BRIGHT & NIMBLE OR TIMID & TIRED: Nonprofit Culture can mean the difference between growth and simply surviving
In previous posts and workshops we have said that your organization is like a car and its make, year, color and condition reflect your brand. Your organization's culture is harder to describe in tangible terms. At best, it’s a combination of what is in your glove compartment, the car rules (i.e. no eating in the car!), how well the passengers get along, and how often the driver has to turn around and yell at them. But culture is as important, sometimes even more important, as the fuel-efficiency of the car, its overall condition, and even the competency of the driver. This is especially true when the organization is trying to innovate, has to make an unexpected or planned change, or simply in the course of carrying out a strategic plan.
Does the cycle to the right feel familiar? If so, there is a good chance that the reason your innovation or planned change has failed is that your organizational culture, defined as "the values, norms, unconscious messages, and subtle behaviors of leaders and employees," is stuck in neutral. Resistance to Change, Fear, Uncertainty, Inertia, and Risk-aversion are all by-products of your culture and are the killers of innovation and adaptation. For nonprofits, your Board and Staff cultures can limit innovative ideas or execution of these ideas.
So who makes and who can re-shape an organization's culture? While research clearly identifies that top leaders (both past and present) shape culture; strategic direction, structure, processes, and rewards reinforce it. People practices, such as performance management, talent development, and empowerment, also play a strong role in an organization's culture. So top leaders, of both Staff and Board should heed this from a Fast Company article:
"Every organization is designed to get the results it gets. Poor performance comes from a poorly designed organization. Superior results emerge when strategies, business models, structure, processes, technologies, tools, and reward systems fire on all cylinders in symphonic unison. Savvy leaders shape the culture of their company to drive innovation. They know that it's culture--the values, norms, unconscious messages, and subtle behaviors of leaders and employees--that often limits performance."
Hard to believe that it is almost back-to-school time, where did the summer go? Hope you are committed to, and mindful of, making the most of the last few weeks. One of the things I hear from nonprofit leaders is that they have so little time to think or to read (here’s an interesting post from Scott Eblin on the topic of thinking time) so I’ve summed up a few articles for you here.
Nonprofit Talent published this article, which continued our recent theme, Car & Driver: How Leadership, Business Models, Vision, and Strategy work together to Power a Nonprofit. In it I make the point that agile leadership, strategic vision/planning, and the business model are all essential components for a nonprofit to be strong and sustainable. Here are some recent relevant articles about Strategy and Leadership Development.
The Only Viable Strategy Is Adaptation - HBR – In this article the author contends that in an age of disruption the only viable strategy is to adapt your organization. He says, “I’ve previously defined strategy as a coherent and substantiated logic for making one set of choices rather than another,” He argues for an approach to strategy in which “we’re not trying to “get it right” as much as we are trying to become less wrong over time…That requires a more adaptive approach, but also substantive differences in how we operate—less hierarchical, more agile, and more sensitive to changes in the marketplace. It also compels us to make important changes to our business systems that enable us to integrate prediction and planning into normal operations. It’s no longer possible to separate strategy work from everyday activities…”
NONPROFIT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
Skills Leaders Need At All Levels Are Similar, But Key Differences Exist
Readers of this blog and our newsletter know that I have put forth a set of competencies and skills that I believe are needed for nonprofit leaders at the top. But sometimes I work with organizations seeking to develop managers and leaders at all levels. We often begin by creating a matrix of all levels and the competencies/skills that are required for the level. In this article, The Skills Leaders Need at Every Level, Zenger and Folkman take a similar approach. In a large survey they found that the skills required of someone in a supervisory position were (in ranked order from most needed):
The authors point out that as you go up the levels there are few, but key, changes to the top 7 competencies, “With middle managers, problem solving moves ahead of everything else. Then for senior management, communicating powerfully and prolifically moves to the number two spot. Only for top executives does a new competency enter the mix, as the ability to develop a strategic perspective (which had been moving steadily up the lower ranks) moves into the number five position.”
I would say that in my research and experience with leadership development the same skills hold true for nonprofits as well businesses - with a few twists such as: “Builds relationships” and “Communicates powerfully and prolifically“ in a nonprofit senior leader applies to work with Boards as well as staff and external stakeholders.
