Thursday, December 29, 2011

Organizational Strength through Diversification

by Virgil Carter

This is the time of year when many of us look back at the past year to see what we can learn and apply to the new year’s challenges.   This may be the time for CEOs, staff and volunteer leaders to do a quick check on the strength of their organizations.  2012 is likely to be as challenging a year as past years.  Is your organization economically strong?  Do you have the protection and advantage of economic diversification?  Or all of your eggs in one large basket?

A recent Strategy+Business article, “A Continuous Quest for Economic Balance”, by Richard Shediac, Chadi N. Moujaes and Mazen Ramsay Najjar, focuses on the important economic diversification of countries.  Much of what they write has equal application to the strength and well-being of many of our non-profit organizations.

For example, the authors write “Countries can be over-concentrated in any number of ways—for example, relying too heavily on large companies, exports, or foreign investment—and even countries that appear extremely diversified may still be vulnerable to unexpected events.”  How applicable is this to your organization?

A quick check of your annual budget will reveal the sources of your revenues.  If your major source of revenue accounts for more than about 35% of total revenues, you may question whether or not there is sufficient diversification (and protection) for your organization’s well-being.  If a single source of revenue counts for the majority of your revenue flow (over 50%) your organization may be at severe risk in the event of some disruption to the source of revenue.  Risk may be reduced and economic strength will be gained through economic diversification.

How to achieve strength through improved economic balance?  Certainly, continuing to support the elements that are at the center of an organization’s financial strength is obvious.  The answer for successful diversification is not simple.  And it is not achieved in a single step.  Diversification is a continuous, never-ending journey.  Perhaps the most successful journey is one that looks to increase the return of other key existing revenue sources, while also looking for new opportunities that are consistent with the mission of the organization.  Innovation and entrepreneurial efforts are a key in this regard.

For many non-profit organizations, economic strength through diversification is not easy.  No organization can be successful, however, without economic strength.  And if a conscious effort for needed diversification isn’t made, economic strength may never be achieved.   Is your economic balance where you’d like it to be?

For the full Strategy+Business article:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Three Processes to Align Mission & Money

By Virgil R. Carter

Beginning a new calendar year often means a new fiscal year for non-profit organizations.  Whenever a new fiscal year is imminent means a new annual budget cycle.  Does your organization have an annual process to align mission and money?  Is your annual budgeting cycle tied to your mission?  Can one look at your annual budget and see clear priorities for accomplishing the organizational mission for the budget year?  To link mission and money there are at least three interconnected processes that may be helpful.  Here’s a brief look at each.

1.      Innovation:  An annual budgeted innovation program, with staff and budget, is a good approach for encouraging and rewarding ideas for new programs, products and services that support the organization’s mission and are based on emerging customer needs.  One approach is to organize the process as an on-going annual grants program, where written proposals are reviewed and approved, if deemed worthy.  Caution:  care must be taken to carefully spell out innovation program objectives so that it’s clear the program is for new ideas, and not to perpetuate the status quo.  Review of proposals must also be carefully based on the innovation program objectives, so as not to simply fund continuation of existing activities.

2.     Existing Program Annual Review:  Most non-profit organizations allocate all of their available resources (financial and human) in support of annual operations. Thus, without the reduction and/or “sunset” of some annual programs, products and services, there may be no capability to add new activities through innovation or any other means.  One approach for annual program review is to implement a customer satisfaction review process, using the “voice of the customer” as a basis for gathering and evaluating data as to which programs, products and services are valued by your customers.  Goods and services not highly valued by customers each year are prime candidates for reduction and /or replacement. 

3.     Annual Program Planning/Budgeting:  Finally, with information from the previous two activities, an organization may conduct a rational annual process for the planning and budgeting of activities for the following 1, 2 or 3 year periods.  Instead of the annual budgeting cycle leading the process, it logically is the final phase of review and planning for the future.  This also helps to reduce status-quo program competition by incumbents for a larger and larger share of the financial pie every year. 

Aligning mission and money is important for a number of reasons.  Here are two:

  • Non-profit organizations need to keep pace with their critical changing markets;
  • In most cases, there are never enough resources for everything, and thus some priorities have to be established.

Thus the old adage is true for many non-profits, “If something new is to be added to the wagon, then something old must be removed.”  Are your mission and money aligned?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Compete or……..?

by Steven Worth

As a rule whenever anyone faces competition there are four healthy ways in which to react:  1) we can choose to compete heard-on, if we feel we have a competitive advantage; 2) we can abandon the field to the competitor and choose a less crowded and more profitable area in which to compete; 3) we can find ways to co-exist with the new competition through partnership or some other form of accommodation; or 4) we can retrench and redefine the way in which we are going to compete.

Each one of these four options are different and worthy of book-length discussions of strategies in their own right—depending on the field and the nature of the competition; but they all share a common attitude—a realistic look at the competition and a desire to find a winning strategy.

When one looks at the growth rates of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in a wide variety of fields, it is possible to forecast when each will surpass the US—provided all current conditions remain the same.   This last phrase is key, and therein lies the future for US-based organizations.

The four options outlined above are not the only options we have of course.  Here are four more options that some find appealing:  1) keep doing what we have been doing and ignore the competition; 2) resort to brute force (such as the threat of litigation or government-imposed trade barriers for example) to frighten the competition away; 3) keep focused on positive thoughts until they become reality; or 4) accept the inevitability of being something less than number one. These options too share something in common—they all ultimately lead to failure.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How to Define Success?

By Virgil Carter

The beginning of each year is often a time of analysis and planning for many non-profit organizations.  It’s often a time for analyzing past performance and planning for next year’s activities.  Has the past year been successful?  Are you planning to improve your organizational success in the coming year?  These questions raise the issue of how your association defines success.  Success comes in many flavors.  Perhaps the important thing is to identify and implement what works for your organization.  Thereafter communicate, communicate, and communicate. 

So, what does your association value most?  Is it performance?  How about relationships?  Perhaps its competencies or credentialing.  Each organization is different when it comes to what matters most, not to mention why it matters to us.  So, to define success, there has to be agreement on what matters most.  The situation, which may change over time, has a lot to do with defining success.  For example,  an association in a protracted, downward financial spiral may define success very differently than an association whose growth has been 30% per year for the past five years.

