The eighth and final key to execution is recognition. Acknowledging great performance, great project management, great accountability, and great follow-through is critical to creating cultures of execution.
Think of recognition as a deposit in the bank account of future strategic initiatives. It is a public opportunity to say, “This is what we are looking for. This is what we value. This is the kind of thing we want everyone to model.”
We have to make celebration a priority. I recently bought an old cowbell for our CEO to ring publicly when we land a major account. Several companies I have worked for have thanked their employees in different ways for attracting quality staff to come on board. We celebrate anniversaries and birthdays. Why don’t we do that at work?
Is it because it costs to much? Hogwash. Take off an hour early on a Friday, head to a park and do a barbecue. Everyone brings a dish. Is it because it takes too much time? Bologna. Set up a celebration committee of three staff members and have them plan the quarterly party. They’ll stay late to have the opportunity to put something together.
Or perhaps you don’t think it really matters. Several years ago I was assembling a presentation on “developing a talent strategy” for nonprofit organizations. I discovered that there are several elements to talent: acquiring, developing, deploying, and retaining talent. Which of these four categories do you think is impacted by celebration? It wouldn’t be hard to make a case that two, or even three, of these areas is affected by celebration, and yet a McKinsey study several years ago found that:
- 73% of executives strongly agree they need to find and retain top talent, but only 9% felt their actions would lead to that outcome
- 84% didn’t even know who their top performers are
- Only 23% felt they could attract top talent, and only 10% felt they could retain top talent
Recognition may provide some motivation for executing a strategic initiative, but far more valuable is what it does for the culture, for future projects, and for individuals who have worked long and hard to see a project through to completion. It’s time to make their success a visible, celebrated part of the culture.
Do you celebrate success? Do you do it in a way that contributes to the growth of your culture? What is stopping you from celebrating success? What is worth recognizing in your environment? Where might you find inexpensive ideas for celebrating on a tight budget?
So that’s our final Key to Execution! Want to read more by Curt and the Pursuant team? Check out our other whitepapers here-let us show you how data and expertise drives strategy that excels.
Our very own Tim Kachuriak, SVP of Innovation and Optimization, was invited onstage to talk about a case study on successful landing page optimization at the 2012 Optimization Summit this past week! Watch his presentation below and let us know your thoughts. MarketingExperiments wrote a great blog post about it here as well.
I’m a firm believer that you never ask a question on a customer survey that won’t lead to some kind of action if the feedback you receive warrants it. Similarly, it is meaningless to measure performance and progress unless you are willing to act on what you learn.
Accountability is a response to measurement and is the sixth key to execution. The feedback we receive by measuring should compel us to take action. It requires courage to not explain away performance problems or downward trends, but rahter to deal honesty when the indicators suggest we are off course.
Imagine driving down the interstate becoming drowsy. You feel your tire suddenly hitting a drumbeat of bumps that signal the side of the road. Those indicators suggest that your car is leaving the driving lane and heading towards a ditch. How do you respond? One approach is to assume those weren’t bumps, but rather debris from some accident that happened another day. If you believe that without at least checking to see whether or not you are going off-road, you might as well go back to sleep.
Perhaps the greatest failure of nonprofit organizations is the failure to hold people accountable for their performance. Too many nonprofit leaders are asleep while a regular drumbeat of indicators is constantly reminding them that serious change is needed. The car is heading in the wrong direction. What will it take to get back on course? When will we respond?
Most of the time, performance issues can be addressed through clearer expectations, better action planning, more support from leadership, more consistent communication, new strategies, and so forth. What measures are sounding the alarm in your environment? Anything? Are top initiatives on track? Do you know? How long are you going to wait to correct a downward trend in the donor base, or a decline in mid-level giving? Do you have the courage to call for change, or to say that your methods are not working, or are too slow for what you need to accomplish?
I recently spoke with a professional who had been hired by a large nonprofit to help them with their fundraising work. A report landed on his desk shortly after he arrived showing that one million dollars had been lost in the last year alone! He said he waited around for a couple of days to see if someone—anyone—would show up at his door out of breath from the truth of that report. No one did. That’s a firm with good measures, but no accountability.
No one enjoys addressing performance problems. The challenge is even greater when the solution involves affecting someone’s employment—especially when they have a passion for your cause, are loyal and committed, and have been willing to work for a substandard financial compensation.
But many studies have shown the phenomenally high cost of keeping staff around who aren’t performing. It extends well beyond their salary and the problems they create. The opportunity costs and cultural costs far outweigh compensation issues. One leader commented to me regarding addressing employee issues, “I have never regretted taking action too quickly; I have often regretted not acting fast enough.”
I suggest that you schedule an accountability review every other week to review key metrics and action plans. Ask the hard questions. Drive change in response to what you observe. I once worked for a boss who had a stand-up meeting with his team every Monday morning to review everyone’s action plans. You knew if your project was delayed, he was going to ask you about it in detail—that alone drove amazing productivity from his group. We need more of that in our nonprofit cultures if we are going to be known for high-performance execution.
