“ERMIA” Updates

Melissa Weiksnar, a longtime member of an HBS forum in Boston,  suggests this occasional variation on members’ monthly updates.

Ask each member to share an “ERMIA” update”:  What did you Eliminate, Reduce, Maintain, Increase, or Add since our last meeting?  And how does this update make you feel?

This kind of update helps members focus on issues of balance – how are you spending your time, what have you changed recently, and what would you still like to change?   Items to be mentioned could relate to your business, personal, or family life.

The many alternatives to a standard four-hour meeting

Many forums standardize on one four-hour meeting monthly plus an annual retreat.  However, there are many ways to mix it up, to accommodate individual scheduling needs, and to build richer connections between members.  Some options to consider on an occasional or regular basis:

  • Try a shorter meeting between 2-3.5 hours, either because that’s what works one month or because your forum is smaller and less time is needed.
  • If you regularly have shorter meetings, consider adding a 30-minute check-in/quick update call between monthly meetings.
  • Once or twice a year, shorten the meeting to about 2.5 hours (time for updates and one presentation), and then go out to dinner or cater the meal in to a member’s conference room or home.
  • Plan a 5-6 hour mini-retreat, with or without a professional facilitator.
  • In the summer, rent a boat (or find a friend who has one). Go on a 2-3 hour cruise, including extended updates only, then socializing.
  • Plan a holiday dinner with spouses or a summer picnic with kids to get to know each other’s families.
  • Don’t limit connections to forum meetings. Meet one-on-one, either as part of the coaching process, as a follow-up to someone’s presentation, or to discuss shared personal or professional interests.
  • When requested by a member with an urgent issue, schedule an emergency meeting. Such sessions have only one agenda item – a presentation of the member’s urgent issue. The meeting usually lasts an hour or less and may be held via conference or video call.  Because the meeting is not on the regular calendar, absences don’t affect member attendance statistics.

The power of pairs: A new approach to your presentation parking lot

Forums sometimes struggle with the process and effort of generating a rich parking lot of possible presentation topics. If you want to almost guarantee a great list of options, try this method at your next meeting.

  • Before updates, randomly pair members up and announce the pairings. (Have a trio in addition to the pairs if you have an odd number in attendance.)
  • To prepare updates, members can use the standard update form, but also ask them to consider these questions:
    • Great questions that lead to great updates
    • And before members share their updates, ask them to consider how they would complete one of these sentences:
      • “The one thing I don’t want to share with my Forum is…”
        or
      • “The one thing I have not yet shared with my Forum is…”
  • When members are sharing their updates, everyone listens carefully, but we pay particular attention to the update of the person we have been paired with. Proceed through updates without any interruptions or questions.
  • Immediately after updates, meet separately in your pairs (or trio) for 10-15 minutes to help each other reflect on and define the most significant, deep issue or two on which each of you would like to hear the group’s experience.  Consider in your conversation what you heard today, but also issues that your partner has mentioned in the past.
  • Come back together and each member reports out the issue(s) they have identified for possible presentation.  Someone should scribe all of these topics on a white board or in a notebook.

This should generate a great list of at least one topic per member for presentation either that day or in the future.

Who is presenting at your forum meeting today?

One sign of a healthy forum is that all members are willing, even eager, to explore their toughest issues and highest aspirations in forum.

While that is the ideal, some forums find that members are reluctant to present, or are always deferring to others. To encourage more members to step forward, first ask all members at every meeting to complete one of these sentences:

If I was to present today, I would explore…

OR

I would appreciate hearing the group’s experience that can help me think about…

Then, working with that list, don’t just wait or plead for a volunteer. Instead call on a full repertoire of presentation selection methods including:

  • Voting: During a break, each member gets to cast three votes for the topic/presenter. Your votes can go all to your own topic, all to another member, or be divided as you wish. The member with the most votes becomes today’s presenter. This method can be done in the open (everyone can see which topics are getting the most votes) or anonymously (put your votes on a separate piece of paper, and the moderator then counts up the votes).
  • Secret ballot: Each member writes on a paper the name of the person they would most like to see present today. Again, you can vote for yourself or someone else. The moderate collects and counts the papers. The member with the most votes is invited to present, either on the topic they proposed for the parking lot, or something else of their choosing.
  • Finger shoot: All members are asked simultaneously to hold out between one and five fingers. Five = I must present today. Four = I want to present. Three = I would like to present. Two = I don’t need to present. One = I don’t want to present.
  • Put in place a rotation of one presenter scheduled in advance, and one chosen on the day of the meeting. The scheduled sequence is reviewed monthly and presenters may be moved forward or backwards in the queue based on the urgency and importance of issues.

The “ABC” shared model of forum leadership

Most forums follow the traditional model of rotating moderators annually, often with an assistant moderator who also serves as moderator-elect. That model works well for many, but some forums embrace that we are all leaders (of the forum), and all must take responsibility for our success as a forum. Other forums struggle to select individual leaders, but still want the forum to function effectively.

For forums that want all members engaged in leadership, consider the “ABC” rotation model. A forum of nine members is divided into three groups of three: ABC, DEF, and GHI. The ABC team agrees to lead the forum for the first six months of the year, followed by DEF for the second half, while GHI manages the content and logistics of the forum’s annual retreat. Each team decides internally how to divide their responsibilities. At the end of the year, the teams rotate responsibilities, with GHI taking the first half of the year, ABC the second half, and DEF planning the retreat. The rotation model can easily be adapted to work with forums that are smaller or larger in number.

I’ve worked with multiple forums that have found forum leadership can be as easy as A-B-C. Everyone contributes, and everyone benefits from solid, shared leadership of the forum.

Great questions that lead to deep updates

There are many ways to encourage forum members to share during the updates part of the meeting.  One of the simplest approaches is to ask members the following questions.  Each person can then decide which question(s) resonate with them and which they will answer when they share their update.

  • What is the toughest relationship challenge (personal or professional) that you are facing now?
  • What is the toughest leadership challenge you are facing now?
  • What is the greatest fear you have now?
  • What is going on in your life right now that you have not spoken with anyone about? What are you hiding?
  • What are you complaining about, blaming others for, or notice yourself playing the villain, victim, or hero?
  • What are you not sharing because you don’t want to seem perfect?
  • What is something that you don’t like about yourself that you are working on?

Whichever question(s) members choose to answer, encourage everyone to also answer one more question:

  • … and how does that make you feel?

The right way to add new members to your forum

Adding members to your forum can be a source of renewal and new energy, but the process needs to be managed thoughtfully to maximize the probability of successful new member integration.  Consider following these steps:

  • In a forum meeting, get clarity on these questions: How many members do we want to add and when do we want them to join? Are we looking to enhance peer quality or diversity of perspectives or both? Are there any other demographic considerations (e.g., gender, industry, career stage, scope of responsibility)?
  • Appoint a forum member to serve as “point person,” managing the process of communication with potential candidates, and with Alumni Forum Services and your local club in sourcing candidates.
  • Decide how your forum will engage with candidates: over the phone, in coffees with selected members, and/or by inviting them to a partial or full meeting. Everyone needs to be clear on the process and time frame.  Ideally, at least a couple forum members will meet the candidate(s) before they attend a full forum meeting. Topics of discussion can include:
    • Member and candidate demographics/backgrounds
    • Forum experience to date and expectations/aspirations for the future
    • Reviewing the forum’s constitution or norms
    • Coordinating calendars: Determining when the candidate will attend their first meeting
  • Before the candidate attends a full meeting, arrange for them to have an orientation call with Alumni Forum Services to review forum principles and processes.
  • Select an integration exercise to use at the first meeting that the new member will be attending. Some ideas are available here.
  • To support the integration process, assign a “forum buddy” to every new member who will check in regularly in the first few months after joining. Also encourage other members to meet the newest members for coffee or a meal to get everyone connected as quickly as possible.