Nonprofit Management Education Needs Some Changes
In this article from the Nonprofit Quarterly, Thoughts on the Relevance of Nonprofit Management Curricula, the author interviews nine key figures (including one familiar to the Pittsburgh community) and concludes that significant changes are needed to the current state of nonprofit management education, at least in its attention to a rapidly changing context. He identifies and expands on 5 key ideas of what really needs to be taught and developed in nonprofit leaders:
Kate and I are delighted at how 1-4 so closely follow the remarks we made at our recent workshop and those made by our panelists.
But Where is the Support for Nonprofit Leadership Development?
In an opinion piece this week in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Ira Hirschfield, president of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund makes a case for more foundations to fund Nonprofit Leadership Development. In the article, Nonprofit Leadership Development Is a Vital Ingredient for Social Change, Hirschfied points out that according to a recent study spending on training and leadership development by U.S. companies grew by 15 percent in 2013, to more than $70-billion. He then goes on to say that “While business is investing in its people with renewed vigor, the nonprofit world continues to lag in making such investments. The Foundation Center recently reported that foundation support for leadership development was less than 1 percent of overall giving from 1992 to 2011. That’s not nearly enough.”
Hirschfield makes the case that, “If we agree that strong leadership is crucial to the success of the nonprofits we support, what is keeping us from maximizing the impact of our funding by investing more in the skills and capabilities of people who lead organizations, including staff and board members?” He identifies several foundations that are strong supporters of nonprofit leadership development and that they share certain attributes and beliefs, “Chief among these is that leadership support is multiyear and is tailored to each organization’s priorities and needs; in other words, this is not about a foundation coming in and telling grantees what to do. Nor is it simply about sending executive directors to one-time training sessions. Rather, it is about helping organizations identify and secure the leadership support they need at all levels so they can reach their broader goals.”
The author wraps up with, “Unless we can figure out what is behind the nonprofit world’s chronic under investment in leadership and turn things around, we will continue to overlook one of the most important ingredients of positive social change."
Let’s say that your nonprofit organization is a car, and your business model as Kate describes it in her article below is its engine, and it is fueled by your staff and $$, and its drivers are the Executive Staff and Board.
We’d like you to consider these questions:
Read Kate's article below to learn more about how your Business Model is analogous to the things you find under the hood of your car - parts that must work together in order for the car to go forward.
Does Your Engine Work? Adapting Your Business Model to a Changing Reality
Let’s start with: What is a business model? In the nonprofit sector a successful Business Model results in delivering high-quality programs and services that meet mission. For many of the nonprofits we work with, their business model is at the core of the issues they need to address in order to remain financially stable to carry out their mission. A few examples:
Sound familiar? These examples illustrate that a nonprofit’s business model encompasses its financial picture - money in, money out, and what assets are needed to ensure financial stability and consistent mission delivery. However, a common misconception is that a business model is solely about dollars and cents, and can be easily read on financial reports. Rather, the business model is the design for how an organization creates and delivers value to its clients/community in a sustainable way.
Your financial picture is not your Business Model; rather, it is THE RESULT of the business model. Revenues, expenses, and assets don’t exist in a vacuum. Each of those dollars that go in and out are connected to the strategies, processes and activities that happen within a nonprofit that lead to successful mission delivery. And those strategies, processes and activities are impacted by numerous factors, some of which are in your direct control, and some of which are not. READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE
This article by Kate Sphar appeared in our February 2014 Newsletter| Making Nonprofits Stronger
Leslie and I love our jobs. We work with a lot of really fantastic people at organizations that are doing meaningful work in their communities. Over time, we have seen nonprofit leaders become smarter and more savvy about how they manage. In the ten years I have been a consultant to nonprofits, I have seen the level of financial acumen among my clients increase significantly overall.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Perhaps it is because of the increased sophistication of nonprofit managers that we see Boards “checking out” financially. Even in this day and age of increased scrutiny on nonprofits, we still encounter Board members who aren’t aware of their responsibility regarding the agency’s financial health and solvency. They should take notice of the numerous local nonprofits that have faced instances of misappropriation or theft, bringing to light how crucial is it that both Board and staff understand potential financial risks and ensure that their organizations are operating in a fiscally sound way. Nonprofits of all sizes, from universities, to the United Way, to a small volunteer fire department, face the risk of fraud, from both inside and outside the organization.
But not all risk looks like these obvious cases of criminal behavior, Boards have to be vigilant as to their financial decision-making in all regards. As recent events at Conneaut Lake Park and the August Wilson Center illustrate, a Board of Directors can potentially be held liable for a “breach of trust”, in the form of misuse of organizational assets or poor/nonexistent planning.
