Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘organizational development’

What is your organization’s theory of change? What is the path to your goal?

In Community Strategy, Leadership, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on July 21, 2018 at 8:04 am

I have had multiple conversations over the last couple of weeks about how to get there from here. Of course, that all depends on where you want to go AND on how you want to get there. The path matters and you need both. Similar to getting anywhere, there are multiple paths. Say you wanted to go to Chicago – you could fly, drive, bike, walk or take the train. What’s the best way forward, for you, your community, program or organization?

In the nonprofit world, your theory of change is the path to your goal. What is the desired goal? What path will get you to it? Strategy is the selected theory of change; it’s the high-level plan to meet a goal. Anne E Casey defines it in their manual, which if you haven’t read I highly recommend: “A theory of change (TOC) outlines how to create that change. It is an essential part of a successful community transformation effort. This manual, created for the Casey Foundation’s Making Connections initiative, defines theory of change using Casey’s impact, influence and leverage platform, and shows community advocates how to create their own TOC by showing the relationships between outcomes, assumptions, strategies and results.”

It’s useful at the community level and also at the organizational or even program level. It really comes down to this: What’s the goal? What strategy will you use to get there? How will you know when you do?

What if you wanted to address high school dropout rates?

You could work at the program level: You could talk to kids who graduated and find out what made them successful. You could talk to kids who dropped out and found out why they dropped out. You could shore up, revise, introduce or improve supportive programs in kindergarten, 3rd grade, 6th. and 8th. You could look at early education programs and their impact on HS success.  You could research wrap- around programs.

You could work at the community level:  You could gather school principals and district executives, youth development leaders, funders, and government officials together and agree to coordinate efforts. You could set a community theory of change, sub goals to get there, and team leaders over the sub-goals to make sure you do.  Each group can coordinate their efforts toward the goal and the funders can align grants to provide incentive.

You could work at the policy level:  You could revise academic curricula to ensure every kid is engaged.  You could address suspension rates. You could address discipline, both the way its meted out and by whom.

You could also work to change the law. We allow students to drop out at 16. We don’t have to do that. Sure, it will create a whole host of other issues if we do, but we can – we have power and choices.

The theory of change model is useful for improving process too.

This morning I was on a coaching call – shout out to you, Ken – and we were talking about increasing individual giving. What can you do you increase individual giving? You could ask (or ask more) people for money. You could assess your current practices.  You could steward your current donors better. You could look for new donors. You could move up the lower level donors you have into middle donors. You could engage the middle donors you have into larger donors. You could prospect for more donors. You could say thank you more or engage people better.  You could engage your Board and your team to create a culture of philanthropy.

Each option is a strategy to get to the goal. What’s the goal? How are you going to get there?

In the nonprofit world, the theory of change is usually implemented via a strategic plan, but it doesn’t have to be.  What is does have to be is agreed to by whomever will be working to move it forward, with sub-goals, strategies for each, metrics so you know you get there, assignments and due dates.  Strategy that can’t be assessed is a wish and as the Heath brothers so eloquently put it “hope is not a strategy.”

Where do you start?  You start wherever you are. Get all the people together who are working towards or are impacted by the issue (yes those impacted too- don’t do for people without people), start mapping, talking, wishing and planning. Social Justice is the concerted effort of a group of people to affect change.

You can spend your days putting out fires. You can spend your days addressing the end result of injustice or you can gather your fellow activists, funders, donors, leaders and fight for justice.

What social justice issue are you trying to address and at what level? Have you had the opportunity to set a strategy to reach a goal? What’s your experience setting theories of change?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

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Wishes for 2016 for the Nonprofit Field

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on December 31, 2015 at 12:49 pm

If you’ve been reading for a while – and if you have, thank you – you know that there are a few things that I find continually, unnecessarily, and routinely crazy making. As such, here are my wishes for our field for this New Year, in the hopes that next year, we can stop doing this stuff and dedicate more time to moving forward our missions and improving our communities.