Here are some important success categories, with suggestions how they might be used. 

  1. Strategy--Does our association have a sustained record of performance to plan over time (successful strategy is not measured in 12-month cycles and someone’s pet agenda for the year)?
  2. Voice of the customer—Who are our (right) customers and how do you know if they are satisfied (yes, there may be “wrong” customers)?
  3. Financial—Do we have sustained performance over time meeting budget or ending each year with positive variances (no margin, no mission)?
  4. Business operations—What is the record of new program development and existing program retirement over the past 5 years (are you still doing what you did 5 years ago)?
  5. Learning & growth—What investment do we make on a consistent annual basis for volunteer’s & staff’s learning and growth in their association roles (no investment, no dividends)?

When you have figured out what matters most to your association and how you will measure success, it’s time to think about annual communications planning and the year’s key audiences and messages.  Key messages are important for association leaders—volunteers and staff—to focus on, repeat and reinforce.  The messages help everyone to understand and stay on the same page.

There are many useful ways to define organizational success.  And to communicate effectively about it.  When there is consensus about success, your volunteers, staff and external relationships will thank you, knowing what to expect and how to help.  How will you measure organizational success in 2012?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Globalization’s Influence on the Rise of Nationalism

By Steven Worth
      President, Plexus Consulting Group

It is counterintuitive that the more globalization takes root, the more nationalism asserts itself.
But it is a fact that there are more nations in existence in the world today than ever in the history of our planet.  The number stands at approximately 196 countries and counting.  South Sudan was the most recent nation to be added to the list, with more sure to come.  For those grappling to understand the forces exerted by globalization this seemingly contradictory trend is key to understanding a critical facet of globalization’s impact on our economy and society—that it allows us to celebrate our differences as well as those things that link us together as human beings.

The underlying reason for this growth of nationalism in this era of globalization is twofold. 

First, the circumstances that have made possible the largely peaceful co-existence of the planet’s nations since the Second World War have also made it safe for long suppressed nationalities to assert themselves.  If nations are a form of extended family, then it is natural for them to take pride in their identities at a time when they no longer need to be subservient to a foreign power.

Second, as individuals we instinctively resist conformity.  Yes, we want to benefit from access to the wealth and technology and goods and services from anywhere in the world that strikes our fancy, but we don’t want to lose our identities in the process.  Globalization is not the Faustian bargain that it is often portrayed to be.

So what does this mean for managers of organizations that aspire to be global?  It means that nations are here to stay and that you ignore them at your own risk.  It means that you need to think long and hard about tailoring products to meet local needs and customs.  Having free access to sell to the global market does not mean one size fits all.        

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Can Be Done to Restart Growth

by Virgil R. Carter

In today’s “go-slow” economy, confronted with uncertainty, it takes vision and innovation to create growth.  “Growth Under Pressure:  What Business Can Do To Restart Growth”, is an article by Richard Dobbs, James Manyika and Charles Roxburg, published by McKinsey and Company.  Although aimed at the for-profit private sector and public sector, leaders in non-profit organizations may learn from the author’s proposals.  They identify five primary areas of opportunity for new growth in today’s economy:

·         Bring private capital to public works:  In many developed economies, degraded infrastructure now drags down the global economy’s long-term growth and competitiveness.  The American Society of Civil Engineers, for example, estimates in the United States $2.2 trillion is needed to be spent over the next five years to bring its existing infrastructure up to what ASCE calls a good condition.  Since government doesn’t have the money, a creative alternative is to create a new round of privatization and creation of jobs.  Private companies and consortia could take over the operation of new facilities and provide the investment to upgrade old ones. 

·          Strengthen Internet ecosystems:  In a study by MGI, in mature economies over the past 15 years, the Internet has accounted for 10 percent of DGP growth, which accelerated to 21 percent in the past five years.  An expansion of broadband access and performance is needed to cope with rising demand and innovation.  To encourage this, “policy makers must ensure the Internet’s openness and competitiveness, invest to develop and retain the human capital needed to drive Internet innovation, and ensure availability of capital so that fledgling innovative businesses can grow.  If conditions are right, private-sector innovation and jobs will follow”.

·         Meet the resource-productivity imperative:  The steady decline in real resource prices enjoyed throughout the 20th century has now reversed course.  Three billion new middle-class consumers into the global economy has boosted demand for key resources and increased the risk of price spikes that could curtail global growth.  Expanding resource supply alone will not suffice to meet this new demand.  Resource productivity—increasing output for every unit of resource input—is also required.  Increased investment in resource systems is required by both public and private sectors.  “Green” investment is one such resource investment supporting the development of new jobs and industries.

·          Close the skills gap:  Many advanced economies are grappling with a severe mismatch between the skills developed by their education and training systems and those required in sectors where job growth will be strongest.  On current trends, the U.S. will produce twice as many graduates in the social sciences and business as in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  It’s estimated that the country may face a shortfall of almost two million technical and analytical workers.  These needs may be filled by a combination of young and older workers, “with removed barriers preventing older workers from staying in the workforce longer”.  “Ultimately, the only reliable way to encourage students to develop skills in these growth areas is for companies to make these careers more attractive and market them better in schools and university campuses”.

·          Build public-private partnerships:  Governments need their own productivity revolution.  According to the authors, “to reap these and other rewards, however, cash-strapped governments—and their citizens—will need to be more open-minded about private involvement in the delivery of public services”.  “The case for public-private cooperation may be easiest to make at the city level, where most future global growth will occur”.  “A majority of successful cities are already notable for a high degree of collaboration between the private and public sectors”.

The authors conclude, saying, “With a few notable exceptions, business leader have been slow to raise these issues…It’s time for the private sector to take the lead in making the case for driving growth through innovation and investment.”  For a full copy of the article, go here:

Monday, December 5, 2011

When Employees Talk and Managers Don’t Listen

by Virgil R. Carter

According to a recent article published in the Journal of Business Ethics, and written by Gerdien de Vries, Karen A. Jehn and Bart W. Terwel, dangers lurk if suggestions from employees are sought but are considered.

