Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Listening Project

Connecting Up Australia recently released the Listening Report, prepared after twelve months of active research throughout Australia into issues faced by the not-for-profit sector.

It's a great report. Well, it's a great read, it is very pretty, well laid out, full of case studies, professionally researched and presented. Fantastic. I have just one little, tiny, almost insignificant concern. The report is very short on ideas about how nonprofit organisations should adapt to face the future. There you are, I told you it wasn't a really important thing!

So what does the report tell us? In short, much the same as we have known for a considerable time. What is the main conclusion? It's this. What the sector is doing at present isn't sustainable. So it needs to do something different. That makes sense. What it doesn't do is explain what doing something different will be in a sector dominated by parochial and territorial Boards and Committees more intent of being trustees than leading into the future. What about those over stretched, burned out corps of management and staff involved in service delivery. Have they the energy, time or desire to look up from their tasks and plan for the future?

The report identifies four key issues. (1) Government Funding. (2) Alternative revenue sources. (3) Human resources. (4) Research, capacity building and evaluation. The author's three paragraph conclusion (at the end of 365 days of research, a period of reflective writing and a 36 page report) is this. This project has been useful in that it gathers rich data, highlights common themes and suggests that if the sector was to unite for its common causes, the value proposition would be strengthened and the doors unlocked to a paradigm shift within the sector. Yep. Okay. I get it, not. The way forward is now clear!

It's not that the project was worthless or bad in any way. I just feel the sector, all the Boards and Committees, management teams and those involved in service delivery deserve something better. They deserve some sort of roadmap into the future.

So here it is, well my roadmap at least -

Government Funding - is an oxymoron. If you choose to operate your nonprofit solely on Government funding then you have to accept the restrictions that will be placed upon you. Despite all our dreams, Government funding will never be sufficient. Therefore those management teams that continue to rely upon Government funding as their sole source of revenue or the dominant source of revenue may be doing a disservice to their staff and their clients. The choice of whether staff sit on apple crates and type on outdated computers is made by the governance and management team, not the Government. It is no good blaming beaurocrats for being short-sighted, they live and work to their masters (or mistresses) election time frame. The proliferation of non profits and community organisations mean they have to distribute a finite pool of money to an ever growing number of organisations. I believe the Government should take heed of Carol Mead's suggestions for simplifying the funding process. I also believe that while the nfp sector continues to engage in activities on behalf of Government that are poorly funded, then Government will continue to underfund. Maybe its time to say no to some of the projects available! Any thoughts about the Government providing money without some form of checks and balances into how that money is spent is an idea long past its use by date and should be taken into retirement along with those Baby Boomers unable to adapt to a new and uncertain future. The Board and Management team in any funded non profit need to develop and implement an integrated funding plan that identifies a variety of sources of revenue and develops a range of strategies for accessing additional revenue that then enables more creative solutions to be applied to a wider range of community needs.

Alternative funding - It's time everyone, Government, those in the sector, stakeholders and most importantly Boards and Committees and the general public arrive at an understanding that 'not for profit' does not mean we should not make a profit, it means profits should not be distributed to stakeholders and must be used for service delivery. Yes I accept there are theoretical limitations to the amount of funds held in reserve (try telling that to old established sandstone charities) however it is not about making money for the sake of making money it is about making money to add value to service delivery, to enable creative solutions to be applied outside of the Government funded 'boxes', to ensure sufficient reserves to pay an equitable and competitive salary to key staff, to ensure adequate professional development and where necessary to shore up the gap between Government funding and community needs. Let's stop being precious about our funding sources and our financial surpluses and get on with the job of doing what needs to be done to attract and retain good people and deliver good services. Don't use other revenue to reduce the level of Government funding, use it to reduce reliance upon Government funding and to give your people true choice.

It is also time the sector clearly explained the unique characteristics that define a funded nonprofit organisation. Funded organisations that provide services on behalf of Government are not the same as your local football club. At the community level it is expected volunteers will work for love. This perception cannot be carried over to funded service providers. Yet we persist with a model for funded providers based around the old volunteer community organisation model. Along with that come outdated perceptions of Governance, funding, expenditure, recruitment, working conditions and demarcations between passion and profit.

