Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

All Aboard!: A Tool for Changemakers to Create Impact

by: Marcelo Pinell

Setting sail on the sea of social impact can be a daunting and overwhelming feat. Some, out of fear, have yet to leave shore while others have been tossed and turned by the challenging waves of the social sector. As the newest member to step on board Blue Garnet, I have been privileged to navigate these vast waters with a team of skilled and experienced social impact geeks who have steered through the rough seas, withstood the storms and driven the high winds of strategy to help leaders and their teams chart their ultimate impact.

Recently, I had the opportunity to witness these social impact geeks in action as I provided support for our Impact Formula Strategy Lab series. We had three eager organizations initially commit to investing in the development of their strategic thinking for three sessions spread across May through July. I was able to join the second session in June and watched the teams progress all the way up to a fourth session this November, which was later added due to popular demand. As it turns out, the work done during this Lab series was not what I expected. The following are some key insights that I walked away with after the Lab. I hope my reflections serve as a fresh perspective on the value of this Lab series in helping leaders create impact.

 

The right dosage can help leaders and their teams address their outcomes

Truth be told, not every nonprofit can afford consultants who can extensively work with them one-on-one for months on end. Plus, some nonprofits may not even need the full services of a consulting firm. Strategy Lab Session 4 PhotoThe Strategy Lab proved this point for me. Providing the correct dosage of support can help leaders and their teams address their outcomes. From May through July (and then once more in November), we trained and educated teams from three organizations. Once a month, they attended a half-day session in which they actively learned, participated, and worked through their Impact Formula. These teams would then go back to their organizations to work on assignments from the session and would return for another session the following month to gain more clarity and continue to build on their work. It was an iterative process that demanded hard work, but after the Lab series, these teams left with the tools and confidence they needed to head back as change agents for their organizations.

 

Consultants are not the changemakers, leaders are!

I’m sure you’ve heard this proverbial saying before: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” I began to see this proverb unfold before my eyes as I watched the Lab participants wrestle with strategic questions. More than giving them a business model, the Lab gave participants the time and space to work as a team with other people in their organization, which is typically difficult to do due to competing priorities and schedules. Additionally, the Lab allowed participants to gain awareness of a holistic view on achieving their “ends,” ask key learning questions and acquire strategic tools so they could think critically about their organization’s impact.

The assumption so often is that the professional consultant creates the impact. Though there is a place for consultants, no one can replace the passion and hours that these leaders give to the people they serve. If you can help equip a leader and deputize them as a change agent, then he or she can build a culture of change.

 

Reaching your intended impact is an intense, iterative and invaluable process

During the Lab, all of the teams got on board and steered through some serious strategic questions. As they sought to gain clarity, though, I noticed that their comfort articulating their theory of change interestingly and surprisingly took a slight dip during the second session. Strategy Lab Session 2 photoOn a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), the teams rated their comfort articulating their theory of change a 3.6 after the first session, which then dropped down to a 3.3 after session 2. By the third session, however, the rating jumped back up to a 3.8. The data seems to point to the reality of the intense and iterative nature in building discernment. From my perspective, the teams were initially shocked by some big waves regarding their theory of change, but they gained more confidence and clarity over time to create a vision for impact.

The teams were able to create a vision for impact not only because they iterated on their own work, but also because they learned from each organization’s different approach to tackling its Impact Statement. The value of peer learning was so great that the teams asked for a fourth session, which we completed last week. This additional session allowed the teams to check-in and hold each other accountable to their work.

Navigating the waters of social impact can be overwhelming, but the opportunity to help these organizations map out their impact was an invaluable journey for both them and me. I jumped on board the Lab and saw that it provides the right dosage to help these changemakers “zero in on impact.” Great job, teams! I look forward to the impact that comes forth as a result of your labor. Keep on sailing!

Setting (and achieving) goals take guts!

by: Giselle Timmerman and Taylor Chamberlin

Over the last several months, we’ve explored two of the three key components to setting and achieving individual goals (see developing a vision and establishing a plan). Today, let’s finish by tackling the final component: commitment and guts.

achieving goalsWhen you have developed a vision and established a plan to achieve it, the third step to effective goal-setting is to make these behavioral changes stick.

Much like a muscle, you can exhaust your willpower when you use too much of it. Plan ahead to conserve willpower and prevent yourself from slipping into situations that deter you from your goal. For instance, dieters can preempt future desires by knowing before entering a restaurant exactly what they will do and say when the dessert menu comes. To stay on track and accomplish your goal, identify a handful of obstacles that could block progress and decide exactly what you will do if these hurdles arise.

