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Neuroplasticity

Leader development sits at the core of all our efforts. At ONEplace, we define a leader as someone who takes full responsibility and ownership for his/her role, developing the skills, knowledge, connections and awareness needed to fulfill that role, listens and learns from others, and teaches and shares with others. Or, to put it in a phrase:

Leaders keep learning.

An article in the recent McKinsey Quarterly reminded me of a fascinating, yet disturbing aspect of learning: neuroplasticity. It fascinates me because, thanks to fMRI’s and other imaging techniques, we’re being flooded with new insights and knowledge. It disturbs me because, like many of you, I continue to draw upon concepts of the hardwired brain, left-brain/right-brain preferences, and the fine art of multitasking – all which have been debunked.

Neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change its physical structure and functional organization – changed the game.

We now know that the brain rewires itself (makes new neural connections) when we learn new things. This happens at any age. We also know that everyone utilizes both sides of their brains without strict preferences and, in fact, the brain is more active than we previously thought. Further, calming practices (such as mindfulness or meditation) actually generate more brain matter in the executive functioning areas of the brain giving us a greater capacity for complex thinking. Again, this happens at any age.

Recent brain research offers us more and more insights into brain functioning, learning capacity, and so much more. Furthermore, it’s giving us direction in what we can do to keep our minds sharp and nimble (e.g., See Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains). 

All this reminds me of a humbling and challenging notion: knowledge is dynamic.

Facts change. Theories come and go. Best practices become past practices. And radical notions end up being mainstream. The world, with all its varied and wonderful parts, keeps changing. And the good news is: your brain can handle it.

Best,

Thom

P.S. Keep up on brain research and effective brain building practices at SharpBrains.com


No short cut to great

Famed UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, is remembered for leading the Bruins to 10 National Championships in 12 seasons (1964-75) including four undefeated seasons. Do you know how many years he coached the team prior to winning his first championship? Fifteen. With this vignette, Jim Collins makes a key point in Good to Great.

Becoming great is a long-term venture.

He gave other, business-related examples: Gillette, Nucor, Pitney Bowes, and others. While the press and public hailed them as upstarts and newcomers that burst on to the scene, each company’s “overnight success” had taken years to build: focused, slow, and methodical.

In contrast, the comparison companies (that faced the same circumstances but failed to transition to a great company) looked to the next big thing to save the day: the next merger, the next new product, or the next major initiative. As a result, most bounced from one thing to the next, never committing long enough to sink deep roots into their market.

There simply is no short cut to great:

Focused, slow, and methodical – sinking deep roots that will hold the organization in place through high winds and fierce storms; Deep roots that will allow the organization to branch out and sustain new initiatives that are anchored to the core purpose; Deep roots that spread into the underpinnings of the community, contributing to a diverse ecosystem of success.

So, where is your organization headed? You may or may not have a clear, guiding mission or vision. You may or may not have a useful strategic plan. Regardless of what tools you use, you need to know where you’re headed so that each small step builds on the last and prepares for the next.

The tortoise wins the race every time.

Best,

Thom


Just ONEthing - June 2015

Earlier this month, John Greenhoe (WMU Major Gift Officer) presented Opening the Door to Major Gifts (also the title of his best-selling book). During the session we examined the process of making Discovery Calls as well as solutions to common mistakes.

A Discovery Call (also known as an Identification Call or Qualification Call) is a face-to-face visit with a prospect that you believe may have the capacity for making a major gift. While rarely done, tracking Discovery Calls keeps you apprised of how many people you’re putting into this pipeline and the percentage of those who eventually make a major gift.

Often, nonprofits don’t support making Discovery Calls because they don’t involve making an ask. Yet, John recommends developing an organizational culture that supports making Discovery Calls. These visits open the door to deeper relationships, greater trust, and larger gifts. 

John also reminded us that fundraising is still a young industry and much of it is “largely a business of figuring it out on your own." So to get started, he suggests: (1) Plan time each day for making phone calls to schedule the initial visit; (2) When you get the visit, be yourself – tell your story and show your enthusiasm; and (3) Celebrate small victories because it is difficult, and you’ll hear “no” more than you hear “yes.”

During the program, John also recommended Gail Perry as a resource especially for smaller nonprofits. Find out more on major gifts on Gail’s website.