  1. I wish people would have higher expectations of us. There is an underlying sentiment, usually accompanied by a shrug, of “It’s just a nonprofit.” “Just nonprofits” serve the most disadvantaged among us. I wish, want and need the community to have higher expectations. Not silly jump through hoops expectations that make us crazy but don’t make us stronger. I want real and serious high expectations that our leaders will rise to meet and our field will be stronger for their doing so.
  1. I wish people would stop professing that businesses are better run. Jim Collins said “Social sector leaders are not less decisive than business leaders; they only appear that way to those who fail to grasp the complex governance and diffuse power structure.” In a business the leader can make a unilateral decision and everyone gets in line. Nonprofit leaders don’t have that luxury. In the nonprofit world we have to create buy in and take our Boards, senior staff and sometimes funders along with us on our journey toward greatness. As such, it’s harder. Please, the next time you find yourself about to tell a nonprofit leader why businesses are better run, resist the temptation and remember: different isn’t necessarily better and, more accurately, it’s likely not true.
  1. I wish agencies would spend more time and resources developing their people and their organizations. It’s critical to address our communities’ issues, yet it’s much easier when you have the right people in the right jobs with the right infrastructure, and the right plans under the right leadership. Imagine what you could accomplish if you had clear goals. Imagine if you had Human Resource systems that supported your organizational values, which were set in your strategic plan and are upheld at every level of your organization. Imagine if that plan was supported by a Board Development plan, another plan for raising contributed income and one for developing each member of your team, all of which is coupled with excellent operational policies and processes that protect your agency, serve your clients and impact your community. The combination of each will help you accomplish your true potential. The absence of most or all may mean you’re not only not meeting that potential you may be hurting the people you exist to help.
  1. I wish the people that start a new organization would learn everything they need to know about running one, before they introduce it. I wish they would learn the law as it pertains to their agency, our field and the requirements of both. I wish they would learn everything they can about the issue they hope to impact, the community and its leaders. I wish they would learn how to build a board and attract and keep donors and staff. We all learn as we go, yet and still, I wish the founders of new nonprofits would learn enough to start strong.
  1. I wish each nonprofit executive could see the benefits of collaboration and also the cost of territorialism. If my goal is to make our communities stronger – and it is – then you not sharing information or best practices is at cross purposes with that goal. Now your goal may not be aligned with my goal, but it should be, because your mission certainly is. I believe any process that is in conflict with our goal is a bad process. I once modeled in a vintage fashion show for the local Goodwill. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who said to me some version of “Why are you helping another agency?!” I also routinely took (and still take) phone calls from the leadership of sister agencies who needed capacity building assistance and other leaders took my calls when I needed it. My agency will be stronger when yours is stronger, and we, together, will be that much closer to impacting our collective issues. The opposite is also true, if I only serve to move forward my agency, I am negatively impacting the field I purport to serve.

This list is just a start. I have many more aspirations for our field and the important work we each do to make our world a better place. If we were more strategic, if our goals were better formulated and our systems were better developed, our field would be stronger, and in turn, our communities and our world would be as well.

I believe that anytime you present a problem it is also imperative to present a solution. Since every New Year provides the opportunity to make resolutions, I resolve to continue to work to make our field stronger. I will also – and this is new for me and has the added benefit of making my husband happy to no longer have to listen to how much I miss social justice work – stop turning down interviews and consider going back in the field so I can practice what I have been preaching. Until then (then being defined as the perfect job for me), I will continue to speak, write, teach, train and coach and join with colleagues around the nation and the world to make our field stronger and our reach farther.

What are your wishes for our field and also your resolutions to make them happen? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

For My Executive Director Friends: Three More Things to Stop Doing

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on October 11, 2015 at 10:53 am

As I mentioned in my original post, the fascinating thing about being a consultant and people paying you to make recommendations is that they generally listen to your suggestions. They don’t always implement them but they at least consider them. Friends, on the other hand, call when they’re trying to figure things out, but do they listen? Not so much!

As such, for my many friends who serve in executive leadership roles in nonprofits, here are a few more things that you should stop doing. I hope that in doing so you will find the role more rewarding and also less frustrating.