Another way to ensure perseverance towards your goal is to develop courage in small ways. To activate a “growth mindset,” you’ll need to manage fear of failure by courageously embracing mistakes as a necessary part of learning. Find creative ways to push yourself by exercising courage, and as an added benefit you will build your sense of self-efficacy, thus improving your ability to stick to your goal. I find Eleanor Roosevelt’s adage useful: Do something that scares you everyday.

Lastly, ensure that the activities you must do to achieve your become habits, which require far less willpower to maintain. To build new habits:

  1. Use cues that trigger your unconscious mind, such as a framed photo of mom next to the phone.
  2. Be honest with yourself every day on what you did to make progress. Ask yourself: How much effort did I put in today? How much progress did that create?
  3. Hook a new habit to an old one. This can be as simple as remembering to floss after you brush.
  4. Reduce the level of “activation energy” it takes to start your new habit. For example, put your running shoes right by the door, or keep your to do list visible on your desktop to easily tackle when you are waiting on hold.
  5. Enlist an accountability partner or coach (every great performer, from athletes to surgeons to managers now use them) and include them in the process of achieving your goals and building your habits.

There you have it – a researched and empirically tested way to dramatically improve your ability to achieve your goals. Blue Garnet works with clients to define and achieve success at the organizational level, but it’s a treat to share with you some tips for planning at the individual level.

Please let us know how you put your goals into practice, and what your experience has been with learning to achieve them. And of course if you have any questions, email us at hello@bluegarnet.net!

Tackling the “impact question”

By Jennifer Shen 

How many times have you heard the word “impact” or “outcomes” this week? We’re betting quite a few — we’d even say they’re buzzwords of the year.

In fact, at the recent 2015 Green Hasson Janks Nonprofit Conference, the discussion touched on these themes. We heard, “data is king […,] you need to measure results and understand your true costs […,] create case studies that highlight impact […,] and exceptional leaders are always looking 3-5 years out. Yup, though Panelists Fred AliRegina BirdsellPegine Graysonand Scott Pansky were addressing different issues like leadership, marketing and volunteerism, we heard all their observations as related to creating exceptional impact.

These themes are centered on a critical question that still begs to be answered: so what? Or put less provocatively: What is the specific impact your organization seeks? And how does what you do create that impact?

We believe a different approach is necessary to operate in today’s outcomes-focused world. One that aligns your intentions with what you do and the results of your efforts. Here are three tidbits to get you started:

impact, biz model, and learning are linked

Your impact, business model, and evaluation can and should be linked

1) Start with the end in mind. Creating social change is complex and takes a long time. Start by focusing on what you want your outcome to be over the long term, then develop your strategies to achieve that impact, rather than taking a quick-fix approach to answering “the impact question” on your latest grant report.

2) Link your strategy for impact, your business model, and your learning and evaluation efforts (see visual to the right). This link creates alignment and integration — you don’t have to separate the work of creating social change from figuring out whether or not that work is indeed making an impact. These elements are and should be mutually reinforcing.

3) Develop a common language. We need a shared language and reasonable expectations for funders and nonprofits to talk about output, outcomes and impact. Our current system incentivizes short-term thinking, and expectations around impact are often unrealistic. By creating opportunities for communication on this topic with both funders and nonprofits, we can begin a conversation that will create a more honest and effective social sector.

If you’re interested in taking this approach at your organization, take the next step by attending our upcoming workshop, “What You Need to Know about Outcomes as a Nonprofit Leader,” on October 23rd at First 5 LA’s downtown offices. Register now as space is limited, and learn more on our webpage.      


About Green Hasson Janks

Green Hasson Janks is one of the premier accounting firms serving nonprofits in Southern California. We have over 30 years of experience serving public charities and private foundations, and we are well-versed on current nonprofit benchmarking and governance issues. We offer our nonprofit clients a wide range of professional services including accounting, auditing, management consulting and tax planning and compliance.

Thank you to Donella Wilson and Green Hasson Janks for sharing this post on their blog!

You’ve got a goal–what comes next?

by: Giselle Timmerman and Taylor Chamberlin

There are three key components to setting and achieving individual goals: developing a vision (see our post on this topic here), establishing a plan, and committing to the journey. Last month, we shared how you can develop a clear vision; today, let’s tackle planning for success.

Planning

You know your goal and why it matters to you. Most people stop here, and that is why so many goals fall to the wayside (over half of Americans don’t make it to June on their New Years Resolutions[1]). Consider the reality of where you are today, and what actions or improvements are necessary to close the gap between where you are now and where you want to be. To focus your energy on activities that matter to successfully achieving your goal, ask yourself: What areas do I need to develop to realize this goal?

