CPA – FCPA Cheat Sheet

There are five steps in managing a Fellow of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Alberta or FCPA.  It will help my bad memory and also provide a guide for those working on a nomination.

  1. Identify a Candidate and let CPA Alberta Know.
  2. Form a Nomination Team.
  3. Collect and Validate the ‘evidence’.
  4. Sign and Submit the Nomination.
  5. Wait for the Results.

The Context and Rules

  • The nomination of a FCPA is a confidential process.  If the candidate receives the distinction, they will find out soon enough.  If their nomination is not accepted better they don’t know.
  • Only a CPA in good standing can nominate a FCPA. Non-CPAs can identify candidates however.
  • Nominations need to be received by October 31 the year before the award which is given out in the Spring of the following year.
  • Alberta FCPA awards are for work done in Alberta over the past decade or so.
  • The documentation process is not onerous but is time-consuming.

1. Identify a Candidate and Let CPA Alberta Know

Any one can identify a CPA for a FCPA (with a few exceptions not relevant here).  Even if you plan to run the nomination yourself with no help from CPA Alberta, let them know.  There have been occasions in which two different people were working nominations for the same person at the same time – completely unaware of each other!

Simply email: with an email as simple as:

Hey, I plan to nominate Bob Smith; Pumphandle Alberta for a FCPA.

Sally Jones, CPA

The Awards and Nomination Committee can then help you, as required, with the next steps.

2. Form a Nomination Team

A team is not required as one person can do all of the work but spreading it out amongst a few people is advised.  Keep in mind the confidentiality rule noted above when selecting your team members.  The suggested composition is:

  • Nominator (required): must be a CPA in good standing.
  • Project Manager: keeps the process moving and herds the cats.
  • Scribe: This person will write the nomination in clear and articulate manner.  They should ensure supporting evidence from letters, etc. matches the form.
  • Worker Bees: These individuals beat the bushes and source the content.
  • Candidate: A CPA in good standing.

3. Collect and Validate the ‘evidence’

An instruction package is provided on the website for FCPA.  The key sections with notes are as follows.

Identification Sections:

  • Demographic Information.  The nominee’s name, current address, title of the current employer, etc.
  • Nominator Block.  Who is vouching for the nomination.

Biographical Sections:

  • The next three sections contain biographical information about where the candidate worked and volunteered.
  • There for sections 2-4 there are two parts:
    • A list of the organizations
    • A list of the major milestones accomplished in the organization.
    • These sections tell the ‘story’ of why this person is above average.
    • The Candidate must only excel in one of these three areas but two or more makes for a better nomination.
  • SECTION 2 – Professional Career
  • SECTION 3 – Volunteer involvement in the accounting profession
  • SECTION 4 – Volunteer Contribution, Community/Charitable Organizations

SECTION 5 – Awards, titles or honorary distinctions

Examples include:

  • CPA Early Achievement Award or Distinguished Service Award.
  • Honorary degrees
  • Medals for bravery or merit
  • Order of Canada, etc.

SECTION 6 – Supporting documents.

Quality versus quantity is the rule here.  A letter of support attests to the candidate’s achievement(s) from one of the organizations noted above and should present one or more specific aspects of their achievements.

The most important component of the letters is describing the “what”, the “how” and the positive  outcome of any involvement the individual contributed  to a particular organization.  How his or her contribution or actions were above and beyond what is expected of an average CPA.

4. Sign and Submit the Nomination

A handy checklist is provided in section 7 of the nomination form before the nominator signs.  An email from the nominator is considered an electronic signature.

5. Wait for the Results

The package will be evaluated by two committees: Nominations and Awards.  The nominations committee is primarily interested in sourcing a good selection of potential candidates.  The separate Awards committee makes the actual determination.  The reasons for rejection by either committee is not made public.

CPA Awards & the Public Service

I find myself on the Chartered Professional Accountants Awards Nomination committee. We are responsible for identifying individuals who are eligible to receive one of the following awards:

Recognition Sans the Public Service

These awards represent an acknowledgement of high achievement amongst Alberta accountants.  From my very brief insight into the process, there is a good vetting mechanism and the individuals receiving the awards are deserving.

However, there is a glaring gap.  There is a noticeable absence of nominees from the Public Service.  That is, accountants from the federal, provincial, municipal, agency or indigenous organizations are simply not nominated.  This was not just an imbalance – this was a total lack of both nominations and awards for people working in this sector.  Why is it that CPAs who work for accounting firms and in for-profit industries are better represented?  In this blog I am going to present my initial ruminations but also an action plan to improve this situation.

Perception of Value

Many of the nominees and recipients work for accounting firms.  It is not surprising that this industry receives a disproportionate number of awards.  Accountants provide professional services (audit, financial statement preparation, tax, advice, etc.) that are expensive.  Worse still, these services are ephemeral or without substance.  This willingness to pay for a service that is nearly invisible to the consumer is what economists call perceived value.

That value is easier to understand and accept for the consumer if the person providing the service was an early achiever, has one or more distinguished awards and perhaps even has one more F’ing letter in their designation.  Awards have a real and tangible value to an accountant working in public practice.  That is not to suggest that awards are undeserved, the awards are just more valued by this industry.

A person working for a for-profit organization has an interest in differentiating themselves from their competitors for the next CFO or VP of finance position.  An award or extra letter may not be the deal breaker, but it does add some prestige, cache and respectability to a resume for a job paying six or seven figures.

Pity the Public Servant

Then there are accountants who work in the public service.  They too want to be seen as early achievers, distinguished or have extra letters… or do they?  I suggest they do not.  Accountants in general tend to be a conservative lot and this is compounded by a learned aversion to limes and light on the part of public servants.

The CPA nomination committee are not the only ones challenged to drag the typical public servant out of their shell.  Internal awards for public servants often go to those who bother to apply and not necessarily to those most deserving.

How to Award Those Who Want to Stay Hidden: Up, Down then the Middle

This is why I am on the awards committee, to overcome the aversion to awards and get more public servants their just deserts (… or even an entire award dinner!).  My plan: work from the top down, bottom up and then try to tackle the mushy middle.

1. The Top

The first stop, Deputy Ministers, Assistant Deputy Ministers, Chief Finance Officers or Vice Presidents of Finance/Administration.  Most of these individuals have had a diverse and stellar career that makes them more than suitable to earn a FCPA.  Many will have also shown leadership such that they, and members of their team, could be eligible for a Distinguished Service Award.

The benefit at starting at the top is that these individuals have positional and moral authority to show that it is okay to attract and accept such accolades.  In other words, a senior person receiving a well-deserved award gives permission for the rest of the organization to accept praise as well.

2. The Bottom

Public Servants are excellent mentors which is the next focus: accountants early in their career.  In some cases, these are the hot shots but often they are also the stalwarts who have stepped into the breach of a retiring person and are carrying the ball bringing enthusiasm and technical skills to the organization.

Like those at the top, it is often easier to provide accolades to a mentoree than a peer. Unlike the Top focus, receiving an award can help to break the ice for a young professional so that they are more willing to receive and nominate future recipients.

Giving an award to a millennial CPA also meets an often identified need of this generation for gratification and assurance of a job well done.  While waiting for an award ceremony may not be instant gratification, hopefully the enduring nature of the award helps to keep a new staff member engaged and employed in the public sector.

3. The Mushy Middle

Then there is the rest of us.  The above two audiences will take a few years to tackle before starting to chip away at the analysts, supervisors, managers and directors in the middle of the sandwich.  The middle includes people like me, who see having to fill out award paperwork as a bother when compared to young children, aging parents, impossible work assignments or neglected hobbies.

What are the strategies to help the middle?  Firstly integrating pre-existing award programs of an organization to external organizations such as the CPA.  Thus an award given out for designing prepaid-debit card given to Albertans affected by floods or fires may require next to no additional paperwork to submit to the society.

Acknowledgements of good work done on programs or policy can be similarly extended to CPA accolades.  As an added bonus, work done here can be potentially leveraged by other professions such as engineers or lawyers who are likely also struggling to award their public service members.

Next Steps

The first step is to become more familiar with the CPA awards and even getting one or two across the finish line.  Next is to reach out to decision makers and leaders through all levels of governments to understand their perceptions and potential solutions of the problem.  The implement and measure an increase (hopefully) in nominations from the public service.

Should be fun for the next few years… stay tuned for updates.

Driving MS Daisy 2018

A Little Context Please

Canada has the highest rate of multiple sclerosis (MS) in the world, with an estimated 1 in 340 Canadians living with the disease. While it is most often diagnosed in young adults aged 15 to 40, younger children and older adults are also diagnosed with the disease (source, MS Society).  Each June the MS Society of Alberta and the NWT runs the Leduc to Camrose ride over two days and about 150km.

Who Cares About MS Anyway – I Want to Go HOME

Picture this, you are on the MS Leduc to Camrose ride and true to form it is raining, you are tired and there is BIG-FRIGGIN’ hill between you and the next rest stop.  This hill seems to be about as high as Mount Everest.  Who the HECK builds a road up FRIGGIN’ Mount Everest and then runs a MS BIke Ride on it!

As you stare at this hill that is growing by the minute in height, you cannot even remember why you signed up for this ^#@)!=& ride in the first place. Actually you know why, that cursed wife/husband, girl/boyfriend, co-worker, aunt/uncle, etc. talked you into it.  Who the hell cares about MS anyway, you are cold, wet, miserable and you just want to go home.

Giving Everest a Pass for MS

Just as Mount Everest is growing taller, a white pick up truck pulls in front of you.  From it walks a friendly volunteer.  The volunteer discusses how MS is episodic, there are great days and there are days just like this one that REALLY suck.  Like most diseases, it is easy to be over-whelmed and even lash out to those who care for you and are trying to help.  The volunteer suggests that you hop in the truck, take a pass on the Mount Everest’esque hill and get driven just a few kilometers to the rest stop.

At the rest stop the volunteer then asks you to do something strange, sign the truck.  With a larger marker, you write your name, perhaps including a small note.  You notice that you are not the first to sign the truck.  Hundreds of people who have been helped by the truck or who have helped create the truck inter-mingle on the hood, fenders and doors of this circa 1995 white truck.

It is then you understand why you signed up for the 2018 ^#@)!=& MS ride.  It is because some days, people with MS just need a small rescue and a bit of hope to get to their next rest stop so they can carry on the next day.  Your wife/husband, girl/boyfriend, co-worker, aunt/uncle, etc. pulls into the rest stop.  All is forgiven… well until the next big FRIGGIN’ hill that is… but that is down the road… just like living with MS.

Wanted an Old Truck Called Driving MS Daisy

On June 9 and 10, 2018 I would like to be that volunteer (see my 2017 MS Ride notes on why I am doing this).  The truck needs to be in a good running condition and reasonable shape.  Likely the MS Society will register and insure it.  When 2018 is done, MS Daisy 2018 may be auction off and a MS Daisy 2019 will be created with a circa 1996 white pick up truck.

Sponsors and Friends of MS Daisy

MS Daisy 2018 will be a community and collaborative affair.  I am looking for a variety of sponsors from getting the truck pro bono, repairing and restoring the truck, applying thank you-decals, driving it (possibly all over Western Canada), writing on it and finally auctioning it off to start fresh.

A Pro Bono Circa 1995 Truck

To start, I need a truck. Ideally I would like to find a circa 1995 white full sized crewcab pick up truck.  She can be as old as 1984 or as new as 2003.  These dates represent the range when MS is diagnosed (34 years old) or typical first onset (15 years old).  Also I am calling MS Daisy a she because MS strikes 2:1 females versus males (and it makes for a better pun).

Perhaps there is a car dealership or broker who has one sitting in their inventory or a great deal comes up on the wholesale auction.  In any case, the organization providing the truck would get primary sponsorship space on the truck itself.

Repair and Restoring the Old Girl

Circa 1995 vehicles typically are showing their age.  They have a bit of rust and require at least some mechanical work.  There is a parallel here to MS in which a healthy lifestyle may prevent MS episodes or at least make the next episode easier to weather.

In my ideal world, this work would be done by a technical college or even a high school as a class project.  Even better, a garage or auto body shop would sponsor and supervise the work done by the students for apprenticeship credits.

While in the shop, MS Daisy would get a basic engine overhaul, full mechanical inspection and repair (e.g. brakes, electrical system, suspension, etc.) and possibly new rubber.  Cosmetically, she will receive a paint job, ideally in flat matte white.  Why, because it easier to write on of course!

In addition to sponsorship decals, everyone who is involved in buying and restoring MS Daisy will get to sign her.  In this way, the MS Society can use MS Daisy as a symbol to show how the disease touches the lives of many Canadians.

Driving MS Daisy 2018

The intent is drive MS Daisy in the June 9/10 2018 Leduc to Camrose MS Ride.  This by itself would be success.  However, the MS Society may choose to use MS Daisy to help other riders participating in other events held in Alberta and Western Canada.

Beyond MS, the MS Society may also wish to loan the vehicle out to other events.  For example, MS Daisy can help with the Tour de l’Alberta, the Tour of Alberta or even other rides that meet the MS Society’s goals or that sponsor the society.

Whether on the Leduc to Camrose MS Ride, another MS Ride or on a partnership event, everyone who comes into contact with MS Daisy will sign her guest book. The fact that her guest book is her hood, front fenders and doors is part of what makes MS Daisy eccentric and a bit charming.  It also builds a tangible link between individuals, the vehicle and the MS brand.  In the day and age of instant celebrity and oblivion via social media, this gives those touched by MS Daisy a touch point to a larger community cause (plus she will make an awesome backdrop for an Instagram photo!).

Retiring MS Daisy

Every year MS will strike a new group of young people in Canada and every year a new MS Daisy should be found.  But what to do with the old one?  Why send her off to a new adventure of course.  She will be sold at auction (e.g. Ritchie Brothers) everyone who signed MS Daisy will be invited to to see her go to a new new home.  To a certain extent, this is the final metaphor for the MS Daisy program.  By riding in the MS Ride, we want those who have the disease to go on with their lives in as normal of fashion as possible.

But what about 2019?  Ideally a new MS Daisy will be nurtured into existence, driven around the Western Canada and then auction off to start a new life as well.

Financial Considerations and Next Steps

Will Driving Ms Daisy 2018 raise money for the MS Society?  Yes but not a lot.  There will be a ‘MS Daisy’ team entered in every event the vehicle participants in.  Ideally this would raise between $500-$3,000 in donations.  The value of the final auction will also net the society between $2,000 to $7,000 gross proceeds.  This will raise in total of  $2,500 to $10,000 gross proceeds.

