Capacity: Too much, Too little, or just not aligned?

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Shifts in revenue, expenses, funding, and/or staffing resources, are threatening the operational sustainability of Organizations and is driving them to the point of having to restructure. In response to this shift, Organizations must now prioritize understanding their capacity, structure themselves accordingly, and improve efficiency when meeting levels of customer demand. 

Capacity, defined as the actual or potential ability to perform, yield or withstand, or the maximum amount or number that can be received or contained, is where discussions need to begin. 

As it relates to Organizations, capacity concerns how staffing and systems are efficiently designed to effectively deliver services to a specific volume of business. It is about building the organizational structure to withstand the volume of business in a financially sustainable way, all while achieving the desired outcomes.

Healthcare, Human Services, and Higher Education, are just a few of the many sectors that are taking a more in-depth look at capacity, efficiency, outcomes, and job performance. Historically, issues with capacity were solved simply by adding additional staff. Today, with limited financial resources available, Organizations must find ways to become more efficient in order to survive.

Having a detailed plan and specific approach to Organization Design is a major factor in successfully restructuring and positioning an organization for long-term success. In our experience with clients, following a proven approach to restructuring will help Organizations increase production, save money, optimize staff, reengineer service delivery, and support decision making by Leadership.  

Our approach to Organization Design is structured in 3 phases: Core Process, Job Functions, and Overall Structure. Each phase is highlighted below:

Core Process
Prior to an organization examining the role of Staff in a company, department, or team, they must first define the current core process that a customer (student, patient, individual, etc.) would experience operationally. The core process, or customer experience, must be dissected in order to learn where the capacity and volume levels are not logically, functionally, and financially aligned. 

We examine this from the wholistic viewpoint of the operational process as a whole, in order to understand the high level of strategic need, the logical flow, and the value to the customer. It is then that we can ensure the capacity can withstand customer demand and elasticity in volume. 

It is also during this Phase, that valuable insight can be shared concerning aspects of the core process that no longer add value and what aspects are missing and need to be added. This is one phase of three that helps build the logic to support the decision making and change process for redesign.

Job Functions
As work is being done to define an organization’s core process, Phase 2: Job Functions, begins.  Our propriety Job Post Process, allows us to develop a comprehensive understanding of the roles of job functions within an organization. Once this depth of understanding is reached, we can align those functions to the core process and, in turn, determine staffing levels, allocation of resources, staffing capacity, and alignment within the overall structure. 

Overall Structure
Phase 3: Organizational structure, is the final piece of the operational puzzle which builds upon the capacity information derived from the Core Process and Job Function Phase analysis. This Phase will bring in to question staffing roles, functional alignment, and outcome effectiveness. 

While these are complex decisions, we encourage clients to focus on the benefits of redesigning an organization to improve capacity. Some of which include: 

  • Increases in revenue performance or expansion
  • Identifying non-value added activities and cost savings
  • Increases in staff production and moral
  • Strategic discussions about the alignment of services to future demand
  • Identifying gaps and duplications in service

At Curtis Strategy, we understand the challenges organizations face when capacity discussions arise. We have supported departmental and organization-wide restructuring initiatives to ensure organizations remain viable for the future. If you have any additional questions or would like to discuss how Curtis Strategy can support your organization’s capacity, please contact us. 


Do You Have a Plan for Your Plan?

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A typical strategic plan takes months to create and when the final plan is voted in, it can feel like the process is complete. However, creating your organization’s strategy is not an end in itself. The culmination of the planning process marks the start to executing the strategic direction envisioned for the organization. In order to ensure success, a well thought-out and detailed plan for implementation is required. 

An implementation plan should be devised in conjunction with the strategic planning process. There are four areas to consider before implementing your strategic plan: Culture, Resources, Accountability, and Systems.

An organization’s culture is formed over time through shared values. Organizations that have successfully implemented their strategic plans value employee engagement and communication at all levels. The staff will ultimately be responsible for executing the plan so it makes sense to involve them in strategic discussions throughout the process by listening to their ideas, obtaining feedback, and acting on their suggestions when applicable. This not only builds trust between leadership and staff but also helps set the stage for ownership and accountability during implementation. When everyone in the organization is working toward the same purpose, productivity and morale increase leading to more successful outcomes.

