How to build leadership and capacity in NFP orgs

The not–for-profit sector is a large employment sector. It’s important to economies. It does things neither government or the private sector can do.


With a few notable exceptions, it is starved of quality management!

The sector is funded both by public money and donor funders. Now that economies are shrinking / consolidating…

a) The old funding model is grinding to a halt,

b) The recipients are competing fiercely for a shrinking pie,

c) Governments and other funders are aligning their handouts with their own goals and converting the funding / granting process to a bidding system.

Hence, the funding crisis is actually a leadership crisis. It’s at both the board and executive leadership level.

Here are 18 proven ways to help the NFP organization make progress on an issue that’s no longer under the radar and can easily be turned into an opportunity!

1. The #1 opportunity / task, by far, is to change what’s measured. Measure outcomes, not budgets and programs. Change or re-frame the desired outcomes. Beyond that…

2. Think larger systems* Start focusing on outcomes for the larger community, not just the narrow interest of the NFP.

3. Audit the body of knowledge your NFP has and the unique skill sets you possess. Align them with the larger need. Stop doing the things that others do better than you.

4. Don’t make fundraising a key strategy if that’s your main survival tactic. What you do should be so good and distinct that funding comes to you.

5. Change happens all the time. Endlessly! Find the useful change that’s needed and amplify your skill set within it.

6. Consider partnerships, collaborations and consortiums among which you can shine and deliver real value. Perhaps be the lead or backbone of the group.

7. Think about the needs of your funders. What value do you need to deliver to them so they can continue to support you? Incidentally, this is often simply the data that funders need to rationalize supporting you.

8. Pitch your audience on purposeful outcomes (e.g., prosperity, self-reliance, etc.) beyond solving the immediate ‘problem’.

9. Focus on strategy and outcomes over the long haul (which will keep changing). Budgets and programs follow strategy, they don’t lead it.

10. Use fact-based information and insights to drive your strategic questions. Ideology makes for passion but limits change and forces a narrow focus.

11. Make strategy a ‘learn / do’ effort, not a theoretical or administrative exercise.

12. Set measurable goals, track them, don’t expect miracles, but demand progress.

13. Don’t think about shrinking funding. Reframe it as capital generation, (i.e., more than money). Look elsewhere for the resources you need.

14. Think about leadership at all levels. Don’t tolerate the administrative and programme delivery mindset.

15. Develop a leadership strategy for the board. Refresh the board regularly with people who have skills that contribute to the organization’s vision and strategy.

16. Set in place a decision-making framework for the board and staff. Encourage dialogue and challenge. Eliminate recursive debate, especially about problems.

17. Send your staff executive to management school. If they resist change, (especially the change strategy) let them be successful elsewhere.

18. Use Solution Focus throughout to frame the opportunities, strategies and implementation plans.

How do we know this will work? It’s already happened in the best practice NFPs. Go find them and ask for their advice.

*Also, take a look at this approach, Collective Impact


6 Reasons Why Only Monkeys Ignore Compliments

You Can Dish it Out, but Can You Take It?

Yes, there’s enjoyment in a compliment, but should we simply accept them and move on? Is it good enough to be satisfied that we are not taken for granted?

The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer. Henry David Thoreau 

The following definition of the word compliment is correct, but misses the opportunity:

A polite expression of praise or admiration

How do we take the acknowledgement and, without shallow boastfulness, share the value of a compliment?

Show that you listened to the compliment.

Unpack what’s behind the compliment. Articulate for yourself what was intended by the acknowledgement.

Make it clear why the person giving the compliment did so with good reason.

Build on the acknowledgement by sharing the value that was created in your actions.

Attribute credit where it’s due – acknowledge whoever and whatever helped you to earn the compliment.

Share the wealth by handing the compliment back to the issuer. Reciprocity works!

Here’s a video to illustrate the point:

In Solution Focus we use compliments liberally. Here’s Coert Visser on giving compliments.

What do you do with compliments and acknowledgement?

Six ways to banish monkeys from meetings

It’s a productivity issue, not just a matter of either bursting blood vessels or falling asleep over time-wasting meetings.

But first, you know these meeting behaviours, don’t you?

Still, win-win, collaborative meetings do not need to be a feel-good fantasy!

They are entirely within your reach

Just try one of these recipes in the book Monkey-Free Meetings.

Not only do you get…

Meeting Tenderizer: Soften up your prospective client and make a sale without being an expert sales person.

Meeting Resuscitator: When you want to make sure your organization will implement the plan.

Teams at War: Get the angry / frustrated / in-denial teams collaborating before that next big meeting.

The Roundtable Model: Maximize the thinking of the organization in an alternative and highly productive meeting framework.

Better First Impressions: Ask questions to show your listening skills in your first meeting with a client, your new boss, or that important networking meeting.