This may not seem like a lot but there are also no costs associated with MS Daisy for the MS Society other than registration and insurance.  The campaign has an opportunity to promote the MS rides among cyclists participating in other events and it will generate over all brand awareness for MS.  Secondary benefits include reaching out to new sponsors to support the ride.

This has been fun putting together this promotional campaign.  Hopefully it is of interest and in the meantime, does anyone have a circa 1995 white pick up truck?  I would like to use it to help someone conquer an Everest’esque hill on the June 9 and 10, 2018 weekend.


MS Ride 2018 – A Better Marshaling Experience

In 2017, I had fun Marshalling the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society’s Leduc to Camrose ride.  I enjoyed it because I was able to help the participants better understand both cycling and MS.  I was not the only marshal, there were about ~17 others.  These folks rode the entire way clocking about 150km to do so.

Riding 150km over two days is one thing, fixing flats, coaching riders, reminding participants to ride single file or not use head phones makes the ride even longer.  As a result, the 17 individuals who did the ride deserve special commendation as volunteers, cyclists and contributors to the event.

150KM Is a Long Way to Fix Flat Tires

The Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club (club) had 17 marshals.  Many have ridden for years and probably about half are retired.  Finding individuals who can ride 150km, have the mechanical skills and patience to work with participants can be difficult.

Interestingly the likelihood of having to help someone decreases as the ride progresses. In 2017, one marshal fixed 15 flats before lunch but none after lunch.  However, the number of riders needing motorized assistance (e.g. fatigue) increases after lunch.  On the second day, the pattern repeats itself.  Numerous break downs before the lunch break and some nasty hills that require lots of coaching, coaxing and the occasional leap-frog (e.g. lift) after lunch.

As a result, how do you manage an asymmetrical need throughout the ride and do you really need to ride the full distance to contribute as a marshal?

Full, Demi, Quatro, Ambassadors and Motorize Marshals?

One possible way to better deploy the marshals is to have more than one variety:

  • Full Marshal:
    • Rides the full distance over two days.
    • Estimated number needed, 4-8.
    • Cost: these marshals require overnight accommodation, full meals and the standard volunteer package (e.g. shirt, water bottle, etc.).
    • Skills needed: ability to ride and to help with the entire ride.
  • Demi Marshal:
    • Rides the full distance but only on one day.
    • Receives a car shuttle at the beginning or the end of the day.
    • Estimated number needed, 2-4 per day.
    • Cost: consumes snacks and lunch throughout the day, invited to the evening meal and presentation if riding the first day.  Invited to the wrap up BBQ if riding the second day.  Standard volunteer package.
    • Skills needed: ability to ride ~75-85km and help over this distance.
    • Additional costs: first day demi-marshals are shuttled back after supper.  Second day demi-marshals are shuttled from Leduc to Camrose on the first day.
  • Quatro Marshal:
    • Rides only to lunch on one day, generally the first day.
    • Estimated number needed, 6-12 on the first day and 2-4 on the second.
    • Costs: ibid to demi-marshal except no end of day meal.
    • No additional costs:
  • EBTC Ambassador
    • Non-riding members (1-2) would work check points, talk to the cyclists, welcome them, give them some positive feed back tips on riding and direct as necessary to the United Cycle folks.
    • Identify participants by having stickers to put on the Pinnie’s saying something like, ‘EBTC-We Talked’.  In this way, future ambassadors would be able to reinforce messaging.
    • This would improve the experience of the less-experienced riders while improving the ‘EBTC-brand’.
    • This will change the conversation from WHAT to DO to HOW to DO it.
    • Estimated number needed, two teams of 2-3 marshals.  The teams would leap frog each other particularly on the first day.  One the second day, one team is sufficient.
    • Costs: nominal
  • Motorized Marshal:
    • Drives the course and takes over from mounted marshals. This way the mounted marshal can be on their way.
    • Close the rest stops and sweep the challenge loops.
    • Leap frog marshals who have fallen behind and rest marshals.
    • Close the day by ‘tail-gating the last riders in’ (see my previous blog on this).
    • Estimated number needed, 1-3 on the first day and 1-2 on the second.
    • Costs: ibid to full marshal.
    • Additional costs: rental of a vehicle and gas costs (see an upcoming blog on how to cover this cost).

More Marshals, Less Cost for All

Breaking the marshals out into different categories has a number of benefits.  Firstly the marshal can commit to a short engagement (e.g. a half or full day) rather than to an entire weekend.  The marshal does not need to have the stamina or physical fitness to ride the full weekend.  This model can be used as a ‘pre-sales’ or ‘alumni’ ride model to either attract potential participants or encourage alumni of the ride to continue to contribute albeit at a reduced level.Finally, this is an opportunity for the club to teach and practice basic bike mechanics across a larger group of riders.

The society benefits in that they receive volunteers who are targeted to where the need is the greatest.  This has the potential of reducing the cost of putting on the ride while increasing the safety and improving the ride experience.

Team Marshal As Well?

A final consideration is to create a ‘Team Marshal’ to raise funds for the ride.  Ideally the team will cover the minimum the cost to support the volunteers.  An overall team goal is established (e.g. $2,000 for Team-Marshal) but with suggested individual amounts to be either raised or donated by the participants.  For example, the following could be the MINIMUM donations/fund raising for each type of marshal:

  • $2,000: Team Marshal 2018, over all goal.
  • $100: full-marshal.
  • $50: demi-marshal.
  • $20: quatro-marshal and ambassadors.
  • $250: motorized-marshal.

Mary as the Poster Child for the MS Ride

In 2012 I did my first MS ride and one of my memories was of a lady named Mary. She was a 60’ish lady on a fixed-gear, 30+ year old bike that Mary claimed had two speeds: sitting down and standing up. I stayed with Mary in the last ~15KM, put a bit of lube on her chain and shared a few laughs. To me, Mary is the poster child of the MS ride. Despite a disadvantage of age and physical conditioning (she was petite, slight lady); physical equipment (fixed gear clunker) and the bad weather that affected everyone – SHE FINISHED THE RIDE.

I loaded $3,000 bikes into the back of a reefer trailer handed to me by twenty something individuals who had the physical condition, the equipment and the same weather – AND THEY STOPPED RIDING.

Cycling as a Metaphor for MS

As a result, the MS ride should be a metaphor for the disease. There are good days in which things are not so bad and then there are bad days when things seem to have gone to shit on you. Mary was an example of an individual who persevered. How? She did it through personal stamina, determination and a little help from her friends, strangers and the Society.  EBTC can help draw a closer linkage between cycling and MS as a metaphor, for example, consider the following:

Theme Cycling MS
Daunting 150km is a daunting distance that most people will never complete in their lives; but those who do are stronger because of it. MS is a daunting disease that most people will never get; but those who survive can thrive and be better for it.
Knowledge Riding 15okm requires knowledge of how to deal with the distance, the physical discomfort and how to pace your self. Living with MS requires knowledge of what is the disease, how it will affect you and how to thrive until there is a cure.
Success Successful riders have three things: physical conditioning, good equipment and the right technique both physical and mental.

Riders get to 150km by incrementally training and improving the three things: better fitness, tuning their equipment, learning technique and realizing that they CAN ride 60, 80, 90 or more KM in a day

Those with MS learn to live with the disease by staying fit, having access to the right medication/ equipment when they need it and the right knowledge to deal with the physical and mental impact.

Those will MS get to a productive life by managing their own health, listening to their body and learning techniques to get them through a rough patch.

Support Distance riding means sometimes taking a break, calling upon a support network to rescue you and having knowledgeable people who can help you understand your personal limits: stopping today does not preclude riding further tomorrow.  Living with MS means sometimes taking a rest, having friends and community supports when the disease gets worse.  Having the society to call upon that can help the person suffering know what to expect and when they need to retreat so as to be ready for another day

Lots of Similar Rides – Only One MS-Ride

There are lots of similar charity rides an organization can become involved in.  A simple search yields eight in Alberta and over sixty across Canada.  The above model can be used/modified for any of the above rides.  Nevertheless I would encourage the EBTC to stick with the MS Ride.  It is generally well run, it is mostly organized by volunteers and it follow routes that the club would ride anyway.  Thank you to both the MS Society and the EBTC for a great event for a great cause, see you in 2018!

MS Ride 2017

On the weekend of June 10/11, 2017; I once again volunteered for the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society’s Leduc to Camrose ride.  I got involved in the ride primarily through my involvement with the a local bike club, EBTC.  I have done a few different things for the ride including pounding signs for a few years.  However, what I did this year is what I enjoy volunteering for the most – Marshaling the ride.

Motorized Marshal

First a bit of context for the MS ride.  There are a number of volunteer roles one of which is being a bicycle marshal.  This involves riding the course, fixing minor repairs (e.g. flats), encouraging safe riding (e.g. no ear buds, ride single file, etc.) and watching for riders who need either encouragement, instruction or even medical attention on the course.  The marshals ride both days and the roughly ~150km.  They receive free meals, accommodation and access to the entertainment, etc.

Alas my fitness goals did not match with my timetable and so instead of cycling I drove my truck – and I am glad that I did.  I was better able to serve the 1,600 or riders who signed up and raised money for the ride.  As well, I was able to be the last man in (other than the safety folks) behind the final rider on both days.  As a result I was able to:

  • Sweep the challenge loop (an extra 20km section for those who want to push themselves).
  • Relieve marshals who had stopped for minor repairs so they could keep cycling.
  • Leap frog lost riders to join the main group of riders.
  • Leap frog marshals into the main group of riders; this allowed them to linger at rest stops to provide assurance and safety to riders.
  • Stop and discuss with tired or overwhelmed riders the options of taking a leap-frog or even exiting the ride.
  • Cheer on riders whilst sitting on my tail gate.

Relieving marshals, leap frogging riders and volunteers or performing extra sweeps are important but are not what I found the most gratifying nor what I believe added the greatest value as a ‘motorized marshal’.  Instead, I added value by sitting on my tail gate and talking to riders.

Particularly on the second day, many riders are exhausted.  They may not be experienced riders.  They may have danced a bit too much the night before or the traditional miserable MS Ride weather may have worn them down.  As a result, they are looking at a hard climb out of the Gwynn Valley or some of the other hills and are considering giving up.  To me this is a pivotal moment to help the MS Society achieve its priorities.

The MS Ride Priorities

The Leduc to Camrose ride is the largest in Canada and involves the coordination of 1,600+ riders, hundreds of volunteers and sites and logistics.  Ultimately this effort is to raise money for MS.  The society’s goal for 2017 was $2.2M for which it fell short by raising a little under $1.7M.

Learning About MS and Cycling from a Tail Gate

But back to the Gwynn Valley and a rider who is inexperienced or exhausted looking at a ~2km and 7% grade climb.  These riders are easy to spot.  They look a little frightened.  They may be with someone who is an experienced rider and who is trying to coax them up one more hill.  They are also close to giving up on the ride which would be unfortunate.  As a result my tail gate conversation often went something like this (after initial pleasantries and introductions were made):

  • FRANK:
    • So, are you very familiar with MS, do you know how it is an episodic disease?
  • RIDER: Ummm, no.
  • FRANK:
    • MS is a bit unusual in that it comes and goes.
    • One day a person is fine but the next day they may be unable to get out of bed.
    • Conversely they may be ill for a long time and then have a remission for days, months or even years, did you know that?
  • RIDER: No
  • FRANK:
    • This ride is about research and finding a cure for MS but it is also about understanding the disease and raising money so that someone who can’t get out of bed one day gets the support he or she needs so when the disease abates they can get back to their life.
    • Isn’t MS a strange disease?
  • RIDER: It is, I did not know that.
  • FRANK:
    • In a way this ride is a bit like a journey with MS, isn’t it.
    • You start out strong and then it wears your down.
    • There are people at rest stops and on the highway to help keep you going. However, there are some points on the ride when you may need a bit more help.
    • Perhaps it is just an extra cookie at a rest stop, perhaps it is a leap-frog to the top of the hill or may be it is a ride to the finish line.
    • Right now for you, how about just a leap-frog to the top of the hill?
    • You get a few minutes to rest, you will take a pass on this hill but you will be ready for the next one and the rest of the ride.
  • RIDER: But I don’t want to cheat, I want to finish the ride on my own.
  • FRANK:
    • I understand that but this is not cheating, this is about understanding MS.
    • When you get home and you think about this ride, imagine if the support vehicle was not there and you did not have an option.
    • You would have had to climb this hill on your own.
    • We are not going to drive you to the finish line, but for JUST this ONE hill, we are going to help you.
    • In the same way, just for that one day, the MS Society helps that person stay in bed and helps the family care for that person until they are better.
    • The ride to the top of the hill is not cheating
    • Instead a ride helps you to understand the disease and, more importantly, why it is so important that you are riding this weekend and raising money for MS.
    • The leap-frog isn’t cheating but it is a metaphor for MS.
    • For this one hill, can we give your ride until you are ready to take the route on your own?
    • Also, after this ride, if someone asks you if you finished you can tell them that you were glad to take a ride just like people with MS are glad to get help from the society?
  • RIDER: Thank you, I will take the ride and I will tell people the story of why I was glad to take a leap-frog to better understand MS.
  • [Editors note, my wife also suggested that they took the ride so I would stop talking.  No comment, author].

Finishing the Ride and Raising Money

Okay, maybe the conversation did not always go EXACTLY like the above but in the end I managed to coax about a dozen people to take a short ride when they needed a break.  More importantly, I believe that these 12 people finished the ride and left with a positive image of the ride and a better understanding of MS.

This is why sitting on my tail gate applauding people who go by or coaching some of them is critical volunteer role.  Hopefully by doing so the riders are more likely to come back next year, fund raise harder for the ride or contribute when someone asks for a donation.

…. And I Endorse This Message.

Recently the Edmonton Chapter of the Financial Management Institute reached out to three levels of government to promote their May 17, 2017 Mental Health Event.  The result: two endorsements and some notes on how to ask senior officials and politicians to promote an event.

Why Do you Need an Endorsement?

A little context please… You are on a committee of some sort.  It may be for a volunteer organization (e.g. FMI, Scouts, church or work related) and you are doing something special (running a conference, publishing a book, launching a program or a website).  In doing this you would like someone important (politician, senior public servant, corporate officer or religious official – collectively these are affectionately known as the “grand pooh bahs of something” or the GPBS) to acknowledge or endorse the thing you are doing.