What one alarm is going off that deserves attention now? Why hasn’t someone responded? What will it take to convince your team to action? Have you fully counted the cost of inaction? What structure has been established for holding people accountable for results?
How are you measuring progress? Are you measuring the right things? The old adage “what gets measured, gets done” rings true here. So, what are your key performance indicators? Are they aligned with your priorities? Will they alert you early in the process (as in a “leading” indicator) or late in the process (a “lagging” indicator) that something needs attention? Having an effective set of measures is the fifth key to execution.
Consider the chart shown here. I’ve often called this an organization’s “backbone.” Do you have curvature of the spine, or is there strong alignment from vision to objectives to services. Second, how well do your measures evaluate these elements from top to bottom, or wherever your responsibilities lie? Are they helping you maintain a straight backbone?
Measures communicate progress, or a lack thereof, against identified goals. Measures also communicate what we think is important. One of Pursuant’s clients commented that they were embarrassed that we had to tell them about the decline they were experiencing in major donors and major gifts over the last several years. His statement reflected that they had taken their eye off of something absolutely critical to their organization. They are not alone. We routinely tell clients about trends in giving at all levels, trends in donor engagement, revenue projections based on current trends, and so forth—and information the client wasn’t aware of prior to our engagement.
We also measure fundraising and organizational best practices. The existence of certain practices tells us something about how well our clients are attracting donors, engaging them in their work, and building long-term, fruitful relationships over time. It tells us of their fundraising and organizational strengths and weaknesses. Great strategy starts with an effective evaluation process.
Your problem may not be having a set of measures, but that your measures are too difficult to assemble. The best measures in the world, if it is overly difficult to assemble what is needed to calculate it, isn’t going to help. Find a simpler way to measure what you are trying to track.
Once action plans are in place, we have to measure progress and determine if what we are accomplishing is doing what we had hoped. We may have a shiny new resource center, but if n0 one is being served by it, what have we accomplished? Measurement requires that we courageously look at the data and draw observations and conclusions that will drive further strategy and action, or help us get our execution priorities back on track.
Once you have a commitment to measure, it is amazing how quickly leadership can drive attention to key performance indicators. Pursuant’s CEO Trent Ricker recently asked our management team to include a section on key performance indicators as part of their weekly reports. Why? He wants everyone to keep their eye on identified priorities, and he wants to make sure regular progress is being made in the right areas. For those who aren’t sure what key performance indicators to track, requests like this prompt important conversations.
What measures are you using that point to progress being made against your strategic initiatives? How balanced are your measures? Are they all focused on one area, or are they all lagging indicators? How quickly would you know if an initiative was not producing a desired result?
Several years ago I was going through Steven Covey’s 7 Habits program with a leadership team. We were watching a video clip where he had a pile of rocks that he was trying to bury in a bucket filled two-thirds with sand. The rocks represented the major priorities in life, while the sand was all the little things that fill up our day. His first attempt at inserting all the rocks into the bucket of sand, one rock at a time, was unsuccessful. It didn’t work.
He then took an empty bucket, representing an empty schedule, and carefully placed the large rocks into the bucket first, then poured the sand in to fill in the gaps between the rocks. I thought there was no way it would all fit, but with some shuffling, it did.
Covey’s memorable point was that when we try to fit large commitments and projects into calendars that are already two-thirds full (much less completely filled) with smaller commitments, we can’t possibly get our most important priorities done. We have to start with a calendar where large assignments are scheduled first, followed by smaller items that fill in the gaps.
I realized while watching that video that something had to change in how I thought about my schedule. We all deal with the challenge of balancing great opportunities against too few resources. My problem was that some of my most strategic priorities were being postponed because they were not fitting in amidst all the other stuff already on my calendar.
Looking at the eight keys to execution, taking action—actually doing the work of execution—is the most time consuming of all the keys. Once we get to this step in the process, our challenge is to make sure we have allocated the time needed to get the right things done. That implies the need to allocate time for them before our calendars fill up with all the miscellaneous stuff on our plates.
This is a good place to ask: Who is managing your calendar? Are you essentially operating as a “victim” of all the requests being imposed on you? Do you ever decline a meeting request because you have more important work to do? Is it time to delegate? Are you attending meetings because it feels good to be needed, or because you don’t trust the staff who have been tasked with the responsibility?
Leaders need to take control over their schedules and should empower their staff to do the same. Start saying no to some requests. Ask that meeting time be better managed.
Sometimes our problem isn’t allocating time for important work. It is that too many crises interrupt our days. How often is your schedule derailed because of something unexpected? Why didn’t you see the crisis coming? This issue gets back to creating urgency and identifying issues that needed to be addressed before they turn into a crisis.
Not only will your organization appreciate your focus, but your friends and family members will, too. They are usually the first to feel the effects of an out-of-balance work life where trivial matters and crisis issues have crowded out the room we would normally use for accomplishing the most important things in life, whether at work or at home.
