by Anne Yurasek on April 15, 2008
I have been having so many discussions about retrenchment lately. The fiscal situation in Rhode Island is so scary and there are so many deep cuts in human service supports under consideration. I am hearing from clients that I haven’t spoken to in years, asking for help with mergers, management service organizations, and networks capable of managed care contracting.
While I certainly know the mechanics of creating these entities and have preached for years that they are necessary for the survival of the sector, it is still tough to outline what organizations have to undo, give up, shift away. It is hard to interact with people who have only known how to build and expand, whose entire careers have been about expanding access, adding services, pushing out to wider geographic areas, inventing new ways to help, building teams of staff that have taken years to assemble and refine, when your message is about undoing, pulling back, shrinking, eliminating services, crafting a smaller, tighter, more nimble organization, letting people go. Too often the people who are adversely affected are not just employees, not just colleagues, but have, through a career of shared proximity, become friends. This is just painful to watch.
So I have been working to craft a set of experiences and processes, and a message strategy that helps with the transition, that envisions what could be on the other side of this great divide full of potential loss. The message is about fighting back of course (who would we be if we did not advocate for those we serve?), but it is also about finding what is essential in what you have already built. I draw on analogies from psychology and medicine. When the body is stressed, when the mind is stressed, you focus very clearly on survival. But when you are very ill, it can be helpful to envision yourself well and whole again, rather than give in to the deer in the headlights syndrome of utter paralysis. Part of that envisioning, is to understand who you are, what makes you, you. The process also involves stretching notions of possibility. When we are stressed we do focus, but often too much, inadvertently narrowing our options.
One ED asked me point blank, “How can we plan now? We don’t know what will actually happen?” While it may seem counterintuitive, this is when planning will count the most. So I start by asking my clients to focus on the core of what they have built. There are a variety of ways to get at the core and it takes an iterative process to find that set of values, or competencies or programs that express, for the leadership, the essential core of this particular nonprofit. For some it is the whole agency and they envision all of what they do but in a smaller sized package. For others, there is a paring away of the not so essential programs, to find the heart of what they do. For others it is a primary relationship that must be enacted in a certain way to have value: a particular model between service provider and consumer. Others choose a group of people as the core, the group of people who have the most creative minds, who are the most likely to be able to reposition and reinvent.
Once the core is identified, we engage in a process of envisioning the organization with an intact core and craft a strategy to ensure that happens. This is enormously useful when planning for layoffs. It is so helpful to know, quite clearly, who you can let go and who you must convince to stay. Once this picture becomes clear, it becomes possible to go back to environmental scanning that looks at new possibilities or to talk about mergers. It is much easier to enter into merger discussions if leadership knows quite clearly what must survive for the organization’s history of service to have ongoing meaning and worth.
It does occur to me as I write this, that this mental exercise might be healthy for any organization in any environment. If you are facing these types of challenges, what types of planning activities are you undertaking? Read More
by Anne Yurasek on April 10, 2008
Contributed by Anne
I spent the morning yesterday talking with an Executive Director on a range
of topics from board development to physical plant planning to...social
networking. Our discussion focused primarily on how to
manage/nurture/control the presence of the organization within the social
networking space. As many of you know, the "buzz" of nonprofit
bloggers is to "get online, develop your online marketing, connect with
your donors and constituents, be a part of the new Web 2.0
revolution"...but does it make sense for every nonprofit organization?
In this case, as a youth-serving organization, their staff work with
children from the ages of 8 - 18. Many of these children are already
using Facebook or MySpace to connect with their
friends and have integrated social networking as a key component of their
communication and interactions with their social set. If a relationship
is established, the children may send friend requests to the staff member
following the completion of the program. The organization, due to
concerns about liability, has instructed staff to not accept these requests and
to not pursue online friendships after the completion the program.
Additionally, program participants start groups on the social networking sites
as program alumnae - wanting to stay connected with their bunkmates or
teammates - using the organization's name to find fellow participants.
