Networking Tips

Leadership Teams – Do You Understand Your Chapter’s Lifecycle?

Submitted by Sara Minnis, BNI Fast Track, del Fuego Companies

Welcome to the first article in our ongoing Leadership Team Series!

As all good leaders learn along the way, “Knowledge is Power.” And you don’t have to be a Boy Scout to agree with their motto, “Be Prepared.” So it stands to reason that as the leader of your BNI troop, it’s important to understand where you are on the Chapter Lifecycle, and how it may impact your term.

The first step in great leadership is to truly understand the structure and character of the team you are leading, and the Chapter Lifecycle helps you do just that. Different types of teams will require different approaches and timelines in order to achieve the same outcome. And in BNI, we can all can agree that the result we want is chapter growth, lots of referrals, and business success for everyone!

We’ve learned through many years of coaching chapters that there are three different stages in the BNI Lifecycle of Chapter Culture. Moreover, we’ve observed that Leadership Teams who truly understand where their chapter is on the curve are in a much better position to develop winning strategies which help their chapter succeed.

Take a look at the graph below, and think about where you would place your chapter. Then read on for specific information and strategies we recommend for Leadership Teams in each stage.

The BNI Build & Grow Chapter

This chapter is often younger (up to 3 years or so in age), and is doing everything the BNI way! One-to-Ones, meeting structure, inviting, growing… and there is excitement, fun, and lots of positive energy in the room. You definitely know if you are in this kind of chapter.

The challenge at this stage is to continue the momentum and nurture the thriving culture, as your chapter members practice the behaviors that consistently encourage positive growth and results. The one accomplishment that your term can focus on is exactly how you plan to maintain the success. What we know is that these three areas are always important:

  1. Clear Goals. Why? Because we all do more when our target is specific and clear. Without it, how do we know where to aim? It helps us to focus our activities and our energy. Without goals, a chapter moving forward at this stage can begin to scatter and experience a loss in both momentum and membership.
  2. A Culture of Learning. Chapters that value and provide consistent education for members experience several benefits. First, their members are excited and empowered, because they’re actually learning how to get good at referral marketing, and specifically how to build referral relationships in the chapter. Additionally, the concepts in this type of education can often be applied to members’ businesses directly, therefore extending the value of their BNI membership. Plus, learning together is a team building activity. And as if that’s not enough, we find that education and training become a big selling point for visitors. They say, “I can see the potential this group has for my business, and they’ll teach me exactly how to reap those benefits? Where do I sign up?!
  3. Chapters in this stage are still learning how to do BNI. And we consider that a positive! While everyone is open and willing to study the BNI playbook together, it’s the perfect time to institute best practices and build the habits that will make your team successful. Believe us… introducing accountability later in the game can be much more challenging! We have seen time after time that establishing the good behaviors of BNI in the Build and Grow phase pays huge dividends as your chapter continues to mature.

If you’d like to hear a chapter at this stage in action, click here to listen to our Fast Track Friday Call with The A Team.

The BNI Plus (Disneyland) Chapter

The BNI Plus chapter is like Disneyland to both members and visitors – the whole shebang is functioning perfectly, the energy is fantastic, and everything’s in tip-top shape! In our experience, chapters in this stage are somewhere from 4 to 19 years old. (Yes, we’ve worked with chapters that “old” who are still thriving in a big way!)

The key to this type of chapter is that it’s stable. Other hallmarks include a vibrant culture, friendly energy, consistent inviting habits, members making money, and low attrition rates. Basically in this type of chapter, it’s “All Good!

So, if you’re thinking of being on the Leadership Team for this kind of chapter, consider this statement and make your plans accordingly: “It’s one thing to get to the top of the mountain, but it’s a whole other thing to stay there!

What does that really mean? For most of us, it means that the “thrill” of getting to the top and being successful starts to fade a bit once we’ve achieved the objective. When we reach our goals, we start to celebrate, as we should! We start to feel like we’ve mastered all the methods that helped us get there. So we do a little less learning, a little less striving. This type of slow-down is natural and appropriate for a time, but if we’re not careful we actually become so comfortable that we stop doing the activities that got us to the top in the first place. And then the dreaded backslide begins.

If we want to stay at the top of the mountain, we need a new set of tools, strategies, and benchmarks created specifically for our revised objective. And the same applies to BNI chapters in the Disneyland stage. New goals are especially important to help to raise the bar, reset momentum, and encourage the continuation of the activities and behaviors that led to success.

In our experience, seasoned and successful members can really benefit from a review of the BNI Fundamentals, and a reminder of the concrete elements that make BNI work so effectively. Haven’t you found that if you read a book or watch a movie more than once, you pick up things that you didn’t “catch” the first time around? Well the same is true for learning the basics of BNI. One of our favorite things to hear, especially from long-term, veteran BNI members is, “I’d forgotten that piece”… or “I understand this so much better now… this time it really clicked!

