News, comments, resources, and more for nonprofits.
“Try this – it worked last time.”
“Larry had a problem like that. How did he fix it?”
“Just smack it!”
How often do we take a trial and error approach to fixing problems? It’s good to draw on our expertise and past experience, but every attempted fix costs time and money. So, we can’t afford to just wing it.
In these situations, a rational, step-by-step process provides great assistance. Throughout my career I’ve used a problem solving process individually or with groups to address assess problems and identify root causes. I’ve also taught this process several times to various management teams.
On Thursday, April 3, I’m offering a Solve Problems for Good workshop at ONEplace. This 90-minute session explores how to fully describe a problem, identify possible causes, evaluate those causes and confirm the true cause. The process helps us gather solid data, avoid common pitfalls, and document the process for effective communication.
Processes like these are helpful management tools and set a thoughtful, logical tone to addressing challenges of all sorts.
This month we sit down with Chris Zeigler as she recalls lessons and memories from her career, including her current position as Executive Director of MRC Industries.
Tell us how you got to where you are today (positions held, career shifts, etc)
I worked for 20 years for a company in the Central Michigan area called Mid-Michigan Industries. We worked in 7 different counties and provided primarily vocational training to individuals with developmental disabilities. I got the job quite by accident – I applied for a position there after seeing an ad in the newspaper. I had absolutely no experience. The way our Executive Director at the time tells it – it came down to a choice between a guy who had lots of experience in the field and me who had none but apparently they liked my interviews. When she asked the hiring supervisor to tell her a bit more about each candidate he told her that I had played golf in college. Finally, when they could not make a decision she said and I quote –“ oh heck, just hire the golfer.” I did not find out about this until about 3 years later when she was telling this to a group of people and I must say I was a bit miffed. Little did I know that as a result of that opportunity however, that I would find a career that I love and that has been fulfilling and rewarding to me and that I hope has made a difference to others.
After working in my first position there for a couple of years I then became a supervisor and started our Supported Employment program in Isabella County placing people with more severe disabilities into jobs and supervising our staff in this program. We then took over another rehabilitation facility in Gratiot County that was in crisis and I was promoted to Branch Director of that location and after a period of time was then promoted to the Branch Director position in Isabella County. I continued to work my way up through the company and when I left there to take the position at MRC Industries I was Vice-President of Operations. I was familiar with MRC and had visited here a couple of times throughout the years. When this position became open I decided to apply. It was a position of greater responsibility and my family all lives in Kalamazoo. It was an opportunity to be closer to them. I am thankful every day that I was given the opportunity to lead a fantastic organization.
What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?
I had no idea when I moved here the depth and number of non-profit human service organizations – and also the philanthropy – that exists in our community. There are a lot of people that really care about making our community a fantastic place to live and that care about those less fortunate than we are. I have developed some terrific friendships here (I love that) and there is always something to do. I also can’t let this question go by without saying that I love the golf courses in this area. I am a member of the Moors Golf Club and also love playing at the many other fantastic courses in this area. Really, when I think about it I can’t think of anything I don’t like about Kalamazoo.
What guides or principles do you rely most upon?
The principle I rely on most and that I value above all others is integrity. I believe that if we conduct ourselves with that value in all of our interactions and responsibilities then things will always work out. Even when they don’t seem to work out, they do because you did the right thing. It’s as simple as that.
Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?
The person that had the most influence on me in my work career was my previous boss, Judy Garland – yes the one mentioned in question 1. She taught me a lot of things as I was growing up in this field but the one that I think is most important is that we treat the people we serve with dignity, respect and compassion – how we would want a family member or loved one to be treated if they were receiving services from us.
What has been one of your biggest learning moments?
One of my biggest learning moments came when I had started my new job here at MRC and we had the major flood in 2008. Our building on Bank Street had about 5 feet of water in it and most everything was ruined. We had to try and find a place to continue services, we had production and mailing customers that lost their product, staff who no longer had a desk, a computer or place to go, payroll that needed to be met etc. etc. I had about one minute to get over the initial shock and devastation and then had to move quickly.
I remember having all kinds of questions such as “what are we going to do, how are we ever going to recover from this, can we recover” etc. and then I said to myself “you are it.” In other words, it was my responsibility to figure out what we were going to do and my responsibility to go forward with the belief that we would recover from this. I remember thinking: nobody died, nobody was seriously injured and we will figure this out and come out stronger as a result. It was my job to make that happen. That is not to say that we did not get a lot of support from the community, our board of directors and our staff but ultimately I felt that I was responsible for the outcome we did or did not achieve. This weighed very heavily on me.
The other thing I learned from this was the tremendous support that we had in this community. It was very heartwarming and meaningful to learn that people really cared about MRC and therefore that people really cared about the individuals we serve and that they were considered an important and respected part of our community.
What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?
