Cultural Awareness Often Overlooked

Cultural awareness is often overlookedCultural awareness is often overlooked despite the drive toward building a multi-racial workforce. The focus on culture often does not address ethnicity. More and more both organizational culture and ethnic culture are intertwined as companies hire more multicultural staff to better serve their communities. What happens too frequently is that little thought is given to how well employees of different ethnic backgrounds will assimilate into the largely Anglo, male dominated US organizational culture, or how well the existing predominantly Anglo staff will accept and/or work with these multicultural team members. How many companies provide cross-cultural training for their staffs rather than simply expecting the individuals to sink or swim on their own?

In the planning community, there’s a great deal of discussion about culture – but it refers to the organizational climate, the way employees are expected to behave in pursuing the organizational objectives.

Perhaps the Anglo/American approach to pursuing these objectives doesn’t mesh with the ethnic culture of some of the staff. It may be a subtle refusal to act a certain way, to ask questions in a meeting, or to share opinions. Performance may lag because the individual doesn’t have enough information to do the work or thinks there’s a better way, but his or her culture dictates that it isn’t appropriate to question a superior. Rather than assume the individual is disinterested or incapable of performing the tasks assigned to them, the manager should take time to meet one-on-one and ask questions. This will help get to the root of the issue at hand.

Some people are able to overcome their personal cultural attitudes and adapt to the culture of the predominant group. Over time, their very ethnicity becomes less an issue as they develop a persona that transcends all ethnic groups. They become role models for the rest of us. Examples include:

Oprah Winfrey, while a role model for African Americans is also a role model for all women.
U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress, is a role model for Hispanic women proving they, too, can achieve greatness.
Cheech Marin and Sara Ramirez, while representing the Latino community, also break the boundaries of their ethnicity on screen and in television.
Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera have successfully broken across cultural boundaries.

And leadership in US government is becoming increasingly multicultural. Condoleezza Rice, as Secretary of State to the George W. Bush presidency, was the highest ranking African American woman in US government. And most recently, we have had an African American president and first lady in the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama, in particular, is a role model for not only African American women but for young women in general.

More and more television programs feature multi-racial families, as well as multi-racial casts. This has helped to bring cultural awareness into American households. From Latinos to African Americans to Asians, we are seeing them interact with one another both on the job and off. Over time this begins to color viewer attitudes towards ethnic differences, both in positive and  negative ways.

Does anyone remember the 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton? Remember how controversial that movie was showing an interracial couple (Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton)? Now we don’t even blink at the concept. We see Asian/Anglo couples (Hawaii 50) Latino/African American relationships (Rosewood), and other interracial combinations on television and it just seems normal. Even television ads reflect this cultural awareness, not only in the actors but also in the language and dress used.

Despite these examples, some still find it difficult to adjust. Instead of building bridges across ethnic lines, they alienate not only the Anglo community but also their own culture. They flaunt their Latino or  Black or Middle Eastern culture, with an attitude and language that are off-putting, using their ethnicity as an excuse for bad behavior, rudeness, and inappropriate social graces. What’s worse, they aren’t coached about how their behavior affects their co-workers. It is detrimental to not only themselves and their career mobility, but to the cultural group they represent. Their behavior reflects poorly on their ability to become part of the team in which they work because they alienate their team members.

A lack of cultural awareness or consideration on the part of leadership, and inertia to address a real internal as well as external employee problem, can destroy the very goal the company is trying to accomplish. As we frequently hear, “culture eats strategy for lunch,” and in this case it’s ethnic culture affecting employee attitudes and behavior.

Here is an 8-step process for developing a rich, multicultural workforce that works together as a team instead of in factions working against one another:

Step 1   Smart Start Planning. First, determine the future vision of what the workforce should be. This starts at the executive leadership level and includes key stakeholders throughout the organization who can influence the success or failure of the “people management plan”. This will result in an inspirational statement describing where the organization wishes to be positioned to maximize its people as a competitive advantage. This also includes a description of the respective roles of senior management, line management, employees, and the Human Resources function in contributing to organizational success.

