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Psychology of Change and Implications for Nonprofits

Dan Gilbert gave a very popular TED talk: “The Psychology of Our Future”

He cites studies of how much people think they changed over the past 10 years, and how much they will change in the coming 10 years.

The findings are interesting: We actually change (including who is our best friend, what is our favorite music, what issues and nonprofits were/will be important to us) much more than we believe we will.

The psychology of this phenomenon is important to grasp when talking to clients of our nonprofit and supporters of our nonprofit. Change happens. And will continue to happen. Are we prepared at our organization to deal with what comes our way?

Nonprofit organizations go through strategic planning exercises. And then they think they are done. Planning is great at building a sense of shared values among a board and staff. But if we don’t also determine how we’ll implement the changes we just agreed to. And recognize that the constant going forward will be change…we won’t be ready to deal with what the future has in store for us.

Check out the link to the Dan Gilbert video. Think how that applies to you. And to your organization. And next board meeting, let’s consider the issue and how we can deal with life going forward.

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Applying Strategy to Operations: Nonprofit Change

A measure of nonprofit capacity to deliver service in a changing environment comes once the strategic plan has been updated.
We know it’s no easy task to bring in the consultant, set the course of a planning process, then get the Board members to carve out time to do the strategic plan work. Once that process is complete, leaders heave a sigh of relief and go on to what’s next on the agenda.
This is when strategic planning gets a bad name. Because there’s no thought to the Big Deal: Implementation.
The annual plan and budget cycle needs to reflect what came from the plan process.
If not, then why did you bother with all of that huffing and puffing in the first place?
Jumping off the implementation cliff is not easy. This is where a can of energy drink comes in handy to help get the group through what’s next. And there’s a simple way to approach it. To achieve some buy-in. And it goes like this:
What’s New? Staff bring to Board the new work that needs some attention. That clearly was a priority from the energy that was expended in the planning process.
What Has to Go? Can you afford to keep doing what you’ve been doing and take on the new? Prepare a recommendation with what will go so the new has room to breathe.
Do We Need New Resources? Is it going to cost us more? Do we need a new committee and added staff to get the new work done? How can we phase this in over time?
Bring Implementation Plan to Stakeholders Convene a group of Stakeholders. Those who work as partners on projects with you, who you need to engage as new partners, people who will benefit from the new work you’ll be doing. Convene them over breakfast or lunch. Lay out the plan. Mix the crowd up at various tables and give them some discussion points to work through.
Act On It. Bring a (now) more detailed action plan to the Board for approval.
Get Busy.

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Meeting the Challenge of Change: Leadership

Nonprofit Organization leaders know that a measure of their success is their flexibility and adaptability. Or, in other words: The constant in nonprofit governance and management is change.

Funders (particularly grantmakers) are interested in knowing, before they will award a grant, in the capacity of the particular nonprofit to roll with changes in its environment. What are some indicators of that capacity?

Diversity in Leadership. Does the board and staff of this nonprofit reflect the community it serves? Is the Board packed with baby boomers? Or are there Gen X and Gen Y representatives in governance as well as staff positions?

Training in Leadership. Are board and staff leaders provided education and training opportunities to learn about current trends in their environment? Is there evidence that the group is networked in the community and in organizations that have expertise needed by this nonprofit?

Customer Focused Leadership?Is there evidence that leaders at this nonprofit communicate comfortably and frequently with the clients/customers they are charged to serve? Do leaders know how to listen, or are they always in broadcast mode?

It’s in some ways, application of the “bend-don’t-break” philosophy from sports convention to the Third Sector.

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Building Effective Teams: It Starts with Team Purpose

Engaging teams in the workplace to deal with cross-functional issues needing attention is a very popular approach. But what % of all teams are organized in a way to accomplish the assignment?

First of all: Is there a clear assignment? Are all members clear on what needs to be accomplished and when it should be completed?

Second: Who is the team reporting or responsible to? Is it one senior staff member? Leadership of a department?

Third: Are the roles of all members of this team clearly defined? Does each member of the team have a specific task to complete? Clear assignments to accomplish between team meetings?

When there is clarity around these issues, the likelihood of success improves.

I’m looking forward to teaching the Northeastern University class on Leading Teams in Ho Chi Minh City starting in late-July. I’m most interested in exploring how cultural and international differences influence how teams can work, and special challenges they face.

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Where are you headed? And who’s coming with you?

The effective nonprofit leader steps back now and again and asks her/himself these questions: Where am I going? And who’s coming with me?
Beyond the strategic plan of your organization with its mission and goals and annual work plan.
Beyond the budget and the staff meetings and schmoozing out in the community.
What feels fulfilling to you? What is it about the people around you and their response to you that helps give you energy?
Recently I went back to a series of interview snippets from the Washington Post with leaders from various walks in life. It’s here:
They talked about what floats their boat.
What it is that drives each of them as an individual…and how that translates into Leadership.
Take a listen. Pause and reflect. And think about what’s driving you whenever and however you communicate.

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