Saturday, November 25, 2017

Did Your SWOT Really Guide You To Think About The Future?

Nonprofits, cities, and towns, brush off your strategic plan for a moment.  It’s always a good time to do so or else they begin to whither on your website or in a file.  Did you do an exercise, a SWOT,  in which you identified you identified the strengths of your organization; weaknesses, often a limited budget or lack of extra dollars to pay for additional staff; opportunities, a new program to meet a new or existing need; threats, another nonprofit that has a similar mission?  You might have used the word the softer word, constraints, rather than threats.  A constraint for many nonprofits might be regionalization  as fewer staff serve a larger catchment area or for your town it might be the cut back on a service to keep taxes down.

You probably didn’t have a section in your strategic plan called SWOT, but it might have guided a rewriting of your mission, a plan to reorganize staff or programs, or to do more fund raising.  My questions is: did your SWOT really guide you to think about the future?  Futurists think about what will occur all the time.  Of course, we make fun of them when they are wrong, but it helps to think long term.

Accessed 11/25/2017
I’ve recently read the New Geography of Jobs (2012) by Enrico Moretti.  It paints a picture of more and more of our tech jobs clustering with “innovation workers.”  It doesn’t predict a very rosy picture for our small towns throughout the country.  Our cities and towns, if they have a strategic plan, call for a vibrant and diverse economy.  But what to do?  Our nonprofit hospitals and clinics are constantly needing to reevaluate where funds are going to come from and the effect of the latest technology.  But what to do about our small hospitals and clinics?  Our historical societies are thinking about how to protect valuable items over the long term and at the same time provide access to the items.  But what to do when you have no endowment to upgrade to the latest fire safe building.  Our universities are scrambling to provide on-line education, but is this the answer to education of the future?

The country of Turkey moved from an Arabic related script to a Latinized European script.  That now means that today’s Turkish youth can’t visit the cemeteries of their ancestors and read the grave stones, and they can’t read old historical documents.  The seemingly harmless change of no longer teaching children cursive in this country means that historical societies of the future will need “translators” to provide access to documents.  

Do you take any photos and print them out and put them in a photobook identifying the people and buildings in the pictures?  Probably not.  What happens to our understanding of history when we no longer have pictures?  Sure, a lot are on the web, on Facebook, on Instagram, on your phone, in the cloud, but can we access them in a meaningful way to tell a story of the past?

What small, perhaps, incremental changes are going to have a big impact on your city, town or nonprofit?  Was it discussed in your strategic plan?  Please share with us.  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Can You Make Decisions Quickly?

I have taught students about decision making theory from incrementalism to rational decision making.  I’ve taught and used tools of decision making  such  as statistical process control, flow charting, to various forms of brainstorming to help groups make decisions.  I’ve seen the problems of group think, the description by Janis of the pressure team members feel to agree on a decision. I’ve seen the problem of “taking a trip to Abilene,” the description Harvey describes when a individuals in a group feel self-imposed pressure to agree because of irrational fears. Yet I was unprepared to handle a minor ruckus.

I was getting on a bus going between Portland and Bangor, Maine.  By all who take this bus, it is convenient, comfortable and easy.  As I got on a disagreement was taking place between a passenger and a bus employee.  I didn’t really pay much attention.  It continued and I heard, you didn’t pay.  Yes, I   did. Where are you going? We’ll call the police. It went on for a few minutes inconveniencing a full bus of 40 or 50 passengers.  We were  already a little late starting even before the incident.  Being a little late isn’t quite the issue, problem solving concern, it once was. Almost all of us can call and tell friends or family we’re running late.

Suddenly I decided that this was silly.  For $25, this problem could be ended. I became stressed as I tried to get my wallet. I had a knapsack on wheels so had trouble getting out the wallet. By the time I made my way to the front, the passenger was showing his driver’s license and presumably was going to be billed.  If only I had been quicker to find a creative solution, just giving a passenger the money the problem could have been solved quickly.

Although we talk about the need for creative and innovative employees, I found it was natural for me. I don’tI train groups to be more innovative explicitly, only through the tools I previously mentioned. I’m sure I and others wondered whether “they” would solve the problem.  It wasn’t up to me or you or was it?  Have you been in a situation where your quick thinking solved a problem?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

I recently took the mandatory on-line training on sexual harassment and sexual assault prevention at the university where I teach courses in public management and human resources.  Imagine my surprise when I missed a number of questions.  The training approached the problem in a very active way: what should you do to prevent assault and harassment?  This training emphasized your obligations to ensure that students and employees are in a safe environment.  When the subject is approached this way, it is not just another training employees have to take.  You are a member of a community of people who work together.  It made me remember that I have been a beneficiary of colleagues reaching out.  I was pressured by a male employee and began to feel demeaned and harassed.  They talked to my fellow employee, informed him of his behavior and ensured me that they supported me.  He apologized to me.  We continued to work together because the problem was stopped. 