Human Resources - Stop waffling about the lack of professional development. Yes it's important, however professional development is only a small part of developing an effective workforce. More important is learning how to do more with less. That doesn't mean working people to the point of breakdown, quiet the opposite. Let's find ways to make work easier to do, less stressful, more enjoyable. Let's redesign the workforce. What we have has worked to date but it is becoming dated and less effective; the labour resources of the past twenty years will not be the same for the next twenty years. If we continue with the same workplace strategies used in the past then the sector will go backwards. We have an entire core of predominantly Baby Boomer managers who cannot get over the fact that they dont know the answers. Go to your workforce and ask them how to do it. You might not like them telling you how to run your organisation but I will bet my fee anytime that they know exactly what needs to be done to get the job done. Yes they would likely seek more money and more people, as we all would, however when people realise that hanging onto that belief will likely result in no one working in the sector then they will come up with better ways of doing things. One person, the head of the organisation simply does not have sufficient understanding or knowledge to impose such a change.

Research, capacity, evaluation - evidence, evidence and more evidence. The sector needs to stop hiding behind the old furphy that it is too difficult to measure outcomes that occur over a long period of time. We all know that, we also know its an excuse for not wanting to justify our expenditure. Stop believing the sector has a right to exist and spend money, provided by others without having to explain where and how that money was spent. That is irresponsible. We need to develop the means to provide evidence of community need, evidence of impact and effect of service delivery and evidence of social return on investment. It is the only way the sector can combat negative perceptions of money being wasted. Simply stating that the sector is fiscally responsible because it is audited by multiple stakeholder groups is insufficient and doesnt cut the mustard with those looking in from the outside.

Anyway those are my thoughts. I hope others will either agree or disagree with me and add their thoughts and together a variety of possible solutions will emerge which might, just might be more useful to our non profit sector than those offered in the Listening Report.

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager To CEO
Skype: john_coxon
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Telephone: +61 427 390376

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Preparing for adverse events

Third Sector magazine from the UK reported recently that only 25% of charities have experienced an adverse event in the past two years yet only 44% have in place plans for dealing with threats to the credibility and viability.

Recently while working with a nfp that had weathered a period of bad publicity about internal events I became aware that in this instance, while the organisation had weathered the storm, and while the storm had been predictable, there appeared to have been little in place in the form of prior risk assessment or any form of positive publicity to counter the negative publicity. This is a short sighted practice.

It is my experience the not for profit organisations are good at telling each other how well they do but not very good at telling the whole world about the good the do. We tend to assume the term 'charitable organisation' will protect us from the evils of the world. Once upon a time when charities were entirely volunteer operated organisations there might have been a certain level of forgive and forget. In today's world where charities are managed by professional mangement teams, are responsible for the daily income and lives of corps of employees, compete for funding and for service delivery and market aggressively for donations, they are viewed in much the same way as any profit making organisation might be.

The traditional approach to risk management in a charity has been to (a) keep costs so low that it cannot spend more than it earns and (b) dont engage in activities that stray from the core mission. The traditional risk management activities have been for auditors to audit accounts, the CEO/EO to present financials to the Board or Committee, who then oversee to ensure money is not spend in a 'frivoulous' manner.

There is nothing wrong with that approach, however it is only the beginning of the process of risk management. How would your organisation cope with a major fraud incident, or if the premises burnt down, or if you were taken to court over an employment issue, or if the media exposed some form of dubious practice? The list of possible risk events is almost endless.

True, risk assessment is a bit like life insurance. You dont want to have to have it but you dont want to not have it in the event of your death. How many of you forgo having appropriate insurances in place? Not many, I suspect. We have insurance in place in case some thing goes wrong. It is to late to put insurance in place after an event. Risk assessment is a governance activity. Board members should have in place a process and a timetable for assessing risk and deciding upon appropriate risk management activities.

There are four stages to the risk management process. The first is identifying what potential risks exist and assessing the likelihood of any specific risk occuring and of it having a negative impact. The assessment should cover all areas of an organisation including governance, financial, operational, human resource and service delivery. The second stage is to implement risk management strategies, or in some instances, harm minimisation strategies. The further ahead a potential risk is identified and strategies implemented the less harmful the impact will be. The third stage is to have in place a process for coping with the fallout should a risk event occur. The fourth stage is to evaluate the lessons learned and repeat the risk assessment process.

Health care providers, due to the nature of their environment have in place very specific risk assessment and risk management processes. When your organisation deals daily with keeping people alive then the environment calls for such an approach. Outside of the health sector, where the fall out will most likely not result in death, we have a tendency to take risks for granted. At our peril.

