Category Archives: General Management

Leadership at Amazon

Amazon has published a set of leadership principles. Great! Many organizations do that. But they have people, long-term managers, whose job is to see that new hires understand those principles and that the organization actually follows them.

The principles are easy to read but harder to apply. They are contrary to practices in many, if not most organizations.  For example, the customer comes before profitability.  Most companies follow the dictum of Milton Friedman that the sole purpose of a corporation is to increase profits.

Obviously, Amazon understands that the higher purpose of a corporation is to add value. Then profits come as a fallout of that value.

Another principle is ownership. Leaders are owners. They think long-term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They take ownership of issues and results.

Most of the other principles flow from these.

Dave Anderson, one of those Amazon leaders, has written an article, both humorous and sad, about outrageous responses to interview questions about these principles. Then he demonstrates an answer he loves. He posted it both on Scarlet Ink and on Linkedin. Go read it. You will be glad you did.

Nutshell

Strategic Planning in a Nutshell

Here are some questions that your strategic planning process should answer:

  1. What is your vision for the future? You should have this memorized before you even start. This vision rarely changes because it is the reason for your existence. It is usually stated in vague terms. It should contain no strategies, goals, nor values. This is a view of the outside world, not a description of your organization.
  2. What does the future look like in three to five years? This is specific. This is your practical vision. These comments represent the criteria you use to judge the rest of your plan. What do you expect to see, hear, feel? What is taking place?
  3. What are the roadblocks that keep you from achieving the practical vision? What are the kinks in the hose, the dragging brakes? What must change to achieve the practical vision?
  4. What innovative, substantial actions will deal with the underlying contradictions (the roadblocks) and move you toward your vision? These will give you your broad strategic direction. They typically build on your strengths.
  5. What will be your specific, measurable accomplishments in the first year? What will you accomplish in each quarter?
  6. What will you do in the first 90 days? Who will do these actions? When will they do them? What resources will they have? Who is responsible for tracking progress?

Now you have your strategic plan. Document it. Add it to your Operating Plan.

Now go do it.
Strategic Workshop Overview

The Thinker

Do You Really Want to Update Your #Nonprofit Strategic Plan?

It seems that about every three years nonprofits get an itch to update their strategic plan.

But do they realize what they are asking?

They are asking to scan the external environment for changes that impact their approach to achieving their vision. Then they review their current strategies to see if they are accomplishing their mission efficiently and effectively.

But this is worthless unless they put into place some Strategic Actions that are innovative and substantial.

Strategies without strategic actions are just paper weights.

Strategic actions that are not innovative are just the same old thing. Innovative means new and different. Not just what you are doing now.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
– Attributed to Einstein, Mark Twain, an old Chinese proverb, and Benjamin Franklin

But most, if not all, nonprofits are already over-busy and over-scheduled. How do you fit in something new? You start by taking out your eraser and deleting something you are doing now. Hopefully, that will the be the least effective activity…or the least efficient. You may have to delete your favorite activity, or as author guides say, “Kill your darlings for the greater good.” This is really tough.

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
– Stephen King, stolen from William Faulkner,  Oscar Wilde, Eudora Welty, G. K. Chesterton, “the great master Chekov”, and originally from Arthur Quiller-Couch.

Strategic actions that are substantial are those that have an impact. If they don’t have an impact, they must either be killed or not started. Why do them? Your vision is the reason why your nonprofit exists. Having an impact is another way of saying they are effective.

There are many good things to do, but not all of them advance you towards your vision. Doing good things that do not move you towards your vision is a common problem. See the Stephen King quote above.

The impact, however, does not have to happen immediately. Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, uses the image of a flywheel that gets many small pushes, but builds up tremendous momentum over time.

So, before you embark on a strategic plan, think about some of the changes you must make and your willingness to make them.

Car in Mud

Is Your Nonprofit Growth Stuck In the Mud?

Once again, I am seeing nonprofits that are not growing and moving toward their vision. They are busy. Very busy, in fact. But they are going nowhere.

The reason: the Executive Director keeps him- or herself busy with minutia. Then they claim that they are too busy to do the important tasks. They claim they are overworked.

For example, I recently met an ED who has a major event scheduled for 11 weeks from now. He is expecting nearly 4,000 people. He has not nailed down the venue. He has not signed a single speaker. He has not built an agenda.

Why? “I’m too busy. There is too much going on. I am exhausted.”

He won’t even look for volunteers to take over tasks. When he does get one, he micromanages them until they leave, which usually does not take long.

His organization has had over thirty potential paths to achieve their important vision. They are currently executing only three. And when he retires or dies (probably at the same time) the organization will dissolve, with its mission unfulfilled.

What should he be doing?

He should be finding volunteers to take over the management of various events. Complete management. There are lots of people in this town who can and would do that.

If he is fortunate, he can hand it over with a minimum of instruction. If a little less fortunate, he can let that person shadow him through the process and give him the aegis next year. But, his major job should be finding and freeing volunteers to handle each activity, even if it takes more hours to recruit them and bring them up to speed than he now spends on managing on a recurring basis.

He has turned over the management of one of the paths to a retired executive. That path appears to be working well. It seems to be in the S4 area.

See my prior posts on Delegate or Die and How to Delegate.

Negotiate or Flight-or-Flight II – Emotional Traps

Last week, I described a framework for making a decision to either negotiate or to flight-or-fight. This framework was developed by Robert Mnookin and detailed in his book, Bargaining with the Devil. His framework is meant to be used totally rationally, without recourse to emotion or intuition. But that is silly. Recent research has proven that nearly all decisions are made emotionally, then justified using logic and reason. Continue reading Negotiate or Flight-or-Flight II – Emotional Traps

Negotiate or Fight-or-Flight I

It has been observed that one of the differences between the “street-wise” and the rest of us is that we often negotiate our way out of difficult circumstances while the street-wise rarely negotiate and will choose to either fight or flee.

Robert Mnookin has written a book, Bargaining with the Devil, that gives a formal framework for the negotiate or else decision. He is the chair of the Program on Negotiations at the Harvard Law School, so he is a pretty good source.

His basic framework is that you need to dispassionately (emotions always get in the way of logic) think about five points:

  1. What are my interests and what are my adversaries interests?
  2. What are my alternatives to negotiation and what are my adversaries alternatives? [Understand your, and his, BATNA’s.]
  3. Is there a potential deal that is better than the BATNA for each of us?
  4. What will it cost me to negotiate? Not all costs are in dollars. Time, emotion, reputation, and self-image are also factors.
  5. If we reach a deal, is there a reasonable prospect that it will be carried out? You can always put penalties for nonperformance from third parties in the deal.
Think about these before you make a fight or flight decision.
Impromptu Wedding Toast

How to Give an Impromptu Speech

We all have had that terrifying moment when we were suddenly called upon to speak in front of others: the wedding host asks us to give a toast, the conference leader asks us to introduce a speaker, the meeting facilitator (or your boss) asks, “What’s your opinion about this?”

You don’t have to run away screaming; freeze in panic; or shrink into a corner sucking your thumb while rocking back and forth. Continue reading How to Give an Impromptu Speech