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A Coach Can Help You Lead Through Disruption

Karen Haren

Leaders in not-for-profit organizations recognize the value of a coach as they manage through times of crisis. In my own experience as a leader and in coaching executives, here are three reasons a coach can help you lead through a significant disruption such as the pandemic of 2020.

It can be lonely at the top.  Even though there are others who work in your organization, you can feel isolated.  As a leader, you have to wrestle with many issues that you can’t share with your colleagues, direct reports or the board.  A coach is there to listen to you without judging. She can help you talk through the problem or opportunity and develop your strategies.

During the pandemic, you are dealing with sudden seismic change. You are stepping into uncharted territory with new challenges opportunities and responsibilities. There isn’t a road map when you are continually coping with the new normal.  This can be unsettling and cause insecurity. A coach can listen to you and help you chart your course.  A coach can accelerate your learning through the crisis and provide encouragement to build your confidence.

You are up to your assets in alligators. It’s hard to remember your objective was to drain the swamp. You may be stressing over personnel issues or worried that you can’t raise enough money to keep the organization afloat. You might be struggling with communicating with the board. The three most frequent subjects raised by not for profit executives are personnel, fund raising and boards of directors.  A coach can let you vent and help you work through options to chart your course.

Coaching is a relationship process that can help you lead through a crisis, solve problems, manage change and/or reach goals.  EC of OC is here for you!  We provide no cost coaching to nonprofit executives to help nonprofit organizations accomplish their mission. To sign up for a coach visit www.ecofoc.org.

Author:  Karen Haren, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

The Changing Role of Nonprofit Leadership

Dave Blankenhorn

Some time ago I wrote a blog about the skills a leader needs to adapt to our fast-changing world. Little did I realize about how fast and how dramatic it would be.

I talked about the need to be nimble and innovative, the need to create a larger vision for their organizations and the importance of uniting people behind a common mission. Beyond that I talked about navigating changing cultural, regulatory, technical and social needs. Was I ever right about the last ones.

Who would have thought we would be caught in a pandemic that has literally affected our all our lives, socially and economically? The skills you have been using now need to be redirected to help your organization survive and perform its mission in the most difficult times. New priorities need to be set. In addition to your normal activities you must develop new skills that will allow you to manage your group remotely, redesign properly distanced spaces for those who need to work together, provide the mandatory masks and gloves, sanitize various areas and organize the staff.

Your motivational skills will be tested in as never before with your staff, the Board and donors.  Figuring out new ways to raise funds will be a major challenge and might entail altering your primary mission.

How you cope with the new world will dictate how your organization will survive and prosper. None of us can predict the longevity of the crisis or what other problems might befall us as a result. I do know good leadership will carry you through.

Author: Dave Blankenhorn, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Strategic Leadership: What it Means in Nonprofits Today

David Coffaro

Leaders are called to look beyond current conditions. That doesn’t mean we have a crystal ball or overlook today’s reality. It means we have to ask – what’s next for our organization? Not always easy, particularly in the midst of turmoil, yet essential. As evidence of the importance of looking beyond, consider findings from Gallup.

For more than 80 years, Gallup has studied people and organizations during times of crisis. They’ve observed perspectives dating back to the Great Depression through the Covid-19 event. Their research suggests that in times of crisis, there are two directions human nature can pull people – toward fear or self-actualization and engagement [i].

On the engagement front, when leaders present a clear path forward, people demonstrate great resilience. There’s a rallying effect as we pull together toward a common vision to move beyond crisis. That’s why mission and vision for the future are more important in organizations today than any time in recent memory. Per Gallup, one thing is clear. People look to leadership for a crisis management plan, and to provide confidence that there is a way forward that they can contribute to.

Strategic leadership means leading for today, tomorrow, and beyond. In today’s environmentas the next new normal is being defined, strategic leadership manifests through helping shape a new paradigm for your organization. Leading the long view takes place by engaging team members in creating co-ownership of the future state vision and strategy that will bring the vision to life. Vision is distilled into actionable priorities which become the day-to-day operating plan guiding all team members in performing their work.

