Sunday, October 30, 2016

Being Relevant-The Consultant's Dilemma

In the good old days  a consultant was automatically granted respect and deference-revered as the fount of all knowledge, consultants could happily opine on anything ranging from stratospheric overviews to masterful management insights.  In small to medium sized non-profits, consultants were held in particular awe because the organization may have never [or infrequently] brought in a consultant to help draw up a plan, assess operations, or recommend change in governance structure or management process.

Despite the riveting insights of the consultants, and,  the hundreds of hours spent by volunteer committee members, it was too often difficult to quantify what positive changes had been made.
Consulting reports were, and are, all too often consigned to shelves in dead storage for years on end, only resurrected as proof positive that the last planning effort went nowhere! Binders of hard copy data and reports provide an important clue to solving this problem.

A new factor has complicated the consulting dynamic-managing information overload.  Market research, on-line references, alternative models come pouring into the organization. It has become almost too easy to pull in lots of data from staff, customers, and other stakeholder groups.   Frank and Magnone's book, Drinking From The Fire Hose, offers useful insights for planners who are having to sift through this overabundance of information.  Their most important insight is the imperative to distinguish between something that is "statistically significant' but which, in fact, may not be meaningful.

For those of us who may be decades older than our clients, it is increasingly imperative to pursue professional development on every level. For best practices and comparative data nothing beats:

What are your suggestions for accessible free resources?

Friday, October 28, 2016

Bruce Lee-Master...of Management?

Only Bruce Lee can transcend 70's fashion- his inner ceneteredness overwhelms the blue lace-up shirt and heavy-duty, orange-tinted shades. Beyond dazzling prowess as a martial artist [see 'one inch punch'] I learned that Bruce thought deeply about the connection between his physical training regime and larger life lessons.  

I first encountered Bruce through Doug, an author friend, who took it as his personal mission to covert me into an admirer of Lee's entire weltanschauung. I remember Doug's admonishments as he quoted Bruce. "Don't look for trouble, if trouble not look for you!" "Be water, my friend." and, of course, "Walk On!"  At the core of Bruce Lee's world-view was a belief in thoughtful introspection as the starting point for greatness.

While others are honored as the first to formulate this insight...
Know Thyself!
in fact, it was Bruce who most influenced me as I confronted the most dreaded challenge for any rookie academic administrator-performance appraisal [AKA evaluation, assessment, job review] of teachers.  

As a department head and academic dean, I was required to meet no less than twice a year with every faculty member in my charge.  I was in my late twenties and the most senior faculty were well into their sixties, so, my first stabs at providing pedagogical direction were sometimes greeted with bemusement, scorn, irritation, and, worst of all, stony silence.

It was only when I accepted that my well-intentioned efforts reflected my own insecurities that I was able to embrace the fundamental precept of effective management-all assessment must begin with self-assessment, all evaluation is self-evaluation.  My teacher meetings became less didactic-I employed open-ended questions what's been the most satisfying moment that you've had in your class this  year? The most challenging? The most surprising?

Miraculously, for me, the teacher sessions began to improve.  Things got even better when I would ask the teacher to write a short paragraph or two of their own observations about how their classes were going and what goals they had set themselves for the year. 

I discovered that teachers who possessed self-knowledge were widely seen as the 'best' teachers. Even more important, the teacher who was struggling, but, who was fully aware of her situation, was often able to grow and, eventually, develop her own effective, if idiosyncratic, approach. 

The only truly hopeless cases were those few unfortunates who were; [1] blissfully unaware that anything was wrong, and, [2] when confronted by empirical evidence [evaluations by students or waves of frantic phone calls from parents], airily dismissed students as whiners and parents as intrusive enablers. 

Puffed up with hubris, I assumed that I was the first develop the collaborative approach to managing people; a misapprehension I nourished until 1980 when, during a Klingenstein Fellowship year, I took my first management class at Columbia Business School and was assigned portions of Peter Drucker's groundbreaking work. Management fads come and go-Drucker's management by objective [MBO] is dismissed by Wikipedia as old school. It matters not to me!
  • Plato and his friends took inspiration from Socrates.  
  • The Mad Men of the 1950's looked to Drucker.  
  • But, for me, Bruce Lee was my ‎先生, sensei.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What's it worth to you? The Value Proposition

The September 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review contains a research article by Almquist, Senior, and Bloch that attempts to quantify 'the value proposition' or, in their words, the customer's decision between what s/he sees ['perceives'] as the value and the asking price. I like the article because, as the authors readily admit, their work begins with the paradigm Maslow's hierarchy of value-familiar territory for many of us who have been involved in education.

Educators are inclined to focus, laser-like, on 'self-actualization'.  We love to talk about how our work takes our students into new realms and provides them with the habits of mind needed to be  self-starters,  lifelong learners.  The danger here is that, all too often, pedagogy can can get swept up in faddishness.  In recent years some schools have fastened onto the internal baccalaureate [IB] as a brand-mark of excellence overlooking the reality that effective IB education has to be inserted into the institution's DNA.