Step 2  Key Success Measures. Identify the high-level quantifiable outcome measures (key people success measures) that will be used to measure employee success in adding value to customers, shareholders, and the community. Include measures that take into account multicultural issues that must be addressed throughout the organization.

Step 3  Best Practices Assessment.  Evaluate the organization against the “Six People Edge Best Practices”, developed by the Haines Centre for Strategic Planning. Based on extensive research and consulting experience, these Six Best Practice areas are:

  • Acquiring the desired workforce
  •  Engaging the workforce
  • Organizing high performance teams
  • Creating a learning organization
  • Facilitating cultural change
  • Collaborating with stakeholders

Step 4  Strategy Development. Develop core “people management strategies” that are aligned to the direct business needs of the organization’s delivery system, and attuned to developing people’s hearts and minds in support of serving the customer. Both the alignment and attunement strategies should relate closely and support the core strategies of the organization’s overall Strategic Plan. They should also articulate the company’s strategies for developing their multicultural talent, helping them adapt to the organization’s corporate culture, and celebrating its multicultural environment.

Step 5  3-Year Planning. This involves development of actions that outline the key activities for the next three years in support of the core strategies. A three-year lay-out of all needed actions and programs is conducted. Then, these activities are focused down to the top three to four priority “must do” actions for the next year. This leads to the development of a one-year operational plan and budget for each major department. Again, these actions should articulate how each department is addressing multicultural aspects to build and support high performing teams.

Step 6  Plan to Implement. A one-year Implementation Plan is developed here, with the steps, processes, and structures required for successful implementation. This includes how the plan will be communicated and how the change process will be managed and coordinated. The key element is regular follow-up by the Executive/Employee/Leadership Development Boards which are established to ensure a successful implementation throughout the organization. Implementation is everyone’s job, not just the HR department.

Step 7  Implementation. This is the point of actual implementation, change management, completion of tasks and priorities, and periods of adjusting actions as needed during the year. It also involves managing the change process, measuring progress against the key people success measures, and celebrating achievements along the way.

Step 8  Annual Review and Update. The plan must be formally reviewed and updated on an annual basis. The key is to review the entire plan and update the annual priorities, taking into account ongoing changes in the business direction, the environment, and stakeholder expectations. Achievements are recognized and celebrated. Strategies are reviewed, and the three-year plan is updated.

They key to developing high performance teams is to include them in the planning and implementation process. Develop a strength in educating the entire workforce about multicultural differences and similarities. Celebrate the uniqueness of the cultures within the organization’s workforce and highlight them regularly. Make a conscious effort to put multicultural teams together to address organization-wide issues. Team them with a coach experienced in handling multicultural teams so issues can be addressed as they arise. This empowers the employees to see how they contribute to the success of the organization while learning about the similarities and differences of their ethnic counterparts.

Too often organizations forget about including specific ways to address, educate and include the multicultural backgrounds of their workforce, focusing instead on organizational design and workflow. Yet these multicultural backgrounds and experiences influence individual behavior within the organization and the way work gets done. Not recognizing and planning for this can result in misunderstandings, miscommunications, and divisive work environments instead of empowered, goal-oriented teamwork.

Shaping the overall organizational culture to sustain a competitive advantage is a key Best Practice leverage point, and is the job of leadership throughout the organization.

Contact us if you have questions about this. We look forward to your comments.

Stages of Change Can Be Challenging

The only constant in life is change. And it’s so true! Every project you take on, regardless of size or scope, creates a change in the status quo. That kicks off several stages of change that result in a series of predictable emotions and behaviors.

We talk a great deal about change in our practice. Sometimes they’re easy changes, ones you look forward to, such as getting a promotion or moving into a new job at another company. But you still go through all the stages of change similar to the Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief – shock/loss, denial, bargaining/acceptance, sadness/depression (the hang-in point), and finally acceptance and even excitement about the new reality.

