Developing Organizational Culture and One Person’s Paradise

In a small-town in northern Massachusetts, you will find a gas station owner and operator who lives each day as if it’s a day spent in Paradise. While many would automatically assume the location of his business to be idyllic, this man’s paradise is actually his state-of-mind.

He greets each customer that enters his doors with the word “Paradise!” and shouts it to those driving by. The walls of his business are covered with signs that read “Paradise”. He does all of this to share the joy he feels for being alive; running his own business; serving local customers; and for it simply being a new day.

He derives daily inspiration from his notion of paradise and his message has had a profoundly positive effect on the culture of his community. Visiting his gas station has become an experience that reminds people to appreciate life and enjoy the things that truly matter. More importantly, it inspires people to share that enthusiasm with those around them.

Now, consider for a moment how this concept may extend to a business or a nonprofit organization. If one man’s outlook can so positively influence the culture of an entire community then the same must hold true for leaders wishing to foster their own positive organizational culture. 

Taking the time to align expectations to messaging and then making the commitment to delivering the message clearly and consistently, is where building a Leader’s Paradise begins. 

Industry Trends: The Speed of Decision Making

The amount of time that leaders once had to make decisions has greatly diminished over the last two years.  In today’s on-demand world, CEO’s are now expected to process and react at a much faster pace.

As CEO’s work to keep up with this increase, they must also consider the impact this acceleration has on the working relationship between the Board of Directors and Senior Leadership Team.

In many cases, decisions made by the CEO must first be approved by the Board of Directors. While this is important in regard to checks and balances, which is part of the fiduciary obligation of the Board, and in creating a culture of Teamwork, the outside world is far less understanding and forgiving as they wait on decisions. 

So how do we balance the demands on CEO’s to make swift and sound decisions with the legal oversight and responsibilities of the Board of Directors? 

Solutions may vary but we have 6 tips for empowering CEO’s to make decisions while ensuring the fiduciary obligations of the Board are being met:

  • Be sure your strategic plan reflects the alignment of the Board and Leadership to common decision making

  • Set criteria, such as spending limits and partnership expectations, ahead of time for ease of decision making

  • Create and empower a Board task force to tackle decisions related to specific topics in a more timely manner 

  • Allot for time at each Board meeting to discuss and gain preliminary approval on any potential decision the CEO will need to make on behalf of the organization

  • Change policies that limit non-material decision making

  • Keep honest and open communication to ensure the Board is never caught off guard or surprised by new information 

The pace of decision making and the pressure on leaders to move quickly is positioned to continue to increase. Stay ahead of this trend starting today and determine ways your Board can be adaptive and engaged in this new landscape.

Merger Announcement: Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. & North Shore Elder Services

Please join us in congratulating our client, Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. on their merger announcement!

The Boards of Directors for Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. and North Shore Elder Services have announced their intention to merge these two organizations effective July 1, 2019. 

Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley will remain the sole entity of the merger agreement and continue operations at both current locations in Danvers and Lawrence after the July 1st merger date. Services in the communities of Danvers, Marblehead, Middleton, Peabody, and Salem will continue under the name, North Shore Elder Services. Joan Hatem-Roy will be the Chief Executive Officer for the combined organization.

This merger brings together two strong, highly regarded aging service organizations that have been serving older adults and their families in northeastern Massachusetts for more than four decades. The combined strengths and resources of these two organizations will create many opportunities for innovative and expanded services.

The success of this merger must be credited in large part to the incredible Leadership from both organizations, working together to unite their Staffing Teams and organizational cultures. 

At Curtis Strategy, we feel privileged to have been chosen as the facilitator and advisor for this merger, working collaboratively to bring these organizations together. We would like to thank the Leadership and Staff that we had the opportunity to work with throughout this journey, and we wish them great success as they forge ahead as a united Team. 

Top 3 Strategies to Achieve Growth

In today’s world, organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the pace of change that is occurring in the marketplace. Growth, sustainability, relevance, and future viability discussions have become commonplace in the Board room and amongst Leadership Teams as organizations strive not only to survive, but to thrive.