Managers may operate in an autocratic (making unilateral choices) manner or a democratic (inviting employees to  suggest improvements) way.  Research has shown that motivation, job performance and morale increase when employees have the opportunity to contribute their concerns and ideas.

The authors write, however, that there’s “a consequence to giving employees a voice:  a company has to listen.”  If employees believe that a manager is simply paying lip service to consulting with employees, and has no desire to act on their advice, they are likely to stop offering input and, worse, “act out their frustration by clashing with colleagues.”

Conversely, according to the authors, employees, who thought their managers were paying attention to the employees suggestions and comments, “spoke up more often and got along better with one another, improving the organization’s functioning as a whole”.

The article’s conclusion?  “Giving employees the opportunity to voice their opinions can be a positive force for change.  But don’t put out a suggestion box if you aren’t willing to implement at least some of the suggestions”.  

For a full copy of the article, go here:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Are you too busy doing to bother with where you are going?

by Steven M. Worth

Some of us are more guilty of this than others.  It is not that those who concentrate on the day-to-day are shallow or shortsighted necessarily--the case can certainly be made that if you “stick to your knitting” doing what you do well, that things tend to work out in the end.  But it is also true that those who know where they are going tend to get there more often than not; and in the course of getting there, they tend to have a shaping influence on the world around them.

In the extreme, this natural dichotomy is also true of association managers who tend to fall into one of two camps.  One is made up of those who focus solely on operational perfection; while the other consists of those who focus solely on a strategic vision.  Both extremes can be frustrating to deal with—with the “doers” rarely questioning the relevance or effectiveness of what they are doing; while the “visionaries” more often than not are surrounded by a great deal of waste and drama.  Ugh…what a choice!

Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of Steve Jobs is a study of a manager who exemplified the second management style.  Politically, Jobs was very much attuned to President Obama; but how did Jobs evaluate the President as a manager?  “Here’s the problem with Obama’s leadership:  He doesn’t like to really piss people off,” Jobs said. “I guess that wasn’t a problem I ever had.”

One cannot read Isaacson’s biography of Jobs without feeling a certain ambivalence about the man.  It is hard to come away from it feeling like Jobs would be a friend or good person to work for.  But it is also hard to deny his shaping influence on how we have incorporated technology into our daily lives.

As in most extremes, the best place for most managers to be is somewhere in the middle.  We need to be constantly questioning the relevance of what we are doing, and to do that we do need to know what it is we are trying to achieve long term.  Member/customer satisfaction is not enough, because members/customers can and do change their minds in a flash if they see something more relevant to their needs somewhere else.  But for the “visionaries” among us, we need also to recognize that efficiencies do matter—no one wants to be part of an organization that does not value its stakeholders’ time, talent or financial resources. 

Efficiency and effectiveness are what senior management is all about, and periodically it is useful to look at the two extremes to make sure we are where we should be.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Leadership: Training or Development?

by Virgil R. Carter

As a CEO, do you have a group of senior leaders in your organization that you’d like to help grow into your organization’s next generation of executive?  What about supporting your senior staff to become mature executive?  If so, what do you do?  Well, of course, you put them through some training, right?  Wrong!

In a recent article, “Training vs. Development, by Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth, you don’t train leaders you develop them.  According to Myatt, “Leadership training is alive and well, but it should have died long, long ago…”

Myatt says that the problem with training is it presumes the need for indoctrination on systems, processes and techniques.  Moreover, training assumes that these systems, processes and techniques are the right way to do things.  The dilemma, describes Myatt, is that training is “often a rote, one directional, one dimensional, one size fits all, authoritarian process”, imposing static, outdated information on people”.

The solution to the leadership problem, he says, is to scrap it in favor of development.  “Don’t train leaders, coach them, mentor them…and develop them, but please don’t attempt to train them”.  Development strives to focus on the unique and differentiate by shattering the status quo.  Myatt has a list pointing out some of the differences between training and development, including:

·          Training focuses on the present—Development focuses on the future
·          Training focuses on technique—Development focuses on talent
·          Training focuses on maintenance—Development focuses on growth
·          Training focuses on the role—Development focuses on the person
·          Training focuses on efficiency—Development focuses on effectiveness

Myatt concludes saying, “If what you desire is a robotic, static thinker—train them.  If you’re seeking innovative, critical thinkers—develop them”. 

For a copy of the full article, go here:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Can Volunteering Help Us Weather Tough Economic Times

by Virgil R. Carter

Is there a connection between volunteering and economic resilience?  A report recently released by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) concludes that “states with higher levels of civic engagement are more resilient in an economic downturn.”  The report identifies five measures of civic engagement which appear to protect against unemployment and contribute to overall economic resilience: 

·            Attending meetings
·            Helping neighbors
·            Registering to vote
·            Volunteering
·            Voting

The report calls on community and business leaders to use these findings to inform a public discussion of how civic health can help improve the economy.  Would these measures help improve the health and well-being of your non-profit organization?

“Of these five civic health indicators, working with neighbors was the most important factor in predicting economic resilience, as an increase of one percent in neighbors working together to solve community problems was associated with a decrease of .256 percent in the unemployment rate. Public meeting attendance emerged as the second most important factor, followed by volunteering and registering to vote as top important predictors of unemployment change.”

“As the national debate turns to jobs and restoring civility, our leaders need to understand that one answer for our political and economic woes begins with restoring America’s tradition of service and civic engagement,” said John Bridgeland, Former Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Current National Advisory Chair, NCoC. “It not only gives communities a boost, it may also lessen the effects of the economic downturn.”

For a full copy of the article, go here:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Some Lessons from the 1930s

by Virgil Carter

Is there anyone who hasn’t become aware of the turmoil and uncertainty in global financial markets, and the impact on the economy and consumer confidence?  These conditions have generated a great deal of interest in the U.S. Great Depression in the 1930s.

Can we learn useful lessons from the 1930s?  In an article in the McKinsey Quarterly, author Tom Nicholas writes that, if history is our guide, even the “deepest downturns can create huge opportunities for organizations with money and ideas”.  Nicholas goes on to say, “For investments to promote innovation, the answer may be yes”.

