Building Nonprofit Capacity

This past week marked the final session of a 5-session course based on The 8 Essential Skills and delivered for ONEplace@KPL, a nonprofit resource center based in Kalamazoo, MI. With 40 supervisors, managers, and nonprofit executive directors participating, the course was lively and interesting. The work that Bobbe Luce and Monica Priest do in assisting area nonprofits is outstanding, remarkable, and a pleasure to watch. ONEplace@KPL provides one-stop resources, assistance, and advice for nonprofits of all kinds and sizes. From one individual with a new idea to long-established NPOs with a hundred employees or more, ONEplace@KPL has rapidly become the go-to place for nonprofit managers, executives, and boards of directors. ONEplace is funded by local foundations and provides its services free of charge to the nonprofit community and is housed in the outstanding Kalamazoo Public Library. Given the increased service demands and funding challenges faced by nonprofits in this economy, ONEplace is just a really great idea! If your community doesn’t have a resource like this, maybe it’s time to start one.

What’s Different About NPOs?

Consider several questions posed to the group of 30 executive directors, managers, and staff participating in the Nonprofit Supervision & Management Series at ONEplace@KPL:

Is managing in a nonprofit organization (NPO) different than managing in the private sector? Is it different than managing in a governmental organization? If so, what is different?

The major difference cited by the course participants was: not being able to use financial rewards (raises, bonuses, stock options, etc.) as an incentive for performance or as a reward for outstanding results.  While that is true for most NPOs and is well understood by those working in the nonprofit sector, it makes me wonder if there are other significant differences – is managing simply managing or is it really different from one sector to another?

What do you think? What is your experience? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Order your copy of “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” today at Amazon.com.

A Labor Day Thought

Since most of us spend a large portion of our waking hours working at whatever it is we do, it makes sense to do something that makes you happy, whole, complete, and satisfied. Labor Day, along with the start of the post-summer, let’s-get-busy fall season, is a good time to take a look at what you’re doing when you “work.” Might even be a good time to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Am I doing what I truly want to be doing?
  • Am I proud of what I do – the results I produce?
  • Am I proud of the organization in which I work?
  • What am I committed to achieve by the end of the next quarter?
  • What longer-range goals, projects, and challenges are important to me now?

Those are a few questions that come to my mind. How about you? What questions would you like to answer for yourself?

And for every leader who is committed to a true partnership  between labor and management . . . Thank you!

Alligators in the Swamp

‘When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it is difficult to remind yourself that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.‛

Most managers can easily relate to that statement. It often seems that really important things – initiatives, projects, and ideas that could make a major positive difference – drown under waves of problems to solve and details to handle. Most experienced managers agree that they sometimes feel overwhelmed and out of control when they try to deal with the challenges and changes they face. They describe what they do as something like herding cats or grasshoppers. It’s a job that’s complex, ever-changing, challenging, exhilarating, frustrating, satisfying, and never boring.

The traditional view of what it means to be a supervisor or manager has materially changed in the past decade. You may supervise a team or functional unit with a group of full-time employees reporting to you. But these days you’re just as likely to manage a variety of people working on several different projects. Some of them might be employees. Others might be employees who officially report to someone else. They might be independent contractors. And then there are freelancers who work for several different organizations. In this era of rapid change, globalization, and contract workers, you need to look beyond past notions of what a supervisor or manager does.

What’s your job like? Does it fit the traditional mold or is your position and organization radically different?

The 8 Skills at Indy – Lessons – Part 3

Stepping back for a bit of perspective on the Indy 500 as an example of The 8 Essential Skills at work, we continue to see lessons for all of us who supervise and manage, such as:

Skill 5 – Managing Change: a 500 mile auto race with 33 cars on the grid at the start is a study in Change. Often rapid and abrupt change. And it can (and does) happen at any point in the race. Davy Hamilton returned to the Indy 500 after a nine year hiatus, only to crash on the first lap after Thomas Scheckter took Hamilton’s line in Turn 2, causing Hamilton to swerve, lose control, and hit the inner wall. Sarah Fisher, on the other hand, steadily worked her way up in the field over much of the race only to graze the wall on lap 125, ending her day. Often the 500 is lost or won in the pits and when a driver is given the “Go!” signal before the fuel hose is fully disconnected, a return to the pit on the next lap causes a delay and may affect that drivers finishing order. Constant change is the norm; how it gets handled and what adjustments get made makes all the difference.

Skill 6 – Solving Problems & Making Decisions: over the course of a 500-mile race each team will have literally scores if not hundreds of decisions to make. Do we bring our car in for fuel now or wait a lap or two on the chance that there will be a yellow flag (forcing everyone to hold their positions in the standings) later? How many of our 15 our “push-to-go” turbo boost uses do we save for the final laps? Should we adjust the front wings for more downforce or more speed? Given the heat (130 degrees on the track) how often should we plan to change tires? Problems to solve and decisions to make are just a normal part of the process and are treated as such. Frustrating perhaps, but “that’s racing.”

Next time – Skills 7 & 8

Teacher vs. Coach

When you manage you fulfill a number of different roles in the course of your work. In this post I’d like to take a brief look at two of those roles; Teacher and Coach.

Teacher

Managers and supervisors work with employees who have a wide variety of skills and knowledge. This means you’re frequently placed in the role of teacher with employees, particularly if they’re new to your organization or team. You will, in effect, be teaching them how to do their job. At the very least you’ll need to teach your employees about the expectations that will affect their success.

 You also teach employees what they need to know to help them be ready for new challenges and opportunities. Being a mentor is a form of teaching; you are imparting knowledge that will help the employee prepare for a new assignment, position, or project.

Coach

The role of a coach is different from that of a teacher. As a coach you’ll be a guide, motivator, encourager, and supporter in your interactions with employees. When you coach employees you’re less focused on telling or showing and more focused on asking questions or involving them in figuring out what needs to be done and how to do it.

When you coach employees you’re actively demonstrating your confidence and trust in them. If you don’t trust your employees to do their jobs, then you either have the wrong people in the jobs or you haven’t sufficiently trained them. In either case the problem isn’t with your employees but with you as their manager.

What do you think? Are you teaching and coaching your people?

Help Me Discipline My Inbox

A few years back I had the priviledge of teaching in one of George Washington University’s outstanding Leadership courses, along with Air Force Maj. Gen. Perry Smith (Ret.) – the author of several excellent works on leadership. Like most pilots, Gen. Smith believed in checklists and created several that have proved quite useful. Among his “Useful Phrases for Leaders” checklist is one that has become one of my personal favorites; “Help me discipline my inbox; don’t send me issues you are competent to decide”

Why do I like this one so much? Think about the implications of his statement and what it says to your employees. It works well on several levels: 

  • It says, “There are issues that are within the scope of your job and expertise, and I think you can figure out which issues those are and what needs to be done about them.”
  • It says, “I’m confident in your ability to make good decisions on those issues and implement them.”   
  • It says, “When you face an issue that you think I can help with, let me know how I can best do that.” 
  • It even says, “You decide what to keep me informed about and when to do so.” 

What an affirming, empowering viewpoint! From personal experience, I know it to be a very effective guide to leading, empower, and managing others.

Gen. Smith is currently the Secretary of the Medal of Honor Foundation and a noted speaker and author on Leadership. His military career spanned three decades and included several stints on the faculty of the Air Force Academy, 150 missions as an F-4 pilot during the Vietnam war, Commandant of the National War College, and various other leadership posts. His final active duty post was as Air Force Director of Strategic Planning. He knows leadership!

What do you think? How about trying Perry’s approach to empowering your people? You might just be pleasently surprised!