Category Archives: Dave Coffaro

Think Tomorrow, Act Today

David Coffaro

For most nonprofit organizations, the first half of 2020 was heavily tilted toward understanding – understanding Covid-19 and its impacts to daily life and business, causes and solutions to racial problems, and, how to find certainty in uncertain circumstances. Today, as year-end comes into focus, many questions that dominated the first half of the year remain unanswered. How do leaders focus activities to keep the organization moving forward while lacking clarity from indicators often used as guideposts?

Making Strategy Matter

Making strategy matter happens when leaders intentionally choose activities in alignment with their nonprofit’s vision. Vision – the future state picture of what an organization seeks to create in the world – informs leaders’ activity choices, and, serves as a conduit between the nonprofit and its board, staff and clients. Strategies are the bundling of chosen activities, and not to be confused with goals or objectives.

London Business School strategy professor, Freek Vermeulen, wrote in the Harvard Business Review[i] “One major reason for the lack of action is that “new strategies” are often not strategies at all. A real strategy involves a clear set of choices that define what the firm is going to do and what it’s not going to do. Many strategies fail to get implemented, despite the ample efforts of hard-working people, because they do not represent a set of clear choices.

Given events in the first half of the year, there is a risk that strategies and their underlying activities no longer move the nonprofit toward its vision. Leaders can make strategy matter by taking three steps right now:

  • Think Tomorrow – Assure your organization’s future state vision still fits. If the way your organization needs to show-up in the world has changed, it’s time to refresh or redefine the vision.
  • Act Today – Even absent perfect line-of-sight into the future, a clear organizational vision enables leaders to review and refine specific activities supporting their strategies. Those strategies that no longer fit the vision, or, require reconstitution of underlying activities must be redesigned now. 
  • Commit to Activity Reviews – Connecting tomorrow’s vision with today’s actions requires frequent assessment of results and deconstructing outcomes into their root-cause activities. Cause-based performance analysis requires understanding composition of activities that created results, then, assessing performance effectiveness of chosen activities. By understanding if the right activities were engaged in, and effectiveness of strategy execution, leaders can quickly adjust to change outcomes.  

Strategy matters when the right combination of activities are selected to fulfill an organization’s vision, clearly defined, designed, communicated and deployed through all employees. Navigating the remaining month of 2020 and into the new year requires leaders to revisit their business activities to assure strategies still fit the rapidly evolving nonprofit operating environment.   


[i] Harvard Business Review, Many Strategies Fail Because They’re Not Actually Strategies, by Freek Vermeulen

November 08, 2017 – https://hbr.org/2017/11/many-strategies-fail-because-theyre-not-actually-strategies#:~:text=Many%20strategy%20execution%20processes%20fail%20because%20the,not%20have%20something%20worth%20executing.&text=One%20major%20reason%20for%20the,it’s%20not%20going%20to%20do.


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

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

Leading by Cause in the Nonprofit Arena

David Coffaro

Lessons throughout history inform us that cause precedes effect; actions create results. Plato explained the principle of causality saying every­thing that becomes or changes must do so owing to some cause; for nothing can come to be without a cause (Timaeus 28a). In Codex Atlanticus, Leonardo DaVinci wrote No effect is in Nature without cause; you understand the cause and you do not need any experience. And as every school child learns for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction per Sir Issac Newton’s third law.

With depth of affirmation around cause preceding effect, why do business leaders focus so heavily on analyzing their numbers, or, focus on the effect instead of the cause? A recent conversation with a community bank CEO focused on his vision for the company. He opened the dialog saying he and his leadership team had put a lot of thought into where they want to take their bank, and the vision they committed to was to deliver top decile ROE, ROA and topline revenue growth. A quintessential example of focusing on effect, not cause.

