Lessons Learned

Just completed an in depth analysis of a large organization’s evolution of its executive leadership team.

I do have to give credit to this organizations leadership for paying attention, and being very intentional to ensure that their organization’s core values and specifically leadership excellence and it’s alignment with leadership skills and behaviours, perceived successes, blind spots, desired  changes were measured. Amazing lessons learned!

This is so important now as the volatility, uncertainty, chaos and ambiguity about the future now requires a different kind of future-oriented leadership mindset and skillset.

I believe that this is an amazing time and opportunity for leaders to show their courage and insight to do the right thing now, in the context of a pandemic which has already transformed their organizational leadership culture.

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What have we got wrong about leadership transformation.

I think we have it wrong as leadership coaches! It is becoming clearer that as I work with many leaders as their change coach, as well as assisting in building high performing teams, that the focus has been top down cultural change.

That is only one piece of a three-pronged approach to organizational change. Step 1 is helping the senior leader change their role to “creating the future”, “nurturing identity” and being an “enabler” not a “doer”.

Step 2, while doing this, my role is to help them revise their primary leadership role by aligning their leadership team by commissioning to have their leaders to work through a novel process (to redefine their roles in the context of “managing the present”). 

Step 3, most importantly to realize that there is a bottom up group of change agents that they need to be aware of, support and not hinder.

This “trialogue”requires senior leaders to be fully driven from a space of empathy, compassion and fully understanding that the invisible organizational leadership networks are more powerful than the visible ones.

This takes a leader to a place where they begin to realize that leadership is not about their needs, their technical requests, etc., & more about the “other”. More to discuss about this as organizations may need to rethink their future.

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Executive briefing session – recovery from covid19 playbook

Just finished a very successful online two-hour executive briefing session with exceptional leaders on one of three new playbooks I have created for the current pandemic (mirroring the pandemic model) under the banner of “Building Back Better” .

I have spent the last six weeks “collecting the dots” as I connected them!

This first session was a framework model based on the objective of ensuring the health, safety, wellbeing and resilience of both employees & clients.

The next session in this series will be on a model of responsive planning. The last session will be creating the new organizational culture of engagement, performance, & purpose. (Using tools to measure culture pre-covid, current covid & desired post-covid for leaders and their organizations).

I feel that after many years that I have been in the field as a coach & values consultant that these three executive briefing sessions could positively make a difference, which actually is the difference courageous leaders want to make now.

As a leader what is it that is capturing your attention now & does it really matter the most in your organizational lifecycle?

I know that what leaders will be paying attention to is the way they treat their employees. This will be long remembered post this pandemic.

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How leaders must now think about the pandemic.

I am curious about how we are thinking about this pandemic right now & if we will return to our sense of stability. How long will it take to return or if not what should we expect? Are you ready to transform your thinking about the new organizational world we must face?

As organizational leaders are you curious & willing to be brave to identify & measure what type of leadership will be required over the next two – three years? What beliefs, values, assumptions are you willing to test?

Also, how are your organizational and team cultures being forced to change as you plan this first recovery?

How are you now thinking about your organizational world? Whose voices are you listening to & how are you hearing their wisdom?

I worry that there are some who are leading from a space of organizational blindness. How will they know?

I am certain that when we think about recovering from this pandemic and its potential waves, we need to consider our planning phases: 1-our leadership development,2-our pre-covid, current covid & post covid culture, and 3-the evolving plan for our recovery now and the immediate future. Have you considered all three of these recovery elements? I hope so!

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Time to think about your post covid19 organizational culture.

How has your leadership culture changed from the period before covid, during covid, and what is desired post covid?

At present, I am facilitating this engagement with a courageous leadership team.

Each leader is participating within a process with a number of selected assessors. The questions to be answered by this process are: what is different now, and is required to carry on this leadership transformation? Where should the leadership team culture place it’s energy on for its future? What are the new learnings to create the new organization post covid? Where and how will current leaders create their organizational culture which supports their changed future?

I believe that this requires brave leadership with foresight and insight recognizing their organizational and leadership culture needs to address change now.

Seeing the world from a pre-covid POV may not be at all helpful!

What do you know about your current leadership culture? How must it change? How will you know? When will you know? What will your organizational results be if you do not pay attention to your leadership culture?

We know that organizational life is now very different for everyone. Your social contract between employees and leaders has changed? Where has it changed in your organization?

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For my friend and colleague Maurice who was taken in the pandemic of 2020 a poem by Charles Bukowski

“The Mind”

Your life is your life
Don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
Be on the watch.
There are ways out.
There is a light somewhere.
It may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
Be on the watch.
The gods will offer you chances.
Know them.
Take them.
You can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
And the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
Your life is your life.
Know it while you have it.
You are marvelous.
the gods wait to delight.
in you.