The HBR article details a research project that Almquist et al. conducted to determine what does a customer really want? The authors point to a person who, in 2016, buys a $10,000 camera.  In this era of really good iPhone pictures, why would anyone want to spend that much? In this case, the buyer's core motivation may be 'nostalgia'-s/he wants to feel like a modern day Maplethorpe or Ansel Adams.  

For those of us in independent schools the value proposition is stark-why would someone pay $15,000-$65,000+ for a year's school tuition, when the public school is 'free'-if one disregards school taxes! Complicating the question is the reality that independent school education no longer fast-tracks graduates into marquee schools or colleges.

The researchers posit that that there are 30 elements of value that fall into four categories:
  1. Functional
  2. Emotional
  3. Life-changing
  4. Social Impact
Their pyramid is a wonder:

Note that this pyramids asks us to aspire to self-transcendence...

Sanskrit‎: ‎बोधिसत्त्व  In short, the issue we face is about value first and price second.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Why do 'they' give it all to [Harvard/The Met/The Symphony]?

I recently attended a meeting and heard the tightly wound voice of a social services supporter say, "Why is it that those donors write all those big checks to the arts [AKA Tanglewood, the Pillow, theatres, etc] and our organization gets overlooked? How do we change this?"

Fact check-the Arts get 4% of US philanthropic $ versus 8% for health services and 'religion' gets 33%, much of which goes to health programs.  In fact, if one analyzes total giving in the United States, the overwhelming percentage goes to social need.  [Only Environment 3% lagged behind the Arts, at least in 2012.]

So, why is it the perception that the arts get more than their fair share of philanthropic dollars? Two reasons;

  • The Arts, as a sector, have gotten really good at development and donor recognition for individual contributions.  Personalized thank-you notes arrive on time and, sometimes when the gift is really large, public recognition is heaped on the donor.
  • Of course many of the same donors that give to the Arts give to the social sector, but the arts really know how to celebrate.  The Arts stress excellence and the social sector stresses need. Excellence always trumps need.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Berkshire School, Montessori A Hypothetical Case Study

Who we are!
"Montessori" is not a trademark or a franchise: any institution can hang a shingle over its door and claim to offer a Montessori education.
So how can parents tell whether a Montessori school is authentic?
Doctors have the AMA; architects the AIA; engineers the IEEE. Surely there's an organization for Montessori teachers who combine a doctor's awareness of neural development, an architect's careful artistry in construction (albeit for children rather than buildings), and an engineer's keen, logical approach to problem-solving.
Founded by Dr. Montessori herself in 1929, AMI is the most diligent of the various Montessori organizations in ensuring that Montessori schools and teachers are both well-grounded in the basic principles of the method and ready to carry those principles forward in the modern educational world.
Berkshire School Montessori demonstrates its commitment to its AMI heritage through the training of its faculty and staff.  Our head of school,  academic division directors and admission director are all AMI trained.  
80 % of our lead teachers have completed AMI training for at least one level; and as we look to the development of future faculty, 60% of our classroom assistants are currently enrolled in AMI training courses or have earned their AMI credential.  
BSM has also made an extraordinary commitment to AMI teacher training, housing the Massachusetts Montessori Institute (MMI) which trains Montessori primary teachers under the auspices of AMI.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bored [of] Trustees

      When asked about their level of satisfaction with board meetings, respondents tend to cluster at the high or low end.  'Highly satisfied' board members cite clear decisions made and measurable outcomes; 'highly dissatisfied' board members may say the same, with the caveat that these self-same clear decisions were made in advance of the board meeting by a smaller group, and that the success of the results was credited to a hero leader, the executive committee, or an ad hoc coalition of decision makers. 

      For years I have encouraged boards to modify their meeting formats, locations, orders of presentations, and seating patterns to encourage participants to look at their organization in new ways. Simply steps enable boards to look at more than one issue at the same time---breakout and report conclusions.  Contentious issues can be articulated in triads avoiding the deadly dynamic of one passionate voice being listened to by 10-50 silent/attentive or silent/slouched attendees.

                                                       Approval of Minutes
Old Business......
Report of......
Committee on.........
New Business.....

"I'm not a 'numbers person.'" Most often said, in an apologetic tone, by a woman, before during or after a presentation by the finance committee, CFO, or Excel-dominated analysis.

      Decades of research into multiple learning styles are happily overlooked by most boards. Distributing a ZIP file containing 5 reports and supporting data a week before the board meeting, while a huuuuge step for some boards, may be effective with 1/2 of the board. Reaching the other half requires techniques such as pre-sessions, questionnaires, specially prepared podcasts, and 'flipped' seminar techniques.

