From the Founder


Addition by Subtraction: When Less is More

By: Ivan Misner, Ph.D
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    From the Founder

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    Ivan Misner, Ph.D

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Featuring guest co-author Elisabeth Misner

[This article is about “tough love” in a chapter.  We have seen this work for decades.  Trust in the process and have an open mind to the concept.  It really works.]

(Ivan) I was chatting with a member of a local chapter and asked her how things were going with the group..  “Great!” she exclaimed.  “We’re up to 35 members now!   However, we’re getting about 25 members each week to the meetings.” 

Warning, warning!!   It is important to know that things are not “great” if a group has over 25% of the members missing the meetings every week!  Believe it or not, it is time for some pruning.

(Beth) Pruning is always a scary thing for me, but I know with roses, it is a necessity.  I am usually amazed as I cut away branches, leaving only four or five bare canes from which next year’s growth will emerge.  It seems counterintuitive, but it is a fact that the more you prune away, the fuller and healthier the new growth will be in the spring.

Pruning is my chance to reshape the rose bush, selecting which canes to leave and which ones have served their purpose and are ready to go.  If the plant needs to be opened up in the middle, so sunlight can reach the other leaves, or if there are canes which have begun to cross one another, this is the time to rectify that situation in order to make a huge impact on next year’s yield.

(Ivan) Chapter growth is a lot like that rose bush.  There comes a time when you have to exercise “tough love” with members who are not showing up to the group regularly.

We know a chapter president who inherited a chapter that looked healthy on paper, but when you went to their meetings, you could instantly see that things were not well.  There was infighting, bad business being passed to members and lots of complaining.  Thankfully, she and the Membership Committee understood the concept of addition by subtraction and they set about to “prune” the membership roster and develop a strong, healthy, large chapter.

In the management book, Design by business guru Tom Peters, he writes about entrepreneur, Charles Wang who says “If a project team is behind schedule, what do you do – double assets (people)?  No, no, no.  You do the opposite.  You identify the least productive 25% of the folks on that team… and eliminate them!  Wang Rule: No job being done sloppily and slowly by 30 people can’t be done better by the best 23 of those people.”

OK, the Wang Rule sounds pretty blunt; however, look past the bluntness of the message and consider the potential impact of the idea.  This is a good analysis of why addition by subtraction works when developing a strong and healthy BNI chapter.  The members who are not fully behind the success of the chapter make a huge and positive impact on the health of the chapter by leaving.  But this seems hard to do for most groups.  Why is that?

You see, one of the strengths of BNI is that everyone becomes such good friends.  I’ve often said that one of the weaknesses of BNI is that everyone becomes such good friends!  It is difficult to hold friends accountable or to (gasp) open his or her classification; however, there comes a time when the greater good of the chapter has to be considered.

What if you have a membership committee who realizes that there are 4 or 5 members who really qualify for having their classification opened: they have missed over the maximum allowable absences, they have more than one complaint filed against them, etc…but the chapter fears that if they drop 5 members overnight, the morale of the chapter will suffer and it will be a huge struggle to make up for the loss of those 5 members?  I hope that this membership committee can take an honest look at the situation and see that the drag on the chapter, the negative energy being expended on these individuals, is keeping the entire chapter from being what a chapter of 5 less members with none of this negativity would actually be!

(Beth) When I’m tending my roses, I sometimes have to cut blooms away that are fading.  They have sent up beautiful shoots with big buds, the buds have opened all the way and now the cycle is going the other way. The flowers are dying, yet the plant is still sending nourishment to those dying roses.  It draws away from the energy it can be sending to the new buds.  Cutting away blooms that are expended is the way to maintain healthy blooms on the whole plant.  In other words – “addition by subtraction”.

(Ivan) Remember our friend who inherited the chapter that looked healthy on paper?  They cut back to about a dozen core members and rebuilt from there.  They are now over 30 strong, dedicated and supportive members.  They have successfully seen their chapter go through this pruning phase and well into next season’s growth.  It took a 6-month period, but it was well worth the effort.  This new chapter filled with the right members will be a success for years to come, all because they were willing to look down the road and prune where necessary.

We have both experienced this personally time and time again over the last three decades in BNI.  Cutting back can be scary and we don’t deny that, but the growth your chapter will see as a result of being able to maintain the BNI system and have an appropriate level of accountability, will be well worth biting the bullet and doing the pruning that needs to be done.  Your Director has been trained in how to do this effectively and has probably guided other chapters through this process.  If you see this kind of challenge developing in your group, we urge you to consult him or her and then set a positive course of action.

Why accept mediocrity, when excellence is an option.  Excellence is an option in BNI.  Strive for that and you will have a great group.