Boards Must Create Time & Space

by: Eric W. Curtis

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The pace of change is accelerating and as a result, our ability to devote time to planning for the future is diminishing. In an effort to “hold the ship together”, organizations are finding themselves addressing issues as they arise. As such, those in Leadership roles are spending their time working IN the company, leaving little time to work ON the company.

While many have been able to piece things together thus far, organizations are now seeing the need to step back and look at how to structure their time in order to meet future demands.

This is where the Board of Directors can help. The role of a governing Board of Directors is to create the necessary time and space to work ON the company so that organizations can be intentional about how they want to shape their future.

Typically, Board meetings consist of listening to organizational updates that have occurred since the previous meeting, and making decisions on initiatives that will be implemented leading into the next meeting. 

But where is the balance between oversight/governance and strategy? How do Boards consistently help the CEO drive strategy? How is the time and opportunity to build relevancy and viability in the years ahead provided? And how can Boards change the way they operate in order to ensure this happens?

One of the key reasons organizations have a Board of Directors, is the function they serve in task managing complexity over a long period of time. 

Organizations need this objective view from the Board as well as from individuals that understand the industry or sector landscape, the potential threats that exist, and the opportunities for ensuring the company remain viable and relevant.

The Board of Directors can create time and space following 3 simple steps:

Step 1: Identify all discussions and decisions that occur throughout the year that would fall into the Oversight/Governance category. These are the topics that fulfill the fiduciary oversight of the Board. These topics include, but are not limited to: budget approval, auditors report, annual meeting, committee reports, and CEO report.

Step 2: Identify the topics that require planning and advance discussion. This consists of strategy items such as: strategic planning, investment proposals, merger strategy, risk management, talent review, and educational opportunities for the Board regarding major trends. These are topics that look ahead to the future and support planning in the years to come.

Step 3: Build an annual agenda for the Board with every meeting divided in to equal parts oversight (50%) and strategy and planning (50%).  Presently, many Boards of Directors allocate their time around the oversight topics very well, but do not provide opportunity for strategy and planning discussion and decision making. Being able to anticipate when the Board will need to review an audit verses planning for future acquisitions, are both critical topics that need proper time allotment.

Board meeting agendas, both annual and monthly, are the #1 tool for controlling time and opportunity. The agendas dictate the time to work on the “As-Is” and “To-Be” as well as the oversight and future planning. Without changing the way Boards operate, meetings will continue to focus on organizational updates and committee presentations. There is too much risk in this rapidly changing landscape to ignore the need to plan for the future.

It is the responsibility of the Board Chair and the CEO to collaboratively shape the Board Agendas. The more the agendas can be structured annually to balance both oversight and strategy, the more engaged, informed, and productive a Board of Directors will be. Boards must support and encourage companies to look as far forward into the future as possible, and to ask the right questions questions to drive planning.

 

 You say consolidate. We say collaborate! 

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by Carolyn Madden

Consolidation, or the combining of a number of things into a single more effective whole, is a word we are hearing a lot in the nonprofit world. Nonprofits are currently experiencing shifts in funding, competition, and changes in consumer behavior. In an effort to save money, increase capacity, diversify revenue, and position themselves competitively, organizations are now being forced to consider sharing services, building partnerships, or merging together.

Yet, when the words “consolidate” and “merger” arise,  many are initially resistant to the notion. While there are various reasons for this, we have found there to be three common themes that arise when organizations are considering a merger: Surviving brand, Surviving Leadership, and Surviving Board. Concerns related to these three issues can dissuade organizations from considering a merger and, in some instances, it can halt merger discussions that have already begun. 

So, lets step back for a moment and approach a merger from a different perspective. While consolidation and merger are often concepts that people are tentative about,  there is a similar word that can be used that has the opposite effect. Collaboration.

Collaboration, or working jointly to produce a desired outcome,  is a word that is widespread in the nonprofit world. It inspires feelings of enthusiasm, determination, motivation, and teamwork, and it is something that nonprofits have been doing for years.

Schools work together to find ways to deliver curriculum creatively when funds are cut and materials must be shared. Human Services organizations work together when a singular organization cannot provide all the services needed by an individual. 

