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The human economy

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Dov Seidman observes that we’re moving into a human economy. Having once been an agrarian economy and then an industrial economy, followed by an information economy, we now are transitioning into a human economy where successful employees leverage their creativity, passion, character, and collaborative spirit.

Seidman quotes Peter Drucker (Effective Executive, 1967) in support for committing to values and connecting with purpose in the workplace. He describes Drucker as being ahead of his time. I think he was simply more attuned to his people than the flavor of his time.

Successful leaders throughout the 20th century valued the human element. Look at Jim Collins’ list of top CEO’s and you’ll find several who built long-lasting organizations that valued their people more than their profit.

What they recognized is that – be it agrarian, industrial, information or human – each was an economy, i.e., “a system of interaction and exchange.” Regardless of what commodity is being traded, it’s people that perform the interactions and exchanges. It’s people that make any economy tick.

Seidman also points out that the systems are changing. Business and organizational policies and practices are valuing the human element more, and business schools are also attending more to developing so-called “soft skills.”

More and more, institutions are recognizing what many business writers keep claiming: it’s all about relationships. It’s true now, and it has been true for decades. Perhaps mainstream leadership thought is catching up with this.

Best,

Thom


Interaligned communities

Last Thursday I enjoyed gathering at ONEplace with around 50 others to again explore the topic of community alignment. We spent good time hearing aspirations from each person, reviewing some statistics and concepts, and then engaging conversations – both in small groups and large group. At the end of the session, one thing was very clear to me.

We will never achieve community alignment.

I don’t see this as bad news or a negative statement. It’s simply grasping the fact that getting the 75,000 people who live in Kalamazoo or the 250,000 who live in Kalamazoo County to align around a common care may be an unrealistic expectation. And, even if we did agree on something (e.g., education is important), wouldn’t it be so high level, so unspecific as to appear unactionable?

We may never achieve community alignment as long as we define “community” as including thousands of people. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell referred to Dunbar’s Law which says that once you hit 150 people, it’s time to start another community or open another location. Why? No one individual can be in relationship (i.e., in community) with more than 150 people. It’s too overwhelming.

Further, with 150 people we can achieve alignment at a deeper, more specific, more actionable level. A level where people can connect and impact can be felt.

Another relevant fact is that each of us lives within several communities. We have our neighborhood community, our work community, our religious community, our civic communities, our families, our friends, and more. Because we’re part of several communities, these various groups – aligned within themselves – may become interaligned due to our involvement in all of them.

(yes, I made up the word interaligned…don’t look it up)

So, a series of aligned communities may become interaligned as an individual takes part in all of them and carries their messages from one to another and another. This cross-germination may not align the wider community very specifically, but it may get it moving in the same general direction.

I’m still working on this one. It’s all to say that perhaps we’re expecting too much from community alignment and need to encourage a network of action-oriented interaligned communities.

What do you think?

Thom


Effective cooperation

In a recent interview, former President Bill Clinton discussed ten years of working on global initiatives. After enumerating the significant changes that have marked the last decade – increased reach of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), rise of social media, and diffusion of power – he made this bottom-line statement:

The only thing that really works in the modern world is cooperation.

In his foundation’s work they see that those efforts with at least one partnership between a corporation and NGO consistently do better than those without. And when you add governmental cooperation to mix, they do even better. He concluded:

If you want to have an effort that’s effective, you must be more inclusive.

This international dynamic is scalable. I’ve seen it manifest itself on teams, in organizations, and within neighborhoods and communities. It begins with a shared sense of cause and a common vision of our shared future. And, we’re beginning to understand this. Clinton pointed out that, today, we know that we’re interdependent, but we’re only about half way there to embracing that fact.

So, how do we become more inclusive?

I’m sure there’s no one right recipe, and it will take a lot of trial and error. Clinton acknowledges that we have to accept that we may not win every battle. Further, he encourages having patience, ridding ourselves of arrogance, dealing in facts rather than impressions, and relying upon cooperation.

Once again, it’s all about relationships. 


Clarity over certainty

One lesson regularly presents itself to me in a variety of forms – the importance of clarity over and above certainty.

Without going into all the gory details, suffice it to say that processes have stalled waiting for every last fact to be gathered, people have adorned their arguments with extraneous and jargonistic detail to prove the absolute rightness of their point of view, and meetings have been endlessly prolonged while meaningless minutia was debated. It’s exhausting!

