Archive for September, 2015

Four villains prevent you from making smart nonprofit decisions

“If you study the kinds of decisions people make and the outcomes of those decisions, you’ll find that humanity does not have a particularly impressive track record,” claim Decisive authors, Chip and Dan Heath.

Nonprofit organizations and the businesses that support them are not in short supply of critical scenarios that require smart decisions. Unfortunately, when our causes or clients need the best decisions from us, we seek out information that supports us and downplay information that doesn’t.

The Heath brothers explain that being merely aware of these shortcomings doesn’t fix the problem. In Decisive, you learn how to adopt a process for overcoming these dilemmas. The first step to fixing the problem is understanding the four villains of smart decision making.

Villain one–Narrow Framing: Steve Cole is the VP of research and development at the HopeLab, a nonprofit that fights to improve kids’ health using technology. Cole and his team wanted to find a firm that could design a portable device capable of measuring the amount of exercise kids were getting. Rather than choosing the “winner” of a giant contract from seven or eight bids, Cole ran a “horse race.” He hired five different firms to work on the first step—a much smaller portion of the project. Cole knew what he’d learn from the first round would make the later rounds more efficient. Furthermore, the firms would create “multiple design alternatives.” “Cole is fighting the first villain of decision making, narrow framing, which involves the tendency to define our choices too narrowly, to see them in binary terms.”

Villain two–Confirmation Bias: Our traditional habit in work and life is to develop a quick belief about a situation and then seek out information that supports our belief. This problematic habit is called the “confirmation bias” and is the second villain of decision making. For example, when the dangers of smoking were less clear in the 1960s, smokers were more likely to express interest in reading an article headlined “Smoking Does Not Lead to Lung Cancer” than one entitled “Smoking Leads to Lung Cancer.” This would be similar to an imagined scenario where bosses more often read an article entitled “Data That Supports What You Think” versus “Data that Contradicts What You Think.”

Villain three–Short-term Emotion: The third villain of decision making is short-term emotion. According to the authors, “When we have a difficult decision to make, our feelings churn.” We revisit the same arguments in our head and kick up so much dust that we can’t see the way forward. In these moments, we need perspective, assert the Heaths. In his memoir, Only the Paranoid Survive, Former Intel president Andy Grove recalls a dilemma in 1985 regarding the elimination of the memory chip line to focus on microprocessors in the business. He and the leadership deliberated for months. He asked his Chairman/CEO, Gordon Moore, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?” Gordon answered without hesitation, claiming the new CEO would get Intel out of the memory business. That’s when Grove said, “Why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, come back in, and do it ourselves?”

A moment of clarity was gained by looking through the lens of an outsider.

Villain four–Overconfidence: The fourth villain is best understood by looking at a young four-man rock and roll group called the Beatles. They were invited to audition for one of Britain’s top two record label companies, Decca Records. “We were all excited,” recalls John Lennon. “It was Decca.” After playing 15 different songs, they anxiously awaited an answer. In a letter to the Beatles’ manager, Dick Rowe of Decca declared, “We don’t like your boys’ sound. Groups are out; four-piece groups with guitars, particularly, are finished.” Dick Rowe learned the fourth villain of decision making is overconfidence.

After the Heath brothers discuss the villains of good decision making in the introduction, the book is divided into four main sections, each focusing on one strategy to overcome smart-decision inhibitors.

It comes as no surprise that our daily work lives are full of opportunities to put the Heath brothers’ advice to work. Many of our decisions are mundane while others are very critical. How can we do better? Chip and Dan Heath have gathered an exhaustive amount of decision-making literature and introduced a four-step process designed to counteract these biases and improve our outcomes.

See Page to Practice book summaries related to this title:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down

Image credits: Chip and Dan Heath, wikipedia

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The worst of economic times brought out the best in nonprofits

“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” American economist and NYU professor Paul Romer was credited for saying in 2004. His sentiment, unfortunately, is appropriate again today as nonprofits throughout the sector learn from tough decisions that help them recover from the Great Recession and what we are now seeing will likely be dubbed, “The Great Correction.”

Many of you are familiar with the notion that negative news often gets repeated more often than positive news. This post is an effort to tip the scales toward encouraging information I recently read in The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “How Recession-Racked Charities Emerged Stronger Than Before.”

Paul Romer would be pleased to learn the nonprofit sector did not waste the Great Recession. They’re making good use of it and demonstrating impressive resolve. “Hopeful lessons” are shared in the Chronicle article, and one in particular involves Voices for Children. Voices is a nonprofit dedicated to providing every foster child in San Diego County with a volunteer court advocate.

Voices for Children

After laying off a quarter of the staff, the board resigned itself to the fact that it would have to scrap its ambitious fundraising goal set years earlier and rebuild by stepping up with its own members and setting up a skeletal development shop. The executive director courted and hired a seasoned development director from the arts arena and paid the fundraiser more than anyone else. Today the budget is approaching $6 million, double the amount of its pre-recession budget. Payroll has reached 73 employees. Voices is now in a better financial position and perhaps better equipped to handle the next economic downturn.

