Monday, February 23, 2015

What Keeps You Awake at Night?

*How do we cut costs?

*How can we raise more money?

*Who should we hire (or let go)?

These are likely candidates to keep you awake at night.  But if you are a senior leader for a nonprofit then I am going to add another one to your list.  I know.  You are welcome.

I’m not encouraging more sleepless nights, but I am encouraging you to work on something unless you are sure you have it handled.  I am suggesting that, based on research*, there is a high likelihood that your Board members use different criteria to judge your nonprofit’s performance.

Try this test.  Circulate the following question to your senior staff:

“What criteria should we use to determine the extent to which we are accomplishing our mission?  What results, outcomes, and specific evidence should we look at to make this determination?”

See what you come up with.  Based on research I did years ago*, which has been replicated since and confirmed through my consulting work, you will probably get responses all over the board.  This is not good.  Without agreed upon performance metrics, all you have to rely on are the varied opinions of those on your team.  You are not unlike a football team on which everyone has their opinion on where the goal line is.  This makes it very difficult to coordinate action, set priorities, and make strategic decisions.

And it gets worse.  If you do the same exercise with your Board then I predict even more variance in their responses.  Why is this a problem?  If you think you have had a successful year and they are looking at different criteria than you are, then it could be an unwelcome surprise.

My advice?  Don’t lose sleep over this!  Get proactive and start the conversation with your staff and Board about this soon.  This is way better than you being surprised at a future Board meeting.  And that would end up costing you a lot of sleepless nights in the future.

*If you want to check out the research on this, see the Resources section of my web site at this link.


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, February 9, 2015

Lead Change in Big SMART Chunks

You know that changes must be made, but the amount of effort that will be required and the size of the change seems almost overwhelming.  This is often the case with important changes.

But remember the old adage – “the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”


I suggest identifying a “chunk” of change that you are willing to go after during an upcoming three – four month time period.  What one big thing can you get done that will set you off in the right direction in making the even bigger changes that are necessary?  Focus on a three – four month period so you can make the “chunk of change” a high priority for a manageable amount of time.

Once you have your idea for that “chunk of change,” then turn it into a SMART goal.  Make sure that it is Specific and Measureable, so you can monitor your progress.  Make sure it is Relevant to your larger vision for your organization, and that it is Time-bound with a specific date.  Then finally, you need to pick an “A” to complete your SMART goal.

Do you want your SMART goal for your change to be Attainable or Aggressive or Almost Impossible?  I always encourage people to Stretch, so I will recommend a Big goal.  But you can read more about the trade-offs of these different SMART formulas in this brief article, The Power of Goals.

Don’t let the size of the change freeze you.  Go after that Big SMART Chunk of Change in the next few months and you will be 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.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Add “Nothing” to Your Calendar

My last blog told you to shorten your “to do” list.  And now I am suggesting that you add “nothing” to your calendar???

Originally this blog was going to be called “The Importance of Reflection,” but I decided the new title might get your attention better.

Here is what I am specifically suggesting:

*Block thirty minutes of time now for doing nothing each day.

I don’t mean thirty minutes to catch up with email.  I mean doing nothing – except to spend a few minutes reflecting.

Why?  We are all too busy.  We are doing, doing, doing all day long and do not take regular time to actually reflect.  This makes us lose focus and, sometimes, rush important decisions.

Some things to reflect on:

“What do I need to give my most focused attention to in the next twenty-four hours?”

“How have the last twenty-four hours gone?” 

“What important things have I learned in the last twenty-four hours?”

Your answers can span your work and personal life.  On some days the most focus you need for the future may be helping your daughter with her homework that night and on others it will be that report you need to give to the board of directors tomorrow.

If it helps you to write, then journal.  Otherwise, just take some unstructured time to think and reflect.

Try it a few times to see how you like it.  If you see the value then automatically block a certain time of the day where you schedule no meetings and then protect the time vigorously. 

Taking the time to reflect makes us more thoughtful, effective decision-makers and leaders.  And that helps you 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.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Focus Your "To Do" List

You have way too much to do – and your “to do” list probably reflects that.  Here are a few tips to provide some FOCUS to that “to do” list.

