Stop the Blame! Six questions to get to continuous improvement.

Stop the Blame! Six questions to get to continuous improvement.

“It is crucial….to identify aspects of the process that worked well and why, and changes to the process that will improve success in the future.”*

If you do 10 things in a day, and 9 of them go fabulously, which one do you focus on? Right. The one thing that was a bust. People seem to find it easier to complain than to acknowledge things that are going well.

The same thing happens when we debrief after a program, project or event.  The default feedback I hear from clients seems to be, “well, in general it went well but……” followed by a litany of things that went wrong. “

We focus on the things that didn’t go as planned. Or rather, we focus on the things that weren’t planned at all.  The things that went wrong. The unanticipated malfunctions.

We glide right over the first part of the feedback, “in general it went well…” and dive right into trying to fix what went wrong. Worse, we lapse into the blame game – “who messed up?”

What we don’t do is spend time on what went right.

What if we asked a different set of questions? What if we held off the negative dissection, and first asked these questions:

  1. “What was the  biggest success of the night / event / program?”
  2. “What did we do that made that happen?”
  3.  “What else went right, and What did we do to make that happen?”
  4. “What can we learn from that?”
  5. “Is there anything we did that we can transfer to other programs/ projects/ events?”

Observe, acknowledge, and deconstruct the success.

Only THEN move on to what could have been done better. In fact, avoid the blame game completely by asking,

  1. “What ‘changes to the process will improve success in the future?’”

These words from Barry Lord and Gail Lord, in Manual of Museum Management, offer a positive way to improve on any program or process. It acknowledges that things could be better than they are – no matter what level they start at.

Framing the ‘what went wrong’ question to focus on process instead of who avoids laying blame on a person, and starts the brain working at analyzing procedure.

This applies to every process. From board evaluations to gala events; from personnel reviews to budget analysis; from Thanksgiving dinners to conversations with a partner. It acknowledges that things could be better – more successful – and moves the conversation to developing conditions for success.

Next time you do a debrief, start with the positive. THEN STAY POSITIVE. Watch how much more thoughtful the discussion can be.

Click here to receive more tips and thoughts on board relations, planning and nonprofit management; or get in touch for a no-obligation conversation about how you can improve your board meetings.

*Barry & Gail Lord, The Manual of Museum Management

 

Can your board answer “What Is Your Organization Identity?”

Can your board answer “What Is Your Organization Identity?”

What makes you different from another institution? Why are there 5 different gardens? Why 8 different homeless shelters? Why 6 different animal welfare organizations?

What are YOU?

Can you answer that question without resorting to “we are not them?” A lot of things are not them. What are YOU?

If you can answer that question, then you can lead your institution, making decisions that affirm your identity, while discarding those that are at odds with who you are and aspire to be.

If your staff can answer that question, then your identity becomes implanted in the minds of your clients and stakeholders, because their every act reflects that conviction of who you are.

If your board can answer that question, then they can stand in front of legislators, funders, neighbors, and friends, and affirm your identity in the minds of your community.

This is who you are

It is this identity that you bring to the table when collaborating with your peers.  In collaboration, you each bring resources and skills to the table. How do your peers see themselves? What is their identity? What do they bring to the table? How are you complementary?

It is this identity that colors your pitch when you talk to government officials, about how you and your peers can work together, knowing who will bring which skills and expertise, and why each of you are necessary.

You can see this at work in America’s Garden Capital. The Philadelphia area is considered America’s Garden Capital, with more than 30 public gardens, arboreta, and historic landscapes within 30 miles of the city. They’ve joined together to promote the region, while retaining their own unique identities.  One promotes native plants; another has manicured French and English style formal gardens; another mixes outdoor sculpture with extensive grounds.

This is how you make decisions

With firm identities, they promote themselves individually and collectively, boosting their attendance.  If an opportunity comes along that doesn’t match their identity, it is easier to reject the opportunity, and actively seek more suitable opportunities. If there are five conferences to which they could send their staff, they consider which ones are most congruent with furthering their mission – the decision is easier to make. If funds are limited, they consider which capital improvement supports their identity, and decide accordingly.

Understanding what defines your organization and what you stand for is a critical foundation for decision-making. It is part and parcel of manifesting your values and priorities in the direction and actions you take. It creates a unified understanding of who you are, across board, staff, constituents and community.

Affirming this identity is integral to a solid strategic planning framework.

What’s your identity?

From Diversity to Inclusion through Real Conversations

From Diversity to Inclusion through Real Conversations

What does it take to build inclusion instead of diversity?

I started this weekend with a tentative blog post, but when I watched this video I was blown away. I have to share it.

This conversation among inclusion and leadership consultants Desiree Lynn Adaway and Ericka Hines, facilitated by Creating the Future founder, Hildy Gottlieb, is one of the most impactful and inspirational conversations I’ve watched. At an hour long (less if you listen at 1.25X), it is both thought provoking and inspiring….and a little daunting to contemplate.

  • What does it take to move a company, a house of worship, a government department, a nonprofit organization, a community from giving lip service to diversity to being inclusive?
  • What does it make possible when you do make that move?
  • What do people need to understand, to be assured of, to feel, in order for them to make that move?

What would it make possible for your organization if YOU make that move? What would you need to have in place to make that possible?

