Why Smart Organizational Leaders Care about Net Neutrality

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2Is access to broadband internet more like access to cable TV or more like access to electricity, telephones, or running water? 

Two decades ago, this wouldn't have even been a question. First of all, in 1994, people still weren't sure what the Internet even was, or if they knew about it, they didn't know why it would be interesting to anyone other than academics. The World Wide Web was still in its infancy, and programmers and other computer science types were just starting to create their first web pages, hand-coded with the first edition of HTML. 

Over those two decades, though, the web has moved from a curiosity, to a disruptor, to a social and media and social media platform, to a means of connecting bi-directional data from all sorts of smart devices. Now, the once-assumed neutrality of internet data is being challenged, primarily by the cable and cable-media companies that control the monopoly on service in local markets. 

Net neutrality is the idea that the wire doesn't care what kind of data travels down it, and that all data, regardless of content, should have equal opportunity to travel on that wire. The implication, of course, is that infrastructures will then have to respond to the level of traffic that they must sustain to maintain quality of service. Smart organizational leaders care about net neutrality because it affects their business. Nonprofit leaders care about net neutrality because it affects their cause. People care about it at home, because it affects how they see the world.

Let's take a look at how the current discussion about net neutrality breaks down, through a couple of examples.

Example 1:

If we assume that access to broadband internet is like cable TV, then these local monopolies can charge more for varying levels of service and access - much like basic vs. premium channels. The monopolies argue that different content creators should have to pay more for faster access. (Of course, their own content doesn't have to pay a premium for access, increasing the likelihood their content will be seen and used.) Moreover, when services are interrupted, the assumption is that since this is media or entertainment, the disruption is at most annoying, but not breaking down essential activities. Comparing this to phone service, this would be like saying that a call to your grandmother and a call to your 401(k) advisor should be charged at different rates, and with different call quality, based on whether your grandmother wants to pay a premium to hear you better than the two tin cans and a bit of string, or whether your 401(k) advisor wants you to be able to call him during regular business hours or only at off-peak times. Comparing this to electrical service, this would be like paying to make sure brownouts didn't damage your appliances and a premium for every amp and volt that went to running your air conditioner. 

However, if we assume that access to broadband internet is like a utility, (as the original design of the Internet was), then customers would pay based on rates of consumption, no matter what data was travelling over the lines. Outages would be matters of public interest, much like electricity and standard telecommunications outages. In this scenario, data would be data, and the infrastructure would be designed to carry the load of data as needed for usage, rather than on a pay-more-get-more-bandwidth scenario. No longer could data be throttled, and the telecommunications utilities would have to build infrastructure into their pricing such that everyone could have standard high-speed access, at speeds that could be measured as easily as the kilowatt-hours coming in to one's building or home, with construction standards comparable to the National Electrical Code. 

Vision makes all the difference when a disruptor enters the marketplace.

Example 2:

In the summer of 2010, our neighborhood was hit by a heat wave, accompanied by two power outages. The first was caused by the transformer in my backyard exploding from the sheer amount of power running through it due to too many air conditioners running simultaneously. The second came a few days later, as the new transformer, with a higher rating, allowed the power lines themselves to heat to the point of ignition when the air conditioners kicked in late in the afternoon. In both cases, the power company came out and replaced the faulty parts and restored power, and in the second case, actually upgraded the power infrastructure to respond to the load. 

If this had been a broadband internet outage, it would have taken multiple calls from multiple customers in the neighborhood for the cable monopoly to come out and even look at it, and then it would have just said, "well, you just need to try to run your air conditioner at off-peak times, like, say, January, and then you won't have this problem." And it would have taken days to get the service restored. 

So why should we care about net neutrality?

Net_NeutralityFive reasons.

1. Internet services have become a standard utility for many people. While running water, electricity, and telephones were once considered luxuries, they have become standard utilities in most places in the developed world. Broadband internet services have become so in a very short period of time. 

2. The current business model puts entrepreneurs, small businesses and disruptors at a disadvantage. Pay-to-play increases the cost of doing business. If the cable monopolies get to control who gets pay-to-play deals, they won't be too inclined to write favorable deals with those who could disrupt their own monopoly or control of content. Moreover, it disadvantages the poor, for whom in this generation internet access is like access to telephones a generation or more ago. 

3. Pay-to-play and the so-called "fast lanes" concentrate power in the hands of a few players in a monopoly business with a downright lousy reputation for customer service, with little expression of public responsibility. The cable monopolies see themselves as content providers (with the infrastructure as the means to that end) rather than as infrastructure providers (with the content as a bonus). Since they are founded on a luxury goods model, they are unlikely to change that attitude as they become something everyone not only wants, but needs. When one company controls that much media, it can begin to control how people think, what people say, and to whom, and how they say it. That doesn't sound much like a free society. 