So let’s debunk the Top Three excuses we hear as to why Board members aren’t more aware and engaged in their fiduciary responsibilities:
Moreover, we often find that Boards don’t actually understand what staff members’ and contractors’ responsibilities are. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a Board member say that they were disappointed their contract bookkeeper hadn’t solved their strategic financial issues. Bookkeepers are hired to keep the books! Executive Directors, too, are often ascribed financial acumen that many will admit they do not have. Financial roles are not interchangeable, and just because someone performs a duty related to organizational finances does not mean they have the capability (or capacity) to act as a CFO. If you need strategic financial guidance, you have to invest in it (or convince it to join your Board).
The bottom line is that every Board member needs to understand all aspects of its financial systems. Ask yourself some questions:
This blog brings Holiday Greetings and apologies to loyal readers who have been wondering why we haven't published since September. We have been busy with strategic planning engagements, Board development activities, and helping organizations steer through change and transition. And I have been working with the Forbes Funds Succession Planning Cohort and have made presentations on Executive Transition and Nonprofit Leadership Development at professional conferences and a Jossey Bass webinar. This blog highlights some "found" resources from these activities. For even more, check out our December Newsletter.
Infographic 1: Strategic Planning Terminology
One of the other things we encounter during strategic planning is that everyone is confused about the difference between strategies, goals, priorities, and tactics. Some organizations have strong feelings about what should be called what. After several rounds of discussion on the terms "goals" versus "strategies," we recently suggested to an organization that we didn't care as much about what they called the boxes on their plan as what they put inside the boxes. We recently found this infographic that does a great job of straightening this all out: What is Strategic Planning?
Infographic 2: Senior Managers Fatal Flaws
In this HBR article Zenger and Folkman break down the most common weaknesses (also called career derailers) they found in their research on senior managers. The top 4? Developing Others, Collaboration and Teamwork, Inspiring and Motivating Others, Building Relationships. The good news is that 75% of managers who worked at it were able to change their behaviors.
CEOs and Top Leaders Need to Work on Delegation and Sharing Leadership
In this article on areas where CEO’s most frequently get (or need) coaching, we again see that “soft skills” are key. Most CEO’s are getting coaching on delegation and sharing leadership, but far more (according to their Directors) could use help with listening and developing others.
Congrats and Holiday Wishes
We would like to congratulate fellow Dewey & Kaye alumni, Michelle Heck and Todd Owens. They have taken Nonprofit Talent (formerly Jobswatch) and the Nonprofit Executive Search Practice independent in the form of a new company Nonprofit Talent. We wish them well in this exciting new venture.
We wish all of you a calm and bright holiday.
Decisions, Teams and Planning are all parts of whole. Picking up where I left off in my last blog post, here are several recent articles that make great points better than I can.
From a great article about a theme that I repeat frequently during strategic planning engagements To Move Ahead You Have to Know What to Leave Behind
“Decisions are the most fundamental building blocks of successful change in our organizations, our teams, and our careers…Avoid Changing By Addition. The Latin root of the word "decide" is caidere which means "to kill or to cut." (Think homicide, suicide, genocide.) Technically, deciding to do something new without killing something old is not a decision at all. It is merely an addition…When team leaders fail to decide which old directions are going to be sacrificed in service of the new direction, the tradeoff doesn't magically disappear. It simply slides down the ladder…” To Lead Is To Decide. The one thing great leaders have in common is their willingness to decide when others could
From How to Make Good Decisions ... Faster
“Specifically, here's how you might apply the 80/20 Rule to your next decision. First, identify the top five pieces of information you need to make the decision. Then select which four of these five are highest in priority. Once you've gathered this information, you will have roughly 80 percent of the information you need. The last 20 percent is less important. Now harness all of your experience and your intuition to fill in the blanks and make a great decision--faster than before.”
From: Three Qualities Every Leader Needs to Succeed on a Team by favorite author Peter Bregman
"In some ways, a leadership team is no different than any long-term relationship. If you want to be a good partner — personally or professionally — you need to be three things:
1. Gifted. Simply put, leaders need to be good at what they do…need to be gifted communicators and
gifted learners, mastering conflict without being offensive, and adapting to their own changing roles as the organization grows.
2. Game. They need to have the courage to take risks…The kind of confidence that allows them to be
questioned by others — even take blame and feel threatened — without becoming defensive...
3. Generous. They need to put the good of the company above their own department, team, or agenda. They must be good-hearted, mutually respectful, and gracious, resisting the urge to dominate, take the upper hand, or shine at the expense of others..."