In his book, The Five Temptations of a CEO, Patrick Lencioni names “choosing certainty over clarity” as temptation number three. While he affirms the importance of working with good information, he argues that many of us (CEO or not) take pride in our analytical skills and keen insights. Consequently, we spend too much time honing even-more-finely-detailed analyses into conclusions that get a nod but don’t move our organizations forward. Further, the higher impact issues before the group are left to the final few minutes of an already-too-long meeting.

Clarity, in contrast, means that you take a stand, and people understand the argument being made. They know points on which they agree and, perhaps more important, points on which they disagree. To speak clearly, however, requires us to set aside our fear of being wrong (or, at least, not-completely-right) and willingly invite others to challenge and improve our arguments.

Also, clarity makes accountability possible. Clarity of mission and purpose as well as clarity on individual roles and responsibilities means everyone knows why we exist, where we’re headed and who’s doing what. Everyone knows what’s expected and each person participates in keeping the organization on track.

In the study, Fearless Journeys, the researchers describe how several orchestras took on innovative ideas to invigorate their organizations. In the closing, the writer observed that what made all the difference was NOT the choice each made, but the fact that they dared to choose.

Best,

Thom


Glad you asked

A frequent question at ONEplace is some version of: how do I deal with this person?

Supervision is something many of us do, yet few (if any) of us received formal education in supervising. Instead, we learn “on the job” or through work-related training opportunities.

And we want this training. Our upcoming Supervision Series is already filled and each session has a waiting list. This tells me that more and more people are interested in becoming better managers.

One key to excellent management is asking the right questions. Good questions will improve your decision making, increase employee engagement, and build a more knowledgeable workforce. Check out Gary Cohen’s article on Just Ask Leadership (based upon his book). It provides a primer on how to ask the right questions.

To further support your work, we’ll unveil our Management Track in a couple of weeks. This ongoing series of workshops explores issues and skills critical to the work of management and supervision. And, wouldn’t you know it, many of these skills hinge on asking the right questions.

Check out the article and watch for our Management Track announcement later this month. Also, ask more questions – you’ll be glad you did.

Best,

Thom


Work in progress

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon an idea that keeps popping into my head again and again. I’m reading an article and (pop!) there it is. I’m discussing a fundraising concern and (pop!). I’m leading a workshop and (pop!) then (pop!) and (pop!) again. It’s this:

Stewardship is greater than Achievement (or, for you mathletes Stewardship > Achievement)

Let me unpack this a bit. According to my friends Merriam & Webster, stewardship is the job of being responsible for something, and achievement is the act of accomplishing something. For me, stewardship puts an emphasis on long-term organizational sustainability. It’s an orientation that reminds me that I’m responsible for the organization in my care – that it operates efficiently, treats people well, and stays on track to fulfill its purpose.

Stewardship strikes at the heart of what Jim Collins (Good to Great) calls Level 5 Leadership, a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. It connects us with something larger than ourselves – a timeline of stewards who have held or will hold our position and a greater cause that’s shared among several organizations. It also keeps us ever-mindful of the future, “the domain of leaders” (The Leadership Challenge).

Of course, we still need to achieve. We must meet objectives, reach goals, and make budgets. We also want to keep in mind that, in our what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, achievements are often short-lived, may be reversed, and tend to focus on individuals. Emphasizing achievement over stewardship may make for an upbeat annual meeting, but it risks sacrificing long-term impact for short-term gain.

So, what does this mean to you and me? Well, that’s why this post is titled, Work in progress. I have thoughts – mostly scattered – and would enjoy an opportunity to pursue them with you.

When you read “Stewardship > Achievement” what pops into your mind?

Best,

Thom


Just ONEthing - July 2014

Two events highlighted effective meeting practices from two national personalities.

On June 12, several from Kalamazoo ventured to Grand Rapids to hear fundraising researcher and author Penelope Burk (Donor-Centered Leadership). During the course of her workshop, she provided her thoughts on effective meeting practices. These include:

  • Meeting should be on a single topic
  • Invite only those who need to be at the meeting
  • Provide an agenda in advance so people can prepare

During our Effective Meetings workshop on June 17, these points were expanded upon from the writings of Patrick Lencioni (The Advantage). His Meetings Model makes an important distinction between the tactical staff meeting and a strategic topical meeting.