 

Presume Good Will – redux

Presume Good Will – redux

It’s hard to write a blog post in December without somehow bringing in the winter festivals.  They are hard to ignore. Whether we observe a festival or not, we get caught up in end-of-year fundraising appeals; endless staff, neighborhood, organization and family parties; last minute shopping, travel and cooking.

Yet with all this busyness, it is also a time when, regardless of your faith, it is a little easier to see the good will in others.

So today I refer to an earlier essay on Presuming Good Will. Originally written in 2010, the message still resonates.

No one is on a board of trustees because she wants to see the agency die. No one is on a board of directors because he wants to run it into the ground.
There may be strong disagreements, but it’s important to assume the disagreement is based on good intentions, and presume good will on the
part of the ‘other.’

Let’s use this time of year to really see the good will in our colleagues, friends and family. Let’s recognize that we can all agree that we want what’s best for our organization, even if we may not agree on what that best is.

Then let’s bring this perspective with us into the new year, and remember the good will we share as we build towards our respective visions for our communities.

If you are celebrating a holiday this season, I hope that it is warm and meaningful. If not, may you find the time to enjoy the lights and festivities that others provide.

Happy New Year!

Susan

Learn more on building a team out of your board members, and bringing together board and staff at www.detwiler.com or reach me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com.

Can you Blend Millennials and Boomers?

Can you Blend Millennials and Boomers?

Congratulations!  You’ve built a board with members of every decade of adult life. You have 20-somethings, 50-somethings, 70-somethings, and every decade in between.

Now, how do you strategically take advantage of the fresh ideas while integrating them into existing relationships?

Losing institutional knowledge has dramatic consequences. Leonard, Swap and Barton researched the consequences in corporations, with great lessons for nonprofits.  Losing the knowledge of a resident board expert can mean losing key relationships with donors, losing key background on why the community is wary of the agency, not knowing whom to call in important government offices, missing important foundation meet and greets. These relationships were built up over time and the proverbial Rolodex – or CRM – can’t help.

By having a spread of ages on the board, you’ve made these consequences a lot less likely. Since you didn’t wait until all the incumbents retired, you now have a fertile field for collaboration between old and new. Make mentoring a new board member part of the portfolio of existing members and you take a step in the right direction. Ask board members to take new members with them when they meet with donors, foundations and community representatives.

Don’t be afraid that this implies to the world that the older board member is on the way out. Not at all – quite the opposite. It conveys to the community that you have succession planning built into the ethos of the agency. It builds trust. It builds confidence in the longevity of the organization. When the older member leaves the board, the new member already has a budding relationship with the foundation.
Internally, pairing new and returning board members builds trust between them. It’s hard to view an older member as a dinosaur when you’ve spent time with her one-on-one and learned her philosophy of building relationships. It’s hard to view a new member as an upstart when you’ve spent time hearing his new ideas and exchanged thoughts on how to execute them.

The relationships continue when the older board members leave. The trust they’ve built allows newer board members to continue calling on retired members, keeping them engaged. It’s a win-win-win for the organization, the board, and the individuals involved.

Putting different generations on a board together is a great first step. Building a team out of them requires strategic thought, but the benefits are manifold.

For more about nonprofit succession planning, board education and facilitation, go to www.detwiler.com, or get in touch with me directly at sdetwiler@detwiler.com. If you have an experience to share, let me know!

A Board Exercise in Gratitude

A Board Exercise in Gratitude

Where there is no gratitude, there is no meaningful movement; human affairs become rocky, painful, coldly indifferent, unpleasant, and finally break off altogether. The social ‘machinery’ grinds along and soon seizes up.

Margaret Visser

Thanksgiving is an obvious time to write about being thankful, and it’s nice to have a time to stop and consider all that we have to be grateful for. We think about our friends, our family, our health.

It’s also not such a bad time to stop and contemplate how awesome your board is, and how much they’ve contributed to the well being of your organization.

When was the last time you thanked your board members? They’re each making your agency a priority in their lives, giving time, talent and treasure. They could be giving it somewhere else. They could also NOT be giving. But there they are, week after week, month after month, making difficult decisions, acting as cheerleaders, supporting your work, being ambassadors for your agency.

Each board member is the equivalent of a major donor. Whether or not the dollars are substantial, she has the capacity to make your life easier, introduce you to supporters, provoke new ideas, stabilize a situation. She should be told how much she means to you.

Quote from Cicero on gratitudeHere’s a simple exercise. If you’re the Executive Director, the next time you write a thank you note to a donor, also write one to a board member. Do that until you’ve written one to every member of your board.  If you’re the board president, sit down and hand write a thank you note to each board member. If you can, name a specific action for which you are grateful.

Do you want to cultivate an attitude of gratitude within the board? At each meeting, assign one or two board members to offer a very brief statement of gratitude around the organization. It might be why they are grateful the organization exists. It might be what they appreciate about a staff member. It might be what committee they are particularly grateful to.

In many faith traditions, there is the concept “do not withhold the wages of the laborer.” It’s obvious how that applies to staff, but the wages of a volunteer are less obvious.

The wages of a volunteer – the wages of your board members – are the thanks he receives for his work.


Happy Thanksgiving!

The psychology of gratitude and its benefits are being researched throughout the fields of education, and migrating to the business world. Some readings on gratitude can be found at gratefulness.org.

Visionary strategic planning is easier when board members are comfortable with each other. Exercises in gratitude are one way to facilitate this trust. For more about strategic planning and facilitating retreats, please contact me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com or www.detwiler.com.