While Washington Fiddles

Our federal and state governments do some things quite well; most career civil servants are dedicated, hard-working, and do a difficult job as well or better than one might expect. I’ve worked with great people at all levels of government; certainly none are more dedicated than the folks at the City of Kalamazoo.

At the same time many of our elected officials seem to be capable of generating only hot air and headlines. Now, if they could actually DO something instead of just talk about what’s wrong with the opposition, that would be deeply appreciated by everyone living outside the Beltway. I’m not holding my breath since they seem to be able to do . . . well, pretty much nothing at all.

Some states seem to be afflicted with similar extreme partisan rancor as the professional politicians prove themselves incapable of doing the job they were sent to do. And so it comes down to local government to lead the way in dealing with current financial reality, ’cause the folks in Washington and (insert your state capitol here) can’t seem to agree on what day of the week it is.

I grew up in an era where the particular political party of elected officials was much less important than their willingness to find common ground, compromise, and discover a way to make local, state, and federal government function reasonably well. Most politicians were moderates and while they might lean a bit left or right of center on some issues, the focus was on doing the work of the people in the best way possible. Right-or-left-wing ideologues were few and far between and there was much more that united us than divided us.

In spite of the level of rancor, venom, and hatred that seems to be the norm in much of our political discourse, I still believe that trying to find a common ground is the best way for government to work. Neither of the two major political parties has a monopoly on the truth; reality seems to exist somewhere between the two extremes.

The transition to an information-based global economy continues to disrupt lives and communities and it will do so for some time to come. One thing each of us can do is to get involved in helping our local and regional communities through nonprofit organizations and local government. We really cannot depend upon state or national elected officials to do much of anything beyond run for office. The political system is clearly broken and incapable of accomplishing anything meaningful.

So for all our sakes, please Vote – if the folks we elected to do the job can’t get the job done, maybe it’s time for somebody else to give it a try.

What do you think?

Paul

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It’s All About Choices

I’m willing to bet that you have lots to do. At the end of the day, week, or month you can look back and spot all sorts of things that you could have accomplished but didn’t. You’ve clearly made choices about what to do, what not to do, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore or defer until later. You probably make hundreds of choices every day. The choices you make must answer three basic questions:

  • Who should address or resolve this issue? – you, somebody else, or nobody?
  • How important is this to me? Is this mission-critical to my job or not so important?
  • What is the best use of my time, talent, and energy right now? Handling this particular issue or something else on my plate at the moment?

I’m certain you have issues you can make decisions about, otherwise known as your “span of control.” These are decisions you can make on your own, choosing what seems best to you. For example, if something is within your span of control, you may decide to move ahead and keep your boss in the loop after the fact. If the issue requires sign-off or approval from your supervisor, then it clearly is not in your span of control; it’s in somebody else’s span of control.

You also have issues, challenges, problems, and concerns that you have some influence over, whether you realize it or not. This is your “sphere of influence.” These issues are outside your span of control; your position and authority don’t allow you to simply decide what to do. In this case you need the approval of someone else or the willingness of your boss to carry things forward. These issues tend to be things you care about and would like to see changed, but are outside your direct ability to make happen. So it pays to get good at raising issues, communicating critical information, and making recommendations so you can influence the person who actually can make the decision to make their choice the way you would like to see it made.

Learning to effectively use your sphere of influence has a great deal to do with the future scope of your span of control. Using and expanding your sphere of influence usually starts with your relationship with your own manager. You should quickly learn how they prefer to get your suggestions and ideas. Do they:

  • Need a lot of data or just a general overview?
  • Prefer to discuss your idea or issue, see it in writing, or receive it electronically?
  • Have a more receptive time of day?
  • Need to perceive any new idea as their own?

This is all about your ability to influence the future direction of your team or unit. The goal is to provide your manager with the information needed so their decision will go the way you want it to. Obviously, you need to provide your boss with information that’s truthful and complete. You don’t want to leave out an essential piece of information that could prove to be a problem later. That would brand you as someone who doesn’t think things through very well. Still, you can craft information and recommendations in such a way that they lead logically to the conclusion you prefer.

