Monday, November 26, 2012

Three Steps to a Better Executive Team

By Virgil R. Carter

Many non-profit organizations and their CEOs depend on a staff executive team to help lead the non-profit to be a consistently successful organization.  The day of a “one person” leadership team, in most organizations, is long gone.  Are there ways for the executive team to function better?  According to an article in McKinsey Quarterly, authored by Michiel Knuyt, Judy Malan and Rachel Tuffield, “few teams function as well as they could”.  The authors write that there are three important steps that can be taken for more effective executive teams.  Consider the following:

--Get the right people on the team…and the wrong ones off:  Remember the advice to “get the right people on the bus”?  The matching critical ingredient is to help the “wrong” people find a new and different opportunity that more closely fits their capabilities. CEOs are responsible for selecting the staff executive team.  The authors note that this responsibility “…typically requires conscious attention and courage from the CEO, otherwise, the top team can under deliver for an extended period of time.”  Without the right people, the executive team’s performance will be limited.

--Ensure the team works on only what it can do:  The purpose and focus of the top staff team is critical.  It’s up to the CEO to communicate the purpose and focus of the executive team, and to closely monitor the team’s adherence to the purpose and focus.  Like committees everywhere, left alone the team will look for things to do that seem interesting and that justify the team’s existence. Thus, purpose and focus must be carefully drawn and matched to the unique needs of the nonprofit organization.  Often, projects with critical cross-functional or cross regional programs provide valuable work for the top team.

--Keep team dynamics and processes positive and productive:  CEOs must give “unrelenting attention” to the productive collaboration of the top staff executive team.  It is all too common for executive teams to become dysfunctional over opposing priorities, entrenched thinking, competitive views, and the like.  CEOs must lead their executive teams, setting the example and addressing the dynamics of their team, while dealing with concrete business issues.

With a staff executive team that is willing and able to effectively do its work, a non-profit organization can achieve a major performance improvement.  For the full article, see

Monday, November 19, 2012

Six Questions for Globalization: Part Two

By Virgil R. Carter

Is your non-profit organization considering globalization?  Or have you already begun efforts towards becoming a global organization, and are wondering what’s next?  Last week we looked at three important initial questions about non-profit organizations and globalization.  Here’s the second part of six key questions which may help guide your organization’s discussions and decisions about going global.

  1. Are your globally available goods and services:  a) timely; b) affordable; c) culturally and regionally relevant; d) available in the host country language?
The importance of this question is probably self-explanatory, but many nonprofits haven’t made the necessary important investments in their goods and services to ensure that they offer global value in a global market.  It is all too common for U. S. nonprofits to believe that because they offer goods and services, there is interest and demand outside the U.S.  Goods and services that are accessible in a timely manner, that have regional content, and have opportunity for host country language are among those that clearly bring highest value to the host country markets and customers.

  1. Does your association work with, for, against or ignore similar host country associations?
Sooner or later each association must have a policy and a business plan that provides consistent guidance in situations when there are similar associations, providing similar goods and services, elsewhere in the world.  Cooperation and mutual respect is always a good goal, but it can be challenging to achieve. An effective approach for building good relations among similar global organizations is to launch annual exchange visits, followed by low-risk, low-threat joint activities.   An early atmosphere of camaraderie and mutual purpose goes a long way towards building good long-term working relationships.  Once established, these relationships will be immeasurable in maintaining cooperation and mutual respect.

  1. Are you patient?
Globalization is a challenge.  It’s usually a substantial investment, and it’s generally not a quick return on investment.  It’s a challenge to prepare a suitable business plan and to use resources wisely.  It’s a challenge to show measurable results.  Patience is required (along with sound business planning and processes).  Be prepared and prepare your volunteer leaders.  You will be tested.

For those who have successful answers to these questions, you will find globalization to be a rewarding way for your association to continue to do business and to provide the leadership that is the basis for your mission.  Good luck!

Monday, November 12, 2012


By Steven Worth

Transparency is the equivalent of Salk’s polio vaccine of the 1950s.  It is the miracle cure for many serious and aggravating problems faced by managers of nonprofit and public service organizations. 
Having problems getting your volunteer leaders to meet their deadlines and in general to focus on what they promised to deliver?  Develop publicly accessible dashboards showing progress against goals as identified by those who originally took responsibility for accomplishing them.  Public recognition is the greatest reward you can give your volunteer leaders—it is also the most effective goad to getting them to do what they promised within the timeframe that they originally set!
Are the ethics of a situation problematic and hard to understand for the leaders it concerns?  Make the issue public and see if the ambiguities of the situation don’t start to sort themselves out!
I always liked the British Parliament’s way to deal with any perceived conflicts of interest for their elected representatives.  For them there is no such thing as a conflict of interest as long as the elected representatives publicly list the origin and reason for of all the money they have received in any given year. 
During the infamous witch hunts of the 1950s McCarthy hearings, it was the beginning of the end of Senator McCarthy’s demagoguery when Maine’s Senator Margaret Chase Smith called him out on the Senate floor with the resounding words, “Finally sir, have you no sense of decency?”
Transparency works in organizations that are dedicated, or which should be dedicated, to the public good because it appeals to all people’s fundamental sense of what is right.