Organizational capacity is always a factor when designing strategy. Without sufficient and capable resources, an organization cannot move forward with its strategic vision. An assessment of both the financial and human resources needed to move the plan forward is required for success. Budgets should be reviewed and aligned with strategic priorities. If the organization is lacking the appropriate staff or skills, additional resources may be needed. In certain situations, it may also be necessary to review the overall organizational structure to ensure the structure aligns with strategy. Without this alignment and the right resources necessary to implement the plan, it becomes difficult to impossible to make progress.

During the planning process we guide clients in creating business plans at the tactical level, which includes timelines and assignments. These tactical plans become the foundation for each department’s role in carrying out the overall strategic plan. Incorporating strategic initiatives into employees’ job responsibilities assigns accountability and increases engagement since this helps them understand how they fit into the overall strategy. Empowering employees by encouraging decision-making and providing a safe space to take risks also helps with accountability and ownership. Regularly scheduled strategy meetings at each level of the organization are helpful as long as the intent is to review progress, provide a means of escalation and problem solving, and to hold people accountable to their tasks and objectives.

Management and tracking systems help drive the implementation process by providing a snapshot of how the team is doing against the plan. The use of a project dashboard, scorecard, or other tracking tool keeps leadership engaged and provides a means of accountability for those implementing the plan. The use of a system gives teams support by providing a platform to discuss barriers and solutions with leadership. The system also helps to structure meetings and directs focus for time in between meetings so that it is spent working on the right priorities. Whichever tool is used, timeframes, progress tracking, milestones, and issues requiring escalation should be included to provide a complete picture of the implementation status. This helps eliminate any surprises as to why deadlines may go off course. A sample dashboard is included below. Performance management and reward systems should also be considered to provide a structure to reinforce the contributions of top performers in moving the organization’s strategic vision forward.  

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Implementing the strategic plan is arguably more important than determining the organization’s strategy. It is what will determine how impactful changes will be made within the organization. Implementation planning should be done in conjunction with strategic planning to maximize success. Involvement of employees at all levels throughout the planning process keeps them informed and engaged, leading to better long-term outcomes. The best thought-out strategy does not go very far without the right culture, resources, structure, and systems to move it forward. With careful planning, an organization's strategic vision is better attainable.

Surviving and Thriving through Strategic Partnerships

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Client Spotlight: Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley

    Since its inception in 1974, Elder Services has been a catalyst for creative programming and meaningful partnerships with other agencies.  The agency mission has both broadened the scope and quality of community long term care services with the cooperation and collaboration between the elder and disabled service network.   As Joan Hatem Roy, Elder Services CEO and area native explained, “The Merrimack Valley has a proud history of strong communities, and a sense of extended partnerships that care for one another.  This includes the nonprofit sector who has worked together for years.”

    Forging partnerships and developing trust has enabled Elder Services to extend their service options not only in community care but in working with health care organizations in preventive and transitional care services.  This includes creating the Healthy Living Center of Excellence in 2008 which has become a national model for collaboration.  The programs offered through the Center of Excellence, are evidenced based education programs that help people better manage chronic health conditions and empower them to be better health care consumers. The Center works with 90 different organizations throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to offer 14 different evidenced based health care programs. In turn, state, federal, philanthropic foundations and even health plans have helped fund new programs and work with Elder Services staff to expand this collaborative program to other states in the nation.

    Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley has been recognized as a leader in aging services and innovation.  ESMV and the Northeast Independent Living Program (NILP), a long-time partner in the Merrimack Valley Aging & Disability Resource Consortium (MV ADRC), formed the Merrimack Valley Community Partnership (MVCP) and became certified by Mass Health as Community Partner for Long Term Support Services to working with health systems to help consumers’ navigate resources.  They were also one of the first organizations in the nation to partner with six hospitals in the Merrimack Valley to provide transitional coaching services through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services (CMS).   Additionally, their state home care services continue to expand, and they contract with over 70 service providers to meet the care needs of over 8,000 consumers daily.  