Think of the 3-4 activities that matter most to achieving your goal—the “how” to achieve your “what” (i.e. your goal)—as your “big rock” activities. Here is a quick clip from Franklin Covey explaining why we must prioritize the big rocks in our life to accomplish our goals. Write down your 3-4 activities in priority order, to translate your goal into real behaviors that get rid of any wiggle room.

For example, say I want to learn a new language. First, I would do some visioning and define the exact proficiency level I am aiming for, and then I would define the major activities needed to be successful, such as signing up for a class and finding a language partner. After you write down the major activities (big rocks) to achieve your goal, jot down any resources or tools related to those activities that you would need.

Stay tuned for part 3 of our goal-focused series, coming next month!

 


 

[1] Mona Cholabi, data journalist at FiveThirtyEight, on NPR, January 4, 2015 

To Change or Not to Change (your strategic plan, that is)

Shannon Johnson (11/14/14)

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” -Woody Allen

Our clients have hags…BHAGs that is (also known as big, hairy audacious goals). You have to if you are working to solve complex social problems. While Woody Allen’s quote is good for a laugh, we definitely do not think that planning is futile. We fundamentally believe that organizations need to have strategic plans to achieve their BHAGs. We’ll take the liberty to translate Mr. Allen’s quote to “The best plans will (and should) adapt over time.” I know, not quite as funny.

We were excited to see that the folks at Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) shared the same view in a recent article and webinar “Strategic Philanthropy in a Complex World.”  SSIR did a great job of explaining (and visualizing) the concept of emergent strategies. The concept is this:

  1. You start with your strategic plan to accomplish your BHAG (intended strategies)
  2. Some of those plans don’t pan out (unrealized strategies) – let’s drop those
  3. Fortunately, some plans do work (deliberate strategies) – of course, we’ll keep these
  4. Hopefully we’re learning along the way, and new ideas and opportunities arise (emergent strategies). Now, what to do with these? As Lloyd Christmas says in Dumb and Dumber, “We don’t usually pick up hitchhikers. But I’m-a gonna go with my instincts on this one. Saddle up, partner!

Features_upfordebate2

The SSIR language may be a bit formal, but the concept is simple: Start with your best thinking at the time, figure out what’s working, and adapt your plans with new strategies as they come. The concept of emergent strategies is freeing. You do not have to have it all figured out when you set out to create a strategic plan. Emergent strategy gives you permission to be “strategically opportunistic” and take advantage of new opportunities with confidence. And confidence looks great on you, by the way.

A charter school client of ours appreciated the nuance of being “strategically opportunistic.” Despite the constant flux of California’s education climate (due to frequent political and funding shifts), our client set a strategic direction with its staff and board leaders. They created a coherent vision for impact, prioritized specific investments and strategies, and considered various financial scenarios. Recently, this client had to let some unrealized strategies go. But by remaining flexible, they have stayed focused on achieving their overall goal of equipping students for college success.

Tell us: have you had to let go of an “unrealized strategy” recently? When did you know it was time to let it go? Have you had the opportunity to take advantage of an “emergent strategy”? Let us know in the comments section, or email us at hello@bluegarnet.net to share your thoughts!

 

The Inside Scoop on Strengths-Based Performance

by: Giselle Nicholson (10/16/14)

“Tell me about your strengths.” We are all familiar with this often-dreaded interview question. Even if you happen to avoid it in an interview, any complete performance review will force you to confront this question and discuss your strengths.

But why? Do your strengths really matter? Is it even possible to self-assess your strengths? Empirical research answers with an unequivocal YES. As a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program, I’ve followed this research for eight years. I find three themes from the research to be highly relevant to leadership development efforts: 1) The ability of leaders to leverage strengths is critical. Awareness of how skills match strengths and how to leverage strengths as motivators provides high return on effort. 2) Skills are important, but approaching your tasks by capitalizing on your strengths will get you further. 3) High performing teams focus on developing positive relationships, positive communication, and a positive work climate — matching strengths with goals fuels this positivity and performance.

So why do so many of us fall short in applying our strengths? Because knowing your strengths is not the same as using them. When taking a strengths assessment, most of us briefly reflect then think we’re done. We don’t put our strengths to work, so we never reap the rewards of deliberate, ongoing action. To help you move beyond the threshold between self-awareness and action, here is an overview of a strengths-based, ongoing team development activity we’re doing at Blue Garnet.