Often, supervisors and managers are frustrated by an issue or problem outside their span of control. So they toss the issue to their boss without thinking about how that person prefers to get input. When their boss ignores it, rejects the idea or makes a decision they don’t like, the frustration continues.

If you look back and can see you are not getting the results you want from your approach, it’s probably time to try a different approach. Ask yourself some basic questions, such as:

  • What is the real problem or issue? How can I best describe it so my boss understands the essential facts and generally sees the issue as I do?
  • What specific outcome do I want? If this issue was in my span of control, what would I decide to do?
  • Are there potential difficulties or problems associated with my approach? If so, what are they? What effect might they have on implementing my recommendation? (Hint – they often are political or “turf” issues)
  • What will be the benefits of following my recommendations?
  • What will the payoff be to the organization and its customers or stakeholders?
  • Who else supports my recommended approach?

Expanding both your span of control and your sphere of influence is a natural byproduct of experience. As you become more adept at managing yourself and the assignments, challenges, and opportunities that come your way, you “graduate” (David Allen’s apt term) and get to take on new, higher-level challenges. Because of the confidence you develop in your own abilities, this growth process can continue as long as you’re alive. But you have to start somewhere and where you are right this moment is a pretty realistic place to begin.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • What issues are really within my span of control?
  • What issues are in really within my sphere of influence?

Once you’ve identified the issues that are within your particular area of responsibility, then it’s a matter of choices – what are you going to do to move those issues forward to a successful resolution, and what issues do you choose to defer (maybe) until later?

Then once you’ve identified those issues that you care enough about to want to see move forward, then it’s a matter of who, how,and what – who needs to know about this particular issue, how do you want them to move forward, and what would you recommend they do?

I recommend you really think about it. What’s within your span of control and what’s within your sphere of influence?

Think about it and commit yourself to making good choices. Choose well and you’ll see your sphere of influence and your span of control expand.

Paul

Game Changer – ONEplace@KPL

ONEplace@KPL has become a significant Game Changer for nonprofit organizations in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Opened in 2009 with support from local funders including the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and others, and with administrative support and facilities provided by the Kalamazoo Public Library, ONEplace is a management support organization (MSO) for nonprofit organizations. Their focus is on four key areas common to nonprofits:

  • Management – operations & program directors
  • Communications – marketing, public relations & media relations
  • Fundraising – individual, foundation & corporate support
  • Leadership – board & executive director

With leadership from director Thom Andrews and associate Lolita Moss, the list of professional development opportunities for nonprofit organizations is extensive and comprehensive. The list includes workshops, roundtables, webinars, interest groups, courses, and plenty of other resources.

At the same time a variety of  direct services, such as consulting, advising, problem/opportunity identification, and action planning are provided on a confidential basis. And because of the ongoing financial support of area foundations everything at ONEplace is available at no cost to the nonprofit organizations.

Several of us at Midwest Consulting Group have been involved with ONEplace since its founding. We love working with nonprofit organizations and the wonderful work they do; it’s a great way for us to give back to our local community.

Last week saw the kickoff of the 2015 ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy (ONLA) with a bakers’ dozen of Kalamazoo County’s best and brightest nonprofit professionals taking part. ONLA consists of nine monthly day-long group sessions, one-on-one work with an executive director mentor, and other activities throughout the year.

If you lead, work in, or volunteer with nonprofit organizations in Kalamazoo County, you owe it to yourself and the nonprofits you serve to check out ONEplace@kpl. They are indeed a Game Changer for nonprofit organizations.

Stay Tuned

Paul

Teacher vs. Coach – II

Shortly after the 1st edition of The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers was published I posted some thoughts about one of the important roles you fulfill in the course of your work – Teacher and Coach. Based on the number of times that term gets searched on the blog, maybe it’s time to explore that a bit more.