4. Net Neutrality means that what your data's content is doesn't matter, it has the same capacity to reach its destination no matter who you are. If you are in the business of doing something outside of the mega-enterntainment industry, you have a level playing field with the major media companies. Remember how many of the current industry giants were started in dorm rooms and garages - net neutrality allows for that to happen again. 

5. Net neutrality will give room for the next utility battle in telecommunications - mobile broadband - to fall more favorably on the side of the customers and end-users. Mobile broadband is currently the most expensive data that traverses the Internet. And despite popular perception, in most cases, the only part of that data that travels wirelessly is between your mobile device and the cell tower. The rest is over wire, cable, or fiber. (Seriously.) As data needs increase, and as the world becomes more mobile-device dependent, this is probably actually the more significant long-term issue for businesses and personal users of mobile data. Net neutrality will allow the disruptors into the market that will provide the options that drive prices down and quality up. 

So now what?

Even up through a couple of hundred years ago, individuals and companies built roads and bridges, and retained the rights to those roads and bridges, exacting a toll on all who wanted to use them. Eventually, this was seen to stifle commerce, economic development, and the overall movement of goods and services throughout countries. As that happened, governments began assuming the responsibility for roads and bridges. This allowed a lane to be a lane, and for infrastructure to serve everyone, not just those who could afford to pay the tolls. No one is currently suggesting that anyone nationalize the cable and internet infrastructure, but that could be the result if cable monopolies overplay their hand. Selecting a data-neutral option would take a middle path.

Smart organizational leaders care about net neutrality because it affects them and their businesses directly as they attempt to operate in the current marketplace. Whether for-profit or non-profit, entrepreneurial disruptor or longstanding institution, net neutrality will affect how all of us do business now and into the future.


 Learn To Be Stewards of Power

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership

Links for Organizational Leaders - 20 August 2013

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Here are some articles that would be of interest to those in nonprofit leadership and pastoral ministry.

Fights in Family Business: how family dynamics play out in businesses. Churches run by a few families should also take note.

Rethinking Small Church: when small church is working, and when it's a sign of dysfunction.

What would happen if the church tithed? A dramatic look at the depth of potential resources for churches and other charitable organizations.

Who New CEOs Fire First: a study on who gets let go first, and why.

Increasing numbers of twenty-somethings are neither in work nor school. Here is a project attempting to wrestle with those issues. Check out Project Rise here.

Seth Godin's take on recent changes to Permission Marketing. For background on Permission Marketing, check out this page. Marketers, evangelists and, frankly, anyone trying to get their message out should read this, if they haven't already.

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Topics: tithe, church, family business, stewardship, permission marketing, Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership, Design Group International

Steward Leadership: Why Clean Financial Reports are Essential

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Let's face it: setting up and maintaining an accounting system, tracking expenditures and revenues, determining value of assets and basis for taxes - these things don't really seem like a whole lot of fun to many leaders. Nevertheless, clean, up-to-date finanical reports are an essential part of good stewardship.

Why is that?

  • Clean finanical reports reduce waste. If you know how much you are spending, you can give some level of control.
  • Clean financial reports reduce the risk of fraud. If you have people taking a careful look at the books on a regular basis, it's less likely that people with access to your finances can do something nefarious.
  • Clean financial reports are the best way to create projections and plans. Without solid, current numbers, enterprises are flying blind when it comes to estimating where financial growth or pinch-points will be.
  • Clean financial reports are a dose of reality. We leaders can often deceive ourselves into thinking that our organization is doing better or worse than it is. These numbers help to bring reality to bear.
  • Clean financial reports spot problems. Clean reports allow leaders to see small problems and address them before they become significant.
  • Clean financial reports keep you legal. Clean reports make sure that tax payments are made in full (and help with on time, too), and make sure that statutory requirements for organizations are met. Moreover, if legal questions arise as to your organization's or business' use of funds, the reports help to provide backing for what you actually did.

How clean are your reports?

If you would like to find out, we can assist you with a Financial Health Assessment. Click the link below to begin yours today!

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership, budget, Design Group International, steward leadership

Steward Leadership: Combating Anxiety in Declining Organizations

Posted by Matthew Thomas

If the organization you serve is old enough to have had "glory days," and those days aren't now, then you probably serve an organization that has experienced decline (even if it is currently plateaued or growing). 

Decline creates a potent draught of emotions that, among other things, has a strong component of anxiety. Fear for a positive future often sets in when people realize that there aren't as many people as before, isn't as much money as there was in previous budgets, or the building doesn't look quite as fresh as it used to be.