  1. Postponing your own paycheck

Just to be crystal clear, I’m not talking about unpaid executive directors. I’m talking about executive directors who usually get paid but are not paying themselves this week (or possibly this month or this quarter). I totally understand how it seems reasonable to you to pay your team but not pay yourself. I get that there isn’t enough money in the bank. I get that it’s a cash flow issue. I get that it feels like the right thing to do, but it’s not.

I have been in the room when Board members are told that their execs have made this choice and they are, for the most part, not generally amused. They do not feel it’s honorable. They do not feel it’s noble. They think it’s nuts, dangerous for the agency and a liability for them. And they’re right.

If you truly do not have the cash to pay yourself, work with your Board to come up with a plan. Do not make the decision on your own to forgo your own paycheck in the hopes of saving your agency. It’s not fair or reasonable for your family. It’s outside the bounds of the labor laws. It’s also not your decision to make.

This is an issue to take to your Board. Don’t spring it on them at the last minute. And do not feel like it’s all on you. Nonprofits are run on a shared leadership model. Share the information and work with your Board to come up with a solution.

  1. Personally guarantee anything

You should not personally guarantee a loan for your agency. You should not personally secure an agency credit card, a line of credit or put anything you own up as collateral. You lead but do not own your agency.

This is not your company. Even if it was, companies put systems in place to protect their owners. This is your baby and it is your responsibility but not yours alone. You report to a Board and that Board can – and likely will -make a decision with which you don’t agree. You could quit or get fired tomorrow. If either of those eventualities occur, you will be still be liable for whatever you personally guaranteed.

Don’t do it. Work with your Board and your lending institution to find a solution to secure the resources you need.

  1. Owning the Work of the Board

If you are frustrated with your board, the answer may be looking back at you in the mirror. If they aren’t doing what you want, it may be because you’re doing it. Stop.

The work of the board gets done by committees. If you do not have committees, I encourage you to work to introduce them. Please click over to read Board Work via Board Committees.

In the absence of committees or even in the presence of them, you may still be doing their job. The easiest way to tell if you are is to consider who speaks the most at Board meetings. If it’s you, there’s your answer. Yes, I can hear you yelling at me through your computer but it’s still true.

If they don’t do it and you do, you’ll keep doing it. You have to give it back.

How? By saying to each committee chair “I just learned that the Chairs of each committee should be leading the committee meetings and giving the committee reports at Board meetings. Would you be willing to do so? I’m happy to sit with you prior to the meeting and go over the report and help brainstorm the answers to expected questions.” “Oh, you don’t want to or won’t be there?”

Yes I know this is where you step into the breach. Resist.

“Ok, who should we ask to report instead?”

You can set committee chairs up to succeed. You can call and ask them to set a committee meeting. You can even suggest times, dates and write the agenda. You can send out the invitations. You can prep them to chair the meeting. You can whisper in their ear during the meeting and even type up the minutes afterward. But you can’t lead the committee meeting or report out on it at the board meeting.

If you have tried and failed to give back the work of the committee to its chair, you then can go to the Board Chair and/or the other Officers and ask for advice. Like this “Committee X hasn’t been meeting and /or seems to be having a hard time achieving their goals. Would you mind checking in with them and nudging them along?” “Oh, you have and nothing has changed? How would you like to handle that?”

While it is your Board to help develop, it’s not your Board to run or to manage. It’s not your committee and it’s not your meeting. It’s a Board meeting. The Board members should be talking; you should be there to listen, answer questions, present your report, and offer recommendations, support and guidance. You should not be the person in the room talking the most. If you are, they are not. We want them to lead. That may mean you have to let them.

Set your board members up to succeed and they will help you lead your agency to heights you can’t even imagine today. Your agency will be stronger for it. As an added bonus, you’ll be less frustrated.

The CEO role is gratifying and it’s inspiring. It’s also hard and it’s lonely. Sometimes we make it harder than it needs to be. Stopping the above practices can make your difficult job not only a little less difficult, but also a little more rewarding.

What advice do you give your friends in leadership roles? What else would you add to my list? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Agreements, Vibrancy and Abundance

In Leadership, Organizational Development on September 13, 2014 at 8:28 am

Many nonprofits operate on a model of scarcity. There’s often not enough money, staff or stuff and many decisions get made through the lens of cost.

