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

Know Your Job: The Importance of Role Clarity in Organizations

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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

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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

Zones of Innovation: How Education Must Adapt

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To keep pace with the changing world around us, it is vital that School Districts andUniversities delegate time and opportunity for the best ideas to be developed, tested, and expanded upon.  

Many practitioners view innovation as a product or integration of the newest technology craze. However, those are simply manifestations of the innovative process that precedes them.  Long before any product is created or any system goes live, innovation begins. It originates with the creative thinking process that is cultivated within an organization.  Sir Ken Robinson says “A culture of Innovation is when having creative ideas and acting on them is routine.”  The key is to establish an environment that both encourages and cultivates innovation, making it part of an organization’s culture.  

Organizations must also be adaptive when incorporating innovative ideas.  The business world has been contending with disruptive innovations for decades, if not centuries.  There were many that doubted telephones and automobiles when they first arrived, but despite this, innovations sweep the nation and the world over and over again. 

Just recently all major television networks joined together to air a special production focused on the need for innovative high schools.  The program, “XQ Super School Live,” took a detailed look at the “As-Is” and “To-Be” status of education today. Programs that prepare young people for the future by incorporating new models of education were highlighted. 

High Schools and Higher Education institutions must embark on a path that substitutes lecture for interactive and experiential learning.  The time is now to integrate all forms of media into the learning experience: video, photography, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality, as well as gaming and collaboration facilitated through technology, just to name a few.

Incorporating the innovations of today will provide students with the learning they need to solve the problems of tomorrow.  

The Team at Curtis Strategy recognizes that harnessing creative thinking is a vital part of any organization making progress. We have created an Innovation Canvas as a means of tapping in to that creativity that is present within an organization but is often underutilized.

This series of steps is just one way that Universities and School Districts can establish zones of innovation within their organizations: 

  1. Create the i-Lab:  Innovative ideas can come from a variety of sources. The i-Lab is a place where people can share and develop their ideas into a prototype to share with organization leaders. 
  2. Selection Panel:  Establish two-four times per year that people can bring their ideas to a panel of peers and leaders who evaluate their innovative strategies.  The panel will select the most promising proposals to advance to the next stage.
  3. Testing Tank: Now that the idea has been selected, the designer, with support from the school, organizes an opportunity to test the idea/product/system in a real-life scenario. It is during this stage that the viability of the concept will be realized. 
  4. Expand or End:  The designer is now given time and resources to further develop the innovation.  This provides opportunities for reflection, modification and improvement.  If the designer is able to show positive results and real opportunity for expansion, they receive additional support.  If the innovation does not prove to be sustainable, then it is back to the drawing board!

This activity can be utilized within any Educational Organization, using our strategic planning tool, the Innovation Canvas. For more information concerning the canvas or our approach in building strategy to prepare schools or Universities for the future, please contact Eric Curtis, at eric@curtisstrategy.com

 

Go Slow to Go Fast: The Role of Mindfulness in Leadership

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Most nonprofit organizations begin with the intention of making a positive social impact. Creating a strategic plan and a sound organization design around a unified mission helps leadership lead with a purpose. The strategic plan aligns resources and provides a roadmap for the organization. This allows leaders to agree upon a direction and clearly define next steps. It also provides leaders the opportunity to develop and refine their own leadership capabilities so they can focus on implementation and results.

The strategic plan provides a foundation for the organization but to build on this foundation, it is essential for leaders to establish a plan and vision for themselves.  Since leaders set the tone, they need to think about what behaviors and attitudes they want to see in their people and model them. They need to manage themselves before they manage others. In order to be most effective, leaders need to intentionally define the type of leader they want to be, allowing their vision and that of the organization to guide their leadership style. Some critical characteristics of effective leaders include self-awareness, self-knowledge, and centeredness all of which can be cultivated through the practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an ancient practice rooted in Eastern beliefs that has gone mainstream in recent decades. Organizations like Harvard Business School, Google, and General Mills have incorporated mindfulness workshops into their employee offerings and witnessed the benefits the practice provides to both employees and the organization. Initial studiesshow what those who practice already know - the benefits of mindfulness are many. Benefits include greater overall well-being, improved physical health, increased emotional intelligence, and positive changes in attitude and behavior.

Many believe that the benefits of mindfulness are best achieved through meditation,  however, Dr. Ellen Langer, Ph.D., a social psychology professor at Harvard University, sees mindfulness in a slightly different light. While meditation is one tool used to practice, she believes mindfulness is more about context than meditation. It is the simple yet effective application of “being here now”. This application is about holding an open frame of mind and setting the pattern to notice new things. Through the act of noticing, we develop an awareness to see how everything is always changing and varies based on context and perspective.

Becoming a mindful leader requires a commitment to change on a personal level. There are several ways non-profit leaders can practice mindfulness so that their organizations can reap the benefits without the expense of a formal training program. Langer’s approach of noticing and shifting one’s frame of mind is a very simple, yet effective way to practice. Noticing something new in what we have seen before calls attention to it, improves focus, and can spark creativity and innovation. Fortunately, we get many opportunities to practice as anything we do can be done mindfully. Day-to-day activities such as drinking tea or coffee, sitting in a meeting, standing in line at a store, spending time with family, or taking a walk are opportune times for mindfulness. Doing things we have done many times before provides the perfect opportunity to notice something new, something that may have been taken for granted before. 