Implementing Change
       Board members of a certain age may resist any format changes as gimmicky or window dressing. Others may recoil due to 1960-70 era memories of T-groups/encounter groups or other experiential formats that proved inconclusive or, even, counter productive. 

      Changing the structure and modalities of the board meeting is just the beginning of the evolution of the modern board.

      A governance committee may be charged with 'fine-tuning' board meeting structure and content. 

      If the full board has the time and the inclination, a session devoted to planning, board information needs, and effective engagement will be time well spent.

Hey, what's up?

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Year of G.A.L. Chait, Ryan, Taylor Twenty Years Out


September 2016 marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Governance As Leadership

I remember attending a conference facilitated by Barbara Taylor which she began by asking a group of CEO's/Heads of non profits, "If your board disappeared tomorrow who'd notice?  When would they notice?  What would they miss?

The responses ranged from 'our organization would be dead in the water' to 'probably not until the Annual Meeting a year from now!?'

Governance as Leadership    For those who want the tips of the waves---

The New Work of the Nonprofit Board
Barbara E. Taylor, Richard P. Chait, and Thomas P. Holland
September 1996
 Effective governance by the board of a nonprofit organization is a rare and unnatural act. Only the most uncommon of nonprofit boards functions as it should by harnessing the collective efforts of accomplished individuals to advance the institution’s mission and long-term welfare. A board’s contribution is meant to be strategic, the joint product of talented people brought together to apply their knowledge and experience to the major challenges facing the institution.

What happens instead? Nonprofit boards are often little more than a collection of high-powered people engaged in low-level activities. Why? The reasons are myriad. Sometimes board members lack sufficient understanding of the work of the institution and avoid dealing with issues requiring specialized knowledge. Individual board members may not bring themselves fully to the task of governance, because board membership generally carries little personal accountability Sometimes the board is stymied by a chief executive who fears a strong board and hoards information, seeking the board’s approval at the last moment.  And often the powerful individuals who make up the board are unpracticed in working as members of a team. 

No matter which cause predominates, nonprofit board members are often left feeling discouraged and underused, and the organization gains no benefit from their talents. The stakes remain low, the meetings process-driven, the outcomes ambiguous, and the deliberations insular. Many members doubt whether a board can have any real power or influence.

The key to improved performance is discovering and doing what we call the new work of the board. Trustees are interested in results. High-powered people lose energy when fed a steady diet of trivia. They may oblige management by discussing climate control for art exhibitions, the condition of old steam lines, or the design of a new logo, but they get charged up when searching for a new CEO, successfully completing a capital campaign, or developing and implementing a strategic plan. New work is another term for work that matters.

The new work has four basic characteristics:
  1. First, it concerns itself with crucial, do-or-die issues central to the institution’s success.
  2. Second, it is driven by results that are linked to defined timetables.
  3. Third, it has clear measures of success.
  4. Finally, it requires the engagement of the organization’s internal and external constituencies. The new work generates high levels of interest and demands broad participation and widespread support.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I need to talk about your Performance Review@?!%$#???

There are two approaches to performance review and motivation of employees.   

Though I sometimes wished I could pull off Alec Baldwin just once, the reality of the non-profit world in particular mandates a more personalized, less confrontational approach....

Few communications elicit more anxiety than a performance review are especially intense  for new employees, or, if the organization is conducting internal review for the first time.  At the heart of an effective and, relatively, low anxiety process is a 1:1 conversation.

In order to set a comfortable tone and also to take an important first measure of the staffer I am reviewing I always begin with  open-ended questions designed to elicit reflection.  'What's been the one project that has gone best this year?'  'Give me an example of your greatest strength and give me a couple of recent, real life examples of how you've leveraged that ability.' 'On balance has the past year/quarter been a good one for you?'

Often the 'active listening' approach is successful in opening up the conversation and enables the staffer to talk about strengths vs. areas needing improvement. Closure typically consists of both interviewer and staffer restating what they are taking away from the meeting: prioritizing strengths and areas needing improvement, a plan to enhance strengths and re-mediate weaker areas, and a time line for follow up. That's the theory.

However, there are many situations where the staffer either refuses to engage or presents a completely unrealistic self-description....

Sometimes when meeting with an employee who has been subject to the most withering criticism from colleagues, supervisors and or students/clients some staffers seem to have no clue about how they are perceived. 'I really love this job. Everything's great. Why, what have you heard?'  Responses like this may signal that the staffer is panicked about revealing weakness fearful that her/his job will be taken away. This fear can be reduced if there is a timing gap between performance review and re-issuance of employment contracts.

Sometimes inaccurate self image can be corrected
with questionnaire data, observation and feedback from a colleague or outside facilitator, journal-ing and reviewing with a mentor, videotaping performance, or a host of other techniques. In a few cases, no amount of facilitated self-analysis, management by objective goal setting, or intensive professional development will make one scintilla of difference.  These are the situations that require reassigning the individual to tasks which are mechanically routine or, more likely, out-placing the employee.