Monday, February 26, 2007

Evaluation as empowering

One of our Evergreen Leaders board members, Lynn Reha, loves helping organizations do self-assessments. My eyes sort of blur and my brain becomes fuzzy when I think of nonprofits doing program evaluation. It all seems cumbersome to me.

And yet I keep coming back to simple questions. Given that Evergreen Leaders' mission is to help nonprofits thrive by meeting deep human needs and being a great workplace, how do we know if we are helping nonprofits meet deep human needs? How do we know we are helping a nonprofit to be a great work place?

I've found a website that makes assessment clearer and easier to think through, Innovation Network.

Through their website they "offers free tools and resources for assessment, accountability, communication, and program improvement." Can't beat that. All you need to do is complete a free registration and you can use their tools.

Also, I like their philosophy: "We believe evaluation can be a form of empowerment. Participatory evaluation empowers an organization to define its own success, to pose its own evaluation questions, and to involve stakeholders and constituents in the process."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

My problem with accountability

For some time I’ve had trouble with calls for accountability. I’ve been part of a Christian communal group for almost 30 years and from time to time some folks in the group issue calls for accountability.

I strongly believe in people being responsible and moral but the longer I’ve been in leadership both in our communal group and in secular organizations the more dubious I’ve been of actions taken under the guise of accountability. When I first joined the communal group we had lots of rules and decision-making procedures to help people be accountable. Then one of the founders of the group disclosed a history of sexual misconduct including abuse of children.

He was leading a group that deeply believed in accountability. How could that be? I began to lose faith in lots of rules as a way of accountability.

The other way I’ve seen leaders try to bring about accountability is to call people on the carpet. That sometimes seems to produce good short term results but it doesn’t seem to help people be responsible in the long term.

Then last Sunday night I read Bill Harris’s post on Accountability, systems, and loop gain. He developed a computer model to uncover the reason a particular organization had a problem with its ability to manage its expenses. Using the model he was able to test what types of reports would best help managers to manage expenses. Once they determined the best report to give managers the problem was reduced by 95%.

You can read the post and his associated article for the details but I resonate with his observation:

The model shows a most interesting lesson. In a poorly designed system, high management pressure (high externally-imposed accountability) made things worse, while low accountability actually made things better. In a well designed system, management pressure really didn't matter so much…

I also strongly resonated with his conclusion: “Management's primary job is to create systems that work well, not to push people to do well.”

Now I’m wondering how to improve our communal systems so we need less leadership pressure.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Global risks and your nonprofit

Thanks to Deon Binneman's blog , I just checked out the World Economic Forum's Global Risks 2007 report.

One of the 7 Paths nonprofits use to thrive is the ecosystem path. The path is based on the principle that organizations thrive on healthy, improvisational relationships with their environment.

A shriveling organization defends its border against the world but a thriving organization sees its external borders as creative points for discovering the healthiest ways to improvise with reality around the organization.

The Global Risks 2007 reports indicates how the ecosystem your nonprofit operates in may shift, requiring you to improvise. Here are the 23 "Core” Global Risks they've indentified in the world economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological ecosystem:


• Oil price shock/energy supply interruptions
• US current account deficit/fall in US$
• Chinese economic hard landing
• Fiscal crises caused by demographic shift
• Blow up in asset prices/excessive indebtedness


• Climate change
• Loss of freshwater services
• Natural catastrophe: Tropical storms
• Natural catastrophe: Earthquakes
• Natural catastrophe: Inland flooding


• International terrorism
• Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
• Interstate and civil wars
• Failed and failing states
• Transnational crime and corruption
• Retrenchment from globalization
• Middle East instability


• Pandemics
• Infectious diseases in the developing world
• Chronic disease in the developed world
• Liability regimes

• Breakdown of critical information infrastructure (CII)
• Emergence of risks associated with nanotechnology

These litany of risks are scary, especial when the introduction of the report says, "Expert opinion suggests that levels of risk are rising in almost all of the 23 risks on which the Global Risk Network has been focused over the last year – but mechanisms in place to manage and mitigate risk at the level of businesses, governments and global governance are inadequate."

The basic premise of Evergreen Leaders is that nonprofits exist to meet deep human needs and to be great workplaces. Nonprofits that have healthy, improvisational relationships with their environment will have plenty of deep human needs to meet.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Naps are good

We human beings are built for a rhythm of good hard work and good recovery time. After about 90 minutes of concentration we do well to have a bit of recovery time.

Now a study shows naps are good:
  • In the largest study to date on the health effects of napping, researchers tracked 23,681 healthy Greek adults for an average of about six years. Those who napped at least three times weekly for about half an hour had a 37 percent lower risk of dying from heart attacks or other heart problems than those who did not nap.
I'm off to take a nap.