Imagine if a client was to take their life while engaged in an activity at your premises and imagine if the media were to try to make a story of it. Would you have the processes in place to cope with the media attention, would staff know who had responsibility for speaking to the media, would you have in place a set of guidelines for staff using online media sources? How would your organisation cope with a loss of funding, or a service or a competing nfp? Do you have a relationship with the media, can you get your message into newspapers and onto radio or television? Do you have a relationship with a publicist or a media consultant? How well developed are your managers in transitioning people through change or a crisis?

Recently in Christchurch a significant earthquake caused a lot of damage to infrastructure. Another notch up the Richter scale and much of the City would have ceased to exist. Fortunately deaths and injuries were minimal however the disruption to commercial activities has been significant. If some form of natural disaster were to take place in your area, how would protect confidential records, maintain computer systems and gather together people to be able to get back into operation at the earliest moment?

Does your Board choose to plan for the possibility of such events or does your Board and Management simply assume they will be able to make do on the day?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

There's money in those bank accounts

Pro Bono news recently reported that nonprofit organisations in Australia have around $295 billion - yes that is billions, sitting in daily trading accounts, where the money attracts little or no return on investment. This sum represents considerably more money than is needed for day to day operation of the sector.

This single factor highlights both a dilemma and an issue for our nonprofit organisations. The dilemma is that they are trustees of public monies and community interests and by nature risk averse. For Boards of Management it is less risky to leave funds lying around, earning little, that to risk the consequences of a poorly considered investment.

This leads to the core issue. That is managers that do not have the knowledge or skills in financial management to be able to provide Boards with well informed and strategic advice on investing. This is a more significant issue than it might appear on the surface. High end financial management is not something to be done intuitively, afterall it can go wrong. It is a learned skill - learned from very experienced and skill people. This requires an investment in appropriate development. Equally importantly it requires board members with similar levels of experience to enable them to firstly understand investment processes and tool; while also assessing the risk of such investments.

At the top level, perhaps in the 1% of larger nonprofit organisations these skills exist. For the remaining 99% of nonprofits, the lack of knowledge, experience and education at both board and management level is creating a situation where money that could be generated and used to enhance service delivery to the community is being squandered and donated to the banks - who, in turn, use your money to make their profits.

What is the answer? A two-fold approach is required. The first is that board members and managers gain knowledge and understanding of financial management, beyond simply setting organiational or program budgets. The second is people involved in the management of nonprofits need to base their investment decisions on knowledge and facts rather than misconceptions about how financial tools may be used; or worse still based upon common mythology.

Let The Journey Continue

John Coxon
Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO

Ruckus at Vinnies

St Vincent's NSW have recently experienced their State Board being replaced by its national body, amid claims of 'corporate bullying' and counter claims of 'political interference' and 'wanting to get hands on monies'. Likely the truth will never come out.

The aim of this blog is not to engage in debate about St Vincents or any other church based charity, but to highlight what I believe to be the bigger issue and one that is being faced by many other nonprofits, regardless of their origins throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Most nonprofit organisations are mission-driven, yet increasingly pressure is being placed upon them by funding bodies to become more accountable, to have in place appropriate systems and processes and to maintain a triple bottom line. These demands clash with the mission of many involved in these charities. In short many people cannot grasp the connection between systems and sustainability. They continue to believe that somehow, money will always appear from somewhere and that the service they provide will continue ad infinitum. This issue is compounded by the increasing gap between those that volunteer their services and those that are paid for their services. This issue is not going to go away - despite the best efforts of volunteers to try and achieve just that. The reality is that if charities want to perform to their best ability, by achieving the high possible funding from various sources and providing the high level of service to those in need then they need access to people with appropriate experience and skills.

Is there a way to reduce this tension? Yes there is and the answer lies in doing something different to what is being done at present. The corporate model doesn't sit comfortably with mission driven organisations. Yet elements of the corporate model are necessary to achieve transparency and accountability. The gap between volunteers and paid employees, in particular managers, doesn't sit comfortably in a nonprofit environment; yet these people are necessary as they have the experience and skills to provide transparency and accountability.

I am not laying the blame at the feet of funding bodies either. They disperse public monies, as a donor I expect them to do so in a transparent and accountable manner. Public money is not money to be wasted. Yet I don't believe funders fully understand what it is they are funding or properly fund all aspects of service delivery.