First, a little background: we have been experimenting with and learning from a variety of strengths tools since 2008 (half our company’s lifetime). As a professional services firm, we need exceptional talent to provide exceptional services, so we take individual and team development very seriously. We began by testing two tools: the Values in Action character strengths assessment and Gallup’s StrengthsFinder. We use these resources for hiring, for team building, and with clients for coaching, strategy retreats, leadership development workshops, culture assessments, etc.

Recently, we dug into our collective strengths to better understand how our individual roles sustain a culture of learning and growth. We believe that shared leadership and collaborative learning (one of Blue Garnet’s values) are linchpins to sustaining a positive firm culture – so off we went!

Instead of revisiting our results from Gallup’s StrengthsFinder, we experimented with Marcus Buckingham’s StandOut assessment. StrengthsFinder identifies your top five talent themes, whereas StandOut identifies two primary roles that will make you most effective at work. Buckingham helped develop StrengthsFinder and his StandOut tool lists predictive “talents” for your two roles, many of which are similar to the StrengthsFinder talents. We appreciated this overlap and used Buckingham’s new tool to build on our previous learnings.

After individual StandOut assessments, our team gathered for three “workouts.” We use the term workout to emphasize that these assessments aren’t prescriptive; they require us to identify, discuss, and work out what these strengths and roles mean, individually and as a team.

  • Workout #1: Strengths Refresher. First, we discussed our strengths-based philosophy and reviewed how we apply positive leadership practices to our work. Then, we went over the StandOut tool and discussed our individual roles, what our commonalities are, and where we differ. Our “homework” was to use two worksheets throughout the next few weeks as practical, energizing ways to deepen our individual understanding of our strengths and roles in action.
  • Workout #2: Team Mapping. Using a visual map of our roles and strengths, we had a reflective conversation on questions such as: Where do our roles and strengths intersect? Where do we balance each other out? Are there gaps on our team? How does our unique mix of strengths factor into our culture and the “feel” of everyday team life? As homework, we gave 360º feedback to every team member on what contributions we value and what we need from each other, looking forward, to achieve positive deviance in performance.
  • Workout #3: 360º Feedback. We each shared our thoughts on the (confidential) feedback we received, leading to a rich conversation about our roles and team contributions. Then, we shared examples from the feedback where we observed our firm values in action. We learned what our values mean to each team member, where we have alignment and strong evidence of values in action, and which values may be underdeveloped or difficult to put into action. Each individual then crafted commitment statements, which are critical for taking action, fostering positive energy, and enabling successful growth for our team.

Positive, strengths-based leadership has demonstrated improvement for many organizational outcomes, such as profitability, productivity, quality, innovation, customer loyalty, and employee engagement. There are a variety of assessments and tools to choose from, but I’ll let you in on a secret – the tool you use is far less important than what you do with it. It’s all about execution and making your learnings stick.

sample organizational strengths tree

sample organizational strengths tree

For our clients, strengths-based tools and techniques have been instrumental in facilitating complex organization-wide conversations, improving talent development practices, managing culture change, and growing well (see a sample strengths tree to the left). For our team, continuous strengths-based learning improves our communication and the way we work together, encourages ongoing professional development, and serves as a lens for how we approach tough questions and solutions. As a ‘learner’ strong in ‘futuristic’ and ‘maximizer’ strengths, I confidently believe these exercises drive our team’s excellence.

We hope you enjoyed this peek into one of Blue Garnet’s ongoing firm development practices. Please let us know which strengths development tools you find most useful, and what has worked best for building your team’s culture. And of course if you have any questions, email us at hello@bluegarnet.net!

 

 

 

 

Ditch Your Mission Statement

by: Jennifer Shen (9/24/2014)

Woah, woah, woah. We don’t want you to incur the wrath of the IRS, but most mission statements are simply not enough to drive high performance and guide you to your intended impact.

A useful, high-quality mission statement “focuses the organization on action. It creates a disciplined organization.”[1] It “sets out the reason for the organization’s existence and drives programs and services, operational goals, and day-to-day activities.”[2] But because most mission statements are also used for legal purposes, marketing, and promotions, they usually end up as an inspiring catchphrase on a t-shirt, not a clarifying statement of the organization’s purpose or ultimate impact.

Alternatively, mission statements are also often created by a committee to offend no one—in other words, designed to be broad, wordy, and practically meaningless. For example, can you guess whose mission statement this is?

We will strive to integrate virtual educational opportunities in order to competently operationalize impact to the highest standards.

