Monday, December 15, 2014

Reader Results Are In!: Good Strategy vs Great Plan

And the winner is . . . Good Strategy by 63% to 37%!

This was fun and thanks to everyone for playing along.  In fact, it was so fun that I am thinking of turning this into a mid-term question for my grad class on Nonprofit Strategy at Maryland.

Is “Good Strategy” the “right” answer?

It all depends on your reasoning.

A number of people pointed out that the only way for a Plan to be “Great” is for it to be based upon a Great Strategy.  Aha!  This was a pretty good answer.  Holding this assumption then you get BOTH a Great Strategy and a Great Plan.  So those of you who pointed this out definitely get an “A.”

Another “A” answer for the Good Strategy option is from friend and former student Rahul Shah who points out:

“A great plan would be useless if the overall strategy does not guide the organization towards achieving their mission. The strategy is really what incorporates the mission, vision, organizational goals and much more as you know. If you can't clearly zero in on the intended impact, a great plan will not ensure you are working in the desired direction. This is why I believe a good strategy is more critical than a great plan (yet we can't deny that both are still very important!).”

Yes, Rahul, we can’t deny that both are important – vital actually.  Thanks to everyone for participating.  And with that, we are closing up the Blog Shop for 2014.  Happy Holidays to all and I’ll be back in touch in the New Year. 


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, December 1, 2014

Quick Reader Poll: Good Strategy vs Great Plan

Which would you prefer?

Imagine that the proverbial magic genie appeared at your door and offered you either a “good strategy” for your future or a “great plan.”

Which would you choose?  Just send me a quick email at robsheehan@aol.com to let me know.  You don’t have to provide your reasoning, but if you do then I’ll provide some summaries of reader comments when I report the results next time.

Please respond in the next week, by December 9!  Thanks!





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, November 12, 2014

Satisfaction in The Cause

We work hard and sometimes circumstances beyond our control thwart our progress.  I’m often asked “How do we keep ourselves motivated in the face of all these challenges?”

I hate setbacks and external circumstances that get in my way.  But I try to take “satisfaction in the cause” that I am working to advance.  I wake up every day and remind myself of my mission and then take satisfaction in giving full effort to move it forward.

I also take satisfaction from working elbow to elbow with others similarly committed to the cause.

And to pursuing excellence in all we do.

Of course we want to make measurable progress toward our mission “goal line.”  But we have to take satisfaction in knowing that we are pursuing noble and, sometimes, daring missions. 

After all, it was Helen Keller who said “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

For me, at the end of each day I want to be able to say to myself: "'I have fought the good fight, I have finished my race for the day'.  I have made as much Mission Impact as I possibly could today.  And tomorrow is a new adventure."  Good luck to you in your important, daring mission adventures.


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, November 3, 2014

Tug-of-War: Strategy vs Culture (Part 2)

Picking up from Part 1, to align culture with strategy to achieve mission impact, at Bethany College we executed an action plan to build the preferred, new culture keeping the best of the “clan culture” (charming small college) and adding elements of innovative and competitive cultures.

As a result, the distance from where we began to where we were going created a tug-of-war within the college. One end (A) of the rope stood the stagnant-clan culture of 2007 characterized by talking only about mission, normalizing mediocrity, prioritizing loyalty over performance, and thinking we're good. The other end (B) stood our preferred innovative-competitive culture characterized by being guided toward vision, expecting quality, prioritizing performance over loyalty, and thinking we can be great.

Our Guest Blogger is Dr. Ed Leonard, President
of Bethany College (Lindsborg, KS)
Knowing from the beginning a new culture and break-through results would create tension, the board and senior leadership stood firm on our end (B), refusing to lower our aspirations or back-off our strategy.

We also knew we could strengthen the pull on our end (B) through new hires by recruiting the right people who shared the new culture and direction.

We observed how faculty and staff responded differently to the tension. Some responded creatively with the energy to lead the college’s emerging disruptive innovation. Others responded competitively with the energy to shape the college’s competitive advantage. Yet others sadly responded to the tension emotionally, opted out, and left the college. We learned getting the right people in the right seat also takes an understanding of how they respond to the tension of change and results.

Here is what I hope you take away. If you want your mission to have impact, you need a bold strategy. A bold strategy needs culture aligned with it. Aligning culture to strategy creates tension. Don't relieve the tension by lowering aspirations or backing off strategy. Manage the tension by getting the right people on the bus who embrace the tension as creative and/or competitive. Then watch your organization sling-shot forward!