Because this is a memory jog for me, the focus of this blog is an assumption that you are on the board of a FMI Chapter here in Canada and you want a GBPS to endorse your upcoming conference. The first question to ask is ‘Why do you want/need a GPBS endorsement?‘; typical reasons include:

  • Mercantile: to increase sales to an event because you can point to the “GBPS’ endorsement” as proof the organization thinks it is important.
  • Extending a Corporate or Social Policy: increase the credibility of the event by showing that if good ole’ GBPS says it is important, it must be.
  • Immediate or Future Marketing: asking for an endorsement is one way that a GBPS will have a better awareness of your organization.  Reminding the GBPS of the endorsement is a potential ice breaker for other discussions.
  • Get Around Training Limitations: organizations may have constrained training budgets.  Having an organization’s GBPS endorse the event is a way to pry open the coffers.

What Am I Endorsing – the So What Question?

The next question to ask is what is in it for the GBPS?  This is critical as it is easier to get an endorsement that aligns with a policy, initiative or passion of the person rather than the GBPS being neutral, indifferent, or worse, hostile to your upcoming conference.

The reality is that the garden variety GBPS is probably interested in many of the same things you are.  In fact an endorsement could be a cheap and easy way for the GPBS to show progress on a subject area with very little cost or effort to them or their office.  For example, the theme of the May 17 FMI-Edmonton conference introduced above was a mentally healthy work place.  This was important to both the senior official from the Alberta government (who is passionate about employee engagement) and is central the federal government as well (the senior official has devoted considerable effort promoting mental health within the federal public service).

So, What Do you Want?

Be very clear what you want and articulate it early.  The following list of ‘ASKS’ is ordered from the easiest to the hardest for a GBPS to provide to your organization:

  1. Provide a letter of introduction or greetings.
  2. Provide written, in person or video opening comments and greetings.
  3. Endorse attendance and use this endorsement in FMI communications.
  4. Attend, speak or present at the event.

A letter of greetings is very low-cost for a GBPS particularly if you mostly write the letter for them (see more on this below).  Providing opening comments to a conference is slightly harder but once again are made easier if you write the first draft.  Attendance, video greetings or presentations are tough.  A GBPS’ calendar is not their own and even if they say they will attend they have a nasty habit of bailing at the last moment.  An endorsement to attend is also difficult to provide particularly if it sets up a precedence for other conferences.

The Care and Feeding of a GBPS

As noted above, the office of the GBPS is probably swamped – so make their life simple; this means doing the following (the first two bullets are recaps from above – but worth repeating):

  • Understand why you want the endorsement.
  • Be clear how this helps the GBPS achieve their goals and what is the ASK.
  • Send a clear request through formal channels (if they exist) but also use your informal networks to promote the endorsement with the GBPS.
  • Provide the GPBS with samples and even write the first draft as applicable.
  • Follow up with a courtesy phone call or email; be short, sweet and extremely respective of the person’s time.  For example, Betty is the Chief of Staff for the Deputy Minister GBPS; a phone call may follow this script:
    • JOHN: “Hello Betty, it is John Smith here. I am following up on an email I sent you two days ago concerning Mr. GBPS providing a letter of endorsement for our FMI conference on left-handed screw drivers.  Can you confirm that your office has received it?”
    • JOHN: “You did, perfect and thank you for confirming this.”
    • JOHN: “As you work through your internal processes, if you have any questions about the conference I am happy to answer them on the phone, email or pop down to your office.”
    • JOHN: “May I follow-up in two weeks to see how the letter is progressing?”
    • JOHN: “Is there anybody else I should be speaking with from your office so I don’t bother you”
    • JOHN: “Thank you very much for taking the time to talk and confirm the endorsement letter is in progress, it is greatly appreciated!”
  • Email is the typical way to initiate contact.  A sample format can be found at the bottom of the blog but generally is broken into the following:
    • 1. Salutation and who is FMI: A quick overview of who you are and what is FMI.  1-2 sentences is lots but include some links at the bottom in case the GBPS’ staff needs to do some research.
    • 2. The ASK and the WHY: Provide 1-3 sentences of what you are asking for, by when, how it will be used and what is in it for the GBPS.
    • 3. Thank You and the Sample: Close the email and include a sample (as applicable) for the ASK.  This may be in the email or attached.

Follow Up and Usage

When you have received the endorsement, immediately send a thank you note to the people who made it happen.  1-2 lines very short expressing your appreciation.

Hi Betty, John Smith here from FMI.  I received the endorsement letter and I wanted to let you know it is perfect.  I strongly believe that this conference will really advance an understanding of left-handed screw drivers and you and your office helped to make this happen.  Once again, on behalf of my board, thank you.

Only use the endorsement in manner you said you were going to use it.  If you said it was going to be on the chapter website, don’t necessarily send it out via your Linked in account to all of your users.  Think of the endorsement as a matter of trust – respect that gift of trust.

After the Event

The last step is easily as important as all the others above, let the GBPS know how the conference went and the impact of their endorsement.  Once again a quick email is sufficient.  Thank the GBPS re-affirms the time they spent providing the endorsement, increases your brand recognition and improves the chances of getting a future endorsement.

Hi Betty, John Smith from FMI.  I wanted to let you know the May 17 conference on left-handed screw drivers was a complete success.  3,000 enthusiastic public servants attended and we really advanced an understanding of this issue.  Once again the endorsement letter Mr. GBPS provided really helped to make this conference successful.  Thank you once again!


Hello Ms. EBPS,

I am a Director with the Government of Widgetland but I am writing you wearing my other hat as President of the Financial Management Institute (FMI) Yegville Chapter. I am a volunteer board member with this not for profit organization and our primary purpose is to deliver high quality learning events on topics that are of interest to a public sector audience from all three levels of government. Our next event will be coming up on Wednesday May 17, 2098 and will include an impressive lineup of speakers who will address the topic of ‘The Safe Use and History of the Left Handed Screwdrivers‘.

I know in your role as Deputy Minister of Grand Pooh Bah and with our provincial government focus on employee engagement, you have a strong desire to support and encourage healthy left-handed activities and a resilient workforce that is well positioned for the future. So would you be willing to provide some written greetings from the Government of Widget Land that could be included in our moderator’s opening remarks? I believe that your message would be well received by our audience and would help boost our profile as well as share a positive message. Thank you in advance for considering my request and I look forward to hearing your reply in the near future.

By way of additional background we are part of the National Financial Management Institute of Canada that serves over 2,800 members across Canada.

In addition, the link below will give you some additional information about our upcoming event as well as past events that were delivered by the Yegville Chapter.

I have taken the liberty of providing some suggested content and format:

Format: an open letter from Ms. GBPS to members of the Widget land Public Service, fellow public servants and other attendees.  This will be reproduced digitally in the front of the pre-conference notes.

Re: Greetings from the Deputy Minister of Grand Pooh Bah.

Dear Colleagues,

[Note to  GBPS’s staff, possible themes in the message]…

  • Greetings from the Widgetland Public Service.
  • Public servants from all levels of all governments need to create open, inclusive and healthy workplaces for staff and colleagues.
  • Attending a conference such as this one is one way to learn more about how to build such work places.
  • Meet fellow public servants and learn how we can better serve our constituents through a healthy work place.
  • Safety is a paramount concern for the government of Widgetland and left handed screw drivers caused more than 1,000 injuries last year in our province.

3lbs of Jell-O versus Some Crazy* Statements

On May 17, 2017, the Edmonton Chapter of the Financial Management Institute is hosting a conference: Building a Healthy Workplace.  The overview paragraph reads:

Over the past 50 years we have seen the move from the industrial revolution to the information revolution.  Increasingly, organizations handle information as a commodity and as a result there has been the rise of the knowledge worker.   The other side of this change is that employees rely on their brain to contribute value and to provide for their families.  What happens when their brain fails them as a result of mental illness? 

The Crazy* Next Door: the Dark Side of an Amazing Organ

This is an important conference because of devastation of mental illness.  The topic conjures up images of the shaggy and slightly smelly homeless person shuffling down Jasper Avenue muttering to their own personal demons.

The reality is that you are just as likely to encounter the mentally ill at work, the gym, your home or in the mirror as on Jasper Avenue.  The difference is that this second category often suffer in quiet desperation.

The brain is an amazing organ.  Its complexity, its ability to heal itself (the subject a field of study called neuroplasticity), its ability to create/love/hate and surprise are all part of that admiration.  Unfortunately, with complexity comes the chance of error and mental illness is part of the bargain.  Weighing about 3lbs, with trillions of neuro-connections, sloshing chemicals and a Jell-O-like matrix to hold it all in, it is amazing that the damn thing works at all!

Beyond Compassion, Crazy as a Competitive Advantage

But perhaps there is more to mental illness and that jello mass between your ears than meets the eye.  Perhaps a little crazy is a competitive advantage.  The ability to see the world a bit off and as a result understand a bit more.  Certainly full on crazy is a bad thing and fortunately help has progressed over the years for this.  Nevertheless, making allowances for a bit of Vincent Van Gough may give your organization an innovation boost or an opportunity to look at its creative processes.

There are a few cautions here.  The first is the obvious difference between tolerating a bit of eccentricity versus being oblivious to someone in mental distress.  Another caution is the role an organization has in supporting someone with mental illness versus exploiting the benefits while potentially disregarding the costs and need for their support.

Competitive Mental Health

To explore the relationship between the 3lbs of Jell-O, what is normal, what is illness and what people and organizations can do to help, at the May 17 FMI conference we plan to play Mental Health Myth Busters.  Each attendee will receive a number of statements.  Some of the statements are purposely provocative so as to promote discussion.  The following instructions are provided with these statements:

As you are having breakfast and ideally before the conference starts, please complete the BLUE sheet, here is how: For each of the questions on the BLUE sheet enter a number between 1-5 according to the following scale to the right.  Please use the whole number (no decimals) that best matches your opinion.  If possible, please do not discuss your answers with other individuals but instead use your own best judgement.  Once completed, give the BLUE sheet to one of the Myth Busters before the conference starts or at the break at the latest. 
Before the end of the conference please do the same as the above but with the GREEN sheet.  Once again, please give the sheet to a myth buster before the end of the conference.  

Privacy and How this Data will be Used.
This data will be collected in an anonymous manner.  Although an ID number is being used it is not cross referenced to you in anyway.  A before and after comparison based on the ID numbers will be completed.  We are asking for some demographic information but otherwise are requesting that you DO NOT put any identifying information on the sheets. 

The data from the BLUE sheet will be used to inform the panel discussion.  A comparison of the GREEN and BLUE sheets will be made available after the conference.  Feel free to use the pre-conference notes version if you want to keep your own notes. 

1-5 Opinion Scale

Why are We Making Crazy Statements

While the statements are meant to help make the conference an engaging event they will also have three serious intents.  The first is that they can help people test their ‘gut-check’ relative to the fact-check.  Because the scoring will be anonymous, individuals can use the opportunity as a learning experience.

The second intents is that we will use how people responded to the statements as the basis for the panel discussion.  Thus, if a statement yields little difference of opinion – this is likely not a myth to spend too much time on.  Conversely if a statement shows wide variety, then this is one to focus discuss.

The final intent is that our partner organizations (Alberta Health Services, Covenant Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association) may use this slightly-scientific method to gauge the opinions of this segment of the population.  As well, by having a before and after comparison, it will be interesting to see if the responses of the individuals change.  This can help to determine whether the conference had a real benefit in exploding mental health myths.

One Crazy Note…

[*] I am purposely using the term crazy as a term of endearment.  I realize to the politically correct this may seem jarring which is a good thing.  We all carry around our own degree of crazy (mental normalcy) and owning your own personal crazy is one way to reduce the stigma of mental illness.  

2017 – EBTC Wrider Plan

I have a confession, I enjoy organizing riding events because I can’t subsequently talk myself out of the event if I need to run it.  In other words, it forces me to go on a bit of exercise without a handy excuse to back out at the last moment!

The following is my plan for the Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club’s 2017 program.  It is here really as a reminder for myself and to help with the 2017 planning process and will involve the following events:

  1. Cranky’s Early Season Bike Event & Beginner Ride
  2. Wheeleasy Wriders
  3. Pigeon Lake Inner Loop
  4. Ad hoc Rides
  5. Old Home Target the Tour *NEW
  6. Call a Newbie *NEW
  7. Trip Leader Mentoring *NEW
  8. Grading the Grading (evaluating a proposed cycling grading system). *NEW
  9. MS Ride Marshall *NEW
  10. Some Links Worth Mentioning (and Clicking)

1. Cranky’s Early Season Bike Event & Beginner Ride

Event Title: Righty-Tighty, Lefty-ARRRGGGHHHHHH!

How is your bike looking?  Air long since left for a lower-pressure job?  Chain feeling a bit rusty?  Drive-train looks more like a Drive-Caboose?

If this describes your bike or if you are a ‘fix-a-phobic’ this 90 minutes is for you!

Andy Phelps from Crankys will cover the basic of bicycle repair.  During this session you will learn such basics as:

– How to quickly check your bike and realize that you REALLY should not go riding today.
– Why even more oil is a bad thing for a chain and how much is a good compromise.
– What are all those screws and gadgets on your circlely thing by the back wheel and when to turn them (and why you should leave well enough alone)

If at this point you are a MS Ride Repair Recluse, you can still come out and contribute.  We will pair the ‘terrified of all things mechanical’ with those who know the difference between a Robinson and a Philips screwdriver.

Send Frank an email at (really a courtesy for the Crankys so they know how many donuts to buy).

If you do come out, be sure to also consider joining the “Where the H*** did I put my bike? – Early Ride” (see the calendar of events or the next EBTC email).

Event page on
April 1 Beginner Ride:
Crankys Website:

Where the H*** did I put my bike? – Beginner Ride

I think I own a bike; ya, it is in the garage somewhere….

If you have a vague recollection that you once owned a bike and some fleeting memories that you even rode it last year, this ride is a way to shake out those cobwebs and start the 2017 season!

Or if you joined the bike club with things like the MS Bike Ride in your future, this is where you can meet EBTC’ers and start the journey to a saddle sores (I mean cycling joy!).  Registration not required, just show up and we will go.

Details are below.  Note that if you want to do a longer ride off of this trip (e.g. a loop to CFB Edmonton or a Villeneuve Ice Cream Run), reply all to this event and see if there is interest (and more importantly a trip leader to sign people up).

April 1: 0900-1030h – Crankys Bike Repair Refresher:
April 1 Beginner Ride:

2. Wheeleasy Wriders

This is a Thursday night program run from 6-7pm from April 27 to June 29 weather dependent.  The program will generally and intermittently follow the content described in the blog, the Art of Riding Bikes.

