Posts Tagged ‘management’

Set your team up for success in 9 minutes

9 minutes graphicWant to change up your Monday and empower your team? It takes nine minutes.

Empower your employees without adding hours to your plate. The nine principles found in this book summary will ignite the engagement, motivation, morale and trust among you team members and will result in greater efficiency and higher levels of productivity.

When it comes to motivating your staff members and bringing out their best, there is no magic bullet, because great leadership is more about the small things done consistently than some huge one-time initiative.

Nine Minutes is a manageable way for leaders to incrementally adopt each of author James Robbins’ recommended minutes and incorporate them slowly into their weekly schedules. Not many books promise the kind of change Robbins does with such a relatively small amount of time.

Learn more about this book and our summary.

See more related titles:

Mission-Based Management: Leading Your Not-for-Profit in the 21st Century, 3rd Ed.

The Invisible Yellow Line: Clarifying Nonprofit Board and Staff Roles

The Nonprofit Leadership Team: Building the Board Executive Director Partnership

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Employee feedback: the gift that keeps on giving

It happened again. The phone rang a few weeks ago on a Friday afternoon at 4:30. It was an executive director who was at her limit with an employee who had worked at the organization for more than two decades. The caller proceeded to tell me this employee had never performed very well and could she fire her? We talked for a bit. I asked the ED whether she had ever given feedback to this employee. Did the employee receive regular performance appraisals or just general information about job performance? The ED paused and said, “”No,” and agreed to have a conversation with this employee in which she would create job goals and give specific and concrete examples of what constitutes excellent performance.

I happened to see this ED two weeks ago and asked about her problem employee. The ED said that much to her surprise, the employee was doing great. When the ED asked the employee what accounted for the improved performance, the employee said she finally understood what was expected of her. The difference that good feedback makes cannot be overestimated.

Performance management is the process of giving feedback to help employees progress toward achieving predetermined goals in their job and for the organization. Usually performance management is a human resource system where individual employees receive a regularly scheduled performance appraisal from their supervisors. Often the performance appraisal is done on an annual basis.

A key skill that is required for giving feedback to employees about their performance is that of HR. HR skills enable an individual to aptly judge an employee’s credentials and potentials and give feedback as and when required. Visit to know more,

Use it or lose it

Organizations spend a lot of time designing the perfect form. Yet, the most perfect form doesn’t do anything if it isn’t used. Supervisors and employees report that they don’t like the process generally. Supervisors complain about the time, the discomfort of giving feedback and the fact that in this day of tight budgets, pay increases don’t usually follow. Employees don’t like the process since feedback often comes too late to correct a negative problem and supervisors forget to recognize the good work employees generally do.

Good performance management, whether in the form of feedback or a formal performance appraisal, helps employees know they are valued, first. Second, they learn which behaviors they should continue and which they should stop. Some statistics suggest that when employees are terminated, almost 50% of the time, employees say they didn’t know what was expected of them. And, employees often report that they are motivated by appreciation for a job well done. Something a performance appraisal process can embed is what the manager does to clarify expectations and to give positive feedback.

What might a good evaluation form include?

Nonprofits frequently ask is there a “best” form? There is no one right form. A few considerations as to the form’s construction can include:

Does the form measure what is important to the organization?

Are the evaluation criteria job related?

Do the criteria reflect the highest priorities of the organization, department and job?

Do employees and supervisors regard the form as relevant?

Do supervisors and managers understand and buy into the purpose of the form?

Does it include:

Important identification information


Instructions for completion

Defined performance criteria

Performance levels/ratings

Specific performance examples supporting ratings for each criterion

Space for employee comments

Signatures with dates (employee, supervisor, higher level of manager and/or human resources)

Keep it simple so it’s easy to use

Most human resource books include sample forms as well as some websites. Wikipedia references a great, long publication from the Department of the Interior that serves as a guidebook and also includes a sample form. Again, the point of the form is to use it. Don’t make the form too long or too complicated with the calculations of the ratings. This will keep the most diligent supervisor from using it.

Once a form is designed that is appropriate for your organization, your culture and systems, the hard part of a good performance appraisal is your feedback session with the employee.

The most productive sessions will include the supervisor:

Providing a comfortable and uninterrupted setting, indicating how important these discussions are.

Being candid and truthful.