Firstly I believe it is important board membership is made up of people with passion but who also have business skills in areas such as finance, marketing, fundraising, strategic planning and volunteer management. All board members should have a good understanding of governance best practice. Such skills and experience in themselves do not constitute a corporate model; these are simply the preferable degrees of experience to ensure transparency and accountability.

Secondly the time has come to stop treating volunteers as volunteers and instead treat them as unpaid staff members, subject to exactly the same standards and expectations that apply to paid employees. It is time for volunteers to understand that they don't own the business; it does not belong to them, they, as do paid employees, serve the greater community.

Thirdly management groups need to develop the ability to lead through collaborative actions, not through 'command and control'. This means managers need to learn how to engage everyone, at all times, in all aspects of operation, by creating an environment of sharing and continuous learning. This requires an investment in learning and development at every level of the organisation, including volunteers.

Finally, funding bodies, especially Government funders need to recognise the long term benefit of investing in development, of having in place effective systems and processes and having in place people with appropriate experience and skills. They in turn need to fund the development of people. A for-profit organisation funds this development from its sales. In the non-profit sector, Government is the chief source of revenue (so that nonprofits can do the job that Govt doesnt want to be held accountable for) and therefore have an obligation to provide sufficient funding to enable investment in people. To do otherwise is to short change both the sector and the community. Funding bodies claim to have the interests of stakeholders at heart, in particular the needs of clients. They need to understand that there are internal stakeholders as well as external stakeholders; staff also are stakeholders and clients.

Lastly, nonprofit organisations needs to develop hybrid models that enable them to maximise revenue from business activities, without compromising mission, to that they might have sufficient funds to invest in the development of their people. Which of course means, that they will need to build capacity at all levels in business development and business management (which most do not currently have) and so the cycle goes on . . .

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO

Friday, May 21, 2010

Acres of Diamonds

The Baptist preacher Russell Conwell wrote the original story titled 'acres of diamonds' about a farmer that sold his farm to seek his fortune in diamonds only to fail; yet the person that purchased the farm discovered what he thought were crystals in a creek; that turned out to be diamonds in their raw state. The very diamonds the orignal farmer sought were on his own farm - if only he had taken the time to study what diamonds in their raw state actually looked like. Many of us chase the gleaming, polished gem that others have already discovered while we fail to look for the raw, undiscovered gems in our own backyard.

Earl Nightingale expanded upon the story in his series of motivational lectures where he asked the following questions (which I have adapted and modified for managers)

1: How well do I do what I do at present? Think in terms of customer satisfaction.
2: Can I call myself a first-class professional at work? Think in terms of continuous improvement.
3: How does my management compare to other managers? Think in terms of best practices.
4: How well do I understand my sector and its environment? Can I link impacts of emerging events?
5: How can I improve customer service? Ask how do my customers use our services?
6: How can I increase my customer service? Ask my customers how I might better help them.
7: Do I understand what a 'rough diamond' looks like in my sector? Think in terms of customer benefits that remain unexplored.
8: Have I broken down my work and removed barriers and blockages that impede effectiveness and customer service?
9: How well do I understand how we might serve customers in 20 years time?
10: How can I look ahead, do the things that are not yet being done and lead the way?

To often during a recession we hucker down into our bunkers and try to protect the status quo while all round us the status quo is changing, being taken away or ceasing to remain the same. When we emerge from our bunkers we discover that what we were trying to protect has gone and we are all alone.

All to often when times get tough we begin to look at other people's gleaming gems (cars, houses, jobs, holidays) and we leave our farms in search of riches. What we fail to understand is that they got what they have by being ahead of the game, in the past.

Your farm is yourself, yet the one thing we neglect to develop is ourselves. We are to busy following the development of others. On your farm you have an undiscovered diamond mine of opportunity. For a start you are in control. You can choose what you want to do. You can make your own decisions. You own your farm, noone can take it away from you. Others can take your home, your car, your passport, even your freedom but they cannot take you away from you. They cannot take away your ability to choose a future for yourself.

No matter how difficult your life may appear you have options, lot of them. Start by looking at yourself. What do you have to offer? How could others benefit from what you have to offer? Look at your work situation. If you could do something better for a customer, what would you do? Then go and do it. So many of the things we take for granted today started with an idea in a garage, a pub or a kitchen. Yes money invested made the idea big - it was passion and self belief that got the idea off the ground. Someone said, bugger the world, I'm going to do it anyway. There is something very satisfying about giving the one-finger salute to those that would rather you drowned in mediocrity!

