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.
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?
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!
Many nonprofit organizations struggle with telling their stories — specifically, providing a clear case for support. They live with frustration because there are so many “have to’s” and “we’ve always done it this way’s” built into running their daily business. Instead of questioning methods that don’t work, they simply accept their frustrations. In the nonprofit world we cannot continue to simply do things because they have always been done that way. Lives and livelihoods are directly impacted by how we choose to do our jobs day in and day out. Try something new, fix, or eliminate anything that keeps you from telling your story and creating new ways to engage.
Need inspiration? Read this article by Evernote’s Phil Libin on how he created an atypical corporate culture based on what works.
I was recently reading this post from 37Signals about giving ideas time to breathe.
Dismissing an idea is so easy because it doesn’t involve any work. You can scoff at it. You can ignore it. You can puff some smoke at it. That’s easy. The hard thing to do is protect it, think about it, let it marinate, explore it, riff on it, and try it. The right idea could start out life as the wrong idea.
So next time you hear something, or someone, talk about an idea, pitch an idea, or suggest an idea, give it five minutes. Think about it a little bit before pushing back, before saying it’s too hard or it’s too much work. Those things may be true, but there may be another truth in there too: It may be worth it.
The nonprofit space is filled with a sense of urgency to find “the next big thing.” This is due to the reality that all organizations need to produce meaningful fundraising results so they can impact the lives of those in need. Urgency is healthy to the extent that it motivates us to take our work seriously, but our urgency fails us when we believe our only recourse is immediacy. When we’re slaves to immediacy, we’re unable to engage in thoughtful analysis about the past, present, or future. For instance, we’re prone to react quickly to new ideas, anointing them as golden tickets or dismissing them at once. Removing immediate, reactionary emotions from our fundraising programs can allow for the relevant data points to show themselves. Whether the results are worthy of lament or celebration, at the very least we’re positioned to make a better decision about where to go next.
Ideas are everywhere. Through emails, blogs, conversations, keynote speeches, and media, we are endlessly bombarded with the latest and greatest idea, few of which are ever implemented. So how does a nonprofit organization create momentum internally to get a great idea put into action? Curt Swindoll details eight steps to creating forward movement both in the mission and in the fundraising disciplines of your organization. Being able to come up with great ideas is fantastic, but ultimately worthless if they don’t translate into action.
Click here to download this whitepaper and kickstart your nonprofit’s effectiveness and execution.