Between reality and illusion

I’m puzzled. As a fan of management and leadership, I like to think that plans and strategies matter. After studying trends and doing analysis, it seems we should have a good read on things and be able to set a course of action that will lead to success. This however is what Daniel Kahneman calls, “the illusion of understanding.”

In his recent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he returns time and again to remind us that having a grasp of things is more a security blanket than a reality. Illusions of understanding are comforting and reduce the anxiety surrounding uncertainty. They also feed our need for order and fairness. But they’re not reality. 

Kahneman says, “We all have a need for the reassuring message that actions have appropriate consequences, and that success will reward wisdom and courage. Many business books are tailor-made to satisfy this need.”

He goes on to say that for all our efforts, the data shows that we only do a little better (or sometimes a little worse) than chance.

So, at times, just when I think, “I got it,” I also realize that I don’t “got it.”

Perhaps it’s best to keep one eye on the long-term goal – that point on the horizon – while managing the current situation as it presents itself…without trying to figure it out, or “get it.” I don’t know. I’m still working on this.

Your thoughts?

Best,

Thom


Where work happens

You’re reading this right now. I’m glad. Part of my work is to study, reflect upon our work, find connections and insights, and then share them with you. It’s fun for me. But I’ll let you in on a little secret:

I’m writing at home.

That’s right. What you’re reading now was written over a couple of early mornings in my family room at home. That’s when I write. Why? I find the early morning a time of clarity and creativity. Plus it’s completely uninterrupted time.

Where do you find uninterrupted time?

In 2010, Jason Fried did a TED talk on Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work. For ten years, he posed a question to business people (both nonprofit and for-profit): Where do you go when you really need to get something done? Answers included “the porch, the deck, the kitchen…the basement, the coffee shop, the library,” or “Well, it doesn’t really matter where I am, as long as it’s really early in the morning or really late at night or on the weekends.”

You almost never hear, “the office.”

(Of course, there are jobs where the work can only be done in the office. Those notwithstanding, it plays on the perception of where we can “get something done.”)

In an attempt to reclaim quality work time at the office, Jason suggests No Talk Thursdays, emailing rather than stopping by another’s office, and eliminating unneeded meetings.

For me, it’s a matter of knowing how I best work and scheduling my week accordingly. Writing in the early morning is fun for me – I like to do it. I also need uninterrupted blocks of time at work, so we schedule those into our workweek. If your calendar is not fully in your control, ask for the time you need or at least understand and explain the time cost of an assigned project or task.

What else would you suggest? How do you manage your time?

Best,

Thom


Just ONEthing - May 2015

Last week, Kevin Brozovich, Founder and Chief People Officer at HRM Innovations, led a Management Track workshop on HR Essentials. During the session, we spent a chunk of time on the hiring process – especially the interview.

A surprising number of interviewers take an unstructured approach to the interview. These commonly begin with light conversation and eventually get into some more formal questions. Kevin noted that, when using this unstructured approach, the interviewer often decides on a candidate within the first few minutes of the interview – the more personal connections with the candidate, the more favorable the impression.

The unstructured approach raises significant concerns. The selection may be based more upon personal affinity rather than qualifications for the job. Plus, it may undermine efforts to build a diverse workforce as we gravitate toward people like us. Even greater concern arises if only one person conducts the interview.

A structured interview (same questions in the same order) offers a more uniform approach to the process, and studies show a much higher validity with a structured interview (0.51 vs. 0.14 with unstructured). Also, conducting an interview with a panel of interviewers improves the quality of the process even more.

For more on HR, read Kevin’s blog.


Spring for a break

This week our county’s public schools enjoy spring break. While the phrase “spring break” conjures up a variety of thoughts and images, it also reminds me of the inherent, indisputable, scientifically-proven need for us to take breaks – to refresh, renew, and revive. So the question (or challenge) for you today is this:

How do you take breaks during your workday?

Whenever I ask that question, I usually get something akin to “I don’t have time to take a break” or “I can’t afford to take a break.” The truth is: you can’t afford NOT to take a break.

An article in The New York Times, a tome in Scientific American and even a post from Fast Company argue for the effectiveness of taking breaks. Support for taking breaks to boost productivity and quality of work is legion. But before you start searching for work-break-best-practices, let me offer this:

Find what works best for you.

