistent story comes from knowing who you are, who you should talk to, and what they need to hear. Build on your narrative by defining your goals, creating a top level story, identifying your key audiences and building messages to engage them. Develop language guidelines so that everyone in the organisation can confidently tell your story. All of this helps you deliver your strategy.

    Content Development – copywriting, video production, podcasts.

    Once your strategy is clear and you know who you need to talk to and what you want to tell them, you’re ready to tell your story. You can write a blog post, create a podcast, make a short film, build an animation, write a presentation, build a case study, the possibilities are endless. We can help you work out which format best suits your story, and then help you tell it.

    Our approach

    You are the expert. Our job is to help you uncover, question, clarify, resolve, sort, discard and amplify the things you know about your organisation or project in order to set you up to successfully do what you want to do.

    What you do is your story. We simplify your communication (and brand) by building it from the same place that you business is built from.

    Ultimately our great skill is to connect your story to your strategy. Doing things this way means you are both heading in the right direction and your organisation and key stakeholders knows what that direction is and feels excited about making it happen.

    If you would like to find out more or have a chat about it get in touch…

    Luke Hockley

    Check out more stories in the category: Consult