Organizations are constantly working together in a effort to make a difference in our communities and in our world. They are doing whatever it takes to drive their mission, accomplish their goals, and to preserve the value that they add to our quality of life and to the quality of life of those that surround us. 

As such, many organizations have a deep understanding of what they need to collaborate on, when they need to collaborate, and who their partners should be. Having said that, collaboration is often a good starting point when considering a merger. Who you can work with and how that relationship will play out, is in integral part of the merger process. Knowing and understanding this, can often make the concept of a merger and the actual merger process, less overwhelming. 

Having said that, let’s now revisit the three biggest concerns related to mergers in greater detail:

What will the surviving brand be? 
An issue with organizations both new and established, people are often tied to their brand. Brand is, after all, the visual representation of an organization and what they are all about. It makes an organization easily recognizable to those they serve as well as throughout the community. 

In the case of a merger, organizations must work together and decide on branding. For those organizations that have a history of working together, brand and mission familiarity have already been established. This will aid in the process, as individuals may be more amenable to working under a brand they are already familiar with and more focus can be placed on driving organizational goals forward rather than what the final brand will be. 

Who will retain their leadership role? 
Those that hold a leadership role in an organization are often responsible for inspiring and empowering groups of people to carry out that organization’s mission. They are also, independently or collectively, the people that are held the most accountable for an organization’s survival. 

When a merger presents itself as an option to ensure future viability, it is an organization’s leaders that are responsible to doing due diligence. While some leaders may not be familiar with all that a merger entails, most are well aware of how a merger will impact leadership roles. There will be those that retain their position, those that are reassigned, and those that will no longer have a position within the organization.  While the emotions related to this cannot be disregarded, it is important to keep in mind that a merger can often be the primary means of allowing an organization to continue the work they are doing for the betterment of society. 

Who will remain on the Board and how will they govern?
Board members, those individuals that devote their time and energy to ensuring an organization is on track with meeting its goals, are often one of an organization’s most valuable assets. Board members are there because they want to be and many of them have a personal connection to the organization they represent. 

As in integral part of any organization, Boards are not immune from consideration during the merger process. Often, the issue of who will remain on the Board is easily addressed by simply combining the two Boards. If mergers are occurring within the recommended same sector or with organizations within a value chain of activities, this should make for a more seamless combination. 

It is critical for organizations to remember that concerns, such as those discussed above, and emotional attachments can’t outweigh the benefits of a merger. A successful merger will help an organization eliminate competition, acquire talent, save money, expand geographic impact, and improve quality of service, among other countless benefits. Most importantly, a merger can ensure survival in a highly competitive marketplace and allow organizations to continue the positive impact they have on society.

Leadership Spotlight: Maura Hughes, CEO, Boston MedFlight

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As the CEO of Boston MedFlight, an organization that has historically struggled to be recognized as a nonprofit, Maura Hughes certainly knows what it takes to succeed.

Since beginning her tenure as Chief Financial Officer in 1998, Maura has worked tirelessly to improve Boston MedFlight’s investment in staff, safety, quality, and training while bringing awareness to the organization’s nonprofit status.

Maura’s historical perspective and deep understanding of the organization’s operations, challenges, and opportunities have provided her with unique insights, enabling her to identify and implement the work necessary to move the organization forward. Upon assuming her role as Chief Executive Officer in 2016, Maura set out to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones related to philanthropy in order to secure a financially stable future for Boston MedFlight. In addition, she set out to explore partnerships with other critical care transport organizations as well as other regional hospitals for consortium expansion.

Maura recognized that Boston MedFlight’s continuous growth since it’s inception in 1985 translated into the need for a new strategic direction in order to take advantage of opportunities in the market. With this in mind, she led the organization through a strategic planning project which culminated in early 2018. The process centered around the exploration of additional partnerships, expansion of bases, a deeper commitment to employees, and a focus on philanthropy to help move the organization’s vision forward, while continuously striving for the highest standards in quality and safety.

