Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Panic Sooner!

It is an easy trap to fall into.  We are all very busy and tend to focus on the issues that seem to require the most immediate attention today.  And sometimes we don’t look out far enough – even six, nine, twelve months – to notice trends of importance.  And then all of a sudden – panic strikes!!!  And last minute panic is usually not very effective.

One of the great tips from one of my mentors is:  “If You are Going to Panic, Panic Early.”  This is just one of many excellent quick tips in the book Deadline Busting:  How to be a Star Performer in YourOrganization, by Drs. Jeffrey & Laurie Ford.  The idea in “panicking early,” of course, is to get people into a higher level of action when it can actually do some good.  Jeff was one of the great management professors I had at Ohio State and is wife, Laurie, is a management consultant.

Some of my other favorites from the book:

*“Don’t Give Excuses When Things Go Wrong”

*“Account for Interruptions in Your Schedule”

*“Create a Climate of No Complaints”

*“Get Over it, Clean it up, Move on”

Each tip is explained in a quick one-page read.  It’s the perfect New Year’s Resolution gift (available on Amazon) for your favorite Deadline Buster.  Or, buy one for the office.  You can read one – two tips per staff meeting to help your team improve its performance.

Deadline Busting is an important skill for all of us.  Learn some of these great tips and help your organization make even more of a Mission Impact.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Inspiring a Sense of Urgency

I was inspired to write this prior to the Pittsburgh Steelers football game last Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.  I was worried.  The Steelers had shown no “sense of urgency” during the prior week against the lowly Kansas City Chiefs and almost lost.  “They cannot afford to do that with Cincinnati,” I worried, “Coach Tomlin better find a way to inspire a sense of urgency.”

Bringing a “sense of urgency” to every one of the sixteen regular season football games has got to be tough.  It must be easy to get a bit complacent, day in and day out, when it is not one of the biggest games of the year.

The same goes for the rest of us.  How can we remain inspired, with a sense of urgency and focus – day in and day out – and how can we inspire that in others?  Here are some ideas I have found to be helpful.


*First, if you don’t have one already, write a personal mission statement.  Make it simple.  Just answer the questions:  At this point in your life, what is the difference you want to make in the world and why is that important to you?  Don’t overcomplicate it.  It is not written in stone, and you can change it in the future if you want.

*Next, create a new routine to take five minutes early every morning to review your mission statement, to think about your day ahead, and focus on how what you are doing connects to your personal mission.  Remind yourself of the important opportunity you have to make a difference each day.

*Ideally, you would build on this routine and add some specific goals for the year, quarter, and week that you see connecting to the mission and you would review those as well.  I do this nearly every morning as a part of my meditation time and it helps me focus.  I think of it as Rebooting Rob.


*Suggest the above routine with your team (just forward this blog to them).

*Next, make sure every person on your team understands how their specific set of work responsibilities connects to the mission of your organization and helps make your collective organizational Mission Impact.

*Finally, add an agenda item to your regular staff meetings.  When I was CEO at LeaderShape, someone on the staff suggested that we make “Mission-Vision Updates” the first agenda item for our weekly staff meetings.  The idea was to encourage people to think of something cool that had happened in the past week that was a tangible example about how we were making a difference.  We are all so busy working, working, working that we often don’t take the time to appreciate the difference we make.  This was a nice way to call a “time out” and reflect on that.  Also, it made each of us more aware of those moments when they happened – “Hey, this will be a cool thing to share on Monday morning.”

Even the most dedicated, committed person can lose focus and their sense of urgency from time to time.  Use these ideas to help you and your team focus and make even more of a Mission Impact.

P. S.  Yes – the Steelers did play with a “sense of urgency” last Sunday and Coach Tomlin even used those words in his press conference after the game.  Now if we can just bring it again with the Cleveland Browns tonight that would be great!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Great Tools for Setting Outcomes

I have been giving the same speech for about fifteen years on the importance of nonprofits setting outcome measures – both for programs and at the organizational level.  When a Board asks itself “How do we know we are making a difference?” there needs to be some kind of reliable measure that provides the answer.

Inevitably, though, when I give this “speech” someone says “But for my organization it's really hard!”  And they are right.  It is more complex for some organizations than for others.  Happily, we are seeing more tools come available to assist organizations.  For example, a few weeks back I referenced Mario Morino’s new book, Leap of Reason, which is a great resource.  Ten days ago at the annual nonprofit researchers' conference (ARNOVA) I got an update on two other web-based resources that I highly recommend.

From http:\\homelessoutcomes.org.uk
The first is a product of The Urban Institute and you can check out the beta version of it at www.oepp.org.  OEPP stands for “Outcomes & Effective Practices Portal” and its purpose is to provide “practical knowledge that nonprofit professionals can use to manage their day-to-day performance.  Information in the OEPP leverages research-based findings that have been synthesized and simplified by experts in the field.  By providing information about program outcomes, effective practices, performance indicators and measurement tools to gauge performance, the OEPP helps nonprofit practitioners to deliver more effective social programs.”  The Urban Institute has been a long time leader in nonprofit research and this is a great tool that will just continue to get better when it is officially launched in March.

The next tool is from The Foundation Center, another major leader in philanthropy.  Their tool is at http://trasi.foundationcenter.org/ and is dubbed TRASI for “Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact.”  It is “a searchable, expert-reviewed database of over 150 approaches to measuring the impact of social programs and investments. It also features a community portal for nonprofits, grantmakers, and social enterprises to connect with peers and evaluation experts.”  TRASI was developed in partnership with McKinsey & Company and links to their “Learning for Social Impact" site at http://lsi.mckinsey.com/

This is great stuff.  If you have been stumped on how to develop outcome measures, then check these out ASAP.  Clarifying your outcome measures will make you more efficient and more effective in making a Mission Impact.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Give Your Strategy a Tune-up

How are you going to pursue your vision and work toward accomplishing your mission?  What is your strategy?   