Strategic leadership recognizes the next stages of new normal will be iterative. Some sectors of the economy will move faster or undergo greater structural reshaping than others over the next 18 – 24 months, resulting in a series of new normals; this impacts for profit and nonprofit organizations alike. Agility in adapting to a fragmented recovery matters. Even with clarity that things won’t be getting back to the normal we knew, strategic leadership today requires acknowledgement that the landscape will continue to change. Context for this perspective helps; the old normal was only a temporary point on a continuum of change; Covid-19 accelerated moving us to the next point.

Strategic leadership capitalizes on opportunities for Adaptive Disruption. Something happened that changed our world. Instead of waiting to see how things play out and what everyone else does, strategic leaders define how to move forward based on what we know today, by proactively adapting strategy.

Vision connects what an organization does to the external world. When the world changes, it is essential to revisit the future state vision to see if it still resonates. Ask – all things considered, will this vision still fit our business in the next new normal, or do we need to refine our future state picture? Needs of the customers you serve might have changed. Structure of the industry may be in flux. The key is determining if the vision needs refinement. Vision informs priorities which anchor the operating plan.When you start with the vision, you focus on cause, not the effect. We can manage cause; we only measure effect. Focusing on cause empowers strategic leadership today.

Warren Buffet said Its only when the tide goes out that you can see who’s swimming naked. The current low-tide environment calls for strategic leadership. The Covid-19 event helped us see new strengths and development needs within the organization, including observations of the overall business model. If this event has helped see previously unrecognized development needs of your team members and the organization overall, capture it for what it is – an opportunity to grow as your next new normal begins.

There is a lot we can’t control or influence. Let’s take what we can impact and start shaping a future that helps team members see how their work connects to the organization’s future state vison as you lead during the next new normal!


Dave Coffaro is a strategic advisor, executive coach and author. His areas of expertise include leading organizations in the process of strategy development and execution, change leadership, organization transformation and innovation. Coffaro is principal of the Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, a management consultancy, and co-founder of Atticus, a fintech firm providing individuals and professional advisors with easy to use, do-it-yourself tools for fiduciary-based activities. His new book is “Leading from Where You Are” (January 2020). For more information, visit www.davecoffaro.com

https://www.gallup.com/workplace/297497/covid-employees-need-leaders-right.aspx


[i] Gallup, What Employees Need From Leadership Right Now, 3/23/20, by Jim Harper

Author: David Coffaro, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

COVID-19 Adaptive Leadership Checklist

Adrianne Geiger Dumond

Challenges and responsibilities for non-profit leaders have increased exponentially with the pandemic.

This article encompasses the many challenges and is published by One-Justice, a legal resource business. I have given the website as a footnote below.[1]

I can’t list all of the challenges covered, but I want to provide a list of priorities that require attention as non-profit leaders start to open up.

• Employee health and safety – regulations covering workplace safety

• Legal – contact legal experts – jurisdictional designations (remote services, sick leave, legal ethics). I had an ED ask me today if a mental health leave was ‘sick eave’.

• Human Resources and Operations – workers’ comp policy, furloughs and lay-offs are handled properly, return to the office plans, appropriate equipment for remote workers.

• Financial relief – use Payroll Protection Plan, contact funders, request relief from conversion of funds to general operations, work with Board on any layoffs or furloughs.

• Remote working – establish remote policies, safeguard confidential information.

• Program design – any change to ongoing programs, check with clients on service needs, check security measures for teleconferencing.

• Culture – promote self-care and coping resources; ensure transparency with staff and employees.

Even though the challenges seem exhaustive it is comforting to know where help is available. This information was found on the BoardSource website, a valuable tool for getting answers.


[1] www.onejustice.orgLos Angeles phone number, (213) 784-3937: San Francisco phone number, (415) 834-3937.

Author: Adrianne Geiger DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Nonprofit Board Accountability

Michael Kogutek, nonprofit management coach
Michael Kogutek

Board accountability is always an issue in the nonprofit world. Dr. Eugene Fram, Emeritus Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology has written a terrific article that is spot on!! 

