Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Conduct a Premortem

We’ve all seen the TV docs do a postmortem to figure out why and how a victim died so the NCIS detectives can catch the bad guy.  A lot of organizations will conduct a postmortem after a big event or project has concluded to do an evaluation (though I prefer an After Action Review, since I hope no one died while implementing the project).

Research has demonstrated that “prospective hindsight” – imagining that an event has already occurred – increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30%.*  Therefore, some organizations conduct a “premortem” to identify potential problems before implementing a project.

To conduct a “premortem” ask your team to imagine:

“If this project ends up having some breakdowns, what would you guess those might be?” 

This gives people license to play a sort of brainstorm guessing game without the pressure of being labeled as a negative thinker.

A premortem is a good discipline to add to the end of your planning process to identify possible hidden problems lurking around the corner.  It also helps slow the process down just a bit in case the team (or more especially some excited leaders) are going a bit too fast.

There is no way to predict every possible problem that can occur when implementing a project, but the premortem provide a chance to avoid some challenges and allow the organization to make even more of a Mission Impact.

*Performing a Project Premortem, Gary Klein, Harvard Business Review, September, 2007.


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 27, 2017

Building Your Bench

Staff turnover is a fact of life – as much as you might want to use your wishful thinking to make it go away.

Once you have accepted that fact of life – now it is time to prepare for it.  Here are some things you can do to be prepared to successfully navigate the departure of key staff:

*Identify possible successors – internally and externally.  Even if your organization is not large enough to groom successors within your organization, you can keep your eye out for people outside it.  This could include sharp people you get to know within your community who are working elsewhere as well as networking at industry conferences.

*Utilize cross-training within your organization.  In all too many organizations, only one person knows how to do certain tasks or processes.  This is a bad idea for many reasons.  If it takes a long time to replace a staff person you will be pleased that others can pitch in and take over some of those responsibilities.

*Provide professional development opportunities for staff at all levels.  This helps build more resilience within the organization and allows potential successors for top staff to develop themselves. 

It’s a bummer to lose top staff, but it is a fact of life.  And, in a lot of ways, it is a complement to the organization when they can grow and fly on to more responsibilities in other places.  The more prepared you are the better you can successfully transition to a new staff lineup and continue making an effective 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, November 13, 2017

Thanks for the Feedback (Or Not)

We know that receiving valid feedback for improvement on our performance and then acting on it is a helpful way to continue our professional development.  However, it is all easier said than done.

This is one of the helpful themes of the book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and, frankly, you’re not in the mood).  What a great, though long, title!  This really captures part of the challenge of acting on feedback.

I recommend the book and here are a couple of quick takeaways you can start using today, if you want feedback for improvement:

*Ask people (coworkers, supervisor, direct reports) “What’s just one thing I could work on to improve.  Please make it as practical as you can.”  Ask enough people that you find a theme.  Don’t try to work on everything that people suggest!  Pick just one thing.

*Sometimes people have a hard time identifying something for you to work on.  As a twist on the first suggestion, ask instead “What’s one thing you see me doing that gets in my way?”  Again, look for themes and pick just one thing to work on.

*Finally, when you start to implement a change in behavior according to the feedback, remember that change is hard and give yourself time to change.  Try small experiments with the change and do not expect to be newly perfect all of a sudden. 

We can all improve and continuous improvement is a hallmark of a great leader.  Put take it one thing at a time and build on your improvements.  And make sure to thank people for their feedback – even though, you know, it may not be delivered perfectly.


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 31, 2017

Endangered Resource: Focus

The battle for Focus is on!

As if it is not enough that we already have too much to do . . . now the “devices” have entered the fray.  If it’s not your computer, then it’s your “smart” phone, or your (Dick Tracy-like) Apple watch.

You can try to focus – but then what is that text say?  Or the Linked In update, or Tweet, or FaceBook message . . . much less the more normal email.   (Good thing no one uses the phone any more or we would really be in trouble.)

Personally, my mantra as I go throughout the day is “focus” – I am constantly coaching myself.  And the other day I was in a colleague’s office where she has a little sign on her computer in caps: FOCUS.

Here are a few little things you can do:

*Turn off “pop-ups” on your computer – most email systems have a way you can do this.  While you are working on a Word document or some other project you won’t be distracted.  Also, turn off Notifications on your phone.

*On Monday, make a list of the three most important things you want to get accomplished during the week.  Print it out and put it somewhere visible in your workspace.

