Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What Your Employees Secretly Want From You

Google is cutting edge management, right?  Well, for most of its history, Google prioritized in-depth technical expertise as the most important quality in a manager. They thought that the best leaders left their people alone, and that their primary function was to support technical problems when people got stuck.

Ah, but then came data.  A firm was brought in to conduct in-depth employee surveys, focus groups and interviews.  The results were shocking for the tech heads.  When the chiefs at Google examined what employees valued most in a manager, technical expertise ranked dead last.   Far outpacing techy knowledge, staff valued characteristics such as emotional stability (staying even-keeled), asking good questions, taking time to meet with staff and caring about employees’ careers.

In the end, Google found that managers who did these things led top-performing teams and had the happiest employees and least turnover (and remember, turnover is a HUGE hidden expense). So Google made changes in how it selects and coaches managers, devoting particular effort to improving its worst managers.The result, for the first time in many years Google beats Facebook in employee satisfaction.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Best Way To Improve Your Productivity....Try This

You've seen Stephen Covey's matrix on the Urgent/Important. Here's one step I've taken in order to get more done.  If something is truly urgent, people will either call or text.  Therefore I purposefully do not open my email till after I've completed at least one major task for the day...that usually comes after 11:00am.

It has been at least two years since I've received an email I'd classify as Urgent AND Important.  So let's move email to Quadrant II. Of course, the lone exception is if you advanced notice that some document is coming to your inbox that morning.  Otherwise, let it go till later. 

I was astonished what a quick burst of productivity this added to my work...you'll will too if you give it a try.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Problem Of Zombie Organizations

In my work with nonprofits it can feel like I’m in the Land Of The Living Dead.

In The Nonprofit Quarterly,
Simon Joyaux points out the wheezing nature of nonprofits which lumber on with grossly underpaid employees and dysfunctional infrastructure. Our communities are chock full of organizations with caring but demoralized staff, outdated information systems, semi-functional Boards Of Directors.

All good points in Joyaux's piece and nothing to argue about. If a nonprofit cannot raise enough capital to pay employees adequately as well as maintain a functional infrastructure, then perhaps it is time for the Board to ask, ‘If we can’t be first class, is it time to get out of the business?”

In the Age Of Austerity
nonprofits must continually surround themselves with different kinds of talent and ultimatley discuss if the community would be better served by either merging or else relocating programs and closing up shop. 

In the private sector, companies frequently reach the limits of growth in their current state and face the choice of either gradual decay or of selling the operation. They can’t, on their own, acquire the resources to take the enterprise to the next level of competitive excellence. Unless they find a partner or buyer, the company eventually employs round after round of cost cutting: gutting professional development, sticking with antiquated equipment, eliminating employee benefits, job consolidations, layoffs, etc. This continues until a fire sale or bankruptcy.

Yet in the nonprofit sector this continual decay never seems to reach the terminal stage. Organizations are able of secure just enough contracts or donations to barely limp along in a somnolent fashion. Not quite dead, but far from vibrant. These are our Zombie Nonprofits.

Organizations are people, yet the gross under-investment in human capital in Zombies is a continuing black mark on the entire sector. The sense that professional development is a frill is stunning after all we’ve learned about management, yet these investments are usually the first on the chopping block. The emotional desire to ‘put all resources into services’ is noble, but ultimately counter-productive. It’s better to have a first class staff manage a second class program than having a second class staff manage a first class program.

The second area which suffers is technology infrastructure. It is not uncommon to experience a nonprofit where the hardware is antiquated and software systems are disjointed: case management software can’t talk to fiscal, which can’t talk to evaluation teams which can’t talk to senior management. The result being a single client’s information may be entered 3 or 4 times resulting in huge inefficiencies.
The point here is if a nonprofit cannot raise the resources to adequately invest in its people and technology, then it’s time to consider getting out of the business.   

To be clear, this is not a decision an Executive Director is likely to recommend, research indicates the self-interest is too great. This is a Board responsibility. They must honestly evaluate the organization and determine if its time to relocate programming to another organization which can provide the proper staff and technology support. In the end it’s the public which suffers from Zombie Nonprofits.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Getting to 'Wow'...it's your choice

It's now nearing the 5 year mark of the American economy going south. Looking forward, it will be at least another 5 years before we see any type of real growth.  It's easy to get discouraged.  If there has been one over-arching theme inside the majority of nonprofits, it's the collapse of morale.  Much of my work involves discouraging people from adopting an attitude of 'just hanging on' during this extended recession.

There really are opportunities to do stellar work.   Your community is screaming for superstars to emerge and show the way.  New trails must be blazed, new directions taken. 

You do have a choice.
  • You can have a job....or a passion
  • You can put in your time....or put on a performance
  • You can some ‘something’…or do ‘something memorable’
  • You can do a mundane task….or do unique piece of work
  • You can decay into the predictable….or dive into the unknown
  • You can do the acceptable….or the glorious
  • You can be routine….or inventive
  • You can be safe…..or daring
  • You can be one day closer to retirement….or one day closer to magnificence
  • You can try your best….or else push yourself to be the best.
I have no advice other than you think upon these things.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why aren't more questions being asked about The Second Mile?