Most of the nonprofits and local governments I work with and volunteer with are small and do not have a sophisticated packaged on-line program, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a supportive environment.  Beyond providing your employees with your policies and state laws, how do you inform employees?  Have you experienced harassment and had a fellow employee reach out to help you?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Why Not Publicize Your Success?

I’ve been talking to a lot of nonprofits lately about performance measures. If you ever have received a grant from government or a foundation or funding from the United Way, you’re familiar with measuring your performance. You know you are rated on your financial management by Charity Navigator. Such organizations as the Urban Institute provides templates for measuring a variety of program areas: employment training, youth mentoring, and assisted living, for example. The United Way, when it funds programs, want these programs to lead to improved health, education, or income. 

Despite this push, I find that nonprofits don’t share their successes very well even though most nonprofits have a clear mission to distinguish themselves. What I find most often is annual reports that tell us outputs, the number of kids who attended, the number of seniors served, but not measures that tell us how the number of kids who attended helped them meet their mission.
One step would be to provide information to compare with last year. Number of kids served tells us little if we don’t know how many kids were served last year. Another simple way is to relate it to the size of the program budget. That way we have a realistic idea of how many kids can be served. It better answers, how is my donation being used.
Another way is to tell how you are doing in comparison to other similar agencies, to benchmark yourself. This is easier for national organizations that can readily share information such the Red Cross, the Ys, Scouting, but organizations such as animal welfare organizations, food pantries, and museums would have enough similarities to do so as well.
Even these improvements don’t measure the outcome we want, domestic violence victims who successfully find a new home in which they are secure or kids who successfully graduate from high school or who are physically fit. We may know this information, we just haven’t recorded it. 
Many nonprofits are small, but that can’t be the only reason we don’t see more performance measurements reported. Performance measures do also show where we need to improve. Is that the reason they are not reported? Why do you think nonprofits don’t publicize their successes more?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Vacuuming and other theories of motivation

I have a vacuum that has a red light on it that turns green when the area I’m vacuuming is clean. The vacuum doesn’t seem to have a light on it that tells me when I should vacuum.  I suppose that is the responsibility of the crumbs, dirt and dust to tell me.  I’ll vacuum a spot forward and backward, side to side until the light turns green.  Now if the cord should come unplugged from the outlet, that’s it for me.  I’m not motivated to do any more vacuuming, unless, unless…I have guests coming.  Then that red light is calling me to finish.

I have a friend, Akee Parwaz, who manages a large used carand service company in Canton, Mass.  He pays his sales people a salary rather than on commission. Now commission or incentive pay is the classic way to motivate.  Every car you sell, you make more money.  His staff must not be motivated.  Instead they are motivated knowing that they have a secure future and they can help each other out to sell more cars without hurting their pay.  He is a strong supporter of Rotary. He schools them i
n the four way test:  Is it the truth, is it fair to all concerned, will it build goodwill and better friendships, will it be beneficial to all concerned.  You can be motivated understanding that the goal is selling cars, but selling cars that will make you feel good at the end of the day.

I have a friend, Bruce Marquis, who runs beauty salons in Mass.  Long before Massachusetts had mandatory health insurance and even longer before Obamacare, he provided his employees with a health insurance option.  He has an employee who has been with him for 26 years.  Turnover tends to be routine in hair salons and few provide benefits.  Providing benefits that employees need can be a powerful motivation tool and as a Rotarian, he knows that it will build goodwill.

What motivates you? Do you need incentive pay to do your work? Most of us don’t have that but we keep working.

If you are interested in assistance in devising sound human resource policies, please contact me at 207-956-0244 or

Monday, March 20, 2017

To Pay or Not to Pay

We’re almost through the snow season in the North.  A lot of the country witnessed battering snow storms.  Of course, we are all familiar with the school closings, but most other nonprofit and public employers are more hesitant about closing than schools are.  What does the decision to close mean for your employees?  That was the question one county employer asked.  For the first time ever, I witnessed a nonprofit hospital in Maine announce it was closed for a day and half.  The hospital announced that the emergency room was open but all outpatient procedures were cancelled and satellite health clinics except one were closed. 

Winter in Maine 2017
Closures for snow, or for that matter hurricanes, or other unusual situations make you look at your personnel policies.  Should you pay your hourly employees that are sent home or told not to come in?  The first answer is no.  They are not working so there is no need to pay them.  They do not get paid for other times they don’t come in.  You may be paying others overtime to handle essential functions and to pay for extra storm related work.  You calculate these costs minus the unexpended costs of not paying hourly employees.  You will be paying your salaried employees during the snow day, but they are to make up any work they miss and some of them will be able to work from home.  If you are a public employer, you need to consider the taxpayers monies in the calculation if you pay employees to stay home.