*At the beginning of every day, write down the most important thing to get done that day – keep it someplace visible in your work space (even a post it note).

The frenzied pace of today’s work world is challenging to us all.  We need to FOCUS as much as we can to make an optimal 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, October 17, 2017

SOAR Without SWOTs

Frequently I tell people (including the grad students I teach) that strategy can be done well in many different ways.  Certainly, I prefer the Mission Impact approach, but there are a lot of great methodologies out there that can work for organizations.

One interesting approach is S.O.A.R., which you can read more about it at this link.  S.O.A.R. stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results.  In this model, stakeholders are engaged to identify Strengths and Opportunities which then lead to the creation of Aspirations and desired Results.


S.O.A.R. which has its basis in Appreciative Inquiry, which is defined by the S.O.A.R. authors as “a philosophy and organizational change approach that builds on strengths and what is called the life-giving forces of the organization’s existence, its positive core.”*

While they do not include Weaknesses and Threats in their acronym, they are not left out.  The authors add: “Weaknesses and threats are not ignored. They are reframed and given the appropriate focus within the opportunities and results conversations. Ultimately it becomes a question of balance. Why not spend as much time or more on what you do well and how you can strengthen a strategic advantage? What gives you more energy to take action? What gives you confidence to set a stretch goal and achieve results?”*

S.O.A.R. leverages a 5-I Approach which asks the following questions:

Initiate: How shall we work together?

Inquire: What are our strengths and opportunities?

Imagine: What can we aspire to?

Innovate: What can we create to achieve our aspirations?

Inspire to Implement: How do we move forward to achieve our goals?

Answering these questions then provides a roadmap forward for the organization to implement its strategy.  If you like this basic description then think about ordering the book (it’s a quick read) and SOAR on to enhanced Mission Impact!

*Stavros, J.M. & G. Hinrichs. The Thin Book of SOAR, Thin Book Publishing, Bend, OR, 2009.


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 3, 2017

“Do More with Less???”

Can we find out who invented that phrase?  – “Do More with Less.” How crazy! I want to have a talk with him (I am sure it was a him.)

Don’t get me wrong – I am all in favor of efficiency.  And, if in pursuit of a new process to accomplish a goal you end up inventing a way to do more with less, then great.  Even setting that as an inspiring goal could be a super idea.

But that is not how “Let’s do more with less” usually gets discussed.  It gets discussed as a “spin” on a situation where more is needed, but resources have been cut.  So some brilliant “leader” tries to inspire their team with “Let’s do more with less!” 

The problem is that it often happens to people who are already under-resourced and overworked.  So it wears thin quickly.  If you find yourself in a really tough situation where resources have been surprisingly cut and you really must “do more with less” – then don’t try to put a positive spin on it.  A chocolate covered cowpie is still a cowpie.  

Be straight with your team, e.g., “we have been dealt a tough hand and we need to make the best of it.”  Yes, it does provide an opportunity to try to be creative.  But here’s the thing – don’t try to make it your new culture.  Do your best to lower the need for “more” and redouble your efforts to get additional resources.  Otherwise, you will encourage burnout and your best people will go to an organization where they “Do More with More” – how’s that for a slogan!

Resource challenges occur in good times and in bad; they are a part of any organization’s life.  The key is engaging the situation proactively and working through it with a positive attitude – without making it the “new normal.”

P.S. For a fun Dilbert “spin” on “More with Less,” see here.



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, September 17, 2017

Good vs Great

One of the primary roles of a leader is to focus their team or organization on the most important goals and issues that will lead to high performance.  This is no small feat.  It requires strategic thinking and great discipline.

Any organization has many improvements it "could" make in its operations.  But there is only so much time and are only so many resources.

Leaders need to make sure that they and their organizations are not distracted by working on operational improvements at which they may already be doing “good enough.” Some improvements are not going to get you very far – in a strategic sense.

The key is selecting strategic areas of improvement where you are good – but can become great, maybe even fantastic.  If being fantastic in that area will lead to overall long term success, then that is the place to focus.

You can't accept mediocrity, but you cannot be great at everything either.  One of the most important things leaders can do is to say “no” to certain proposals – while pointing the team toward the strategic initiatives that will be the priority.  What do you need to say “no” to today?

Management guru Jim Collins* once said that “Good is the enemy of great,” and this is true in many ways.

The road to organizational excellence for enhanced Mission Impact is not an easy one – which is why so few find the destination successfully.  Focused leadership on matters of strategic importance is key.

