Friday, December 22, 2006

Viral marketing as a smart and friendly system

Viral marketing is a smart a friendly system. You create something--a story, a video on You-Tube, or in this case, a remarkable digital Christmas card--and people will e-mail each other about it and the word spreads quickly. It's a very inexpensive way of marketing and can easily be adapted by nonprofits. Check out the Ashland College Christmas card.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Overseeing a culture of responsibility

It's the responsibility to top leadership to see both the intended and unintended consequences of the systems the organization sets up. Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban had a great post earlier this week on the fines the NBA commissioner handed out to the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks players involved in last week's brawl.

Cuban said, "I like that the commissioner fined the teams 500k, but I don't think it goes far enough. Not in terms of dollar amount, but in terms of assigning responsibility. I think the coaches, the President, GM and Owners should have been fined directly instead." He added, "The responsibility of the culture of a team and organization, of any business, starts with the owner and is implemented by the team's President, GM and Coach or whoever is in the position to manage the workforce."

Organizations our wholes. In the nonprofit world, when a direct care staff worker abuses a person receiving services, the staff person is rightly fired. But the board and CEO need to review the systems they have established that made the abuse possible.

The culture of an organization is supported by its systems. It's difficult leadership work to look honestly at the unintended consequences of the systems you have put in place to do good. But that's the responsibility of humble heirarchy leaders.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Distrbuted leadership

The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, based in New York City, a Grammy Award-winning ensemble, has no cunductor and yet it performs Mozart and Stravinsky to rave reviews around the world.

In a fascinating Business 2.0 column, Jeffrey Pfiffer talks about the advanatges of what he calls distributed leadership--employees leading themselves.

The orchestra has a managing director but the musicians not only play in the orchestra but do fund-raising, staffing, and educational outreach. Traditional leadership too often creates bottlenecks and fails to bring out the best in everyone.

Check out the column. Nonprofits ought to take the lead in letting employees lead. I do believe it would be away to energize your staff. After all leading is fun. Why shoudn't everybody have fun for the benefit of the organization?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Your stories reveal the treasure

I have a friend, Jim Fitz, who works with Christian Peacemaker Teams. When he first began peace work he had a hard time writing reports to donors and supporters. But then he began to tell stories.

Here's a story from a November e-mail:

I was traveling with Juan, a rural Pentecostal pastor, on the way to an evening worship service near Cucuta, Colombia. He told me this story:

"One night the Paras (Paramilitaries) took a 23 year old mother in our church and shot her in front of her children, because the Paras thought she had killed her Para friend. The community was afraid to go to recover the body, for fear of what the Paras might do to anyone who showed sympathy to the mother. So they called me. I went that very night and recovered the body and gave her a proper funeral in our church, as a way of saying that the church was not going to be intimated by the Paras threats. As often happens here in this war, it was soon found out that the killing was a mistake for she had had nothing to do with the killing of her Para friend. Then, led by the Spirit, the church carried the coffin to where Paras lived and buried the body there.”

“This made the Paras face their awful mistake every time they passed the grave. As a result many of the Paras quit. They even had fights among themselves. And this event became the beginning of the end of the Paras control in the region. Three years ago we could not drive this road we are on tonight for fear of the Guerrillas or Paras. They are still around, but their control of the people is greatly diminished."

A mission statement helps people know who your nonprofit serves and how you are transforming lives but it is the stories that reveal the treasure.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Consensus and accountability

Yesterday I did a post that ended with me pondering how the Evergreen Leaders board can define its expectations for me as the CEO/Teachers Asst. and the organization in carrying out its mission. How can I report at each board meeting the effectiveness of Evergreen Leaders?

I am intrigued by an article in the Facilitation Quarterly called “The Link between Consensus and Profitability” The article summarizes a study done by Charles-Huber Heyvaert, a researcher at the University of Leuven in Belgium, that shows a positive link between consensus on overall objectives and profitability.

I was particularly intrigued that the study focused not on consensus on a particular decision but consensus on the overall objectives of the companies.

Nonprofits do not measure profitability but it has to be good when a nonprofit’s board has consensus on what key issues it wants to measure to determine our effectiveness as an organization in carrying out our mission.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Yesterday I met with the Evergreen Leaders board in a regular session. The board spent part of the time discussing its role. Someone mentioned that their role is to hold me, as CEO/Teacher's Assistant, accountable.