From: 10 Research-Backed Steps To Building A Great Team
Great post from a new Favorite Blog, and I can’t do it justice here, so please read. But my favorite of the 10 is “Research shows a team really is only as strong as its weakest link. Team trust is not determined by an average of the members, it’s at the level of the least trusted member”
We are presenting a workshop on Creating a Strategic Plan that Works! on September 9 at the Foundation Center at the Carnegie Library in Oakland (Pittsburgh). Come and learn about:
• The real benefits of doing a strategic plan
• When you shouldn’t do a strategic plan and what you might need instead
• The 5 things you need to do to create a plan that you can actually execute
• The planning process and when you should or shouldn’t hire a consultant
$20, call 412-622-6277 to register
We have been busy facilitating strategic plans and every time we do one I come away with a new appreciation of what it really takes (and how hard it is) to create a realistic and executable plan. Last week we were meeting with an Arts organization about their upcoming plan and the co-founder of the organization talked about how he finds it easier to be creative if he is given a set of constraints or boundaries to work within. This resonated with me because I also come up with better solutions or strategies when I understand the parameters I have to work within. The constraints actually jumpstart my creativity and ground my decisions in something practical. This is why most of the (nonprofit) strategic plans we do start with a clear understanding and discussion of the constraints imposed by the organization’s current reality. No magic wands available or magical thinking allowed. For many nonprofit organizations the obvious constraints are either financial (having enough funding) and/or capacity (having enough staff or time). Most organizations’ plans are also constrained (or should be) by their stated mission and core competencies - which dictate what types of services and programs they can and should offer.
It turns out that the wise and creative Arts organization Director was stating something that has been well researched in the arts – constraints do improve creativity. As this article by Matthew May points out, research proves that “tough obstacles can prompt people to open their minds, look at the "big picture," and make connections between things that are not obviously connected. This is an ability called "global processing," which is the hallmark of creativity.” May indicates that this finding applies equally to the business world and says, “An intelligent obstacle or constraint is one laden with creative tension, whether stated in the form of a well-defined problem ("How might we simultaneously decrease both inventory and backorders?") or a challenging goal … “
Constraints are not just catalysts for creativity but also shape planning and focus problem solving. Readers of my past articles on strategy know that I believe strongly in focusing in on the important few and deciding what to leave behind or stop doing. In his article May summed it up with, “An intelligent constraint informs creative action by outlining the "sandbox" within which people can play and guides that action not just by pointing out what to pursue but perhaps more importantly what to ignore.”
Others agree, from The Sound of One Hand Creating: Making the most of constraints, “Constraint isn’t just a tool for experimentation, however. It is frequently a necessity, the mother of focus.” And Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer writing for Businessweek in 2006 said: "Constraints shape and focus problems, and provide clear challenges to overcome as well as inspiration. But constraints must be balanced with a healthy disregard for the impossible. Too many curbs can lead to pessimism and despair.”
As always, we need to balance optimism and realism.
Fear of conflict and politeness don’t achieve results
Another aspect of strategic planning that we frequently encounter, especially when facilitating a Board driven plan - is the avoidance of engaging in debate because people fear conflict. Conflict and debate are inherent in planning, and group strength can be found in differing viewpoints, visions, goals, tactics, and problem solving styles. When I facilitate teambuilding with a group we focus on the strength of having different styles, behaviors and personalities around the table. I talk about how this diversity of styles will lead to better decision making. Here is what research shows and that I repeat each time:
“Groups with high similarity among the individual styles will reach quicker decisions, but are more likely to make errors due to inadequate representation of all perspectives. Groups with many different styles will reach decisions more slowly (and painfully because of conflict) but will reach better decisions because more perspectives are covered.”
Recent articles make the case about why arguing, debating, and dissent are actually key to making better decisions. From How Smart People Collaborate for Success,“What good is working with a bunch of smart people if they won't be honest and sharing? People need to be willing to open themselves and be challenged. Creative conflict is powerful and productive. Find innovative, fun ways to stimulate passionate debate. Reward openness and authenticity with admiration. Real groundbreaking
ideas only surface when people go all in and get vulnerable.”
From Professor Aneel Karnani in an article Strategic Controversy - Welcome the Dissent: "The 'let's all be team players' and 'let's pull together,' thinking can be a trap," Karnani says. "A vision isn't strategy. Neither is a mission statement. Strategy comes from internal debate, even dissent. Then you resolve the debate, make a decision, and take action. The best companies do that."