Describing the specific expectations and how the employee did or did not meet them.

Focusing on the job, not the person, by using specific examples of what leads the supervisor to give the particular feedback. Make sure the feedback describes job-specific behaviors to support comments.

Asking employee for his/her input or comments.

Being an active listener.

Regular evaluations prevent panic

In smaller organizations, conducting regular feedback sessions can be done without an elaborate form. In larger organizations, a unified approach with a consistent form is a good idea. When done on an ongoing basis, performance appraisals are much more than just another human resources’ “to do.” Evaluations can acknowledge good employees and help retain them as well as serve as a corrective tool to limit poor performance. In addition, performance appraisals are good documentation if the employee/employer relationship goes badly. And performance appraisals can help you not make those panicky calls late on Friday afternoons.

See also:

Winning with a Culture of Recognition

Nine Minutes on Monday: The Quick and Easy Way to Go from Manager to Leader

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Why leaders fail: Six warning signs

Donald Trump, paragon of the real estate world, files for bankruptcy. Richard Nixon, 37th U.S. President, resigns the presidency over the Watergate scandal. Jennifer Capriati, rising tennis star, enters a rehabilitation center for drug addicts. Jim Bakker, renowned televangelist, is convicted of fraud.

Over the years, we’ve witnessed the public downfall of leaders from almost every area of endeavor — business, politics, religion, and sports. One day they’re on top of the heap, the next, the heap’s on top of them.

Of course, we think that such catastrophic failure could never happen to us. We’ve worked hard to achieve our well-deserved positions of leadership — and we won’t give them up for anything! The bad news is: the distance between beloved leader and despised failure is shorter than we think.

Ken Maupin, a practicing psychotherapist and colleague, has built his practice on working with high-performance personalities, including leaders in business, religion, and sports. Ken and I have often discussed why leaders fail. Our discussions have led to the following “warning signs” of impending failure.

WARNING SIGN #1: A shift in focus

This shift can occur in several ways. Often, leaders simply lose sight of what’s important. The laser-like focus that catapulted them to the top disappears, and they become distracted by the trappings of leadership, such as wealth and notoriety.

Leaders are usually distinguished by their ability to “think big.” But when their focus shifts, they suddenly start thinking small. They micro manage, they get caught up in details better left to others, they become consumed with the trivial and unimportant. And to make matters worse, this tendency can be exacerbated by an inclination toward perfectionism.

A more subtle leadership derailer is an obsession with “doing” rather than “becoming.” The good work of leadership is usually a result of who the leader is. What the leader does then flows naturally from inner vision and character. It is possible for a leader to become too action oriented and, in the process, lose touch with the more important development of self.

What is your primary focus right now? If you can’t write it on the back of your business card, then it’s a sure bet that your leadership is suffering from a lack of clarity. Take the time necessary to get your focus back on what’s important.

Further, would you describe your thinking as expansive or contractive? Of course, you always should be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, but try never to take on what others can do as well as you. In short, make sure that your focus is on leading rather than doing.

WARNING SIGN #2:  Poor communication

A lack of focus and its resulting disorientation typically lead to poor communication. Followers can’t possibly understand a leader’s intent when the leader him- or herself isn’t sure what it is! And when leaders are unclear about their own purpose, they often hide their confusion and uncertainty in ambiguous communication.

Sometimes, leaders fall into the clairvoyance trap. In other words, they begin to believe that truly committed followers automatically sense their goals and know what they want without being told. Misunderstanding is seen by such managers as a lack of effort (or commitment) on the listener’s part, rather than their own communication negligence.

“Say what you mean, and mean what you say” is timeless advice, but it must be preceded by knowing what you mean! An underlying clarity of purpose is the starting point for all effective communication. It’s only when you’re absolutely clear about what you want to convey that the hard work of communicating pays dividends.

WARNING SIGN #3:  Risk aversion

Third, leaders at risk often begin to be driven by a fear of failure rather than the desire to succeed. Past successes create pressure for leaders: “Will I be able to sustain outstanding performance?” “What will I do for an encore?” In fact, the longer a leader is successful, the higher his or her perceived cost of failure.

When driven by the fear of failure, leaders are unable to take reasonable risks. They want to do only the tried and proven; attempts at innovation — typically a key to their initial success — diminish and eventually disappear.