Administrative and space collaborations

Stronger nonprofits have also resulted from collaboratives to share space and administrative resources. For example, in Denver, international development nonprofits renovated a 19th-century horse and trolley barn, which they call the Posner Center. The Center is a 25,000-square-foot space that now houses 60 nonprofits. According to the Chronicle, “The Center recently awarded $60,000 in grants to fund partnerships among its tenants, including one between Engineers Without Borders and a group that builds footbridges in Guatemala.”

Built to last

In a related article, “Bold Choices in Dark Times,” St. Louis Opera general director Timothy O’Leary was faced with collecting promised pledges on the day the stock market crashed. The donors told him they needed to “trim” their major gift commitments. O’Leary reported, “The difference [between pledges and fulfillments] was not unsubstantial.”

On the heels of these discouraging donor visits, O’Leary, the new board chair and artistic director, set to work creating a long-term strategic plan that would weather a long economic crisis. While other arts organizations were reducing schedules and turning to crowd-pleasing classics, the St. Louis opera committed to commissioning new and creative work. O’Leary was convinced new and exciting material would compel loyal patrons to return and support the opera.

“The downturn hit the opera’s corporate sponsorships the hardest, and revenue slipped further when the company reduced its draw from its $16.5-million endowment. To compensate, it froze salaries, suspended staff 401(k) contributions, and renegotiated deals with its unions. Yet as the opera rallied donors around its commitment to risk-taking productions, individual giving climbed — gradually at first, and then 21 percent in 2011.”

In 2013, a commitment to innovation and collaboration paid off with an unprecedented debut of “Champion,” which generated more ticket sales than any other production in the history of the St. Louis opera. “Champion” was named a finalist for international opera of the year. Today, the endowment is now topping $28 million.

Always in crisis

With the Great Recession over and a market correction that hopefully will be fleeting, it might be tempting to try risky ventures or allow yourself some wiggle room with financials. Perhaps the lesson here is that nonprofits should act as if they’re always preparing for a crisis. Look for ways to work smarter and leaner and focus on what’s working and core competencies. If you’re interested in engaging in financial forecasting or looking at different scenarios, consider contacting us at Execute Now! where we can help you assemble a financial plan you can feel confident about following.

Image credits:,,

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Nonprofit leaders: Does your negotiating style affect your conversations?

“All conversations are negotiations. Whether small personal exchanges or large, complex business contracts, we are negotiating all the time,” claims author Jim Hornickel. He suggests two key questions to consider when in negotiations: “What negotiating skills do you have to work with?” and “Who are you being as you negotiate?” Equally important, what is your negotiating style and how do you interact with other styles?

Negotiating styles

Jim Hornickel revises the Golden Rule (“Treat others like you would like to be treated) in negotiations. He asserts that instead, you need to meet people where they are and use the Platinum Rule (“Treat others like they want to be treated”). In order to help you relate to others’ styles, the author provides four categories:

Doer: wants immediate results, is fast-paced and only slows down if something is in it for her, makes quick decisions, takes authority, is controlling and aggressive, wants the bottom line, is a poor listener and wants the big picture. Examples: CEO, senior manager. To negotiate with a Doer, be businesslike, prepared and efficient. Give him options for decisions that are beneficial to you.

Thinker: concentrates on detail, thinks analytically, checks accuracy, works systematically, creates diplomacy, adheres to standards and needs more time. Examples: accounting, IT, engineering, analyst. To negotiate with a Thinker, be thorough and specific, present facts and lots of detail, organize linearly and give her time to process.

Talker: socializes conversationally, generates enthusiasm, lives optimistically, acts impulsively, is easily distracted, dreams, desires motivation (can get bored easily), and gets competitive. Examples: sales, marketing, radio/TV. To negotiate with a Talker, socialize a bit, regularly recognize him and his contributions, move quickly and energetically, and encourage his creative input.

Guardian: helps others, shows loyalty, wants predictability, keeps structure, avoids conflict, appreciates precedence and predictability, and decides by consensus. Examples: police, customer service, human resources. To negotiate with a Guardian, use warm tones, present new things incrementally and safely, provide testimonials, be supportive and give her time to find consensus with others.


Now what?

Jim Hornickel places them in four quadrants that show their relationships to each other. The ones that are next to each other share some similar attributes. The ones that are opposite of each other experience more problems because they have less in common. See below.

Doer Talker
Thinker Guardian

Know your style and observe others so you can bridge the gap

Doers and Thinkers have these commonalities: task-oriented, less expressive, monotone and fewer facial expressions. Their opposites are Guardians and Talkers, who are people-oriented and more expressive. Thinkers and Guardians are easygoing, detailed, focused on “we” instead of “I” and ask questions.

Their opposites, Talkers and Doers are dominant and strong personas, move faster, tell more than they ask, are more “I”-centered, are the poorest listeners, and want the big picture and fewer details. Understanding first of all your dominant style and then finding commonalities and gaps with your fellow negotiators can help you bridge gaps. In addition, Hornickel provides strengths and weaknesses to overcome when presenting a case in each of the styles. Learn more in his book, Negotiating Success: Tips and Tools for Building Rapport and Dissolving Conflict While Still Getting What You Want, or our Page to Practice™ summary.

See other related Page to Practice™ summary titles:

Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done

The Wisdom of Crowds

Image credits: Jim Hornickel, Wiley,

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