Many strategic solutions have emerged from discussions and planning, however, the three that we see most frequently discussed as the means of ensuring future viability are:

    • Get Bigger

    • Get Niche

    • Get Integrated

Get Bigger: The pressure to consolidate, merge, acquire, or partner is being felt by companies across every industry and sector. Increasing size as a growth strategy provides several competitive advantages: 

  • Offer increased salaries in a market where talent acquisition is difficult

  • Achieve scale to obtain the resources and capacity to innovate, make capital investment, and support further consolidation

  • Acquire and implement advanced systems that deepen customer engagement and data acquisition and management

  • Broaden service offerings, becoming a one-stop-shop to increase value to customers

  • Improve quality and capabilities by acquiring organizations that add value by improving service or quality

Get Niche:  For those organizations that lack the desire to increase in size, getting very niche in strategic focus is a necessity. Getting Niche does not mean getting small. Instead it means focusing on your ability to own a market space in a very specific area of service in which you have the ability to:

  • Own the market for the niche space you are operating in with a competitive advantage that others lack

  • Design or invest in technology solutions that allow you to improve service and the customer experience

  • Shift resources, focus, and ability, to differentiate yourself in the market towards the niche area

  • Design a strategy that will scale and grow your ability to be a leader in the niche area of focus

Get Integrated: Organizations are becoming more reliant on partnerships, collaborations, and shared services in order to survive. However, sometimes the “too big to fail” approach does not work. When this is the case, you need to look at becoming “too integrated to fail”. Getting integrated allows companies the ability to:

  • Entrench with partners to deepen relationships and share resources that may be too expensive to acquire alone

  • Bridge relationships to work more effectively for the benefit of the customer

  • Collaborate with multiple partners, strengthening relationships that could result in mergers or new models for growth

  • Share data and information to position yourself in the market across multiple companies serving a single market

Regardless of what strategy your company has decided or decides to embark on, each comes with equal benefits and drawbacks. However, there is one core theme that plays across each strategy, which is the utilization of technology. Technology is allowing us to interact, communicate, service, and work together differently. This concept may seem odd to organizations that consider themselves service providers, but we have entered a time of technological advancement that is disrupting the traditional ways we think about conducting business and providing service. 

If you are interested in learning more about the planning trends we are seeing or which strategy might be best for you and your organization, please connect with us. 

It's Time to Make Time!

We often talk with our clients about working ON the business versus IN the business. This refers to the difference between thinking about their organization and work strategically (ON) versus fulfilling the day-to-day operations that make up a leader’s role in the organization (IN). When we discuss this concept with leaders we work with, the vast majority say they wish they had more time to work on the business - to focus on strategy, improvements to processes and systems, and team development. 

Most leaders agree they need to make a better effort and carve out time to focus on improving their organization. Often times they find they get “pulled into the weeds” by their staff or are “putting out fires” which prevents them from big picture thinking. However, by making time to focus on the organization and team, leaders can develop ways to enhance services, empower staff to problem-solve independently, identify systems for accountability, and improve processes so there are less fires to put out. We have provided many eye-opening recommendations that sometimes only an objective view can give and as a result leaders and organizations have been propelled forward. By giving themselves the opportunity to take a step back from day-to-day operations, we have seen leaders come up with new or expanded programs and business models, identify team and staff development opportunities, and make workflow improvements.

The concept of ON versus IN applies to all levels of management from CEO to first time line leaders. Of course, the amount of time and the level of strategic thinking are different for various levels of the organization and experience, but setting aside the time is important none-the-less. Someone who leads a team of one still has an obligation to effectively lead that person and to ensure their team’s contributions meet or exceed the expectations of the organization and those they serve.

So if leaders do not regularly set aside time to focus on their organization at a strategic level, what is the probability that they are setting aside time to intentionally work on themselves as leaders? We have found it is rare that leaders take an introspective look at their leadership approach and effectiveness on a regular basis. Often times leaders think about this just prior to their performance review, when things go off course, or if they have the rare spare moment. 

We work with many wonderful leaders who work hard for their organizations, their staff, and the community they serve. By taking a regular look at what their outcomes have been, the quality and contribution of their teams, their ability to develop staff, their impact on the organization, and what they want to achieve as leaders for themselves as well as those they serve is critical to improving performance and elevating a leader’s capabilities.

At Curtis Strategy, we make a conscious effort to take our own advice. We make the time to work on our business, and as a result we have taken a hard look at some of the challenges that organizations we serve have been facing around leadership. It is with much anticipation and excitement that we are preparing to make a big announcement in the coming weeks. Our intention is to help leaders at all levels of the organization improve their performance, their teams, and their organizations so please keep an eye on your inbox. It’s time to make time to lead with intention and, in the words of Simon Sinek, “let us all be the leaders we wish we had.”

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.


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


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