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, 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: 2015

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."

Dad died last August 30 and I often think of this special Thanksgiving with him.

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

Happy Thanksgiving.

-------------
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.

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.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Risk vs. Irrelevance

Making Strategic Choices is risky.

Often when I give strategy examples to clients or executives I am teaching I will hear the comment “That sounds risky.”  This response does not consider the risk of continuing to do things the same way.

In his books and teaching, Dr. Russ Ackoff would often make the distinction between errors of “commission” – doing something that should not have been done, and errors of “omission” – not doing something that should have been done.  Unfortunately, the only errors that show up in an audit or accounting system are errors of “commission.”  However, errors of “omission” can be quite costly and often go undetected – the US auto industry should have switched to more fuel efficient cars earlier, Kodak failed to leverage its invention of digital photography, and Circuit City’s failure to innovate led to its demise despite being featured in the book Good to Great just a few years earlier.

Ackoff elaborates:

“Therefore in organizations that, like in schools, treat mistakes as bad and punishable, the best way to maximize job security is to do nothing.  This is the major contributor to the reluctance of employees at all levels to initiate change.  Unfortunately, in an environment that is increasing unpredictable and turbulent, doing little or nothing is a sure path to death.”*

Or, I will suggest, it may lead to something even worse – a sure path to irrelevance.  It would be better off for an ineffective nonprofit to simply close its doors and stop draining resources from others.

Yes – Strategic Choices will always involve some risk.  But thoughtful, calculated risks are usually far better than the risk of becoming irrelevant.

*Ackoff, R. L., Magidson, J, Addison, H. J., Idealized Design, 2006, p. 204.


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 9, 2014

Maximizing Personal Energy

Recently, I was on a panel at a conference for 250+ nonprofit executives when I suggested that in order to effectively address today’s challenges they need to lead with a sense of urgency because that is what it takes to accomplish important changes required today in the sector.  But it’s not going to happen overnight.  So they also need to lead as if they are running a marathon.

But how do you run a marathon with a sense of urgency?

First we need to maintain a focus on the long term impact our mission will make.  We need to pace ourselves and not try to run a marathon like a sprint.

Next we need to discipline ourselves so that we are able to provide a high quality work effort over time.   In their article, “The Making of a Corporate Athlete”* in Harvard Business Review, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz call this attaining an “Ideal Performance State.”

Applying what they have learned through training world class athletes, Loehr & Schwartz suggest that the discipline required to attain the Ideal Performance State includes focusing on four important aspects of our lives:

Physical Capacity.  Do the healthy things we know we should do.  Exercise at least four times per week – including weight training at least twice a week, eat healthily, drink sixty ounces of water per day, get adequate sleep at a regular bedtime.

Emotional Capacity.  Cultivate a positive attitude, have empathy for others, and invest in quality relationships.  A strong emotional capacity builds resilience in challenging times. 

Mental Capacity.  Enhance focus by setting goals, take breaks every 90 to 120 minutes to refresh and regain focus, consider meditation to quiet the mind and enhance mental recovery, use visualization to picture successful performance.

Spiritual Capacity.  Be ever mindful of your purpose and values, and how you are living these out.  This makes work more fulfilling and fuels us for the long term.

By feeding each of these aspects of our being we can more successfully mobilize energy for quality work over the long term, resulting in a successful marathon run and enhanced Mission Impact.

*The Making of a Corporate Athlete, Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz, Harvard Business Review, January 2001


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, May 28, 2014

Leading Innovation

We know that leading innovation is key for any organization which wants to thrive – or even survive.  In fact, not so long ago a Nonprofit CEO was quoted in The Chronicle of Philanthropy that we are now in an environment where it is “innovate or die.”

But how do executives go about leading innovation?  In the June 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review, Harvard leadership professor Dr. Linda Hill and colleagues have an article entitled “Collective Genius”* which provides some insights.

Their opening point is this: “The role of a leader of innovation is not to set a vision and motivate others to follow it.  It’s to create a community that is willing and able to innovate.”

This is opposite from what most leaders think their role is.  They think that they need to create vision and sell it.  But what Hill et. al. tell us is that creating a culture of innovation is the leader’s main responsibility.