What if there was another way?

Maureen Metcalf, leadership guru and author of the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and workbook series, which includes our book the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives, recently invited me to a Vibrancy Workshop facilitated by Jim Ritchie-Dunham from the Institute for Strategic Clarity. Maureen only invites me to transformational trainings so I was delighted to accept!

Jim started out talking about environments that are difficult, which the group defined as situations in which we don’t feel valued, in workplaces that don’t allow us to be our full selves, working for or with people that don’t allow us to thrive, or even think for ourselves. He contrasted (I just had a flash back to my HS English class) that with environments that do; workplaces where we’re excited to be, doing work that we find meaningful, surrounded by people who value our input.

How do you feel when thinking about those two environments?

Put your hands out. Using your hands as a scale, I want you to consider your left hand the difficult situations and your right hands to be the supportive environments. Raise the hand that reflects how you spend much of your time.

Is your left hand higher than your right? Jim would tell you that is because of agreements you, consciously or unconsciously, made. If you change the agreements, you change the experience, which changes the outcome.

I can hear you out there shaking your head and saying, “I didn’t agree to that.” Some of us agree with our feet, which stay firmly planted where they are, despite our unhappiness. Some of us agree with our words. Some of us with our work, that is disengaged and below what we could do if we were made to feel valued. And some of us take our marbles and find another, more vibrant place to be.

Jim said that places in which we can thrive and people with whom we do thrive are described in words of light: Vibrant. Brilliant. Sunny.

Lack of Vibrancy is the price of not bringing out the best in everyone. When we do that, everyone loses. Vibrant is a long way away from the situation you were thinking about when you raised your left hand. How do we get to vibrant from darkness?

First question: Is the situation you’re in what you believe is the best situation for you?

No?

What does the next level look like?

First stop: find people and situations that are positive deviants, which means exactly what you think: people who are succeeding (positive) despite not following the rules (deviants).

None of us want to be average, right? We know someone in some organization somewhere who is breaking all the rules and, somehow, still excelling at everything they do.

Jim then said something that I loved. He said if you can see it – figuratively or actually – you can become it. You have to step into the potential.

Abundance is the idea that if they can, you can, and we all can. It’s creative collaboration. Change the agreement; change the experience; change the outcome.

Life doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. I don’t have to lose for you to win. You’re not competing against me, anyway. You’re competing against yourself, or you should be.

We are all responsible for our own work. If we agree to that, hold people to those agreements and set up our organizations accordingly, we would be vibrant and our organizations and our world would be abundant!

Have you embraced vibrancy and the theory of abundance? Can you share your experience? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Creating a New Nonprofit

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on April 16, 2014 at 10:49 am

I have two clients right now who are looking to create a new nonprofit, and you know two is my magic number for questions and ideas that generate a blog post. As such, let’s talk about creating a nonprofit, which for our purposes today will mean a 501 (c) 3, as opposed to other nonprofits that are not charitable institutions. For more information on that, please see All Nonprofits Are Not Charities.

Before we get in too deep, and on behalf of the people I can hear out there yelling at their computer that the world does not need any more nonprofits, if you haven’t already committed to this path, please click over to read Before You Start A New Nonprofit. There may be options that you have not considered.

If you’re still reading, I will assume that you have done your homework and have concluded that creating a new agency is the way to go. Thank you for wanting to impact your corner of the world and the issues about which you are passionate.

The vast majority of time you will spend at the beginning of the launch is on board development.

Strong boards beget strong agencies. You (and your board once it’s built) will have to set the mission and vision for the organization, create a plan, build the profile, the program and lots of other things to introduce your new agency to your community.

The first official step to create a nonprofit is to hire a lawyer and have the proper paperwork filed. You can file it yourself but I wouldn’t. There are lots of things that I’m willing to figure out (and sometimes learn the hard way), but legal and accounting issues are not usually among them. Once you have filed, usually with both your state and the IRS, you may also need to register as a charity, depending on the state and city in which you will operate.

