Archive for the ‘Decision Making’ Category

Non Profit Organizations – Can You Make a Decision?

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Is Your Non Profit Organization Suffering from Analysis Paralysis?

By Joseph John

It’s not a perfect world, and it’s definitely not a perfect world in the non profit sector when it comes to decision making.

Decisions have to be made, and projects need to be implemented — on a timely basis. And yet, there are too many non profit boards that suffer from Analysis Paralysis.

Wikipedia defines Analysis Paralysis as “…the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation, or citing sources, so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. A decision can be treated as over-complicated, with too many detailed options, so that a choice is never made, rather than try something and change if a major problem arises.

We talk about a non profit board’s “fiduciary responsibility,” and yet, we tend to ignore, or mention another major board responsibility — the need to ACT. I believe that a board’s inactivity and fear of initiating projects on a timely basis ranks extremely high on the list of costly board errors.

“Let’s discuss this at the next meeting,” or “I think we need more time,” or “ I think we need more information.” Sound familiar?

Are there any ground rules a board can establish in order to avert that insidious organizational illness called Analysis Paralysis? The answer simply is “yes.”

Here are some basic steps to get your non profit organization moving towards a healthy and vibrant organization.

  1. Eliminate the fear of failure. Failure only occurs when you don’t do anything.
  2. Accept the unknown. There is not enough data to eliminate the unknown — it’s a fact of life.
  3. Eliminate the search for more data by establishing a “no read” zone and a “no more data” zone — and stick to those rules.
  4. Establish a timeline by putting a stake in the ground — and stick to it (no pun intended).
  5. Establish ground rules for implementing your specific project — and stick to those ground rules.
  6. Establish board consensus that the entire board is unified and committed to action; and willing to take the kudos and the lumps, if they occur.
  7. Embrace the fear of inactivity.

What’s the worst thing that can happen to a non profit board by moving forward? Nothing negative. And why? Because you have just given the “data seekers and crunchers” even more data to analyze once the project has been implemented.

So, eliminate Analysis Paralysis and make your organization Nike-like — “Just Do It!”

“Lincoln on Leadership”

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Noteworthy Ideas for Non Profit Boards

By Joseph John

Recently, there has been a lot of excitement about the movie “Lincoln” — and rightfully so. Excellent directing, acting, cinematography, and the list of kudos continue for this brilliant film. I saw the movie and was impressed. Not only impressed, but on the way home I got my “ah-hah!” — it was a flash. That movie prompted me to go back to my bookshelves and search for a book that I had read and used many times at my prior company — oh, just a few years ago.

Aha! There it was. I found it high up on the bookshelves: Lincoln on Leadership, Executive Strategies for Tough Times, by Donald T. Phillips (find it on Amazon). I wiped a few years’ worth of dust off the jacket (now I know why they call it a “dust cover”) and opened it up. Wow! Some concepts never change. I asked myself, “Joe, why haven’t you used this book in your nonprofit presentations?” No need to answer that question. I realized at that moment that every concept Donald Phillips notes in his well-researched book is easily transferable to the nonprofit sector. The book, and its content, is very much in tune and up-to-date with all issues facing board members and the entire board in the nonprofit sector. It’s an incredible resource and will always be relevant.

I turned to the table of contents and reviewed the “Parts” (categories) Phillips employs, to categorize his chapters: 1) People, 2) Character, 3) Endeavor, and 4) Communication. I realized at that point, just by looking at the table of contents, that this book, and everything Lincoln practiced, is the “stuff” nonprofit boards need to practice.

Allow me to highlight each Part with the resulting chapter. Also, I challenge you to reflect with me on the following thought: Isn’t every Part & Chapter the basis for Board success? Aren’t these principles the very basis for what all board members and boards should be practicing?

PEOPLE: (1) Get out of the Office and Circulate Among the Troops; (2) Build Strong Alliances; (3) Persuade Rather Than Coerce.