Which is more important to you: the attempt or the outcome? Are you still taking reasonable risks?  Prudent leadership never takes reckless chances that risk the destruction of what has been achieved, but neither is it paralyzed by fear. Often the dance of leadership is two steps forward, one step back.

WARNING SIGN #4: Ethics slip

A leader’s credibility is the result of two aspects:  what he or she does (competency) and who he or she is (character). A discrepancy between these two aspects creates an integrity problem.

The highest principle of leadership is integrity. When integrity ceases to be a leader’s top priority, when a compromise of ethics is rationalized away as necessary for the “greater good,” when achieving results becomes more important than the means to their achievement — that is the moment when a leader steps onto the slippery slop of failure.

Often such leaders see their followers as pawns, a mere means to an end, thus confusing manipulation with leadership. These leaders lose empathy. They cease to be people “perceivers” and become people “pleasers,” using popularity to ease the guilt of lapsed integrity.

It is imperative to your leadership that you constantly subject your life and work to the highest scrutiny. Are there areas of conflict between what you believe and how you behave? Has compromise crept into your operational tool kit? One way to find out is to ask the people you depend on if they ever feel used or taken for granted.

WARNING SIGN #5: Poor self management

Tragically, if a leader doesn’t take care of him- or herself, no one else will. Unless a leader is blessed to be surrounded by more-sensitive-than-normal followers, nobody will pick up on the signs of fatigue and stress. Leaders are often perceived to be superhuman, running on unlimited energy.

While leadership is invigorating, it is also tiring. Leaders who fail to take care of their physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs are headed for disaster. Think of having a gauge for each of these four areas of your life — and check them often! When a gauge reaches the “empty” point, make time for refreshment and replenishment. Clear your schedule and take care of yourself — it’s absolutely vital to your leadership that you continue to grow and develop, a task that can be accomplished only when your tanks are full.

WARNING SIGN #6: Lost love

The last warning sign of impending disaster that leaders need to heed is a move away from their first love and dream. Paradoxically, the hard work of leadership should be fulfilling and even fun. But when leaders lose sight of the dream that compelled them to accept the responsibility of leadership, they can find themselves working for causes that mean little to them. They must stick to what they love, what motivated them at the first, to maintain the fulfillment of leadership.

To make sure that you stay on the track of following your first love, frequently ask yourself these three questions: Why did I initially assume leadership? Have those reasons changed? Do I still want to lead?

Heed the signs

The warning signs in life — from stop lights to prescription labels — are there for our good. They protect us from disaster, and we would be foolish to ignore them. As you consider the six warning signs of leadership failure, don’t be afraid to take an honest look at yourself. If any of the warnings ring true, take action today. The good news is: by paying attention to these signs and heeding their warnings, you can avoid disaster and sustain the kind of leadership that is healthy and fulfilling both for yourself and your followers.

See also:

The Fred Factor

The Leadership Challenge

Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World

Ordinary Greatness: It’s Where You Least Expect It …Everywhere

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Lost your responsiveness to change? Apply some World Cup logic.

If you’re watching any World Cup soccer this year, you know the Netherlands recently won a match against Costa Rica in overtime thanks to “super sub” Tim Krul on the Netherlands’ team. Krul specializes in defending the goal against penalty kicks and was put in specifically for this reason at the end of the game shoot-out.  As a result, Krul blocked a crucial kick.

Change management guru and bestselling author, John Kotter, would have liked this match because Tim Krul personifies his latest strategy to help organizations adapt quickly to change. In Kotter’s new model, which I explain below, “the network” is put into play rather than repeatedly relying on upper management, those with the most seniority (the starting goalie) or hierarchy to seize opportunities or accommodate changes.

But first, why is adapting to change so important? We are experiencing exponentially growing change—change for which we are not prepared unless we adopt new ways of anticipating and responding to our fast-paced environment. Kotter’s book, Accelerate, “is about how to handle strategic challenges fast enough, with agility and creativity, to take advantage of windows of opportunity which open and shut more quickly today.”

Kotter shows you how people in leading innovative organizations are maintaining their competitive edge, managing turmoil, and coping with unanticipated challenges while executing short-term objectives, all without exhausting the staff in the process.

So what’s behind Kotter’s curtain this time?