I have two things that keep me up at night. The first is that I worry about what if something happens to someone under our care. We have responsibility on any given day for around 450 individuals with disabilities. I am proud to say we have an excellent safety record but it only takes one mistake or one person not following a policy or procedure when something bad could happen so that responsibility is something that never leaves me. The other thing that keeps me up at night is worrying about money. Although MRC is a very financially stable organization, my job is to make sure it stays that way and when we have funding cuts that are outside of our control it makes me worry.
How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?
I do a lot of reading and talking to people in our field. I am on the Board of Directors of MARO, our state association and they provide a lot of good information to us. I am also on two other committees/work groups in Lansing that helps me keep abreast of current trends. I also would like to think we are not just following the latest trend but setting the trend!
What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?
The best advice I could give someone is to first make sure that you have a passion for the mission of your organization, the willingness to work hard as a result and to take the responsibility you are given seriously. Second, I would remind people that the funding we primarily get is tax payer money and we have a responsibility to assure that it is used wisely and in a way that most impacts the individuals we serve. Third, always maintain a sense of humor, be flexible and do what you can to make life a little easier for the individuals you serve. You will be rewarded many times over.
What do you geek (i.e., what hobby or outside interests do you really like)?
Golf is my number one hobby. When I am not at work you can usually find me on the golf course. I still love to compete. I love being outside and particularly love boats and being on the water. I even like to fish as long as I don’t have to touch the worms or the fish. I also love to read and am always in the middle of a good book.
Our April NEWSletter arrives in the midst of March Madness. Those who attend to such things complete their brackets, contribute to the office pool and cheer on their team. And, while there may be several moral victories, the final result is one winner and several losers.
Sports competitions provide entertainment for most of us and build skills and character for those on the court or the fairway or the field. That spirit of competition also informs many approaches to business. However…
…competition is no way to run a nonprofit.
Successful nonprofits (as well as most successful businesses) thrive because they work cooperatively with other organizations. (BTW, this is confirmed by hundreds of studies dating from the late 1800’s through today.) They place their long-term vision and desire for impact above their own self-interest. And they increase their impact by embracing a network mind-set, giving knowledge and resources away to accomplish more than if they acted alone.
The funny thing is this: even though a network mind-set appears as generous and altruistic, it’s actually a function of enlightened self-interest. By focusing beyond your personal career and organizational success to the impact you wish to make, you increase your chances of being successful.
In their book, Forces for Good, Leslie Crutchfield and Heather Grant identify four tactics to implement this mind-set:
- Work to increase the resource pool for your cause more than grabbing for your share
- Share knowledge and expertise to gain more influence as a collective
- Develop leadership throughout the network
- Grow small networks into increasingly larger coalitions
Overall, it’s not about who gets the biggest grant or who gets the credit. It’s about getting that change.
Every month, we learn much from the participants and presenters we meet at ONEplace. In Just ONEthing… we highlight an insight gained during the past month from our nonprofit community and its partners.
This month’s insight comes from Mary Jo Asmus, President of Aspire Collaborative Services. In her recent workshop, Coaching for Breakthrough Performance, Mary Jo taught and demonstrated the power of focused attention.
Spending as little as ten minutes being focused on the other person and asking them open questions, allows the individual to peel back layers of understanding and discover more effective courses of action.
Unlike feedback which offers evaluation of previous acts or consulting which offers specific direction, coaching opens individuals to the insights and possibilities within themselves.
More specifically, coaching:
- Helps an individual visualize the current situation and desired future situation
- Restates and builds on an individual’s own insights to co-discover possible options
- Explores necessary tasks to remove barriers and achieve desired ends
- Ensures commitment of the individual to take action and be accountable
Find out more about Mary Jo, including her informative blog at aspire-cs.com.
In these days of big data, organizations are encouraged to embrace data-driven decision-making. “Trust the data!” becomes the grease on the wheels of success.
And yet, when provided access to the same data, different people arrive at different conclusions. Business leaders, politicians, and others will take a variety of actions based upon the same data. Why?
You cannot remove the human element.
Occasionally I stumble upon the quote, “Data is the seed…information is the crop…knowledge is the harvest.” How data becomes information and knowledge seems to make all the difference. In fact, I’ve seen self-proclaimed “data-driven organizations” intentionally take action directly counter to the data presented to and understood by them. They do this because they process the data through their purposes and priorities (and, perhaps, their politics) to arrive at meaningful information and knowledgeable action.
Big or small, data is an extremely valuable input, but it’s not the driver.
Purpose is the driver. Purpose drives it all – individuals, organizations, communities…everything.
Well-known living systems author Margaret Wheatley lays this out in her book, The Community of the Future. She observes that communities (i.e., organizations, neighborhoods, nations) driven by a common purpose support both an individual’s self-determination and their need for interpersonal relationships.