Make sure that your lawyer has expertise in nonprofit law. If they don’t and you still want to use them, find someone who has that expertise. It can be a consultant, an executive director, or someone who has previously started an agency. Sometimes, lawyers, especially those who are not experts in the nonprofit field, create very basic by-laws, and that won’t be enough. I recommend you start with 12-18 members, not the three that usually get listed on initial by-laws. Three people aren’t enough to get where you want to go. If 12 seems daunting, and you really truly only have 3 people initially, write it as 3-18.

I recommend three-year terms for board members. Try to stagger the terms so that everyone doesn’t roll off at once. It is considered a best practice, by many, to have term limits, usually two or three terms for a total of six to nine years. At that point, really dedicated board members may roll off for a year and then be reappointed.  This is not a best practice I usually advocate.  It’s necessary if you have a board that is conflict adverse. If you have a board that’s willing to address issues and thank people when they’re no longer effective or engaged, you won’t need to say goodbye, even for a year, to effective board members.

I recommend one year terms for officers, renewable once. That may not feel like long enough for the founder and if that’s the case, write the by-laws for longer terms with the understanding that in the future you will revise the by-laws and back down the officer terms. It is not good for an agency to have long term officers. New blood and new ideas are needed on the board to continue to move the organization forward.

Finally, I recommend you create at least three committees: a board development committee to create, perpetuate and educate the board; a finance committee to make sure that the organization is spending its resources in accordance with GAAP standards and appropriately protecting the community’s investment; and a resource development committee to encourage the board and the community to invest in your agency’s mission. For more information on committees, please click here. The committees, once appointed, need to set and meet goals including building, training and annually evaluating the board (and the executive if you have one), personally giving, raising money from others and stewarding the money that is raised.

Once the board is built – at least the first time around – you can move on to other things. As you will find out if you haven’t already learned, board development is an on-going process in any nonprofit agency that never quite ends, but for our purposes, let’s say we’re happy with our initial board.

The next step is mission, vision and strategic (then tactical) planning. I can hear some of you thinking that we should have planned first, but planning requires the right people at the table so while it may look like a chicken and egg scenario, it’s not. You need the right board to create the right plan.

One of the keys responsibilities of a board is to set the mission, vision and strategic direction. The mission answers why the agency exists. The vision answers where the agency aspires to be at a future point in time. The plan lays out the path to get there. Once you have the strategic plan, you will also need a tactical plan to operationalize the work.

Part of the plan, especially at the beginning, will be the program and its potential to impact the community you aspire to serve. Please include that community in your planning efforts.  Also consider the staffing needed to create, introduce, offer and evaluate whatever services you plan to provide.

Finally, create a plan to introduce your agency and its program to the community, including partner agencies, potential funders and donors. This again may seem like a chicken and egg scenario but you will need to have a program plan before you can talk to people about your aspirations. They can’t buy in, if you can’t paint the picture.

Starting a new nonprofit is exciting, and daunting. Like anything else in the nonprofit world, a good board and a well thought-out plan can get you pretty far.

Have you started a new nonprofit? Can you share your experiences? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Raising our Collective Standards

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on January 20, 2014 at 9:02 am

The low expectations we have of each other never cease to amaze and disappoint me. For the second time in 6 months I have read a piece on giving stipends to the poor and the (shocking?!?) benefits to the family. Why would poor people make any worse decisions on how to spend their money than anyone else?  It further reinforced the thought I’ve returned to again and again in the past few weeks – our expectations and our standards are too low.

I had a board chair that always used to say “kids will raise themselves to your expectations or lower themselves to your suspicions.”  I have come to believe two points: that doesn’t apply only to kids and that we need higher expectations.

If we as non profit leaders serve to change the world, and I believe we do (If you don’t, perhaps there is a better suited role for you elsewhere) then it seems to me that we need to roll that intent down through everything we do. As of today, we are not. There are a small amount of great agencies out there doing great work. More often there are agencies that are great at one thing, and mediocre at others. So perhaps the program is strong but the board is weak. Or the grant writing is strong, but the books are un-auditable. Or the executive is well trained but the staff is not. It happens all the time in every community, yet we all know that when any non profit anywhere does something unethical, illegal or inappropriate we are all painted with that same brush.