Stop thinking about you. It will only make you miserable. Instead think of others, think of customers. Instead of saying to yourself, this is what I want or this is what I need, change it around and ask yourself what am I interested in? You will soon discover others interested in the same thing. They become your initial customers. Change how you perceive a customer. Many people perceive a customer as being someone that purchases something from them. This is wrong. A customer is someone that benefits from your services. It's not about money dummy, it's about what you can do to help others obtain their 'polished gems'. In helping others to succeed they then help you to succeed.

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO

Friday, May 14, 2010

Why They Change Jobs

Recent research conducted by Catalyst and reported in Harvard Business Review, March 2010, showed that almost 25% of women, and 16% of men left their first job due to experiencing a difficult manager.

This serves to underline the importance of those in frontline management roles and in line management. This is often a new employees first experience of working with a manager in a full time work environment. Your experiences here impact upon us and form our perceptions for a long time, maybe forever. It is feasible more talent is lost at this stage than at any other stage. Yet now more than than at any time in the past 30 years we need to focus on retention rather than recruitment.

The initial direct report relationship is critical. The development of frontline managers is critical and it is important those in such management roles develop the ability to build effective manager-employee relationships.

The traditional 'sink or swim' approach is a dinosaur, a rock around your organisation's neck. When you fail to develop the potential of your frontline management team you risk the future of your organisation.

What can managers do to build good workplace relationships? The first thing is to ask questions and listen. People want to feel they are valued for their experiences and their ideas, they want to contribute. Collectively those in your work group have a better understanding of any issue than you, alone will ever have. Tap into that collective knowledge. Your team will perform well, they will achieve their outcomes and you will get the brownie points because you have the title of 'leader'.

The second piece of advice I offer frontline managers is to 'shut up'. No one cares about your opinions, and rightly so. Your role is not to tell others what you think, it is to facilitate a process of collective decision making. That doesn't mean you abdicate responsibility for making a decision; it means you make an informed decision. How? By asking questions and listening to what others have offer.

Thank people for their input and provide them with feedback on progress. When it comes to the workplace, it is preferable to over-commmunicate than to under-communicate.

Take time to learn about the people on your team. What are their individual strengths and weaknesses? What does someone do well and where do they need development or support? Encourage people to use their initiative and support them through the learning process than comes with making mistakes.

Get out of their way and let them get on with the job. If you want to do something then remove or minimise the impact of organisational barriers that get in the way of actually doing stuff.

Lastly, celebrate every little win as if it were a landing on the moon, give credit to those that did the work and came up with ideas; then start the cycle all over again.

The benchmark has been set. The challenge is in place. What can you do to ensure you minimise the loss of new people and continue to build the experience in your team?

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dare To Dream

Over the past few months I have followed the progress of Jessica Watson in her epic sail around the globe. From the outset their have been those intent on knocking this young girls adventure; these are the couch potatoes, sitting wrapped in their own mediocrity. Living in a world where it is easier to criticise than it is to actually get up and do something positive and innovative themselves. These are those with unfulfilled dreams. Yes Jessica Watson has done something a little daft, even silly. yes she is very young, almost too young. Yes it could all have ended in disaster, with a couple of weeks to go, it may still, but so far it has not, but she followed her dream.

When was the last time you followed your heart? When was the last time you sang like noone was listening, danced like noone was watching and loved like there was no tomorrow? When was the last time you took a risk that made your heart pound with excitement? I don't mean taking out a mortgage on your house either. I am talking about the sort of risk that you find so exhilerating that you want to share with the world. The sort of risk where the sheer absurdity of it makes you want to laugh.

There are a lot of Jessica Watson's in this world, but not enough. There is vast untapped potential in any organisation, in every community, yet instead of fostering and encouraging people to be innovative, we put in place processes to actively discourage them.

There are some lessons to be learned from Jessica's achievements. She didn't try to do this alone. Yes Jessica sailed alone, yet at the same time she is surrounded by a support team of managers, sponsors, family and supporters. She may have been physically alone but she was not alone. Innovation often fails because the person with idea is unable to gather the support team around them. The support team has a dual function, it not only provides support, it acts as unofficial media and it champions the change. The support team provides reassurance and demonstrates safety.

Jessica's support team utilised a variety of media, constantly, to inform, to education and to enable multi directional communication. Jessica did not function in isolation. At all times she, and her support team were guided by the feedback of thousands of others, including the couch potatos.