Monday, February 12, 2007

"I made a mistake"

In a recent post on the Organizational Development Network list serve leadership coach Ann Kruse noted that she is “fascinated by Hillary Clinton's decision to avoid the word 'mistake'
with regard to her vote for the Iraq war.”

Ann offered a variety of explanations for Hillary’s action including gender and power issues. I’d like to offer another. As someone who became disabled as a teen and then has held a variety of leadership positions all of my adult life I am aware of the tremendous pressure on leaders to be capable and self-assured and, at the same time, I am aware that leaders are as vulnerable as the next person.

I learned to survive and build on the experience of being physically disabled by being open about the emotional trauma linked with the experience. When I began my career as a leader, I felt internal and external pressure to be the strong, capable, self-assured male. At the same time being capable and self-assured is only part of my story since I need to ask for physical help regularly and I am physically and emotionally vulnerable to an unpredictable disease.

To be an integrated leader I try to be both capable and acknowledge my vulnerabilities. Even the most powerful leaders and organizations are vulnerable. Take the USA. The USA is clearly the most powerful country in the world and yet we are vulnerable and make mistakes. Both Vietnam and Iraq show that when we invade another county we are militarily vulnerable to
insurgencies. Our political leaders spend a lot of energy denying our vulnerabilities and mistakes.

While I try to be capable and self-assured as a leader, I assume that I will make mistakes and I make it a point to readily admit my mistakes. It takes a lot of energy to deny mistakes. I also make it a practice to meet three times a year with two mentors who are separate from the organizations I lead. I share my emotional vulnerabilities as a leader, husband, and father
with them. It takes a lot of energy to ignore ones vulnerabilities.

I feel sympathy for Hillary Clinton who, to put it mildly, is under extreme pressure to show herself to be a capable, self-assured person in order to be elected. At the same time, running for political office at that level makes one extremely vulnerable.

From an organizational development perspective we as a nation demand strong, capable, leaders and, as a consequence, we get leaders who deny our nation’s vulnerabilities and their own mistakes.

A humble hierarchy organization learns from critics inside and outside the organization. It’s tough to lead a world power from a humble hierarchy stance making it difficult for a world power and its leaders to admit and learn from their mistakes.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Love Machine

Does your nonprofit have smart and friendly systems in place to increase positive interactions between staff?

Philip Rosedale, creator of Second Life, and his company, Linden Labs, have an interesting system in place. They call it the Love Machine. Here's how Rosedale describes it in an Inc. article:
  • We have this thing we built called the Love Machine. The Love Machine allows anyone who works here as a Linden employee to send anyone else a brief note that says "Thank you for doing this for me." There is a little webpage where you can go to send an e-mail, and then you get a little e-mail that says "Love From Philip" in the subject and it's got text in it. Now, you think, what's the big deal about that? Well, all of that stuff goes into a database. Your review carries that. Everybody is sending love to each other. It creates a positive collaborative environment.
  • Most businesspeople communicate in a mostly negative way. If people are encouraged to be entrepreneurs and take risks, they can also become combative and competitive. You have to balance that. So we built the Love Machine for balance.
Rosedale jokes that Linden Labs will someday be more famous for the Love Machine than Second Life.

For those of you who wonder whether a positive work atmosphere is all that important you can check out the work of psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, University of Michigan, and mathemetician Marcial F. Losada, Universidade Cato´lica de Brası´lia, whose research shows a ratio of 2.9 positive interactions to 1 negative interaction is associated with flourishing work groups.

As Frederickson and Losado noted in their review of literature “bad is stronger than good” and you need 2.9 positive interactions for every negative interaction in a work group for the group thrive.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Getting back on the treasure path

Every nonprofit starts based on a mission--who the npo is going to serve and what the transformed lives of those served look like--deep values, and the founding stories of the organization. I call these the markers for the organizations treasure path.

Usually the mission, the values, and the founding story is clear at the beginning. But over time as the organization sets up systems, struggles with changes in the environment and its clientele, and as the npo ages new and often conflicting stories emerge.

Appreciative inquiry can be helpful in getting the organization back on track. Mark Lau Branson has a very helpful summary of AI, "Ten Assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry" in the most recent issue of Alban Weekly. While the article is aimed at an audience of church leaders it's equally applicable to other nonprofits.

Appreciative Inquiry is a good way to help your organization get back on its treasure path.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Is a little mess part of a smart and friendly system?

My workspace always includes stacks of books and papers. I am blessed to be married to a woman is wonderful, goodhearted, and organized. Usually about once a year before vacation she helps me spend half a day filing etc. And then I slowly but surely make it a mess again.

She survives my home office by declaring that it is not part of the house. Otherwise she'd have the urge to get on my case to straighten it up.

For year's I've felt guilty about the clutter that accumulates in my workspace but, thanks to Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder: How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman I no longer have to feel guilty.

Check out this great Inc. story on why chaos, clutter, disorganization, and on-the-fly decision-making actually are good for your company--and for you.