CHARACTER: (4) Honesty and Integrity are the Best Policies; (5) Never Act Out of Vengeance or Spite; (6) Have the Courage to Handle Unjust Criticism; (7) Be a Master

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of Paradox.

Now, can you see why I got excited about the many lessons that are loaded in this exceptional book? But there are more —two more parts and eight more chapters (or lessons).

ENDEAVOR: (8) Exercise a Strong Hand — Be Decisive; (9) Lead by Being Led; (10) Set Goals and Be Result-Oriented; (11) Keep Searching Until You Find Your “Grant”; (12) Encourage Innovation.

And the final Part:

COMMUNICATION: (13) Master the Art of Public Speaking; (14) Influence People Through Conversation and Storytelling; (15) Preach a Vision and Continually Reaffirm It.

Following every chapter is a set of “Lincoln Principles,” principles such as “unite your followers with a ‘corporate mission’”; “delegate responsibility and authority by empowering people to act on their own;” “provide a clear, concise statement of the direction of your organization, and justify the actions you take;” and “prepare yourself thoroughly for your public speaking engagements.”

Phillips lists at least eight principles at the conclusion of each chapter. The principles provide further “step-back-and-reflect” moments from one of the greatest leaders in American history. You’ll see that every principle that Phillips notes in his chapters is easily transferrable to the nonprofit board of directors — principles that can and should be implemented.

I hope you will read this book. It could provide a great theme for a board retreat. However, even if you don’t purchase or borrow this book, I urge you to review the titles of the Parts and the Chapters that I just listed. Review the titles and then ask yourself, “Isn’t this what our organization and our nonprofit leadership should be achieving?”

Believe me, I’m not going to allow dust to cover this book again. I’m ready to share it with a lot of board members. Yes, even in 2013, Lincoln’s principles are still relevant!

Brainstorming can be a successful activity — Can’t it?

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

by Neil Kuvin

The most time-consuming meetings seem to be so-called brainstorming sessions where many in the selected group unfortunately are naysayers and there doesn’t appear to be an atmosphere of “let’s get it done.” And furthermore, the concept of actually coming up with a direction and plan is not in many folks’ mind or agenda. You find yourself rehashing the same ideas over and over again?

We’ve all likely been there.  When brainstorming sessions don’t work, you come away with a sense of pure frustration, you feel like you’ve wasted precious time, you’re no closer to achieving your objectives, and you hate the smartass across the table who keeps pointing out – with seemingly great relish – why your ideas will never work.

To achieve successful outcomes from a brainstorming session, you’ll need to apply a few rules – before, during and after the session. I’ve come to think of these as the Golden Rules That Must Be Respected, because I’ve noticed that anytime any of these rules are broken, the result is almost always going to be frustration and fatigue. So, with apologies to the Godfather, the following are my personal Golden Rules for successful, interactive brainstorming.

Brainstorming Rule 1 – “Leave the judge. Bring the kid.”

First, keep the team small, probably no larger than six people, so that everyone can contribute. Having too many silent team members can kill the creative spirit in the room.  “Judging” types can be real downers in a brainstorming party. Purely because of their tendency to apply overly-structured thinking, and rushing to judge ideas before they’ve had a chance to really flourish and spark off other ideas. Make sure that EVERYONE involved comes into the brainstorm session wearing the right kind of hat: it should be a propeller beanie, instead of a police cap. Have fun, and remember to say this to yourself: “There are no bad ideas – merely unfinished ones.”

Brainstorming Rule 2 – “It’s not business, Sonny. It’s strictly creative.”

So now that you’ve brought the kid (and the propeller beanie), putting him in a sterile conference room isn’t going to help him really cut loose. Creativity is messy and fun: your environment has to be the same.  Stick up flip chart paper all over the room, scatter Post-it notes everywhere, and give the team members lots of pencils and pens. Get everything written down or sketched out, so that everyone can “see” the idea, and you get a fantastic visual record of everything that came out of the session. And never throw away the charts: they’ll serve as great memory joggers later on, and may even help to spark off ideas for different projects.