“Clearly the purpose of a nonprofit board is to serve the constituency that establishes it—be it community, industry, governmental unit and the like. That said, the “how” to best deliver those services is often not so clear.

An executive committee, for example, can overstep its authority by assuming powers beyond its scope of responsibility. I encountered this in one executive committee when the group developed a strategic plan in an interim period where there was no permanent ED. The board then refused to share it with the incoming executive. In another instance, an executive committee took it upon itself to appoint members of the audit committee—including outsiders who were unknown to the majority on the board.

The fuzziness of boundaries and lack of defined authority call for an active nonprofit system of checks and balances. For a variety of reasons this is difficult for nonprofits to achieve:

  • A typical nonprofit board member is often recruited from a pool of friends, relatives and colleagues, and will serve, on a median average, for four to six years.   This makes it difficult to achieve rigorous debate at meetings (why risk conflicts with board colleagues?). Directors also are not as eager to thoughtfully plan for change beyond the limits of their terms. Besides discussing day-to-day issues, the board needs to make sure that immediate gains do not hamper long-term sustainability.
  • The culture of micromanagement is frequently a remnant from the early startup years when board members may have performed operational duties. In some boards it becomes embedded in the culture and continues to pervade the governmental environment, allowing the board and executive committee to involve themselves in areas that should be delegated to management
  • The executive team is a broad partnership of peers–board members, those appointed to the executive committee and the CEO. The executive committee is legally responsible to act for the board between meetings–the board must ratify its decisions. But unchecked, the executive committee can assume dictatorial powers whose conclusions must be rubber-stamped by the board.

Mitigating Oversight Barriers: There is often little individual board members can do to change the course when the DNA has become embedded in the organization. The tradition of micromanagement, for example, is hard to reverse, especially when the culture is continually supported by a succession of like-minded board chairs and CEOs. No single board member can move these barriers given the brevity of the board terms. But there are a few initiatives that three or four directors, working in tandem, can take to move the organization into a high-performance category.

  • Meetings: At the top of every meeting agenda there needs to be listed at least one policy or strategy related item. When the board discussion begins to wander, the chair should remind the group that they are encroaching on an area that is management’s responsibility. One board I observed wasted an hour’s time because the chair had failed to intercept the conversation in this manner. Another board agreed to change its timing of a major development event, then spent valuable meeting time suggesting formats for the new event—clearly a management responsibility to develop.
  • “New Age” Board Members: While millennial managers are causing consternation in some nonprofit and business organizations, certain changes in nonprofits are noteworthy. Those directors in the 40- and- under age bracket need some targeted nurturing. I encountered a new young person who energized the board with her eagerness to try innovative development approaches. She was subsequently appointed to the executive committee, deepening her view of the organization and priming her for senior leadership.Board members who understand the robust responsibilities of a 21st century board need to accept responsibilities for mentoring these new age board people, despite their addictions to their electronic devices.
  • Experienced Board Members: Directors that have served on other high-performance boards have the advantage of being familiar with modern governance processes and are comfortable in supporting change. They are needed to help boards, executive committees and CEOs to move beyond the comfortable bounds of the past. They will be difficult to recruit, but they are required ingredients for successful boards.’

Author: Michael Kogutek, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Moving to the Next Stage of New Normal for Nonprofits

David Coffaro

There is uncertainty about exactly what follows the Covid-19 crisis phase in our daily lives, our business and the economy. Discomfort often accompanies uncertainty and may draw our thoughts to the days when everything seemed so normal.

Ironically, what we perceived as normal in the past was simply a point on a continuum of change to which we became accustomed; with the Covid-19 pandemic, the rate of change accelerated dramatically. The question for leaders today is – what comes next?

