Archive for March, 2011

Empower the people

Last week we had a terrific article, “Language Matters,” presented by Marco Montenegro, Senior Associate of La Piana Consulting, who discussed the notion of language usage and how it’s become imperative to check your definitions at the door when working with vastly different constituents in the community. Be they funders, recipients, stakeholders or bystanders, individuals and organizations must respect perspective when collaborating with one another.

Montenegro says, “As the gap between rich and poor widens and the ability to connect in an ever shrinking world increases, today’s nonprofit leaders need to be the conscience for our varied definitions for the social issues we are working to improve. How would someone raised in the U.S. define educated and unemployed or government corruption in contrast to a recently arrived Egyptian immigrant? How would a woman from the U.S. define women’s rights in contrast to a woman from Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia?

I couldn’t help but think about Montenegro’s article in light of our upcoming Page to Practice feature, Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World by Leslie Crutchfield, John Kania, and Mark Kramer. In Do More, “Practice 4: Empower the People” refers to the fact that systemwide change cannot be attributed to a single organization or donor. In reality, it is the “collective action” of many individuals and entities that create transformative change.

Donors who want to catalyze change must acknowledge that our collective communities don’t view philanthropy in the same way. For example, the authors explain that what a white American might call philanthropy, a black American might call self-help. A Latina might say the most important service she provides is filling out her Census form so her people can be counted. The reason this discussion is so important is that donors who want to make the biggest change in their communities or globally must empower and mobilize people at the individual level. The people most affected by a problem aren’t always closely affiliated with the organizations that support their issue.

According to the authors, specifically engaging and empowering individuals helps funders and collaborators to:

Generate new and better solutions to pressing problems.

Build collective will to solve problems on a wider scale.

Bridge divides of class, race and place.

Watch for more Do More Than Give highlights during the month of April. You can also visit For more information on this book and other features, visit our Page to Practice library or follow us at Twitter and Facebook.

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We’ve been successful so why change?

How many times have you heard this phrase in the title or something similar to it? In this month’s Page to Practice book summary about Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down by John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead, we asked Kotter “If naysayers typically deploy four different attack tendencies such as death by delay or fear mongering, is it ever necessary to prepare for someone displaying multiple attack strategies or do people generally stick to one?” Here’s what Kotter had to say:

Kotter: Yes, it’s absolutely necessary to prepare for someone deploying multiple attack strategies. Naysayers most often do employ more than one tactic at the same time, as I mentioned before. The best way you can prepare for this is by becoming thoroughly familiar with the four basic strategies and the 24 generic questions and their responses, which will enable you to effectively address even the more complex combinations.

Take, for example, the attack, “We’ve never done it that way before.” I think this attack is a combination of numbers 1 (We’ve been successful, so why change?), 12 (If this is such a great idea, why hasn’t it been done already) and 20 (It won’t work here, because we’re so different). A smart response incorporates tactics that will diffuse all three. First, do not treat the people raising this attack as moronic for not seeing the need for change. Acknowledge their concern, but remind them that life evolves and to continue to succeed, we need to be open to adapting.

Second, remind your audience that someone has to try a new idea out for the first time, and if we are the innovative organization we claim to be, why shouldn’t it be us? Third, remind them that while your organization is unique, it’s not different from others that are seeking to change for the better. And incorporate a simple, specific example that your audience can relate to. More often than not you’ll face an attack like this – one that combines elements from several different attacks – so it’s important to understand how to respond most effectively.

For more information about Buy-In and other great books, follow us on Twitter and Facebook or visit our Page to Practice book summary library.

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Keep your great ideas from getting shot down

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this month’s feature called Buy-In by John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead (Harvard Business Press, 2011). Not only because the book is well-written and thoughtfully explained, but because the applications are virtually everywhere in life and work.

Buy-In is about effectively presenting your great ideas—and protecting them. Often, we get so caught up in creating the ultimate solution that we forget to communicate it properly so everyone is engaged in the transformation we want to implement. More specifically, Buy-In is also about leading change among naysayers who would rather preserve the status quo. Unfortunately, Kotter and Whitehead say multiple studies report that when significant change is needed, 70 percent of the time people back away, go into denial and fail to implement change under budget and within deadlines. Thanks to the authors’ business experience and diligent research, this book isolates naysayers’ attacks into four primary categories and explains how to overcome those different objections. Equally valuable, Kotter and Whitehead specifically illustrate how to prepare for strategic implementation of large-scale change.

Below is an excerpt from our interview with John Kotter:

CausePlanet: Your approach toward leadership and change is a unique one. What inspired you to write Buy-In?

Kotter: Buy-in is a very basic issue and one that appears in several of my previous books, most notably Leading Change. Buy-in is the act of getting people to listen to you, understand your ideas and overcome hesitation they have about supporting them. But asking people to support your idea is part of a much larger process, one that I’ve found throughout my research to be essential in making significant changes actually happen. I outline this 8-step process in Leading Change, and buy-in is step 4. People spend so much time developing good ideas, maybe because of a problem they or their company face, or because they see an opportunity for positive change. But there is very little knowledge out there about how to successfully implement these good ideas. Unless you can win support for your idea from people at all levels of your organization, you can’t move forward. Along with the team at my firm, Kotter International, we help people understand how to move forward, how to go from talking about significant, powerful change to making it happen. And in our work, we found that this one particular step—winning buy-in—is something people really struggle with. So I felt very strongly that it was something we needed to help people understand better and learn how to do well.

For more discussion about the buy-in process or how to purchase the book, visit John Kotter’s blog.

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