A dual operating system. It sounds excessive but, in reality, it’s not. Kotter argues this framework doesn’t require you to eliminate your current hierarchy but, rather, augment it with a more nimble companion that enables you to respond quickly and adeptly to the rapidly changing landscape around you.

The result is the best of both worlds—a reliable structure for core operations and its flexible equal that is responsive to urgency and innovation.

What does a dual operating system look like?

The actual features of a dual operating system are your traditional hierarchy on one side and “a network” on the other. The dual structure is dynamic: Initiatives coalesce and disband as needed. Since a management hierarchy is well-known in the nonprofit sector, Kotter focuses on how the network side works. It is similar to a start-up in that all people are working together toward a goal and with urgency. Kotter explains the network in this way: “Populated with a diagonal slice of employees from all across the organization and up and down its ranks, the network liberates information from silos and hierarchical layers and enables it to flow with far greater freedom and at accelerated speed.”

Who can best leverage this kind of dual system?

Kotter’s dual system helps mid-sized to large organizations get back to their early, nimble roots. Virtually all organizations begin with a network-like structure where founders are at the center and others operate at different nodes working on various initiatives. Individuals work quickly, responding to and seeking opportunity. Over time the organization evolves with the installation of managerial processes. This more mature organization is reliable and well-designed to produce results. However, one limit of this system is that it keeps going back to the same people to move key initiatives forward. In today’s demanding environment, this solution isn’t sustainable. That’s why the network is ideal for organizations that have traditional hierarchies and still want the benefits of a network-like structure. Similarly in World Cup matches, teams don’t go to the same players every time; they put in different specialists depending on what the situation demands.

If you think this is a glorified task force, Kotter answers why it’s not.

Question: We already use something like this sort of structure in the form of interdepartmental task forces, “tiger teams,” “self-managed work teams,” or the like. This is basically the same, right?

Kotter: These kinds of teams and task forces have some characteristics in common with a dual operating system, but overall the two are very different. Interdepartmental task forces and the like are controlled by, and work within, a single-system hierarchy. They are meant to supplement the 20th century organizational form to help it develop and execute new strategic and other initiatives in today’s environment.

The people who do the work on these teams are appointed (although sometimes the word “volunteer” is used, the reality is more like “volun-told”). Often they are directed by a project or program manager who is also appointed. Such teams rarely involve more than a few dozen people. They almost always go away after a set period of time. They usually use the standard management processes: creating plans and measurements, defining accountability, setting timelines, reporting progress on all plans and milestones regularly to those higher up in the hierarchy.

Under the right circumstances, these vehicles can be very useful. But in terms of the sheer energy and alignment needed to help you stay ahead of fierce competition in a turbulent world, there is no comparison between them and a dual system.

If you find yourself in a larger nonprofit that’s lost its ability to adapt or respond quickly to change, consider looking at Kotter’s book Accelerate. He not only explains how to build the framework without taxing the staff, but he also presents eight “Accelerators” that keep the network producing for you. Experiment with John Kotter’s dual operating system; you’ll have a fit and responsive team supporting your hierarchy in the field and playing as super subs when the competition gets tough. You don’t have to depend on the same people every time to get a variety of projects or initiatives done. Instead you can assemble a network that wins the match for you.

Read more:

A Sense of Urgency

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

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Get the most from your Mondays

Many leaders are bogged down with managerial tasks that prevent them from pursuing true leadership. Three truths include: 1) Your job is to help your people be as successful as they can in order to produce results. 2) You carry great responsibility as a leader. 3) Leadership takes practice.

Nine needs

If you address the nine needs (four primary and five secondary) of your people, you will increase your leadership potential and the performance of your staff. The primary needs include care, mastery, recognition and purpose. The secondary needs are autonomy, growth, connection, play and model.

Short on time?

James Robbins, author of Nine Minutes on Monday, helps you address all these needs with a question for each. You can ask yourself these questions every Monday morning to set your leadership priorities.

Join us!

Join me for a lively discussion about how to transform your leadership with author James Robbins.

Register now!

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Does your staff recognition come from the outside or inside?

“Picking up a management book that does not include a chapter on recognition and appreciation is like picking up Mother Teresa’s diary and not finding the word ‘prayer,’” says author James Robbins.

I’m sure there was a time during your childhood when you may have received a piece of candy in recognition for a job well done or reward for good behavior. Once you had eaten the candy, the feeling of accomplishment was quickly forgotten.