In their CFO Magazine piece, How An Obsession with Metrics Is Killing Your Company (https://www.cfo.com/analytics/2016/04/obsession-metrics-killing-company/), authors Alexander Van Caeneghem and Jean-Marie Bequevort, write “the quest for financial performance and the pressure to measure can corrode organizational cultures, narrow the focus of leadership, reduce intrinsic motivation, and support unethical behavior. With a similar theme, Michael Harris and Bill Taylor’s Harvard Business Review article, Don’t Let Metrics Undermine Your Business (https://hbr.org/2019/09/dont-let-metrics-undermine-your-business) said “A company can easily lose sight of its strategy and instead focus strictly on the metrics that are meant to represent it.” 

Logic tells us we can manage cause, but only measure effect. Yet we often overlook the real story – the aggregation of activities that created the results reflected in our numbers. Leading by Cause is an approach that says – use results to understand activities, effectiveness, and efficiency in context of the organization’s vision and strategy.  When results do not meet expectation, the root cause is embedded in one (or more) of these elements – choices of activities performed, performance effectiveness, and performance efficiency. Shifting to cause-based analysis of results positions leaders to laser-target interventions – coaching, guiding, managing or taking direct action – to change the trajectory of outcomes. There are three paradoxes to navigate in making the shift to Leading by Cause:  

  • Effect vs. Cause Conversations – Cause-based performance analysis requires understanding composition of activities that created results.  A common effect-based conversation among managers when results that don’t meet expectations starts out with “fund raising is 5% below target, so let’s do everything we can to drive it up to make plan”. A cause-based conversation gets at the root – “What were the development activities over the past quarter that created these results? Which donors did we focus on? How did we engage those donors? What was their reaction to what we have to offer? What is getting in the way of our new fundraising development activities?”  
  • Appearance of Improvement vs. Improvement – In the effects domain, managers often look for steps to improve the appearance of their P&L results, yet no real, underlying change takes place. For example, delaying travel or deferring other expenses in the last weeks of a quarter to create the appearance of lower operating costs, thus a better bottom line. Results look better, but the root cause creating undesirable results has not been sleuthed-out.  
  • Math vs. Behavior – Operating results presented in an organization’s P&L reflect an aggregation of activities. It’s easy to analyze operating results in a sterile manner, quantifying month-over-month changes and variance to plan; of course, numbers don’t lie! But, every numeric result – fund development, events, marketing, or operational activities – reflects human behavior. Cause-based analysis of results seeks to understand the behavioral factors contributing to outcomes reflected in the P&L – “What changed in our development activities last quarter vs. the same period last year? What effect is our largest peer nonprofit’s new development strategy having on their results? How effective is the collaboration between departments?”  

Leading by Cause requires deconstruction of results into elements. Understanding the numbers is important; knowing what caused the numbers is empowering.

*Based on an article originally published by the author in Lead Change (www.leadchangegroup.com)


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

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

Strategic Resilience

David Coffaro

President Franklin Roosevelt is credited with saying a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. As optimistic as this tough times don’t last, but tough people do sentiment is, it doesn’t diminish the fact that many a sailor experiences acute queasiness when circumnavigating billowing whitecaps. Notwithstanding occasional nausea, what is it that contributes to interpreting rough waters as invitation to experience new levels of success? Strategic Resilience.

Strategic Resilience is the practice of thinking forward while leading through present turbulence – adapting to difficult operating circumstances while looking beyond current conditions to keep focused on the horizon. Context for Strategic Resilience is dynamic fluidity in the operating environment.

Leading through Multivariate Normal

Getting back to normal gave way to getting to the new normal a decade ago during the Great Recession. What’s clear today is that each organization is traversing a series of temporary normals – brief chapters in their company’s story, accelerated as conditions change. Holding this dynamic perspective helps leaders synchronize their organizations with the reality of fluidity. Practicing strategic resilience requires accepting asymmetrical change as the norm. With this mindset, team members look to the organization’s vision and values instead of specific practices, products, operating goals or legacy accomplishments as touchstones.