Stages of Change Have Predictable Behaviors

Job Promotion Can Be Scary

Think about the change of moving into a new, challenging job. You go through a sense of loss because you lose your colleagues in the department or company you’re leaving. You may experience a little denial, telling yourself it’s time to move on and you won’t miss your colleagues.

You may experience sadness about the memories and friends you left behind. Then you accept the reality of the change – you’re moving on, it’s a little scary because you don’t know what to expect in the new position.

You’ll be meeting new people and having to figure out how to work together. If it’s a new management position, you have the challenge of learning how to delegate and manage others. Then as you think about the challenges ahead, you begin to see the possibilities and start focusing on the new challenges you’re taking on.

And finally, as you adjust to the new position and get to know your team and your colleagues, you begin to feel excitement and passion for taking on the challenges and helping the organization move forward.

Change Happens Differently for Each Person

Depending on your circumstances, you can go through these emotions quickly, in a matter of minutes or hours, or it may take days for you to cycle through the stages of change. If the new position is something you pursued, you’ll likely move through the stages of change quickly. If it’s something that happened to you and not one you actively sought, then the adjustment could take longer – even weeks or months.

Frequently, especially when people aren’t involved in creating the change and instead are just told about it, a few will never adjust. They can move between the states of depression and anger for months or longer (the hang-in point), unless the manager is skilled at either coaching them through the emotions or invites them to find alternative employment.

Sometimes, the people remove themselves to find other employment options more suited to them. Either way, the organization suffers if these individuals are allowed to remain in a state of anger or depression. They can turn a positive environment into a negative one, putting a blanket of confusion, doubt and concern on the change process.

Leaders Need to Be Coaches

As a leader it’s important to recognize where your people are in each of the stages of change and coach them through their emotions. Your goal is to get as many of them to the other side of the emotional roller coaster as soon as possible, and to quickly remove those who just can’t get on board.

If you need help with this process, let us know. We have many resources available to help you coach your team through the stages of change.

Strategies and tactics in Tour de France

“I’m a sprinter. It’s my job,” said Mark Cavendish

Strategies and tactics. Roles and responsibilities. Mark Cavendish’s response clearly shows he knows his role, when the interviewer asked him how he did.

The strategies and tactics of each team change continuously during this 21-day race. The Tour de France, which started on July 2nd, is the world’s most grueling bike race. It crosses France, dips into the Pyrenees and then the Alps, before finishing on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Strategies and Tactics are Fluid

Each team of 9 riders and multiple support staff, is a highly organized and coordinated machine. Everyone on the team has a role and each person understands their role and the impact he has on the rest of the team. As Cavendish said, his job is to gain points in the sprint finishes, and try to win as many stages as possible. This helps the team move up in the overall General Classification, and it gains him individual points, as well as potential podium positions at the end of each stage. So far, Cavendish has 29 stage wins to his Tour de France career – more than any other rider in the 113 years of this race.

Teams wouldn’t succeed unless everyone knew their role. One leader is chosen as having the best potential to win the yellow jersey and thus the Tour de France. The rest act as support crew to keep him safe from crashes and make sure he’s positioned well to win points and lead the race. Some are mountain climbers who excel in the Pyrenees and Alps climbs. Others are domestiques who ferry water bottles from the team cars to their fellow team mates and create lead-out trains for the favored sprinter(s) on the team. Their job is to keep the leader and the sprinters safe and well positioned to win during the 21 days of the race.

The strategies and tactics of some teams are to concentrate only on improving their standings in the General Classification with the goal of getting both a team win and the overall yellow jersey. For them, the early stage wins are less important than making sure their key guy and their sprinters are safely positioned and don’t lose time to any other teams.

