strategy

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.”

 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.

 

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