The Numbers Add Up

Have you noticed how many article titles have numbers in them? You know: 10 Places You Must Travel, 5 Tips for Better Tweets, 3 Reasons to Eat Better, …..Obviously, as readers, we are fascinated by lists – otherwise there wouldn’t be so many of these articles. Here is one I clicked on recently: “8 Rules For Creating A Passionate Work Culture.” My favorites are rule #2: “Communicate” and #3: “Tend to the Weeds.”

Communicate – Once you have the right people, you need to sit down regularly with them and discuss what is going well and what isn’t. It’s critical to take note of your victories, but it’s just as important to analyze your losses. A fertile culture is one that recognizes when things don’t work and adjusts to rectify the problem. As well, people need to feel safe and trusted, to understand that they can speak freely without fear of repercussion. That is so true and I wonder if it is happening in your place of work. Are you celebrating AND analyzing? Our failures and mistakes are so important to our development and growth both personally and professionally, but too often they are treated as negatives. It is only negative if you don’t admit, analyze and grow from things you try that don’t work out.
Tend to the Weeds – A culture of passion capital can be compromised by the wrong people. One of the most destructive corporate weeds is the whiner. Whiners aren’t necessarily public with their complaints. Instead, they move through the organization, speaking privately, sowing doubt, strangling passion. In order to effectively tend to the weeds you have to listen to what you do not want to hear and what is very hard to believe. I am not suggesting paranoia, but be open when you have a feeling or you are questioning if someone might be quietly disloyal. I ignored signs and was completely shocked to find that one of my seemingly stellar employees was sabotaging me when they disagreed with my position.

So here is the 1 thing I would like you to walk away with (wink): Employees influence their work culture and Leaders craft it. What is the culture of your organization?


Strategic Thinkers, Visionary Leaders

I had a board member from a nonprofit organization tell  me that their board decided they should stop focusing so   much on performance measures and consider other means  of evaluating their executive. After I stopped choking on the water that I happened to swallow at that very moment, I asked her why? She said because they needed to take into consideration how tough the financial times are right now, and it wasn’t reasonable to make that kind of judgment. In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins did not say great organizations set “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” only when times are prosperous. All nonprofit executives should be evaluated based on performance and the performance goals should be based on what great leaders can achieve. I told my board member friend to ask herself this: does your mission deserve a great leader?

When I played tennis back in high school and college, I learned something really meaningful – you tend to play to the level of your opponent. If I wanted to become better at tennis, then I needed to play against people who were much better than I was, not against those who were equal, or I could easily beat.

I read a great article that would be helpful for board members and should be a part of an executive’s evaluation.  6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers  by Paul J.H. Schoemaker

Here are some of my favorite quotes:
Every leader’s temptation is to deal with what’s directly in front, because it always seems more urgent and concrete.

While you concentrate on steering around potholes, you’ll miss windfall opportunities, not to mention any signals that the road you’re on is leading off a cliff. 

Adaptive strategic leaders — the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment – do six things well: …….Anticipate, Think Critically, Interpret, Decide, Align and Learn. 

I encourage you to read the entire article and the comments. As you see, part of being a great leader is being strategic. So, does your mission deserve a great leader?

San Antonio’s Eastside Promise

Last week a spotlight was focused on education in San Antonio.  An impressive delegation which included the United Way of Bexar County, City of San Antonio, United Way International, the Department of Education, and Promise Neighborhoods Initiatives toured the targeted schools, Tynan Early Childhood Center, Bowden Elementary, Pershing Elementary, Washington Elementary, Wheatley Middle and Sam Houston High.   I was honored to be a part of that delegation as well.  Are you aware of the tremendous promise that lies in the Eastside of San Antonio? Specifically,  there is a cluster of contiguous neighborhoods just east of downtown, covering approximately 3  square miles.  The promise in those neighborhoods thrives in spite of the incredible challenges inherent in low-income, urban areas.  With a $25 million grant from the Department of Education, we (residents, students, parents, nonprofits, government and schools) aim to turn that promise into success.

For the past 6 years, I have been involved as a volunteer with the United Way, specifically addressing the drop-out problem in some of the poorest schools in the San Antonio Independent School District.  We are not addressing it by implementing a new program – rather, we are mobilizing the parents within the school district.  We started with a few parents- some of whom do not speak English – most of whom were too intimidated by the bureaucratic school system to be involved in their children’s school.  With the expertise of Presa Community Center staff  and Family Service Assn staff,  we have engaged parents, and, they in turn have visited with many other parents about the importance of being involved in their children’s education and schools.  They started parent rooms at each campus where students and parents can go for support, assistance and fellowship.

We have progressed from having just a few parents involved, to having hundreds of parents involved. Several parents, who were understandly scared to speak in front of a group, went to the capitol last year to advocate for Texas public education. The success of our partnership – involving schools, parents, business volunteers, nonprofits – is what led to the promise neighborhood opportunity.

“I applaud each of the Promise Neighborhood applicants for their leadership,” President Barack Obama said. “They are galvanizing their communities to help offer our children a pathway out of poverty. The winners announced today will deliver a broad array of services to help all young people thrive academically, earn their high school diploma, go on to college, and reach for their dreams.”"Communities across the country recognize that education is the one true path out of poverty,” Secretary Duncan said. “These Promise Neighborhoods applicants are committed to putting schools at the center of their work to provide comprehensive services for young children and students.”