Without any control over these groups, the organization must monitor their
activity -- and should inappropriate content be posted, intervene. It is
a sticky situation.
I also had the opportunity yesterday to listen in on a compelling conference
call with Seth Godin
about his new book - "Meatball Sundae". (Thank you to Edith and
the team at SFEntrepreneur
for putting it together!) Seth spoke primarily about the revolution of
permission marketing over the last five years and its impact on business.
He stressed that in fact, organizations (even non-profits) have the
"obligation to take advantage of the revolution versus fighting
it." Seth noted numerous trends that are part of the revolution but
one struck me as pertinent to the challenge facing this particular ED. In
the marketing revolution that is occurring, every consumer is a critic,
which in this case, would include program participants. These
consumers have the ability to shout from any variety of rooftops - including
Facebook or MySpace profiles or groups, blogs, Twitters - the good and the bad
about their experience with not only any retailer...but any nonprofit
So where does that leave this Executive Director? How can this
organization both embrace their consumers and in doing so create advocates for
their organization through social networking, while simultaneously protecting
their own liability? Your thoughts?
by Anne Yurasek on April 01, 2008
I was with a multi-stakeholder group this week who have been engaged in a brief struggle over the structure of a very creative and experimental initiative. While these questions were not on the table during the discussion, they have occurred to me in hindsight. I actually wish I had thought of them ahead of time but I didn’t. The conversation is continuing so I am using this entry to sort out some of my own thinking about where to take the group next. Questions that have occurred to me that we really must address: How do we keep the structure from killing the creativity? How do make sure that a baseline of governance is in place? How do we protect the sponsor of the initiative from undo liability? How do we take the stakeholder groups and arrange them so that they have access to the processes that both need their support and wisdom and by which they should be influenced? How do we keep some stakeholders from having too much power?
We also discussed the “suitable” boxes for particular stakeholders and some in the group stated their assumptions about how certain stakeholders would or would not be comfortable in this box or that. As we reviewed one of the models for putting stakeholders into boxes in a diagram, one participant challenged me (and the group, I think) with questions that were “”Well, what about this….? And what about this….?” I responded in problem solving mode: “Well, then we could add this kind of process to mitigate that….” That part didn’t go so well, as it was suggested that I appeared to be advocating for a particular model. I wasn’t, but understand how my responses were viewed. I truly have no investment in the choice at all, beyond wanting it to fit, to work for them.
Upshot of these somewhat uncomfortable moments, I have been thinking about the degree to which one, in fact, can use two key elements in building structure around initiatives. First, the use of mitigating processes to soften the hard edges of power distribution in a structure. If stakeholders are assigned to a particular role, we can and must create processes that convene across boxes so all stakeholders gain a sense of the whole. We have to identify the key elements such as plans or budgets and where in the structure they will (1) gain input from stakeholders; (2) be initiated and managed; (3) be reviewed before passage; and (3) be finally approved. Second, how important the arrangement of stakeholders really is in creating a structure that supports but does not twist or distort an initiative. As we take the key elements and decide how the stakeholders in the structure will support them, we need to pay attention, not just to checks and balances, but proximity of stakeholders. For example, do those that govern and have final authority have sufficient proximity to stakeholders to understand what they are approving? Do our key stakeholder groups, by design of structure or by mitigating process, have enough proximity, literally enough time spent together, to gain understanding of one another’s perspectives, to form relationships of consequence? Have we developed a structure that will enhance the social networking that ends up being the ultimate glue to hold the structure together and the most profound source of both creativity and change?
It would have been very helpful if I had thought this through before the meeting and had had this ready to put on a flip chart for everyone to see, but such, I find, is the nature of this consulting work…one learns as much as one teaches, and thinks of the best stuff more often after the fact than before, more often in response to dialogue than by application of knowledge you already have. Read More