She suggests that an organization, community or any other entity achieves clarity of purpose and then lets each contribute to that purpose in his/her own way. This approach draws upon the energy created within the paradox of individual freedom and connected community, attracting people to the entity without asking them to shed their uniqueness.
While the human element may be messy at times, it brings the determination, vitality, and resilience required to develop effective, stable and sustainable entities. Plus it provides the security to reach out and collaborate with those around them.
So gather good data and give it your serious attention. But let your purpose be your driver.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day – shamrocks adorn every surface, people pinch those not wearing green and everyone claims the “luck of the Irish” for a day. It brings this question to mind:
How much do our organizations rely on luck?
I’ve heard luck invoked on several occasions: “We’re lucky we got that grant?” “Our event was riddled with bad luck.” “We’re lucky that check arrived just in time.”
Is it luck? Hmmm…. I took this opportunity to look up how luck may play a part in managing our organizations.
Finances seems driven by luck, so I looked there first. In his book, The Success Equation, Michael Mauboussin acknowledges that much of our financial future is out of our control. However, he advises us to “…focus on what you can control.” He further says, “as long as you are doing the things that are in your control as effectively as you can, you shouldn't worry so much."
In business, Jim Collins (Great by Choice) examined a phenomenon he called “Return on Luck” (ROL). He says that the ability to achieve a high ROL at pivotal moments was largely a matter of considering whether an opportunity should be allowed to disrupt an organization’s plans. Those with high ROL recognized good fortune and pounced. Those with low ROL had just as much good fortune but frittered it away. They failed for a lack of execution.
So what are we to do? Richard Wiseman (The Luck Factor) sets forth these four principles for creating good fortune in life and career.
- Maximize chance opportunities (notice and act upon these opportunities)
- Listen to your lucky hunches (engage calming practices to boost your intuitive abilities)
- Expect good fortune (expectation heightens your awareness; sharpens intuition)
- Turn bad luck into good (imagine how things could have been worse)
Perhaps it comes down to a phrase that I’ve carried with me for many years: “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Do well and keep your eyes open.
Faced with an ever-changing landscape and the annual coming and going of members, boards often scramble to keep up. Time and again, however, our research and experience show that keeping the basic responsibilities in front of the board provide the needed grounding and focus to maintain the board’s effectiveness.
What are these responsibilities? They may be described in various ways. Under the law, board members must meet certain standards of conduct in carrying out their responsibilities to the organization. These are usually described as:
- Duty of care – exercising reasonable care in making decisions as a steward of the organization
- Duty of loyalty – acting in the best interest of the organization and never using information obtained as a member for personal gain
- Duty of obedience – being faithful to the organization’s mission and acting in ways consistent with the organization’s central goals
In our recent Leadership Academy class, Larry Hermen took the Ten Basic Responsibilities of a Board and categorized them as:
- Mission – This includes establishing and evaluating mission & vision, engaging in strategic planning, overseeing programs, and helping the organization communicate effectively
- Money – This includes overseeing the organization’s finances, fundraising, and ensuring sound risk management practices
- Management – This includes managing the work of the board, member recruiting and orientation, and executive director hiring and supervision
In our recent Better Board Series, we reduced the Ten Basic Responsibilities to three foundational tasks:
- Manage relationships – This sets the foundation for fundraising, board recruitment, executive director hiring and supervision, and enhancing the organization’s public standing
- Set direction – This sets the foundation for establishing and evaluating the mission and vision, ensuring effective planning, and monitoring the effectiveness of programs and services
- Ensure integrity – This sets the foundation for proper financial oversight, protecting assets, and ensuring legal compliance
I’m sure there are many other ways to slice and dice these core responsibilities.
The sum of all of these is that they encourage the board to:
- Keep focused attention on its mission as well as the larger cause that it serves
- Work together because no one person or ad hoc group may act on behalf of the board
Keeping these basic responsibilities in front of the board goes a long way to keeping the board engaged and the organization sustainable.
I don't go to many movies but I always watch the Oscars. This year was no different.
Every year, without fail, the one thing you can count on is that every acceptance speech will include a long list of names – usually too long to name everyone. These lists include close colleagues, family, and long-time supporters; people to thank and to share in the award. Why? The point is clear:
No one achieves great things alone.
I see the same thing happen at any awards program from the national stage to the local community center. Working together is the only way we can move the needle, change the conversation, create collective impact or fulfill our vision. So, a key question for each one of us is this:
With whom do I need to connect?
I recently talked with a board president who told me that their board created a list of key influencers - people who would support their cause and were in a position to advance their cause. After refining the list, they divided it up, each person taking responsibility for connecting with the people on their list. In this way, the board engaged efforts towards building public support and laid the foundation for sustainability.
What’s your vision for a better tomorrow, and who shares that vision? Who can help address the cause your organization is working so hard to advance? These and similar questions may stimulate discussion at your next management or board meeting. If you’re not sure how to proceed, contact ONEplace and we’ll work on a strategy together.