In contrast, I’m confident you can remember a time when a parent, coach or teacher told you something positive or specific about how you completed a project, acted like a team player or performed in class. The same holds true for us as adults in the workplace. James Robbins discusses these two types of recognition in his book, and we asked him about it in our interview, highlighting Nine Minutes on Monday: The Quick and Easy Way to Go from Manager to Leader.

Robbins’ model “is founded on nine key questions to ask yourself each Monday morning during your leadership planning time. Each question is tied to one of the nine drivers of employee engagement and will help you create small actionable goals that will inspire and motivate your staff.”

CP: You discuss the difference between recognition and reward and why the latter isn’t as effective. Could you talk a little about the philosophy behind this fact?

JR: There has been some fascinating research in the last few decades about the power of intrinsic motivation versus motivation that is extrinsic or comes from the outside. When people are intrinsically motivated they are more engaged in what they are doing. They will also be more creative and persist longer with a problem. But when rewards are introduced from the outside, especially in the form of cash or prizes, they can almost have a dampening effect on the future motivation with the same task. Not only that, they set up a dangerous cycle of people expecting more of the same. Recognition, on the other hand, is more about helping people feel valued, and one of the best ways to do that is through simple words. In the book I cover an easy formula called The Recognition Codes to help people string together simple recognition statements that can be used with their employees, which literally take a few seconds.

CP: If there could be only one minute on Monday dedicated to this topic, which one would you choose as most important for managers?

JR: That’s a tough question. If I could only pick one, it would be minute nine: the need for a model to follow. Our examples as leaders do more to dictate our success than anything else. If we truly want people to follow us, engage their talents and work with all their heart, then we have to be exemplary leaders. I’m not talking about management ability here either. This goes beyond the role and extends to who you are as a person: how you treat people, how hard you work, whether or not you take responsibility for your mistakes, humility and courage. Like it or not, there is a certain morality attached to leadership and we have to be that part. A leader’s example always has been and always will be paramount when it comes to him/her cultivating a following. The next most important minute is number one: caring for your people.

Are you rewarding your staff with specific comments that demonstrate how much you value them? Furthermore, do you model leadership for your staff? Consider Robbins’ second answer in this interview and how he describes good modeling behavior.

CausePlanet members: Don’t forget to register for our next live author interview with Tom Wolff, who trains and consults in collaborative solutions. We’ll discuss the essential principles he explores in his book The Power of Collaborative Solutions: Six Principles and Effective Tools for Building Healthy Communities on Thursday, August 22 at 11 a.m. CST.

See also:

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work

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Robbins emphasizes awareness and consistency in management

“Great leadership is actually the little things done consistently,” says bestselling author James Robbins in our CausePlanet interview.

I first saw Robbins’ Nine Minutes on Monday when I read the Top 10 business books of the year in The Globe and Mail news. The title of this number-one ranked book resonated with me because we all want to make the most of our time or even kid ourselves that we can beat the clock. Though, I should remind you to consider the source of this blog. Our tagline at CausePlanet is, after all, “where nonprofit leaders get smarter faster.” So when a book title mirrors my obsession with maximizing time, I can’t help but read it.

Author James Robbins delivers on his title promise: Nine Minutes on Monday: The Quick and Easy Way to Go from Manager to Leader. Throughout the course of this book, you will “learn a simple system to help you bring out the best in your employees, enabling them to produce results without adding hours of tasks to your plate.

Robbins’ model “is founded on nine key questions to ask yourself each Monday morning during your leadership planning time. Each question is tied to one of the nine drivers of employee engagement and will help you create small actionable goals that will inspire and motivate your staff.”

I asked Robbins in our CausePlanet interview about the differences readers experience after absorbing his principles as well as what readers will be most surprised to discover:

CausePlanet: Hi, James. I really enjoyed reading your book. I took a lot of notes in the margins and your book is already showing wear and tear after one reading! When someone applies the principles you discuss in your book, how would you describe the macro differences they’ll experience in their own behavior as managers?

Robbins: The biggest change they will notice is an increase in their awareness. I call awareness the quintessential skill of managers. If you have a clear picture of what is going on around you, nine times out of ten you will know what to do. Our problem as managers is that we get so busy with and focused on all the little tasks and details that we forget to lift our heads up and see what’s going on around us. Nine Minutes on Monday helps managers create the habit of awareness.

