Monday, December 22, 2008

Necessity is the Mother of Collaboration

The economy today forces people to be inventive - and potentially to collaborate. Non-profits are the original "do more with less" folks, and that sector's creativity at leveraging is going to be stretched to its max over the next two to three years.

As a society, we've gotten used to non-profits providing all sorts of services that perhaps government should provide and that local communities used to provide without a formal infrastructure. Services include feeding people, providing clothing and shelter, educating kids after school and on weekends, providing exposure to art and music, helping the elderly live at home and enriching their lives. Americans will continue to support some of those things - especially food, clothes and shelter - because they perceive them as necessities. And they are necessities. The other things are less essential to basic survival and its likely that people will cut their budgets for art, music, after-school education, and the like.

How will non-profits adapt to this culture? Are there opportunities that exist to leverage existing resources and develop new relationships that will result in at least a maintenance of current services, and perhaps even increase them? I believe there are.

I was just talking to a young woman who works at a NYC music school that has two main divisions: tuition-paid music lessons, and community services. The two divisions rarely if ever work together. The school owns its building, but it is not used full-time.

My colleague is responsible for community programming, and recently approached a major NYC cultural institution about a collaboration that would serve both groups' interests. Specifically, she thought it would be great to have alums of this institution serve as faculty for her school, as well as giving community concerts. This would expand the number of students to be served, it would allow these young musicians to teach and to perform, and it would enhance the school's presence in their target communities.

The original plan was to establish a new separate program and raise money for it. Now most places are looking at funding cutbacks and ways to increase revenue. Raising money for a new program probably is not going to be a priority.

Does this mean the program is dead? Not necessarily.

We talked about applying a business models to the music school. Its under-utilized is sort of like empty airline seats. At an airline, its fixed costs (equipment, infrastructure, terminals) are covered by selling a certain configuration of seats at certain prices. Once fixed costs are met, the airline has to cover its marginal costs - fuel, crew, food, etc.)- - selling other seats is gravy. That's why airlines cancel flights - haven't sold enough seats to cover fixed and marginal costs.

How would this apply to a music school? Most costs already covered by current tuition - only have marginal costs to cover for additional students; could excess cover other work? Could the school bring in PT faculty to teach retirees during day, at lower tuition cost? Cover costs, raise profile, give needed service. Adding new revenue stream is way to cover fixed/marginal costs INSTEAD of raising tuition for current students (as is current plan). Can even start out small with two or three instruments - have small group classes for short period of time - use young musicians to teach.

Adding new PT faculty has other benefits. Young musicians can do concerts for community as well - expose kids, parents to classical music, different instruments, culture. The school can publicize these through local neighborhood papers via a press release that's published as an article, as well as by partnering with senior centers and city agencies.

This strategy avoids giving people a chance to leave the school. If they raise current tuition, this gives people a chance to decide NOT to renew - a very bad move in this economy. Why not keep tuition the same to avoid that decision? In this kind of economy, organizations need to look for multiple revenue streams that are creatively using existing resources, leverage external resources, and collaborating.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Suggestions for someone seeking a clerical job

On, a woman wrote for advice on how to get a clerical job. She's having a difficult time getting interviews. One person suggested she start her own business. I built on that with my response:

"If you can do lots of administrative work, check out being a Virtual Assistant. There's an international association,, that has information about what a VA does, as well as a site that matches VAs with employers (

The other option is that your resume needs some work. The key thing is to identify YOUR core value to an employer - what makes you stand out? What would you bring to an employer that no one else will? In other words, in a world where many people are applying for the same job, why should the employer choose you?

There are a number of other things to consider - are you highlighting your measurable accomplishments in your resume? Is your resume easy to read? Do your cover letters make the match between your skills/abilities and the employer's needs? Do you let the employer know that you want to work for them and why? A little flattery can go a long way, especially now when employers have a choice about who to hire. Most would rather hire someone who is focused on meeting the company's needs instead of their personal needs. Remember the cover letter is to get you on an interview, so it requires care and work."

I suggested that she check out this blog for more information on how to structure a resume and cover letters.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Achieving goals

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." Aristotle

I am struck by some common themes when reading stories about people who have set and achieved their goals.

* Many people have accomplished their goals. It is possible!

* Everyone started. They began. They took action. And then they watched what happened.

* They say they've achieve the goals by taking things one step at a time, one day at a time.

* Each one takes required action, consistently acting every day,

* These people take the long view, recognizing and reminding themselves that desired results usually are not achieved in a day or week or month.

* Each one demonstrates the qualities of patience, hard work, and willingness to stay committed to reaching the goal.

* When people reach their goals, they keep up the same habits they developed along the way including sharing their progress and lessons learned with others

Patience, perseverance and perspective are keys to progress and success!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Leadership via planning

I just talked to someone about developing her own leadership abilities, and how she can use strategic planning to help foster her leadership ability.