Setting aside for now the denial and blame that often crop up when these things become, for the first time, obvious to the organization, anxiety often rules organizations that see their best days as behind them. They have trouble seeing a positive outcome and future that does not involve loss, pain, and grief.

Anxiety often leads to control mechinisms that move the focus off of mission and onto management. This tends to compound the problem, although it looks like people are taking steps to deal with the situation.

So what can we do?

Here are four options:

  • Acknowledge the anxiety and the reality of what drives it. This allows it to come out in the open, and then people can begin to deal with it. This may involve breaking a few eggshells that people are walking on, so do this with grace.
  • Be decisive. Clear-headed confidence (without hubris or overconfidence) can often bring security to people who are ruffled by anxiety. Dragging out decisions and waffling will increase anxiety.
  • Create a plan. Be strategic, looking for big-picture capacity to change. Don't just solve the immediate problem.
  • Give people something to do. Large or small, when people are working on something, they don't have as much chance to go around in mental circles.

Do you have more ideas? Share them with us. Click the button below!

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Topics: church, Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership, Nonprofit Organization, Design Group International, steward leadership

Organizational Governance: Set Budget Goals, Priorities & Outcomes

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Getting out of the messes of typical budget procedures and protocols for sound organizational management and governance will take some doing. Organizations are notorious for doing things how they have always been done or have been seen to be done in other organizations, and budgets are often subject to some pretty typical politicking.

Instead of fighting over numbers, budgets can become a helpful tool in leading an organization to meet its desired goals, objectives and outcomes.

If the governance arm of the organization (the board of directors, and in some organizations, the membership) can begin the budget conversation before it sees a budget presentation, it can help shape what an approvable budget is, and reduce the drama significantly. That, coupled with adequate delegation to staff and/or volunteers can dramatically improve organizational performance.

Start with what outcomes your organization wants to produce: what will your community look like? Families? Individuals? The country? The world?

Then, set priorities for how much of your organization’s money is spent on each of the outcomes. Along the way, develop values for how your organization will operate in pursuit of those outcomes. Define the compensation for the senior staff person.

Determine where the no-go territory is: for instance, that expenditures not exceed revenues, or that key programs not be cut without a six-month notice.

Finally, define a list of budget boundaries based on what you have developed so far, in “not” language. Delegate this to staff who will develop the full budget based on the criteria. Commit the governing group to measuring the finished product only by whether the budget reasonably fulfilled the criteria. If the criteria need to be refined, refine them and allow the budget to be re-worked without finding fault.

Doing this will help keep your organization thinking to the future financially and move it out of the usual and customary disengagement mixed with micromanagement.

Design Group International consultant Matthew M. Thomas can assist your organization in setting up healthy budgeting. Click the link below to contact Design Group International and get the conversation started!

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership, budget, Design Group International

Organizational Leadership: Why Approve A Budget At All?

Posted by Matthew Thomas

It may sound like an obvious question with an obvious answer – but in many organizations it is not. Many times, organizational boards or memberships approve budgets because they believe they have to, they always have, and they believe they can’t operate without them. Sometimes budget approvals are written into organizational bylaws.

Nevertheless, the process often becomes an odd combination of disengagement and overzealous micromanagement. What can be done?

A budget is a financial plan. Money flows in, money flows out. Like the personal finance expert Dave Ramsey says, a budget “gives your money a name and tells it where to go.”

Clearly, strong organizations have solid financial plans that account for revenues and expenses over a predefined period of time. Thus, setting a budget is an important tool in managing an organization.

However, approvals of budgets as they are often done fix numbers in place for at least a year, when in many cases reality changes more quickly, thus reducing organizations’ agility.

When governing financial plans, organizations need to pay more attention to their goals, priorities and outcomes and whether their solid financial plans measure up against those goals, priorities and outcomes rather than diving into the depths of the numerical data.

In our next post, we will begin to look at how that may be done.

Design Group International consultant Matthew M. Thomas can assist your organization in setting up healthy budgeting. Click the link below to contact Design Group International and get the conversation started!

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership, budget, Design Group International

Organizational Leadership: A Common Budget Approval Scene

Posted by Matthew Thomas

A lot of us have been there – sitting in a meeting (board or membership meeting) that requires a budget approval, and something happens like this:

“Here is the budget that so-and-so worked on. Any questions?”

[silence, more or less everyone busy buried in the report that they may or may not have read to begin with]

[group member, who finds the silence awkward] “Why is this number $____?”

[A brief answer.]


Then, a group member who has a pet project or program begins to question the lack of funding for her project. As the minutes often read, “Vigorous discussion ensues.”

Eventually, the budget passes, more or less as presented, in every minor detail.