Brainstorming Rule 3 – “When it comes to ideas, go for broke.”

A brainstorming session is meant to produce ideas. Lots of ideas. It’s not meant to produce the perfect idea. There will be time later to cluster the ideas in big groups, and to start applying your inner ruthless judge. But that time isn’t now.  If you’re the facilitator, keep the energy high, encourage everyone to come up with more ideas: crazy or otherwise. Get the team to hit a target of 20 or 30 ideas. The reason why I advocate a larger number of ideas is down to the 9-10 rule: 10 ideas will probably result in one workable idea at the end of the day. If you need to present three ideas to the client, you’re looking at a base case of 30 from the session.

Brainstorming Rule 4 – “If anything in this life is certain, it’s that anyone can be creative.”

Brainstorming doesn’t stop the moment the ‘official’ session stops. The best ideas may not necessarily come from the session itself; it may suddenly leap into your consciousness while you’re about to go to bed, or when you’re talking to your colleagues about last night’s movie. That doesn’t mean your session has failed; it only means that brainstorming – like being a good person – is not something you should do only during prescribed hours. Great brainstorming sessions can act as a catalyst for breaking up the crud that’s blocking up your creative ability. I guarantee that the more you do it, the better you’ll get.


Business Ethics

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

When are we going to sell right?

by Joe John

Business EthicsSince September of 2011, I have enjoyed writing about topics that impact the nonprofit sector. Hopefully you have found them both interesting and helpful. Writing about the nonprofit sector was a challenge by my BCG associates  — the challenge being to wed both my for-profit years of experience with my involvement with nonprofits for many years as well.

It has been fun. I was preparing another article this week focusing on communications among board members and the communities they serve. But then IT hit me. The “IT” was yet ANOTHER wave of newspaper and TV news that just took me over the edge.

The edge: The lack of public confidence; compliance departments growing; market conduct issues; the disappearance of Business Ethics. Serious issues in doing business that won’t go away. I got irate, again, and so I decided to dust off a speech I made a number of years ago to a professional group.

Our editors have helped me condense it into a white paper. I am using it simply as a forum to voice my unease about a problem that hasn’t gone away, and I’m getting very annoyed that ethical selling and business ethics is a topic we need to address. WHY is that!? Oh, well. Perhaps you’ll share my sentiments when you read the presentation.

I wish I could say “enjoy” — at least I’m hoping you will share my sentiments about ethical issues in the business world that just won’t go away.

To read this white paper, go to the upper right-side of this Website’s home page to “document links.”


The Laws of Motion for Non Profit Organizations

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Was Sir Isaac Newton on a Non Profit Board?

Isaac NewtonOK. So was Sir Isaac Newton on a non profit board of directors? Possibly.

No, this isn’t a physics lesson. But it is time for you and your board to analyze the inertia of your group to see if it is content to be “at rest,” or if it needs a good “push” (or nudge). Newton’s first law states that every object will remain at rest unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. So who on your non profit board (or outside the board) will be that “external force” to move your board from inactivity to inertia?

This is what Newton is saying about boards in his first law: “…there is a natural tendency of objects to keep on doing what they’re doing. All objects resist changes in their state of motion…” unless acted upon.

Oh, sure, every board has some members who are doers — always moving and never at rest. They want to get things moving. They are self-starters and don’t need a “push”. But how many other board members sit around and wait for that external force (whatever or whomever it may be) to move them into action to accomplish the goals and objectives of organization?

In simple terms, Newton’s law says that if your board member has a velocity of “zero,” then in reality, your board member is “at rest.” Gee, go figure. Only when an external force is applied, perhaps a “call-to-action,” will the velocity of your board member move from zero. I’m not saying how fast that person will be going, but at least he/she would then be moving past zero. On the plus side, some motion is better than none — that’s one of my laws of non-profit boards.

