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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Leaders, Do it right!

One interesting concept which epitomizes the need to change organizational culture is “stop believing that job descriptions should dictate the motions in the workplace; Now do it right and Do it better!”. This should encourage leaders and their followers to differentiate old mental maps in our work maps to new change roles within the workforce of change agent, problem solver, and most importantly relationship builder. As inspirational leaders do you know how to do this consistently across every level of your organization? I strongly suggest, if not, you are not moving your agenda of change forward.

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Do you know the impact your organizational culture is having on your success in executing your strategies?

How many of our organizations are making changes & believing that they will be executed as is expected? I work in the world of organizational & leadership culture; I know that many of our “Triple P” approaches to change of new policies, procedures & processes are not always executed or even long lasting. The question is: Is our current culture able to support these changes? How do we know? Actually the big question is: Do we even know what our organizational culture is? Would others agree? Do you know how effective it is or at worst is it causing undercurrents which challenge “the way we do things around here”? Is your idea of making these changes framed in a way which may not align with your current culture at all? Are you aware of the impact this will have on employee retention and or recruitment, new technology systems, staff reducing their attachment & sense of contribution & investment in their work, & staff relationships between each other & or leadership? Have you diagnosed the number of organizational misalignments you are slowly & quietly creating? Do you know how to measure your current culture in order to know how these changes can be made & ensure alignment with the desired culture for the future? Leaders, let’s start talking with staff to understand your culture!

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Inspiring purposes inspire people in organizations

Elon Musk stated “life cannot be just about solving one sad problem after another. There need to be things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be part of humanity.”

Can you, with passion and confidence say that you wake up every morning and bring the smile to your face and you say I am making a difference that matters to others! If not, why not?

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Communication feedback loop

Leadership and the communication feedback loop: in the past few years I have facilitated quite a few “interventions”. This is where I mentor leadership teams to know how to communicate more effectively. This sounds so basic. However, I have discovered that many people do not know how to listen & hear each other. It is much more complex than answering the simple questions of what I need from you, to how will I know that you are clear about my intentions & not only what I say. It is interesting that one needs to go deeper to explore mental maps-how they see themselves, their status, and their sense of fairness,. Also how they feel uncertainties, ambiguities of their needs, and their unspoken desires and expectations. The lesson learned is that leaders spend little energy and desire to learn how to communicate with their direct reports and others. This is where the failure of effective leadership in organizations begins. Unfortunately, I see many more interventions coming in the many layers of the organizations that I am currently working to enhance and strengthen. This exists in teams too. This is very much an organizational culture phenomenon which needs to be addressed in leadership development. This requires our four intelligences of PQ, IQ, EQ, and SQ! What do you think?

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Role of Organizational Life

I have a theory about the role that organizational life now plays in our current culture. We know that humans need to have a strong sense of belonging, a deep sense of membership, a connection with others, and a need for a clear meaningful purpose in life. Where have we connected strongly with others to achieve these human qualities: families were the dominant platform for these qualities to take root; associational life was another; faith-based organizations were the other. Work organizations may be the last connecting platform we may have. In many ways we know that first 3 forms of connection are being displaced by technology. We know that work life consumes most of our life time. I believe that our organizations may be replacing the others as the dominant connecting platforms. Here is the problem. Some of our organizations are generally not healthy for humans: they are increasingly more dysfunctional, increasingly more violent, increasingly more unhealthy and psychological unsafe, creating ill health, increasingly a place resulting in increasing suicides. Work is becoming a hazard for many employees at all levels. How do we change our culture to create places of belonging, connection and meaning? This may be the last place for this to happen for many! What do you think?

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