Weekly Wheeleasy Wrides! Huh, what is a WWW? It is always three rides in one. A beginner ride for those just getting started; an intermediate ride by playing Beat Frank; and a fun learn-about-cycling experience.  The details are as follows:

  • Meet at the Victoria Park Oval at 6pm (note, watch, EBTC-FaceBook and EBTC-email for changes in venue)
  • Depending on the wind direction we will do: Victoria Park & Environs
    We will be Wheels Wrolling at about 6:05pm.
  • The ride will be about an hour or twenty’ish KM in the river valley‎

3. Pigeon Lake Inner Loop

2076-06-17 – Pigeon Lake Ride – Pigeons, Putzs and Pleasures‏‏
10:00 – 17:00
The Pigeon Lake ride is a classic and there are two options!  The first is the outer loop run by Anne-Marie and the alternative is the inner loop lead by Frank Potter.  The following are the details.

Outer loop (Anne Marie)

About 60KM long on secondary highways and led by Anne-Marie Adachi Pigeon Lake. Because of the remoteness and highway travel, this ride is rated as an intermediate ride; there is no cap for registration.  A road bike is ideal for this route.  Anne-Marie will provide a map and directions at the start of the ride.

Inner loop (Frank)

This is a GREAT RIDE  that takes you along cottage roads, provincial parks, a nasty highway and a few surprises.  We will be riding at a cruising pace which gives everyone a chance to chat, kibbutz and enjoy the promise of summer coming.  A hybrid bike is ideal, a road bike is okay and a mountain bike for the more fit can be used.  The route is ~60KM and about 40% is on hard packed gravel or trails.  There are not a lot of services en route.  We will stop in Ma-Me-O Beach but the shop there was closed last time.  As a result, please plan to pack sufficient fluids, a snack, etc. for the route.  By way of safety, please have a well maintained bike.  If you have a break down you could be waiting hours in a remote rural area for a rescue or a taxi from Wetaskwin.  There are few tricky corners so generally we ride as a group.  Those who want to add about 10 km are encouraged to play ‘beat-Frank’ on two designated sections.

Email Frank at for more details and to claim your spot; please note that registration is caped at 15 riders.

Meet Up Details for Both Rides

We will meet at Mulhurst at 10am and will be wheels rolling by 1015h.  Mulhurst is on the east side of the lake an is accessible from Highway 2 and highway 616.  If you need an address for your GPS, use 5402 Lake Drive, Mulhurst Bay AB T0C 2C0 or see the attached map. *** CAUTION *** This address is NOT Correct in Google Maps.  We should return to Mulhurst between 2-4pm depending on the groups’ progress.    The inner loop’s return time is highly UNPREDICTABLE, please plan accordingly.Please park on the side streets, etc. but our actual departure point is the Cedar Crest Inn Restaurant & Lounge, 5402 Lake Drive, Mulhurst Bay AB T0C 2C0.  This is also were we will have a late lunch.  The food is pretty-good (bar food) and the terrace over looks the lake.  For more information, visit:  Please note that they are generally expecting us but if you want to reserve a table as you are riding, be sure to call them at: (780) 389-2272.

4. Ad hoc Rides

Weather dependent, these will follow routes noted either on the Wriders Wride Wlog or perhaps some new adventures.

5. Old Home Target the Tour

NEW for 2017 – I will organize about 3-6 Target the Tour events but with a twist.  These will be in our old stomping grounds of Morinville and will follow the past Tour de l’Alberta routes.  The rides will be graded according to difficulty and the 50KM distances will be semi-supported (e.g. have a sweep, leader, maybe even Beat Frank!).

Note these will be supplemental to the traditional target the tour rides run by the club.

6. Call a Newbie

NEW for 2017 – I will commit to making about ~20-40 phone calls over the season to new members.  The calls will seek to accomplish the following:

  1. Welcome the member to the club and determine what are their personal goals and expectations for EBTC.  Direct the member to one or more rides applicable to their level.
  2. Follow up with some members (typically at the beginner level) after their first’ish ride to see if the club is meeting their expectations.
  3. Provide feedback, perhaps anonymously, to the executive from the above.  Use the above feedback to potentially change my program or influence EBTC’s programming

7. Trip Leader Mentoring

NEW for 2017 – Support new or perhaps unsure trip leaders in becoming more comfortable in their role.  This can be potentially through the following:

  • Attend the new trip leader training session.
  • Run early and mid trip leader check in rides.
  • Run one or two trip leader tune up and training rides.

8. Grading the Grading (evaluating a proposed cycling grading system)

NEW for 2017 – Evaluating a proposed cycling grading system and adapting it to EBTC as required.

9. MS Ride Marshall

New for 2017 – Not really a ride but something I want to keep track of.  I plan to be a ride marshal but I also plan to ride dead last sweep.  The reasons for taking on this role are as follows:

  • The emergency folks never know the last rider, when they see me – they will know the end of the course.
  • The end riders have a degree of comfort they are not been left behind.
  • There are fewer tires to change…. maybe.

10. Some key links are as follows:

On this Site:

External Sites

String Theory on a Bus

People are central to Organizational Biology (orgbio) and orgbio is composed of two fundamental elements: Mass (machinery, intangibles such as patents and policies and procedures) and the ephemeral quality of Adeptness which is the human application of mass toward an organizational objective.

Adeptness typically means managing people.  And whether these people are staff, contractors or volunteers; this is not easy.  For one thing, people have a terrible habit of coming in all shapes and sizes.  For another, they have different opinions and perspectives.  Notwithstanding this, we also know that some staff/contractors/volunteers are golden and some are more silver, bronze or even made of up of post-masticated-nutrients.

Keep, Invest or Divest Decision

This blog is not about how to motivate staff, recruit top contractors for low costs or create a volunteer nirvana.  Instead it provides a model for placing people on a decision matrix to evaluate their contributions relative to the costs and investments made into them.  Like any asset or investment there are costs, returns and exit strategies to consider when managing people.

At this point you might be feeling a bit uncomfortable thinking about people having a return or there being a ‘total cost of employment’ compared to the ‘total benefit of employment’.  The reality is that employees and contractors have a clear economic relationship with their employer/client.  It is a bit more fuzzy with volunteers but even then one can discuss how best to pay your volunteers.  As well, we use economic language all of the time in these contexts.  Organizations ‘invest in their people’, they are the firm’s biggest ‘asset’ and organizations have human resource departments.

Just like any other asset, organizations need to evaluate whether to keep, invest or divest in the staff, contractors and volunteers they are engaged with.  To do this, the 2×2 Abilities model is described below – as well as its limitations and risks.

Technical versus Personal Abilities

The model is based on a 2×2 matrix of high and low technical and personal abilities. Technical abilities are the tangible skills to produce a product or service requiring education, ability and experience.  Computer development, machining parts, analyzing financial investments and flying airplanes are examples of technical skills.  As a test, these are generally the skills that are most readily automated or computerized.

Personal abilities are the social dimensions of individuals within an organization context.  They include leadership, followership, drive, social graces, charm, customer service or humour.  Personal abilities are difficult to automate although they can be mimiced by computers (e.g. you may have been speaking to call center robot and not even realized it).

Personal and Technical Abilities

Personal and Technical Abilities

People have different innate technical and personal abilities; which to a point, they can improve on.  As well, people both gain and lose their respective abilities over time.  A CIO may still be a killer COBOL programmer but her learned personal abilities around leadership and strategy are much more important now.

String Theory and Challenges

Plotting the gradient of personal and technical abilities on a 2×2 matrix yields the following with three resulting ‘strings’ and challenges:

Technical/Personal Ability Matrix

Strings and Challenges

  1. First String: most proficient individuals.  These individuals blend technical skills with personal attributes such as communications, leadership, interpersonal abilities and thought leadership. Super stars are found in this area.
  2. Second String: these individuals have less of one or more of the blend skills of the first string.  For example a technically proficient individual may have poor communication or interpersonal skills.  Or an individual has good but not exceptional technical or personal abilities.
  3. Third String: these individuals are often junior, have dated technical skills, completing work outside of their abilities (e.g. a business analyst asked to write computer code) or are simply not that good at what they do.
  4. Challenges: these individuals do not have or have lost their technical and/or personal abilities.

The Strings on the Bus Go… *

Jim Collins, in his book ‘Built to Last’ introduces the concept of the bus, specifically:

Good to great companies first got the right people on the bus–and the wrong people off the bus–and then figured out where to drive it.

In other words, the greatest organizations jettisoned individuals with the wrong personal or technical skills and then the wrong COMBINATION of these skills.  Of course removing people is easier to said then done.  For us in the public sector, removing a ‘challenge’ person is pretty much impossible.  In addition, removing a person who has had the wrong opportunities within an organization may be throwing away corporate knowledge and the ability to demonstrate to the remaining employees compassion and a willingness to set people up for success (a sure-fire way to build positive orgbio adeptness).

People will move across the strings throughout their career and perhaps even throughout the day.  I have known a few ‘first stringers’ who were challenges until their first cup of coffee.

(* for those who have not had the pleasure of hearing this Raffi masterpiece of music genius… well, perhaps count yourself lucky).

So What and What is Next

Although I have thought about the above concept for the past few years, it solidified during a discussion on what is the right balance between public sector staff and contractors in an IT department.

The challenge with that discussion was that the proponents of a staff only model would only acknowledge the upside of having staff while inflating the costs of contractors. This model helped to broaden the discussion by acknowledging that contractors should only be first and second string individuals.  Staff will cross all three of the strings (and there could even be a few immovable challenge-employees in a hypothetical public sector organization).

This model helped to remove some of the emotion and dogma from that conversation (to a greater or lesser degree of success).  Instead, the focus was on the organization’s business objectives and resources needed to accomplish these.

Hopefully the model can be used in your organization to have tough conversations about strings, challenges and buses.  Beyond the model, organizations need to apply compassion, empathy and integrity while dealing with their people – no matter what shape, size or dispositions they come with!

EBTC Volunteer of the Year

I found out this week that I was honoured with the Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club‘s (EBTC) volunteer of the year for 2016. I would have found out eight weeks sooner had I read the email from the club president a bit more carefully.  Setting aside the dangerous of skimming emails, I thought I would take a moment to think about the bike club and how it has master the art of promoting its volunteers and also its mandate of hope.

A Club Sans Drama

It may be that I am blissfully shielded from such matters as a worker-bee-volunteer, but the EBTC is blessed with a lack of petty-drama.  That is small people making big deals out of inconsequential matters of little interest to anyone but themselves.  I have been in enough volunteer organizations to know how much of a blessing this is.  Nothing kills the volunteer spirit faster than inconsequential bickering.

Purpose, Affiliation and Experience – the Currencies of a Volunteer Experience

Next the club has nailed the three critical ways to pay volunteers: Purpose, Affiliation and Experience.  I described these in an earlier blog on volunteering – which funny enough was inspired by going to an EBTC brunch in 2013.

  • Purpose: This may seem easy but even for a club seemingly focused on one thing, cycling, it has its perils.  Does cycling mean racing, touring (supported or unsupported), the Tour de l’Alberta, training, mentoring, etc.  While never perfect, the club has reasonably been as many things to as many cyclists as possible without diluting or killing itself.
  • Affiliation: This is sense of belonging that starts with a purpose but requires people who fundamentally like each other enough to hang out.  Having a low-drama-quotient helps but implicit and explicit cultural rules are also is critical.  The club has managed to gently nudge would-be-drama-queens out the door while guiding others toward correct behaviour.
  • Experience: Finally the easiest one, experience.  hundreds of individual rides over a wide span of abilities is the foundation for the success of the club.  As important, members have opportunities to improve their riding skills through these events.

Hope – the Clubs Main Product

The merits described above are because of strong cultural traditions and an even stronger executive and a good ‘product‘:

The Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club (EBTC) is a recreational not-for-profit volunteer-run group dedicated to facilitate its members to cooperatively run bicycling trips during the spring, summer and fall, cross-country skiing trips in the winter, and social events all year round. 

However, these are all based on a more profound product which is also germane to most volunteer organizations: HOPE.  Hope is when a strong rider wants to maintain or improve their skills. It may be an out of shape rider hoping to find her activity or a family seeking an activity sans phones and distractions.

EBTC and Spreading Hope to a Larger Community

The club is doing a great job at its core functions and with its current members.  Nevertheless, the following is a list of possible challenges for EBTC to take on to become not only a better club but also contribute to a better member of the YEG-community.  The risk, of course, of taking these on is that the club may drift from its core mandate.  The benefit of considering these (or other ideas) is that the club improves the purpose, affiliation and/or experiences EBTC can provide to its members.

  1. Family Centric Riding: Currently the club focuses on adult ridership.  While this makes sense from a logistical, risk and legal perspective – it does mean that the club relies of chance to cultivate new memberships rather than a pipeline that promotes from within.  Children are dangerous creatures for volunteer organizations but this may be where partnership with existing organizations (learn to ride, Scouting, etc.) may be easier than building EBTC’s own program.
  2. Lower-income Riding: how can the club help families and solo riders who can ill forward groceries let alone a good bike?  One method would be to encourage low cost bike maintainance or facilitating the sale or loan of bikes from members.
  3. Sharing the Land Riding: how can the club attract members of the first nation communities?  Rolling across a quiet road has some parallels to what a person may have experienced in times past.

Good Intentions and Execution

The above are food for thought and the only good idea is the executed idea.  This is where the club volunteers come in and once again I was honoured to be selected by my peers.  Hopefully time, energy, circumstances and good fortune will continue to allow me to volunteer.

Accounting for Questions

On November 17, 2016, FMI Edmonton hosted: CPAs and the Public Service.  Now that CPA Alberta is almost a toddler (16+ months old at time of writing), it is time to ask the question: How Can CPA Alberta help the members who work in the public service?

The problem though is how do you get 118 attendees to agree on which questions are most important?  Traditionally you could open up the floor to questions but then the most brave and most opinionated tend to dominate.  You could ask the presenters to provide an overview, and this was done in the first part of the session, but this also eliminates the audience participation.  The (facilitation) answer: Questions a la Carte!

Got Questions?

The origin for Question a la Carte was the September 2016 Edmonton-FMI Conference on Innovation, where I experimented with ‘Innovation Bingo‘.  This facilitation activity promoted audience attention and participation.  With Questions a la carte, my intention was to take it to the next level.

How It Worked

The morning was reasonably interactive; the audience voted on and select the most pressing questions of interest to the conference attendees by following instructions provided in the Annex.  The questions were thematically broken into chronological categories, in this case a CPA’s life journey starting with their training, work, professional development and ending with life after a career (see the table below).