I know that everything gets graded on a bell curve and that means our agencies do as well. Yet, I don’t accept the premise that that’s as good as it’s going to get and I have to learn to live with it. I want more, and I especially want more from the agencies that are serving the most disadvantaged among us.

If we want people to raise themselves to our expectations – and I do – then we have to have higher expectations! Those should include expecting:

  • our executives to be strong leaders
  • our staff to provide great services
  • our boards to uphold their governance responsibilities
  • our clients to achieve whatever plan they have agreed to achieve
  • our partner agencies to be ethical and impactful
  • our communities to understand how non profits work, hold us accountable and help us thrive.

We teach people how to treat us. If that’s true, we as a field have taught people to treat us poorly. We have accepted agencies doing work that is not impactful. We have allowed staff members to remain even as we are clear they are not moving our teams or our missions forward. We have created boards that do little more than rubber stamp the executive’s ideas. We have not challenged often and blatantly enough the ridiculous idea that poor people are poor because of the decisions they made, rather than of policies and circumstances we as a society either made or allow. We have failed to demonstrate that prevention is a million times better and less expensive than the alternative. We have accepted mediocrity or worse, let it flourish.

There’s an idea referred to as Exit, Voice and Loyalty, which is not exactly an accurate reflection of a book by the same name. The premise of the idea (again, not precisely the book) is that there are three options when responding to something with which you are unhappy.

  1. Exit: You can leave.
  2. Voice: You can say something.
  3. Loyalty: You can stay (and be quiet – this is where the idea breaks from the book).

When to leave? When to stay? When to speak up? When to stand down?  It’s very clear and very easy. Three choices. Which do you pick?

We have all worked for bad managers. We have all seen things that are unacceptable to us. We have served under executives that were ineffective and on boards that were as well. We have lived in communities where non profits are trying to make a difference and some clearly are, and some clearly are not.

We can change the equation by changing our expectations. Higher expectations will bring greater rewards, and also more resources. What could we as a field accomplish then?

As you’ve probably gathered by now, I want more from the world and I especially want more from our non profits. I want them to be better run, with better boards and better staff providing better services.

I don’t want our field to be the least respected field- the third rail of fields. I want it to be the most respected!

Leadership is hard; so is changing the world. Let’s raise the standards; raise our expectations; raise the discussion and raise the issues, each time and every time. Let’s raise more money, too, so we can expand our reach and our impact. If we do, we can raise our field – maybe to becoming the most respected field, which is where we should have been all along.

What do you think is the price of low expectations?  Do you have any stories to share? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Are your Actions Conflicting with your Goals?

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on January 10, 2014 at 9:07 am

I’m always fascinated by the number of things people do that are in direct conflict with their goals. My dog does a perfect illustration of this: He gets so excited when we have visitors that he acts inappropriately and gets put outside or crated, which prevents him from meeting his goal of being loved by our visitors. He is not alone. Leaders and organizations do the same thing!

This week, since it’s a new year and many people in my personal and professional lives have begun working on new goals, I’ve been thinking about the intent of those goals.  I love goals that are intended to get everyone on the same page and align the work of an organization.

I do not love goals that are intended to motivate people, and I’m not even clear why we would need to do that. Employee goals intended to motivate don’t make any sense to me and, honestly, I don’t find them motivating. In fact, I find them de-motivating, and also slightly insulting.

High performers – a group I like to count myself among – will do their very best every day, aligned with the work they’ve been assigned and the expectations of their position, and not in any way because of the goals they’ve been assigned. They will do their best because it’s who they are and the work ethic they possess. It is our job as leaders to demonstrate our vision and hire, support, groom and develop high performers who can help us reach that vision.

Let me be very clear, I absolutely and unequivocally believe that leaders must set expectations for staff and also evaluate those staff based on the expectations set. I also believe that the job of the executive is to implement the strategic plan which doubles as their goals. In the absence of a plan, it is the board’s job to work with the exec to set the expectations by which they will evaluate that exec’s performance at the year’s end. Those expectations (call them goals if you must) should not be set to motivate your exec. They should be set to align the work of the organization, ensure everyone is on the same page and provide a process for evaluation. If you have to set goals to motivate your exec, you have the wrong exec.