“Promise Neighborhoods recognizes that children need to be surrounded by systems of support inside and outside of the classroom to help them be successful in school and beyond,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

It has been a real honor watching the partnership develop and grow and I want to applaud the United Way for being a true collaborative leader.  I think Svante Myrick - the 24 yr old recently elected mayor of Ithica NY – sums it up best when speaking of what led to his success, he says “This is not the story of a self-made man.  This is a story of a community that conspired together to raise, you know, a child.  I mean, that’s the truth.”

Collaborative Transformational Change

It has been 5 months since I last blogged.  A lot has happened during that time: Twitter has become more popular; facebook is going public ; Steve Jobs, Whitney Houston and North Korea’s evil dictator all died; we started a new year; the economy is showing signs of turning around; and I……..completed my graduate work, passing my written and oral comprehensives!

 My social media life took a back seat when other priorities demanded my attention.  I am finding this experience much like going to the gym – when you get away from it for a while, it is difficult to get back into it.   I find myself overwhelmed by all of the things that I could write about, and while trying to narrow it down, I get pulled into other work and end up losing another day.  So, I am just going to start this blog post with what piqued my interest today.

The Bridgespan Group recently released a report:  Needle-Moving Community Collaboratives: A Promising Approach to Addressing America’s Biggest Challenges that I encourage everyone to read who is interested in true transformation.

The White House Council for Community Solutions worked with The Bridgespan Group to identify effective needle-moving collaboratives (those that have achieved at least 10 percent progress in a community-wide metric), understand the keys to success, and recommend ways to drive more collective impact, particularly to address the challenges of disconnected youth.

They found four common operating principles in these collaborative efforts:

  • Commitment to long-term involvement;
  • Involvement of key stakeholders across sectors;
  • Use of shared data to set agendas and improve results over time;
  • Engagement of community members as substantive partners.

What I find particularly intriguing is one of the five core elements the Bridgespan group discovered as a contributing success factor:

Effective leadership and governance, with highly respected leaders at the helm who are viewed as neutral, honest brokers and who attract and retain a diverse group of large and small organizations to guide the collaborative forward.

Perhaps that is why it is not easily replicated – it is very difficult to find these leaders.  If we are truly straightforward in our identification of leaders, then transformational change will happen.

Boards, Funders: Hold Your Nonprofit Leaders Accountable.

Image: scottchan /

I was reading an article by Paul Connolly, in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. In the article, Connolly discusses how some people propose that the best thing you can fund in a nonprofit is the fundraising arm of the organization.  Connolly suggests that tactic is short-sighted:

This evidence is consistent with other research on nonprofit organizational performance that TCC Group has conducted over the past few years. When we analyzed the results of almost 700 nonprofits nationwide that had taken the Core Capacity Assessment Tool survey, and then, through regression analysis, identified the key drivers for those that scored highest on financial sustainability, we determined that fundraising capacity was indeed a substantial factor—but predominantly when combined with robust internal leadership and programmatic learning (see “The Sustainability Formula” report). Likewise, our study last year of 263 nonprofits in Los Angeles County for the Weingart Foundation (see “Fortifying L.A.’s Nonprofit Organizations”) found that fund-development capacity-building tended to lead more to individual knowledge and motivation, while organizational assessment, strategic planning, and board leadership development were more likely to result in institutional change. Fundraising capacity is essential—even a nonprofit with the highest impact programs will not last without it—yet it needs to happen in conjunction with solid leadership and organizational learning.

I think he is completely right.  I will continue to preach that, first and foremost, Boards and Funders need to hold their nonprofit leaders accountable.  You should demand greatness from your Chief Executive.  If you do not – and do not have measures in place to evaluate his or her greatness – then you are doing a disservice to your mission.

So, what should you expect and how should you measure it?  You should look for 5 things:

  1. Program outcomes – how effective is your program?  Is your organization fulfilling your mission and are you achieving your service goals?
  2. Budget results – Is your organization growing in its revenue capacity, do you have at least 6 months operating reserves?  Are you comfortable with the financial management of the organization? What are other investors saying about your service?
  3. Organizational culture – What is the real culture inside the organization?  Are employees engaged and doing what they do best EVERY day?
  4. Strategic Direction – is your leader a visionary?  Is he/she constantly evaluating the environment and responding without being distracted by the latest idea and losing focus? Is he/she ambitious, yet reasonable?
  5. Leadership Development – is your leader investing in his/her own continued learning and professional development as well as that of the board and staff?  What is your chief executive doing to continue to learn and grow as a leader?  How specifically is your leader professionally developing the leadership team and staff.  What great board development is your chief executive bringing to the table?

I have worked with a lot of nonprofit executives over the years, and I am sorry to say that too few are great chief executives, some are very good and too many are not good.  There are many executives that I have really liked and truly believe their heart is in the right place but are not meant to be the Chief.  There are others I have met who could be really good and move to great if they were evaluated properly, told the truth, given the proper professional development they need and then held accountable.

So, are you holding your Chief Executive accountable?