How: Question Solicitation

Additional questions, question removal or edits were solicited but other than the ones I dreamed up or were contributed by CPA Alberta (thanks Larry!), none were forthcoming. Notwithstanding these results, non-accountants were encouraged to contribute questions to challenge the CPAs at the conference with hard-hitting questions to make the attendees squirm a little bit (in a nice and respectful squirming sort of way of course).

How: Instructions and Reinforcement

The questions were distributed in the pre-conference notes as well as given to each attendees in hard copy along with six small dots.  Additional table dots were distributed for a table to decide together how to apply.

Instructions were provided to the audience on at least six different occasions (a 3 minute overview at the beginning of the conference, reinforced by the key-note speaker and then multiple times by the moderator and presenters).

How: Reinforcement and Reward

Encouraging attendees to vote was accomplished by having their hardcopy stamped after applying their dots.  A stamped page not only made the eligible for door prizes (material reinforcement) by also provided an at-table reinforcement of ‘did you get your page stamped?’ (social or group cohesion reinforcement).

How: Presenter Privilege

Presenters and panelist were given the privilege to identify questions of greatest interest to them.  A colour name tag essentially allowed them to jump the queue and get their question answered irrespective of the group interest in it.

How: Questions and Their Categorization

Question package provided to attendees: 2016-11-17-questions.

Section Description Comments/Notes
Starters Questions relating to how to become or train the next generation of CPAs.  Training CPAs is a larger area of interest post merger.
Salad (Days) Personal; The role an accounting designation has had and/or how the merger will change this. We did not explore these enough.
Entree Strategy and Governance; How can CPAs make better decisions to guide our organizations. This was a core area for the conference.
Entree Standards; Questions relating to how accounting standards guide, serve and constrain us as CPAs. Accounting standards is central to the accounting function
The Kitchen Systems and Process; How CPA Alberta and the CPA community can deliver public services faster and better. Limited number of questions were provided and an area of expansion in the future.
New Recipes Keeping Up; Professional Development (PD) and continuous learning as a CPA. PD is always an area of interest for CPAs.
Digestifs Life after the Public Service; Alumni related questions.  This may be due to retirement or departure from the public service organization. A subject area worth of additional exploration, see November 14, 2014 FMI Conference notes.
Dessert Just for Fun; Don’t waste your dots on these question, but see if you can answer them nevertheless.

What Worked and What to Work On?

What: Response Rate

Worked: Generally the Questions a la Carte worked very well.  Of the approximately 600 dots distributed (5 per person), 365 were applied (for a response rate of more than 50%). Most of the attendees understood what was requested as there were very few process questions on what to do or why we are doing it.

Analysis and Ranking of Voted Questions: 2016-11-17-questions_rank.

What: Questions Analysis

Of the 30 questions asked, the average number of votes for each was 12 with a median of 7 votes.   The top question three questions each received approximately 10% of the total votes and each were from distinct categories or themes.  In other words there was relatively wide-spread interest in most of the questions nor did the presenter-privilege seem to indicate a selection bias amongst the audience.

As a result, I would suggest with some improvements, the Question a la Carte method can be a statistically viable method of measuring small group opinion and preferences for a specific issue.

What: Just for Fun and Table Dots

The intent of the Just for Fun questions was to provide an ice breaker.  Because the conference did not focus on these questions this was a missed opportunity. Similar with the Table Dots, the conference did not sufficiently focus on the use of these dots and as a result missed an opportunity for to increase group participation and an improved sense of the ‘event’.

What: Change:

  1. Improved Statistical Analysis: I would record the participation rate more precisely, for example by providing a numbered mail label applied to the pages.  In addition, I would do a better job of estimating acknowledged non-responsive records (e.g. I did not vote nor did the key-note speaker).  Finally, I would place the posters in an area with more physical space as the back wall proved to be intimate but very crowded (and perhaps a bit of a safety concern).
  2. Virtual Dots: Rather than physical dots, digital dots or an online response could have been developed.  My inclination is not to do this as the tactile reinforcement outweighs the minor improvements in administrative processing.  However, if the group was two or three times the size (e.g. an audience of say 300+) then more automated data gathering would make sense
  3. Just for Fun: I will likely drop this element or else make it a stronger part of the key-note speakers ice breaker activities.
  4. Table Dots: I will highlight this more strongly next time including giving specific time to the tables to come to a consensus and have the moderator reinforce group behaviour.
  5. Physical Space: I will provide at least a 3 metre pathway around the sheets and perhaps also use larger dots to increase the visible impact.  This may include having the dots in the meal area and then making an ‘ceremony’ of carrying it in so as to increase the group ownership and affiliation with the voting process.

A Blog Annex – How to Play Questions a la carte

Going out to eat helps to build bridges and create a sense of community in a group.  In addition to a good breakfast, you are invited to participate in ‘CPA Questions a la Carte’. How does it work, simple – you get to pick the questions that our panel will consider.  To do this, you will have been given some personal dots. Simply place one or more dots next to a question you would like addressed.  Don’t see a question, no problem, order it online via (see page 8 for instructions).  In addition to personal dots, each table will receive group dots.  Prior to the end of the mid-morning break, discuss at your table how best to divide these up amongst the questions.  For example, you could have one person stick all of the table-dots on their card or you could divide them up evenly at your table.

To make sure the kitchen (e.g. the panel) gets your order, go to the back of the conference room.  There a master menu will tally up the various dot-votes.  A CPA server will stamp your order, with this stamp you are now eligible for some great door prizes at the end of the session.


Cycling on a Grade – Part II of II

In a previous post, I introduced Cycling on a Grade, a method to estimate the relative difficulty of a ride.  The primary factors for this first portion were ride distance and relative speed.

This blog addresses the secondary factors that make a ride difficult, things like elevation gain, weather, road conditions, etc.  Another blog will introduce ‘suspect math’ that will support scoring for these factors.  This blog introduces the factors (mostly to make sure none are missed or any are not needed) and provides the base or an ‘allowable’ number for each of the secondary factors.  For example, for each of the ride levels introduced in the first blog, an elevation value is provided.  This amount is the number of metres of elevation gain needed before the impact of an additional metre is considered.  The base simplifies the calculation somewhat but also recognizes that a rider who is at the red level should have little difficulty absorbing 500M of cumulative elevation gain.  But what about the 501st metre; when do secondary factors turns an otherwise ‘blue’ ride ‘red’ or a ‘red’ ride ‘black’?  This is where these secondary factors and their impact come in.

Primary and Secondary Factors

As noted above, there are 2 primary factors: distance and speed.  There are also 13 secondary factors which either contribute an absolute amount or an amount based on distance.  The following table lists all 15 factors, provides a brief description and a range of impacts on a ride.  The Parent field provides a grouping of like determinants, namely:

  • Route: relating to the area being traveled.  For example, distance, elevation or trail head.
  • Weather: the climatic conditions when the route is attempted.  For example wind, rain or temperature.
  • Cyclist: The abilities of the individual relative to the route and the conditions.  For example comfort riding unsupported or the quality of the bike owned.
Factor Parent Factor Description Notes
Distance Route Primary Total distance traveled from the trail head and returning to the starting point. Distance in km of the route.
Average Speed Route Primary The ride speed measured in km/h. Generally the faster the ride the more difficult it is.  Speed is used to calculate total ride time. Excludes breaks
Elevation Gain Route Secondary Elevation straddles the primary and secondary factors and is the cumulative number of metres of elevation gained less the base allowed per each level. Descent is not factored to simplify calculations and that the benefit of descent is seldom equal to the effort of ascent. Total metres climbed less base.
High Grade Distance Route Secondary In addition to elevation gain, the number of metres of distance traveled over a grade greater than 12%.  This is included to recognize that significant climbs adds to the difficulty of a ride.  The distance of the maximum grade must be at least 250M.

If a precise calculation is not possible add 100 points to each significant climb (e.g. > 12%) longer than 250m.

Likely calculated in increments of 250M with the actual grade factored in.
Route Quality Route The quality of a route impacts its relative difficulty.  A smooth ride on relatively new asphalt is much less difficult then the same ride on loose gravel. Quality of road surface:
0=Smooth Ashphalt
1=up to 2″ Cracks, some gravel
2=50/50 Gravel asphalt
3=Hardpacked Gravel
4=Loose Gravel/Rock
This measure reflects the worst section at least 5km or 10% of the ride.
Traffic Route Traffic and road surface greatly increases the level of attention needed to ride and thus its fatigue.
0=Quiet trail, no traffic
1=Quiet City street or bike lane
2=Busy City street, no lane
4=Busy Highway, shoulder
6=Busy Highway, no shoulder
This measure reflects the worst section of least 5km or 10% of the ride.
Trail Head Route The distance needed to travel to the start of the ride contributes fatigue.  Thus driving for three hours and then riding two hours is more challenging that the same two-hour ride out of one’s own front door.  This factor is based on the distance from YEG city centre (or hub if on tour) expressed in hours driving less a base. Minutes of driving time less 100 minutes from the YEG city Centre.
Route Finding Route Route finding adds to the relative effort of a ride.  Notwithstanding backtracking and ‘long-way-rounds’, checking the map against landmarks requires effort and skill.   Route finding expectations:
0=No route finding needed, signed tour or group ride in familiar area.
1=Group ride in unfamiliar area with experience guide.
2=Map of roads
3=Map of trails, off-road
4=Ad hoc route finding in natural area
Applies to the portion of the distance for which the route finding is relevant.
Wind (steady) Weather  Air resistance has a greater impact on a rider than rolling resistance and thus wind is the bane of the cyclist.  A tail wind is welcome but does not come close to compensating for a steady cross or head wind.  As a result, one third of the wind velocity is taken as the contributing factor and added to score of a ride. Wind (W) in km/h, less base (Wb) amount X Ride hours (R) divided by 3
Precipitation Weather  Riding in the rain is disheartening.  Beyond the psychological drag, it also wrecks havoc with drive trains and can add weight to clothing and gear.  precipitation:
0=None or light showers
1= > 50% time light showers
2=Steady light rain
3=Steady rain / light snow
4=Heavy rain/snow
This is applied to the worst weather lasting for a duration of at least 25% of the ride.
Temperature The Goldilocks temperature differs for most people but is generally within an ideal riding range of 5-25C.  Colder than this can result in numb fingers and toes.  Warmer temperatures leads to excessive sweating, high fluid needs and exhaustion.  The ideal ride temperature for an EBTC ride is set at 15C.
Equipment Beyond a bike, having to take equipment on a ride adds weight, requires higher levels of skill on the part of the rider and imposes a psychological cost.
0= < 5km from start/transport
1= Local transportation is available (bus, train, taxi)
2= Sag wagon provided
3= Self supported, group ride
4= Self Support, solo ride with significant (>20km) distance from aide.
 Applies to both single day and multi/ overnight rides.
Repair Knowledge

Equipment must have a score > 2 before this is a factor.

Degree of expected technical knowledge in case of bike malfunction.
0. Ready access to transportation (e.g. bus, train, SAG wagon) in case of incident.
1. Riding with a group that has experience repairing most minor problems (e.g. flat, small adjustments, etc.).
2. Riding solo or with an inexperienced group.
Similar to food, this factor seldom has an impact because of the typical proximity of rescue means, available repair knowledge and the fact that most beginner riders are oblivious to the needs to conduct repairs.
Food Stuffing a few granola bars into a map pocket or buying a chocolate bar at one of a number of gas stations is one thing.  Carrying a day or more food is another matter.  Food:
0. Partial day ride and/or food is readily available en route for purchase.
1. Full day ride with limited or no purchase options.
3. Multi-day ride with limited or no purchase options.
 This factor seldom has influence except for rides in remote areas.

But What Are They Worth?

The next blog will discuss the algorithms for each of the above.  Prior to going down a rabbit hole of cartesian factors a more important consideration is whether the right secondary factors are being considered.  Drop me a note or a comment on the above factors.  Have I missed a big one, included some questionable ones or are the above really irrelevant when planning a ride for a club?

Cycling on a Grade – Part I of II

One of the challenges of leading cycling trips or belonging to a club is describing how difficult a ride is.  Someone you have never met asks: “Do you think I can do this ride?”  A difficult question to answer given one would need to know the individual’s abilities, the condition of their bike as compared to the route planned.

There are rubrics that attempt to do this.  While I have not looked at them exhaustively (and some are listed below), in general they suffer from the same problem – they are written for cyclists who can already ride well.  In other words, for a middle-age out-of-shape newbie, knowing that another 500 Metres of elevation on a 160KM ride will add 2KM of distance is irrelevant.  What is relevant, is whether that person could survive a 40KM ride if they barely completed a 20KM ride.

Cycling on a Gradient

To attempt to address this, I am proposing a Cycling Grading chart.  It is composed of two parts.  Firstly, it has a colour coded series of rides inspired from skiing.  At the beginning is the baby-bunny – a ride suitable for a young child.  At the top is the Pro which includes a distance of two full centuries (320KM).  In between is the rest of us.

Steps of the Cycling Gradient

Steps of the Cycling Gradient

The level is the relative ranking (starting at the baby bunny and going from there).  The numeric values represent the primary factors under optimal conditions:

  • Distance: how many kilometres the ride is.
  • Score: the relative ranking at this point. Note that generally the light score is about 1/4 of the next colour band’s score (e.g. Green-Light is 80 or about 25% of Blue-Light).
  • Speed: the expected average velocity over the duration of the ride.
  • Hours: the number of hours in the saddle.  Generally Green and Blue rides are half days; Reds start into the full’ish days and then one gets into the full day Black rides.
  • Climb: the cumulative elevation gain in metres that is expected (and therefore not counted) within in a ride.
  • Notes: some general comments for those thinking of riding.

The second part, and the subject of the next blog – Part II, is a series of factors that determines where a particular ride will land.  The usual suspects will be there: distance, elevation and wind.  I have added a few more factors that affect the speed or mental well-being of a cyclist – particularly an inexperienced rider.  For example, a 20KM ride on a quiet trail is not nearly as exhausting as the same ride on a busy highway.

The Effort Curve

At the heart of this model is the effort curve shown below.  To the casual reader this would seem to be a data driven mathematical construct – it is not.  Instead it is my guess-tamation of how difficult a ride is relative to the starting point – the baby-bunny. From the table introduced above, the distances are under optimal conditions.  The reason the curve is not linear is that a person struggling to ride 20KM under ideal conditions does not struggle 50% more to ride 30KM; they struggle A LOT MORE.  The formulas for the curve is provided as part of the graphic and all that I ask is that you don’t laugh at my math.