Other teams focus on earning King of the Mountain or Sprinter jerseys, and building the strength, endurance and collaboration of their team members. These teams may be newer to the Tour de France, and haven’t developed their members into the well-oiled machines of BMC, Team Sky, Movistar, or Astana.

The Tour de France is an excellent example of strategies and tactics at work, as well as teamwork and leadership. Over the course of the 21 days, each team’s strategies and tactics may change depending on external factors, such as weather, illness, crashes, and competitive challenges from other teams. The overall leader could crash out of the race or get so ill he has to abandon. If that happens, the team needs to pick another leader to rally the rest of the team around.

Listen to the interviews and you’ll gain insights into some of the strategies the teams are using to be successful.

How might you apply some of these same concepts to your business? What can be learned from the Tour de France?

Millennials Will Change the World

Oh to be young again!

When I watch Ted Talk videos by Millennials who are smart, confident and know what direction they want to take with their lives, I wish I were 30 years younger to share in that future. WOW! I mean, really, WOW!

Stacey Ferreira - Millennials are ScrewedThese young people like Stacey Ferreira have it together. They aren’t stupid or lazy. They have different expectations based on the world they’re exposed to. These Millennials have a different outlook on work/life balance. They want to be productive. Millennials want to have an impact on changing what doesn’t work. They aren’t afraid to share their opinions and ideas with top executives. If you don’t like what they have to say, so be it. If you do, use it. These 2 billion Millennials are out to change the world.

That’s so different from when I was starting my career. Those were the days of learning corporate gamesmanship. Remember the book, “Games Mother Never Taught You”? It’s about all the terminology women need to know and the game-playing that goes on in traditional corporate workplaces run predominantly by men. That was about understanding the football and baseball strategies and terms and applying them to what was happening in the work place. If you wanted to get ahead, you learned to play those games. And I got so tired of it. What a waste of time!

Millennials have a totally different outlook. It’s not about who plays the game best, it’s about doing it together to improve the product or strategy or workplace or world. These are collaborators, working together in open offices, not turf warriors protecting their kingdoms. I would love to play in that world instead of the one I grew up in.

But the future is about the younger generation. We adults who have been there and done it differently, need to stand aside and support them, nurture their creative spirits, and help where we can.

What an amazing generation this is!

The Art of Possibility: Rule Number 6

Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “Kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws. The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again 20 minutes later by an hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and a n apology. When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?” “Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so god damn seriously.’” After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?”

           “There aren’t any.”   

~ from The Sixth Practice in The Art of Possibility

 

I’m re-reading The Art of Possibility by Dr. Rosamund Stone Zander and Boston Philharmonic Conductor Benjamin Zander. The chapter, Leading from Any Chair, discusses the “silent conductor” in all of us – the importance of leading from wherever you are in life or work. We don’t need to be managers, CEOs, and senior executives in order to lead. Everyone can be a leader, regardless of age or position. We lead by helping others do their best. If we know how to perform a task, we demonstrate and explain the process to another person trying to learn it. We don’t wait for “the boss” to tell everyone how it’s done. We don’t hold back from showing someone else because we want to be better than him or her. We help them learn so we can all do our best. In this manner, we are all leading as “silent conductors” from any seat.

The art of being a “silent conductor” is to listen and watch for passion and commitment from others. In The Art of Possibility, Zander suggests the leader look in the eyes of those individuals and invite them to share. Speak to their passion. Ask yourself, “who am I being that they are not shining?” That gives you, as the leader, the opportunity to be a “silent conductor”, to ask for feedback, and pass the leadership baton.

Even children can be leadersIn The Art of Possibility, the chapter on Rule Number 6 is about humor and lightening up. Often we take ourselves too seriously. As leaders we frequently try so hard to prove our worth, to succeed against all odds, to be better than everyone else, we forget that the goal is “together we all win”, not “I win, and therefore you lose.”