Is the typical behavior of executives—act cautiously and delay investment projects until confidence returns—the wise course?  According to Nichols, many companies hesitated to innovate during the 1930s.  On the whole, corporate executives considering plans for research investments preferred to wait and see.  “From 1929 to 1937, for example, there were five years of GDP growth and four years of GDP contraction. Patent applications generally followed the same pattern, lagging behind by one year: the number of patent applications increased during years following GDP growth and decreased during years following GDP contraction, with two exceptions: 1934 and 1935”, Nichols describes.

 “Yet several successful companies did not delay such investments. One was DuPont. In April 1930, a noted DuPont research scientist, Wallace Carothers, recorded the initial discovery of neoprene (synthetic rubber). Although the company’s price levels and sales fell by roughly 10 and 15 percent, respectively, that year, DuPont boosted R&D spending to develop the new technology commercially. Neoprene, which DuPont publicly announced in November 1931 and introduced commercially in 1937, became one of the 20th century’s major innovations.”

Nichols goes on to say, “DuPont isn’t the only such example. Many new technology companies—for instance, Hewlett-Packard and Polaroid—that became leading innovators later in the century were established as entrepreneurial start-ups during the 1930s”.

“Of course, these examples don’t mean that aggressive investments for innovation would have been wise for every company during the 1930s or are universally wise today. But taken together, the patent research and the experience of successful innovators in those years suggest that although delay is the natural response to uncertainty, some companies should continue innovating even in an extraordinarily deep economic downturn—especially with technologies that take a long time to commercialize after discovery”, Nichols concludes.  “Companies that delay these investments may forego significant growth opportunities when uncertainty subsides and the economy recovers.  For companies with cash and ideas, history shows that downturns can provide enormous strategic opportunities.”

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sinking the Boat vs. Missing the Boat

by Virgil Carter

William C. Taylor’s latest book, Practically Radical:  Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry and Challenge Yourself (William Morrow, 2011), suggests, among other things, that downturns in the economy are the very times to be innovating.  Instead of worrying about sinking the boat, Taylor says leaders should be worried about not missing it!  In a review by David K. Hurst, in Strategy + Business, Hurst points out that Taylor “advocates rocking the boat—that is, exploring “radical shifts that represent a direct challenge to convention and a break with the status quo”, while remaining realistic about your ability to make change happen. 

Taylor, you may remember, is a former editor of the Harvard Business Review and cofounder of Fast Company magazine, and has been a leading writer and observer of the management revolution of creating agile organizations that engage their people so that they will innovate and create new ventures in the knowledge economy.

The book is organized in three segments:  1) improving your company; 2) creating successful new ventures, and 3) rethinking ones leadership style.  Each segment of the book consists of themed chapters featuring “radically practical” truths, rules and habits.  The appendix includes “ten questions that every game changer must answer”, such as “if your company went out of business tomorrow, who would miss you and why?”

Taylor suggests economic downturns are ideal times to be innovating in all of these categories.  His point is that “instead of worrying about sinking the boat, one should be concerned with not missing it”.   He suggests that this is as good a time as any for challenging the status quo.

For non-profit organizations that “always do it this way”, this may be the time and the book to that helps elevate the organizational vision.  Two of the book’s chapters, titled “What your see shapes how you change” and “Where you look shapes what you see” could just be the eye-openers needed for a new status-quo.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Is Your Innovation Working?

By Virgil Carter

Does your organization have the ability to innovate?  Does it have the ability to deliver new and redesigned goods and services to your members and customers?   Or do you do what you’ve always done, the way you’ve always done it? 

Recent research by Booz & Company, reported by Anna Pettersson and August Viak in Strategy+Business, reveals an “unexpected and unheralded source of potential productivity:  midlevel managers!”  According to the article, organizations can raise their innovation productivity by recognizing and activating “the unique impact of leaders in the middle of the organization’s hierarchy”.

While the research was specifically focused on innovation in pharmaceutical companies, the findings have application to a wide range of organizations, including non-profit organizations.  Among key findings were three key elements:

1. Clearly differentiated roles for senior, middle, and project managers.  By formally defining the responsibilities of each level, organizations can take full advantage of the different contributions that people at each of these three levels (senior, middle, and project managers) can offer.  And it can avoid the often inherent duplication and redundancy that may take place.

2. A focus on the pivotal roles across the middle.  Managers in midlevel roles typically oversee groups of sufficient scale to develop expertise, create connections and opportunities for innovation, and marshal resources to support good ideas and to deliver results. Midlevel managers are well equipped to select and increase opportunities and can also guide promising ideas through the organization to make sure that they aren’t knocked out too easily in a process based on abstract criteria.

3. The development of critical skills within the middle-management group. To lead effectively, middle managers must have personal credibility. However, this is not enough.  Effective leaders differentiate themselves in several key ways. For example, they define a compelling vision or destination for their team’s work products.  Strong leaders must also connect beyond boundaries and establish critical networking interactions that are at the heart of innovation. Finally, midlevel manager must also utilize “multiple lenses” for problem solving, “applying insights gained from throughout the organization.

Use these elements to assess and build the needed training and support for the leadership capabilities of your middle management staff.  Your organization’s innovation will be the beneficiary.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Want to Think Like an Innovator?

by Virgil Carter

Want to be an effective innovator?  How do innovators think? Harvard Business Review reported on an interview on the subject by contributing Editor Bronwyn Fryer.  Fryer conducted a question-and-answer session with Professors Jeff Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of Insead to explore how the "Innovators' DNA works”.

Dyer and Gregersen conducted a six-year study surveying 3,000 creative executives and conducting an additional 500 individual interviews. The study found five "discovery skills" that distinguish the executives.
  • Associating:  a cognitive skill that allows creative people to make connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas
  • Questioning:  an ability to ask "what if", "why", and "why not" questions that challenge the status quo and open up the bigger picture
  • Closely observe details:  particularly the details of people's behavior.
  • Experiment:  trying on new experiences and exploring new worlds
  • Ability to experiment:  always trying on new experiences and exploring new worlds
  • Networking:  connecting with smart people who have little in common with them, but from whom they can learn
“Overall, associating is the key skill because new ideas aren't created without connecting problems or ideas in ways that they haven't been connected before”, according to Dyer.