Step back and reflect on all the high energy level activities that are typically required of board members: friend raising, fund raising, grant writing, speech writing, volunteering for special events and the list goes on. Despite the numerous responsibilities that need to be carried out, how many non profit board members are operating at “zero” velocity?

Well, there are “pushes” and then there are “pushes” or “nudges.” And that’s where Newton’s second law of non profit boards comes into focus.

“Acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass.” Well, here’s a very easy formula: substitute “doer” for “force” and “non-doer” for “mass”. Thus, the greater the mass (of non-doing) the greater the amount of force needed to accelerate the object. Wow! Just how much energy do people have to expend to move non-doers to some form of activity? Is that why board activities are typically carried out by so few people because they much rather expend their own energy POSITIVELY rather than expending all their energy to move a non-doer into activity?

Do you have people who currently exhibit the leadership skills to move your non profit organization in a forward direction — the ones who will be that “external force”? Keep in mind that it’s not fair that they have to expend enormous amounts of energy to move the masses.

In the ideal world, these leaders should only be asked to exert a friendly nudge to move the entire organization from that zero velocity to a speed that is in sync with the goals and objectives of the group. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why all boards should have board member assessments and accountability measures. After all, if the velocity of a board member is always going to be zero, why keep that person?

Yes, Newton really did understand non profit boards. And “No,” I don’t think I’ll discuss his third law: To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. Now that would be an interesting discussion, wouldn’t it?

By Joseph John

Decision Making: Know your style

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Decision MakingEach of us tends to have a favorite decision making style.

After all, we have been making decisions our entire lives! Yes, most of them have been personal decisions about our own lives, but they are decisions and we are comfortable making them.

However, our personal decision making styles may well work fine for us, but may not work effectively for

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making organizational decisions.

Beware of applying your personal style to your organization. It may not work very well.

For example, some of us are “thinkers.” We want to think through a problem or challenge are arrive at a decision based on evidence, facts, etc. Others of us are “feelers.” We make decisions emotionally based on how we feel about a situation, problem or challenge.

Quite frankly, neither of these styles, alone, are appropriate for an organizational decision. Certainly thinking and analyzing are fine techniques, but just thinking may not get you where you need to go. And we all have emotions that are applicable to most situations.

But using these alone are inappropriate. Just thinking about a problem does not get you input from others. And emotions should not play a role in organizational decisions. Emotion will almost always lead you astray!

What You Can Do: Evaluate your personal decision making style. How do you make personal decisions? Is this style appropriate for your organizational decisions as a manager?Just thinking and feeling are too simple and not inclusive enough for quality organizational decision making.

By Stephanie McFarland, APR, and Robert Dittmer, APR,

151 Quick Ideas for Delegating and Decision Making

Decision Making: Thinking Options!

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Effective decision making requires you to think about solutions, not just react to situations and problems.

decision makingAs you develop an appropriate decision, remember that there is always more than one way to accomplish something. So, think about options. Different ways of achieving an outcome. Options both from the perspective of what outcome you would like to get as well as options on how to actually achieve each outcome.

As you examine your data, think about the likely potential outcomes you want from your decision. List those outcomes. There may well me more than one acceptable and possible outcome, so list each.

Then, examine each outcome and list the potential ways to achieve that outcome. Again, there’s always more than one way to get to a final destination, so think creatively using your gathered information and identify all the different ways to there to each outcome.

Then, of course, you have to choose – or, if you are using a consensus process – the group needs to choose. But they do so having all the information organized in logical ways.

What You Can Do:  Think back on all the techniques you were taught in deciding what to do personally with decisions in your life. Many require you to list pros and cons. This is a similar technique.

Armed with information and options, you, or your group, are ready to examine solutions – to make effective decisions.

By Stephanie McFarland, APR, and Robert Dittmer, APR,

151 Quick Ideas for Delegating and Decision Making