At the end of the day Jessica chose to not sit on the couch and dream about the possibilities; instead she got off the couch and did the things that needed to be done to make the dream a reality. Each of you has exactly the same choice. You don't need to sail around the world, there are so many other things you could do that will provide you with the same amount of excitment and satisfaction.

Imagine what Jessica will be talking about for the rest of her life, imagine the stories she will have to tell her grandchildren, her mokopuna, imagine how in 80 years time she will look back and smile. Will you have able to do the same?

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Will You See The Change Coming?

I lifted the following from - Mike Myatt's blog on Leading Change. The image is courtesy of FutureMakers a not-for-profit organisation based in south west Victoria.

Why didn’t Folgers recognize the retail consumer demand for coffee and develop a “Starbucks” type business model? Why didn’t IBM see Dell and Gateway coming? Why didn’t more established social networks see Twitter coming? How did the brick and mortar book stores let Amazon get the jump on them? I could go on-and-on with more examples, but the answer to these questions are quite simple…The established companies become focused on making incremental gains through process improvements and were satisfied with their business models and didn’t even see the innovators coming until it was too late. Their focus shifted from managing opportunities to managing risk, which in turn allowed them to manage themselves into brand decline…

As a manager in a not for profit organisation you may be asking what has this 'profit making' stuff got to do with me? Here is a question for you to ponder. If you were a Government funding organisation and you had on your desk two funding submissions, both from non-profit social agencies, both with established history and both seeking funds to achieve the same outcomes. The difference is one of these agencies is a social venture operation, it generates revenue from business units, it doesn't rely upon Government funding to remain viable and it is seeking a lower input from Government. Where do you think the funding is likely to end up?

Your response to this question may determine whether your organisation continues to provide a service into the future or whether historians will look back and ask, why didn't they see this coming?

For decades now, not for profit organisations have stuggled for adequate funding and they continue to do so from an ever diminishing pool of funds. For the next 30 years Governments will face severe pressure on taxation revenue and increased costs, in particular associated with ageing and health care. This will place pressure on funding for disability, mental health, AOD, Family & Children, community capacity building and so on. Service providers will also face increasing costs, in particular labour costs. This will place pressure upon financial reserves for many.

Is the answer to engage in social ventures or to create business enterprise units that generate cashflow and supplement Government funding? I cannot answer that. This is an issue for every Board and Management team in every not for profit organsiation to begin to address - NOW.

To achieve this will require a different mindset and a different set of skills at both board level and management. This will be the age of the social entreprenuer. The high energy, visionary that sees community needs and understands that these needs cannot be fully met from Government funding alone. Instead of being trustees of community funding, Boards will become strategic planners for the future. Instead of being passive managers learning how to work within severe financial constraints, management teams of the future will push their Boards to plan ahead, they will demand their boards work with them to find the means to adequately fund people and service delivery. It will be a brave new world where many current and passionate community-minded people will struggle and a new breed of leadership will emerge, along with new operating models.

Many people involved currently with non-profit organisations will struggle with this concept and likely prefer to not read about it. Many will experience conflict between passion and mission and profit. Many will say it shouldn't be about making money and they are right. It isn't about making money per se; it is about making sufficient money to firstly attract and retain the best people for the future and secondly developing customised service delivery that actually meets the needs of the community. Do you truely believe this is being achieved to its fullest potential under the current funding models? Will you be a part of the future or will you be looking back with a sigh and asking, What If I had . . . ?

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The NFP CEO of the future

Over the next decade the majority of existing nfp CEO's will retire. You might shrug your shoulders and say, so what, the same happened in the past decade. Probably not. Even if it did, the next generation of CEO's will face a different environment to those currently in the hot seat.

The next generation of CEO's will be faced with generational change on an unprecedented scale, with labour shortages, rising costs, reduced government funding, greater accountability and greater scrutiny from Boards of Governance.

What does your organisation need to look for when recruiting its next CEO?

Any CEO works at three levels. The first level is the governance team. The second level is external stakeholder groups and the third level is with people working or volunteering in the organisation. This is not an order of preference or priority. Most CEO's would be working with all three levels simultaneously.