Dyer commented that one might summarize all of the skills they’ve noted in one word: "inquisitiveness." “I spent 20 years studying great global leaders, and that was the big common denominator. It's the same kind of inquisitiveness you see in small children”, he commented.

Dyer asked the executives in their study to tell them about how they came up with a strategic or innovative idea. That one was easy for the creative executives, but surprisingly difficult for the more traditional ones. Interestingly, all the innovative entrepreneurs also talked about being triggered, or having what one might call "eureka" moments. In describing how they came up with a product or business idea, they would use phrases like "I saw someone doing this, or I overheard someone say that, and that's when it hit me."

In conclusion, Dyer added, “We also believe that the most innovative entrepreneurs were very lucky to have been raised in an atmosphere where inquisitiveness was encouraged. We were stuck by the stories they told about being sustained by people who cared about experimentation and exploration.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hope for Daydreamers!

by Virgil Carter

Are you one of those many people who mind seems to wander from time to time?  Do you have stray thoughts?  Do you daydream?  Well take hope!  In a New York Times article, author John Tierney writes that researchers have been analyzing these behaviors, and they’ve found daydreaming to be remarkably common¬ and often quite useful. “A wandering mind can protect you from immediate perils and keep you on course toward long-term goals”, he writes. Tierney notes that sometimes daydreaming is counterproductive, but sometimes it fosters creativity and helps you solve problems.

Mind wandering, as psychologists define it, is a subcategory of daydreaming, which is the broad term for all stray thoughts and fantasies, including those moments you deliberately set aside to imagine yourself winning the lottery or accepting the Nobel. But when you’re trying to accomplish one thing and lapse into “task-unrelated thoughts,” that’s mind wandering.

During waking hours, people’s minds seem to wander about 30 percent of the time, according to estimates by psychologists who have interrupted people throughout the day to ask what they’re thinking. If you’re driving down a straight, empty highway, your mind might be wandering three-quarters of the time, according to two of the leading researchers, Jonathan Schooler and Jonathan Smallwood of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“People assume mind wandering is a bad thing, but if we couldn’t do it during a boring task, life would be horrible,” Dr. Smallwood says. “Imagine if you couldn’t escape mentally from a traffic jam.”

Where exactly does the mind go during those moments? By observing people at rest during brain scans, neuroscientists have identified a “default network” that is active when people’s minds are especially free to wander. When people do take up a task, the brain’s executive network lights up to issue commands, and the default network is often suppressed.

To encourage the creative process, researchers say, it may help if you go jogging, take a walk, do some knitting or just sit around doodling, because relatively undemanding tasks seem to free your mind to wander productively. But you also want to be able to catch yourself at the Eureka moment.

“For creativity you need your mind to wander,” Dr. Schooler says, “but you also need to be able to notice that you’re mind wandering and catch the idea when you have it. If Archimedes had come up with a solution in the bathtub but didn’t notice he’d had the idea, what good would it have done him?”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Going Global by Going Local

By Virgil Carter

Many non-profit organizations are looking for growth by developing strategies aimed at emerging-market nations.  And for good reason. Consider the fact that “in 15 years’ time, 57 percent of the nearly one billion households with earnings greater than $20,000 a year will live in the developing world.  Emerging markets will represent an even larger share of the growth in product categories, such as automobiles, that are highly mature in developed economies”, according to a recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly. Seven emerging economies—China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, and Indonesia—are expected to contribute about 45 percent of global GDP growth in the coming decade. Authors Yuval Atsmon, Ari Kertesz and Ireena Vittal write that there are significant growth opportunities for organizations that develop the right strategy to tap into these markets.  What’s the right strategy?

According to the authors, as developing economies become increasingly diverse and competitive, global organizations will need strategic approaches to understand the variance within countries and to concentrate resources on the most promising submarkets.  The authors suggest a concept they call “city clusters”, a collection of relatively homogenous, fast-growing cities.  They quickly point out those countries such as China, India and Brazil different significantly in their development and markets, making a one-size-fits-all strategy ineffective.   Of course, most leading corporations have learned to address different markets in Europe and the United States. But in the emerging world, there is a compelling case for learning the ropes much faster than most companies feel comfortable doing.

The appropriate strategic approach will depend on the characteristics of a national market (including its stage of urbanization), as well as a company’s size, position, and aspirations in it. What’s clear, according to the authors, is that traditional country strategies and other aggregated approaches will miss the mark because they can’t account for the variability and rapid change in these markets. As the battle for the emerging-market shifts into higher gear, organizations that think about growth opportunities at a more granular level have a better chance of winning.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Notice of Joan's Passing

Joan Cassedy was our beloved colleague and friend.  No one could know Joan and not be caught up in her great heart.  Her laugh was infectious, her compassion sincere, and her caring presence was a soothing balm to all who had the good fortune to know her.  She will be missed so very, very much. 

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Joan’s large family and even larger community of friends.  Your tragedy is ours.  Please pray for Joan, her family, friends and her colleagues here.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

How To Get Fired in 10 Easy Steps

by Virgil R. Carter
Last month we wrote about interviews and “Seven Questions That Can Kill Careers”.  This month, let’s look at how you can lose your job in ten easy steps.  We’re indebted to Kelly Eggers’ recent article from the Wall Street Journal, “Ten Things That Can Get You Fired”.