According to a recent Gallup study, resilience is a make-or-break trait for organizations during tough times like the Covid pandemic. Gallup found “Thriving and resilient cultures endure through good times and bad. These cultures prove their endurance during tough times by experiencing minimized disruption of key outcomes, such as productivity, customer service and profit. Resilient cultures survive. Even during good economic times, new threats to organizations are constant — and constantly changing. Thriving, resilient cultures see accelerated performance compared with their peers” [i] .

Practicing Strategic Resilience

Here are five practices to raise your Strategic Resilience acumen as a leader:

  • Acknowledge current reality – When times are uncertain, the operating environment is rapidly changing, and status quo is anything but status quo, call it what it is – fluid, dynamic and uncomfortable. Finding the right balance between acknowledgement and wallowing can be a challenge. Still, leaders own the tone and are accountable for moving the organization through describing the condition into action; positioning the condition is simply context.   
  • Re-connect with the vision and values – The world outside your organization changes quickly. You adjust operating activities accordingly. But your business vision is focused on the horizon and remains more constant. Vision is the future state picture an organization strives to create and results from what do we do (mission), why do we do it (purpose), and how we fulfill our mission (strategy). Values are core beliefs which define what the organization stands for. Values stand even more static than vision. In the words of Good to Great author Jim Collins, every institution has to wrestle with a vexing question: What should change and what should never change? Timeless core values should never change; operating practices and cultural norms should never stop changing. Reconnecting with your organization’s vision and values provides comfort in a storm and true north through all conditions.
  • Communicate touchpoints for stability, including a focus on the future – Leaders are called to look beyond current conditions. That doesn’t mean having a crystal ball. It does mean sustaining dialog around the question – what’s next for our organization? With vision and values as points of stability, articulating the view toward the horizon draws attention forward, beyond current uncertainty. Engaging team members in the long game contributes to an organization’s strategic resilience.
  • Define what success looks like today, in this moment; adjust as the future unfolds – Goals are generally established on a quarterly or annual basis. When operating conditions change rapidly, goals must be redefined in context of current, dynamic reality. Team members perform at their best when they know what success looks like, and when expectations are aligned with dynamics of the environment. Per Gallup,“During tough times, employees need managers who reset priorities, involve them in reestablishing their goals and constantly clarify their role relative to their coworkers”.
  • Swim with the current – A rip current is a powerful, narrow, fast-moving channel of water that starts near the shore, with a strong pull toward breaking waves. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, if you experience rip currents when swimming at the beach, the best way to avoid drowning is to stay calm, avoid fighting the water’s movement and swim parallel to the shore. Fighting the current exhausts the swimmer, jeopardizing the likelihood of a safe return to shore. Said another way, fighting the current is not a path to success. For leaders, this translates to understanding rip current-like changes in the business environment’s flow, quickly adapting to condition changes, and keeping sight of the vision and opportunities for accelerating progress (aka, returning to shore).

Strategic resilience as a practice enables leaders to renew esprit de corps, focus their organization’s activities and make strategy work.


[i] From Gallup Is Your Culture Resilient Enough to Survive Coronavirus? by Jim Harter, May 20, 2020

https://www.gallup.com/workplace/311270/culture-resilient-enough-survive-coronavirus.aspx?utm_source=workplace-newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WorkplaceNewsletter_Jun_06092020&utm_content=5keyelements-cta-1&elqTrackId=78aa69c6485347c9bfd858a055ced845&elq=e642439ed5df44a298b8689b1a8b6884&elqaid=4245&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=901


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

Author: David Coffaro, 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

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

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

Ford vs. Ferrari Leadership Lessons

David Coffaro

The hit movie, Ford vs. Ferrari, tells the story of a partnership between famed American performance car designer Carroll Shelby and the Ford Motor Company. This joint venture came about to develop a Ford-branded race car for competition in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and beat Ferrari’s entrants – the race’s perennially winners. The story takes place in the mid-1960s when Ford sought to broaden their appeal and engage Baby Boomers, then in their late teens, with products like the new Mustang.