Creating a community which has a culture of innovation includes four key points:

1.  Shared Purpose & Values.  Make sure that everyone is clear on the mission of the organization and the core values that everyone is expected to follow.

2.  Creative Abrasion: Discourse & Debate.  A culture of innovation encourages active debate among teams.  They do not avoid conflict and know that “constructive conflict” leads to better ideas.

3.  Creative Agility: Experiment, Learn, Adjust.  Innovation does not mean figuring out the perfect idea immediately and then scaling it.  Try small experiments.  See what works and what doesn’t.  Learn, adjust, and experiment some more.

4.  Creative Resolution: “And/Both” Thinking.  So often when confronted with options for action we use “either/or” thinking.  Creative Resolution involves looking for ways to take the best of seemingly opposing ideas and melding them together.

Innovation is a key competency for success in today’s ever changing environment.  Utilize these ideas to create a culture of innovation and make even more of a Mission Impact.

*Collective Genius, Linda A. Hill et.al, Harvard Business Review, June 2104


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.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The $500,000 Windfall

“What would we do with a $500,000 windfall in revenue?”  This was a question that a fellow Board member asked the rest of us at a recent meeting.  “What a great question,” I thought.  “I am so glad we have Puja on this Board.”  But, our inability to answer her question with ideas that were well thought out makes me think we should revisit this question at a future meeting.

What would you do with a one-time big windfall?  Maybe $500,000 is too small for your nonprofit to even be concerned about if you are big.  The organization referenced above has a $2 million annual budget.  If you have a $10 million budget then imagine a $2.5 million windfall.


I know.  It would depend on the circumstances.  But just imagine it is a no strings, one time, anonymous windfall.

I suggest this as a great strategic thinking exercise for one of your upcoming Board or staff meetings.  What would we do and why?  How would it feed our strategy?  How will it help us build capacity and make even more of a Mission Impact?

Maybe it should go directly to your reserves if you have identified that as a weakness that needs to be fortified.

It probably should not go to a new program you made up on the fly and which would go unfunded after the windfall evaporates.

But maybe it does go for an innovation or demonstration project you have been musing about for years and which, if proven successful, you think you can build sustainable resources for and scale.

Regardless, it is best to take a strategic, “investment” mindset about your new windfall.  Play the Windfall Game at your next staff or Board meeting and see what creative juices you can get going to make 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, April 28, 2014

Your "Stop Doing" List

While many individuals and organizations are great at creating “To Do” lists – and continually adding to them – most of us are not very good at taking things off the list.  It makes no sense when you think about it for even a moment.  Management guru Peter Drucker once said “If you want to start something new, you have to stop activities not worth the time and effort.”

A “Stop Doing” list can be powerful at the strategic, operational, and personal levels.

At a Strategic level, you should evaluate your programs in terms of the Mission Impact they are making.  This is why having metrics at the “mission” level is so important.  If you want to add programs, then maybe there are some you need to end.  This can be unpopular with some constituencies, but if you truly want to leverage your resources for maximum impact, then it can be the right thing to do.

At the Operational level, many organizations waste a lot of time with legacy standard operating procedures and no one even remembers why they are done.  (It reminds of the story of the monkeys & the cold shower which you can read here.)  Ask “why are we doing this,” “is this really necessary,” “can we stop doing this?”

At the Personal level, I recommend using a “Delay List” as a step toward a “Stop Doing” list.  When I have “to dos” that look like suspicious candidates for the “Stop Doing” list, I just put them on “Delay” for a while.  Often they become irrelevant after a while.  As Stephen Covey says, we have to discern what is really important – not just what seems urgent at the moment.

Stop Doing the less important activities so you can have more time and resources to focus and make 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.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Don't Compromise on Strategy

Sometimes compromise is necessary. 

If a group can’t reach collaborative consensus then you have to move to voting, where different factions give up something they want in order to make the result the least distasteful option available – that will get the required votes.  The results are quite sub-optimal and, by the way, this describes our current situation (for years) in the US Congress (I’ll stop; both parties are totally at fault).

The most famous story of how distasteful compromise can be is when King Solomon was petitioned by two women who both claimed an infant to be their own.  His judgment was to cut the baby in two and give a half to each woman.  The real mother recoiled and said the other woman could keep the baby.  And this is how the very wise Solomon determined the child’s real mother.