The next stage of new normal awaits being written. The economy is an aggregation of individual and organizational actions aligned with some set of objectives. Following systemic shocks, some organizations wait until after the dust settles to interpret and take actions toward a new normal. An alternate approach is to begin defining a new normal for your nonprofit organization now. Here are five ideas on how to begin defining your organization’s next stage of new normal today:

  • Recast a Rolling Quarterly Strategic Plan – Operating plans established at the beginning of fiscal 2020 have been rendered irrelevant. Economic recovery will range from gradual in some sectors to accelerated in others, and this translates to nonprofits as well. Take a strategic approach to recasting plans by revisiting the organization’s vision, then deconstructing objectives into a new set of priorities and actions starting from today’s adjusted baseline. Initially set sights on results through year-end 2021, distilled into six quarterly milestones, adjusting subsequent quarterly expectations as the economy moves toward a new normal.
  • Intentional Discontinuation – Many organizations have reduced activities to business-critical operations only. Before assuming reactivation of all previous normal activities, take inventory of what resource investments no longer serve the organization’s mission. This means identifying activities, processes or services that can be permanently eliminated. By exploring questions about which activities have outlived their usefulness, nonprofit leaders can free-up capacity to apply more impactfully in the next new normal. 
  • New Services or Offerings – What new needs has your organization observed with those you serve during the crisis phase that may be of benefit in a new normal? Throughout history, new ideas and offerings have emerged from extraordinary environments. During World War I, to help soldiers avoid being distracted by their pocket watches, manufacturers began attaching straps to the watch faces they produced. The idea wasn’t new, but demand for wearable timepieces grew significantly following the war allowing forward-thinking manufactures a meaningful long-term growth opportunity. What needs have surfaced that may warrant the attention of your organization?   
  • Adaptive Disruption to Capture Transformational Opportunities – The COVID-19 event proves there are many sources of disruption impacting nonprofit organizations. Leaders can use this unfortunate disruptor to examine their business models and reimagine their operating paradigms. 
  • Development Opportunities – Leaders learned about efficacy of business continuations plans through the Covid-19 crisis phase. They also observed strengths and developmental needs of teams and their members as the nature of engagement and operations adapted quickly during crisis. How can you use these observations and learnings to build a long-term development plan for your organization?    

The next new normal is being defined today. This is the time to develop your plan on how your organization will navigate its’ next chapter.

NOTE: This article is based on Moving to the Next Stage of New Normal by Dave Coffaro, published in SmartBrief on Leadership, April 20, 2020.

Dave Coffaro is a strategic advisor, executive coach and author. His areas of expertise include leading organizations in the process of strategy development and execution, change leadership, organization transformation and innovation. Coffaro is principal of the Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, a management consultancy, and co-founder of Atticus, a fintech firm providing individuals and professional advisors with easy to use, do-it-yourself tools for fiduciary-based activities. His new book is “Leading from Where You Are” (January 2020). For more information, visit Coffaro’s website. 

Author: David Coffaro, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Remote Leadership

Michael Kogutek, nonprofit management coach
Michael Kogutek

As you navigate the the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 storm and its impact on your organization, it is essential that you develop remote leadership skills

My colleague, Dr. Alex Abramin, Leadership coach and an Organizational Psychologist from LA writes a terrific article on remote leading. “With everyone transitioning current business processes into the virtual world, managing teams virtually can be relatively new and challenging for some leaders.

For those with experience managing teams virtually, this is a nice refresher and reminder. Through my research, I’m pulling information that could shed some light and provide guidance for those who may be experiencing challenges engaging and managing their teams virtually.

We are aware that virtual teams can be more challenging to lead, so keep in mind that in order to effectively lead your team, you’re going to have to spend more time and effort toward these recommendations below. The time you use to implement these will immediately be noticed, recognized, and appreciated by your team. 

1. Embody Respect

Through the midst of challenging times, we must remember to respect one another and still hear the voice of your team members. Try to make some time in your virtual meetings to ask questions and gather opinions from the people on your team. Expressing their opinion is a way for them to stay engaged and be heard. This creates a form a of mutual respect. Take more time than you used to to hear your team’s opinions.