Your strategy is a collection of your answers to these three questions:

*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?

The collective answers to these questions describe your strategy.  But is it a “good” strategy?  Here’s how you know:

First, how well do your answers to the above questions allow you to leverage your organization’s strengths, fortify your weaknesses, seize your opportunities, and block your threats?  If not done well, you run the risk of being derailed by a weakness or threat -- or missing an opportunity you could seize with a strength.

And second, how well do your program plans, staff plans, and funding plans support one another?  For example, does your funding plan provide enough resources to have the kind of staff and programs you need to make an impact?  Look at each plan to see how well they are integrated.

Step back and evaluate your strategy according to these two criteria.  If you aren’t happy with your answers, then maybe it is time to give your strategy a tune-up.  Take another look each of the strategy questions and update your plans to make sure each plan supports the other and that you are addressing your SWOTs.  Your tuned-up strategy will give you a better opportunity to make a Mission Impact.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Basic Fundraising “Ask”

It is a simplistic fundraising formula.  But I am a simple-minded guy.

The three words I always make sure to keep in mind when I discuss a possible gift with a prospective donor are Problem, Opportunity, and Challenge.  Though it is indeed a simplistic approach, I have found it to be very helpful.  It keeps me on track during a fund-raising conversation.  I have used it as a personal guide and I have taught it as a guide for others – especially for volunteer fundraisers.  A conversation with someone about making a gift should be sure to cover:

Problem.  This is where the Mission is discussed and it is the perfect place to discuss your organization’s Mission Gap – the unmet needs of those you serve.  “You may not be aware of this, but . . . . . and insert your own explanation of your organization’s Mission Gap.”  Example:  “Twenty percent of the adults in our county are not literate.”

Opportunity.  This is where you talk about your organization’s Vision.  You explain what you are doing now, but you then paint a picture of what more you want to do so you can close that Mission Gap and meet those needs more effectively.  “We have a dream that one day all adults in our community will be literate and we have programs that are proven to make a difference.”

Challenge.  “We understand the Problem.  And we have a Vision for what needs to be done to address it.  Our Challenge is that we do not have the resources at this time to begin making that Vision a reality.  Will you invest (insert your vision of their gift) to help us make that Vision come true for the benefit of those we serve?”

The nonprofit executives who do a lot of fundraising know that I am simplifying a lot here, but it is amazing to me how many people skip one or more of these basic steps.

There are many who chit chat and then go straight to the Challenge (“We need money!”) and ask for a gift.  The prospective donor is not given the chance to understand the magnitude of the Problem and worse, they are not given an Opportunity to dream about helping to solve the problem.

Perhaps still worse, there are those who explain the Problem in excruciating detail and then go directly to Challenge, without discussing the hope of the Vision.  Talk about a depressing conversation!

Vision provides opportunity.  Vision provides hope.  With Vision, we have a chance to make a difference.  Creating an Aspirational Vision for an organization that can help close the Mission Gap is vital to any fundraising effort.

And as we all know, funding is needed by all organizations in order to make even more of a Mission Impact.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Drucker’s Five Important Questions

The Nonprofit Strategy class I am teaching at Maryland was due to discuss SWOT analysis last night, so it has had me thinking about various assessment tools available for nonprofits.

Peter Drucker spent a great deal of time in his later years working on applications of his management ideas for nonprofits – or, as he called them – social sector organizations.  One of the excellent products of that work is The Five Most Important Questions Self Assessment Tool.  Through this workbook, Drucker takes an organization on a tour of his five most important questions:

*What is Our Mission?

*Who is Our Customer?

*What Does the Customer Value?

*What Are Our Results?

*What is Our Plan?

It’s much more than a self-assessment tool, however.  It is really a guide to helping organizations think through their purpose and performance.  Like most anything these days, the Drucker self-assessment tool is available for purchase on Amazon or from the Leader to Leader Institute which Drucker founded.

Clarity on Drucker’s five most important questions can be of great help to an organization as it designs its strategy and focuses attention on increasing its Mission Impact.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Improve Your “Tribe’s” Performance

Interestingly enough, focusing your organization’s “tribe” on your values can actually lead to higher levels of performance.  It makes sense when you think about it.

Imagine that an organization has clearly answered the questions “Why are we here? & What do we stand for?” – and that this is widely understood among the staff and key volunteers; your “tribe.”  Establishing those values gives people something to connect with that is beyond our own self interest.  This fulfills an important human need.  It also gives more meaning to our day-to-day work that enhances productivity.

This idea is underscored in an excellent book, Tribal Leadership, which studies the cultural features of high performance organizations.  FYI – a “tribe” is defined as any group of 20 – 150 people.  Recently, I had a chance to interview one of the book’s authors, Dr. Dave Logan, in connection with a presentation I am giving next week.  As we discussed Level Five “tribes” – those which are the highest performing – Dave said “Getting to Level Five is all about values.  People are trying to make a difference and to make a mark that is bigger than who they are as individuals.  They want to do something remarkable.”

Is your “tribe” clear on your organization’s values – why you exist and what you stand for?  This would be a great thing to check in on during your next staff meeting.  Figure out how to keep these values in the forefront of people’s minds.  The more connected everyone is to your purpose and values, the greater Mission Impact you will make.