Don’t compromise on strategy.  No one wants half a baby.

Don’t be satisfied with a watered down version of what you really want – of the future that inspires you.  You can’t go two places at the same time.  Give your strategic planning committee the time to work through the options and ultimately join hands to support a clear future strategy.  Yes – you may even need to bring in an outside facilitator to navigate through such a situation.  But don’t take the easy route of agreeing to something that no one vehemently objects to but neither will anyone enthusiastically support.

Search your hearts for the dreams of what you really want, share these with one another, and then work toward a consensus vision and strategy that everyone can enthusiastically support.  You will engage the future much more effectively and make 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, April 7, 2014

The Balanced Life Myth?

The cover story of the March issue of Harvard Business Review* is focused on Work-Life Balance, which – the executives surveyed by the authors – consider either a myth or elusive ideal.  However, through the research these authors conducted of senior executives, some helpful ideas emerge. 

The overall theme of the research is that we each need to own making choices around our priorities and not fall into a “victim” mentality about our lack of time.  Also, achieving “balance” day in and day out may, in fact, be a myth.  We can get closer to balance when we pursue it over a period of months or years.  Here are some of my other key takeaways:


*Define Success for Yourself.  Choose what success looks like for you in the various important areas of your life and don’t be swayed with definitions that others use.  What does it mean to you to be successful at work or as a parent or as a partner or a friend?

*Create Support Networks.  Communicate your picture of success to those closest to you at work and outside work.  This could mean trusted colleagues at work who can be allies as well as friends who can provide emotional support or even pitch in when you are in a bind.

*Manage Technology Wisely.  Or it will manage you.  Train your various environments on what their expectations should be about how “plugged in” you are when you are at work, during the evenings, on weekends, and on vacations.  Clearly communicate this and then make sure to follow the behaviors you told people to expect.

*Collaborate with Family/Friends.  Make sure that those closest to you personally understand what success looks like to you, ask them to help you build your support networks, and make sure they understand how you are managing technology.  The Harvard research showed that those who had enrolled their families and friends with their pursuit of a balanced life were much more satisfied with their situations.

Unexpected challenges face us all and can knock whatever “balance” we have out of whack day to day or even over a period of weeks.  But if we take a long view and are clear about our priorities and choices, then we can all get closer to that elusive ideal of a balanced life.

*“Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life,” Boris Groysberg & Robin Abrahams, Harvard Business Review, March 2014, pp. 58 – 66.


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, March 27, 2014

If Not-For-Profit, Then For What?

We can’t figure out what to call ourselves.

I most often hear “non-profit” or “not-for-profit,” but both describe what we are NOT – not what we are FOR.

We certainly aren’t for loss – though some organizations are mistakenly managed this way!

We have tried so many alternative labels:  philanthropic, independent sector, social sector, non-governmental, mission-based, charity, etc.

Part of the challenge is that we are FOR so many things.

We’re for healthy kids, for a green planet, for well-educated young people, for the arts, for cures to illnesses, for everyone being well-nourished, for the humanities, for everyone having safe affordable housing, and the list goes on and on and on. 

Here’s an idea, let’s try “Mission Impact Organizations.”  That’s what we are and what we are FOR.  We all have that in common!  No?  You don’t think it would catch on?

Hmmm.  Well, while it would be nice to come up with a new label for our sector, maybe we just need to make sure that each organization clearly communicates what they are here FOR.  And this is communicated in our mission statements.

We need to be clear on our IMPACT (the difference we make) and AIM (for whom/what) when we state our mission.  For a mission statement mini-case, check this link.  Make sure that you are clear on your Mission Impact so people know what you are here FOR.


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, March 18, 2014

The Dark Side of Confidence

Confidence is absolutely necessary to be a successful leader.  And yet, gone too far, it can become arrogance and can lead to poor decisions – even disastrous decisions.  How do we find a balance?

One way to balance this is long term versus short term confidence.

Long Term:  “I am confident in . . .

. . . the importance of our mission and the impact we make.”

. . . the talents of our team.”

. . . the value of working hard together on the mission.”

Short Term:  “We have a challenge/opportunity here . . .

. . . I have a few ideas, but no obvious answers”

. . . I want to hear your ideas.”

. . . if we work together we can create the best next steps.”