In truth, it was created by the Mission Statement Generator, which recombines nouns, verbs, and adjectives into prototypical and jargon-filled mission statements. Admit it: for just a second, you thought it was real.

Sample Impact Statement

So, if a mission statement isn’t a true “North Star” and doesn’t provide the guidance you need for making tough decisions, what’s a leader and strategic thinker to do? We at Blue Garnet believe an Impact Statement is the best tool to create focus, drive clarity, and help you to become a high performing organization. An Impact Statement defines in one sentence how the world is different in ten years because of your organization. It includes a scale, timeframe, unit of change, and clear impact, to drive operations and galvanize action. The best Impact Statements incorporate a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) and answer the question “so what?” for your organization.

Are you ready to “ditch your mission statement” and take accountability for results to a new level with an Impact Statement?

[1] Light, Mark. Results Now for Nonprofits: Purpose, Strategy, Operations, and Governance. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Print.

[2] O’Connor, Judith. The Planning Committee: Shaping Your Organization’s Future. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Nonprofit Boards, 1997. Print.

Nurture Your Inner Learner With Three McAdam Award Finalists

by Taylor Chamberlin 9/1/14 (updated 10/8/14)

Have you read any inspiring, insightful, or downright useful books on nonprofit management lately? If so, odds are it was a nominee  for The Terry McAdam Book Award. This annual award program, which honors Terry McAdam, who devoted his life to improving the nonprofit management field, selects the nonprofit sector book that best shares knowledge and builds the social change movement. Blue Garnet’s Jennifer Shen is thrilled to be a member of the selection committee, which announced a winning nominee at The Alliance for Nonprofit Management National Conference on September 17-19th in Austin, Texas.

We at Blue Garnet have an innate love of learning, so we strive to cultivate a similar curiosity in others. That means it’s that time of year once again (see last year’s posts here and here) to nurture your inner learner by sharing the 2014 McAdam Book Award finalists.

Creating Value in Nonprofit-Business Collaborations book coverCreating Value in Nonprofit-Business Collaborations: New Thinking and Practice (by James E. Austin and M. May Seitanidi)

Everywhere you turn, the nonprofit sector is buzzing about how collaboration can improve the work that we do. This timely and important contribution answers the all-important question, “What the heck is a value proposition?”, then gives practical advice for thinking about partnerships through a collaborative value framework. Austin and Seitanidi have a “pracademic” approach, sharing insights and guidance by balancing case studies, evidence of effectiveness, and storytelling. You can read more about transformational nonprofit-business partnerships by purchasing their book here.

Content Marketing for Nonprofits Book Cover

Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money (by Kivi Leroux Miller)

In this outcomes-focused world, it is critical to know how to effectively share your story. Content Marketing for Nonprofits can serve as your handbook on creating a communication strategy that will help you climb up the “engagement ladder” to inspire behavioral change. Many organizations find creating a marketing strategy intimidating, but Miller’s approach makes communications mapping accessible.  You can purchase Content Marketing for Nonprofits here!

 The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook book coverThe Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook: Fully Integrating Online Service into Volunteer Involvemen(by Jayne Cravens)

Volunteers are critical to the success of many nonprofits, but all too often organizations don’t have a strategy in place for volunteer management. We believe that meaningful volunteer engagement can become a strategic advantage– we even highlighted our partnership with a foundation helping to build volunteer management capacity in our last newsletter. We were heartened to see a guidebook with up-to-date insights and advice on integrating online activities into volunteer management, especially considering the rapid change and innovation of the last decade. If you seek a easy-to-use and forward-thinking guide to integrated volunteer involvement, look no further! You can purchase The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook here.

Now it’s your turn: Have you read anything lately that you think deserves an award? What do you think about the 2014 McAdam Book Award finalists? Let us know by commenting below!

Update: the winner is…drumroll please… Kivi Leroux Miller for Content Marketing for Nonprofits! Read more about her work and this year’s McAdam Book Awards here. Congrats Kivi!

Balance Realism and Idealism by Embracing Your Inner “Corporate Idealist”

Our "BFF" Christine Bader shares her thoughts on Corporate Idealists in an adapted excerpt of her book The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil.

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Are You Creating a Positive Culture? Learn How to do it from two local leaders.

Culture is one of those things everyone believes is important, but that most do not attend to well. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that culture is fluid, always evolving, and influenced by a complex variety of factors. Culture must evolve and flourish to support innovation and tomorrow’s results. Yet why do we still struggle with culture change? There are leadership practices that when embodied and lived as habits can help fix this disconnect. Let’s take a look at a few of them...

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