Under Maura’s leadership, Lahey Hospital & Medical Center joined an already impressive list of consortium members including: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Tufts Medical Center. Lahey was the first new consortium member to join since Boston MedFlight’s inception. In addition to expanding the consortium, the organization has invested in geographic expansion and facilities, as evidenced by the upcoming opening of a new base in Mansfield, Massachusetts and the building of a new hangar in Bedford, Massachusetts.

Maura’s multifaceted strategic approach positions the organization for long-term financial sustainability.  By focusing on delivering high quality care and safety, investing in the organization and its people, and seeking opportunities for continued growth, Maura’s strategic vision makes it easy to see how Boston MedFlight is poised to continue being the gold standard in critical care transport.

Boston MedFlight: 
Boston MedFlight was formed in 1985 as a nonprofit air transport service. Today, in conjunction with consortium hospitals, Boston MedFlight has evolved into a critical care transport system for patients throughout the region. Boston MedFlight commits to excellence in patient care by providing the highest-quality critical care transport system in the region.Their focus is on medicine, patient care, and providing the link between facilities that care for the most critical of patients. As part of their commitment to community outreach, Boston MedFlight collaborates with local officials, schools, and civic organizations to teach safety awareness in the community. Programs such as “Safely Awareness and Prevention” and “Patient Reunion” reflect the organization’s commitment to sharing their knowledge in an impactful manner and giving back to the communities they serve.

 

3 Major Trends That Nonprofits Need to Know Now

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As nonprofit leaders create their business or strategic plans to guide their organizations through the years ahead, it is important to understand that the landscape within each nonprofit sector is changing rapidly.

Imagine advancements in technology that will allow for-profits to impede the nonprofit world. Imagine the service models of every nonprofit sector changing in ways that organizations are not able to conceptualize in their strategic planning. Imagine massive consolidation of nonprofits within the next 5-7 years.

The pace and direction of change is evolving in such a way that many organizations will be left unprepared to respond.

This creates a significant challenge for nonprofit leadership. In order to ensure future viability, leaders must find a balanced approach to time management. They must manage their organization effectively while simultaneously aligning it to the major trends reshaping the nonprofit world. These trends must be a part of Board conversations, strategic planning, and business model adaptation. 

Currently, there are three major trends shifting the landscape within nonprofit sectors: Customization, Decentralization, and Integration.

Customization
The advancement of technology is now allowing companies to capture deeper levels of client data. This affords these companies the ability to create customized services and solutions at a person-centered planning level. Behavioral data gathered from smart phones, wearables, sensors, and other solutions are beginning to tell the story of who we are as individuals. Data is captured, stored, and run through a system of analytic solutions with the goal of being able to support people at a personalized level. For example:

  • Healthcare: Electronic medical records, wearable devices, and analytics work to gauge eating habits, exercising habits, lifestyle, and a variety of other factors, with the goal of providing feedback at an individual level. This can be utilized for preventative healthcare or for providing more accurate and higher quality direct care. 
  • Human Services: Similar to the healthcare solutions, organizations that provide long-term support services, behavioral health, and housing can capture data through multiple channels and make changes to service models to improve the level of impact and increase the probabilities of positive progress and/or care.
  • Higher Education: Understanding how students learn as individuals, and the pace at which they learn, will allow for the customization of curriculum delivery through the use of technology. This will dramatically change the learning experience and alter the landscape of education.

An additional shift that is occurring in relation to customization, is that organizations will need to develop program or service differentiation. Organizations must have a more niche focus as opposed to the traditional broad approach to service. For example, if a college or university is widely known as providing exceptional nursing and teaching degree programs, why shouldn't that institution start to build a niche focus or competitive advantage around that top tier strength?

Another major trend that is also supported by the advancement in technology, is decentralizing services.

Decentralization
Uber and Bitcoin are two prime examples of the decentralization of transportation and financial industries. These massive disruptions and countless others, are being driven by technology. 

Solutions, such as Uber, are impacting thousands of companies and State Agencies around the country and worldwide. One singular technology concept could consolidate thousands of companies under one smart phone application and create thousands of jobs as a result. The same is happening with Bitcoin. It is a peer-to-peer financial solution that removes the need for financial institutions. Yet another technology concept that could consolidate thousands of banks and financial service companies. 