    As CEO, Joan sees the next 3 to 5 years as a continuation of growth and expansion in services and programs.  Some agency programs have expanded to southern New Hampshire and beyond the Merrimack Valley region.  New funding is forging new partnerships with disability agencies to serve a broader population of need not limited by age.  Collaborative programs and education helps Elder Services staff stay current on topics of interest and innovation in other parts of the nation.  

    The agency’s  focus will always be to empower people to better manage their lives and maximize their abilities as they age.  Their partnerships enhance their abilities to serve a broader need, and spur on their passion for innovation in quality service delivery and programming.

    As a result of her experience, Joan does have advice for those that are considering collaborations and partnerships. While Massachusetts and the Merrimack Valley in particular, has invested in Human Services, Joan encourages organizations to look closely at that investment to see what is already available. Knowing what is already out there, and finding the expertise, will help avoid the trap of reinventing the wheel. Leaders should look for infrastructure that already exists as those organizations already have a sense of the community and sensitivities concerning it. 

    During a time when restructuring, shifts in funding, and changes in consumer behavior are causing competition among many nonprofits, Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley is experiencing success and growth through collaborations and partnerships. To learn more about Elder Services, please visit

 Boards Must Create Time & Space

by: Eric W. Curtis


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! 


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


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.

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.

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 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


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 if you would like us to assist you in leading your organization through a successful change initiative.

by Barbara Sierota

Know Your Job: The Importance of Role Clarity in Organizations


As football nation prepares itself for the season’s biggest game, I am reminded of the New England Patriots most widespread mantra, “Do Your Job”. Whether you are a New England Patriots fan or not, it is undeniable that the phrase has become widely known and is now a staple in the Patriots organization. Based on the concept that when every member of the Team does their job well, it will result in achieving the goal.

What can be learned from this simple yet poignant movement is truly a lesson in role clarity and team management. According to John Baldoni , a contributor  for Forbes Magazine:

"More deeply such a system, which New England practices, is that they see in you something that no one else does. The Pats may be your last best hope to achieve excellence in the game. At the same time there is faith in you as a player. And when a player senses that management believes in him, there is pressure to play well, but there is also the belief that someone has your back.”

This concept can be easily translated to any organization in both the for-profit and non-profit world, but for our purposes, we can focus on the latter. Society truly depends on the health and capabilities of our non-profit sectors. Non-profits take on society’s greatest challenges and are often the voice for those that cannot speak for themselves. 

The current increase in demands on nonprofits, stemming from increased needs in communities, means that the Staff and Leaders that comprise an organization must each do their job well in order to drive the organization’s mission forward.

It’s simple. Very straightforward. But what happens when Staff and Management are unclear about what their job is? Or if Staff perception of job tasks do not align with the expectation of Management? 

This is where the lesser known and certainly less catchy phrase comes in, “Know what your job is”. 

While this too, seems to be simple in concept, it is often what keeps countless organizations from successfully implementing the Strategic Plan and achieving goals. 

This breakdown in organizational structure occurs for a number of reasons. In some situations, Staff is unclear about what tasks they are responsible for or there is a miscommunication over expectations. This often results in there being a gap in tasks that need completion or a duplication of efforts. Instability could occur when there is a lack of accountability, leaving everyone to manage themselves without any metrics in place to measure progress. 

Regardless of the cause, in order to strengthen organizational behavior and shape a stronger future, staff and leaders must work with clarity and focus. Enhancing collaboration, building accountability, and improving clarity of purpose and performance leads to efficient and effective organizations that are able to propel strategy forward. 

At Curtis Strategy, we believe that a vital part to this process is the creation of Job Posts. This process allows organizations to establish clarity, accountability, and measured success at all levels. Building job clarity helps improve employee effectiveness and focus, resulting in cost savings and additional revenue generation. 