When working with the governance team a CEO provides two services, the first is to provide information on the emerging external and internal environment that enables the governance group to make informed decisions. The second service is to facilitate the strategic planning process. Increasingly governance groups are comprising experienced professionals, many with considerable strategic and management experience gained in the corporate world. Such people have greater expectations of the CEO;they do not believe they are there simply to rubber stamp operational decisions. They expect to be able to question the CEO as to intent and plans and progress. The CEO of the future will need to be able to demonstrate an ability to tap into the collective wisdom of the governance group while also understanding the needs of this group.

A large part of any CEO's role is liaising with external stakeholder groups. These can range from funding bodies to end users in the community. The CEO that isolates themselves from external stakeholders does so at their own peril and to the disadvantage of the organisation. External stakeholders provide access to broad collective wisdom. They provide an indicator of the emerging environment and its potential impacts.

The third group of people that a CEO is required to work with are those employees and volunteers in an organisation. Here the key skill of the CEO is the ability to listen, to explore, to understand how systems and processes act as barriers to progress, develop more effective processes and people and nurture a pathway between vision, mission, strategy and outcomes.

What should you look for in your next CEO? Firstly the ability to learn constantly from experience. A CEO who believes they know it all is a liability. CEO's do make mistakes. Many mistakes made by CEO's are errors of judgment, bought about by their inability to sense the emerging environment or their inability to develop open and transparent channels of communication. The ability to reflect upon past errors and point to the learning and development. An understanding that they as an individual can never know all the answers and have the ability to tap into the collective wisdom of all stakeholder groups.

Look for someone able to demonstrate their ability to recognise potential and to develop that potential. This is a sign of someone able to develop trusting and respectful relationships amongst employers and volunteers. This is essential for future succession planning. It will be essential for attracting and retaining high quality employees.

Nfp organisations are a business. Yes they are mission driven, yes they often have a unique set of values; yet only those with a focus on outcomes will remain around long enough to deliver on their mission and vision. A CEO must be able to demonstrate their ability to balance revenue and costs and where necessary increase one and/or reduce the other. A CEO must be able to demonstrate a record for achieving outcomes and results consistent with strategic direction.

The challenge when recruiting your next CEO is to find someone able to demonstrate their ability at all three levels. Should your CEO turn out to be deficient in one of these three areas then the success and potential of your organisation is at risk.

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The truth is not always important!

A couple of years ago I publicly slam dunked a colleague in a manner that was cruel - even though the sequence of events as reported were factual. At the time another colleague said to me, the truth isn't important, you cannot treat others in this manner. At the time I apologised for the method used (email) but not for the words used. I still believe the truth is important yet I have learned there is more than one way to speak the truth.

A few weeks back the CEO of the colleague I attacked approached me and said 'you were right, this person has been nothing but problems'. Revenge isn't sweet, it isn't about being right and I write about the experience as both a means of reflection and a way of sharing the experience for the benefit of others.

We should all aspire to tell the truth; yet sometimes the price for doing so can be high. Look at the number of whistleblowers who have lost their job, despite being supposedly protected by legislation, simply for telling the truth. I recently read a report of someone being prosecuted for posting slanderous comments online on social media. Tempting as this may be for some people, it is a practice to be avoided. Stuff you place online can come back to bite you long after you thought it had disappeared.

As a management coach a part of my role is to guide others to 'see their own truth', regardless of what I believe, it not my perspective that is important it is what the client sees that is so. When I slam dunked my colleague some time ago I neglected my hard earned coaching skills and went on the attack. Despite being right in essence, the consequences to myself were significant. While it didn't cost me any loss of revenue, I certainly damaged my personal credibility and had to work very hard to regain it.

We need to think before we speak. We don't need to think about whether we should or shouldn't; we need to think about how we should, what means will be most effective while least damaging? Regrettably the world is full of liars and cheats and while none of us is perfect, when the time comes to stand up and tell the truth. Remember this, the truth is important.

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How new managers gain respect

I came across this blog post on another website recently and felt it worthwhile copying both the original question and my response here for everyone to read.

Im 27 years old and got a job as a PM in a highly prestigious organization. Unfortunately, I look a bit young even for my age and every body else I am working with is at least 20 years my senior. the look on their faces when i step in the room says it all " would you like a barbie to play with,little girl?" How do i not let this get to me?

This was my response:

Your age is not the issue, nor is the lack of respect from others your issue it is their issue. Can I suggest you focus on the things you can control. You have control over your demeanour, how you behave, how you present information and how much knowledge you have. These are the things that will gain you respect - in particular how you relate to, interact with and build relationships with people.