I responded that holding me accountable for EGL finances is easy because I can have our bookkeeper produce a financial statement for each board meeting.

But I would like the board define it's expecations of me and the organization in carrying out our mission. How can I report at each board meeting the effectiveness of Evergreen Leaders?

Our mission is to help nonprofits transform the lives of the people they serve and to be great work places. We do consulting, coaching, and leadership development workshops to help nonprofits to help thrive.

But how does the board measure our effectiveness in helping nonprofits carry out their mission and to be great work palces?

I think it's time to study John Carver again. And trust the board as the wrestle with what they expect from me and the organization.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

People have time for people

My daughter is in Ethiopia for a month long visit. Her husband is Ethiopian and this is their first visit since they were married three years ago. Here's an excerpt from an e-mail from a couple days ago:
  • One of his uncles, Tedla, took us around the city today and brought us to his home. He is married and has twins—boy and girl- 2yrs old. They are sooooo cute and make you smile. They live in a room about 6 feet by 10 feet. They share an outhouse with others in their compound. He is happy and so thankful for his children and for his wife. Each evening friends and family members come over to visit. That is one thing different than the states is that people have time for people.
I've been pndering that pharse: "...people have time for people."

In 1999 Gallup published First, Break All the Rules that featured 12 characteristics of great work places and one of the 12 was "I have a best friend and at work."

When it was published reviewers and commenatators scoffed at the notion that friendship is an important part of work. That's because people in our country assume that productivity comes from ignoring people and focusing on the work at hand. Perhaps people having time for people is the path to productivity.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The kindness of strangers

Yesterday morning I pulled into a Chicago area Loyola parking lot on my way to see my rheumatologist. All the handicapped parking spaces were full. I drifted to the far side of the lots and found two vacant space, slipped my van into one, and swung my door wide to ease out my unbending knees.

After I was in my wheelchair I looked at the slender, empty space on the driver's side and thought, if a vehicle pulls into the slot, I'll never be able to get into the van. Lord, I'll need help.

Sure enough. When I returned from my appointment a car was parked on the drivers side. I looked around. A Middle Eastern man neared me. "Sir," I said, sitting in my wheelchair, "I can't get into my van with the car parked next to it. Could you please back it out for me?" I held out the keys.

"Yes, I will be glad to help you," he said in accented English.

He could drive off, I thought, as he backed up and manuevered the van into the lane. Once he had it in the lane he got out. I thanked him. He continued on his way and I loaded up my wheelchair.

A leader depends on the kindness of strangers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What to do when you are called in for questioning

Lately I've been on the road quite a bit and I'm listening to John Grisham's The Innocent Man. A small town Oklahoma police department and prosecutor "solved" two murders back through coerced confessions. A painful, gripping book. As I'm listening I think, if you are ever called in for questioning, ask for an attorney immediately even if you are innocent and think all you have to do is tell the truth.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Attracting great staff

While waiting for an open computer at a library I scanned old issues of BusinessWeek. The September 18, 2006 issue ranks the 50 best places to launch a career. The list includes two nonprofits, Peace Corps at #38nand Teach for America at #43.

For nonprofits to thrive they must attract talent and make it possible for that talent to thrive.

The best way to measure whether your workplace is a place where people with talent can thrive is to regulalry test your organization or department on the 12: The Elements of Great Managing . The book is a sequel to the 1999 runaway bestseller First, Break All the Rules.

I haven't read 12 yet but I have returned to First, Break All the Rules over and over again. I'll never forget doing a workshop and seeing Ed Sims, a direct service worker in a small group home, look at the 12 questions Gallup identified that distinguish a great work place. He picked them up and waved them and said, "They are exactly right. It's not about money. It's about these."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Spotting dangerous leaders

Recently I had lunch with Len Corti, a retired Fortune 500 executive. I love hearing his stories. He began telling me about a point in his career when he was raising money from investors for business start-ups. “I was dangerous," he said.

“Tell me more,” I said, puzzled by the comment.

“I was dangerous because I believed in what I was doing" he said. "I really believed in the start-ups and because I believed I raised money but that doesn’t mean the start-ups were all good investments.”

Since our lunch I’ve been pondering, "How do you know whether a person is a good faith leader or someone who is dangerous in their beliefs?"