When the Maine governor, Governor LePage, came into office, he said he wouldn’t close state offices if the company in which he was once an executive didn’t close its stores.  That's an argument for solving the problem by having all employees prepared to come in no matter what the storm.  The reality is letting all state employees out during between 4 and 4:30 whether salaried or hourly causes serious traffic problems.  That idea has gradually faded now that he is in his second term. 

Another way to look at it is based upon equity.  Equity theory states that an employee will judge how much work to do compared to others.  Perceptions are important in the calculation of the fairness and the adequacy of pay.  Further, if you have hourly employees who are unionized, are you paying unionized employees but not paying non-unionized employees who are sent home?  This argument is one of equity.  Even if salaried employees can work from home your non-unionized hourly employees will perceive not being paid unfair.

Do you have a pay policy for emergency situations or do you decide each time what to do?.  Does it matter if employees are sent home for part of the day or miss a whole day?  Do have a different policy for union and non-union employees?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Alternative Facts And Other Sources Of Disagreement At Staff Meetings

I don’t usually weigh in on politics because I consult with public and nonprofit managers.  When I heard Kellyanne Conway use the words, alternative facts, it brought up and old paper a professor of mine, Robert Sahr, had written on sources of disagreement in public policy making.  Usually we think about the dynamics of staff meetings from a psychological perspective, but you can apply the language of policy making to your staff meetings as well.
Ms Conway wasn’t so wrong when she said there were alternative facts.  I’m not talking about incorrect, inaccurate, or confusing facts.  If your organization uses performance measures, you’ve surly disagreed about whether you have the right measure, whether you can include or exclude certain data, what outside factors affect your measurement.  Say, you train people for jobs.  You can disagree on what number characterizes the economic situation your client faces, the unemployment rate, people who are not working but are looking for a job; the number collecting unemployment, a portion of those looking for a job; or the number of discouraged workers who have given up looking for a job.  None are wrong.

Related to that disagreement is a disagreement over the interpretation or consequences of the fact.  Do any of these ways to measure unemployment have consequences for your ability to find your clients jobs.  Do you think it matters how many are collecting unemployment, nationally, in your state, in your area? 

Another source of disagreement is based upon your ideology, your belief system.  If you train prospective workers, you are probably pretty sympathetic to the difficulty of your clients finding jobs.  You may have a cynic amongst you who is a naysayer about any new ideas for training and employment.  Those outside of your program may say there are plenty of jobs available.  This program is not necessary.

As you sit around the table, you may disagree based upon your professional backgrounds. Admittedly, this is more likely to happen at your board meeting or town council meeting.  When you received your degree, particularly a professional degree, you began to see the world through that lens.  A minister seeks to solve problems through the church and god while a social worker seeks to solve problems within the family and community and if that doesn’t work through government intervention.  I sit on my town’s budget committee, a citizen review committee.  Those who have been in detail oriented careers, engineering and architecture, keep saying that the increases in the cost for our schools are unsustainable.  They look rationally at the increases each year.  Yet the voters keep approving the increases to the school budget.

Finally, your self-interest affects how you react in your staff meeting.  You want the program to succeed; you want to keep your job.  You agree with one person rather than another.  We even use the word, you act politically.  It makes political sense to agree with that person versus another person. 

Before I started writing this, I googled sources of disagreement and certainly there are others who have found ways to describe disagreement, but do any these hit home?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Nepotism. That dirty word. 

Hiring relatives. Jared Kushner, son-in-law and Ivanka Trump, daughter, are going to work without pay in the White House for Donald Trump to avoid violating any federal no nepotism policy.  

The Governor of Maine hired his daughter to be his executive assistant. A hospital dietary director said stop when too many of the same family were working in that department.  (If a wedding or funeral occurred she would have a hard time staffing.)  A friend couldn’t work at the same public school as his wife, but when the couple divorced they could work in the same school. A city manager says yes, nepotism occurs in hiring, but it can ‘t be stopped. The city can’t enforce a no nepotism policy with so many of its current employees being related.

A hospital takes a different approach. It says that it welcomes referrals of friends (that’s known as cronyism) and relatives. In the small population area it serves, it is going to hire relatives. 
Usually no nepotism policies are put into place because it is unfair to others to hire relatives. It is particularly a problematic if you are seeking diversity in your workforce.  No nepotism policies also are put into place because hiring relatives may lead to unqualified people taking the jobs. 
Many of these policies have qualifications. It’s ok to hire relatives if the relative doesn’t supervise another relative. Defining whether relatives include a son-in-law or cousin or step-child becomes the problem.
Source: Source: ABC 7 News San Francisco

What do you think: is nepotism a problem for your nonprofit or government agency? Did you ever get a job because a relative referred you or even hired you?