CausePlanet: What will our readers be most surprised to discover in your Nine-Minute process for Mondays?

Robbins: Readers will be most surprised by the simplicity of the concepts. Often when I speak, someone will tell me she has heard all this before. Knowledge is usually not our problem, but rather it’s a lack of execution regarding the basics that is. Great leadership is actually the little things done consistently. Nine Minutes helps you by creating new habits without adding a lot of extra time and tasks to your already-full plate.

How often are you tending to your leadership responsibilities? How do you maintain consistency?

CausePlanet members: Don’t forget to register for our next live author interview with Tom Wolff, who trains and consults in collaborative solutions. We’ll discuss the essential principles he explores in his book The Power of Collaborative Solutions: Six Principles and Effective Tools for Building Healthy.

See also:

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work

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Managing outcomes requires a leap of reason

Rather than take a blind leap of faith based on intuition or anecdotal information, author Mario Morino asks us to take a leap of reason when managing to outcomes. Why? Because our causes deserve it and social markets increasingly will fund only the nonprofits that demonstrate results.

Unfortunately, nonprofits aren’t great at managing to outcomes for a variety of reasons Morino explains in Chapter One of this book (request a free copy below).

Similar to other professions, nonprofit leaders aren’t rewarded for good management and consequently, have an acute shortage. Funders generally don’t provide financial support in order to make the leap to managing outcomes. Admittedly, nonprofits are cautious of managing to outcomes because they fear the information will be used against them rather than constructively for them. Among those who do try managing to outcomes get lost in the how to measure rather than the what and why.

I asked Morino about the benefit of good information in our interview:

CausePlanet: Your book claims the vast majority of nonprofits do not have the benefit of good information and tools to manage desired outcomes. Furthermore, you stress the importance of collecting better data to determine where you’re headed, chart a logical course, redirect when necessary and compete for funding. If some nonprofits are guilty of overmeasuring, why is there a disconnect with outcomes?

Mario Morino: There are some nonprofits that overmeasure, often because they are pushed by their many funders to provide a lot of data that help their funders check compliance boxes but don’t help the nonprofits themselves to navigate, learn and improve. And there are many nonprofits that undermeasure or don’t measure at all, perhaps because their leaders and board members are not asking all the hard questions they should be asking.

But I don’t want to dwell on the measurement part of this story. Measurement is a tool of effective management, not an end in itself. The macro point of Leap of Reason is that as a society, we’re not making nearly enough progress toward solving our big social and environmental challenges, and we desperately need to find better ways of encouraging, supporting, and rewarding high performance in our social and public organizations. In this era of scarcity, investing in high performance is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.

Join us next week for more of Morino’s author interview and our discussion of the prerequisites necessary for managing to outcomes.

Request a free copy of Leap of Reason for you, your board and/or your association by emailing or visit our Page to Practice™ summary feature of Leap of Reason.

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Stop trying to predict the unpredictable

Your traditional linear planning process has a new agile teammate. This teammate brings a complementary set of skills to your planning game: creativity and innovation that’s low risk and high gain. Too good to be true? Not according to Peter Sims. He says, “The reality is that most of what we try to predict and plan for is unpredictable.” We need a more nimble means for responding to and acting on the changing environment around us.

Sims, author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, endorses an approach that requires making good use of small experiments by repeating, refining and perfecting for large wins. Adopting an experimental approach requires a different mindset for most of us. We’ve been programmed since early childhood that failure is bad. Sims uses a blend of theory and practice to demonstrate how committing to a series of small bets—or often illuminating failures—is a breeding ground for innovation. This entrepreneurial experimentation is not only decidedly rigorous and strategic, but also wildly successful.

Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, put it succinctly, “You can’t put into a spreadsheet how people are going to behave around a new product.” This sentiment is held widely among many different industry and sector leaders including comedy’s Chris Rock, Google’s David Galenson, Pixar’s John Lasseter, and Grameen Bank’s Muhammad Yunus. Today’s traditional long-range planning must be accompanied by what author Peter Sims likes to refer to as “experimental innovation. These creators use experimental, iterative, trial-and-error approaches to gradually build up to breakthroughs.