I'm writing the next issue of the 7 Paths e-letter on that topic. If you'd like to read the issue when it comes out on December 14, and you're not a subscriber, you can subscribe to the free e-letter at the top right-hand side of this blog.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Are e-letters a good nonprofit investment?

Last week I stopped in at Gateway Services, a nonprofit I've done consulting and training for. When I do a workshop, I ask particpants if I may have their e-mail address and add it to our 7 Paths e-letter list. As I was rolling down a hallway at the npo, a staff member stopped me and said how much she appresciated learning from the e-letter.

In this day in age of overflowing inboxes of spam I've wondered if the e-letter is a good use of my time.

Then tonight the Studio 501c blog pointed me to an executive summary of a study on e-letters by Nielsen Norman Group. The key finding of the study:
  • Users tend to glance at websites when they need to accomplish something or to find the answer to a specific question. In contrast, newsletters feel personal because they arrive in users’ inboxes, and users have an ongoing relationship with them. Newsletters also have a social aspect, as users often forward them to colleagues and friends
  • The positive aspect of this emotional relationship is that newsletters can create much more of a bond between users and a company than a website can.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Today's main events

Today my goal was to have two conversations, breakfast with a potential Evergreen Leaders client and dinner with a young couple from our church. Of course, I could think of many other things to do today like this blog entry but I kept focused on the two conversations as my contribution to the world today.

I used to keep a to do list. I found it depressing because I could never get through the list in a day.

I became a much happier camper when I began planning on the two or three main events of the day and then filling it a few details each day around the main events.

Steven Covey calls it "first things first." Others call it planning the big rocks. I call it the main events.

It's almost 10:00 p.m. and I'm still riding high because my two main events were beyond what I could hope or dream. Speaking of dreams, goondnight, friends.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Whose cares more--nursing or housekeeping?

Within three hours of becoming a patient at a nonprofit, community hospital (a nasty bit spider-bite induced infection in my foot), a nursing supervisor had me furious. And my wife, Sarah, too.

No one may stay over night with a patient unless the patient is in serious condition, said a stone-faced nursing supervisor. A new policy, she said, because of boyfriends staying over night, homeless cousins, and people who had been drinking.

When I checked in I asked for a private room, glad to pay the extra $31 a night to make it possible for Sarah to stay in the room with me, something we had done last November when I spent five days in the same hospital with pneumonia.

Didn't matter to Nurse Stone-Faced. I'm disabled, I said. My wife can help me and it'll make easier for your staff. Use your call light, said Nurse Stone-Faced.

I want to appeal, I said. Talk to the administartor tomorrow. Implication to Sarah, get out of here tonight.

Organizations thrive on smart and friendly systems. The "no one stays overnight in the hospital except parents of young children and family of seriously ill patients" is smart and friendly for the night shift nurses who don't have to deal with unpredictable family members present.

But not for patients. According to my daughter who's an RN and studying to be a Nurse Practioner, the research clearly shows that patients recover better when family is present.

After the surgeon had cut a hole in my foot, drained the infection, packed it with gauze, wrapped it, and left, Sarah looked at me and said, "You look distressed."

"I thought I was done fighting hospitals," I said.

Almost 32 years ago in our first year of marriage I had to spend fives weeks in the hospital, most of it in a rehab hospital that allowed visitors from 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Didn’t matter that we were newly weds. Visiting hours were visiting hours. Desperate to be a good husband, I talked my doctor into extending visiting hours to 10:00 and then we had hell to pay from the hospital staff who were angry that I got special privileges.

Getting a feisty look on her face Sarah said, “I’m going to find the administrator's home number,” thumbing through the phone book.

“You find the number, I’ll call him.”

“Mr. H, are you the hospital administrator?”


I launched into a succinct description of the situation and concluded by saying, “If this policy is applied to my wife tonight this will be the last time I will use your hospital.”

He handled it very well, asking clarifying questions, and then telling me that he would call the nursing supervisor and someone would get back to me. We knew Sarah could stay the night when a CNA brought in a reclining chair for Sarah to sleep in.

The next morning, Barb the housekeeper, a cheerful soul if there ever was one, blew into my room. She saw Sarah waking up on a recliner next to my bed and said, “You don’t look very comfortable.”

Sarah acknowledged she did not have a goodnight’s sleep on the chair. “Would you like a roll away bed tonight?” she asked Sarah. “The hospital has three of them,” said Barb. “I’ll look for one for you.” “Yes.”