The common thread to these solutions is that technology is without boundaries and is collapsing industries. Think about amazon.com. What industry would you classify it under? Retail, food, or transportation? Data storage, entertainment, advertising? E-commerce, banking, or healthcare? 

The fact is, technology is collapsing many industries under one solution, Nonprofit organizations can be at the forefront of these new technology solutions or gobbled up as a result of not being intentional when designing their own future.

How will decentralization impact the nonprofit world? The dramatic shifts in funding at the State level is going to force organizations to figure out ways to move programming and services out of brick and mortar institutional walls, and drive it towards peer-to-peer technology solutions. Think of the costs and overhead associated with a program or service. There is physical space, employees, utilities, among many other budget considerations. What if peer-to-peer technology solutions could be created as a new way of delivering service? Organizations could use their existing business and service delivery models to build a technology solution that empowered community residents to service other community residents. 

This may seem like a foreign concept but for-profit organizations have already begun to develop solutions that will transform many nonprofit models and may even ultimately become competition. Given this trend and the impending change, organizations should consider their strengths, develop a niche focus, and determine if it can be built into a decentralized technology solution.

Another major trend that is occurring as a result of major shifts in funding, is the integration and consolidation of nonprofits across the country.

Consolidation & Integration
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the United States. 33,900 of those are located in Massachusetts. Human service focused nonprofits account for 6,300 of these Massachusetts-based nonprofits.That translates to 6,300 organizations seeking funding from the same Federal, State, Foundation, and Philanthropic sources. These nonprofit organizations vary in size, scope, geographic reach, services, and financial need.  As the number of nonprofit organizations has grown, it has become clear that they may no longer be financially sustainable. While technology is creating opportunity to customize and decentralize, it is also creating the need for organizations to share services, build partnerships, or merge together in an effort to save money, increase capacity, diversify revenue, and position themselves competitively. 

Throughout the last several years, we have seen mergers in Higher Education, a sector that has traditionally not been known to consolidate. We have seen massive mergers in Healthcare, and are starting to see Human Service agencies integrate. Boards of Directors and Senior Leadership need to begin discussions about working with other organizations in the same vertical market or expanding across horizontal markets that would add value.

The three major trends impacting all nonprofits are real and are happening today. The way and manner in which we prepare for the next 5 to 10 years will be dramatically different then what has been done in the past. We must challenge ourselves to think and act differently in order to preserve the value nonprofit organizations have on our quality of living and the people that surround us.

By Eric W. Curtis

Leading Through Times of Organizational Change

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Change. The word alone triggers an emotional response. Some people thrive on change or take it in stride while others resist it. Our brains are wired to dislike change. That’s because change can be overwhelming and uncomfortable. The unknowns may take people out of their comfort zone, activate innate reflexes, and lead to possible resistance. Beyond the psychological and physiological responses, there are organizational challenges to contend with such as role changes, added responsibilities, financial burden, or how work/life balance and culture may be impacted. The implications span across an organization making execution and implementation challenging. It is no wonder that the vast majority of change efforts fail. 

Organizational change involves going from the current way of doing things to a desired future state. Throughout the change process it is the organization’s leaders—the sponsors of change—who play the most critical role in determining the success of the effort. It’s easy to lead when all goes according to plan. However, organizations typically experience challenges with implementation. While these challenges can be temporarily uncomfortable, organizational leaders should not let that deter them. Instead they need to embrace change and view it as part of their role. Organizational leaders need to be adaptable by being able to detect and respond to change. That begins by embedding change and innovative thinking into the organization’s culture.

At the center of each phase of any change effort are the people affected by the change. These are the people who will either come along for the ride or resist, depending on how the effort is led and perceived. Many change efforts fail due to mismanagement of people issues. To ensure success, it is essential that all stakeholders are involved from the onset so that the initiative takes on meaning to them. When you have buy-in from different departments within the organization, conflicts can be resolved quicker, reducing any implementation roadblocks.