Personally, I’m not one to take the 15-minute mid-morning coffee break or even the hour lunch break. What works best for me is a breaks-as-needed approach. I’ll take a minute to shut my eyes and take a few deep breaths. I look out the window and watch the clouds or marvel at the cloudless sky. I take a walk: if inside the library, I’ll take in the wonderful sights within our atrium; if outside, I’ll feel the warmth of the sun or the crispness of the air, and I’ll examine the status of the trees in Bronson Park (no buds yet).

My guiding principle on breaks is to take intentional moments of diverting attention to something other than my To Do list. They take my mind, body, and spirit to another space and I return refreshed.

So, employ healthy practices for yourself and model them for your colleagues. Spring for a break! You can afford it.

Best,

Thom


Doing that thing you do

Last week, several gathered at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation to hear Gloria Johnson-Cusack. She’s Executive Director of Leadership 18, an alliance of CEOs responsible for leading some of the country’s largest and most respected nonprofits. During her time with us, she asked each of us to respond to a rather provocative question:

Why do you do what you do?

It was a good question. It examined your deepest motivation, that thing that gets you up in the morning and drives you to take on the difficult tasks. It grounds you and guides you. It’s your still point, your North Star.

My answer? I’m on a quest. Three years ago, I revisited Jim Collins’ Level 5 Leadership (Good to Great), and since then I’ve wondered how ONEplace could structure a program to develop it.

Level 5 Leadership is defined as a paradoxical blend of intense professional will plus extreme personal humility. While passion often drives will, Collins (and others as well) comes up short as to what develops humility. His best advice is “to begin practicing the other good-to-great disciplines” and Level 5 will come about.

I’m convinced that “leadership development is ultimately personal development” (The Leadership Challenge). It involves building discipline, fortitude, compassion and resilience. It’s not found in a series of workshops, classes or books; rather, it’s a challenging path that travels through forests, rivers, mountains, deserts, and more.

Again, Collins says:

Our research exposed Level 5 as a key component inside the black box of what it takes to shift a company from good to great. Yet inside that black box is another black box – namely, the inner development of a person to Level 5.

Gloria wrapped up the exercise by asking if any of us were surprised by what we heard ourselves say. Personally, it was not so much a moment of surprise as it was a moment of clarity.

What about you: why do you do what you do?

Best,

Thom


Fund marketing

There it was again. Originally, it surprised me…even confused me. My background colored my perception. Today, I’ve seen it so often, it no longer surprises me. And now, I find a reputable post placing it plainly before me.

Fund Marketing strategically merges fundraising and marketing strategies.

Coming from arts marketing, I often experienced marketing as quite distinct from fundraising, focusing on event advertising, subscriptions and ticket sales. Over the past five years or so, I’ve come to see much more overlap in these two areas. So has Gail Perry.

In her recent blog on Fund Marketing, she points out that, thanks to recent marketing research, we know: how to increase response to our newsletters, what type of images work best, and how to shape a call to action. Successful fundraising centers on relationships, and it also includes “a working knowledge of messaging, copyrighting, good design and layout.”

Few areas change as often, or as quickly, as marketing. So as we prepare for our annual Marketing & Communications Series (April 29, May 6 & 13), we’re pulling together the most recent research, practices, and tools to help you with your marketing challenges.

Keeping a sharp, focused, relevant message helps you cut through the noise and clutter to be heard and to motivate response…and, to raise more money!

Best,

Thom


Just ONEthing - Mar 2015

Earlier this month, we explored Donor Retention with Michelle Karpinski (Pretty Lake Camp). During this workshop, we learned about donor-centered recognition.

According to research by Penelope Burk, the essential components of donor-centered recognition include:

  • Prompt, meaningful gift acknowledgement
  • Ability to designate the gift to a program, service or project more narrow in scope than the charity’s overall mandate
  • Measureable results report on the last gift before being asked for another gift

If all three of these essentials are present, donors report that

  • 93% would give again
  • 64% would make larger gifts
  • 74% would continue indefinitely if the essentials continued 

The bottom line was to not over-think the effort but to keep the donor relationship front-and-center while doing the essentials well: timely, genuine, and accurate.