Just Say No…..3 Keys to Staying Focused

Just Say No…..3 Keys to Staying Focused

Focus “means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are…innovation is saying no to 1000 things.”   Steve Jobs, 1997

We are a naturally giving people. Those of us working in the nonprofit world, or volunteering on boards, are preconditioned to saying yes.

“Of course we can help with that.”
“That sounds like a great idea, how can I help?”
“They’re doing such great work, we should help them.”
Can you do this? Yes.”
“We need more staff next week, can you send over some people? Of course.”
The city needs more day care centers, can you put one in? Sure.”

Working in this arena such a pleasure – we are among people who, like us, are naturally giving. It is a joy to be surrounded by people whose first impulse is to say yes.

Unfortunately, it also means that we have to take care to not dissipate our own energy and resources, leaving less for the programs and work which we have declared to be OUR focus.

SAYING “NO”

When Steve Jobs said that focus “means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are,” he was talking about his own company. When Brené Brown called focus her word of the year, she expanded the meaning to personal focus. What can we do if we set our own goals, and minimize the extraneous pulls on our attention? Inc. Magazine also expanded on these ideas, with specific guidance on ways to maximize focus.

What does this mean in the world of nonprofits? It means the same thing.

We naturally want to help the world; we naturally want to do everything that will contribute to our mission. But we can’t. At least not all at once.

The important thing is to decide what it is you – all of you – your board, staff, volunteers —  will focus on right now. Then stay focused on doing that. Listen to other ideas, and be ready and willing to say ‘no.’ If you can’t say ‘no,’ say ‘not now.’

There’s a reason you decided on your course of action. Bolster your resolve by reminding yourself and others what those reasons are.

  • Analyze
  • Decide
  • Remind

Focus – and success – means saying no to the rest.

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You are Hereby Invited to a Boring Job

You are Hereby Invited to a Boring Job

 “A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done.” Fred Allen

“A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.” Milton Berle

Then there’s this rubber stamp I was given, that said,

“Great idea! Assign a committee to foul it up!”

There is an image of nonprofit board committees as the place where ideas go to die a slow and lingering death; where process overcomes inspiration; where group-think strangles innovation.

But if you’re running an organization, it’s really hard to get anything done if you can’t segment off a group of people to work on specific jobs. How do you get people to work on these jobs? You invite them. Nicely.

The problem with committees is that word: “commit”.

That’s especially true in today’s society. Sometimes I feel so rushed and overwhelmed, that the thought of taking on another commitment sends me screaming in the other direction –Noooooo!!!!! You mean, I have to come to meetings and be obligated for two whole years???

But if someone said to me, “Hey, Janay has this great idea; Jim and I are going to help her make it happen. Can you join us?” my answer is probably going to at least lead to a query for more information.

Asking someone to join the Finance Committee might be deadly. Asking someone to help figure out the best way to maximize the dollars we have available for our mission…? Well, that’s intriguing.

Being offered an idea for engaging new supporters and telling them to give the idea to a committee is disheartening. Being asked to explore the idea with others and generate ways to make it work is an invitation.

Committees aren’t inherently bad. It’s how we ask people to serve that creates the deadly atmosphere surrounding them.

Invite people to MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.

Let’s change the conversation.

This is based on a January 2014 post. It bears repeating!

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Rant, Vent, Resent or Remind? Two questions to set the stage for your board’s success.

Rant, Vent, Resent or Remind? Two questions to set the stage for your board’s success.

Face it. People don’t always do what they’ve promised to do.

They mean it when they promise. They believe in the cause, and they truly believe they will accomplish the task they’ve agreed to do. Board members and program volunteers alike. They’re committed. They know it’s important.

So why don’t they actually do it?!?!

Life gets in the way. Your volunteers and board members don’t eat, sleep and breathe your mission the way your staff does. Their time frame is different from yours. Boards meet monthly or quarterly. If you’re the CEO, you’re on a daily time frame. Your board members eat sleep and breathe their own work.

So as CEOs and senior staff we rant, vent and resent that our board members need to be reminded about their reports (aren’t they grownups??) and we sigh in exasperation that our trustees haven’t made their friendraising calls (don’t they know how important this is???).

Actually, they do know how important it is. And they feel badly when they don’t follow through. But their urgent takes precedence over your necessary. No matter what the level of volunteer, our cause is just one aspect of their lives.

What’s a board president (or executive director) to do?

That’s a great question. Why don’t you ask them?

Janice, I know plan to get the board reports online a week before the next board meeting. What will it make it possible for you to do that? What do you need?

 

DeShon, I really appreciate your commitment to make 4 friendraising calls each week. What will make it possible for you to do that? What do you need from us?

For every end result we want, some things have to happen first. Sometimes we have to set the stage. Our volunteers may not be thinking that way. The questions:

“What will make it possible for you to do that?”  and
“What do you need?” 

starts the mind thinking of what those necessary things are. They may say something like, “remind me on Wednesday.” Or, “can you give me some actual words to say on the call?” Or “actually, this isn’t a great week for me, but can you sit with me on Saturday and help make those first calls?”

Whatever it is, it’s a lot more productive than ranting, and you and they have a path forward.

Now you can think about what to do with that extra energy.

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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.

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*Barry & Gail Lord, The Manual of Museum Management

 

When Consensus is a Bad Idea

When Consensus is a Bad Idea

Which is better – an idea that everyone agrees with, or one that’s the result of conflict? That depends.

It’s an interesting phenomenon. As human beings, we like being with people who agree with us. It’s comfortable. We know what others are thinking. Boards have an easier time coming to consensus.

Unfortunately, that comfortable consensus isn’t always the best solution. The discomfort that comes with having to work with people unlike yourself is actually a good thing. In fact, that ease of working together may be keeping you from taking leaps forward.

Homogeneous groups don’t come to better solutions, as Columbia University’s Katherine W. Phillips, and co-authors Katie Liljenquist and Margaret Neale have found. They’re simply convinced that they did. Heterogeneous groups, on the other hand, come to better solutions. They just don’t think that’s the case.

According to Phillips,

“When you think about diversity, it often comes with more cognitive processing and more exchange of information and more perceptions of conflict.”

What I love about this is Phillips’ phrase perceptions of conflict. Having a difference of opinion is often perceived as a conflict, and we humans tend to magnify the potential discomfort in conflict.  For most of us, our default mode is to avoid conflict, and that can lead us to avoid diversifying our boards (or staff!).

Less confidence = better outcome

In fact, it appears that this feeling of discomfort can also lead the group to have less confidence in their ultimate decision, despite actually having a better outcome.

That’s right.

Diverse groups make better decisions and have less confidence; homogeneous groups have more confidence and worse decisions.

Phillips hypothesizes that the very discomfort with diverse opinions causes the group to examine all the opinions more critically. There is less automatic acceptance, and a desire to defend one opinion versus another causes each opinion to be examined more closely.

A lot is written today about the need to diversify boards and staff, to reflect the diversity of the community we serve. We usually point to having a better understanding of needs and being better able to respond and serve those needs. What this study shows is that the benefits go well beyond reflection of the community.

Diverse groups make better decisions. What are you waiting for?

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This post is based on a report in KelloggInsight, from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, which summarizes the work published originally published in Society for Personality and Social Psychology.