*Good to Great, Jim Collins, NY: HarperBusiness, 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.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Our Mom’s Legacy: Love & Duty

Our Mom passed away last week, and since then I have been reflecting on her amazing life.  We will have a memorial service for her in a few weeks at which we will hear wonderful stories from others about the difference she made on the planet during her eighty-six years here.

To me, a good part of her legacy can be summed up in two important words: Love & Duty.

Mom was also a Pittsburgh Pirates fan!
Mom had great Love for her family – her parents, brother, kids, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and more.  She had great Love for her friends, for her Church & God, for various organizations she belonged to (e.g., PEO), for the community, and for her fellow man/woman.

Mom expressed her Love in a wide variety of ways.  But one thing is for sure.  To Mom, once you have Love for someone or some thing, then there is a Duty involved in carrying out that Love.

For my three siblings and me this meant the kind of devotion that many other kids have also been blessed to experience.  Her active participation with Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, swim meets, softball games, baseball games, etc., etc., etc. meant a lot to us.  She demonstrated that same devotion to her extended family and friends.

But Mom also took it a step further.  Once she retired as a Nurse, she carried out her Love for others with a Duty to serve.  This turned her into an amazing volunteer.  Locally she was active in Hospice and the Church and the Red Cross and more.  Her Red Cross Duty also took her across the country.  She served others during floods, after terrible airline crashes, helped rebuild homes after Katrina, and went twice to Ground Zero after 9/11.

And for Mom, Duty is all about doing what you say you are going to do, doing it well, and doing it on time.  It sounds simple, but what would our organizations look like if every person actually did what they said they were going to do, did it well, and did it on time?  Transformational!

Just Do It – carry out your Duty like Mom!

Thanks for the great example Mom – we love you and miss 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, July 24, 2017

Be a Flexible Optimist

THE IDEA:  While optimism is a very helpful attitude for success, research shows that it needs to tempered at times.

The field of positive psychology, with leaders like Dr. Martin Seligman, has demonstrated that an optimistic attitude can lead to higher levels of success for people in a wide variety of activities.  In fact, Seligman and others have developed training programs that can actually help people become more optimistic and successful.

But can optimism go too far

Yes. And this is where “flexible optimism” – a term Seligman invented – comes in.

Essentially, the most successful optimists understand they need to be careful when they are pursuing a big goal with a lot of risks.  They talk with others – especially natural pessimists – to see what risks others see in the potential course of action.  Then, either they decide not to pursue that course of action or they go into it well informed – and prepared to handle possible setbacks.

Once upon a time, I had a friend who was pursuing a risky goal.  Things were not looking good as he got very close to the deadline and I asked him, “What are your back-up plans if this does not work out?”  His response: “Failure is not an option.” 

On one hand, I appreciate that attitude.  But, in this case, he did fail.  And then he and his team needed to scramble to figure out what to do while they were very stressed out.  Their response to the setback would have been much more effective if they had time to calmly think through their options before the panic of the failure was upon them.

Once we take the time to carefully assess the risk of a goal we may dial back our ambition.  Or we may go for it – fully informed and prepared to live with the consequences of not making it all the way.

Acrobats who perform death defying high wire acts without a net may provide more thrills for audiences, but the ones who use nets live longer.  The same is true for leaders who want to make 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.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Fulfillment of Noble Pursuit

THE IDEA: When we water down our dreams we limit our performance and actually insult our own integrity.

Deep in your heart you want something – in a big way. You have a vision of the ideal you want, and you are passionate about it. Yet, many of us hesitate to say it out loud. Rather than boldly saying what we really want, we will instead settle for something smaller.

Instead of “no one homeless in our county,” it becomes “fewer homeless.”

Instead of “market leader,” it becomes “improved market share.” 

Instead of “best place to work,” it becomes “better place to work.”

We are susceptible to watering down our dreams because we don’t want to disappoint ourselves if we do not fully attain what we want. 

If you find yourself doing this, then remind yourself that true fulfillment comes from pursuing our deepest passions – even if we never fully achieve them. When we lower our goals we are essentially lying to ourselves about what we really want. Let’s not do that!

Countless research studies show that setting higher goals leads to higher performance even if you do not fully achieve the goal; see here.

We need to revel in the pursuit of something we truly care about and want, all the while knowing that we might not make it all the way. It is more fulfilling to know that we pursued our dream with vigor!

Impact leaders DREAM BIG!