2. Engage in Positive Predictable Behavior

As individuals, we tend to have some level of resistance to change. In order to reduce some of that resistance, it’s important to institute some predictable behavior so that there’s some sense of structure or norm in the midst of change. When working virtually, this can mean being early or on time when leading your meetings; checking in with your team on a personal level before every meeting; asking each person to share gratitude moments before the meeting begins; or honoring the commitments you’ve made or at least addressing them. 

3. Apply Positive Intent

There are times that our judgment and bias can kick in while working with others, and when working virtually, this can enhance those challenges. There’s a lot more room for misinterpretation when working virtually, so here’s what you can do to alleviate those judgements and biases. For example, when reading an email, notice your emotional and physical reaction. Take a step back to see the perspective they are coming from. Take a deep breath or even walk away for a minute to drink a glass of water. Come back with a fresh perspective and ask for clarification through phone or video-chat. It’s better to hear from the individual rather than misinterpret an email or message with assumptions.

4. Be Present

When working from home or remotely, there are constant reminders and distractions among us. It’s important to model the behavior of being present during virtual meetings. This means being off your cellphone and disregarding other notifications and emails that are coming in. Notice and mention facial expressions on camera or tones of voice through audio. Show your team that you are just as engaged as you were while working in the office. 

5. Contribution

Be clear on what the team’s goal is at the beginning of the meeting so that your team knows what you are all working towards. After establishing the team’s goal, build clarity throughout the meeting on everyone’s role and expectations that contribute to the success of the team’s goal. Your team wants to know that they are taking part in contributing to the whole rather than just feeling like a cog in the machine. 

6. Establish Regular Meeting Times

During times of change, establishing routine is important. As much as employees appreciate autonomy, we tend to like some form of structure when it comes to our teams and work we produce. With working virtually, meetings need to be more established so that employees know what’s expected of them. To enhance this further, asking your team for input on the agenda of the meeting can create more engagement. This way you’re creating an open forum space while also setting the tone for the meeting to come. 

7. Revive Engagement Rules 

Being clear about the “ground rules” might seem obvious, but when working virtually it can be a helpful reminder of what to expect from your team. Be clear and concise, whether it’s being dressed appropriately; waiting to share your opinion; being respectful of everyone in the room; or asking for honest feedback. 

8. Use Visual Forms of Communication

Technology has improved drastically over the years to help us with making virtual interactions more engaging and effective. Meaning that we can utilize more visual forms of communication rather than just video conferencing. We can share documents, screens, videos, use polling features, create breakout rooms, and more. When working on projects that require some ideation and collaboration, try using breakout rooms so have team members engage in smaller groups and come back with options for an even greater solution. Using different forms of communication during virtual times keeps the team engaged and interested in what’s to come next.

9. Agree on use of technology and platforms for collaboration

With having many forms to technology around us, we tend to have access to multiple communication platforms. Bring this up to your team and ask for input on what platform options would be most effective for efficient communication and collaboration. Examples of platforms consist of Slack, WhatsApp, Jabber, WebEx, Zoom, GoToMeeting, and others. Gather opinions from the team, assess the pros and cons, and commit to specific platforms so there’s more clarity and less confusion.  

10. Ask for Feedback

As leaders, we feel as though we need to have all the answers. In reality, that’s not the case. Some of us are not familiar with leading virtual teams or meetings. It’s okay to admit that. This is a time where we are all learning to appreciate and utilize technology. Be open, transparent and honest about it. Ask your team for feedback on how we can improve working virtually. Ask your team what support they need. It creates a sense of vulnerability and comfort know that they can come to you with their thoughts or ideas. 

11. Be Available and Share it

It’s hard to establish an open-door policy when there’s no actual door. Be more clear about when you’re available and how. Your team wants to know when they can reach you. Leaving your availability vague or up in the air can create discomfort and uncertainty for some employees. Employees want to be able to know how to reach you when they need support. In your next meeting, share some ways you’re available to them and how.