The plot weaves its way through the failed 1963 acquisition attempt of Ferrari by Ford, which fueled a racing rivalry between the two auto manufacturers. Ford Motor Company is portrayed as a traditional company hampered by bureaucracy; Carroll Shelby as an entrepreneurial, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants innovator. Though the partnership had plenty of ups and downs, the collaboration led to creation of the Ford GT40, which delivered four Le Mans victories from 1966 – 1969.

Notwithstanding dramatic representations of conflict and egos in the storyline, the movie offers some valuable leadership lessons. Here are my top three:

1. Establish Clear Shared Goals Up-front when beginning a new project. Ford wanted to update their brand image to capture market share with Baby Boomers coming of age in the mid-1960s. Boomers wanted cool, sporty cars and Ford executives knew they had to address demand or lose share to competitors. Ford reasoned victories on the racetrack would translate to an uptick in brand perception. Beating Ferrari in races was important, but taking the checkered flag was part of a bigger goal – attracting new customers. Carroll Shelby wanted to build high-performance race cars that won races. He was innovative and pragmatic, seeking the best design and components to win races. The subtle difference between these two goals – winning car buyers vs. winning races – was the source of great frustration in the partnership.

In your work, you may have collaborated on a project with another department in your organization. Their goal was to get the project done with the lowest price tag possible; yours was to deliver the best possible product to your customers. If you didn’t know you had different goals up-front, divergence may have fed dysfunction. Establishing clear, shared goals as a first step in collaboration increases the likelihood of a successful partnership.

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.

Some organizations design incentives and rewards that encourage competition among colleagues while others tout sentiment like “there is no ‘I’ in team” to inspire working together. By defining your organization’s cultural values around inclusiveness, team vs. individual, winning at any cost vs. mindful success metrics clarifies what you stand for and what is expected. Consistently living clearly defined cultural values attracts like-minded talent to the organization, which reinforces and strengthens the culture.   

3. Don’t Underestimate your Competition – Ferrari executives are portrayed not taking Ford seriously as a competitor at Le Mans. At one point, Enzo Ferrari refers to Ford as an ugly company that builds ugly cars in an ugly factory. Ferrari underestimated Ford’s resolve to be a bona fide competitor.

How many times have you seen this happen? Out of nowhere, a new entrant comes into a business and conventional wisdom said “They’ll never succeed; they don’t know the business like we do”. Category killers, market disruptors or simply new approaches, unencumbered by legacy thinking, transform an industry. The moral to the story, assume the threat is real until you can prove otherwise!

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

Navigating the Talent Crunch

David Coffaro

Great news! The headline on CNBC read “Payrolls jump in June well above expectations” https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/05/jobs-report-june-2019.html. The article highlighted a sharp rebound in hiring in June, as the U.S. economy had the largest gain in jobs since January. The labor force participation rate increased one-tenth of a percent to 62.9%, its best since March, and underemployment was reported at its lowest level since early 2001.

All good news, right? Well, it is wonderful news for people in the market for work. Demand for qualified workers is very strong. But what about the view of the non-profit working to fill open or newly created positions? Here, the story changes.

It’s not a headline to report that many industries are experiencing a challenging time for attracting new and seasoned talent. Today’s college graduates and early career job seekers have more career path options than even a decade ago. According to a recent article in Money magazine (http://money.com/money/5644053/best-jobs-recent-college-graduates-salary/), the most popular jobs for recent college graduates right now include software engineer, registered nurse, salesperson, teacher and accountant. The non profit is not going to make the list.

So what is an organization to do when they need to bring in new talent? Here are three steps to help leaders win the battle for talent:

1. Recognize that we are in a different kind of “seller’s market” for talent than any time in recent memory. Immediately after the 2008-2009 financial crises, there were many more candidates than there were jobs available. That dynamic has changed. Recognition of this shift informs organizational leaders that it is incumbent upon them to consciously define, design and deliver clear and intentional talent acquisition strategies. This means who the organization targets, how they proactively connect with potential candidates, developing and maintaining a talent acquisition pipeline and assuring that all managers co-own the firm’s talent acquisition objectives.