Six Questions for Globalization: Part One

By Virgil R. Carter

Six Questions for Globalization

Is your non-profit organization considering globalization?  Or have you already begun efforts towards becoming a global organization, and are wondering what’s next?  Here’s the first part of six key questions which may help guide your organization’s discussions and decisions about going global.

  1. What does success look like?
Has your organization reached agreement on what constitutes success?   Establishing and communicating clear, measurable benchmarks for success—strategic and operational--may be one of the single greatest ways of realizing success in globalization, and avoiding the criticism inherent in attempting worldwide leadership.  Identifying success measures also supports continuing assessment of whether or not your association has the proper business model and business plans needed for successfully achieving the measures.  Success measures and business models go hand in hand.  It’s hard to have one without the other.

  1. Does your organization offer open and equal leadership opportunities for members, regardless of geography?
Members and customers, regardless of geography, want to have something to say about (and participate in) the direction of the organization they support, and the quality and timeliness of your goods and services.  Otherwise, they let their feet do the talking, and walk to another association that is more open and responsive.  Global organizations have to find ways to share in leadership opportunities, regardless of geography.  When was the last time your board’s chairman was from an emerging market country, or you held a board meeting in an emerging market country? 

  1. Should dues differ and reflect the annual salaries and earnings of members in emerging market and other nations?
Airline tickets and hotel reservations are no longer are priced at a single rate for all users.  World-wide air travelers know that air fares purchased outside the U.S. tend to be cheaper than those of U.S. carriers (thanks to host government subsidies in many cases).  Why should association dues be any different, especially when your annual dues in U.S. dollars may represent a host country amount equal to perhaps 20-25% of the annual salary of a potential member?  The opposite side of this issue, however, is that expenses to support a new or renewing non-U.S. member generally exceed those of a U.S. member (at least for associations whose major business units reside totally in the U.S, and whose service must originate from the U.S.). What to do?  Successful global organizations are likely to be those whose dues recognize the differential abilities to pay, and who can provide needed services and value outside the domestic U.S.

Next week we will cover the last three of the key questions towards going global.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Planning Better Communications

By Virgil R. Carter

How well do you, you senior staff executives and volunteer leaders communicate?  Are you all on the same page with the same communications messages?  Do your communications provide clarity about your organization’s values and priorities for the coming year?  Have you identified key internal and external audiences for whom effective communications are important for your organization? 

Communications are vitally important for effective organizations.   And for successful leadership.  A challenge for many non-profit organizations is that each individual leader may speak about different issues and seemingly unrelated priorities.  The result can often be mixed messages and confusing directions from the organization.  In addition, most non-profit organizations have a wide range of audience segments.  These segments are usually interested in some messages (and media) and not others.  Often, in the case of individual members, this is a case of “I want what I want when I want it (the way I want it).”  There is no simple, single solution for communications with diverse members and customers.  Audiences are not all a size 6, living in one geographical area, with a united sense of priorities!

What to do?  One useful proactive tool is creation of an annual communications plan.  Conceived at the outset of each fiscal year, and modified as may be necessary due to circumstances during the year, the plan contains a small number of high priority messages for the year.  For example, the messages might focus on new technical information, strategic priorities, and/or association achievements which improve the value proposition of the organization for its members and customers. 

A communications plan also includes a schedule of key events and appropriate media to reach desired audience segments during the year.  Your public relations staff can use the communications plan and schedule as the guide for creating key annual messages, presentations and articles throughout the year for volunteer and staff leaders.

For an annual communications plan to work, however, it must have the understanding and support of senior volunteer leaders, senior executives and communications staff.  These are the folks who will be doing most of the communications during the year.  Volunteer and staff leaders must understand that their individual, personal messages are secondary to the consistent presentation of the important messages from the organization each year.   This is what makes for clearer, more consistent and more effective communications, which reach more and more of your important members and customers.

Reaching your members and customers effectively is aided by repetition. Yes, I said repetition!  Repetition enables more audiences to become more aware of and understand important communications. Have you ever wondered why commercials are so repetitive?  One-time messages simply don’t have much lasting impact.

If you want to improve your association’s communications, try working with your volunteer and staff leaders to create an annual communications plan, and update it every year.  It’s one of the surest ways to reach members and customers—even the members who are challenging to reach.