In the afternoon Barb stopped in again. “I’m sorry,” she said. “All the cots are being used by parents who are staying with their kids.”

The next day when Barb breezed in and began mopping the floor, she said, “I told my husband last night that I felt terrible because I couldn’t find a bed for that poor woman who had to sleep on that uncomfortable recliner.”

Later in the day Barb popped in and said, “One of the children was just discharged and there’s a bed available. Would you like me to put it in your restroom and you can use it tonight?” “Yes.”

Sarah worked the evening shift at another hospital but when she arrived at IVCH at 1:00 a.m. she had a much more comfortable sleep thanks to Barb, the housekeeper. I about cry just writing this. Barb was deeply caring. She went out of her way to be kind to Sarah as Sarah stood by her man in the hospital.

The hospital has a slogan--"We care for you."

I have a hard time convincing myself that whoever dreamed up the no family overnight policy was caring for Sarah and me but I have no doubt about Barb, the smart and friendly housekeeper.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Headline turns my stomach

Actually it was not the headline but the subhead, reprinted in full below:

The nation's 2 million inmates and their keepers are the ultimate captive market: a $37 billion economy bulging with business opportunity

Business 2.0 December 2006, p. 62

The USA is the world leader in the number of prisoners with 715 per 100,000. Instead of acknowledging the shame of leading the world in holding people captive, Biz 2.0 cavalierly describes the inmates and their keepers as "the ulitmate captive market", one "bulging with business opportunity.


My ancestors came from Norway. The USA has 7 times as many prisoners per 100,000 as Norway.

For some reason or other I hear an echo from tha economic engine from our nation's past--slavery.

In fairness to the author of the Business 2.0 story, the story features a former prisoner who has started a business offering reduced collect call rates for prisoners. Collect calls that average four times the cost of regular collect calls is just one typical way that someone is making money off the "ultimate captive market."

I'm a big fan of nonprofits learning from the most humane practices of progressive businesses but some business practices should be avoided like e coli.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Trust is a beautiful thing

Imagine working at a place where they trust you to use your time wisely even when they can't see you? Check out the BusinessWeek Cover story, Smashing the Clock. Thanks for the heads up from Bill Harris' blog.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Giving and taking criticism

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man's growth without destroying his roots.

-- Frank A. Clark

Clark's observation makes sense when you are criticizing from a position of power. Then your criticism needs to be as nourishing as a gentle rain.

But if you are in a position of power, you need to accept and welcome criticism as fierce as a driving rain. Why? Put yourself in the shoes of your critic. Criticizing a person in power is scary business. The only way the critic can criticize the person in power is to crank up his courage and spit it out. In that case it is not likely to come out gentle but it is likely to provide the leader, the person in power, with valuable information.

When George W. Bush ran for re-election as USA president in 2004 he made sure that his security people screened out every possible critic. They were very effective. Not once during the campaign was Bush heckled. After Bush's re-elction, his one purported critic within his first administration, Colin Powell, was out.

Subsequently, Bush missed important information from critics of his Iraq war policy until it was too late and he lost Republican control of the House and Senate.

The humble heirarchy leader knows that he needs the information provided by his fiercest critic.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

What will succeed mission statements?

Yesterday my daughter, Hannah Hackworth, called to say that she has been urging her workplace, Urban Jacksonville, to develop a mission statement. Urban Jax is an organization that provides a variety of services for seniors in Jacksonville, FL.

In mid-December thay have a staff meeting that will focus on developing their organizations mission statement. Hannah asked if I have materials on developing mission statements. I do. I've taught individuals and organizations how to develop their mission statements. I particularly like Laurie Beth Jones' approach to developing mission statements.

But I'm losing my enthusiasm for mission statements.

Recently I read a story where a consultant meeting with a group of 20 or so business CEOs asked them to write out their corporate mission statements. Then he had them place them on a table, mixed them up, and challenged the CEOs to find their mission statements. The mission statements were so much alike that the CEOs had a hard time picking out theirs.

Lately I've begun to consider treasure statements as an alternative to mission statements.

When a client knocks on the door of a nonprofit he does so with a mixture of desperation and hope. The knock on the door is the beginning of a journey with staff and client together searching for a treasure.

Whats that treasure? A transformation in the life of the client.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll do an occassional post as I ponder how to create a simple process that an organization like Urban Jacksonville can use to describe the treasure they have to offer to folks who knock on their door.