As leaders, we need to give up the old-fashioned, heroic notion that we need to have all of the answers.  We need to be open-minded about the best direction to take in the short term while being ever confident in the long term.

Arrogance can be a huge leadership derailer.   Once we think we are invulnerable, we are a step away from being proven wrong.  Try backing off the temptation to be the Hero Leader and invite your team to be partners in forging the path ahead.   It could provide a significant improvement for your 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, March 5, 2014

Experts Get Stuck in Status Quo

When you are stuck in the status quo there are a lot of things you miss.  Opportunities are one of them.

If you are sure that there is no better way of going about doing what you are doing, then you will for sure miss Opportunities.

If you are an expert and you know that this certain way of doing things is the right way, then you will not see Opportunities for new ways to do things.

But if you give up your arrogance (come on, I am talking to myself) that “you know the best way to do it,” then you just might have a chance at seeing a great Opportunity right at your doorstep.

One of the best ways to discover Opportunities is to set Almost Impossible Goals that you have no idea how to accomplish.  By definition, once you set an Almost Impossible Goal then you need to search for an Opportunity on how to accomplish it.  And if you make a commitment to that goal, then you certainly won’t give up until you discover that new way.

This is what former GE CEO Jack Welch called Bullet Train Thinking.  He said that Japanese executives told their engineers that they wanted them to invent a train that would go from Tokyo to Osaka in three hours – instead of the six that it used to take.  There was no “tweeking” that would get them to three hours.  They had to invent an entirely new technology.

Don’t get stuck in incrementalist, status quo thinking.  Check here to learn more about Almost Impossible Goals and make 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, February 24, 2014

Strategic Plan? Oxymoron.

Strategy?  Yes.

Plans?  Yes.

Strategic Plan.  No.  Not exactly.

What organizations need is a Strategy – an overarching general explanation of how they are going to guide their performance during the coming years.  Then they need to build specific Plans to implement the Strategy.

The Strategy should be targeted toward Strategic Stretch Goals that are designed to significantly enhance the Mission Impact of the organization.  The Strategy explains, generally, how the organization will Leverage its Strengths, Fortify its Weaknesses, Seize its Opportunities, and Block its Threats as it pursues the goals.

Once the Strategy is set, then the Strategy Implementation process begins with Planning. Specific Plans are guided by the themes of the Strategy as the organization pursues the goals. Plans are detailed, but fluid.  Ideas for achieving the goals are developed and implemented.  Sometimes the ideas work, sometimes they don’t.  If they don’t work, then new plans need to be created.  As the new plans are created they continue to be informed by the Strategy.  The Strategy is constant (unless something in the environment dramatically changes).  The Plans change as necessary to accomplish the goals.

Strategy = general & constant.

Plans = specific & fluid.

So, in a way, the term “Strategic Plan” is an oxymoron – a contradiction in terms.

Focus first on creating your Strategy.  It will guide you for the coming years.  Then let the implementation process begin and allow the Strategy to guide you as you make your Plans.  This is the path toward increased 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.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

More Effective SWOTing

Conducting SWOT analysis (identifying an organization’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) is one of the most commonly used activities in strategic planning.  It is also an activity most often done poorly.  Here are three ideas to improve your SWOTing:

1.  Be Systematic.  Don’t just ask people on your strategic planning committee what they think your SWOTs are.  Use an assessment tool or framework so that you can systematically think through your SWOTs.  For organization assessments, you can read more here about the VPP/McKinsey assessment tool and for Board Assessment you can learn more here about a tool from BoardSource.

2.  Seek External Input.  Go beyond your strategic planning group to solicit SWOTs.  What does the staff think, what do donors think, what do your clients think?  You want to get a divergence of ideas and perspectives.  Make sure to collect environmental data from external sources so you can consider facts, not just opinions.

3.  Get Relevant.  When you decide which SWOTs are most important to keep in mind during strategy formulation, challenge yourselves on the relevance of each item.  How will we leverage this Strength to move toward our goals and vision?  How will fortifying this Weakness help us move forward?  Why will seizing this Opportunity allow us to catapult ourselves into the future?  What is it about this Threat that could derail us?  If you cannot provide solid answers to these questions then the particular SWOT you are discussing is not relevant.  Identify those that are.

Accurately identifying your SWOTs sets you up to identify strategic actions that will move you forward toward your goals and vision.  Take the time to improve your SWOTing process so you can make an improved 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.