Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dazzling with smart and friendly systems

You can dazzle the people you serve with smart and friendly systems.

Every organization has systems, the way they do things. Some of these patterns are smart, some are dumb, some cause frustration and some are friendly.

Recently my wife, an RN started a new job on a mental health unit of a local hospital. The general hospital orientation was smart and friendly. She came home singing the praises of the hospital. Those doing the orientation were positive about the hospital and she was excited about working there.

But once she started on the unit her orientation was brief and inadequate. The hospital uses an antiquated computer system and she was given almost no training on the computer system. One of her first shifts after the unit orientation she struggled by trial and error to discover how to do an admission on the computer.

Her shift supervisor, overwhelmed by an influx of patients, barked at her for taking too long on the computer. Orientation to the computer system was neither smart nor friendly.

Nonprofit organizations thrive or die on the systems they set up for getting things done in the process of caring for the people who arrive in desperation and hope at their door. Smart and friendly systems are one of the 7 paths thriving organizations use.

Shriveling organizations are stuck in the attitude that “this is the way we’ve always done it.”

Thriving organizations are “always looking for ways to make our systems smart and friendly.”

Here are four behaviors that are common to an organization that use the smart and friendly systems path as part of their strategy for thriving:

  1. They treat complaints from service recipients as opportunities to develop smarter, friendlier systems.
  2. They constantly looking for ways to make policies and ways of doing things smarter and friendlier.
  3. Everyone in the organization knows the process to use to make systems smarter and friendlier.
  4. Like farmers who practice crop rotation, their leaders recognize that as internal organizational reality shifts, systems need to shift.

Here are three results organizations can expect when they use the smart and friendly systems path:

  1. Service recipients see organization as smart and friendly as they use services.
  2. Staff workers are empowered to make changes in the systems in order to transform the lives of service recipients.
  3. Staff workers see organization as smart and friendly place to work.

In the fall of 2005 when I was hospitalized in the Illinois Valley Community Hospital for pneumonia I was dazzled by the smart and friendly food service system the hospital used.

I have a disability and have spent my share of the time in hospitals. I know “the food” is the most common complaint about hospitals.

Basically IVCH adapted hotel room service model. I was given a menu that contained breakfast, lunch and dinner items. When I called in my order I was told what the specials were for that meal.

Since I love fruits and vegetables, I ordered meals that included five fruits and vegetables.

Not only could I order each meal I could tell them within ten minutes when I wanted the meal delivered and that’s when it arrived.


You can dazzle the people you serve with smart and friendly systems.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Forgiveness as part of organizational life

In the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly describes a moment early in Hillary Clinton's first Senate term when she began attending a Bible study with other senators. When she first began participating, Republican Senator Sam Brownback confessed to her that he had hated her and said derogatory things to her. She forgave him.

Like Hillary Clinton, who led efforts in the first Clinton presidential term to pass universal healthcare, nonprofit leaders often take hits.

In the middle 1990’s the CEO of an organization I worked for asked me to direct a campaign to raise $1.2 million to help close their nursing home for adults with developmental disabilities and open about a dozen small group homes for them to live in.

I deeply believed in the cause. I knew many of the people who lived in the nursing home and I knew that their lives would be greatly improved by moving into smaller homes. As the head of the nursing home resident council would say, “You know me. I like peace and quiet,” something that was impossible in the noisy, crowded nursing home.

Neither the organization nor I had ever done a capital before and the board decided we would do it without a campaign consultant.
Many people thought we would not succeed in raising the money needed. I can understand their doubts because it’s very difficult for an organization to raise that much money without the help of a consultant to keep the campaign on track.

Fortunately for me, a retired YMCA executive from the Chicago area took mercy on me and offered to come out every few weeks during the campaign to advise us.

Despite this, one of my colleagues who
was in a position to track what I was spending to prepare for the campaign, was convinced we would fail. She began to spread rumors through the organization that I was wasting money. She actively opposed the campaign in staff meetings and made life miserable for my assistant campaign director.

One day my colleague and I were both working late. I went to her office, listened to her anger about my spending, and tried to respond. Nothing I said seemed to help. It was deeply painful to have her questioning my integrity. I got tears in my eyes for the first and only time in my 20 years of employment at that organization.

Almost every morning since 1977 I’ve written in a spiritual journal, often writing about whatever current challenges I’m facing. During those days I wrote about the tension I felt as I launched the campaign. Gradually I realized that I was carrying a lot of resentments toward my colleague.

One morning as I was writing in my journal I had a sense that I needed to forgive my colleague. I listed out five different things she had done to undercut me and the campaign.

That winter day on the way to work I drove a country road and stopped the car next to a creek. I picked up five stones and one by one I dropped them in the water, forgiving my colleague for each of the five things she had done to undercut me.

As I dropped the stones in the moving water in the creek I noticed how the stones immediately dropped to the bottom but the water flowed on. I sensed God telling me that I had forgiven my colleague and my life could flow on like the water in the creek.

Life did flow on and eventually it appeared that the campaign was going to be a success. My colleague then solicited a club she belonged to, to donate to the campaign.

When the campaign was completed I resigned and went on to working as a consultant to help other organizations do similar campaigns. After I resigned my colleague said to me, “In a few years we are going to have to have you back to do another campaign.”

Because I had forgiven her I could gratefully accept her compliment on my work.

Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great, Jim Collins describes Level 5 leaders as people who have little personal ambition but incredible will "to make sure the right decsions happen--no matter how difficult or painful--for the longterm greatness of the instituiton and the achievement of its mission..."

Forgiving harsh critics can help nonprofit leaders keep on making sure the right decsions happen even after taking lots of hits.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Lessons from a scandal

As House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Congressional leaders struggle with former Congressman Foley’s sexual e-mails and instant messages with Congressional pages, I remember the painful lessons I learned when a former colleague at a religious nonprofit was involved in sexual misconduct.

Here are five lessons I learned:

1) Leaders who do great good can lead double lives. My former colleague was a founder of the organization, dedicated to its well-being, and a fun person to work with. At the same time he led a secret life that included sexual abuse of minors.

2) Sexual misconduct by leaders is a misuse of power. Congressman Foley, by position and age, had much more power than the teenage Congressional pages. He was using his power to benefit himself at the expense of the pages.

3) There are powerful forces within organizations to cover-up misconduct. Misconduct is power wrapped in fear and shame. As the Foley scandal unfolds, it’s apparent that as long as three years ago a Congressional staffer tried to warn Hastert of Foley’s danger to pages. At the same time, leaders who see themselves as doing good, find it extremely difficult to expose themselves by revealing the shameful behavior of a colleague. Fear and shame fuel cover-ups.

4) Misconduct by leaders never remains hidden. My nonprofit colleague managed to keep his secret life hidden for 15 years. He used his power and prestige to silence his primary victim. But, as many an institution has discovered, sooner or later misconduct always reveals itself.

5) Scandal calls for humility. Damage control is the height of arrogance. Organizations cannot quietly manage significant ethical violations by a leader. When such violations occur, the organization needs humble leaders who will reveal the misconduct, take responsibility for seeing that the person is removed from a position of further misusing power, and seeing that those who were injured are cared for.

According to Evergreen Leaders humble hierarchy path, the best leaders have little personal ambition, an unwavering will to help the organization transform the lives of those it serves, and a will to create space for all to thrive.

Wisdom for the week: To humbly admit and quickly deal with ethical violations is the surest path your organization can take to get back to helping transform the lives of those it serves.