Experimental innovators must be persistent and willing to accept failure and setbacks as they work toward their goal.” Anyone can use little bets to unlock the mystery behind what’s unpredictable and potentially remarkably successful.

Sims has written this important book about how all of us can tap into the innovative behavior of successful entrepreneurs. We just have to be willing to, no, anxiously anticipate the errors and surprises along the way that help us isolate the winning answers. While traditional ways of working are useful when much information is known, little bets are essential when it’s not.

For more information about Peter Sims’ book, visit or Or you can learn more by dowloading the Little Bets Page to Practice feature at CausePlanet.

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Power shared becomes power returned

This article is second in a series that looks at practices of seasoned nonprofit leaders.

It’s four o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon. The school dismissal bell rings and most students leave for the day. One classroom fills with middle school students. These students walk to desks, pull out academic materials and quietly begin to work on school assignments. The quiet seems surprising enough until five minutes later when an equal number of high school students from the campus across the street come in to pair up with the middle school students and mentor them in hushed, church-like tones. In those interactions lie the hope and dreams of what academic success might mean. These students are the dreamers of the Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation (CIHAD) whose mission is long-term dropout prevention for youth from disadvantaged communities in the Metro Denver area.

Dreamers begin in the program as early as third grade and if they graduate from high school, they are given financial support to attend college. Each class of dreamers is financially supported by an investor who donates enough money to run each class from third grade through high school. These donors make a large and sustained commitment. Each class is assigned a project director or PD. The PDs are special staff who mentor, guide, direct, push, encourage and see each dreamer as a whole person capable of great contributions. Often the PDs stay with CIHAD for the entire dreamer’s experience of ten years. In addition, CIHAD is governed by a board that can have more than 35 members.

At the intersection of these multi-aged student dreamers, powerful and incredible donors, a large board and amazing staff is one woman. Mary Hanewall has been the ED since 2000. Mary will retire in the fall of 2012. For more than a decade, Mary has led through her will and her willingness to let everyone in this organization lead when needed. When I sat down to interview Mary, the topic of her succession quickly evolved into the discussion of when and how to give or share power to get organizational results.

Before Mary was an executive director, she was a development director. In that role, she used her creativity to tell the stories of the constituents served by the nonprofit. In those stories she learned the power of each individual. Mary has learned and now believes the way to run an organization is finding the power of every individual who touches the organization. Each board meeting begins with a “Dreamer Success Story.” Often, these stories are about dreamers who made mistakes but in the end turned those mistakes into positive personal learning moments. Examples abound in the experiences of the high school students who mentor dreamers younger than themselves, attempting to model good teenage choices.

Hearing those stories, board members learn the power of the mission and vision. Mary describes the humility she feels around those donors who choose to fund dreamer classes. Mary works hard to give those funders the right amount of say in the program and to fuel their passion for the organization. Donors are encouraged to know the dreamers as well as collect data about how their investment is faring. The investment numbers are good: 120 of the 550 dreamers have received recognition for scholastic achievement. The high school graduation rate ranges from 65-95% compared with the 10-15% in some of the dreamer’s high schools.

Mary is devoted to and admires her staff. She believes in their power of idealism. These are employees who give their heart, head and soul to the success of dreamers. Mary does not see herself as a traditional manager. She knows her staff leads every day and her job is to let them. Power shared becomes power returned as the staff accomplishes so much through their innovation and belief in the work.

Mary talks about her philosophy that with such a large board, she must spread her power and leverage the board’s ability. She believes the board/ED relationship is split 51%/49%. The board chooses which percentage it desires. Mary knows a powerful board will guide a great organization. She educates and encourages by sending out pertinent materials on student achievement, acknowledging board members successes and always celebrating the dreamers, the foundation of the organization. I asked Mary if she ever feels as though she acquiesces too frequently. Mary quickly replied she is the connector, and what benefits the organization, the mission and the dreamers is how she defines success.

Mary and I finished our conversation by describing what she hopes are the qualities of the next CIHAD Executive Director, qualities that serve any leader well. These include passion, business sense and a belly. Passion includes devotion to the vision, the people and the outcomes of the organization. Business sense is the ability to assure financial sustainability for an organization that supports each dreamer for at least ten years. The belly allows the director to advocate for those who serve and are served by the organization.

See also:

Leaders Make the Future

The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive

The Power of Collaborative Solutions

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