Category Archives: Mission

Right direction or wrong track?

There is one question political pollsters prefer over any other when trying to gauge voters’ feelings about a candidate:

“Is the country [state, city, school district, etc] headed in the right direction or on the wrong track?”

This is in part due to the vagueness of the question, and partially because people generally pick one or the other and there isn’t a middle choiImage result for political pollsce. Using a subjective numerical scale to determine how much a voter likes a candidate, or how likely a voter may or may not cast his or her vote for a particular candidate is much tougher. “On a scale of one to ten, would you say you are VERY likely, SORT OF likely, KIND OF likely, MOST likely to vote for…? I’ll pick 4, 5, 6 almost every time. Those answers don’t do squat for statisticians and pundits.

I’m pretty good about answering any polls or surveys when asked, because I used to do political polling and phone calls back in my early political days.  Any good college political science student raises his or her hand to help on local campaigns.  “Campaign Assistant” sounds so cool on a young, hungry poli-sci resume. That is until you realize the job is making blind calls from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm  for some schmucky dog catcher candidate you will never meet. No selfies in those days. You might get a button, a signed brochure, and a free meal on election night.

So let’s bring this thought to our business community in Williston and Western North Dakota, and ask again: From a business, economic and jobs standpoint; are we headed in the right direction, or are we on the wrong track? It might depend on which level of government to which you refer.

Image result for bureaucracyI’ve written before about how our federal rulemakers (not lawmakers) have been ‘helping’ small businesses the past few years; and how they’ve unleashed a series of administrative rules which if fully implemented, will stifle growth and cost the United States thousands of jobs. The “unelected government” comprised of appointed cabinet level officials, under deputy assistants to the secretary, and a plethora of bureaucratic spinsters spew out thousands of new administrative rules and interpretations of laws that not only hinder free markets, but clamp down on the American dream.

Pro-business lawmakers can only do so much during a term before it’s time for another election. Make no mistake, if the current federal regulatory environment continues, it won’t just be the price of a barrel of oil that muffles our economic growth potential in western North Dakota. It will be our own federal government. We need to recognize that the free enterprise system might not be perfect, but that same system also has built this country into a political and economic super power.

Good thing for businesses we have some choices in 2016. Let’s make the right ones.

Sidebar: Thanks to State Senator Brad Bekkedahl, North Dakota Public Service Commission Chair Julie Fedorchak, and North Dakota Department of Commerce Commissioner Al Anderson for making our first attempt at the “Eggs & Issues” policy forums a smashing success. We’ll be planning three more in the spring so watch for them. Maybe we’ll even have some eggs.

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With wind filling our sails, Chamber continues moving forward

Following our successful Rockin’ Ribfest community event, the Chamber has taken the past three weeks to reassess our program offerings for Members; both revenue generating events and educational programs that may or may not benefit the bottom line.

Successful event momentum is like a warm shower; it feels good for a while, but at some point you have to get dressed and get back to work. Eventually you have to decide to either cruise for a while in the humid summer breeze, or grab an oar and start rowing. For the Chamber, we’ve studied the charts and adjusted our heading a bit as we look to the last half of 2015.

Beginning in August the Chamber will begin to assemble the first ever (I’ve used that term a lot this year) Williston Area Business Directory. Using our staff, the Chamber’s position as a resource for businesses in the area, and our momentum we’ve built up the past seven months, we’ll be able to produce a community resource that’s sorely needed. While all Williston area businesses will be invited to be listed, the advertising spots and most visible placements will be offered to Chamber members first. I can’t wait to see how this turns out. Several local printers are bidding on the project, so I’m confident it will be a valuable local business guide. The goal is to expand the Chamber’s reach and visibility while providing a needed service and product for the business community in the area. Watch for more news and information about the directory in the next week.

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In September, we are launching the Chamber’s Eggs & Issues policy forums. A common program offering by chambers around the country, our Chamber is just picking up the pace in the public advocacy arena. This members-only event will be held the morning after the Chamber Business After Hours – enticing some high level state officials to make a two day visit to Williston. We’ll run three of these in the fall and three next spring.

The LevelUP Leadership Series will kick off in November and feature the hottest topics from our LevelUP 2015 Business Conference last May. The three part lunch series will feature one of our presenters from the May conference, exploring in depth one of the session topics like sales and marketing, human resources issues, or personal growth and development. All of this leads up to the LevelUP 2016 Conference in May 2016, which is already shaping up nicely.

Our monthly Business After Hours events, which traditionally garner between 80-110 attendees, have continued to be quality opportunities for Chamber Members to network, learn, and market to grow their business. Many of the 2016 hosting slots are filling up already.

Please take 30 seconds to take our one minute issue survey this week. The Board of Directors and the Government Affairs Committee thanks you as we start to shape our advocacy action plan for 2016.

The 21st Century (now 15 years old) technology revolution driven by the “millennial” workforce has forced nonprofit organizations such as chambers Image result for millennials technologyof commerce, trade associations and professional societies to rethink their business model and strategic plans. No longer are they the sole source of information, networking, marketing, support and advocacy for their members. It’s crucial to review programs and services, communications and advocacy plans and to ask and listen to members’ issues and interests.

As we continue in our own ‘race for relevance’ with our Members, in the community and in our region, I marvel in the fact that it’s already (or only) been 17 months since I’ve taken the helm at the Williston Chamber. As we chart our course and continue to crew this Chamber ship through both calm and choppy waters, I hope the wind continues to fill our sails and push us forward.

