Monday, September 23, 2013

This Is Why America's Future Will Be Awesome

In his epic volume, Democracy In America, Alexis de Tocqueville described the American character as one of creating a civil society via individual intuitive as opposed to awaiting the blessing of a church, a monarch or any other 'authority'.   The primacy of the individual remains the cornerstone of American identity.  Most dynamic nonprofits were born by the idea and sweat of an individual (who eventually drew others into their orbit).

So as we contemplate the future and the likelihood of decaying government finances, let us remember we still have an abundance of resources to maintain a civil society....and the chief resource is the brainpower and sweat of individuals.  It is they who will be creating the future.

Detroit, as is well documented, has transformed into an urban desert with enough abandoned homes to house all the homeless in Michigan...with enough left over for Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.   Street lights are out, firehouses abandoned, parks left to go to seed.  Into the void has stepped The Mower Gang, best described as just a group of ordinary people who decided to take it upon themselves to maintain 10 abandoned city parks (Detroit has over 340, most abandoned).  They didn't ask permission, they didn't petition the government, they didn't call the media....they just went ahead and did it.  This is Reason TV's coverage of what happens when people are left to their own devices and forced to come up with creative ways to pick up the pieces and find solutions in a city they once loved.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The 5 Talents Of Great Nonprofit Organizations

The data backs up what I've observed over all these years.  Great nonprofits (and great leaders) posses these five characteristics.

1. Gift For Articulating Easily Understood Mission, Goals and Objectives
Not sure I even need to comment on this one.   Remember how you were taught the 'elevator speech' in your professional development course?  Great organizations have that ability , and it's not just the Director.  Staff and volunteers easily rattle off their reason for being, where they are going and how they will get there. 

2. Capacity To Honestly Evaluate Effectiveness

Call this the Anti-Lake Woebegone Effect (where all the children are above average).  Illusory superiority causes many nonprofits to overestimate their positive qualities and abilities and to underestimate their negative qualities.  Great organizations have cold, objective eyes with which to view program outcomes as well as effectiveness of individual members within the organization

3. Knack For Locating and Recruiting 'A' List Talent

With a corollary of having zero tolerance for underperformance.  Correlates with Hire Slow, Fire Fast.  Jim Collins in Good To Great emphasizes getting the right people on the bus...and getting the wrong people off the bus.  I'd add to that the importance of getting people in the right seat.

4. Competence For Efficiently Coordinating Tasks Among Various Board, Staff, Volunteers

Moving everyone in the same direction with a minimum of friction.  Nothing kills morale like having people work at cross-purposes.  Tania Bogatova and Joyce Miller in their book on Lean Operations for service organizations document the chief wasteful activities which eat up resources and degrade the talents of your people. 

5. Ability To Draw Resources From Surrounding Environment

This is not just money, but the subtler things such as knowledge, materials, networks.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Best Idea For Fixing Public Schools

Always been a big Tom Peters fan.  While he's drifted off the 'A' list of management authors, there's one line of his which has stuck with me all these years:
"It is easier to replace than reform"
One of my current favorite writers on K-12 education is Jay Greene, who today posted an provocative piece; “Fix Schools by Not Fixing Schools.”   While the title may be at first perplexing, the thrust of his argument meshes with Peters' theorem of it being easier to replace than reform.
For Greene, we must first understand the forces defending the Status Quo:

The main reason we should stop focusing on fixing traditional public schools is that, for the most part, they don’t want to be fixed.  The people who make their living off of those schools have reasons for wanting schools to be as they are and have enormous political resources to fend off efforts to fundamentally change things.  Trying to impose largely a futile exercise.

Greene's solution is to embrace diversity by the process of creating alternatives:

We can fix going around them.  We can expand access to other educational options, including charter schools, voucher schools, tax-credit schools. ESAs, digital schooling, home-schooling, and hybrid schools.  Reformers should concentrate their energy on all of these non-traditional-school efforts and stop trying so hard to fix traditional public schools.

Like water, we should be seeking the path of least resistance.  After decades of encountering entrenched interests willing to go to war to defend an ossified system, let us take our energies to work around them, to offer true alternatives, and to empower parents to decide which ones work best for their children