Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tug-of-War: Strategy vs Culture (Part 1)

Mission impact is driven by strategy. Yet there is very little written on the reality that strategy is driven by culture. As president of a small, independent college in mid-America who embraces the teachings of Rob Sheehan in Mission Impact, I'd like to share from the trenches why a nonprofit CEO should not overlook the cautionary adage, “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

When I became a college president in 2007, I stepped into the story of a 125 year-old college whose enrollment was at its lowest level in 40 years, had tired and weary facilities and landscaping, and struggled through serious operating deficits. Seven years later, enrollment is up 34%, $27 million has been invested in facilities and landscaping enhancements, and finances are stable.

Our Guest Blogger is Dr. Ed Leonard, President of
Bethany College, Lindsborg, KS.
The change that had to happen for these results to occur began with clear purpose and direction. However, after several years of slow build-up, the last two years have seen remarkable breakthrough. That occurred, I would suggest, because my senior leaders and I, with unequivocal board support, began assessing and building a new culture.

Our assessment revealed the current culture was a stagnant, "family-like" clan culture (think charming small college) and needed to be re-energized with more innovative and competitive elements to reach our preferred culture. That is, we had to build a new culture that lessened talking only about current mission to being guided by future vision, that eliminated normalizing mediocrity to expecting quality, that shifted the priority from loyalty to performance, and from thinking we're good to thinking we can be great.

To be more innovative, we launched several new entrepreneurial initiatives and supported skunkworks. To be more competitive, we established goals for key employees and held them accountable.

Even as the new culture started taking shape and we started seeing breakthrough results, tension and push back began to appear. How did we respond? Stay tuned for Part 2.


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, October 6, 2014

Implementing Almost Impossible Goals

The implementation of traditional Attainable goals is straightforward.  By definition, you figure out how you are going to accomplish the goal while you are setting it.  Usually this means that there has been a certain process you have been using in the past that you are making some incremental improvements to.  Based on your projections of how well those improvements are going to work, you forecast your goal.

Almost Impossible Goal Implementation is quite the opposite.  By definition, an Almost Impossible Goal is one that you think you maybe have a 1% chance of accomplishing AND you don’t know how to do it.  The goal is not a forecast, it is an aspiration.

So what’s next after setting an Almost Impossible Goal?

Conduct a series of brainstorming sessions with people who have enthusiasm for the goal.  You want people who have the mindset of “I don’t know how we are going to do this, but wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could figure that out!”  You want them to be focused on how much more of a Mission Impact you would be able to make by accomplishing the goal.  When doing the brainstorming, keep these things in mind:

*People usually do brainstorming incorrectly.  The idea is to generate as many ideas as possible – without self-monitoring for quality.

*Rather than opening up a free-for-all session, start with “brain-writing.”  Give everyone ten minutes to think silently on their own of new ways to try to accomplish the Almost Impossible Goal.  When the ten minutes are over, ask each person to read one of their ideas.  Call upon each person to share one idea at a time until all ideas have been shared. 

*Rigorously enforce the “no evaluation” rule when people are reading their brain-writing lists.  There is No Commentary while people read out their ideas.

*Once all ideas are shared, open the floor to suggestions for what are the most promising ideas.  Encourage people to build upon ideas that have been shared.

*Remember, amazing new ideas usually do not appear overnight or on schedule!  This is why you have to have multiple sessions spaced out over time.

*Try responsible experiments with ideas that seem to have promise.  See which ones work and which ones fail.  This is sometimes referred to as failing fast.  You will learn more as you quickly try out ideas.

*Don’t give up!  Just because none of your experiments are working does not mean you will find that new idea sooner or later.  They say that Edison tried 10,000 different versions before inventing the filament for the electric light bulb.

*Remember that you set the goal because you were inspired to make more of a Mission Impact – and that is admirable.  If you fail then count it as a Noble Failure.


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, September 15, 2014

A Leader's Focus

You are remarkably busy.  Everyone is.  But you are a leader and you need to stay focused.

There are thousands of things to do and it is very easy to let your focus roam to the immediate urgencies of the moment.  These urgencies are important, but don’t let them distract you.  You need to keep your focus on the long term, while paying attention to immediate issues.  If there is anything that distinguishes a leader from a manager, this is it.


Keep your focus on:

*Closing your Mission Gap.  Imagine what the world would look like if you were accomplishing your mission 100%.  And compare that to the way the world looks like today.  Your job is to remind people that your collective job is to close that gap.  Remind them of the big picture and the progress they are making toward that with the work they are doing.