Additionally, meditating, practicing yoga, doing something creative, or listening to a mindfulness app also provide opportunities to practice outside of work. At work, leaders can incorporate mindfulness bursts into their day by taking occasional breaks, going for a walk at lunch, and using times in between meetings to check in with themselves. This allows time to process information and break habitual thoughts, providing leaders with a creative boost that can bring about innovative thinking. Carving out space to recharge helps prevent burn-out and is critical to overall well-being. Another way to practice mindfulness is by focusing attention on one thing at a time, or single-tasking, while tuning out any non-related thoughts or distractions. Slowing down leads to greater productivity and efficiency. When there are less distractions, our minds work at the optimal level.

Being an organizational leader is challenging. It is not uncommon for leaders to experience increased levels of stress, worry, and fatigue. These feelings —alone or combined—can lead to decreased attention, memory, and problem solving skills. Since many professionals spend a good part of the day multitasking, potentially on autopilot, it becomes even more challenging to focus and be present. Consequently, inattention is a growing concern within organizations. Inattention to results, staff development, and accountability are just a few examples that can lead to organizational dysfunction. One way to combat this issue is to practice mindfulness.

As Langer points out, we need to let go of the mindless illusion that we are in control. Leaders who are adaptable to and accepting of change are critical to organizational success. Mindfulness can help leaders become more accepting of change by helping them let go of attachments to what they think is “supposed to be.” By being objective observers, leaders can learn to accept situations for what they are, which does not indicate resignation to the situation. Acceptance eliminates the distracting thoughts of ‘what should have happened,” instead shifting the focus to improvements and solutions.

When leaders are mindful they are more relatable, open to multiple perspectives, and able to see what others have to offer. Practicing mindful communication leads to stronger, more trusting relationships. Listening without judgement removes emotions and self-imposed expectations from the communication so leaders are able to see situations objectively. By taking the time to pause, notice, and reflect leaders learn to be less reflexive and reactive in their decision making. The focus is on listening to understand instead of listening to respond. This leads to greater collaboration through increased understanding, empathy, and engagement. 

Practicing mindfulness provides many benefits and applies to all aspects of life. Mindfulness requires regular practice, with daily doses yielding the most benefits. As it is practiced, the way one responds is rewired, leading to a more relaxed way of being. That moment, that pause, that breath helps leaders to slow down. As a result they become more efficient, productive, and effective, which translates to more efficient, productive, and effective organizations. If you would like to learn more about how you can incorporate mindfulness into the workplace, please contact me at barbara@curtisstrategy.com.

Article written by: Barbara Sierota

 

Top 3 Methods for Building the Board Chair & CEO Power Team

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The strength of the relationship between the Board Chair and CEO is directly related to the strength and success of an organization and its governance. At Curtis Strategy we have identified three key methods for improving the relationship between the Board Chair and CEO in order to build the power team.

Build Shared Vision
Prior to creating a plan for the future, there must first be a vision. Without it, there is no clear direction or end goal. Vision represents the idea, passion, drive, and journey that the Board Chair & CEO plan to embark on with the organization. In many cases, it will also determine who follows. Both leaders must think and act cohesively, verses having individual agendas. When there is shared understanding between both leaders they can craft a vision for how they want to lead the organization and Board of Directors as they move forward. 

As General Gordon Sullivan (Fr. Army Chief of Staff) states in his book, Hope is not a Method, “There are no hard-and-fast rules for what your organization’s vision should look like. The critical test is not length or grammatical construction.  The critical test is fit.  A vision must fit the organization for which it was created, and it must be empowering, providing both the leader and the led a tool that can translate into strategy and action that result in real growth and change. The vision must pull the organization into the future.”

The Board Chair and CEO should always strive towards the same vision, methodology and outcomes as a cohesive team. When they co-create plans, approaches, and problem solve together, it strengthens the bonds of trust, respect, and teamwork.

Communicate Effectively
The #1 rule for the Board Chair and CEO relationship is to have No Surprises! When the Board Chair and CEO trust each other, operate from a shared vision, and communicate effectively, there will be complete transparency. It can be both embarrassing and upsetting to receive unanticipated information during a Board meeting. This situation sends a negative message to other Board members that there is a division in the Team. 

To avoid being unprepared and surprised, both the Board Chair and CEO should meet or speak on a regular basis. These discussions should be structured in a manner that will prevent them from becoming formalities. There are two planning tools available to Leaders that will provide structure for their discussions: the Strategic Plan and the Board Agenda.

The Strategic Plan provides context for how the organization is going to move forward and the outcomes required to achieve goals. The Board Agenda ensures the Board is being engaged around supporting and aligning decision making to the Strategic Plan. 

The Board Chair and CEO should speak once a week to discuss shaping the agenda, utilizing committees, future agendas, governance need, organization need, and problem solving. To effectively achieve their shared vision, not only does this power team need to communicate effectively, but they must also organize and plan.

Plan & Organize
The most important contribution anyone can add to an organization is their time, and a Board Member’s time is an incredibly valuable asset. People tend to volunteer their time where their talents are best utilized and they feel they can add the most amount of value. It is the role of the Board Chair and CEO to orchestrate how to manage and deploy that time.

Have you ever experienced being a part of a Board Meeting where you felt you were not engaged or had little to contribute? Avoiding this is the responsibility of The Board Chair and CEO. The Board’s time must be managed through board meetings, committees, and other engagement opportunities. The Board agenda is a powerful tool to be able to create engaging discussions, participation, and decision making. 

Using an innovative approach to crafting an agenda is the #1 way to maximize each Board Member’s time, efforts, and talents. 

It can not be said enough that the strength of the Board Chair and CEO relationship will lead to success for the organization. Both leaders can synchronize governance and operations to move in tandem towards fulfilling the strategic goals and desired outcomes. If you would like more information regarding our Board Agenda Solution please contact us.