Questions to Move People off Problem Monkeys: Become the master of asking questions that chase the monkeys out of the meeting room.

But also…

Email templates for pre-session input, Win-Win scenario set-up tools, Agenda templates, Action plan templates, Cheat sheet questions, and much more.

The outcome of your investment:

Will this make you a meeting hero over night? Possibly!

Will this demonstrate to people that you are leader in running productive meetings? Yes!

Download a free preview of the book’s introduction section here

Employee dis-engagement strikes!

Just as we move to closing the gap between management and employees along comes  ‘right-to-work’ legislation.  Is it a sledgehammer or a new dawn of opportunity?

To some this is the inevitable outcome of workers helping themselves to unsustainable compensation, healthcare and retirement. To others it’s an indictment of lazy management practices for agreeing to contracts they knew couldn’t be sustained. To those most affected by the legislation, it’s a drastic reduction in their lifestyle. To legislators, it’s tough medicine that will prove effective in the end.


Unknowable unknowns

The legislation may stave off the fiscal cliff of payments that cannot be met and possibly keep jobs from going to low-cost labor countries. But what about the unknowable unknowns that will arise as a consequence of what some may call hysterical action? What will the worker organizations do to avoid reacting hyper-emotionally and ineffectually?

When anger rises, think of the consequences. Confucius

Both sides in the story are acting like victims, making arbitrary choices. They become the architects and constructers of their own feeling of anger and helplessness.

How do we manage this dramatic change? How do we re-engage people? How do we move from helpless to hopeful?

Maybe we have to change the questions we ask.

Questions for the legislators:

What works about your workforce? What are the benefits of engaging them in meaningful work practices that make them a contributor to the economy?

Suppose your legislation works for the people who elected you, what will be happening to make their lives better?

Questions for the worker organizations

What works about you as workforce? What are the benefits of engaging in meaningful work practices that help make you a contributor to the economy?

Suppose you are now competing successfully with other countries for work on merit and earning a competitive wage, what will you be doing to make that happen?

Why ask these questions? So that we can help both sides re-engage to see what they have in common and what they want to have happen.


4 ways NFPs learn from the perils of bad strategy and lack of clarity

Management professor Richard Rumelt asserts that bad strategy abounds in organizations. Former CEO John Bell asserts clarity via strategic plans captured in one page. Not much to disagree with on both counts. They both focus on strategy for shareholder-driven business.

How does strategy apply to multi-stakeholder organizations, e.g., NFPs like hospitals, public service, fund-raising charities, and so on?

The principles of strategy apply equally to these organizations, however the practices have to fit the situation.

The critical strategy issue in large parts of the not-for-profit (NFP) sector is that many organizations are programme and budget driven. This makes them, at best, inefficient. They act incrementally – a new programme and a percent increase in budget have been the norm, and their funders have supported this. Whatever strategy does exist in NFPs can be either somewhat abstract or not outcome- focused. The plan induces status quo and fails to measure and improve the quality of what’s needed in the market or community as they may call it.

The following suggests ways to practice the strategy issues raised by Richard and John in the context of the public / NFP sector.

1. Take a leadership position.

The NFP sector does not enjoy the hierarchical structure that drives decision- making in for-profit organizations. NFPs often look to tools like policy to guide them when the policy is too complex, no policy exists, or the structure is out of date. As someone said, ‘In the absence of a clear plan, leadership matters.’ Better NFP strategy, i.e., outcomes-driven, will come from leadership by the board and executive staff.

2. Engage key stakeholders closely when planning.

In NFPs, it’s not often obvious who the customer is. Strategic planning requires engagement with key stakeholders. The purpose is not to get their wish-list, but to establish their perspective on what’s needed in order for the organization’s leadership to be decisive about the plan. Merge your fact-based data with what stakeholders are telling you – you’ll need their collaboration to make the plan happen!

3. Manage problem diagnosis and decide what needs to be different.

NFPs often tackle complex social or sectoral issues, few of which will be solved, or materialize opportunities easily. Strategists delve into extensive problem diagnosis. This makes it harder for the multi-stakeholder organization to know which of the many problems should be tackled. Strategies built on problems prevent the creativity that’s necessary to be focused and successful. Instead, clarify the problem by prioritizing and explore improved outcome opportunities. And. don’t overlook the NFP’s existing strengths and resources (of which there are always many more than perceived). The strengths/resources are the platform for the future strategy,.

4. Be clear on the difference between goals and strategy (and tactics).

NFP goals must be measurable in terms of outcomes, not just program delivery. Measure in a way that improves (not proves) quality. And, remember the line, be careful what you measure. It’s that simple!

What are your comments on we help NFPs (and for-profit’s) move in the direction John and Richard assert?

Want some ideas on how to develop the plan using solution focus?