Of course, poor performance or antagonistic relationships are always causes for being fired.  But there are more subtle ways.  For example:
  • Sick every Monday:  According to Eggers’ article, frequently calling in sick on Monday is a good way to get your pink slip.  Same goes for Fridays.
  • Be disgusting:  When one’s appearance and hygiene aren’t the best, this is a wonderfully effective way to collect unemployment checks.  If this applies, your only option is to find a one-person office!
  • Have it your way:  Unless you are the Top Boss, it doesn’t pay to appear to be single-minded and critical of other’s ideas and work.
  • Be Anonymous:  This is the opposite of having it your own way.  Keeping your head down and being invisible is a good way to not be remembered when it’s time to count heads and reduce staff.
  • Criticize your boss with association members:  This is my favorite.  Members love gossip.  Revealing your opinion of your boss as stupid, incompetent and a cheat to your non-profit members is like talking through an amplified microphone.  It’s career suicide, even if you’re right!
What are the other ways to stand in the unemployment line?  According to Eggers they are:  6) Lie on your employment application; 7) Be ungrateful; 8) Spend time with the organization’s complainers, non-performers and gossips; 9) Never take responsibility when things go wrong; and 10) Take credit for other people’s work. 

If you’re looking for extra time for yourself this summer, give a couple of these a try!

For the full article visit:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Are You and Your Organization Looking for Growth?

by Virgil R. Carter
Are you and your non-profit organization looking for growth opportunities?  Are you considering globalization?  A recent article “Drawing a new road map for growth”, by Sumit Dora, Sven Smit and Patrick Viguerie, published in the McKinsey Quarterly, reports on findings showing how large and small for-profit companies grow.  Are there some lessons here for non-profit organizations?

Finding 1:  Multiple avenues to growth produces better results in good times and bad.
Organizational growth has three traditional drivers, according to the authors.  These are:  1) portfolio momentum, or the market growth of the segments in an organization’s portfolio; 2) mergers and acquisitions; and 3) market share gains.  The authors cite their study showing that organizations outperforming their peers on two or three of these drivers grow faster and achieve better returns than organizations that outperform on just one driver.  Organizations that fared better in the economic downturn grew in multiple ways.

Finding 2:  Organizations in emerging market economies grow faster than those in developed economies.
Organizations in the study from emerging markets are outgrowing competitors from developed markets at a “startling pace”.  The wide gap in growth between emerging economy organizations and organizations in developed economies “suggests that companies should ask themselves whether they are paying enough attention to emerging markets and allocating sufficient financial and human resources to them.  Chances are the answer is no”.

Finding 3:  Smaller companies rely on market share growth and momentum for growth.
Small companies in the author’s study are growing by increasing their market share “to a much greater extent than large companies”.   Smaller companies, without the significant share positions in mature markets, usually grow faster than their parent industry or profession, according to the authors, because they “are not constrained by size, and their growth is often based on a new business model they can pursue without fear of cannibalizing revenues.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

Is Your Organization Using Too Much Strategy?

by Virgil R. Carter
The strategic plan for many non-profit organizations is an extensive, all-encompassing document.  Such strategy espouses politically correct multitudes of competitive demands and interests from across the organization.    “Too much strategy” focuses on the process and nomenclature of broad goals, objectives, vision and values.  As a result, more often than not the strategy goes up on the shelf and organizational life goes on.

In an article, “The perils of bad strategy”, author and UCLA management professor Richard Rumell, describes the importance of seeing bad strategy and countering it with good strategy.  Too much strategy, or bad strategy, has four characteristics, according to Rumell:

·         The failure to face the challenge;
·         Mistaking goals for strategy;
·         Bad strategic objectives
·         Fluff

When is there too much (bad) strategy?  Rumell says it’s because:  1) the inability to focus and make choices; 2) template-style planning, using the formula of “vision, mission, values, and strategies”.

How to focus your organization on good, productive and useful strategy:  focus on what’s important!  There are three elements for focused, useful strategy:

·         Diagnosis:  identifying the critical aspects of the situation;
·         Guiding policy:  an approach that will overcome the challenges in the diagnosis;
·         Focused actions:  coordinated steps to achieve the guiding policy

Does your organizational strategy focus on the crucial factors for your organization and a direction for addressing the factors?  Or do you have too much strategy?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Comma

By Jane M. La Barbera, CAE
Managing Director, Association of American Law Schools

During a particularly rough period of months when an individual was conducting a daily campaign against us because he did not like an action that the association was taking, I received a call from a former President of the Association, now a President of a university. He asked me how I was doing and I told him the candid truth.   His response was that it was all about the “comma.”  It was something his insightful son had expressed to him. 

The university president had only been his job three weeks when he was being criticized for a particular issue that had occurred long before he arrived. His son commented that the comma adds to your name a designation that you represent an institution including all its history before and during the time that you are in the position.  Your name alone means little to the outside world. The comma gives you wonderful experiences and it also allows others to critically assess your work and that of the association.

Think of the people you have met and the places you have been because of your position; e.g., talking to Toni Morrison, the Nobel Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winning author; being a guest at the exquisite US consulate on the Arno in Florence on a sparkling beautiful evening; and meeting the Australian Governor General at her grand estate in Canberra.  For the same reasons that you have access to people and places that you would not normally have without the comma after your name, you are celebrated and assessed based on the association that you represent.

What does all this mean?  The comma reminds us that we are ordinary individuals who find ourselves with the privilege of representing institutions.   It means that while our members may express their unhappiness with us, they can also be overly complimentary because we can impact the trajectory of careers. We remind ourselves to take the compliments and the critical comments with a grain of salt.  Would we be treated the same if we did not have the comma?  No, we would not.

On the other hand, we are at risk for our jobs for making decisions that can make us appear brilliant or idiotic.  It is the risk of decision-making, which makes failure and success only separated by a thread of difference. The comma gives us great privilege; and it gives us a richer, but, riskier life. It reminds us of the importance of humility because but for that comma, we would not be seen as representing this important institution in both its failings and in its honors.

Friday, September 2, 2011

May We Have a Little Passion With That?

by Steven Worth

When I was a young person working in the US Senate I recall being puzzled by the clinical, intellectual approach of some orators who would lay out their position on a particular subject in a very matter of fact way, and then respond in the same manner should any objection be raised by someone in the opposition. Many times these were very smart, honest, and thoughtful public servants whose arguments made all the sense in the world to me—but there was just no spark there to drive the point home or to give pause to anyone who would oppose them.

Was this lack of passion the result of weariness, of having fought the battle too long to expect anything positive to come of it? Or was it due to the sheer intellectual self-confidence of a person who knows that common sense will carry the day eventually?

