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."
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."
It is that time year again! We are working on several proposals to assist clients with creating, updating, or executing their strategic plans. Looking back over the last year, I've written a number of posts that include information or perspectives that may be of use to readers who are also starting the new year off with planning and goal setting. Click on the links below to learn more.
Our Approach and Philosophy
At Bonner Consulting, our planning philosophy, techniques, and the tools we use are based on years of experience working with nonprofits, small businesses, and as organizational leaders. Although every organization has unique objectives in planning, our approach can be successfully adapted to many different organization’s needs and situations. (read more and see a graphic of our planning process)
Seduction of Opportunity versus Clarity of Purpose
In our strategic planning work with organizations, we often find ourselves reminding the participants that Planning is not necessarily a synonym for growth. Scaling down activities (or eliminating them) may often be the most appropriate planning decision. Thus having the discipline to “do less”will lead to greater success. (read the blog post)
Creating an EXECUTABLE Strategic Plan
Creating the plan is often the easy part. Executing on the plan is where the hardest work begins. In this article we provide advice for ensuring your plan is executable.
Additionally, our experience has taught us that in order for a plan to be effectively executed this step is key: Once those high level corporate goals are in place and clear, they must be communicated to everyone as the basis for their own goals. The most common way for this to happen is through the process known as “cascading” goals. This cascade ensures that the high level strategy of the organization is translated into and reflected in the specific goals of each department, team, manager and individual employee.
How to Cascade Strategic Goals to all Employees
So how do you cascade goals? Well most of our clients first establish 3 year top level organizational goals (the strategic or operational plan), and then they break these down into a subset of goals for the first year. Next comes action plans for these first year goals where departments or indviduals are identifed to carry out some of the specific tactics.
Most organizations use their performance management systems to help establish the "line of site" from their strategic planning goals to each individual. Read more about how to establish individual goals here: Setting
Performance Goals for Yourself or Your Team
Hope this helps as you start on your strategic planning activities. Let us know if we can help in the planning process, organizational assessments, environmental scans, or with facilitating your internal discussions.
This post is a roundup of some recent articles that didn’t fit into any of my other themes. Hopefully there is a little something here for all of my diverse readers. I am grateful to you all for your readership and support this last year. Have a great Thanksgiving and stay tuned after the Holiday for some exciting news for Bonner Consulting.
Planning allows you to focus on strategic priorities but is the victim of...lack of planning
From Stop Procrastinating & Plan for 2013:“Sadly, as the executives of these companies try to navigate uncertain times, they will wonder the following: Why aren't we hitting our goals? Why aren't we all on the same page? Why can't our people execute without having to ask questions at every turn? Why aren't we more prepared? The answer is simple...procrastination…. It's very difficult to make the transition from working IN the business to working ON the business. But one thing is for sure. If you don't start prioritizing strategic planning you will forever be letting the business run you. The sooner you make your strategy and alignment a priority, the sooner you'll achieve goals effectively and create efficiencies that will free up time and resources in your company… Here are the first three steps. 1. Set a date for a 2-day planning retreat before the end of the year. 2. Hire a facilitator or a coach. 3. Engage your team.
Personal Success Depends on Your Ability to Sell
As someone who consistently claims to not be a great salesperson, I have to admit that no matter what your job or level is, the ability to sell your ideas is a on the top 5 list of personal success competencies. Thankfully, if using the definition of selling below – I’m not as bad as I say! From 8 Things Remarkably Successful People Do: “I once asked a number of business owners and CEOs to name the one skill they felt contributed the most to their success. Each said the ability to sell. Keep in mind selling isn't manipulating, pressuring, or cajoling. Selling is explaining the logic and benefits of a decision or position. Selling is convincing other people to work with you. Selling is overcoming objections and roadblocks. Selling is the foundation of business and personal success: knowing how to negotiate, to deal with "no," to maintain confidence and self-esteem in the face of rejection, to communicate effectively with a wide range of people, to build long-term relationships...”
Importance (and great example) of Nonprofit Storytelling
This weekend I was privileged to hear two very thoughtful Program Officers from a large local Foundation talk about how nonprofits can most effectively make a pitch and receive funding. They began by stating that nonprofits must clearly understand the foundations funding priorities, which is easily done with a visit to the foundation’s website. If the funding proposal is “clearly” within the funding priority then a compelling story is needed. (Big no-no is to make your mission or program "stretch" to fit). The Program Officers acknowledged that for many foundations the trend is to look at outcomes, impacts and measures first and story second. However, for the decision makers at this foundation the emphasis is first on a compelling story – which then must include some sense of current or anticipated outcomes. Similarly for most individual donors research suggests the compelling story is the key to increased donations.