Genovese and Raykovitz
Within Penn State and Happy Valley there is a desire to ‘move on’ from all the revelations of what Jerry Sandusky and top Penn State officials did/did not do over the past 15 years.  But alas there are too many questions hanging out there.   In my recent conversations with leaders in the public, private, non-profit and academic sectors within Centre County,  I’ve encountered a multitude living with a low-grade fear that more bombshells are coming.  Dread that the story will get even uglier.  Considering how vile the truth has been so far, it’s not surprising the level of anxiety in Happy Valley.

One thing the university can point to with pride is turning out graduates like Sara Ganim.  This former journalism student continues to do yeoman’s work on the Penn State Scandal as a reporter for the Harrisburg Patriot News. 

Her recent five part series is finally turning significant attention to The Second Mile, Sandusky’s charity.  Even more so, the questionable decisions of it’s executive leadership as well as Board of Directors.
  • The charity was run by the husband and wife team of Jack Raykovitz and Katherine Genovese, but some board members didn’t know they were married and others say they were put off by their closed management style and lack of transparency.
  • Contrary to reports and statements from Genovese that Sandusky retired, Ganim reports that Raykovitz forced Sandusky to resign in 2010 after allegations regarding his behavior in 2009.
  • Second Mile’s leaders kept most of the board and other key staff out of the loop on the Sandusky investigation, according to some board members.
  • According to Bonnie Marshall, who was Second Mile’s development director, Raykovitz acknowledged that he had been informed by Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley about allegations against Sandusky in 2001. Marshall says that Raykovitz’s response was, “At that point, I didn’t particularly want to know any more and he didn’t volunteer anything else.”
  • A Children and Youth Services official informed Genovese that she needed to sever a relationship with Second Mile because of the situation with Sandusky. According to “several people with knowledge of that conversation,” Ganim writes, Genovese responded by telling the official that, “We’ve had to tell him to back off certain kids before.”
  • Although replacement CEO Woodle had indicated that the Abraham investigation “would bring answers that board members, employees and the community longed for,” Abraham was reportedly redirected to focus “on whether the charity could move forward.” The result has been a plan to close down and shift the assets to Arrow Child and Family.

Yes, there are rumors about Sandusky's involvement in a wider pedophile ring.  And yes, we've heard some of the rumors connecting that ring to members of the Penn State Board Of Trustees.   We know there are Federal investigations going on.  The Feds tend to be very tight lipped until they're ready to go to a Grand Jury.

Remember, this story only broke because Sandusky finally went outside the State College cocoon and molested a boy in Clinton County.   For the civic leaders in Centre County, anxiety may represent wisdom.  Things may get worse....much, much worse

Monday, August 13, 2012

One Tip For Fostering Change In Organizations

Today I received an inquiry from one working inside a large government human service agency.   As is frequently the case, they were feeling frustrated by a work environment which is more concerned with maintaining the system rather than bringing about real change in the lives of the people they're suppose to serve.   They asked what they could do to get supervisors and fellow employees to focus more upon successful outcomes for clients rather than just going thru the motions.
My response:

Thanks for your question.  It's one I get a lot. Especially from those in the public sector.

In public bureaucracies, people get rewarded for 'checking boxes' and punished for rocking the boat (I interact a lot with public schools and see this all the time). The incentives are wrong. Employees rise up thru the system by 'follwing the rules' and thus senior leaders are the ones who've mastered the art of living 'inside the box'.

I find for the most part that the staff in public organizations aren't bad nor indifferent, mostly just beaten down by the system. Morale is poor. I bet if you asked a dozen of your fellow staff to describe a time when they tried to do something different in order to help a client, they'll report the result was getting their hands slapped. Wanting to keep their job, they won't do that again. Or they decide there's more to life than this and move to another organization.

Yours is not an uncommon concern.

One of the strategies you might want to try is asking 'Why?" 'Why' is a powerful question, for it gets people thinking about Business As Usual. So much of what goes on in organizations happens because that's the way it's always been done. We operate with policies and procedures crafted in 1995 or 1975 because no one stopped to ask 'Why are we doing it this way?'

Another positive to asking 'Why?" is that it's not threatening nor demanding. It's not 'We should do it this way" or "You don't care about results". It simply prompts people to think about their work and can get a great conversation rolling.

Give it a shot.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Assessing Risky Strategies

Just got off the phone with an organization I've been advising for years.  They are, like some others, in a panic due to a reduction in their state grant....resulting in a loss of 55% of their income.  Yes, it's a crisis, but it's one of the most predictable crises imaginable.  Their work is tangential to core education, so was always likely to feel the ax....and when the financial meltdown came in 2008 I thought it would provide the motivation for the Board to take some risks in order to diversify funding. 

Although we looked at several projects and concepts, the Board never was willing to move in a new direction.  For them, Business As Usual was the strategic choice...and now there's hell to pay.  In the end, the Board was always reluctant to strike out on a different path lest they encounter failure.  It was easier (and more comfortable) just to keep on what they were doing in the past.

I've said it over and over and over, The Status Quo Is Not An Option.  So how can you encourage your nonprofit to open up to new possibilities.  I find a facilitated discussion of these five questions extraordinarily helpful:

  • Why is this risky?
  • Why is our new initiative better than doing nothing?
  • What's the worst that could happen if we fail?
  • Even if we fail, what can we learn from the new imitative?
  • Is there expert opinion about our initiative?  What do these experts have to say?
If you're working with your Board on strategic discussion which will really push the boundaries of the organization, try these questions.  You'll make progress.