Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Delusions of Success

“We met our goals!  Look at how successful we are!!!”

Recently I gave my goal setting presentation to a great nonprofit group (Global Communities) in which I discussed the tradeoffs between Attainable, Aggressive, and Almost Impossible goals.  Some people like to set small Attainable goals so they can be successful more often.

At the break, the CEO (thanks for this David Weiss) said “You know, Rob, organizations which set small goals and think they are being successful, are sometimes deluding themselves.  If you keep setting small goals you may not be making the kind of progress you really need to make.  And then pretty soon you are irrelevant and out of business.  I have seen it happen time and again.”

Great point, David!  If we are not at least Aggressive with our goal setting then we are not pushing ourselves to be more creative and think outside the proverbial box.  Of course, setting Almost Impossible goals really makes you think outside the box and reinvent the ways in which you have been pursuing certain goals.

Check out my full article that discusses Attainable, Aggressive, and Almost Impossible goals here: The Power of Goals.

Leverage the true power of goals and watch your Mission Impact grow exponentially.  


For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at www.SheehanNonprofitConsulting.com   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Strategy in Uncertain Times

“How am I supposed to create a strategy for the next three – five years, when I have no idea how the environment is going to change in even the next three months?”

This was a very astute question asked during the Breakthrough Strategy seminar I taught earlier this week for nonprofit executives in Columbus, Ohio.  In an environment that has been called “permanent white water”* how can we effectively plan for the future?

Here are three specific suggestions.

Keep Focus on Mission.  Remember that there are some key aspects of your organization that won’t change often – especially your commitment to accomplish your mission.  If you are swimming in the ocean with the waves tossing you one way and another, keep your eyes focused on a specific spot on shore where you want to go.  If you don’t do this then you will end up going where the tide wants to take you, rather than where you really want to go.  Keep readjusting your actions with a focus on Mission Impact.

Specify Your Assumptions.  Once you have set your goals, identified your SWOTs, and set your strategy, then specify the most important of the assumptions that your strategy is based on.  Keep an eye on these.  If they change dramatically, then you may need to adjust your strategy.  This usually does not lead to changing your goals, but to changing the types of strategic actions you will take to achieve the goals.

Do Scenario Planning.  If you are in an environment in which you can expect two or three potential changes ahead, then take some time before these things happen to decide what alternative actions you will take in each case.  By doing this calmly, before the big changes happen, you can be better prepared to effectively pivot and implement new action plans.  This is especially helpful in a political environment.

By Keeping Your Focus, Specifying Your Assumptions, and Doing Scenario Planning, you can not only survive – but even thrive in a permanent white water environment.  Remember, change often brings about new opportunities as well as challenges.

*Peter Vaill, Learning as a Way of Being: Strategies for Survival in a World of Permanent White Water,1996.


For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at www.SheehanNonprofitConsulting.com   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Who Will Pay For It?

Entrepreneurs – whether they are for-profit or not-for-profit focused – have this question as one of their main challenges.  Many for-profit entrepreneurs come up with a new, cool product or service – but there is no market.  There is no one who will actually pay for it.

The not-for-profit entrepreneurs are fantastic at coming up with new, innovative programs that will make a difference.  But the question I have pushed not-for-profit colleagues on for decades is “Great, but how are we going to pay for it?!?” 

“We’ll just do more fundraising.”

That might be the answer.

If you are a Board member and you want the organization to raise more money, then we are going to start with you.  And that means having you give more and ask more frequently and ask for bigger gifts.

If you are a program staff member and you want the organization to raise more money then we will also ask you to increase your annual gift.  And we might need to redesign your job so you can devote some time to helping raise money for your new ideas.  Fundraising needs to be the “work” of the entire organization.

As I have written before (“Give Your Strategy a Tune-up”), the three fundamental strategic questions are:

*What programs/services do we want to provide to make a Mission Impact?

*How will we staff our organization?

*How will we fund our organization?

That last question deserves as much creative thinking, or more, as the others.  It may not be the most “fun” of the strategic questions.  But if we can’t figure out how we are going to sustainably pay for our programs, services, and staff – then we won’t make any impact at all.

Maybe the answer is more fundraising.  But maybe it is also more fees for service.  Or collaborating on costs with another nonprofit.  Or closing down an “okay” program for one that has much more promise.  (FYI – the answer is probably not a golf tournament or bake sale.)

Regardless, we have to figure out how to fund ourselves.  We are not the U.S. Congress.  We can’t just print more money.  We need to earn our way along.  And that is actually one of the things I love most about working in the not-for-profit sector.


For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at www.SheehanNonprofitConsulting.com   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Timing is Never Right to Lead Change

Do it anyway.

You know that things need to change in your organization.  You are either wasting money or opportunities.  Or you keep doing the same things over and over again while people expect a different result (Definition of Insanity attributed to Einstein).  Something has to change!

But the timing is not right.  Either you don’t have the right big boss or if you are the big boss then you don’t have the right team.  Or something else is not exactly right.

A number of years ago a colleague and I were discussing a similar issue with one of our mentors, Dr. Russ Ackoff, during lunch break on the day he was doing a seminar for EMBA students at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.  Russ yelled at us (I am not kidding) “Start where you are and with what influence you have.  Now!”

Later that afternoon, Russ finished his seminar while my colleague and I sat in the back of the room.  He told the story of a joke his son once told him when he was young.

“Hey Dad, two skeletons were locked in a closet.  What did the one skeleton say to the other one?”

“I don’t know.”

“If we had any guts we’d get out of here.”

The audience chuckled.  And Russ concluded: “Do you have any guts?”

He appeared to be looking at the students when he said this, but my colleague and I knew he was speaking directly to us.  He was telling us that we couldn’t allow ourselves to be trapped in a closet of constraints that we had imagined.  We needed to summon our “guts.”  Now!

Start where you are, with what influence you have.  Now!  And you will be on your way to making even more of a Mission Impact


For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at www.SheehanNonprofitConsulting.com   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Do We Have the Correct Strategy?

There is no “factual” way to know the answer to this question.

And it drives a lot of people mad.

But strategy is not a math question with right or wrong answers.  You “create” a strategy based on your aspirations and, yes, some hearty analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  But there is no way to tell if you have created the “correct” strategy.

Recently, Roger Martin – former Dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto – had a great blog entitled “Why Smart People Struggle with Strategy.”  His main point is that “smart” people are used to finding the “right” answers.  And the ambiguity of strategy creation vexes them.  A smart student in one of my graduate classes once suggested he could create a logarithm to discern a correct strategy. No. Can’t be done! 

What you can do is to create a thoughtful process that involves multiple stakeholders and is led by insightful, caring people.  Take your time and work the process.  Once you have created your strategy then make sure to list your assumptions so you can monitor those as you implement the strategy.

And, of course, implementation is key.  Aimlessly taking action without a strategy is a bad idea. But the poor execution of a great strategy will get you nowhere. An excellent strategy with superior implementation will make a tremendous Mission Impact.


For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at www.SheehanNonprofitConsulting.com   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.