Friday, June 8, 2012

New Perspective on Organizational Culture

A friend and collegue just sent me an interesting article from the New York Times about children and character.   It talks about grit - determination, goal focused, follow through and character that make a difference in the children that succeed in school and those that do not.  It is an interesting article  - here is the link.  It was printed last fall.

It got me to thinking about all of leaders that I work with and how they have character and the grit described in the article.  They have goals and stick to them.  They are determined and work hard toward staying the course.  They follow-through on what they say they will do and they tackle tough problems.  Grit means you have the character to succeed. 

I wonder how you build grit and character into an organization.  What type of culture would you need to build that supports that type of goal focus, determination and follow-through for clients and customers.  How could a leader not only role model grit but also put in rewards and recognition for employees that demonstrate the traits and culture that would support grit.   What would characteristics of this model culture be - does  it below on the high performing list?

I think with the continued economic challenge we will all need grit to survive and thrive for whatever the next chapter brings.  Character as the article points out is important - maybe as important as grades and tests for those kids that become adults. How do we help adults, professionals and organizations develop character and grit? 

More to ponder as I try to come up with some new tools to help organizations face the next set of economic and social challenges.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Change Management

Change mangement seems to be my summer theme.  Many of my clients and my projects are centered around the theme of  change management and how an organization - business, government or nonprofit can successfully manage the change process.  I found myself focusing on themes of culture, performance, strategy, and staff training.  It is not easy and takes time, leadership and some clear direction or focus. 

Looking to do more reading and developing more tools on this. 

Lessons from the Field

I recently finished an 18 month consulting project working with 37 nonprofits under a federal capacity building grant and the Northland Foundation.    In that short timeline, 18 strategic plans got facilitated,  12 organizations did board development and we created templates for succession planning, marketing,board development, scenario planning and even a nonprofit chart of accounts for Quickbooks.

One of the side services offered was executive coaching to a dozen or so nonprofit executive directors during times of transition.  Some were new, some faced significant budget cuts and others were restructuring their organizations.  The key themes for me was the whole issue of management teams and how little there is in the nonprofit world about how to build, sustain and manage a team especially in that crucial organizational life cycle between growth and established organization.  

The concept of team charters, management team workplans, change management to address cultural issues and delegation of management roles was new to many seasoned executive directors.  The whole focus on how to develop management bench strength to support strong internal systems and future growth was lacking in many of the nonprofit organizations.

I am used to the business and venture development world where management teams are key and all of the "common wisdom" supports the entrepreneur that builds those internal management teams.   The same level of interest, research and common wisdom does not seem to exist when it comes to nonprofit leadeship and management teams.  Many consider nonprofits too small to develop teams, others think it is the finance director and the development director.  There appears to be little "common wisdom" about how a nonprofit director should go about building and developing their team.
I watched and coached nonprofit Executives as they struggled to learn about how to really use their management team, how to develop a management team charter, and what they would delegate to the team rather than to individuals.  Some teams had so much baggage out of past communication issues that trust, healthy debate and commitment were out the window.  Other teams floundered with lots of meetings that eventually became less and less of a priority for anyone. I spend a good bit of my time coaching these execs on their management teams.  It left me wondering what are best practices for a nonprofit and how do boards and funders help directors find the resources to make sure they have a team.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

New Rules New Tools

It is becoming apparent that this economic situation is here to stay for a few years - not the typical year or so. I think we are all becoming clearer that new rules are being created and those of us that figure out how to adapt and change will be those mostly likely to be standing in 2011.

Accepting this reality is tough for an organization that has a history of doing business one way, has a strong track record and has produced effective results. I find that the organizations are having a tough time accepting the concept that times have changed and as a result the organization has to figure out how to adapt and manage itself differently. We all need some new tools that will assist us as individuals and the organizations we lead to navigate through these times. I know that strategy, reflection, new alliances and managing with fewer resources are now required.

I often hear entrepreneurs say I had this vision and we were working towards it and this crisis came along. They say they do not know if they should put aside the vision , leave the organization, or try to continue on with the same vision. I see first hand entrepreneurs struggle with the loss of their "path" and the resulting confusion and angst this creates personally.

CNN Money had an interesting article about four companies and how they started planning differently - rather than report the bad news, they have begun to systematically retool their companies to respond to the new economic realities. I am sure more will follow. The nonprofit world has no such compelling stories - yet.

It seems that some redefining of the vision will be needed. In some cases it will take longer for the vision to be achieved and in other cases, new definitions for growth, performance, return on investment and achievement will be needed.