I would like to suggest you try to identify at least one, influential old timer you can build a relationship with, develop a way to work together where you share your combined knowledge and he/she becomes a mentor. Others will see this and understand you are not coming across as a 'know all'. That you are open to learning from the experiences of others.

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Action Centred Leadership

John Adair, British-born expert on leadership is renowned for his work on leadership and on how to motivate people.

Adair developed the action-centred leadership model, essentially three overlapping circles representing the individual, the team and the task. Effective leaders focus on all three elements. The task needs work groups or organisations to come together in a collaborative manner as often one person alone cannot acheive the outcome. The team needs constant attention to who is in the team, differing skills and experiences, personalities. Adair believed in the 'united we stand, divided we fall' principle. The individual needs must be attended to, in addition to remuneration is physical comfort and safety, recognition, being engaged in the process and a social need to share with others. Adair's model suggests that for organisations to be effective leaders need to focus on all three circles without neglecting any single one of them. Key reading - Action Centred Leadership. 1984. McGraw Hill.

Do not be fooled by the simplistic nature of Adair's model. Leadership and management is not rocket science. Leadership becomes complex for some due to an inability to understand what is expected or required of them. There is no mystery about leadership. As a leader you need to have some knowledge and understanding of the people you work with, and other stakeholders. You need to be able to motivate them in a manner that will see them work together and helping each other. This is not 'command and control'. You need to have a clear vision of the task and the desired outcome and be able to involve others in that vision. Adair's model is applicable today as it was 25 years ago. Sure the contemporary organisation, in some instances, has moved towards a flatter structure however this doesnt reduce the need for leadership. The elements of success remain the same, develop the potential of your people, create a collective vision, manage time, tasks and processes and encourage people to work together collaboratively.

If you would like help to develop the leadership capacity in your organisation please call John Coxon on +61 03 55612228 or email

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon
Taking You From Frontline Manager To CEO

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Living Out Our Expectations

For the past 80 or so years organisational managers have taken a reductionist approach to organising labour and achieving productivity. The theory being that if we understand what makes people tick, and we break down a task into its necessary component, then marry predictive behaviour with prescriptive tasks, work will done in the most efficient manner.

The benefit of hindsight and access to far greater amounts of information than ever before means that we now understand people are not machines, they do not perform in a preformatted manner and even when a task is broken down, there are often environmental factors that impact in an unpredictable way. This means we manage and work in a world of uncertainty.

Imagine arriving at work tomorrow. As you wander into work you ask someone where shall I begin? They respond, begin where you believe you will achieve the most impact. You ask who will I work with? The response is, we don't know, whoever else has an interest in the work. You ask how well will they work together? The response is, that is for the future. Finally you ask what are the work procedures? The response is, there are not any, they will evolve with time! Now you have to make some decisions. In this situation there are no correct answers. What is right is what is best for the circumstances, both known and emerging.

Would the work get done? Yes it would. Would you find the right people to work with? Yes you would. Would everything collapse and fall into a heap? Not likely. Why not? Human beings have the ability to self organise. They are able to think, they are creative and they are adaptive.

Brian Arthur in his book titled The Economy As an Evolving Complex System talks about how we make decisions based upon our expectations. This is a place somewhere between reality and fantasy land - where based upon our expectations we can convert something to reality or otherwise. For example, you arrive at work with a vision of being treated with dignity and respect. If you remain open to that vision you will behave in a manner that sees you treat others in this manner and results in you being treated as such. If on the other hand your expectation is that you will be treated indifferently then your behaviour as you walk through the door will likely be very different.

Management techniques of the past 80 years, along with an indifferent education system, have robbed people of their ability to think and causes them to duck for cover behind rules and procedures. We are scared of complexity as it requires us to adapt to an uncertain future. Yet as a species, as an individual you have the ability to work, to manage and to live in a complex environment and survive.

Today, there are millions of people in Haiti that are homeless, without water or food and without employment. Their environment, poor as it may appear, has been flattened in a devastating earthquake. Many have died and many more will die; yet many will be saved. As a community they will survive and they will rebuild. The people of Haiti have the very same abilities as you do; without the benefits. Don't tell me you need rules and regulations and procedures to enable you to work, to survive. What you need to do is develop your inherent ability to observe, to avoid harm, to adapt, to make a decision, to work with others, to the do the right thing and to achieve the best outcome.

As the Nike advt once said - Just Do It! (Please make a donation to help those in need in Haiti)

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO
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