*Your Strategic Goals.  You set Strategic Goals to close the Mission Gap.  If someone suggests a new activity or idea, then you ask “How does that support our Strategic Goals?”  Of course the Strategic Goals need to be broken down into annual goals and activities and accountabilities.  But as all that is going on you need to remind people of the connection of the daily activities to the Strategic Goals and how you are all making progress toward closing the Mission Gap.

Focus!  And you will surely make 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.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Thankfulness & Savoring: Revisited

Below is a blog from Thanksgiving 2012 in which I discuss the power of savoring each moment, and being thankful for it.  I mention having a wonderful Thanksgiving meal with my Dad and savoring our time together -- because "at 87+ who knows how much longer I will have time with him."

Well, Dad died on this past Saturday night.  And while I am sad and will certainly have grieving to do for a while, I cannot tell you how thankful I am that I have taken the time to savor our moments together during the past many months.

Slow down and savor your good times with your loved ones.  The memories will last a lifetime.

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You probably don’t have time to read this because you are ON THE GO!

Same here.  In fact, I didn’t have time to write this because I am ON THE GO!

But, if you take a couple of minutes to read this it just might improve your quality of life.

I have been reading some of the positive psychology books recently, two in particular by Martin Seligman.  One is Learned Optimism, which I recommend.  The other is Authentic Happiness, which – if you like the first one, check it out as well.

The positive psychology movement is targeted at showing us how we can take the good things in our lives and make them even better – or “to make normal life even more fulfilling” versus fixing what is wrong with us.

Here are a few takeaways from the research.

*Optimistic people are more successful and have happier lives.  And you can actually learn to be more optimistic.  Really.   Check out the book.

*People who regularly take the time to be thankful for what they have in their lives are happier – more fulfilled.

*And finally, people who take the time to slow down and “savor” what is good in their lives are also happier and more fulfilled.

I understand those last two ideas, but it is hard for me to put them into practice because I am always ON THE GO!

However, this past Thanksgiving morning I decided that I should “slow down” a bit and try to be extra thankful – and to savor the day.  This turned out to be a very cool experiment.

*I was thankful for the beautiful day I had during my four hour drive to see my Dad.  I savored the beauty of the sunny fall sky.

*I tried to make every minute with my Dad really count – savoring the moments.  He’s 87+ so who knows how much longer I will have time with him.  I am so thankful for him.

*During our Thanksgiving meal at one of his favorite restaurants, I decided to slow down and really savor the Lobster Bisque.  I actually noticed that they had put a lobster shaped cracker on top.  Mighty tasty and nice presentation.

*I savored our conversation.  I really tried to listen carefully to Dad and was really appreciating what an amazing man he is.  I tried to focus on him rather than all of the other millions of things running through my mind (what will the next blog be about?).

*It was a very fulfilling day – I think I will always remember it.

Okay.  Thanksgiving is over, but I am trying to take the lesson I learned that day and apply it in at least some small ways every day.  Like you, I am ON THE GO!  But life is a little sweeter when we slow down a bit, recognize what we are thankful for, and savor the good things we have in our lives.

Happy Thankful Savoring to you.



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, August 25, 2014

Brain Training

We all know that we need to train our bodies if we want peak physical performance.  So the same makes sense for our brains.  But until very recently we have not understood exactly how to do that or what the implications are.  Now we do.

Recent advances in neuroscience have demonstrated that various “mindfulness” training activities actually strengthen parts of our brain that allow us to improve our focus and executive capacity.  As a bonus, these activities also improve our health, lower stress, and make us happier.*

Mindfulness training activities are now being promoted among many leading companies, including Google, which pioneered its Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute – now a private entity.

Mindfulness training can include things like meditation, yoga, journaling, and other attentiveness activities that allow the brain to practice focusing.

The value of meditation has been discussed for many years, but until only recently has neuroscience been able to track actual changes in brain functions as a result. 

Unfortunately, many people who try mediation get frustrated quickly because they get distracted during the practice.  As it turns out, that is normal.  In fact, the value of the exercise is training the brain to notice when it becomes distracted and bring it back to the focus of the meditation.  Bringing back the focus is the workout.  Spending as little as ten minutes a day can make a difference.

More and more is being written about this.  Check out these sources from The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Mayo Clinic, and Psychology Today. Also read how the Seattle Seahawks credit meditation with helping them win the Super Bowl.  The same is said to be true for the German World Cup soccer team.  It worked for Samurai warriors, so I guess this all makes sense.

I can’t write enough here to explain the methods of these mindfulness activities, but I hope to peak your interest enough to click some of the links, read the Mayo book referenced below, learn more, and try some of these activities.  I have personally experienced the value of these exercises and have recently added more, including yoga – which more and more athletes are using for its physical and psychological benefits.

Train your brain!  It will make you more effective, less stressed, and healthier.

*The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress Free Living, Amit Sood, 2013.


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.