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Another positive and uplifting video

Heal the World.
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Feeling Better about Our World

We need more of this now with the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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My response to Mike’s posting on the future of non-profit organizations and the need to use more responsive planning approaches

Mike you have identified what a number of organizational change consultants and coaches believe is true. Also, as a recovery strategy for non-profits (developing this now with my clients) we anticipate that at some point in time, government and traditional community and donor resources will be limited and they will be making hard decisions regarding limited financial supports for sector organizations. Those who succeed will need to demonstrate impact. Let’s not wait too long to start these conversations to rethink your org dna, how to adapt, and how to develop plans within a vuca framework. Traditional planning will not work here! Are our organizational leaders to identify their future probable scenarios of retooling their organization purpose, services, new governance forms, financial models retooling and even perhaps rethink current staffing and leadership models. What will happen if our sector doesn’t start these hard and critical conversations and immediate planning? I fear for our sector losses in our communitues. Are we ready?

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Non-Profit Organizations need to prepare for a future which is not one of returning to stability! Mike Grogan stated the following in a recent LinkedIn posting:

“Folks, we are a lagging indicator. If you think it’s bad now, just wait for 2-4 months to see how all this will catch up to us. As an industry we’ll emerge stronger than before, but not until there’s a winnowing. The weakest kids are going to get thrown off the merry-go-round” (Baker, 2020)

The past weeks have been a whirlwind for nonprofits. In a matter of days, the pandemic changed both the ways we work and the environment we work within. These are changes that few of us saw coming or had plans for. The pandemic was like a wave that seemed slow moving when we watched it from afar, but when it landed, it hit hard, and it hit fast.

And so, we did what either training, experience or nature taught us to do – we responded. We adapted, sometimes on the fly, sometimes with forethought. In a matter of days, we shifted the work of the sector from offices, studios, gyms and churches to a remote, decentralized model. We embraced the response and kept as many programs going as possible and flexed into new areas to meet emerging needs. Some made hard choices to cancel events and programs and the even more difficult decision to reduce staffing. Organizations, funders and governments responded quickly and substantively with an array of resources and increased flexibility.

It is a trait in working in the response phase of an emergency to become very reactive. That is good. As leaders we respond quickly to keep programs running, redeploy staff, communicate with our audiences. We make decisions quickly, oftentimes with imperfect information. But in any disaster or wide-scale public emergency, there will be a period when organizations and the community as a whole move from response to recovery. The shift will not be clearly defined and will not happen evenly, but it will occur. In the case of this pandemic, it is difficult to envision when that transition will even start. But it will start, and when it does, the way we make decisions will need to change as well.

As the environment settles somewhat, we can raise our sights from the immediacy of day-to-day changes to questions of long-term sustainability. We move from tactics to strategy. We move from decisions that will inform the days ahead to those that will determine the viability of our organizations for the years to come.

As we build through the stages of response to recovery, it is important to know that recovery does not always mean restoration. While it is unclear what tomorrow holds for the sector, it is safe to assume that the future will not look the same as the past. The “normal” of the past will not be the “normal” of the future. A generational disaster will lead to fundamental change in the environment for nonprofits. Funding patterns, government supports, and the types and levels of services needed will be dramatically altered by these events. So too will our organizations.

Making decisions without clarity is hard. Waiting for clarity in this situation is impossible. It is easy to be paralyzed either by waiting too long for clear signs or by keeping our eyes focused only on the immediacy of the day-to-day.

There are, however, things we can do to get ourselves started.

  • Talk to your people. Your board, staff, funders and volunteers. There are challenging conversations to be had. Some of them will be private in nature but the issues are not. The best thoughts and insights rarely come from the narrowest range of perspectives. If you have been telling your staff, volunteers and stakeholders that you are all in this together during the crisis of response, do not retrench to just your trusted few in recovery. Speak with your community about what decisions you need to start making today to give your organization the best chance of weathering this storm. 
  • Do a rapid reassessment and refinement of your strategy. The well thought out strategic plans that we all made over the past few years may be limited in value as the world we work within has changed. Take a hard and honest look at not just the current environment, but what you can expect to see in the months and years ahead. If returning your organization to its pre-crisis state is your goal, test the viability of such a goal. Ask yourself what you can expect for funding support from donors, foundations and governments once the wave of response ebbs. Ask yourself about what the needs for services, old and new, might be and if your existing modes of working will be effective moving forward. Articulate, even crudely if need be, a picture of what a realistic future looks like moving forward for your organization. Your strategies may be rough and emergent, but they will be needed to provide, at the very least, initial direction on the route ahead.
  • Learn from those who have gone before. There is no map that will show us every step to take along this journey, but there are lessons from similar situations that we can draw on. Craig Deardon-Phillips, in writing of the economic meltdown a few years ago, lays out the case for asking a number of challenging questions in a piece entitled The Year Ahead: Adapt or Die.

Are you willing to specialize and jettison the things you do that are of lower value?

Are you prepared to hold on to only your organization’s best and brightest and let large numbers of your less capable staff go?

Are you prepared to be taken over if that helps the cause you serve?

Are you prepared to become far more commercial in the way you deliver your mission?

Are you up for this?

One of the side benefits of such a strong and poignant response phase as governments, funders and organizations rally to meet immediate community need, is that it buys us a window of time to talk, think and plan. As leaders of nonprofits, both governors and managers, the last question on the list above is perhaps the most important. This is not the boom and bust roller coaster that we have ridden out over the years in Alberta. We are in uncharted territory. It will be a long recovery. My encouragement to us all the weeks and months ahead is that we act as boldly and decisively in our recovery as we did in our response to this crisis.

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

Stay well.

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