As to the new tools - scenario planning, sustainability planning, results based strategic plans and
improved business practices are being used by organizations trying to define their new realities. Even newer tools like strategic alliances and mergers are being created to extend resources and mission related activities.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Scenario Planning Process to Make Decisions

Scenario Planning is often used to help a group make decisions or at least review their options or choices. An example is a recent arts group that I assisted develop their options during a strategic planning process. The team from the board and staff developed a number of future scenarios that they might explore as part of their strategic plan. The options involved the issue of their theater space. The generated the following options:
  • leasing one space
  • buying a theater and making it their permanent space
  • forming a strategic alliance with another theater to jointly share in the space
  • leasing different venues by series package

Each scenario option had different implications for the arts group. The issues included their artistic productions, marketing pros and cons, target audiences, costs, and impact on their bottom line, sustainability in the community and funding.

In scenario planning, each option would be reviewed and defined. Financial projections were completed with budgets impacts costed out. The team reviewed the pros and cons - the impact of each scenario on a number of criteria that included:

  • funding from donations, foundations, corporate sponsorship
  • earned income revenue including ticket sales, subscriptions, concessions, etc
  • marketing challenges and opportunities
  • program - number of productions, seat capacity per show, and stage, lightening, and rehearsal space
  • expenses for each - short term and long term
  • community message, image and presence
  • long term viability
  • growth and image to audiences
  • cashflow impact

this criteria was developed by the board before the options were developed. They were developed to provide shared criteria so that all members could be on the same page when the options information was discussed.

The process of laying out the options, reviewing the impact of each options, generating the budget numbers and creating a mini action plan provided a valuable process to the board and staff. Staff would be able to review with all of the options with the board in a reasoned discussion. The information provided a more organized process for the board discussion so that ideas were classified under one of the options. It organized the information for the board so that they could ask thoughtful questions and review each option in their strategic planning process.

We all use scenario planning everyday. In these times, we are using the scenario planning tools to be more thoughtful about our organizations future.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Scenario Planning-When to Use

Scenario Planning has become a more important tool. Organizations facing change and leaders who are uncertain about how to proceed are conducting scenario planning as a method to manage the unpredictability of our times. None of us really know where this economy is going and how we will be responding a year from now.

Many organizations are facing deficits - reductions in funding and/or sales. Some organizations have lost major funding sources and have to reduce staff, eliminate programs and are having to fund raise in different ways. Other organizations are also facing increased client demand for services from families and individuals being negatively impacted by the recession. Their funding levels are not keeping pace with the demand for services.

Other organizations are concerned about future funding sources and want to stay ahead of the curve by wisely conserving resources now and ensuring their organizations are positioned to weather further changes.

Scenario planning provides a method for conducting an organizational conversation about how to manage change. It provides a set of steps for managing this conversation and provides leaders with some new tools. Organizations concerned about the future who are convinced they will need to respond to change that has yet to be defined are perfect candidates for scenario planning. As a leader, if you are certain that your organization will need to respond quickly to a set of outside forces that are not yet predictable, then scenario planning provides a method for organizing a set of options or future scenarios. It provides a process for a board and staff to dialogue about change, determine their options and formulate action plans.

Want to know more check out

Friday, August 21, 2009

Scenario Planning vs. Strategic Planning

One of the questions I often get is how is scenario planning different that strategic planning. For those new to planning it can often look similar as you begin the process. Both begin with an environmental scan and both end with an action plan but there the similarity ends.

Strategic planning is about deciding on a future with strategies on how you will achieve that future. It involves really looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and then deciding on some strategies for creating a desired future. It focuses on the goals and objectives for achieving those strategies. Generally, a strategic plan focuses on three to five years out and what you want to cause to happen - strategically- for the organization. It often involves some program strategies, marketing and infrastructure strategies and fundraising/funding strategy.

Scenario planning asks a different set of questions. It begins by asking what is known and unknown about the future. What can you predicate will happen and what can not predicate or be certain might happen in the future. Scenario planning then has you brainstorm a number of options or scenarios of what impact or change your organization might experience. Once you come up with scenarios, then you actually run financial projections to see the impact of those scenarios on the organization. It ends with an action plan on how you would implement the scenario should the future predictions come true or the scenarios happen.

A well prepared organization would have both - it is not an either or choice - the strategic plan is your road map for how to achieve specific strategies for your organization and the scenario planning is to prepare your organization for changing rapidly in response to external influences. Many scenario plans go in the drawer once completed and are pulled out when specific trends or changes begin happening and the organization has to respond in order to remain viable.

Most of us complete formal strategic plans and have created the scenario plans in our heads. That has all changed with this economy and scenario planning has now become a necessity and a more formal process.

So is your organization ready to change rapidly and smoothly in response to external forces?