First, ask yourself What is the most important thing for me to focus on during the next three months?  Then write that in CAPS at the top of your “to do” list every day. This will help make sure that you are focusing on at least one bigger picture issue every day, rather than just the endless minutia that can consume our days.  Stephen Covey would call this your “biggest rock” for the quarter (see First Things First, 1994).  Looking at that Big Rock every day will improve your strategic focus.

Next, if you are like most people, your daily “to do” list is too long – and you never complete it.  No matter how long your list usually is, I encourage you to cut it in half.  Use this rule of thumb: if you are absolutely sure that there is no way you are going to get everything on the list done that day, then cut the least important items and put them in a separate “parking lot.  You can visit the “parking lot” the next day for candidates to put on that day’s list.  Worst case, if you finish your shortened list early then either pick something from the “parking lot” or – here is radical idea –go home on time for once.

Create a quarterly Big Rock, cut your “to do” list by 50%, and create a To Do List Parking Lot.”  These practices will make you more focused and productive in 2015!


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, January 1, 2015

Set New Year Goals, Not Resolutions

Happy 2015!

As is my annual tradition, I will start the new year out with a reminder of my advice from an article I wrote in The Washington Post a couple of years back: Set Goals, Not Resolutions.  You can check out the article at this link.  And also see my full article on The Power of Goals at this link.

Here are some of the high points from the article.

If it’s time for you to set those once-a-year resolutions that you know will fade by March, then this article is not for you.

But if you are ready to make a long-term commitment to achieving higher levels of performance and having more satisfaction in life, then consider getting serious about goal-setting.

Effective goal-setting is a discipline based on well researched principles.  Ask yourself, do you want to use your time in ways that are more relevant – relevant to what you care about most in your life?  If so, then goal setting can put you on that path.

The first lesson is that you are probably not setting goals nearly enough.  You are probably barely scratching the surface.  To maximize performance you should consider setting long-term goals (e.g., five to 10 years) that you then break down into annual goals, quarterly goals, weekly goals, and even daily goals.  To truly maximize performance, you should do this for every important domain of your personal and work life.  This is based on one of the primary finding from the goal setting research.*

Goals direct attention and action toward relevant activities and away from non-relevant activities.

If you want to really start your new year off right, then follow these guidelines for effective goal setting:

*Set goals as outcomes – on what you really want, not the activities that may lead toward them.

*Make sure that all your goals are SMRT:  Specific, Measurable, Relevant, Time-Bound
*Use the right “A” in your SMART goal formula.  All goals need to be SMRT.  But to be SMART you need to pick the “A” that is right for your situation. Here are your options:
1.  Attainable Goals, which you have an 80+% chance of accomplishing, are good if failing will have many negative consequences.  Attainable goals are good to build some momentum with easy wins, or to learn more about new environments, or if you are concerned about getting discouraged.
2.  Aggressive Goals, which you have a 35% chance of accomplishing, will improve your performance.  Research shows that the more difficult the goal, the higher the level of performance.*  If you feel like you have a good system and you want to maximize performance of it, then this method will help you do it.
3.  Almost Impossible Stretch Goals, which you have a 1% chance of accomplishing, will require you to design innovative ways of going about accomplishing your goal.  “Working harder” on the same process won’t do it.  You have an opportunity for breakthrough performance with Almost Impossible Stretch Goals.
*Celebrate Noble Failure.  If you are inspired to pursue a goal and you go for it, but you don’t make it all the way, then appreciate the progress you have made and appreciate that you worked hard at something you really cared about.  This mind-set will bring you more long-term success than letting the fear of failure keep you from doing what truly inspires you.
I provide more extensive detail on goal in this article, The Power of Goals.  If you use these principles and apply them to your personal and work life then I promise you much higher levels of performance, fulfillment, and satisfaction.   But it only works if you take it on as a true, committed discipline – not a once a year fad.  Good luck with all of your goals!


*A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance, by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham


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.