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, June 18, 2017

Stretch Goals, Boards, & Banks

One of the difficulties in setting Almost Impossible Goals is trying to figure out how to communicate them to people who just don’t get it.  I encourage you to share this article on The Power of Goals with those who have not been exposed.  But, let’s face it, even after that – some people just don’t understand.

If that is your situation, then I suggest you not push the matter too far – depending on the audience.  For example, my experience is that some Boards do not really want to know what your “goals” are, they want a “promise” from you regarding the results you are going to produce.  In other words, they want a “forecast” – not a goal.  They don’t want your aspirations or dreams, they want to know what they can count on.  I suggest – give them what they want.

You can do this with complete integrity and still keep your Stretch Goal. Let’s say that you raised $100,000 in your annual fund last year and your team set a Stretch Goal for $140,000 for the coming year – a big stretch!  Now, it would be IDEAL if your Board understood the stretch philosophy and got excited about assisting with this big, bold goal.  

But, if they are not bought in, then I suggest keeping the Stretch Goal quiet and giving them a reasonable forecast – maybe a 5% increase up to $105,000.  Then add “Of course, we are always working on ways we can do even better.”  Now you have an accurate forecast – which is what they want.  And you have a bold goal for your team – which is what you want.

By the way, if you have a loan or a line of credit with a bank – they don’t want to see bold goals.  Show them something conservative when you share your budget and make sure you do even better every year.  That will keep your loan intact.

Almost Impossible Goals can do amazing things for your organization.  But until we have everyone converted to the philosophy you need to be careful how you share them.  This will let you make even more of a Mission Impact – and keep your job (which is nice).


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 5, 2017

Integrating Staff & Strategy

You know you have a brilliant strategy – but it is not working.  What’s up?

There are a myriad of reasons why excellent strategies are not implemented effectively.  Here are two basic pitfalls that you can avoid.

#1.  Undercommunicating the Strategy.  John Kotter, in his classic book, Leading Change, says that leaders very often do not communicate their vision and strategy for the future nearly as often as they should.  The strategy and vision are so clear to them that they don’t think they need to talk about it more.  As a leader, you should take frequent opportunities to remind everyone in the organization of your future and how you plan to get there.

#2.  The Strategy is too Complex.   You need to be able to communicate your strategy simply – not in a five inch thick binder.  D.J. Collins and M. G. Rukstad discovered this problem when they researched a wide variety of companies, which was reported in Harvard Business Review a number of years ago*:

“Leaders of firms are mystified when what they thought was a beautifully crafted strategy is never implemented. . . .  They fail to appreciate the necessity of having a simple, clear, succinct strategy statement that everyone can internalize and use as a guiding light for making difficult choices.”

There are many other reasons why your great strategy may not be implemented well, but avoid these two common errors and you will stand a much better chance at making a significant Mission Impact.

*D. J. Collins & M. G. Rukstad, “Can You Say What Your Strategy Is,” Harvard Business Review, April 2008.


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, May 23, 2017

Fun Improves Persistence

Recent research* suggests that when working on long term goals, it is helpful to find enjoyment in the pursuit of those goals in the short run.  For example when people find the process of working out enjoyable, they tend to persist longer.  They found the same thing for those who experienced enjoyment with studying.

We really don’t need a research study to tell us that we tend to work on goals we enjoy rather than on goals we do not enjoy as much.  But what does this tell us that we can apply to the workplace?

It appears to emphasize the social context of work, i.e., making work enjoyable – even fun!  Some “old schoolers” (and I count myself as one) might bristle at this.  “It’s not supposed to be fun – that’s why they call it work!”

But this research tells us that if we can find ways to inject some enjoyment into the work day this can help us persist in our goals.

A simple way to do this is to encourage those we work with who are natural “fun-seekers” to let their “fun flag fly.”  These folks are often told to “get serious.”  Maybe we need to encourage one another to “lighten up” more.  I am fortunate that I’m on a “work hard, play hard” team.  We recently hosted a very successful regional conference and you can check out some fun we had at the final event with our University of Maryland mascot, Testudo, here.

Maybe your office needs a social committee or a fun committee? 

Or maybe this will all happen more organically as more millennials enter the work place – I think they will insist on a little more fun included with work.

Certainly we want to encourage one another by focusing on the long term vision of what we are doing – especially for those of us working in very challenging human services capacities.  But doing the best we can to add some joy to the daily work will help us all persist and make even more of a Mission Impact.

*Woolley, K. & Fishbach, A.  Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, “Immediate Rewards Predict Adherence to Long Term Goals,” pp. 1-12, 2016.