Uses for the Cycling Gradient

This is not a precise tool (although I do believe that people smarter than me could make is ‘less unprecise’); instead this is a contextual tool.  If you are running a ride in a club and you want to describe how difficult it will be, it does that fairly well.  It should be noted that the scale works better going up then down.  For example, a rider may have to work hard going from Green to Blue rides.  However, a rider comfortable in the Red Zone may find both of them ridiculously easy.

Cycling Gradient Curve

Cycling Gradient Curve

In communicating my rides I plan to rate them on this scale.  I will use the algorithm to get an approximate sounding of the ride relative to the scale.  From there, I will use judgement as to whether the ride is easier (e.g. less blue – more greenish) or harder.  Hopefully in time and use, a consensus will form such that there is more or less generally agreement that this ride is a solid dark green – unless there is wind, rain, heavy traffic, etc.

Other Gradients Found

A non-exhaustive list of other gradients can be found below.  They have been selected as much by stumbling on them in Google then be any definitive analysis.  Feel free to comment and add your preferred measure that you have found useful.

Effect of hills on cycling effort

The CIA and You!

Okay, not THAT CIA (Central Intelligence Agency of the United States Government).  Instead an acronym/heuristic for things that Control-Influence-Affect you.  In a nut shell, to be happier, more productive or at least less dysfunctional remember that there are things that:

  • Control: You can directly control, make the most of these opportunities.
  • Influence: You can influence these but you do not control them.  Be care how much you influence, the more you influence you exert – the less control you often end up with.
  • Affect: You are affected but you can neither control nor influence this things.

Child Rearing According to the CIA

Sometimes called ‘strategic apathy’ or know what not to care about, children provide a great example of the CIA concept:

  • Control: for about the first six years of a child’s life you pretty much have control.  Or at least you think you do until the two-year old has a melt down in Walmart.
  • Influence: starting about age six your control wanes and instead your influence predominates.  Influence falls to a new low around age fourteen and then starts to pick up again after age seventeen.  With grown children, the degree to which you influence is slight but not unimportant.
  • Affect: at some point your children will take control of your life.  Hopefully it is deciding to pull the plug after a great life and a snowboarding accident occurring on your 99th birthday.  If you are not so lucky, they will choose your nursing home.  Consider this carefully when your two-year old is having her melt down in Walmart.

Not a New Idea

This is not an original idea, the ‘Serenity Prayer‘, adopted by Alcoholics anonymous, has been around for nearly a century and has a similar theme.

Serenity Prayer, courtesy of

Serenity Prayer, courtesy of

What is different is the evaluation criteria and what to do about CIA.  Here are some questions that for each part of the heuristic.

  • Control
    • All the questions from Influence, plus…
    • Why and how did you come to have control of this?  How does your control align with the principles of legitimacy?
    • What is the worse that can happen if you do nothing?
    • If you do something, can you reasonably predict the impact of the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’?
    • Can you loan/give/share control with others without losing your accountability or responsibility?  Would this make the solution better, worse or about the same?
    • In exerting control, are your objectives and intentions noble?
  • Influence
    • All the questions from Affect, plus…
    • Why and how did you come to have influence over this?  Do you want this influence and what is worst/best thing that could happen as a result to you?
    • How much influence do you have as compared to others?  How do their intentions align with yours?
    • By influencing this, will it diminish or augment your influence or control over other things?
    • How little influence can you exert to achieve your objectives?
    • In exerting influence, are your objectives and intentions noble?
  • Affect
    • Why and how did you come to be affected by this?
    • Who has control and if no one, should someone have control and should it be you?
    • Who has influence and how do their intentions align with your priorities?
    • With effort, can you be in control or influence this thing?  Would you want to you and is it worth the effort to do so?
    • If this came to pass, could you live with it, will it harm you, your family or your community?  If yes to the first and no to the second, why are you thinking about it?
    • Is there a precedent here that you need to worry about?
    • Can you turn this to your advantage?  Can you at least hedge against any untoward impacts?

The CIA So-What?

This Phrankism has been useful in deciding upon a course of action.  It is amazing how often we spend considerable effort trying to change things that we do not control or even influence.  Sort of the adage ‘everyone talks about the weather but never does anything about it’.  The CIA heuristic is a handy way to stop, think and then act in a manner that expends the least amount of energy for the greatest benefit.

Making Organizing Your Next Event a Non-Event

Most people have had to organize at least one large event in their lives.  For example, are you married and how did that go?  If children have come along you may find yourself organizing hockey tournaments, soccer awards nights or scout camps.  Even if kids are not in the picture, at work you may be tagged to run the company picnic or a United Way fund-raiser.

William Gropper (American, New York 1897–1977 Manhasset, New York) The Conductor, ca. 1920 Ink and graphite on paper; H. 11, W. 8-1/2 inches (27.9 x 21.6 cm.)  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Scofield Thayer, 1982 (1984.433.178)

Are you Conducting or Orchestrating an Event in the near future? William Gropper (American, New York 1897–1977 Manhasset, New York) The Conductor (detail), ca. 1920
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Scofield Thayer, 1982 (1984.433.178)




Psst Buddy, Want a Free Idea?

The point is that we find ourselves organizing one-time events quite often in our lives. Over the past three years, I have been organizing events as a volunteer board member of the Edmonton chapter of the Financial Management Institute or FMI.  We organize conferences 4-6 times a year in which 60 to 250 guests come and hear between one and a dozen speakers.

This blog is to point you in the direction of a best practice document the Edmonton FMI uses to manage two different challenges: idea generation and event management.

FMI Program Methodology 

Idea generation means keeping every idea in an idea locker.  As an idea matures and becomes more real, the Edmonton FMI chapter has a step-by-step methodology to take an idea from a murky-concept to a conference with hundreds of attendees.  The idea locker is for those who run professional associations, particularly if the association focus on accounting, business, economics or government.  Feel free to take a look in locker and use whatever you like.  All that we ask is that you give us back a bit of love by acknowledging the original source (FMI) and contribute your great ideas (past and future) to the idea locker.

Access the FMI Idea Locker

Hockey Dads and Soccer Moms of the World UNITE!

The event methodology is more for the hockey dad, soccer mom or company picnic-planner.  It lists a planning methodology and provides a series of tools to assist in delivering an event.  The event methodology builds from the idea locker and central to the methodology is an excel based planning tool.  This tool comes complete with a detailed program agenda, volunteer roles, an income statement and a project plan.  Beyond this tool, the methodology describes how conference calls can help reduce the planning burden, the value of a virtual (conference call) dress rehearsal with your speakers and time cards to keep the event ticking along.

Access the Resource Locker for Planning Events

I invite you to poke around the two lockers.  You will need to adapt them to suit your specific circumstances but you are free to use the ideas and methodologies to make organizing your next event a non-event …. at least when it it comes to stress and worry!

FMI – eJournal Next Steps and Its Evolution

(Comments requested by May 17th either directly to this blog or to Cheryl(AT)FMI(dot)CA.

Do you subscribe to an academic, scientific, literary or business journal?  If you are a professional, it is likely your association sends you a monthly journal – do you have time to read it?  How about self-subscribed content?  My junk folder is filled with LinkedIn groups that seem like a good idea at the time, accounting firms newsletters, Canadian CPA webinars – and the list goes on.  The point is that there is lots of content that I am largely ignoring because there are only so many hours in the day and gas in the tank to do things.

Given this context, I was asked to join the editorial board of the Financial Management Institute’s (FMI) electronic journal (eJournal).  The journal has been struggling a bit with both its medium (now electronic, formerly paper) and content.  Nevertheless, there is a market opportunity for journal with the following target audiences (in order of importance):

  1. Financial managers within the public service.
  2. Public servants.
  3. Financial professionals in general and interested academics.

The last audience is of particular interest because of the consolidation of the three legacy accounting journals into the current CPA Magazine.  A well-written journal, it nevertheless has a strong general-business and private-practice focus.  Articles of a more technical or industry focus have a hard time finding the space or the word count within the CPA Magazine.

Given the market opportunity, what is the problem?  Alas, creating a journal of value takes dedicated volunteers, paid staff and a good value proposition to make the journal a paying proposition.  To this end, I am outlying two very different futures for the eJournal: an ‘Underpinning Resource‘ versus a ‘Nice Newsletter‘ through this blog. Based on feedback received, the FMI will decide what its eJournal should/can be. Although presented as an either/or proposition, these two futures represent two extremes on a range of possibilities.

FMI eJournal – a Nice Newsletter


On a bi-monthly basis, the FMI will send out an e-newsletter to its registered members. The focus will be on National activities (e.g. educational courses and events), and future/past chapter activities.  The typical FMI reader will skim the content primarily for activities of interest to him or her.  Original articles will be accepted but the eNewsletter will typically re-publish articles from other organizations.


Costs are minimal, as the bulk of the content, Chapter News, will be written by volunteers.  A small editorial board will scan other publications and arrange for pro bono re-publication of the content.  The same editorial board will review submitted articles for their merits and consideration for the journal.

Enduring Value or Future

The eNewsletter is designed to have a very short life and will typically be scanned and then deleted by most readers.  Past editions will be posted on the website.

FMI eJournal – an Underpinning Resource


The eJournal will be an extension of the educational efforts of the FMI and will seek to produce original content supporting public servants in general and financial managers in particular. An editorial board and a full-time managing editorial (who may also have responsibilities for FMI educational activities) seeks out original content according to an editorial calendar. As a rule of thumb, over a rolling 100 article average, the journal should will have the following groups:

  • Pracademic Group: About 70 articles that help the public servant deliver value through pragmatic examples, tools and discussions they can readily use in their work place.  Included in this count are the articles dealing specifically with financial management in a public sector context as well as articles supporting FMI Chapters.  Submissions from this category will be mostly from FMI members, notes from Chapter events and a guest authors such as from CPA-Canada or major accounting firms.
  • Industry Group: About 15 articles will deal with our cho­­sen industry, the public service.  This includes perspectives from elected officials (current and former) at all levels of government, senior administrators, researches, etc.  These articles will generally describe the challenges and solutions of the ‘government-industry’ and provide context to those working for the public service in best matching their efforts to the challenges.  Generally, these articles will be solicited from specific authors, for example, former politicians, academics, senior government officials and the like; nevertheless, FMI members contributed articles will be preferred.
  • Macro Group: About 10 articles will deal with larger macro-economic/social /political/technical issues that affect public servants and the elected officials.  These articles will provide the environmental scan and may be in both from a Canadian, Commonwealth or other jurisdiction’s perspective.  Generally, these articles will be solicited from specific authors and may be paid for by FMI.
  • Other Group: The final five articles or so are a free-for-all.  They are articles of opportunity, humor, fun or don’t quite fit anywhere else.  This may include editorials, book reviews or re-publications of blogs and other articles (with permission).  These articles will come from a variety of sources.


To attract and assure good quality, a paid managing editor is required who will coordinate a volunteer editorial board.  It will be advantageous to coordinate the managing editing functions with FMI educational activities so they are complimentary.

Enduring Value or Future

The eJournal will generate original thought leadership within the financial and public service communities.  Beyond posting the website, the mark of enduring value is that 5-10% of the articles published in the journal are referenced in other journals or are republished via LinkedIN or other social media.

Two Futures – What Say You?

The above identifies at a summary level two very different futures.  How realistic or beneficial is one future over the other?  Are there value opportunities I have not identified or a third future worthy of consideration? Leave a comment before May 17th with your thoughts!

How to Beat Frank (and Everyone Wins… Even Frank)

This is a cycling blog that also has a leadership lesson.  ‘Beat Frank’ is a solution to the problem of keeping a cycling group together when it has disparate fitness and speed levels.  Or, more generically, leading a team with different abilities while maintaining group cohesion and supporting individual goals.  Or, more historically, how do you prevent the chubby Scout from getting discouraged and the fit Scouts from getting bored?

Lessons from Chubby

You see, Beat Frank was born about 20 years ago back when I was actively involved in Scouting.  Here is a typical scenario, you are out for a Saturday hike with your troop composed of ~20 or so boys (later boys and girls).  They ranged in age of just barely eleven to nearly fifteen.  Some of the boys were athletic and some were decidedly not.

Boys being boys, the fourteen-year-olds would race ahead, the eleven-year-olds would try to keep up and the chubby kid would plod along in the back.  When poor Chubby got to a rest point, the fourteen-year-olds would declare ‘ITS ABOUT TIME’ and immediately take off with eleven-year-olds in tow.  The older and fitter boys were constantly resting while poor Chubby, the one who needed the break the most, was constantly plodding without respite.

Over time, Saturday hikes lost their appeal.  The fit Scouts would describe them as being ‘boring’ because they were constantly waiting.  Chubby saw them as torture and got discouraged.  The opportunities to lead, teach and develop the Scouts through a Saturday hike were lost.

Learning from Chubby

Funny enough, I sometimes found the same thing cycling with adults.  I remember one particular group in which some twenty-something guys and gals were grumbling having to wait for the fifty-something laggers.  The source of their grumbling was that the twenty-somethings were getting cold and bored waiting.  In the meantime the fifty+ were riding way over their comfort level and getting discouraged.

Beat Frank is Born!

From both experiences, I refined a game called of ‘Beat Frank’.  Here is how it works.  On a set course, the group naturally separates into the Fitties, the core group and the Frank .  The Fitties go like hell to a turn around point.  For cycling, ideally this is at least 5KM ahead and is fairly obvious (e.g. the first stop sign, t-intersection, etc.).  When the Fitties get to that point, they turn around and return whence they have come.  Once they have passed the last member of the group – typically me (the Frank) – they turn around and give chase.

I ask them to give me head start (this amount varies but ideally at least a minute or up to 50% of the difference between the turn around point and when they have passed me).  Once the first Fitties passes me, I speed up, pass as many of the core group as I can and race the Fitties to the turn around point.

The final part of ‘beating Frank’ does not involve a Frank but instead is a competition between the Fitties to see who has racked up the most clicks on the route.  So while I might have cycled a distance of 50KM, the most fit may have ridden 60 or 70KM.  The result is rather than waiting  5, 10 or sometimes 20 minutes for the group to catch up; the Fitties, the core and the Frank all get to the turn-around/collection within about 2 minutes of each other.  Thus the group stays together, the core group rides to their ability and the Fitties get a great work out.