He warns against letting the staff meeting become “meeting stew” where everything gets thrown on to one agenda. The problem is that long-term strategic items usually get short-changed – given too little time and attention from too few people.

He advises calling a strategic topical meeting so the one or two strategic concerns can be thoroughly and thoughtfully addressed. Also, since strategic issues often cross departmental lines, calling a separate meeting allows us to make sure the right people are at the table.

In a nutshell, an effective meeting involves the right people focused on the right issues.


Retain for greater gain

The annual Giving Report from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is out. Once again, it shows that individual donations and bequests make up around 80% of total giving. It also shows that…

…giving was up 4.4% overall.

Recently, Gail Perry provided an overview of this report. (I hope you’re receiving her weekly email.) In her summary, she provides key data points and offers her insights. She notes that while giving is up overall, the increase was driven by major gifts from loyal donors. Her bottom line:

“Create a donor retention task force to ‘love on’ your current donors.”

Last week I referred to Penelope Burk’s research showing the startling impact of simply having board members make thank you calls. Place this basic activity within a strategic approach to donor retention and your program will take off.

You’ll also avoid what the Giving Report suggests may be a looming storm – a net loss of 12 donors for every 100 gained or retained since the Recession. How does your retention rate compare?

Why have I written on this topic for two weeks in a row? The cost difference between renewing donors and acquiring new donors is around one dollar for every dollar given. You read that right. According to data from the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), renewal efforts cost around $0.20 for every dollar given while donor acquisition costs around $1.20 for every dollar given.

It may be time to evaluate your donor retention efforts. You can’t afford not to.

Best,

Thom


Increase donor retention by 250%

Do you want to increase retention of first time donors from 20% to 70%? It’s easy.

Have a board member call the donor within 48 hours to say “thank you.” The call will take about a minute – half of the calls will go to voice mail (which is fine).

Not convinced? Last Thursday, I attended a workshop with Penelope Burk, fundraising consultant and President of Cygnus Applied Research (presented by Association of Fundraising Professionals – West Michigan Chapter). She has been researching fundraising practices and donor behavior for many years and has keen insights on what works and what doesn’t.

In a recent interview, she cited her research on first time donors who received a thank you call after their first gift:

We watched what happened with donors for two years, over six subsequent campaigns. They were never phoned again, but even by the end of the second year, the test group was still performing much higher — an average gift 42 percent higher than the control group — and they had a 70 percent retention rate from the first time they gave right through to the end of the sixth request. In contrast, the control group had an 80 percent drop-off rate [i.e., a 20% retention rate].

How much will it cost your organization’s budget to have board members make thank you calls? Zero dollars. What are the benefits? 42% increase in average gift, 250% increase in donor retention, and a more engaged board. That’s an incredibly huge ROI.

I know that some organizations already do this – Bravo! For those of you who aren’t doing this – start today.

Best,

Thom

P.S. Read the full interview with Penelope Burk from last summer (read now)


ONEplace Peer Learning

We consistently hear from you (including our recent survey results) that you value discussion and interaction with your peers. This makes sense. As we work together on new information, we challenge each other’s assumptions, uncover specific insights, and learn from one another.

A recent study supports your feedback. Last year, the Johnson Center for Philanthropy did a study for Wilberforce University on effective capacity building strategies. This exhaustive study examined literature from 2008-2013, surveyed 236 foundations, and included 20 interviews. One key result of this study was that peer learning surfaced as the most effective capacity building approach.

Over the past several months, ONEplace has been piloting peer learning groups. In addition, we’ve interviewed persons who have benefitted from other peer learning groups. Now it’s time to move this effort to its next phase.

Soon we will issue an invitation for our ONEplace Peer Learning program. Participants will be gathered in small groups. Here are some details:

  • Groups will be approximately 8 persons
  • Peer groups will be defined by common position held and similar level of experience
  • Time commitment will be up to each group (suggestion is at least six monthly meetings)
  • All groups will be facilitated by ONEplace

We look forward to this new venture, and we look forward to your participating and helping it to grow into an effective way to learn, connect, and grow in your career.

Best,

Thom