We, as leaders, should all strive to have as many high performers as we can possibly attract and afford.  It begs the question: are the goals we are setting for high performers alienating those performers? I think they might be. I’m beginning to believe that employee goals that are intended to motivate people are lowering our standards, teaching to the middle, and working in direct conflict of our actual goals of meeting our missions and achieving our organizations’ visions.  You know, I believe that any action, process, policy or procedure that is in conflict with our goal is a bad action, process, policy or procedure. I am starting to believe that goals that are intended to motivate are just that.

Once, many years ago and before I really understood resource development and major donor cultivation, I was running an agency that attracted about $50,000 of contributions from individuals each year. My Board Chair wanted to set a goal for me of $1,000,000. One million dollars! Yes, your math is right and that would have been 20 times the annual giving received by that agency. He called it a stretch goal. Rather than inspire me to reach that goal, it created enormous anxiety for me. How in the world – with no change in staffing, no change in process or a new program or project to announce – was I going to raise 20 times our current contributed income?  I wasn’t. Thankfully, I was able to explain my position and get him to revise my goals. To his credit- and this may have been his intent all along – I ramped up my own knowledge and capacity for raising money and cultivating and retaining major donors giving major gifts.

I did raise that amount and more a few years later, but not because of a goal and not, by any stretch of the imagination, alone. I did it with a change in staffing, a more developed board, several changes in process and a huge project that addressed a significant gap in service that I was committed to rectify.

Wanting something doesn’t make it a good goal. If you set goals, set them to recognize, hire and retain high performers.  Set them to align the work of your agency. Set them to have some way to evaluate your executive. Make your goals doable, with systems to support them and a path to achieve them.

Don’t set goals to motivate people! We should not be using goals to motivate. We shouldn’t have to. The work we do and the communities we serve should motivate our team toward greatness.  If they don’t, we have built the wrong team and no amount of goal setting is going to rectify that.

What do you think about goals being used to motivate staff?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Kool-Aid, Group Think and Generative Governance

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on November 15, 2013 at 8:31 am

There have been multiple things that have happened in the past week that have made me re-consider the phrase “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”

The first was a Board that was exploring introducing a new funding model. The Board, who had been on the inside of a discussion of culture shift for the past year and were familiar with the materials and the arguments, briefly considered not building the organizational culture to introduce the considered change because they “didn’t think it was a big deal.” And it wasn’t a big deal to them because they’d already changed the culture among their group. They’d been thinking about it and reading about it and interviewing other groups that had already implemented the change and there was consensus among the group that it was the right direction for their organization.

Yet… even when there is agreement on the board, there is still the need to create buy-in among others. Without buy-in the potential for failure is high unless all constituents understand the need for change and the foundation is created to implement that change.

The second thing is, in fact, an illustration of just that. The second thing was a local commission’s decision to put forth a levy in the midst of a scandal. They weren’t wrong. They had done their homework, and looked at the issues and put forth a solid plan to introduce change. It failed, primarily and among other things because even though they had a plan to introduce the change and the leaders of the city were behind them, they didn’t have the informal community leaders on board and those leaders didn’t sell it to their constituents.

My intent is not to criticize any of these leaders. Each was in a difficult position and after considering all the options, made the decision that they felt best served their organization, their community and their constituents. That is the very definition of good leadership. Another component of good leadership is to learn from our mistakes and missteps. To that point: What could have helped? What might have made the difference?

I believe the answer is generative governance. Let’s review how some of the techniques offered in my favorite board book “Governance as Leadership” could have made the difference.

“Silent Starts- Set aside 2 minutes for each trustee to anonymously write on an index card the most important question relevant to the issue at hand.”

What if a board or commission member had written: “How can we engage community and committee leaders as well as those in informal leadership positions who could, in turn, engage their constituents?”

“One Minute Memos- At the end of discussions give each member 2-3 minutes to write down any thoughts or questions that were not expressed.”