Different Names – Same Game

In Scouting, the name varied and evolved.  Generally though the Fitties were tasked to run ahead and come back with ‘Scouting Reports’.  The fifteen and eleven-years old in tow would run back and forth screaming and having great fun… while increasing the distance they traveled.  Chubby was now the intelligence Scout; he was expected to listen to the reports and report what he had heard to the group once it had assembled.  Often the intelligence scout had observations about the hike that the faster kids had missed while running around like mad.  Everyone had a role to play that appealed to their strengths and with a result that achieved the learning objectives.

In Scouting and cycling, the competition and cooperation created greater group cohesion and a better experience.  The fast Scouts had a good run and then heard a summary of what they observed or what they missed but was seen by the slower kids plodding along. The cycling adults cheered on the Frank or the fast cyclists to the finish line.

Beyond Chubby and Cycling

Beyond the Scout Troop or cycling trip, I believe that there is a lesson here for organizations.  Too often organizations either leave behind their chubbies or hobble their fast cyclists in an effort to create organizational harmony.  This ‘tyranny of mediocrity’ satisfies no one and fails everybody.  By taking a bit of time and a bit of structure to find a role for everyone and at their own pace – the organization, Scout Troop or cycling trip can have a better experience.

Thus by Beating Frank, everyone wins – especially Frank.

The author, his cycling physique which is why he likes to play 'Beat-Frank'

The author, his cycling physique which is why he likes to play ‘Beat-Frank’

Buying In – BzzAgents and Volunteer Marketers

Just finished the book, “Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are” by Rob Walker who writes a column for the New York Times Magazine: “Consumed“.  Being a cheap consumer, I purchased the book second hand from the excellent local used book store (SHAVA) that we have here in St. Albert.  As a result, the book is a bit stale published in 2008; well before the financial melt down and the resulting impact on consumption.

Nevertheless, Walker is an engaging writer who walks the reader through the world of consumption, brands and fashion.  For example, who knew that the Hello Kitty mouth was too hard to express in a cute way – so it was cut from the final design in 1974 (pp. 15-16).

Hello Kitty - sans cute mouth

Hello Kitty – sans cute mouth

Or that the Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) beer was purchased in 1985 by a Texas ‘beer-baron’ whose business plan was to slash costs and let the brand “decline profitably”. PBR used to be the blue-collar beer of the working man.  Now it is the markedted blue-collar beer made en masse.

While Hello Kitty and PBR are cute and taste okay (in that order), the interesting section in his book is on volunteer product evangelists or word of mouth marketers (p. 166).  These are volunteers who work for companies like BzzAgent who employ ‘volunteers’ to talk up products.  The volunteers button-hole friends, neighbours and unsuspecting would-be consumers with encouragements to buy sausages, perfume or read particular books.  They are encouraged to post positive reviews and write glowing praise of the particular product that is being promoted.

Some of the volunteers spend as much as 10 hours a week doing the promotion, writing reports and networking with other volunteers.  This is a part-time job working for a marketing company, promoting products – all done pro bono.  Walker provides an example of one word of mouth marketer:

Gabriella and the rest of the [BzzAgent] sausage agents are not paid flunkies trying to maniplate Main Street Americans; they are Main Street Americans…. … and she gets no remuneration.  She and her many fellow agents had essentially volunteered to create “buzz” about …. dozens of … products, from books to shoes to beer to perfume.  By 2006, BzzAgent claimed to have more than 125,000 volunteer agents in its network.” (p. 168)

While these volunteers earn points for prizes – many do not cash in the points.  So what motivates them?  One BzzAgent agent Ginger explained her willingness to volunteer for the following reasons:

  • It was a chance to get products before their release (and be an insider)
  • BzzAgent gives her something to talk and opinion about with other people
  • She believes she is helping people – by promoting a specific product.

To be fair BzzAgent’s code of conduct includes an expectation that:

BzzAgents always tell others they are part of a word-of-mouth program.  Be proud to be a BzzAgent. When Bzzing others, you must let them know that you’re involved with BzzAgent and tell them what you received as part of the campaign. If you genuinely like something (or even if you don’t), it’s your open, honest opinion that counts.

Code of conduct notwithstanding, somehow it feels like BzzAgents are on the wrong side of an invisible line.  Certainly they are not boiler-room fraudsters trying to hustle little old ladies out of their life savings – but still there is a part of me that is a bit queasy about the whole word-of-mouth marketing model.

Perhaps it is because I am a ‘free-lance’ word of mouth marketer.  I promote businesses that have given me good services or products and I do so because I believe that I am being helpful.   However, I do so on products and services of my own choosing and without having to report back to the business (or an intermediary such as BzzAgent) of my efforts to date.  As well, when in the course of a normal conversation, how exactly do you interject that you are now been sponsored by the ACME corporation?  I envision a conversation like:

  • Frank’s Friend: Boy it sure hot today!
  • Frank: Sure is… oh, by the way, this part of conversation is brought to you byBzzAgent and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer or PBR.
    • Boy this PBR is sure refreshing, goes down smooth and is cheap too.  The beer of hipsters and rappers, PBR is the only beer for me. 
  • Frank: We now return to our regular conversation already in progress.
  • Frank’s Friend: Huh?  Are you okay?  I think you need to get out of the sun and stop drinking so much of the PBR swill.

Myself, I am happy to stay on this side of that invisible line and continue to promote/malign in an objective manner good/bad products and services.  Nevertheless, I would love to hear your comments – perhaps over an ice-cold and refreshing PBR, the official beer of word of mouth marketers….

The Art of Riding Bikes

Full Disclaimer: I am not an expert on cycling.  I have never raced, mountain biking seems like too much bother and I don’t ride in -40C.  Nevertheless, I am passionate about cycling because it has allowed me to see things and meet people in contexts that generally promote conversations, beer drinking and long-term memories (okay, the last two sometimes clash).  Before reading on, insert the standard caveats about checking with a physician before starting a physical exercise program.  This blog is not intended to replace medical advice.  Use at your discretion and always employ common sense.

I like to share this passion and this Spring I am running a how to ride program entitled the Westend Wriders.  One individual from the program asked the question about whether she bought the right bike and why she seems to be so slow.  I responded in email but to help to thwart the eventual hardening of the brain cells (too much cycling and eventual beer drinking), I thought I would throw the advice out here to for public consumption.  If you are a super-duper expert on bikes, feel free to weigh in (but please correct me gentle).

The Three Things to Keeping Up with the Group

Riding with a club gives you a chance to see the super-duper triathlon types and the newbies who simply want to keep up.  This advice is more for the newbie in which 40km seems daunting and 80km or more seems impossible. So, to keep up with the group you need to focus on three things: physical conditioning, equipment and technique.

Physical Conditioning

Guess what triathletes, you have this one nailed!  In the other corner are folks like me who discovered a winter bulge where one did not exist last fall (or at least I was better at ignoring it).  To ride with a group, the better fitness level the better but most people who can walk for a few hours, climb moderate hills, etc. can do well on short to moderate (40-80km’ish) rides.  So even if you have mystery winter bulges, carry on to the next two things.

Well Maintained Equipment

To bicycle you need, well, a bicycle.  Myself I tend toward the touring hybrid variety as I like to carry stuff in panniers (saddle bags), water bottles accessible while riding and fenders for my commuting bikes.  Like anything in life, the more you spend, the better quality you get and the less you will experience in break downs, etc. A reasonable starting price for a new hybrid is about $500 and a good one can be had for the $750-1,000 mark. If you are now experiencing sticker shock, remember how much a golfer pays for a good set of clubs. As for where to buy, MEC is a good starting point or any local bike shops (a plug for my local shop, Crankys in St. Albert). My experience is avoid department stores, chains or anywhere where the mechanic looks like a high school student working part-time.

Alternatively buy a very good used bike.  Pay a bit of premium by buying it through a reputable bike shop or a club sponsored bike swap, such as this one – bike swaps.

A word of caution though, bikes are like mushrooms, before you know it your one bike will soon be 2, 3 or more!

Buying the bike is only the beginning, maintaining it is even more important. Bikes are remarkable bits of machinery, they can be forgiving but when the fail – they generally do so as far from home as possible.  As a result having some basic knowledge is critical. In particular you should know how to: change both tires (front and back), wash your bike, clean and lubricate a chain and do basic lubrication of the bike. Adjustments, bearings, etc. I leave to my friendly bike shop.  If you are like my wife, you can also leave everything to your husband.

Where do you learn these skills, back to joining a club, taking part in a cycling 101 such as the one offered by the Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club, Westend Wriders and talking to people who pretend they know things about cycling (like me!).

Six Central Techniques

Okay, you are at least minimally fit and you spent your kids college funds on a new bike – now you can keep up, right?  Maybe but probably not.  Cyclists are generally a lazy lot who like to get places while spending as little energy of their own energy as possible (and looking dazzling in spandex).  As a result, the following six techniques are critical.

Technique number one, cycling is about RPMS, not torque.  You may have seen the big guy grinding his way up a hill while a petite young lady zips past him.  If you have, you have seen the difference between revolutions per minute and torque.  When riding, you want to ideally be spinning the pedals at the same cadence (revolutions per minute) and with the same effort (light, think of gently kicking a soccer ball to a 3-year old) whether you are on the flat, the up or the down hill.  To do this, you must know how to use your gears so that your cadence and torque can remain consistent.

Technique number two – be kind to your delicate bits.  Get a comfortable saddle, riding shorts and then take the time to let your more delicate parts get used to it.  ‘Time in saddle’ is something you have to do each and every cycling season.

Technique number three – Learn to post.  Post means getting up on the pedals and riding for a distance with your delicates hovering over the instrument of torture.  Posting a few times an hour (or thereabouts) allows the blood to flow back to the pelvic floor and other nether-regions (not to be confused with the Netherlands).

Technique number four – pedal baskets or shoes.  There is only one point of energy transfer between you and the bike – the pedal.  The conventional pedal is a mediocre connection device as most of the force is only spent in the 1 to 5 o’clock position of the down stroke.  With baskets, shoes, etc, the energy transfer is possible through the entire rotation.  As a bonus, posting is alot easier with your feet attached to the pedals.

Technique number five – jettison weight.  I have to admit, I have a hard time with this one as I like to carry tools, extra water, a snack, a second camera, clothing (well you get the idea).  Unfortunately every gram of weight has to be paid for by your effort.  If you can leave stuff (and winter-bulges) behind.

Technique number six – Hydration and Nutrition.  Thanks to Joe who provided the advise below.  My own rule of thumb is to only snack on rides (e.g. no big lunches) and lots of fluids.  Joe’s advice is even more targeted:

Proper hydration and nutrition come into play long before you get thirsty or hungry. Start when you leave the parking lot and take a sip every 15 minutes, consider a quality sports drink or easily digestible carbs to conserve your glycogen. Do not eat at least 2 hours before the ride starts, since it takes that long to stabilize your blood sugar, otherwise the insulin will rob you of energy at the start.

Ride, Ride and Ride

Finally, like anything else, get out there and ride.  Not only will it reduce your winter surprises, give you time in saddle – you will also get to meet interesting people, go places – and hopefully drink some beer.

Thanks to Other Contributors

Garet H, reminding me about the benefits of posting and Greg P. reminding me about my weight (errr, carrying weight) and Joe M. about hydration and nutrition.

Paying Volunteers – Experience

This is a third blog in a series on ‘Paying Your Volunteers Well‘. All of the blogs in the series have been on the theme that organizations pay their volunteers via three ‘currencies’:

  • Currency 1, Purpose: being part of something that is bigger than any one person.
  • Currency 2, Affiliation: the feeling of community and the creation of social bonds.
  • Currency 3, Experience: (this blog) gaining experience or practicing skills from being a volunteer.

The previous blog focused on the first two currencies: Purpose and Affiliation. This final blog will look at the concept of experience (individual and organizational experience) as a currency and some thoughts on how volunteer organizations can implement the three currencies. Finally, this series is a companion to a previous blog entitled “Knowers, Doers and Funders in Volunteer Boards”.

Paying your Volunteers with Personal Experience

Looking back over the past 5 years, I am a bit amazed at the experiences I have gained as a volunteer. For example, I have learned desk top publishing, a bit of .NET programming and how to manage websites. As well, I have strengthened my facilitation and project management skills – all within a volunteer context. This is partly because I have a personal philosophy to “never volunteer for activities that are like my current job“.

I have cultivated this philosophy on volunteering since my early teens. That in its self is typical according to a 2000 Statistics Canada study [1]. One of the ‘sells’ for many youth programs; e.g. organized sports, scouting or cadets; are that kids learn leadership, organizational skills and team work. These learnings are in addition to the skills relating to the organization (e.g. stopping goals, lighting campfires or flying airplanes). While youth volunteer organizations do this through a program structure (e.g. coaches or a badge/promotion programs); the concept of experience as a currency is not just for kids.

A highly effective volunteer organization will ask their adult volunteer, ‘What do you want to learn/experience as a volunteer?’ For some individuals, the answer may be ‘I am happy to simply help out’. For others, they may be more strategic is using volunteering as a learning opportunity. According to a 2010 Study by Statistics Canada,78% of respondents want to use their skills and experience. A majority of respondents indicated that they acquired skills through volunteering (see quote and graphic below):

About two-thirds of volunteers benefit from improved interpersonal skills. Although most volunteers get involved with a charitable or nonprofit organization for altruistic reasons, most also believe that they receive substantial benefits themselves. Many stated that their volunteer activities had given them a chance to develop new skills…”

Skills acquired through volunteering – 2010 Stats Can Report: no. 11-008-X

Skills acquired through volunteering – 2010 Stats Can Report: no. 11-008-X

The Volunteer Experience

Schools currently do a good job of matching volunteer experiences to learning through work experience programs or (unpaid) internships. I would suggest that employers can learn from this model. That is, employers could support staff members who are both volunteering and learning with a community organization. For example, a person who wishes to learn project management can hone these skills in a lower risk volunteer/community organizations setting (e.g. organizing a United Way campaign, building a playground, etc.). This scenario is win-win-win; the volunteer organization receives work in kind; the individual has the altruistic opportunity and is learning/improving their skills and the employer has pseudo on the job training while demonstrating community support.

There is a caution here because altruism is a funny thing. Consider the economics of voluntary blood donations versus being paid to donate. An economic tipping point is crossed when an individual believes that they are being compensated for what was previously an altruistic activity. Curiously compensation generally dissuades individuals from donating money, time or blood. The participants in this win-win-win situation need to ensure that the relationship remains noble and altruistic.

The Volunteer Experience

Returning to the Stats Canada study, a couple of interesting statistics jump out: ‘45% of non – volunteers had not become involved because no one had asked them to, which suggests they might sign up to volunteer if they were approached the right way. On the other hand, about one-quarter (27%) had no interest in volunteering and 7% had not been satisfied with an earlier experience‘.