Karnani goes on to say, ”Of course, controversy has to be managed. The debates end at some point and a strategy is agreed upon. After that, teamwork comes into play. Other things to keep in mind when encouraging debate:
One last plug for healthy conflict producing better results, in what is accepted as the seminal book on teambuilding author Patrick Lencioni makes the case that a team without trust fears conflict. And when you fear conflict you don’t engage in unfiltered ideological debate about ideas and decisions. When debate is stifled and people don’t feel comfortable providing input, they can’t buy-in or commit to decisions. Without buy-in or commitment then no one feels accountable, or won't hold others accountable (to lame decisions). Without accountability, results are rarely achieved.
In summary: when creating a strategy you need to start by gathering the necessary data and analysis to identify your constraints. Use these constraints to shape and focus the challenges that you want the strategy and goals to solve. Then gather a group of passionate and smart people to openly explore and debate the best possible strategies, goals, and tactics. Gain commitment to the plan and have all team members hold each other accountable for results. Wish I could promise this is easy, it's not – but I guarantee it will be effective in producing a stronger strategic plan.
P.S. The day after I published this blog, this article appeared in Inc.: Making a Big Decision? Don't Wait for Everyone to Agree. Key thought, "the concept of consensus is often defined as 100-percent agreement-- unless ever.yone agrees, we don't have an actionable decision. Not only does this not need to be so (even the dictionary definition of consensus doesn't demand it), trying to obtain 100 percent agreement to every decision will bring your business's growth to a grinding halt."
Recently I wrote an article that applied my past experience in “Talent Acquisition” (Recruiting) to the problem of recruiting nonprofit Board members. In this follow up I attempt to do the same to the problem of engaging (and retaining) nonprofit Board members (“Talent Retention”). Again the similarities between Board and staff talent issues are striking – it just takes a slight twist to apply the research and learnings to the other group.
A few foundational bits about employee engagement:
1. From a Wikipedia entry: “An "engaged employee" is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization's interests.” Substitute Board member for employee and this definition works fine.
2. There are well researched links between employee engagement, productivity, retention, and overall organizational effectiveness and the bottom line. Here are research findings in a quick presentation.
3. The Gallup organization in a seminal study developed 12 questions, which they called Q12, to measure employee engagement. Below we highlight how some of these questions can be applied to Board Engagement.
In the 2011 Daring to Lead research and brief on Board/CEO relationships, research showed that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time the Executive Director spends on Board related activities and the rates of satisfaction with the Board's performance. In addition, the research showed that the average amount of time that E.D.’s spend with their Board is notably low - possibly because “Many executives struggle to define the ROI of board related activities and don’t understand their position of influence on that ROI.” My takeaway from the study, and through direct experience in working with many Boards, is that Board member engagement plays a large role in Board Member effectiveness and that the ED/CEO is primarily responsible for engaging members.
Unclear Expectations lead to low engagement: The Gallup Survey as well as a number of other recent studies indicate that clarity of expectations is key to engaging the employee. The first of the Q12 questions is “I know what is expected of me at work.” As stated in the research, “If expectations are not clear and basic materials and equipment are not provided, negative emotions such as boredom or resentment may result, and the employee may then become focused on surviving more than thinking about how he can help the organization succeed." When conducting Board Assessments I often find that Board members are not at all clear about the expectations of the Staff and/or organization – especially when it comes to fundraising, participation at events, or their role in giving direction to policies, programs and employees. This confusion often breeds resentment when the expectations are not met.
My advice: Have a clearly written and frequently reviewed Board Commitment/Expectation Document (sample here) that is used during the recruiting process, orientation, and is signed off on by all Board members at least once a year. The creation of this document should be the responsibility of the Governance Committee and be discussed and approved by the full board.
Focus on Me: 3 of Gallup’s Q12 questions: “1. Someone at work cares about me as a person. 2. I have a chance to do what I do best every day. 3. I received recognition or praise for doing good work” are about motivation and adding value. Engaged employees have a manager or superior who understands the individual's motivations, recognizes their strengths, and gives them praise. Often board members report that they are not sure what real value they are adding to the Board. Or, that their unique experience and strengths are not being used.
My Advice: I suggest to my CEO clients that they take each of their Board members out for lunch or coffee individually at least once or twice a year. The conversation should result in better understanding of:
This last question has a dual benefit, it allows the Board member to really feel like they are adding value by contributing advice and knowledge (almost everyone likes giving advice but not everyone will feel comfortable doing in a group meeting). And, it allows you to understand where their head is at on what may be a future Board vote.