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New program, new business leaders: Lemonade Day first in North Dakota

My last post expounded on the challenges of being ‘the Chamber’ and sometimes having to say no to a great idea or program. On the flipside, sometimes after all the pros and cons of an idea are vetted by staff and committees and boards; the answer is why not?

John Chin, a business real estate guru and native Floridian, approached me last summer with such a program. In my efforts to revamp, reorganize and reinvigorate the Williston Chamber the past 12 months, I am very hesitant about taking on new programs that sound good, but drain resources, time and funds without providing a member or community benefit. (Hint: read my last post!)

Businesses and business leaders (whom the chamber represents) have an obligation not only to add to the local economy (be profitable) but also to be role models and mentors to the future business leaders – our youth. The Chamber’s Leadership & Education Committee looked at Lemonade Day as a new program to reach our young people in Williston. In the end, we decided to give Lemonade Day a chance in Williston for 2015.

Williston will be the first city in North Dakota to host the program, aimed at young entrepreneurs to learn how to plan, design, build and execute a business plan – a lemonade stand!

Lemonade Day is a strategic learning process that walks youth from a dream to a business plan, while teaching them the same principles required to start any big company. Inspiring kids to work hard and make a profit, they are also taught to spend some, save some and share some by giving back to their community. Launched in Houston, Texas in 2007, Lemonade Day has grown from 2,700 kids in one city to more than 200,000 kids in cities all across the country.

My skepticism soon turned to enthusiasm, not because I love a fresh glass of lemonade, or that youth today need business role models closer to home. The real reason why Lemonade Day fits our Chamber mission is because of several things:

  1. A successful template is already employed elsewhere;
  2. It directly ties our businesses, business leaders, and the spirit of entrepreneurship to Williston’s youth;
  3. Lemonade Day brings a fresh approach to a program (youth entrepreneurship) to a city filled with people from all over the country; and
  4. It’s a community wide program with very few boundaries thus reaching a wider audience with a Chamber program than just current membership.

With volunteer leaders ranging from former mayor Ward Koeser, to John Chin and Drew Baker, to committee leaders Serena Christianson and Christina O’Neill taking the lead, to our Chamber staff; this made perfect sense as a Chamber program this year.

Sponsorships helped offset the license fee and materials. LD materials bags will be distributed next Monday (4/20) and Tuesday (4/21) at the

Lemonade Day kits with lessons and ideas

Lemonade Day kits with lessons and ideas

Chamber office. The kits are free for each student (thanks to the sponsors) and contain the lessons and worksheets to start your own business with a friend or neighbor. Adults play the role of “mentor” to the young enterprising business leaders, and help them with the lessons.

Then on June 14, 2015, all of the lemonade stands are posted around town in a celebration of youth leadership and fun! Local businesses are encouraged to host to a lemonade stand which again, ties our community leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. I am so very excited for the first ever Lemonade Day in North Dakota this coming June. If you need a couple of tips for your lemonade day business venture, take a listen to these kids, who sound like they just might have the makings of a great business owner.

We unveiled the program at the January 22 Chamber banquet thanks to two enterprising youth (sons of my staff!). The program has received some nice attention lately including a front page story in the Williston Herald, a nice spot on the KXMD noon show, and will be visible at this Saturday’s Kid’s Day Out at the Raymond Center, and Marketplace for Kids on April 28 at Williston State College.

Do you want to make a difference? Mentor a young entrepreneur through the Williston Area Chamber of Commerce’s Lemonade Day 2015.

Be involved. Make a difference.

Sjm

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Toughest part of this job

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I’ve been a nonprofit executive for 14 years now, first as a government relations director for a state-wide trade association (electric industry), now as the head of our Chamber of Commerce. I am forever frustrated with one function of this position.

Without question the executive action that causes me the most grief is when we have to say “no.” But what leads a nonprofit executive to say no might surprise you. (Well of course it’s lack of staff, time and money).

It’s easy to say no to ideas which cannot be afforded due to investment of time and resources.

  • “We really don’t have enough staff to tackle that project”
  • “We didn’t budget for that piece of equipment this year”
  • “I doubt we could accomplish that event given the time allotted”

Those “no’s” are easy. The hardest “no’s” to administer are related to projects, ideas, and events that fall outside your organization’s mission, but still have merit. I worked in state government for a time, and it just pained me to hear a fellow worker say, “It’s not my job.” Bureaucratic babble. Human beings, people, can make individual split decisions and choices to help or hinder, to fix or forget.

In the organizational world however, saying yes to things outside your direct mission can be costly. We call that organizational mission creep.

The danger of organizational creep is it will sneak up like a stealth bomber. Innocent ideas, great projects, and awesome events sound great in a meeting or at the bar. But OMC (Organizational Mission Creep) can cause good staff to leave, budgets to burst and help executives to be “transitioned” (fired). The company may look really busy, but if what you’re doing doesn’t fall into your mission, does that make it right? It is the CEO’s job to keep the main thing, the main thing.

Here’s a good article from about.com looking at key ways to avoid mission creep. I have to keep reminding myself, my staffImage result for organizational mission and our volunteer leaders that just because it sounds great or it worked last time, doesn’t mean it’s part of our core mission. Frances Hesselbein, head of the Girl Scouts during its major growth period asks the best question, one that I ask daily.

If we do this, will it further the mission?

Good ideas, great projects, exciting new ventures, and important community contributions can get left in file folders and on Evernote screens because the idea may not fall into direct mission of your organization. For a growing Chamber in the fastest growing City in the US, that is gut-wrenching.

However, saying no to something that may cause mission creep, as tough as it is, might be the most important decision you make today.

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