Looking for more strategies for the BNI Plus chapter? Here are two more quick suggestions:

  1. Sometimes a focus on 2 or 3 new referral partners, instead of the easy or comfortable ones, can be helpful for injecting energy and drumming up new business.
  2. Concentrating on referral feedback, that is, what’s really happening once referrals are passed, can deliver a big boost to better quality referrals.

The key to all of this is helping the chapter understand why any of the above are necessary. Most people don’t think about doing anything when the “Livin’ is Easy.” Helping your members see that continual effort at achievement is the way to stay at the top helps them remain motivated and engaged.

One more tip — this chapter thrives on leadership with Attitude, Attitude, Attitude. Think of this as your All-Star Team, needing to stay on point and practice new plays for next season!

Listen to a BNI Disneyland chapter for yourself – click here for our Fast Track Friday call with BNI Premier.

The BNI Lite Chapter

This is a chapter where membership is low, the chapter has a high attrition rate, and members are struggling to invite visitors. Many of the wonderful BNI components aren’t effective, because the low number of members keep what’s needed in referrals from being possible.

Surprisingly, this stage can occur at any chapter age. Even in year one, if the chapter struggled at launch and never got any traction or momentum. Then it just becomes a weekly struggle. Very successful chapters can also reach this stage – even after BNI Disneyland – if they rested in a loooong comfort zone and then “suddenly” (not really) lost many members. The roads to BNI Lite may vary, but the needs for a chapter in this stage are the same. It’s time to re-invigorate, re-commit and grow.

If you are on the Leadership Team in this kind of chapter, it is critical to get everyone on the same page as soon as possible, and present a specific plan for improvement that involves all members. Often a BNI Lite chapter has some accountability issues, so tightening those up immediately is essential. Why? Because in this type of group where members are being asked to put in extra effort to develop the chapter, everyone feels more comfortable when a firm structure is in place and the same rules apply to everyone.

One of the big keys to success with a chapter at this stage is to not be overwhelmed by attempting to do everything at once. A few specific goals that are easily achievable work best. We all do better when we can achieve the goal we set, rather than face another little defeat.

Here’s a great example of this in terms of chapter growth. If a chapter is at 13 or 14 members after sudden attrition, setting a goal to grow to 30 is usually overwhelming for members. That’s because in most cases it would involve getting at least 75+ qualified visitors to the chapter meeting, and that would mean inviting 350-400 people. That’s about 30 people per member… which is so much more than we think we can do, so our insides just quit. It’s much better, for example, to aim for growing to 20 members in 6 to 8 weeks. Then take a little breather for 3 weeks or so, to let the new members get their feet under them, and then do another little surge. Smaller, achievable goals for member growth are really helpful at this stage.

Our other tips for chapters in BNI Lite include continuing education on the BNI Basics, with the members focused on really understanding their revenue and referral goals. This will help them get motivated to actually want a bigger chapter, because they’ll see how that can impact their individual goals.

We also see that really reinforcing one-to-one’s and referrals has a significant impact. This can again be achieved with smaller, attainable goals. Need some examples of basic goals that don’t overwhelm? How about 1 One-to-One with another member per week, and 1 referral per week? When we ask BNI Lite chapters to undertake these minimum goals, it’s a big step toward creating accountability in the chapter, as most members have stopped doing the basics that actually make BNI work!

The key to achievement is being responsible for the activities that lead to results. Focusing on results only, without a plan of action, can be demoralizing. If your members don’t know what they need to DO to meet the chapter’s goals, and there’s nothing in place to support their efforts and help them practice the behaviors they need to get there, they are much more likely to get discouraged or even give up.

Believe it or not, it is actually very exciting to be on the Leadership Team for this type of chapter! You have a huge opportunity to make your mark on the group. If you can achieve buy-in from everyone, introduce a proven strategy, and build a business-focused group poised for success – then you are not only making a difference for the group, but also mastering a new level of leadership skills which you can utilize in your business and your life.

We have many stories of chapters who struggled in the BNI Lite stage, until a small team of leaders formed and executed a plan with vision, commitment, and determination! As Larry the Cable Guy would say, “Get ‘er done!

For one great story with a chapter going from BNI Lite back to BNI Plus, click here to listen to our Fast Track Friday call with Masters of Business.

The BNI Lifecycle is a powerful tool for Leadership Teams to assess and manage their chapters. We often use the Chapter Culture Curve as we coach teams who want more out of BNI. If you’d like to talk more about your team specifically and how we’d recommend using this tool for success, contact us – we love talking with Leadership Teams and we’d be glad to set aside some time for you.

Once you know where you are in the Chapter Lifecycle, you can understand how powerful a system like BNI Fast Track can be for your chapter. With education and training in the BNI Basics, getting everyone on the same page, goal-setting, and action-based team practice week after week, it’s a proven way to turn your chapter into a money-making business team. We’ll look more closely at how Fast Track impacts chapters later in the Leadership Team Series.



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