Wednesday, September 25

Mission in a Bottle

 What has inspired you lately?  Last week, I was fortunate enough to be included in the Press Club launch of Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently—and Succeeding, presented by the co-founders of Honest Tea, Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff.  Also participating in the event was  their friend, Gary Hirshberg, founder and chairman of Stoneyfield Farm, Inc.  The conversation ranged from how to launch a socially responsible start-up to the health/food crisis in America, which made for an energizing and inspiring evening.  The presenters were informative, humorous, and filled with memorable anecdotes to illustrate their points, just like their book---a business book written in comic book format!
What made the evening uniquely inspiring was that it was equal parts entertaining and educational.   I was delighted to learn that the values upon which the author-entrepreneurs founded and built their company are in line with the core value of connectivity that I describe as the key to success in my recent book, HUM.  I also really appreciated Seth and Barry’s ability to laugh at themselves, the situations they created, and those in which they found themselves. I laughed out loud at their explanation of how the name ended up to be  “Honest Tea” because Nestea challenged their trademark application, claiming the name could be read, “Ho Nestea.” They went back and put a space between the words “Honest” and “Tea,” and received their trademark approval.  On a more serious note, though, they described their first hand experience of just how tough it is to go up against the big business forces in the food industry, including not only manufacturing, but bottling, distribution, pricing, etc.  
If you are in need some new inspiration of your own,  you should definitely check out the book.  I recommend it highly to anyone interested in social entrepreneurship, food and health policy in the US, balancing work and personal commitments and partnerships—or just in search of a great read that will expand their understanding and appreciation of what it takes to bring about large scale change (or even small scale change, for that matter).  It’s a great read for every member of your family old enough to read a comic book!

Wednesday, September 18

'Tis the Season

What’s your favorite season?  I’d love to conduct a survey of nonprofit leaders to discover their answer to that question.  I’d bet more would answer, “Autumn,” than any other season.  Just as bakeries and ballets are their busiest during the winter holiday season, nonprofit leaders seem to get into the spirit of strategic planning in the fall.  
Every autumn, I rejoice at the renewed attention nonprofits give to where they want to go and how they can best get there. I think the reason may be that nonprofit leaders still identify with and relate to the school year calendar.  We take time to reflect during the summer, while members of our staffs alternate time away for summer vacations.  We think about what worked and didn’t in the last year as well as what we want to do differently in the coming year. We think about our strong leaders and how we can use their strengths to advance the organization’s agenda. Of course, we also ruminate on those personnel problems we have left unaddressed, knowing in our guts that they never get better without attention.  Over the summer, we also notice trends and patterns in our external world that send signals about how we may have to adapt to how we serve our members or customers.  And we have experiences that cause us to look at our organizations, cultures, and leadership styles through fresh lenses.  If our organization was a boat, what kind would it be?  If we had to identify our culture as that of an animal in the zoo, which would it be?  If we treated our customers as we are being treated in this B+B, what would we do differently?
Children going back to school at the end of summer triggers an almost salmon-up-the-stream-to-spawn urge among nonprofit leaders to make improvements, start fresh, and tackle neglected issues—all through strategic planning initiatives.  Maybe this is why fall is my busiest and favorite season.  I love the energy nonprofit leaders invest in the interest of better serving their constituents, and am always grateful for the opportunity to be their guide, coach, and facilitator on that journey.  
If you are a nonprofit leader, give in to the spirit of the season and use these next few months to better align your culture, services, structures, and processes with your mission, vision, and core values.  You’ll find it’s like catching a wave and riding it to shore—exhilarating and satisfying.  When you begin the next calendar year, you will be doing so on a firmer foundation with clearer, measurable strategies to achieve the vision and goals to which you and your team have recommitted.

Tuesday, September 10

Culture, Culture, Culture

Someone asked me recently why I place so much emphasis on organizational culture.  The simple answer is that it is the most potent and yet most overlooked variable in organizational performance.  If you have a connective culture, you have organizational alignment of your programs, processes, and structures with your purpose.  Most organizational leaders cannot look in a mirror and see where their organizations are misaligned.  In order to be as productive as possible, you need alignment, but this is impossible without a constructive culture in which people can communicate openly with trust; where they all know their roles, and believe they have the tools, authority, and skills to excel; and where they respect their leaders for fairness and dedication.  
I don’t make a practice of sharing negative examples on my blog, but this past week I experienced such a powerful example of a non-constructive culture that I feel compelled to share it.  A dear friend moved to DC last year to work for a highly respected federal agency.  Having spent his career in the private sector, where his work won many awards, he was eager to bring his talents and experience to serve our country.  
Hired at a very low grade level, he was promised that he would be boosted up two grades as quickly as possible.  When this didn’t happen, and it was obvious to all that he was working at a much higher level than his pay grade, he was told to, “Work at grade, and not any better.”  
Devastated, he is now wondering how long he can remain in this agency, in spite of the accomplishments he’s achieved for them.  He was born and probably hard wired to “work above grade.”  He’s now recognizing that, in spite of his achievements and the guidance he’s provided many colleagues during the last year, he may decide to leave if his only choice is to fit into a passive defensive culture where people are punished for doing more than they are paid for—and where his salary doesn’t cover his monthly rent for a studio apartment.
Please look at the signals you may be sending to your family or work group about what you expect of them.  As a leader, you are creating a culture by what and how you communicate as well as what you do or don’t do.  Look at yourself through the eyes of others and discover ways you can promote a more connective culture—one that will benefit the group as well as every member.

Tuesday, September 3

"Find a Way"

At the age of 64, Diana Nyad just completed her lifelong dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida.  Asked what was different this time that allowed her to succeed when she had attempted the swim many times before, she replied that she kept repeating the mantra, “Find a way.”
We all know people who have achieved amazing things in spite of tremendous challenges—the single mom who manages to parent her kids while holding down a job and going to school for a degree that will help her pull herself and her family up, the returned vet who suffers PTSD and finds that strength within himself to “find a way” by seeking counseling and accepting support to move through the recurring nightmare he faces, or the physically challenged friend who has such a positive attitude in spite of her pain that you’re inspired to better yourself.
The same is true for organizations.  So many of my clients who have succeeded—some against seemingly impossible odds—have done so because they embraced that same attitude—“No matter what, we will find a way.”  They do not mean finding a way by cheating, or at the expense of their employees or customers.  They mean they won’t make excuses or look for scapegoats.  They won’t take the common “cop out” that they could excel if they only had more resources.  They work with what and who they have and, through innovation, collaboration, and persistence, find a way to achieve their collective vision.
Is there something you really want that you have failed to achieve?  Maybe it’s time to take it on and find a way.  Take advantage of the “Back to School” energy that permeates the air at this time of year and tackle something important, finding a way to see it through, no matter what.