In this vein, Winston Churchill famously noted that “One can always count on the Americans to do the right thing….after they have tried everything else…” Perhaps Churchill was only humorously echoing the optimism in President Lincoln’s own observation that “You can fool, some of the people all the time and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Somehow I do not feel quite so sanguine that reason will always prevail. In fact I feel more in sympathy with William Butler Yeats’ worried observation that “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

I know, I know, the last thing we need is more arm waving demagogues; but how can one feel inspired to follow, if our leaders do not back their words with a passion that underscores their belief in what they are saying?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Making Assumptions: Visas

by Jane M. La Barbera, CAE, Managing Director, Association of American Law Schools

Making arrangements for visas for professors located around the world has been an eye opening and educational experience. In 2004 we had an international conference in the US and we had such trouble bringing non-US professors to the conference. We were frustrated with the difficulty of inviting these well-respected leaders to the US.

As the years continued, in every country where we held a conference we faced difficulty in bringing conference delegates from developing countries. I blamed the delegates, assuming that they waited until the last minute to obtain their visas. This caused a mad scramble of activity weeks and days before the meeting dates even though we had issued the letters of invitations many months before. Usually, the consulate asked for more information at the last minute and we had to have the host university issue all communications on their letterhead in their language to the consulate. At this point, airfares were much higher in cost and hotel rooms might not be available.

It was a conversation with a distinguished African professor that enlightened me about my perspective on visas. She said that obtaining visas was another privilege of which those from developed countries were easily given and we had no clue as to the experience of someone from a developing country. She explained that while she and many of her colleagues from developing countries would request the visa as soon as the months in advance conference invitation was received, the consulates often did not act on these visa requests until the very last minute. Conference delegates would have to rush to obtain and complete all visa documents in order as soon as the invitation arrived, then constantly contact the consulate to see if the visa had been processed and they would be told over and over that it was being processed, if they received an answer at all.

In addition, many countries do not have consulates or embassies in every country or there might be one location in a very large country. We paid for a Senegal delegate to fly and stay in the US to obtain the visa from the Argentinian consulate (where the conference was to be held), rather than have them fly to a nearby African country to obtain the visa. Why? First, the consulate in the other African country was not open every day; we could fly this individual to that country and we could not rely that the consulate would see them on a timely basis because those from the country where the consulate was located would have first priority to be seen. To my surprise, it was cheaper to have the individual fly to the US, where they could attend another conference, go to the Argentinian Consulate in the US, make an appointment to fill out the application and have it processed before she left the US. It was also more reliable.

I am constantly reminded, especially, in the international arena, of uninformed assumptions that I make where my experience is limited to the perspective of someone from a privileged developed country.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Should Your Organization Be Centralized?

by Virgil R. Carter

As non-profit organizations look for growth and opportunity, a key question arises about the organization’s operations: should the organization be centralized? Centralization appears to offer some advantages: planning and production efficiencies, reduced overhead, improved quality, more predictable scheduling, and more reliable distribution and customer service. But is this really true?

Centralization vs. decentralization is a predictable and perennial tug-of-war between advocates for each. It is a dilemma for organizational leaders. Now, in a recent article by Andrew Campbell, Sven Junisch and Gunter Muller-Stewens, published in the McKinsey Quarterly, the authors describe how organizational leaders can lead a more thoughtful debate by asking three questions.

The three questions each pose a test that must be considered by any centralization proposal. A decision to centralize requires an affirmative answer to at least one of the three questions. The questions are:

Is centralization mandated: Does the organization have a choice? For example the corporation annual report and consolidated tax filing are required by law and must be signed by the CEO, making this function impossible to delegate to subordinate units. Thus the response is yes to centralizing this activity.

Does centralization add significant value (a minimum of 10%): The authors write that if centralization is not mandated, it should only be adopted if it adds substantial value. Without significant added value, the risks of centralization may not be worth taking.

Are the risks low: Proposals for centralization should proceed only if negative side effects are low. The authors suggest that an initiative for centralizing payroll is a likely example of low negative side effects.

If you and your organization are facing a centralization decision, you may want to consider these three questions.

For the full article click here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Health vs. Performance

by Virgil R. Carter

What’s the steady-state condition of your organization? Is it an exemplary organization? What does exemplary mean? Scott Keller and Colin Price, examine this question in a recent article “Organizational health: The ultimate competitive advantage”, published in the McKinsey Quarterly.

The authors content that “focusing on organizational health—the ability of your organization to align, execute, and renew itself faster than your competition can—is just as important as focusing on the traditional drivers of business performance.” The authors go on to explain, “Organizational health is about adapting to the present and shaping the future faster and better than the competition”. Their view is that the ultimate competitive advantage lies in an organization’s ability to “create a capacity to learn and keep changing over time”.

Now, many non-profit organizations are noted more for their continuity and consistency, than for their “learning and changing over time”. Do you agree? Some non-profit organizations even boast that “we’ve always done it that way!” So where does that leave health vs. performance of non-profits?

First, and foremost, every non-profit is unique. That is, each organization has its own history, culture, traditions and values. So “competitive advantage” can’t successfully be copied from other organizations and simply imported into a “host” non-profit organization. The authors point to their research that leads them to believe that health (the ability of an organization to align, execute and renew itself faster than the competition) is the basis for performance (what an organization delivers to stakeholders in financial and operational terms). “At least 50 percent of any organization’s long-term success” is the result of organizational health.

According to these authors, to improve organizations, with lasting results, leaders must “focus on (organizational) long-term health even as leaders push for higher performance. How is the long-term health of your organization?