We’ve heard before the importance of a good story. The story doesn’t have to be complex or highly produced but does require a good storyteller (another often overlooked personal success skill) and a clear narrative or storyline. Here is an amazing Nonprofit You Tube Video with a compelling “before and after”storyline: 100kHomesYear2.
In an excellent article on today’s HBR blog, the Discipline of Less, Greg McKeown points out how both individuals and organizations are more successful when they have clear focus. He describes the 4 phases of what he calls the “clarity paradox”:
1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
2: When we have success, it leads to more options and
3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads
to diffused efforts.
4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our
success in the first place.
In my strategic planning work with organizations, I often find myself reminding the participants that Planning is not necessarily a synonym for growth. Scaling down activities (or eliminating them) may often be the most appropriate planning decision. Thus having the discipline to “do less”will lead to greater success.
In my personal career, I have too often been lured toward a job that I knew was not in line with my goals and needs, but the flattery of being asked, or
the money or security offered, outweighed my instincts. A wise counselor once told me that I needed to “beware the seduction of opportunity.” I often think of that advice when coaching individuals or planning with organizations.
In his article, McKeown goes on to make this case for the “disciplined pursuit of less” both in your career as well as in organizational planning. “Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just once a year as part of a planning meeting, but constantly reducing, focusing and simplifying. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well. Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.”
There are many mistakes organizations, teams, and individuals can make when it comes time to create a plan; too many goals, wrong goals, not
enough data, wrong people at the table to create the plan. In addition, all plans - whether they are strategic, project, succession, organizational
development, or personal career and/or development plans - are subject to the possible fate of being created then quickly shelved, abandoned, or simply mucked up.
Several recent and insightful articles provide guidance on how to develop the strategic skills or competencies to create a plan. Along with these is an article I wrote in my last newsletter: 5 Tips for Creating an Executable Strategic Plan that draws heavily from The 4 Disciplines of Execution from Stephen Covey (R.I.P.). Here are synopses of three thought-provoking articles on Strategy, Planning, and Leadership
1. From Harvard we get new research questioning how“Strategy” has become separated from “Leadership”. In this article, “Are You a Strategist?” by Cynthia Montgomery she describes how strategy has moved away from the work of leadership, and an organization’s larger sense of purpose, to an analytical and formulaic exercise. “Strategy has become more about formulation than implementation, and more about getting the analysis right at the outset than living with a strategy over time," Montgomery says. "As a consequence, it has less to do with leadership than ever before."
Key Takeaways: For a leader, becoming a strategist starts with getting clear on why, whether, and to whom your company matters. An organization’s continued existence depends on constantly finding a compelling reason for it to exist. “Shepherding this never-ending process, being the steward of a living strategy, is the defining responsibility of a leader.” Montgomery’s goal is to embolden top leaders to embrace the role of strategist and develop their strategy skills. However, she also points out that it's important for employees at all levels of an organization to start thinking like strategists and begin now to build those strategy muscles.
2. McKinsey & Co in their Quarterly publication has an article, Managing the Strategy Journey, that suggests the senior leadership team (I’d add the Board for a nonprofit) must do several big things when undertaking the strategy development journey. The starting point of the journey is for the leadership team to increase the time they spend together discussing strategy to at least match the time they spend together on
operating issues. (Nonprofit Boards and Leaders are you listening?)
“Strategy is about the actions you take. Therefore, one of the highest priorities of a top-management strategy forum is to ensure disciplined implementation of key strategic initiatives. A big advantage of the journey approach is that the process of debating and deciding on changes in strategic direction helps top-management teams (again, I’d add Boards) get behind the new direction, particularly if the CEO holds the entire team collectively accountable for accomplishing it.” Look here for Mckinsey’s exhibit of a process to move from strategic ideas to operating realities.
The article also points out the importance of linking strategy to budgeting and forecasting, “the key is to take a disciplined approach to converting strategies into actions that can be incorporated in financial plans and operating budgets. One important capability that companies must develop to do this well is rolling forecasting and budgeting, so that needed investments can be made in a timely manner rather than waiting for the next annual planning cycle.”
3. And finally, a great article from Inc. describes the 6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers. Adaptive strategic leaders - the kind who thrive in today's uncertain environment - do six things well:
2. Think Critically and Question Everything
3. Interpret (seek patterns, test multiple hypothesis)
4. Decide (Balance speed, rigor, quality, and agility. Take a stand even
with incomplete information and amid diverse views.)
5. Align (Foster open dialogue, build trust and engage key stakeholders,
especially when views diverge)
6. Learn (seek honest feedback, conduct rigorous debriefs)