12. Follow-up

After every meeting, I highly recommend a follow-up email that shows what was discussed in the conversation as a way to show that you were present and engaged. As a leader, your employees want to know you are engaged. A follow-up email will provide them with clarity on expectations moving forward and your modeling positive predictable behavior by being present. Although follow-up emails can be time consuming, the benefits outweigh the effort. 

13. Encourage Informal Off-Line Conversations 

We need human interaction. When entering a virtual world, it can be a challenge for those who have never experienced it. We took our interactions with team members for granted. Now that we don’t have physical access to our team members like we used to, encourage your team to connect with one another outside of the regular meetings that are scheduled. Just because the team is working virtually doesn’t meant that you can’t have informal conversations like you used to. 

Just a reminder, these are all different practices of making virtual work more convenient and effective for all. Take this one step at a time and try a new method every week. You are not going to become a guru virtual leader overnight. These are options on how to improve and collaborate more effectively, virtually. 

Author: Michael Kogutek, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Leadership Qualities for the Crisis

Adrianne Geiger Dumond

How many of you are as sick as I am of hearing and seeing the words COVID-19.

I couldn’t even put it in this title. But it is affecting all of our lives – and each person differently. As quoted in an article I just read, “a paramedic will understand only that the hospital is overloaded, a hospital administrator will only know that the generator is not working.”[1]

I believe it is time to consider what leadership skills and qualities can best guide this situation. I will quote generously from an author, Gene Klann who has written a book on crisis management and is referenced in the article below.[2]

Klann cites 5 ways to lead and adapt to the crisis. I will briefly cover those:

  1. Seek credible information. I think this is difficult because there is so much information available. I believe it is important to check with staff and employees to see what information they are following. This is a good opportunity for leaders to calm, support and build a reassuring culture.
  2. Use appropriate communication channels. Of course transparency is of the utmost importance in a crisis. Klann has these points to stress: Information
    • reduces emotional distress caused by the unknown;
    • diminishes fear;
    • provides tactical guidance;
    • demonstrates to employees that their leaders are concerned, involved, knowledgeable, and on top of the situation.
  3. Explain what your organization is doing about the crisis. If you are in charge take charge, be proactive, take initiative. Do something even if it might be wrong. Paralysis and over analyzing may be riskier. 
  4. Be present, Visible, and Available. Let employees know how they can best reach you for status updates and any questions they may have. Flexible leadership ranks over organizational protocol and bureaucracy.                                                                                          

Dedicate organizational resources for future needs. Many organizations don’t take advantage of what they have learned after the crisis. This time is valuable to track lessons learned as a critical step to a Crisis Action Plan.                


[1][1] Gene Klann, 5 Ways to Lead and Adapt Through a Crisis, Center for Creative Leadership, March 24, 2020

[2] Gene Klann, Crisis Leadership, Using Military Lessons, Organizational Experiences, and the Power of Influence to Lessen the Impact of Chaos on the People You Lead.

Author: Adrianne Geiger DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

The Last I Looked, It Was Still There

Victoria Collins

Who could have imagined the changes we’re seeing?

Challenged right now to the depths of our being.

Is this the new normal? What can we expect?

As April begins, we can’t even predict.

 

The culprits of crisis are not just a few:

Action delayed sparked the virus to spread,

Lack of tests, masks, protective gear filled us with dread.

As efforts assessing these mishaps will grow,

Delivery of healthcare must change, we all know.

 

Stock markets in freefall and then sharply up

Investors weigh in– to buy or to sell

With fluctuations so wild, no one can tell.

Confidence in our ourselves is now what we need

And pundits and gurus we should learn less to heed.

 

Our leaders woke up to a major challenge at hand

A weakened economy reaches all of the land

To avert a disaster comes welcome relief

Two trillion + dollars

A number so large, but a surprise bigger still

Politics put aside and work getting done

Bi-partisanship efforts acting as one!

 

The stimulus package and what the Fed is now doing

Will it save the economy and build confidence again?

While it’s likely too early for the impact to show,

Are these steps being taken the best ones we know?