She already encourages meetings for all senior staff to get on same page - a form of leadership for the entire organization. Now she can think of her role as promoting and enabling short-term planning. She's done a SWOT analysis for herself and the organization, as part of her individual development planning. It turns out her boss did one on the organization, but never shared it with any of the senior staff. The next step for the organization is a SWOT analysis with all staff, or at least the senior staff. This woman can promote that, suggesting to her boss that this would be a good way to promote staff alignment even if they can't do a full-fledged strategic plan. They can do an Action Plan that focuses on the next 12 to 18 months and lays the groundwork for a more thorough-going plan. In this way, my colleague can think of herself as a leader in helping her boss become a better leader.

Her boss wants more organizational alignment. Right now, staff is pretty divided between two parts. The mission statement is very broad so it doesn't help guide people in particulars, and there are no common organizational goals and objectives. A broad mission statement is OK as long as everyone shares definitions and understands same meaning. This is very rarely the case, unless the staff have talked at length about what they mean.

Mission usually isn't great for focusing internal alignment. Staff alignment usually arises more effectively when staff together arrive at a common vision for what the organization will achieve within anywhere from 18 months to five years. Coalescing about the specific impact desired is a remarkable team-building process. further staff alignment is achieved through the remaining planning process.

This starts with agreeing on where the organization currently stands (using SWOT, PEST* and market analyses). It is critical for people to be able to voice and vent what they love, hate, fear and hope about and for the organization. I've used a great group-based activity that very quickly (1/2 hour) sifts through and identifies the top Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A small team can distill the lessons of the PEST and market analyses for the entire group. Simply reaching agreement on where we are and where we want to be forges incredible bonds - with about four hours of group time required.

Additional alignment and team coalescing is realized through the discussions about how to get from where the organization currently is to where it wants to be - the strategies by which it will achieve its vision. This is where the major time and work takes place, and people learn how to work collaboratively. Some strategies are obvious while others require rehashing and rephrasing. Once strategies are agreed on, smaller staff groups can go to work on major program goals and objectives. The entire staff group then discusses these.

With such broad agreement on the major things, everyone on staff is headed in same direction AND there is room for shifting tactics, programs, detail. Individual program activity plans and the organization budget will stem from the broad strategies and goals.

The entire Action Plan process can be accomplished in 4 to 5 months. An Action Plan is essentially done by staff, with the Board receiving the final plan in lieu of a standard annual plan. Board buy-in is very important because the broadly agreed-on ideas provide a framework for what I call "opportunity management" - how do we decide what opportunities to work on? While opportunities do present themselves to staff, it is more often Board members who propose inappropriate ideas. It is quite useful to point to a plan that fully articulates everything staff already are doing.

It will be a very powerful leadership experience for this woman to promote such a process. Her boss doesn't need to know her underlying agenda of becoming an organizational leader. That's her personal goal. What's important is that she helps her organization develop, and hopefully positively affects her boss's leadership at the same time.

Later I talked to someone about how to publicize a strategic plan given that it's a political AND marketing document. My initial feedback is that the public plan needs careful editing and word choices to ensure that the proper context is set, and that the language is clear and unambiguous, and compelling. In fact, an organization may need three levels of document: one for an internal audience that is quite detailed, one for the external world that provides a broad, birds-eye level look at the organization's plans, and one for stakeholders that provides enough detail to spark buy-in and interest in knowing more.

Maybe it's not laziness!

I recently heard from a very hardworking person that she felt she was lazy because she is spending time laying around and isn't producing much work. Here was my take on this.

"It sounds like you are taking such terrific positive steps toward realizing your dreams - the website (can't wait to see it!) and the lawyer (very, very smart move on your part). My take on the "laziness" is that you are not lazy, you are healing. This past year and a half has taken a big toll and it's not until we have some down time that we can see the toll. You've experienced a lot of loss (job, apartment, friends, community), a lot of anger and shame and letting go (or not...), a shift in identity, moving from your home base, working to establish new roots.

In my experience, it's impossible to keep going and going and going. Sooner or later, we have to rest and allow the subconscious to process everything, to incorporate the change into our being, and gradually adjust internally to the external changes. That's the essence of transition - not simply changing outside circumstances, but learning what the change means and choosing our response to the change.

It's big stuff, and you now have some time in which to do that internal work - or should I say, to allow that internal work to occur, because there's very little "doing" that's required or even possible. Yes, that is frustrating for someone like me and you because we love to keep busy DOING. Otherwise, I don't feel useful or necessary, and can lapse into depression. So the trick is to keep some perspective and allow it to happen. I like to mix in some writing to bring the internal stuff out and sort of complete the circle and realize what shifts are happening. And awareness of the process always helps me.

My own past four years of travail are finally coming to an end, and I now have a renewed sense of purpose and identity - not so dependent on other people now and coming more from within me and through my spirit. So it does have a happy ending! And your journey will as well. Of course, then it will all start up again...for we are always changing and transitioning, if we so choose."