Our “Calculating Self”, as Zander calls it, wants to survive in a world of scarcity. It’s the voice that tells us take actions that get us noticed, to be strong, to be right, to win at all costs. It’s the voice that drives us on, always striving for something just out of reach. We’re never satisfied.

It takes many forms: the parent who acknowledges his child’s B+ and says, “That’s good, but with a little more work, you could have gotten an A.” Or the boss who tells his people, “I expect your work to be perfect; regardless of what it takes to achieve that.” Or the educator who tells her students, “Follow the outline exactly without deviation.”

Rule Number 6 reminds us to “lighten up” and stop taking ourselves so seriously. There are many paths to success and we each have different approaches. Rarely is there only one “Right Way”. So when you find yourself falling into the trap of the “Calculating Self”, stop and ask yourself:

What would have to change for me to be completely fulfilled?”
“What new possibilities might emerge if I were to change my thinking?”

Is it the situation or the people you are with? Is it an expectation you have that others can’t live up to? What change will bring about peace of mind to you and to others? Perhaps it’s merely to interject a little humor into the situation.

Laughter is a powerful tool for dispelling tension and opening up possibilities; such as . Zander’s comment to the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra when they were practicing Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. The students were tired and tense, having just taken standardized tests, and were missing notes and key entrances in the music. He said, “Take it straight through the second movement, and NO MISTAKES. If you make a mistake…..a five-hundred pound cow will fall on your head.”

And that’s what The Art of Possibility is all about….seeing possibilities where none seem to exist. You can find the book on page 4 of our Strategy Book Store.

Employee Rewards Can Be Motivational

Recently, I came across a book I haven’t opened in a long time. It’s called 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, by Bob Nelson. The book (which was updated in 2012 to 1501 Ways to Reward Employees) lists a variety of ways to use employee rewards as a way to recognize achievement. These include no cost ideas such as one-minute praises and bravo cards, to low cost ideas like bringing the person a bagged lunch for a week from a gourmet sandwich shop. It also lists ideas for more expensive rewards, such as trips, dinner for two, and various types of gift certificates.

In my experience, how the employee rewards are delivered is critical. If the praise isn’t heartfelt and the recognition is done to fulfill the requirements of a weekly recognition program, the staff will not feel appreciated. It won’t feel authentic and they will grow to resent it.

Employee rewards must be authentically delivered and heartfelt.So before you launch a recognition program, be sure to clearly define the scope of the program, and the types of behavior you want to recognize and why. Are you doing this just because you heard from others that employee recognition is important? Or are you doing this to try to shift behavior, create a new culture, and/or work towards a long term organizational goal?

Ken Blanchard has written a great deal about the subject of leadership and building high performing teams. Praise needs to be authentic and heartfelt. Don’t praise just to go through the motions. In his book, The One Minute Manager (recently updated), he talks about catching people off guard doing something right. Then giving them praise at that moment. Those are the “one-minute praises”. Don’t wait until the staff gets together for a team meeting and then give the praise. It will come off as not authentic and something the boss is doing to prove what a great boss he or she is. The staff will resent it.

On the other hand, if it’s appropriate to give praise in a public setting such as a staff meeting, do so, but make sure you gave the individual a one-minute praise beforehand, even if it was days before. The public recognition will be an additional and more well-received reward; especially when the behavior being recognized fits within the scope of the rewards and recognition program you’ve established.

All that being said, here are some unique ideas I came across in the book, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees:

  • Close a few hours early one day and take everyone to a shopping mall. Give each person $25 to spend and tell them to gather together in one hour. Then share and compare what each person bought with their $25 and why they chose the items(s) they did. This could be instead of a holiday or sales bonus.
  • Hold occasional fun contests. These should be planned by the managers, not the staff. If staff members are assigned on a rotating basis, it becomes another chore or work-related task, not a fun event. Contests can include St. Patrick’s Day or Halloween costume contests, or themed pot luck dish competitions. Rewards can be cash and/or gift certificates for restaurants, movie theater tickets, sporting events, etc.
  • Celebrate a Day of Excellence once a year with fun learning activities for all employees. Or let each staff person choose a day during the year that is their “special day”. Managers then surprise that person with fun activities during lunch or late in the afternoon of that day.