2. Reframe your organization’s talent management strategy. Talent management strategy is as critical as any other aspect of the organization’s operating strategy. It must include an all-out positioning and prioritization of the organization’s approach to creating and living a compelling value proposition about why a candidate would choose to work at your non-profit, clarity around why it’s a great place to work and understandable career development and pathing options.

Today’s job seekers expect more from potential employers than a paycheck. They need to know that they are doing meaningful work that helps enhance peoples’ lives. Consider a recent Harvard Business Review article that says 9 out of 10 people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work (https://hbr.org/2018/11/9-out-of-10-people-are-willing-to-earn-less-money-to-do-more-meaningful-work).

3. Position HR as a front-line talent management arm. In the current talent crunch, human resources professionals must have a front-row seat at the organization’s strategy table. HR leaders need to co-create and co-own all aspects of the talent management strategy – the employee value proposition, talent pipeline management and acquisition, learning and development, total benefit and compensation programs, career pathing management and talent retention.

In the words of Jim Morrison of the Doors, the time to hesitate is through! This is the day to develop your organization’s talent management strategy to assure you are effectively positioned to navigate the demand for talent today and into the foreseeable future.

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

2020 Vision: 3 Conversations to Have About the Future Today

David Coffaro
David Coffaro

Strategy Imagine it’s New Year’s Eve 2020. It’s getting close to midnight and under your breath, you say to yourself “I can’t believe the year went by so fast!”

You have a few quiet moments by yourself before gathering with family and friends to join the countdown to 2021, and you reflect back on highlights of the year that’s quickly coming to a close. You mentally run through some of your personal highlights: family, vacation, social gatherings, exciting events. Then like most leaders, you roll through scenes from your work life that stand out.

As you think back over 2020, what are the top two or three highlights that come to mind? What were the greatest contributions your team made to the success of your organization? Which activities that your team intentionally engaged in had the greatest impact toward fulfilling the company’s vision?

Right now, thinking about the completion of a year that hasn’t yet begun may seem far off in the future. This is the time of year when leaders are fine-tuning their financial plans and budgets for 2020 and generally focused on the question “How will we make our numbers next year?” The numbers question is important; we have to deliver expected financial results.

But numbers in isolation are simply a reflection of what’s already happened. They quantify results of the activities we’ve already completed and how effectively we executed upon them. They are not a picture of what we want to make happen. That’s where the vision thing comes into the conversation.

2020 Vision

As you think about the impact your organization will make in 2020 beyond the financial results you plan to create, consider revisiting the vision. Even if your organization’s vision has been more cosmetic than actionable, this is the perfect time for your team to delve into three strategic questions that can shape accomplishments in the upcoming year. These are three conversations about tomorrow for today:

Conversation No. 1

How well do our actions align with our company’s vision? This conversation requires a candid self-assessment of the vision to make sure it’s real and the team owns it. If there’s any doubt about true buy-in to the vision, an early strategic priority leading into 2020 is to invest leadership team time into redefining where you’re going. Vision sets an organization’s course and informs activities. 

What do we do (mission), why do we do it (purpose), and how do we fulfill our mission (strategy) are essential questions an organization must answer in order to define its place in the world. Taken together, the answers define an organization’s vision.

Conversation No. 2

What are the most important two or three strategic priorities we want to deliver beyond the expected financial results in 2020? With your vision as the guide, this conversation informs specific areas of impact your team will focus upon beginning now. Vision is irrelevant unless it informs priorities and those priorities define actions.

This conversation takes a deductive “if, then” approach: “if our No. 1 priority is acquiring and developing new talent, then we will _________”.  This conversation also leads to rich self-assessment of previously stated strategic priorities. If a team said their No. 1 priority last year was acquiring and developing talent, yet no specific actions were taken, it wasn’t really a priority.