 

A new definition for “together” with family and friends

Virtual dates, social distancing, Zoom meetings too,

Online learning and services are starting new trends.

As we search for technology not easy to hack

Low tech like “snail mail” might make a “comeback”.

 

Americans are resilient, just look to the past,

We’ve overcome challenges and this won’t be the last.

So when pundits say the sky is falling

Let’s tell them that wealth is more than just money

It’s family, friends, health and the freedom we share.

 

The last time I looked, the sky was still there.          

            

Author: Victoria Collins, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Leading from Zero for Nonprofit Organizations

David Coffaro

These early days of the new decade are the perfect point to consider practicing the concept of Leading from Zero.  Perhaps a more familiar strategy is Zero Based Budgeting – the approach where each new budget cycle starts from a baseline of zero assumed recurring expenses.

No incremental expense increase over the prior period. Every dollar invested for existing or new activities stands on its own, justified in the current time period, not the past. The objective of Zero Based Budgeting is to assure manager accountability for expenses and the activities they fund to create value for the organization.

Leading from Zero is grounded in a similar principle. Every organization – nonprofit or for profit – starts its day from a base of zero. Zero customers. Zero donors. Zero employees. Zero volunteers. Zero revenue. Leaders must influence their organizations and earn relevance with customers, employees, volunteers, donors and other stakeholders daily. Organizations have no entitlement to customers, employees, volunteers, donors or revenue. They recognize that these stakeholders have free will and will only engage with an organization if its mission is relevant, its value proposition is clear and it continually delivers on both the mission and value proposition. Contracts exist, but in the long run, all agents (vendors, contractors, suppliers) are free agents.

Leading from Zero assumes:

  • Competition for the most valuable resources – human, intellectual, physical, economic, non-economic – is strong and will remain so into the foreseeable future
  • Barriers to entry in most sectors are malleable or nonexistent, therefore the potential for new competitors is high
  • Competitive advantages are temporary at best
  • Pricing and cost pressure are constant, coupled with an expectation of continually providing more to stakeholders

These assumptions place leaders in a position that requires a new paradigm for how they view their roles and further their organizations. This paradigm says that an organization must:

  • Differentiate itself as a resource development exemplar
  • Practice self-initiated disruption
  • Exhibit an obsession for continually adding greater value
  • Consistently demonstrate efficiency gains in operations

Each of these pillars represent ongoing processes, not one-time events or special projects. A Leading from Zero mindset informs the organization that effective execution of these processes earns relevance with all stakeholders daily. Failure to re-earn relevance over time opens an organization to suboptimal access to the best resources, weakness relative to competition, and poor economic performance. 

Leading from Zero actions you can take now:

2. Define Cultural Values in Advance of Partnership – In the movie, Ford stressed the importance of a team victory while Shelby was portrayed valuing rugged individualism. These two approaches represent different cultural values.

  1. Identify one resource area to focus upon for developing a differentiation strategy. If you chose the human resource arena, you might begin with developing an employee value proposition which authentically answers the question “why work at this organization”. This is particularly important in the nonprofit and social sectors, where alignment with the mission attracts talent to an organization. With the statement drafted, strategy work may include review of employee development resources, career pathing tools, position descriptions and recruiting practices to assure alignment with the spirit of the value proposition. The goal – Take a first step in the process of differentiating your organization as a resource development exemplar.
  2. Identify one opportunity for self-disruption. Look for candidates by examining processes, products and your stakeholder engagement approach for a candid assessment of elevated exposure to external competitive threats. The goal – Take a first step in the process of proactively identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in processes, products or stakeholder engagement approach.   
  3. Identify one upgrade or enhancement you can offer customers this year. A prerequisite for this action is understanding where beneficiary needs are shifting in order to preemptively address demand. The goal – Take a first step in the process of creating greater value for your beneficiaries by assuring you will meet their future needs.

These actions are a starting point in operationalizing the Leading from Zero paradigm. The benefit to your organization is earning greater relevance from the perspective of your customers, employees and other stakeholders.    

Author: David Coffaro, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org