Let us know your thoughts about employee rewards programs and any unique ideas you have implemented in your organization.

Use Servant Leadership to Feed Your Passions

Every time I sit down to write an article I get writer’s block -where to find my inspiration. Some people say, just start writing. Eventually, something will develop into a coherent article. Or focus on your passions and see what develops. The problem is that there are several things I am passionate about and they don’t seem interrelated – servant leadership, helping organizations create positive employee cultures, helping women succeed, designing and implementing online marketing strategies, social media marketing, smart phone apps, technology that increases productivity, gluten free cooking, oil and water color painting, writing. I could go on.

Let’s start with servant leadership

I really believe this is an important leadership style, and have always done my best to lead this way. It comes second nature to me. Perhaps that’s because my mother was my role model. She led by example and through coaching. My biggest success comes from helping others find their “aha” moments. Seeing others develop to their fullest potential, following their passions, is very gratifying. When I Googled servant leadership, I found this definition on greenleaf.org which describes my leadership style perfectly:

That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived? (source: https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/)

I see this in the online social media marketing classes I teach through Yavapai College. If I can impact one or two students who tell me “they got it; they learned so much and are eager to put that learning into practice”…Wow! That’s a win for me. It makes the hours of preparation and planning worthwhile – and the time put into updating the curriculum and re-recording the learning modules.

Applying servant leadership elsewhere

As a consultant I no longer have direct reports to lead and manage. So how can I put this passion for servant leadership into practice elsewhere? One way is with the work I do with and for my clients. Helping them achieve their goals is very satisfying. That I get paid to do so is also gratifying. However, if the work I do for them is not helping, then I don’t feel I’ve delivered the value they deserve. It’s not always because of what I did or didn’t do. Frequently, it’s because the client didn’t follow through on their end to implement or complete the project or process. I did my part. They didn’t want me to go further. Then they dropped the ball. It’s frustrating for me because I can see the potential result down the road if we could just continue a bit longer. The servant leader in me wants to pick up the ball and run with it…but if the client isn’t willing, I need to move on.

Servant leadership - feed your passionAnother way to put servant leadership into practice is through volunteer work. I’ve done this over the years with a nonprofit I co-founded in 2002, ArtsBusXpress. I continue to contribute knowledge, leadership and time because I’m passionate about their mission – to fund transportation to the arts and sciences for school children in San Diego County. The impacts are far-reaching, which makes it a gratifying project to support.

Recently, my husband/partner and I joined the Bradshaw Mountain Kiwanis Club. Our friends who are heavily involved with 4-H and the Boy Scouts have re-started the club in order to help kids in the community. One of the big projects is the annual Kiwanis auction, now in its 68th year. It’s run by the Prescott Kiwanis Club, but through our friends, the Bradshaw Mountain Kiwanis club has participated in order to raise funds for the Lonesome Wranglers 4-H Club.

How does this tie into servant leadership? By taking a leadership role in the Bradshaw Mountain Kiwanis Club. helping to acquire auction items, and spreading the word through online and social media marketing, I will help both clubs achieve their goals. The Prescott Kiwanis Club’s fundraising goal is $155,000 this year. They raised a little over $151,000 last year. The Bradshaw Mountain Kiwanis Club goal is to match or surpass the amount raised for 4-H last year.

In the process of talking to business owners about the Kiwanis Auction to get auction contributions, I will also have the opportunity to ask them about what they do, what their goals are, and how they want to promote their business. This may lead to a deeper conversation about what I do and why I’m involved in this project. Who knows?

The goals are multiple: 1) help the kids by raising funds through auction items and donations, 2) help local businesses gain visibility and feel good about their philanthropy, and 3) feed my passion for servant leadership by helping others achieve their objectives. Looks like a win-win-win situation!