For the full article, click here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Killer Questions

by Virgil R. Carter

Want to know how your career can vanish before your eyes during an interview? The Wall Street Journal’s recent article “Seven Questions That Kill Careers” identifies these questions as ways to ensure you will have more free time (and less time at work):

1. So, tell me a little about yourself. This innocent-sounding question is a likely opening one. This is not where one describes one’s life history or most recent vacation frolic in Mexico. You may be best to simply make 1-2 brief comments about your most recent professional history.
2. Why do you want to leave your current job? Here’s one of those loaded questions. Best response is to indicate a logical career step “to” the new company. Avoid indicating any desire to get away “from” your current company. Stay positive.
3. What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses? Be prepared for this one. You’ve got to beat “hard-working” (strength) and ‘none” (weaknesses). When identifying a weakness, it’s important to include how you overcame it successfully.
4. How would your current or former colleagues describe you? Focus on what employees at different levels “look to you for”, i.e., a derivative of some of your strengths.
5. What is your goal for the short term? Before answering, clarify what “short term” means to the interviewer. Don’t get off on the wrong foot, since you have no way of knowing what the term means to the interviewer.
6. Are there certain tasks or types of people you don't like? Here’s a really loaded question, so be positive and honest. Keep in mind the tasks and folks who are likely to be involved with the job for which you are interviewing.
7. Do you have any questions? Not having any questions may suggest that you aren’t very bright or have much interest in the job. This is not the time to be asking about compensation, what the business is about, vacation or mandatory drug testing. Instead, ask a question or two showing your interest and knowledge about the company and job. The company’s web site is likely a good place to find information and for the basis for an intelligent question that shows you know something about the business.

Some prior thought to these, and other common-sense questions may be all that is needed to keep you from killing your interview chances.

To read the full article, please click here.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The First Timeless Pillar of Leadership

by Peter Baker, Executive Director, Laser Institute of America

When you strip away all the fads of the last four decades and focus on what really works, there are Seven Timeless Pillars of Leadership. Here is the first one:

Know Thyself
The oracle at Delphi said it, and Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, said “Know thyself, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”

You might well ask, “What does this mean for me? What shall I do about it?” What it means is that each of us has a unique set of aptitudes and attitudes, strengths and weaknesses. Some are bold and fearless like Alexander the Great—cut the Gordian Knot—rule the world! Some are more thoughtful and deliberate like Dwight Eisenhower—take time to plan the D-Day invasion, research moon and tide—then launch. There are many leadership styles and each can be effective, but you cannot copy someone else’s style. You must, as Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true.” People can spot a fake in a heartbeat.

Most of us have a good idea of our key characteristics. If you are reading this you are probably pretty smart (hard to lead successfully if you are not) and have a basic idea of your type. I recommend digging in and facing the truth; be clear on your strengths and weaknesses. Use tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® test or the DiSC® Personality test or other similar systems.

On two occasions I benefited by taking a whole battery of IQ tests, aptitude tests and tests to help show which kinds of careers would best fit me—and which would not. I found, no surprise, that I would be a poor fit as a Marine Corps Major! It was also recommended that I not try to fix my own car and to make sure I always have a good administrative assistant—good advice indeed. These tests and others like it are readily available online or through your local university career center. I recommend a career center which has the advantage of trained counselors to interpret and advise.

Once it is clear who the real you is, you can focus on using your strengths and building a team to support your weak areas. You can go through a similar process with key members of your team.

So there it is, the number one Pillar of Leadership—Know Thyself!

Peter Baker is the Executive Director of Laser Institute of America. He has studied and practiced the art of leadership since 1970.

Monday, August 1, 2011

CEOs and Organizational Models

by Virgil R. Carter

As a CEO (or aspiring CEO), have you reached the conclusion that understanding your organizational model can help you reach more effective (and satisfying) leadership? The 2010 study of CEOs by Booz & Company, reported in Strategy+Business, sheds some light on the subject. I know, we’re in the non-profit sector, but we want to expand our awareness and learning as much as possible don’t we? How much applies to your situation?

This year’s findings identify four categories of organizations and management:

1. Holding: Distinguished by an arms-length approach to managing subsidiary activities. CEOs have a minimal degree of involvement in operational decisions. CEOs focus on “portfolio management”, while second-tier executives run daily business.

2. Strategic Management: CEOs and other senior executives are engaged in strategy development with subsidiary leaders, who have the accountability for business operations.

3. Active Management: CEOs and senior executives participate with close guidance and expertise, but leave direct operational management up to subsidiary units.

4. Operationally Involved: While execution remains within the subsidiary area, CEOs and senior executives play key roles in cross-unit capabilities, expertise, human resources and strategic decision making.

According to the Booz study, the organizational model clearly appears to influence CEO experience and tenure in the position. For example, the tenure in operationally involved organizations was markedly shorter and riskier. By comparison, the tenure of a CEO in a holding organization was a third longer than a CEO of an operationally involved organization. In addition, the study indicated that CEOs in operationally involved organizations are much more likely to depart during their first four years. For the full study, click here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Healthy Fervor

By Kevin McCray, Executive Director
National Ground Water Association
Westerville, OH

I recently posted to one of our association’s discussion boards a question asking what members thought are the top questions to be answered in our field. One answer certainly caught me off guard.

“This is part of the problem,” the respondent wrote, “when reputable groups attempt to accomplish a valuable service and end up creating a fervor.”

He went on to share comments about our field and continued with the need for responsibility in what we speak and what we write.

I don’t disagree with any of that. I certainly like it when we’re called a reputable group. But, I’m uncertain how my question leads to “fervor.” How do we hold civil discourse unless we openly talk or write about our thoughts and their implications?

Public Affairs Council President Doug Pinkham in his own blog of July 25, shares that America’s political gridlock might be a result changes in American community design and social interaction. He cites a National Affairs article by Marc Dunkelman who claims Americans are missing those talks with regular acquaintances, local business owners, fellow PTA members, or neighbors. Today, we’re all “honeycombed,” Dunkelman writes (Faith Popcorn called it “cocooning.” Robert Putnam named it “Bowling Alone.”)

Our missing relationships, according to Dunkelman, are needed to “ground the broad understanding that an integrated society will be more dynamic than one in which opposing interests perpetually snipe at one another…”

We have many ways in which we should create a little healthy fervor. One significant value of social media is for that one more opportunity to hold yet another conversation with yet another member – hopefully many members.

While we have to guard against applying too much grease to the latest squeaky wheel, these conversations are useful as we build our rapport and empathy with those we serve.

Stir the pot. Ask the hard questions. It’ll result in a better served customer, and a better served customer serves our associations well.