Board Meetings and Making a Difference: The Q12 question, “My opinions seem to count” and related research on our need to feel that the work we do has a purpose and adds value are also keys to Board engagement. In my Board work this often comes out in feedback about board meetings. For example, ”We spend too much time on minutia and not enough time on strategic issues,“ “Board meetings are cursory, it seems as if we are racing through an agenda largely focused on financials so we can get out of the room in under an hour – this isn’t what I expected” or “The board is not engaged in generative & strategic thinking. At times we are mired down with tactical issues rather than governance issues." Consider that the vast majority of the board members time and exposure to the organization is only in the board meetings. So if these are tired, tactical, and generally not inspiring then why should we be surprised when attendance and engagement dwindles?
My advice: Overhaul your board meetings. Use committees appropriately, and then use a Consent Agenda to quickly move through the routine tasks of the Board. Use your strategic planning priorities to form the bulk of your board agenda (here is an example). Have the Board Chair steer discussions away from the tactical and back toward the organizations strategic priorities. A Board Chair who is has good facilitation skills is key to keeping a meeting at the strategic level.
I frequently provide workshops on how to hold effective meetings and one of the key points I make is the need to have everyone understand the expected outcomes of the meeting, Expected outcomes stated before the meeting begins allows partcipants to focus and the facilitator to steer the meeting toward the declared outcomes. As this HBR blog post points out there are really only 3 reasons to have a meeting: To inform and bring people up to speed, to seek input, and to ask for approval. In my experience Board meetings are usually a mixture of all three. Wouldn’t it be great if in a future Board meeting your Board Chair or CEO said, “Today’s meeting is just a discussion and brainstorming session – we will quickly take care of regular business and then we are going to focus on discussing and seeking your input on this (strategic issue here).
What do you think? Anyone else have practical advice on how to better engage Board members? Whose job do you think it is to put these ideas into practice?
Life got a little hectic and it has been a while since I have posted. There are many great resources I meant to share with you - so here is a mixed Spring Bouquet of ideas and articles. My next post will be the promised, “How to Engage and Develop the Board You Have” the follow up to my last blog on “Recruiting Board Members.”
Linked In Endorsements and Advice
I love LinkedIn. I was one of the very first early adopters and have found it to be a valuable networking, recruiting and information-sharing tool. Lest you think that I am social media butterfly, you need to know that I just joined Facebook last year with a Business Page, and I do not tweet, pin or poke. I am also proud to say that of my almost 600 contacts, I have met, been referred to, or have a good reason to accept the invitation for most of them. I admit there are a few strangers who I agreed to connect to because they are obviously part of my network, or because I feel like it the right thing to do (e.g. The young, just starting out person who is looking for a nonprofit career). But I have a few pet peeves that I must express and some advice to pass along.
The first is the invitation to connect that comes to me from someone I don’t know that includes only the standard LinkedIn phrase “I’d like to add you to my professional network.” This forces me to wrack my memory if I have met them in one of my past jobs, search to see who we know in common, look for some connection to nonprofits that are the majority of my clients, or guess at their true motivation for wanting to link to me (candidly, financial planners and salespeople, please know that I assume the worst). My advice? If you want me to accept your invitation, tell me why – and please know that I am one of the people on LinkedIn who is selective about exposing my network to strangers so the reason must be honest and compelling.
The other, and newer, pet peeve is the inappropriate use of endorsements. As someone who was initially happy with how easy it was to endorse those people I felt deserved it, I now consider it one of the most poorly thought out ideas of a company who has rarely made bad decisions. Now I get questions all the times from friends about endorsement etiquette. The biggest question, “if someone endorses me do I have to endorse them back?” (The answer IMHO is absolutely not). Here is an article that describes the problem and predicts how the overuse of endorsements has devalued them: Why LinkedIn Endorsements Will Vanish. And here is an article that provides advice on how to manage and give endorsements: How To Make The Most Of LinkedIn Endorsements.
Criticism, Praise, and Performance
While conducting management training and coaching I often find myself responding to questions about how to handle employee feedback with, “it depends.” It seems like such an unhelpful answer, but it really does depend. For instance giving constructive critical feedback depends on the situation, the employee’s style, whether this is the first time the behavior has happened, the impact of the problem, and/or the employee’s willingness to accept criticism. Here are three recent articles that all offer different perspectives on criticism and praise.