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, May 8, 2017

Invest More in Fundraising!

The end of the semester is upon us at the University of Maryland, where I am co-teaching a graduate course on Nonprofit Fundraising with my colleague, Dr. Bob Grimm.  Part of the course involves student teams going out into the community to visit with nonprofit organizations and do a full evaluation of their fundraising program.  I have been reading the final reports and one main theme jumps out.  Nonprofits need to:

Invest More in Fundraising!

The theme of our course is “No Money, No Mission” – and I know we all agree with this.  But our student teams are finding that most of the nonprofits they have evaluated can do MUCH more to raise more money for mission if they devote more resources to fundraising.

More Staff.  There seems to be a reluctance to hire more staff and devote their efforts to fundraising.  Perhaps this is due to concerns for overhead.  If so, organizations should check out The Overhead Myth web site for ideas on making the case for this.  More time spent – especially on major gifts – can be a big payoff for most nonprofits.

More Board Involvement.  Based on the small sample of nonprofits, Boards can be much more involved in giving and asking for gifts – especially making personal asks.  Training, of course, will be needed for this.  But, we need Board members going out to the community to represent the cause and ask for support.

We are not going to make significant increases in the funding that nonprofits desperately need without investing the resources needed.  We simply cannot make more of a Mission Impact without the funding.


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 24, 2017

If You Really Had $100 Billion

When I encourage people to create an aspirational vision of what they would want their organization to look like if they could have it any way they wanted it – it is often hard to get them to “think big” or “think outside of the box.”

To help people think big, I sometimes say “Imagine you just received an unrestricted gift of $100 billion.  The donor said to do anything with it you want.  What would you do with it?”

Wow – with that kind of money you could do some incredible things.  I encourage you to use that question with your staff or Board one of these days to help them dream big.

The new Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore.  Groudbreaking is May 2.
A few years ago, I was privileged to facilitate strategic planning for Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore.  At first, the Board was thinking about a strategy for raising money to fix up the current house.  But when I asked them what they really wanted – if they could have anything – they said “New House!”

Even though they did not have property for a new house or the money, they dreamed and dreamed big – HUGE actually.  You can read this earlier blog (“Ritz & Disney at Grandma’s House”) about how they dreamed.

Next week, Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore is going to break ground for their new house!  You can read more about it here.  They got the property and raised money – not $5 million, not $10 million or $20 million.  They have raised $27.5 million and are closing in on their goal of $30 million.  It is going to be an amazing place for children and families.

If I would have told the Board – in our first meeting a few years back – that they would figure out to a way to raise $30 million for this effort, I think they may have laughed me out of the room or fired me on the spot.

But this just goes to show the power of vision, aspiration, and commitment to it all.  Way to go RMH of Baltimore!!!  You are making an amazing Mission Impact of the lives of kids and families.


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, April 11, 2017

Big Happy Audacious Goals

When I talk with people about setting BIG Almost Impossible Goals, I will sometimes hear “Oh yeah, just like ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goals’ in that book (Built to Last) by Jim Collins & Jerry Porras!  BHAGs!”

To which I say “Sort of.”

The “Hairy” in BHAGs is “scary” – like taking a big risk.  Hairy, scary goals might be appropriate sometimes – but research shows that they are not effective if an organization is desperate.  If you are thinking “We need to turn things around, let’s go for it and bet our future on this new idea.  Failure is not an option!”  Then, according to research reported in the Jan-Feb 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review by Sitkin, Miller, & See (The Stretch Goal Paradox), this may not be a good idea.

This is because success rates with a “stretch” goal are improved if an organization has a winning attitude (recent successes).  Desperate organizations usually do not fit this mold.

Interestingly, though, a lot of successful organizations don’t even try Almost Impossible Goals because they have gotten too used to “winning.”  The idea of taking a risk and having a possible failure is too much for them.  Hence, the “Paradox” in the title of the HBR article.

I have found that it is helpful if organizations can think of these Almost Impossible Goals as “Happy,” not “Hairy.”  I encourage people NOT to set these big goals unless they are actually willing to fail at them.  Of course you don’t want to fail.  But once you can accept that failure at a wonderfully big goal is not so terrible, it gives you the freedom to really play with ideas and get creative.  You can be in a “happy place” and really go for it without looking back.

If scary, hairy goals work for you, then great.  But I prefer the more fun approach of Big Happy Audacious Goals (see here to learn more).  Even if you don’t make it, you can be happy and proud that you pursued something you really care about to make 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.