Staff and Management gain understanding of each job function, and develop a path to achieve success. Success measures are established and training requirements and support systems are identified to ensure goals are met. 

It raises the level of accountability for all members of the Team and in keeping the Job Posts front and center, management is able to best utilize their employees, keeping strategy moving forward.  

This strategically focused outline for success ensures that each member of your organization will know what his or her job is and, in turn, will be able to do the job right.

By Carolyn Madden

Merging Non-Profits is a Journey of Endurance


Acquiring a non-profit organization is a bit like running a marathon – it takes plenty of patience, stamina and perseverance.  The definition of endurance is the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions.  This certainly defines my experience with merging or acquiring non-profits!  One never knows how long it will take, how tired the parties will become, how stressful and demanding it can be (especially given other responsibilities), and how many unexpected challenges, large and small, arise in the process.  However, like a marathon, the journey always provides great insight, increased strength, enhanced confidence, and a celebration at the successful completion.  So, let’s explore that journey.  

To embark on the merger journey, one must be willing to take risks.  The entire process, including the outcome, carries risks that can halt the merger completely.   Perhaps the biggest risk presents itself at the start of the journey.  Consider all that one has to evaluate prior to deciding to run (or not!) a marathon. The same can be said for taking on a merger. Considerations such as the mental and physical toll, financial implications (fundraiser), and environmental impact must all be explored and addressed.  

As a CEO, making a decision to acquire another entity is so much more than a growth consideration.  It requires an evaluation of resource capacity, financial stamina, risk-mitigation, culture challenges, and, most importantly, passion.  I can objectively answer most of these evaluation areas with numbers, charts, process tools, and logic, with the exception to this being passion.  In my opinion, passion is the most critical part of the evaluation.  I ask myself the following questions – Do I believe in their mission? Will I be proud to speak about their legacy? Are they, or do they, have the ability to meet my quality levels? Do they fit into our strategic plan? Will my Board support it? And finally, will I be proud to welcome their clients and staff into our non-profit?   These questions are always the most challenging but they provide the pivotal point on merger decisions.  All of them must be a resounding YES!

What is “due diligence?”  Not only is it the next phase of the journey but it is where the detailed analysis take place.   This is a pain-staking process that cannot be underestimated in terms of details, follow-through, and evaluation.   Running a 26 mile course requires a thorough understanding of all conditions one will face so that a good decision can be made. Where the first part of the journey is about fit, mission, and passion, this process is all about numbers, facts, statistics, and truth.  Seeking the truth and understanding the liabilities (all types) becomes the cornerstone of a strong merger.  Again, there are risks.  Decisions will need to be made about learnings – some will require more resources, some will be deemed inconsequential, and some will cause the merger process to end.  If you get through this phase successfully, consider yourself fortunate!

So you’ve decided to run or merge – now the risk becomes more significant!  You must now follow it through and move into full action.  If you are running, get to the starting line and put one foot in front of the other – quickly!  If you are merging, let the myriad of steps begin.  It can feel as fast and exhilarating as a marathon at times, as well as slow, demanding, and never-ending like a marathon.  There are many legal, financial, human resources, communications, and logistical steps that have to be perfectly executed and completed on-time.  This is where the passion comes back into the picture to fuel the need to push through this process with precision.  The closer the merger date gets, the more intense, tired, and stressed it can become – just like the last six miles of that very, very long run! One begins to wonder if it is truly worth it, as new obstacles come into play on a daily basis.   Patience, stamina, and perseverance become the mantra and the CEO must lead by example.   

As you cross that finish line or get the stamped Secretary of State confirmation of the merger, it is met with exhilaration, exhaustion, and a true appreciation for a job well-done.   Suddenly, the weight of many months of planning and worrying are gone – it is complete and feels great!  Like a warm-down after a marathon, much of the closing work still needs to be completed so while it is not over, it definitely feels calmer, within control, and executable.  It truly is time to celebrate! 

So if you think you have what it takes, start your journey, create your path, run fast, and with great heart….
By: Anne Colwell, CEO Cape Cod Child Development