This could have been a great opportunity to consider the worst case scenarios and create a plan ensure against such eventualities.

“Counter Points- Randomly designate 2-3 trustees to make the powerful counter arguments to initial recommendations.”

This could have been used to dispel all the arguments against the change. From that discussion, marketing materials, talking points and an engagement plan could have been created.

“Role Play- Ask a subset of the Board to assume the perspective of different constituent groups likely to be affected by the decision at hand.”

A board member could have taken on the role of a member of the community who would be the most negatively impacted by the change and a plan could be created to embrace those constituents and mitigate their impact.

“Breakouts- Small groups counter group think and ask: Do we have the right questions?  What values are at stake? How else might this issue be framed?”

This is my favorite of all the techniques offered. It is the best way I’ve seen to get out of your head, out of the room and really consider all the ramifications of the discussion on the table from all the possible perspectives.

Let me be clear: I wasn’t in the room for any of these discussions; these are my assessments from afar. My intent is not to be a Monday morning quarterback. My intent is always to see if there is a lesson to be learned and how a different outcome might have been achieved. Could generative conversations have made the difference?

When it comes to group think and drinking the Kool-Aid, I try to never forget a church sign I once drove past; it said “Don’t believe everything you think.”

What’s your experience with group think and drinking the Kool-Aid?  How have you mitigated the effects? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Integrating Change

In Leadership on June 9, 2012 at 11:59 am

Since I became a consultant people have been asking me which change management planning model I use.  I’ve been answering that I create individual plans for my clients based on their needs and my experience leading change over many years, and I do.  Yet people never seem satisfied with that answer, which has always puzzled me.  People also quickly become dissatisfied when I say “It depends;” I still say it frequently, because it usually does depend – on the situation, the resources and the people at the table. 

I take my wisdom where I find it and their puzzlement has inspired me to challenge myself as to what answer I should be giving to help them better understand the work I do and also to identify and be proactive with the issues they face.  To help you think about your change, here are the issues I run into again and again:
1.     Role confusion between the board and the executive director, which may result in boundary crossings with the executive director performing the work of the board and the board performing the work of the exec.
2.     Lack of systems and measurements to ensure excellence, which may present as high turnover of clients and/or staff.
3.     Lack of policies to ensure safety or program continuity, which may lead to a general feeling of unease, or worse – a crisis.
4.     Lack of agreed upon goals, strategies or expectations, which may leave people spinning their wheels but not moving forward.
5.     No formal plan to recruit new board members or develop and evaluate current board members, which may result in a disengaged board, sometime with one or two members calling all the shots.
6.     No formal plan to raise money from a variety of sources/methods, make new friends or secure in-kind resources, which may result in staff layoffs that no one saw coming, fear of closure, multiple special events that raise little money and, occasionally, emergency fund raising.
7.     No professional development planning for the leadership or staff, which may result in the disengagement of staff.
8.     Executive Directors who are not aware of their role in building the board, which may lead to the creation of a weaker board that does not challenge the executive director.
9.     Boards that are not aware of the full scope or boundaries of their role, which may result in a lack of governance.
10.  All of the above. (Many of my clients meet none of the above, and that’s a different blog post.)
Capacity building is an important part of the foundation of successful change and addressing these issues usually depend on the following elements. If any of these elements are missing, the potential for sustainable change is compromised.
  1. The organization’s capacity for change
  2. People’s willingness to be uncomfortable and/or make others uncomfortable
  3. The strength of the leaders of the organizations and their emotional fortitude
  4. The willingness to implement a plan and not just check it off  a list and put in on a shelf.
Do I have a model for each issue?  I do.… yet the issues rarely come alone.  It might be issues 1, 3 and 7.  It might be issues 9 and 4.  It might be issues 5, 8 and 9.  It might be 10.  Even though the issues may be similar, the circumstance that prompts a call to a consultant is not.   As such, I offer individually tailored plans to meet the needs of my clients.  Those plans include trainings, meeting facilitation, plan development, goal and strategy setting, tactical planning to meet those goals, as well as coaching.
Which one do I use in which case?  It depends…..
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