Conversation No. 3

What are the areas in our organization we should be looking at for self-disruption? During the late 1990s tech boom, the concept of disruption grabbed the attention of the business world. New entrants in a market gave birth to novel ways of serving customers, gained share and changed industries. While disruption has become a core strategy, today the question is “where are there opportunities to self-disrupt?” 

This conversation invites your team to temporarily step outside their roles, look at the organization from a third-party observer perspective and ask the question “if we were starting this business from scratch today, how would we do it?” It requires temporarily letting go of legacy constraints and look at your operation the way a potential disruptor would see things, then challenge your organization to initiate self-disruption.

One of the greatest responsibilities we hold as leaders is driving continual evolution of the organization toward a well-defined future state. Today is the right day to begin these conversations about the 2020 vision your team wants to create. Today you can write scenes of the story you’ll look back to with great fulfillment on New Year’s Eve 2020.

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

Changing Pies

David Coffaro
Dave Coffaro

As nonprofit development professionals know, there are many factors that influence charitable donations. Emotional connection to an organization’s mission, commitment to creating a better community, giving back to a charity that made a difference in someone’s life or tax deductions can all be influencers. Add to these internal motivations the external reality of economic conditions and you have an ever-changing environment informing development strategies.

Strategy as a Process, not an Event

Successful leaders know that their ability to adapt strategy as environments change is fundamental to sustaining a thriving organization. Reading the environment, interpreting temporary and longer-term structural changes and proactively adjusting approach are critical determinants of success.

Today, nonprofit leaders face an environmental shift in terms of fundraising. New preliminary IRS information, reported by MarketWatch this week (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/americans-slashed-their-charitable-deductions-by-54-billion-after-trumps-tax-overhaul-2019-07-09) indicates that as a result of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, taxpayers have itemized $54 billion less in charitable contributions so far this tax season compared to the previous year. These numbers could change as the IRS receives more tax returns (the agency expects a record 14.6 million tax return extension requests this year), but the headline corroborates what many nonprofits have been feeling over the past year of fundraising.

At first blush, this news suggests that nonprofits must now compete for a smaller pie of charitable giving. However, when we dig a little deeper, it may be that there are other pies available to get a bigger slice. Here are three specific ideas to contemplate as your organization considers refining and adapting its’ strategy:

  • Market the mission – Step into the shoes of the donor and ask “why would I contribute to your organization”. Tax benefits are one reason, but for most of your donors, there is some kind of emotional connection to your mission. The work your organization does every day resonates with the donor at some level, or they wouldn’t be one of your donors. This is a perfect time to revisit your mission, how you articulate it, your organization’s value proposition and how you message all of this through every medium to make sure the story is communicated the way it needs to be delivered.
  • Increase focus on corporations and foundations – Concurrent with the 1/1% decline in the dollar amount of donations from individuals, funds from corporations and foundations actually  increased (+5.4% from corporations and +7.3% from foundations). Translation – there’s still a lot of pie available; you just may have to look in different places to get what your organization needs. This is where the role of leaders comes into play in terms of refining strategy based on a changing environment.
  • Explore non-financial gifts – Beyond the 2017 tax law changes, one theory suggests that equity market volatility over the past year may be playing a role in individual giving. This behavioral finance explanation suggests that when capital markets are volatile, investors feel less confident, therefore more cautious about donating from their investment portfolios to charities. As an alternative, developing or expanding your organization’s focus on non-financial gifts – real estate, automobiles, oil, gas or mineral rights, specialty assets or artwork may be a way to enable your donors to support the mission in a manner that is more comfortable in the current market cycle.

Effective nonprofit strategy is on ongoing, dynamic process that continually recalibrates to its environment. This is a perfect time to revisit your organization’s strategy to see how it aligns with current reality, and the pies that are available to you.

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