How are you allocating time for top priority work? Are you scheduling sufficiently in advance, or is crisis crowding out the important items on your calendar? What does your calendar say about your priorities, or about how well you are scheduling and investing time?
Tell us what your thoughts on the 5 keys we’ve discussed so far.
Key #1, Urgency
The first key to execution involves creating a sense of urgency. Nonprofit leaders usually have too many things to do. The question is, are any of them urgent enough to drive the time and attention it will take to get an important job done? Urgency creates drive. It helps overcome resistance, especially when initiatives require us to follow through on tough decisions.
I consulted recently with an organization that is in the process of making some foundational changes to its business model. These changes are going to require intense focus and time from most of the senior leadership team. One of the last things I said to them before I left was to realize that the future of their organization will likely depend on their follow-through.
Not every strategic initiative involves a life-or-death matter, but our most important priorities need to be connected to the very significant consequences that will be incurred should they go unfulfilled. The business sage Max Dupree once said that one of the two jobs of a leader is to “define reality.” Leaders need to define reality by clarifying the ultimate destiny of continued poor execution.
Many organizations use crisis as a form of urgency. Nothing gets attention like a crisis. Some people can’t function until priorities become crisis. It works, for a time. But crisis is often a failure of leadership to define the road ahead well before our car goes over the cliff while there is still time to act.
Crisis usually results from an external, unexpected situation, while urgency involves the proactive anticipation of a coming need. Crisis drives attention away from other important priorities and makes it hard to focus, while urgency focuses attention on important initiatives. Crisis kills priorities. Urgency makes them. By the time we jump into crisis mode, our options for responding are limited. It’s too late to do what we would have done had we anticipated the need before it turned into a crisis.
What kinds of things kill urgency? John Kotter lists nine in his well-respected business book, Leading Change:
1) Never allowing problems to “blow up” 2) Having too many obvious examples of excess 3) Maintaining low standards 4) Focusing on narrow, functional goals 5) Measuring the wrong things 6) Providing little feedback from customers 7) Enforcing a kill-the-messenger or low-confrontation culture 8.) Allowing human nature to drive performance (denial, business, stress) 9) Too much “happy talk” from senior management
He admonishes leaders to “never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo.”
Leaders need to create the conditions that will drive their teams to act. Consider this example:
Team, I want to be up front with you about the challenge in front of us. As you can see on this chart, if we don’t address this donor communication problem within the next six months, the trend in major gift revenue will continue to drop another $X,000,000. That’s the equivalent of XX jobs. On the other hand, if we can successfully complete this initiative, I estimate the impact will be…
Honest communication like this, ideally before the adverse symptoms show up, will go a long way toward creating the urgency we need to execute.
Now ask yourself: Is there a sense of urgency in your organization? Are people operating as if the future of the organization is at stake? Does everyone understand the repercussions of a failure to act? Is there a willingness to confront problems? Is there an understanding of key trends in performance?
Check back soon for The Eight Keys to Execution, part 2!
Mid-level giving is a cultivation strategy that can lead to major gifts. It is important that you view your mid-level donors as future major donors, because the relationship that you establish today can serve to position your prospects to be major donors down the road. You can’t expect donors to lift their giving from $100 to $100,000 without the intentional cultivation that larger gifts require. Donors with high financial capacity (and major giving potential) may view a mid-level gift as a comfortable entry point—and are much more likely to take that step if they are cultivated within a personal relationship.Nonprofit organizations often fall into the bad habit of treating donors as numbers, especially in the context of a churn kind of program. Even if you do receive some mid-level gifts with a churn-driven strategy, you can cross those donors off your future major donors list. Moving donors upward from the middle of the pyramid requires intentional cultivation and personal relationship building that typical churn programs lack. With every point of contact, you have to keep this in mind: It’s all about the relationship.
With so many other organizations competing for your donor’s dollar, it is increasingly important to engage and connect your constituency beyond typical donor communications. To engage donors in mid-level giving, you need to be one of their top three charitable priorities. You need to move even further up their list if you hope to build your major giving pipeline. So how do you do that? Build a personal relationship. Show them that you’re willing to meet with them in person. Do you think they’re being visited by their alma mater, or any other organization, when they’re not a major donor?
How are you connecting with mid-level donors? We offer seven unique traits of these donors that can help you maximize your relationship with them. Click here to read more.
The development officers we deploy for our clients are trained to secure multiyear commitments that are paid via credit card on a monthly basis. Monthly giving is a valuable behavior that shows ongoing commitment to your organization. Furthermore, it is an effective way to lift donors and encourage them to upgrade their contributions. Consider this: An organization decides to offer a premium only to donors who will write a check for $500 or more. What if they were to give away the premium to anyone willing to make a monthly commitment of $75 or more over the next three years? You think you can’t ask a young donor for a significant gift? Think again. Our average gift commitment across the board exceeds $2,000—and that’s just the initial engagement. If you have a system in place to process automatic monthly credit card transactions, monthly giving commitments can be extremely valuable for your mid-level program.
Download this whitepaper to learn more about the habits of mid-level donors.