One potential roadblock occurs when organizations try to do too much at once—especially with limited resources. Stretching people too thin has a negative effect on how the change will be perceived and executed. All current and ‘in progress’ initiatives should be evaluated and triaged alongside the proposed initiatives to identify what the organization will begin, continue, and stop doing. This helps prevent change overload. Prioritizing initiatives that align strategy with the organization’s value proposition while supporting opportunities for growth and advancement will yield the greatest success. Therefore, communication is essential to a successful implementation.

In order for communication to be effective, the change leaders need to commit to the initiative on a personal level. Forming an emotional attachment allows them to stand behind the effort, 100%. Leaders must show confidence that the organization can make the proposed changes a reality. If leaders don’t believe in the initiative and the need for change then no one else in the organization will either.

Leaders must create a clear message to explain why the change is occurring and the reasoning for the timing of the change. A clear message helps unite people around the vision. Messaging should be focused on the desired future state. Leaders must paint a clear picture and specify the outcomes so everyone knows what they are working toward. This helps everyone make sense of why changes are happening, reduces uncertainty and resistance among staff, and accelerates the pace of change. It’s also important to let staff know what is at stake if the change doesn’t happen. When people see the bigger picture sometimes they are able to accept change quicker. Provide reasons for why the old ways of working are no longer effective to frame why the change is necessary. Outline what the change will mean to the team, what they stand to gain, and any known sacrifices they may need to make along the way.

In addition to what is communicated, how and when a message is conveyed is equally important. Early and ongoing communication is essential to gain employee buy-in and the approach to communicating change should be consistent across all departments. The way changes are communicated has an effect on employee morale. Communication needs to appeal to both the emotional and rational minds of staff. It is the leader’s job to frame the change as positive. Clear, consistent, and honest communication reduces anxieties. Leaders should realize that mindsets may need to shift before everyone adapts to the change. Leaders need to be honest about any unknowns while also showing confidence that together the organization can face any challenges, adapt, and remain successful.

To clearly convey the message across the organization, leaders should host an all-staff meeting followed by individual department meetings. This allows the opportunity for staff to process the initial message before regrouping in a smaller setting. While time for a Q&A session should be allocated during the all-staff meeting, the departmental meetings are where more individualized dialog can occur. It’s crucial for leaders to attend, give sufficient time to listen to concerns, respond honestly, and continue to be available following the meeting. To demonstrate leadership’s commitment, the change initiative should be the number one item on every team meeting agenda. By communicating effectively and often, leaders can begin to engrain the initiative into the culture of the organization and build trust and credibility.

Once the organization’s proverbial sleeves are rolled up, things may start to get a little messy. Deadlines may be off track and outcomes may need to shift. This is the most challenging part of the change process, but also the most critical to leaders’ communication efforts. Key components of successful change efforts are sustaining the initiative and seeing it through fruition. Anticipating that there will be ups and downs makes these difficulties easier to handle. When leaders prepare for the unexpected, they can be proactive and responsive. They can take necessary action for what is needed in a responsible way. Leaders should find ways to motivate, inspire, and coach staff while focusing on results and rewarding those who achieve the goal. It’s important to emphasize the early wins. Helping people thrive with change and not just cope is what separates successful leaders. While the outcome may not always be what was envisioned, it is important to take the opportunity to identify small successes and reframe any failures to improve future performance. Leaders should remember that improvements never occur without change and sustainable change takes time.

Regardless of their niche, all nonprofits are impacted in some way by the regulatory, political, legal, environmental, technological, or competitive landscape. These external factors feed into the changes that take place internally. If organizations don’t respond with their own improvement efforts they will eventually become obsolete. You can’t improve unless you’re willing to change. Responding to change positively, effectively, and responsibly allows organizations to remain viable. Non-profit leaders need to stay ahead of what is to come to remain relevant.

At Curtis Strategy, we have helped many organizations lead change efforts in strategic planning, organization design, governance, and mergers. A clear vision and prioritization of change initiatives coupled with effective and consistent communication have been the formula for successful outcomes. Please contact me at barbara@curtisstrategy.com if you would like us to assist you in leading your organization through a successful change initiative.

by Barbara Sierota