We who are budget-y types often set ourselves up for this scenario: reams of numbers, comparisons to last year’s budget and actual, projections based on percentages of last year’s growth or loss, and so on.

Even summary budgets (and really, what budget isn’t a summary unless you really inventory every paper clip and every dust-mite’s worth of toner!) can run into these same problems, since they just make the numbers bigger or smaller in chunks:

  • Overall group disengagement
  • Group members wanting to feel engaged and wanting to sound astute so commenting about trivia after wading about in the rows and columns of figures
  • Squeaky wheel / axe grinder politics
  • Micromanagement of actual expenditures (but of course only after the fact when the report is produced in most settings, or the perpetual approval of even the most mundane, usual and customary expenditures in others)

In most cases, dividing your revenues and expenses into small handfuls of categories simplifies explanation (it’s easier to count and track 5 revenue categories than 120 in a group setting), but doesn’t actually get at the real issue of budget approval: what are we approving of, and why?

In our next post, we will begin to address alternatives to this budget scene. No, it doesn’t have to be this way!

Ready to be done with this kind of budget approval process? Design Group International has consultants available to walk you and your organization through a new way of governing your finances. Click the link below to get the conversation started!

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership, budget, Design Group International

Organizational Leadership: Moving the Goalposts

Posted by Matthew Thomas

(or, Re-expecting After the Fact)

Countless times we have probably seen it: a person or organization declares intent and expectations, actually receives results far and wide of the mark, and promptly sets to the task of justifying the results they actually got against the expectations they had.

  • Sometimes (although more often than we care to admit), this justification takes the form of blame or excuses: “he didn’t do…” or “I wasn’t given the…”
  • Sometimes, the results received were actually equally or more valuable than the expected results.

Nevertheless, a lot of times this re-definition happens because we desperately want not to fail, and not to have failed.

However, this prevents us from learning some key things from the experience:

  • Perhaps our expectations were out of whack to begin with.
  • Perhaps we misjudged the appeal / marketability / buy-in of our product or service.
  • Perhaps we measured the wrong things.

For growth to happen, we have to be intentional when we move the goalposts on ourselves like this: sometimes it may be appropriate, but we have to make sure we are clear that we are doing it – otherwise we will find ourselves stuck and unable to figure out why.

Design Group International has consultants available to help your organization get un-stuck, define and measure good goals. Click on the link below to get the conversation started.

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership, Goal-Setting, Design Group International

Organizational Leadership: Setting Expectations when Innovating

Posted by Matthew Thomas

It’s often hard to know what to expect when you are trying something new. Particularly when a group is planning something new or innovative – or even just something the group has never tried before – it can be hard to know what you can reasonably hope to achieve in the first attempt.

Nevertheless, it is important to have some goal in mind. Here are some ways of doing that:

  • Provide ways of differentiating dream goals from real expectations.
  • Determine measurements you may want to take along the way that could provide you with after-the-fact analytical information.
  • Define what actions you intend to take (and measure whether you do or not).
  • Define responsibility clearly.

If you do these things, you will provide yourself with reasonable expectations. Once you actually see the results, you can measure whether the efforts and costs were worth the results you got. Moreover, you will gain new insight as to what your expectations can be next time around.

Design Group International has consultants available to coach you and your group through healthy goal-setting processes. Click the link below to begin the conversation as to how we might work together!

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership, Goal-Setting, Design Group International

Getting Results in Organizational Leadership: Measurement of Success

Posted by Matthew Thomas

In their recent paper, “Wheel Forward or Spiral Downward,” Design Group International’s Mark L. Vincent and Stezala Consulting’s Kim Stezala discuss how measuring results (or success and failure) in an organization is one of the most difficult things to do – and how it drastically affects the results and outcomes we generate and receive. 

Nowhere is this more true than in many outreach initiatives developed by local governments, non-profits, churches and faith-based organizations. Often, the organization in question decides to do some sort of outreach – whether just for the common good, or to grow their organization’s reach / membership, or some combination of the two. However, organizations often do these things without a clear sense of what the expected results should be. Or, they expect such results as to make anything that happens in reality a sad shadow of the pictures painted in their minds.

At that point, a great re-measurement begins: usually, it becomes a matter of if whatever happened (or didn’t happen) was acceptable to the group, not a matter of measuring what actually happened. Unclear, vague measurements based on dreams and desires (not really based in experience or understanding) at the outset often then give way to results measured by “if we liked it, or if we are ok with it, or if we are resigned to it,” rather than a matchup of effort to outcome. In many ways, this is a denial of failure. Nevertheless, only when we can declare failure when it happens can we also find true success when it happens.

Read the whitepaper, Wheel Forward or Spiral Downward, by clicking the link below!

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership, Results, executive coaching, strategic planning, Design Group International