Teacher

As a manager we can work with people whose skill level and job knowledge vary considerably. Particularly when the employee is new to the organization or your team, you are likely to be in a Teacher mode. You are teaching when orienting them to the team or the job; you teach them about the culture of the organization and the group. What do they need to know in order to be effective in their specific job and as part of the team? You teach them about the standards and expectations for performance, quality, communication, attendance, participation, and how much freedom they have to make decisions on their own. You make sure you give them plenty of feedback as they learn and progress. Once they demonstrate the appropriate level of competence in the basics of their job, you can shift toward more of a coaching role.

Coach

The role of a Coach is different from that of a teacher and involves a different set of skills. At the highest level it requires a well-developed sense of awareness about each employee’s talents, skills, and needs. Knowing when an employee needs some encouragement and positive encouragement versus when they might need corrective feedback or bit of refresher training can involve some subtle differences. Asking open ended questions can help lead the employee to figure out what needs to done without you “telling” them what to do. Once the employee has successfully mastered the basics of their job you can increase the level of involvement they have in managing themselves. Obviously that doesn’t happen right away; you want to empower them but must do so purposefully. Beware the “aimlessly empowered!” Of course the two sides of this coin are not mutually exclusive. You will likely move back and forth on a continuum between teaching behaviors and coaching behaviors. What do you think? Are you teaching and coaching your people? Do you have a firm grasp of when to teach and when to coach with each personal on your team? PS – for a great take on the difference between Coaching and Feedback, see what executive coach Mary Jo Asmus has to say on the topic. You’ll find an excellent post on her blog at Aspire-cs.com. As she points out, Coaching is future-oriented while Feedback is focused on what has occurred in the past. She says, “In the end, coaching is about ‘letting go’ of advice-giving and assuming the person being coached is whole, smart, and understands the best direction to head in.”  Good advice from one who knows.

As a manager, how adept are you at knowing when it’s time to shift from Teacher to Coach?

Paul

360 Assessments Underway

Conducting a 360 assessment process is an important part of each ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy, and the data-gathering is well underway for the 2015 Academy group.

We’re using a pair of excellent multi-rater assessments, the Management-Leadership Practices Inventory (MLPI) and the Professional Communications Inventory (PCI) – [click here for more info]. Each Academy participant selects the 360 that best fits their situation and provides us with a list of people they want to ask for feedback. The scores are provided only to the Academy participant and individual rater’s responses are reported in aggregate, so confidentiality is assured throughout the process.

At the March session the group will receive the results of the assessment process. For many this will be the first time they’ve received this kind of feedback, and the enthusiasm within the group is pretty high.

When is the last time you got really honest feedback on what you do (and don’t do) as a professional?

Stay tuned,

Paul

Nonprofit Leadership Academy – Version 4

For the past three years I’ve been involved with the ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy (ONLA) here in SW Michigan. This fantastic leadership development program is provided free of charge to the nonprofit community in Kalamazoo County through the generosity of local foundations. The 2015 version kicks off this month and promises to be exciting and innovative as we welcome a baker’s dozen of nonprofit managers. ONLA is always a great experience for the participants as well as for those of us involved in The Academy. Watch this space for more information as the process moves along.

In the meantime, take a few minutes to check things out at ONEplace@kpl.gov to see what’s going on in the nonprofit community. Thom Andrews and Lolita Moss do an outstanding job at ONEplace!

 

A Bit of Irony

Picture this: Driving on the Interstate, it’s 11 pm. There isn’t much traffic. Two billboards appear off the right side, first one and just as the first fades in your mind the second  billboard appears out of the darkness. The first is an ad for the gambling casino at the next exit and features the “120k Giveaway Every Friday in January” as an enticement to stop at that exit. The next billboard is for the small liberal arts college located in the  town five miles away. The second billboard says, “Invest in Your Future” and shows the college’s logo. An interesting little bit of irony, don’t you think?