In the The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio we learn that we need to use both positive feedback to let people know when they're doing well, and offer constructive comments to help them when they're off track if we want to improve performance But even more interesting is that there is an ideal ration of praise to criticism:
“The factor that made the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams, Heaphy and Losada found, was the ratio of positive comments ("I agree with that," for instance, or "That's a terrific idea") to negative comments ("I don't agree with you" "We shouldn't even consider doing that") that the participants made to one another. (Negative comments, we should point out, could go as far as sarcastic or disparaging remarks.) The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6 (that is, nearly six positive comments for every negative one). The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9 (almost twice as many positive comments than negative ones.) But the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one.”
The Delicate Art of Giving Feedback starts with this idea, “To be an effective manager, you need to be skilled at giving out both praise and criticism. While praise is easy to give, it is far more challenging and unpleasant to criticize your employees. Yet the practice of management requires you to occasionally show employees where they need to improve. Thus, it is vital for managers to learn how and when to give negative feedback.” Then the Author warns that criticism should always be given in private, preferably beginning with the phrase, ‘I’d like to give you some feedback.”
The reverse of this argument is made in How Criticizing in Private Undermines Your Team. The author suggests that in a team setting limiting criticism to private conversation undermines accountability.
“Is your leadership team a real team — one in which members are interdependent with each other for meeting team goals? If so, they should also be accountable to each other for working together to achieve those goals,including how they rely on, work with, and make decisions together. Yet when you "criticize in private" for behavior that occurred in a team meeting or affects the team, you undermine team members' accountability to each other. You send the message that team members are accountable only to you, not to the team. You also send the entire team the message that they don't need to hold each other accountable — you'll do it for them. In short, you shift accountability from the team to you.”
All 3 articles make compelling arguments, so I guess when it comes to criticism… it depends.
Adam Grant’s Research on Giving describes a way to increase employee productivity, increase your Board’s ability to fundraise, and can help you get ahead in your career.
I am someone who believes is karma, paying-it-forward, that the best way to get business is to first do good work, and that refusing to meet with a job-seeker will bring bad luck resulting in some future career catastrophe. I also believe that when meeting with people or networking, I am more successful in the long run, if I focus on help them versus how they can help me.
So, I accept the request to meet with job seekers, even if it means I have to use precious client development time to do it. In this great (but really long) New York Times article: Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? I learned research shows that I am right to do so. I’m also reminded why employees are motivated by work that has a meaningful, positive impact on others. These employees are not just happier than those who don't see their jobs as impactful; they are vastly more productive, too. Here is a shorter article on that topic from the same author: The Open Secret To Motivating Employees.
Of interest to my nonprofit readers who frequently ask how to better motivate their Boards and Staff to do more fundraising, consider this research from the same author: Thinking About Giving, Not Receiving, Motivates People to Help Others. Even better listen to this podcast from Stanford’s Center Social for Innovation: Philanthropy and Fundraisers' Motivation that allows Grant to describe his research.
Do you have a question on leadership, management, teams or any aspect of Nonprofit Management? Send it to me and I promise I’ll answer it to the best of my ability.
Today I completed a survey for the Nonprofit Quarterly about what upcoming topics they should cover in their publication for nonprofits. One question that gave me pause was something like, “what trends are you seeing in nonprofits that worry you?” Not wanting to point out the obvious (dwindling revenue and leadership burnout), I answered, “It is increasingly difficult for small and mid-sized community nonprofits to recruit and retain committed and qualified Board members.” Then it hit me – I know something about this that might be useful to nonprofits. 10 years ago, I was training recruiters and writing about creative ways to recruit hard-to-fill positions for companies big and small. First as head of Staffing and Employment at PNC, then as an owner of a staffing and training company, and (when I absolutely had to) as part of the search team at Dewey & Kaye, I’ve spent 10 of the last 15 years dealing with some aspect of what is now called “Talent Acquisition.”
So I thought about the executive recruiting techniques I have used and that could be applied to the recruitment of Board Members and voilà…
1. I tell clients that my entire 25 years of knowledge and advice about Human Resources can be summed up by the phrase “Hire Slowly, Fire Quickly.” Let’s focus on the “hire slowly” - no matter how desperate you are to fill a chair with a breathing body; never, ever, ever take the only candidate available or the best of a mediocre group. You will always pay the price. For a nonprofit Board that price could be a member who doesn’t show up at meetings, or that you have to work around until their term expires. Unless you have cultivated a pipeline of candidates in advance, it takes on average 5-6 months to fill an Executive position. Why should you expect that a Board position would take less time? Start Now.