I find the final value, 7% having a bad experience, to be surprising low!  I have been part of volunteer organizations that have treated their volunteer-cadre poorly.  This treatment included indifference, cliques, poor organization, political games or simply taking their volunteers for granted.  To avoid a terrible experience, think of volunteers as a precious resource that needs to be managed via lifecycle approach:


Lifecycle State Description Organization Activities
Unaware The individual is unaware of the organization or the volunteer opportunities available. General promotion, alumni/ambassador networking.
Aware, uninvolved The individual is aware, but is not involved as a volunteer.  Interest in being a volunteer is not known to the organization. General promotion, creation of prospect lists, creating volunteer ‘buddies’.
Peripherally involved The individual has volunteered informally or has expressed an interested in being involved. Add the individual to a volunteer-prospect list and describe the volunteer ‘value proposition’ to him/her; use a low-pressure follow up.
Non-stalwart involvement Individual is a regular volunteer but is not a stalwart [2] of the organization. Ongoing volunteer-experience reviews, ask the individual to be a “volunteer buddy”, solicit feedback and implement quality/experience improvements.
Stalwart These are the 10% of the individuals who contribute 50%+ of the volunteer effort. Ibid. to non-stalwarts plus, develop mentorship and succession plans; ongoing touch points to identify burn out early; provide sabbaticals, breaks and change of duties; ask stalwarts to organize or move to the alumni and ambassador programs.
Alumni Former volunteers willing and able to ‘tell’ the organization story in informal settings. Maintain a current roster of alumni/ambassadors, keep them informed of organization activities, and ask for both ongoing donations but also network/community engagement.
Ambassadors Individuals who have formally agreed to promote the organization within the community. Ibid. to alumni plus, provide a higher level of engagement than that provided to alumni.

A Brief Description of the Lifecycle Activities

If you are on a board of a small volunteer organization and the above activities seem daunting, do not despair.  Implementing any one of the activities can help; implementing all, can help more.  Being able to implement all of the activities is unlikely except for the largest volunteer organizations.

General promotion: normal organizational advertising/promotional activities to improve brand recognition, organizational awareness or donation solicitation.

Alumni Networking: An informal to formal program in which former volunteers and staff members are periodically made aware of the organization, its current activities/accomplishments, needs and interest in having past volunteers/staff members return to or make donations to the organization.

Ambassador Networking: A formal program in which an individual agrees to ‘tell’ the organizational story within a community so as to achieve specific organizational objectives.  The development of the ambassador program should following the Know/Do/Fund model.

Creation of prospect lists: Within the confines of privacy legislation and organizational privacy policies; the collection and management of potential individuals interested in the objectives of the organization.  Existing donor software supports this activity although the information should also be organized along the Know/Do/Fund model and managed like a sales-call list.

Volunteer ‘buddies’: A formal or semi-formal program in which current/alumni/ambassador volunteers are encouraged to partner with potential/existing volunteers/donors, etc.  Through relationship management, the organization ‘story’ including the ‘value-proposition’ of being a volunteer.

Volunteer ‘value proposition’: Why should a person volunteer for this organization versus another.  This should include a description of the overall objectives of the organization, its recent achievements, history, affiliation, volunteer testimonials and individual opportunities.

Low-pressure follow up: Based on the prospect list and using the value proposition, the buddy or volunteer recruiter follows up within prospective individuals.  This is done in a low-pressure manner and interactions are documented (with the consent of all individuals involved).

Ongoing volunteer-experience reviews: A formal or semi-formal program in which the value-proposition reality is measured against what is/was promised.  Advice collected is acted upon through a quality/experience improvement program.

Mentorship and succession plans:  all volunteers and their positions have a succession/training plan which includes a risk analysis for key/technical positions.  Long serving volunteers who are feeling burned out may be offered sabbaticals, breaks and change of duties to encourage ongoing participation.  Recruitment to the alumni and ambassador programs is encouraged.

Competition in Altruism

There is both good and bad news for volunteer organizations.  Firstly the bad news, a poor volunteer experience generally can be traced to the culture of the volunteer organization.  The stalwarts of the organization may see little reason to manage the ‘volunteer-experience’.  After all, they have been ‘holding the fort’ for so long it is time for somebody else to do!  It is easy for volunteer organizations to develop an insular or group-think view-point.

The good news is that organizational culture can be fixed, evolved and changed.  There are excellent opportunities for volunteer organizations that are willing to have open conversations about their culture and volunteer management strategies.  The better news is that an organization who engages in these conversations can best compete for altruism.

The 2010 Stats Canada study found an interesting trend.  While the number of individuals who volunteer is increasing, the TOTAL HOURS volunteered has plateaued.  Individuals have fewer hours available to volunteer and the stalwarts have taken up the slack.  Two job families, Go-Go parenting, technology and an erosion of social structures has made our lives more frantic but we are still willing to volunteer.  This is a double edge sword for volunteer organizations.  On the one hand volunteers will become harder to find, more expensive to recruit, harder to retain and cost more to manage.  On the other hand, organizations who understand how to pay their volunteers well will out-compete other organizations for the precious volunteer hour.

This is the end of this three blog series and the thoughts contained within are based on 35+ years being involved with volunteer organizations.  Now that I have articulated what I have felt, I hope to use these blogs to make the organizations I am passionate about better.  While competing for volunteers may seem mercenary, it is also the reality facing the causes that we care about.  In addition, volunteer organizations may be asked to carry more of the burden within our society as governments grapple with debt and budget concerns.  So, when you think about the volunteer organization that you are passionate about, how well equipped is it to pay its volunteers?

[1] Jones, F. 2000. “Community involvement: the influence of early experience.” Canadian Social Trends. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-008. No. 57.

[2] A compilation of both the aforementioned 2010 Stats Canada study as well as ‘Understanding Canadian volunteers : using the National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating to build your volunteer program’, available:

Paying Volunteers – Purpose & Affiliation

This is a second blog in a series on ‘How to Pay Your Volunteers‘.  The first was an introduction with the idea that organizations pay their volunteers via three ‘currencies’ listed below.  This Blog is a drill down on the first two currencies – purpose and affiliation.

  • Paying Your Volunteers Well: introduction
  • Currency 1, Purpose: being part of something that is bigger than any one person.
  • Currency 2, Affiliation: the feeling of community and the creation of social bonds.
  • Currency 3, Experience: gaining experience or practicing skills from being a volunteer.

This series is a companion to a previous blog entitled “Knowers, Doers and Funders in Volunteer Boards”.

A Blurred Line: Affiliation and Purpose

Affiliation and Purpose are two parts of why people volunteer.  Purpose is the greater good and affiliation is the sense of belonging.  Although listed separately, the distinction is a bit blurred.  The way I think of them though is: Purpose will get a volunteer’s interest in an organization but affiliation will keep them with the organization.


In his book, ‘The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life‘, Jesse Bering goes to great lengths to discuss the concept of the Theory of Mind.  In summary, this theory is that Homo Sapiens’ primary evolutionary advantage is the ability to think like another person  (e.g. “I think Bob is thinking this, therefore I can predict Bob’s behaviour or motivations“).  This in turn gave rise to human-altruism and allowed us to be a highly effective social species.

In other words, the Theory of Mind means that humans seek out purpose and social circumstances.  We are hard-wired to want to belong and more to the point, do right while belonging.  One of the things Bering discusses in his book is that people are more likely to follow social norms if they think others are watching them or are part of a close-knit community.  The inclination to want to contribute to a community can be seen in the StatsCan data of what motivates individuals to volunteer.  According to the most recent (2010) results, 93% of individuals volunteer to make a contribution to the community.

Top reasons to volunteer

Top reasons to volunteer – 2010 Stats Can Report: no. 11-008-X

Organizations can take advantage of this basic human predisposition by clearly articulating the ‘story’ behind the purpose or cause of the organization. While the Society to Improve Chances on Buying a Porsche Frank Potter generally won’t fly (err, donations accepted though); saving wetlands, helping children, aiding seniors or rescuing dogs are likely good causes people will want to volunteer for.

It may seem crass to take advantage of this base human need.  On the other hand, this is the fundamental quid pro quo of the volunteer relationship.  By being a volunteer, a person is fulfilling a deep-seated need to contribute.  By providing these opportunities, telling the story and supplementing it with experience – a volunteer organization can meet and exceed filling that need.


This brings us to the second currency, affiliation. According to the same 2010 Study by Statistics Canada, about two-thirds of all Canadians who volunteer did so with friends, family or people they knew.

Many Canadians become involved in volunteering because people they know are doing it. In 2010,43% of volunteers said they did their volunteer work as part of a group project with friends, neighbours or co-workers; another 25% said they had joined members of their immediate family in their volunteer work. 

This is the affiliation aspect of volunteering.  The Ying to this Yang is  how to get work out of the volunteers beyond just having a ‘social-club’?  I think there are two strategies to this end, focus on the purpose and reward the right behaviour.  Purpose was discussed above, but by focusing on WHY the organization exists will channel people to activities that directly support the activity.

The second part is to then reward the right behaviours, e.g. achieving the fund-raising goal, putting on an event, etc.  In both cases, I think that ‘Telling the Story’ is critical.  Newsletters, FaceBook pages, meeting reports or other forms of communications help to achieve this.

As a final point of affiliation, a bit of swag does not hurt either; something with an event and an organization’s name on it are all examples.  This is a great way to not only identify the volunteers while an event is occurring but also to perpetuate the story after the event.  A good quality shirt with a logo can elicit questions about the event in elevators, around water coolers or even shopping malls.  A stranger asking about an event listed on a t-shirt means the t-shirt wearing volunteer has been paid in affiliation long after the event has ended.

Tailoring Purpose and Affiliation

The challenge volunteer organizations have is tailoring the right amount of Purpose and Affiliation to their population of volunteers.  This balance can be partially be struck by having the conversation with volunteers  about their past and desired future experiences. More on this in the next and future blogs.

Paying your Volunteers Well

This past weekend I was at a thank you brunch for the Edmonton Touring and Bicycle Club.  This got me thinking to get back to a post on volunteer organizations (see Knowers, Doers and Funders in Volunteer Boards) and specifically why do people volunteer in the first place?  From a rationale-economics model it makes absolutely no sense – giving away your time and talent for free. Volunteering is not limited to a few individuals either, according to a 2010 study by Statistics Canada, nearly half of us volunteer.  Recent models and the study of altruism in animals suggests that there is an evolutionary basis for volunteering (more on this in a second).

This inclination to volunteer is good for our community because it means, at a fundamental level, people want to contribute.  As a result, the question is how to encourage and sustain a natural inclination?  The answer is two part: payment and reducing as much as possible the burden of volunteering.  To start what I hope will be four additional blogs (insert good intentions here)….

The Currency of Volunteer Payment

Let’s start with the three currencies by which organizations can pay their volunteers:

This series is a companion to a previous blog entitled “Knowers, Doers and Funders in Volunteer Boards”.

The Burden of Volunteering

There is a ‘negative-payment’ involved in volunteering, the burden to do so.  My fourth blog will be and exploration of what are the impediments volunteer organizations put into place that dissuade volunteers.

As always, let me know what you think or send me your volunteer horror/success stories.

Knowers, Doers and Funders in Volunteer Boards

Yesterday I had the opportunity to facilitate a governance session for the Edmonton Financial Literacy Society (EFLS).  As a former board member, I was quite happy to assist the organization as it pops its head up and evaluates how to provide value the community.  I hope to do another blog on financial literacy and EFLS, but more to the point is a key concept for volunteer/non-profit boards that I call the ‘Knower-Doer-Funder’ principle.

Basically, this principle is a non-profit organization must balance between the three roles that board members play.  The following table explains them a bit more detail.  These are my definitions and of course no one person is exclusively one or another – only darker and lighter shades of grey.  There are other roles on boards, such as the tourist, which you want to avoid.



Knower Has specific knowledge about the organization’s purpose, role or other matters critical to the board.  For example, a lawyer or an accountant would play the respective knower roles of Legal and Finance issues.
Doer These are the critical worker bees.  These are the folks who keep the lights on and the organization humming along.  For many smaller volunteer organizations, the board member and the ‘Joe-volunteer’ is typically blurred.  That is a board member is often both a chief cook and the bottle washer.
Funder These are the people who either have the money, know people who have money or know how to get the money (e.g. via grant applications, fund raising, etc.).  For smaller organizations with low over head and many doers, the balance of funders may be smaller as compared to an organization whose primary role is to raise money.
Tourist These are board members who have joined to pad their resume.  Generally these folks should be pruned from your board if it seems that they can not be moved into one of the above roles.  Be careful not to prune too soon – some people simply need to feel comfortable.  However missed meetings, “smart-phone-crotch fixation” or silence are usually signs you have a tourist.
Coasting Silverback These are board members have perhaps played one of the above roles but are now coasting.  Like tourists, they should be pruned – but with a great deal more delicacy. While it is good to have wise counsel to balance the enthusiastic newbies, comments of ‘We tried that, did not work’ usually means you have a coaster.  The ideal role for these people is to move them into alumni or into helping with the farm team.
Alumni The alumni is the collection of board members (or volunteers, clients, funders, etc.) who have an interest in the organization – but not enough passion to be actively involved.  Keep the organization’s orbit through an alumni function.  LinkedIn, FaceBook and cheap websites makes this very cheap to maintain.  As well, take a read of this article I wrote on Health-Alumni.
Farm Team This is where you get your next board member.  Establish a mechanism to bring volunteers in, assign the meaningful work and then groom them for a governance role.  In an ideal world, you should have a 2:1 ratio of farm team to board positions.  Nevertheless – don’t forget to pay your volunteers very well (a subject of another blog post).

If you are a member of a volunteer board – firstly thank you.  Quite often organizations forget to say that so let me do this.  In some way, method or fashion you are making the world a better place.  As well, hopefully the organization is paying you well.  But back to the list…. Hopefully this helps you – and if you want to read about the facilitation questions used last night, read my facilitation notes.

So what say you?  Have I missed a role that should be covered?  Does this model resonant with your current volunteer board or ones you have served on in the past?  Post a comment and I will update the model (and steal […. errr, share] your brilliant ideas).

An amendment to this blog.  Two recuritment tools when looking for new board members.  The first is a Microsoft Excel which can help you focus on which industries you want to recruit from.  The second is a Microsoft Word document which can help you plan the recuritment.

Board Recruitment Plan

Board Recruit – Industry Selector