2. Recruiting always starts with gaining clarity about what you are looking for in a hire. You can’t write a job posting (remember when they were called “want ads”?) without thinking about what qualifications you need. It is the same for Boards. What skills, competencies, and characteristics are you looking for? What demographics will you target? I just helped a small board, using what is now a common tool called a Board Matrix, and we agreed that we needed people with finance, legal, and fundraising skills to round out the existing Board. We also wanted people under 40 since we had none of those on the Board (not unusual in this region). Other considerations included someone who lived in the zip codes the organization served and who had connections to high schools which is the target of the services the organization provides. This exercise allowed us to be very clear about the types of people we would target.
3. Once you understand your target demographic and needed skills, the next question is, “So where do these types of people hang out or work?” In my sample case above, we started by looking at all the law firms and accounting firms in the target zip codes. We looked at the local high schools for teachers and guidance counselors. We looked at the bigger businesses in the area that employed people with these skills. If not geographically limited, we could try the County Bar Association, the Association of CPAs, or the alumni of local Business Schools – all of them have publications and many have online or social media hubs where you might be able to place a tasteful posting.
4. What’s the sales hook? Every good recruiter knows that just posting a job ad won’t get you much (they call that technique “post and pray”). Instead you need to focus on the key benefit or motivator for the job that will attract the attention of the best candidates. Look at how Todd Owens writes the headlines or tweets for the jobs he is recruiting for in NonprofiTalent. Not “Executive Assistant needed for the Council on Social Work” but instead he leads with “Without social workers we might not have a nonprofit sector.” What’s the hook for your Board member job? Practically speaking, while some people will take on a Board position because they believe in your mission, there are many great people who don’t know you exist, but are looking for a networking opportunity, to gain visibility in their town, or to develop their leadership skills. What if your headline was, “Build your leadership skills and your professional network while working to stop Domestic Violence in our community as a Board Member of ABC.” That’s far more effective than “Board Member needed for Domestic Violence Agency”. I’d be glad to argue with those of you who believe that “passion for the mission”is the price of entry, but this Blue Avocado article does it better in The Trouble with "Passion for the Mission.
5. Every Corporate Recruiter will admit that referrals from current employees are the single greatest sources of hiring (in many companies employee referrals make up 45% of new hires). The thinking is this: you won’t refer a poor candidate (loser) to your employer because it will reflect badly on you. And you will have to work with the person regularly to remind you of your judgement lapse. Companies also recognze that you, the employee, are the best advertisement for why this is a good place to work (you wouldn’t refer a friend to a place that you hated right?). These same assumptions can apply to recruiting Board members. Your current Board members, if they are engaged and happy in their Board role, will serve as the best spokesperson for the organization and its Board. And, hopefully, they won’t refer a poor board candidate because that will reflect badly on the referring member. Remember that to get good referrals from current members, Board members needs to know exactly what you are looking for and how best to sell the position.
6. Nonprofits have become adept at using social media and direct mail to ask for donations and to increase awareness. These same tools can be used to find potential Board candidates. A nonprofit where I have been a Board member used its annual appeal mailing to solicit Board members, volunteers, and/or donations. Consider using a member list to identify possible board recruits, or make an announcement at your annual event.
7. Here are 2 FREE places to place your newly written, motivating, and focused Board Job Posting. The first is particularly helpful for those Boards located in PA and OH – with a heavy emphasis on western PA. Nonprofitalent, formerly Dewey & Kaye’s JobWatch, will list Board openings as well as nonprofit Job openings. Their Board posting is a new service and IMHO not yet as widely used as it should be – did I mention FREE? Read the other Board postings for ideas on how to write a catchy posting. Other cities may have similar services, often run through a university that has a Board Matching program. Nationally Bridgespan offers a board posting service for a small fee.
The other little known service is through LinkedIn. If you aren’t signed up for LinkedIn do it today. For the few who are not familiar with this social media, LinkedIn is the professional (work) version of Facebook and is an excellent way to build your network. It has also become the number 2 (after referrals) way for recruiters to find talent. LinkedIn has just recently passed Monster as the go to source for finding job candidates. To get more information about LinkedIn’s service for nonprofits seeking board members go to LinkedIn Board Member Connect. P.S. While you are out on LinkedIn, connect with me and I’d be happy to refer your Board Posting to my growing network.
I'll address keeping and engaging Board members in a future post. If you find any value in these suggestions or have a success story because of one of them, or have a recruiting tip you want to share, please contact me or post a comment below. Happy Hunting.