So what’s your passion?

The CFO Role – Cost Control or Value Added?

By Eric A. Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International

There are some interesting future trends to be tracking regarding the the CFO ROLE and the business domain he/she leads. Technology and in particular shared technology is one of the key drivers in how their role will be changing over the next ten years.

cross fuinctional teamsShared data and cross-functional training give employees and their teams more real-time access to data and the acumen to use the information, they can assess the financial impact themselves, instead of relying on finance to do it for them. The consulting group, Accenture, estimates that by 2020, “more than 80% of traditional finance services will be delivered by cross-functional teams.

Traditional communications and control centers are becoming more nimble and responsive. They are consolidating previously separate in-house financial reporting services such as compliance, treasury and investor relations. This is resulting in task-specific professionals being able to better focus on optimizing their areas of responsibility in support of their company’s strategies.

How is your business reacting to these changing trends? Is your CFO more involved in creating and driving strategy? Are new technological and cross-functional training tools being deployed to stay ahead of the competition? Have your systems become too complex, creating new “siloed” systems? Does your CFO understand how to deliver strategic initiatives through project and program management? Does your organization have the core competencies to transition from transaction-based activities to value-added tasks?

All of this implies a shift to finance teams being more involved in planning and analysis with more advanced digital platforms. A key outcome is reduced complexity, increased productivity and reduced costs.

The strategic impact of these trends significantly affect long-term growth and viability for all types of organizations. As you consider how you might address the challenges of these trends, one valuable solution is to evaluate your organization’s competencies to address these challenges and take steps to improve skill sets, create strong cross-functional capabilities and deploy the needed technological tools.

For further details on this topic you can click here to read an article in CFO magazine.

Build Successful Teams by Improving Your Conversational Capacity

Eric & Jeri Denniston, Denner Group International

Conversational CapacityRecently we attended an afternoon workshop with Craig Weber on the topic of improving your Conversational Capacity to build successful teams. He brought up a recurring topic that we often see when working with teams, boards and organizations overall. The missing piece in many organizations is leaders’ understanding of how to maintain open, balanced dialogue among team members. This also applies to those who are following the leaders. A more open dialogue leads to greater understanding and teamwork.

That doesn’t mean the dialogue can’t be passionate or heated at times. In fact, that’s good. But the goal is to stay in what he calls “the sweet spot” between Minimizing and Winning.  What we find useful and different about this “sweet spot” concept, is that it makes it easier to focus when you have that “sweet spot” target.

On the Minimizing side, we tend to shut down, cover up our opinions, ask leading questions or withdraw from any discussions. We do this with our body language as well as our verbal interactions. We may show agreement in the meeting and then afterwards start an email dialogue with colleagues expressing just the opposite viewpoint.

On the Winning side, we want to be right. We raise our voices, get defensive and aggressive. Our speech gets rapid and animated and the volume goes way up.

Achieving that “sweet spot” is maximizing Conversational Capacity. Among the tips Craig mentioned that we see working best are building skills in candor and curiosity. Candor to ensure you are being understood clearly and doing so by dissenting with respect when appropriate. Curiosity to ensure you are seeking the root cause of problems or issues and not pre-judging. Another tip we liked is to keep a journal of triggers that take you far into Minimizing or Winning and away from the “sweet spot”.

The skills involved in achieving high Conversational Capacity can be fun to practice in work teams and can yield rapid and good results, improving team performance.

If you would like to learn more please contact us.

Small Non-Profit Boards Have Bigger Challenges

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

A common frustration I’m hearing from small non-profit Boards is how to get their Members more engaged. This is especially critical when the non-profit has a small board and no paid staff. The board then becomes the hands-on staff.

How do you get members to show up for board meetings? Even when the meetings are virtual instead of face-to-face, an insufficient number are present, making a quorum difficult. That means the organization can’t get business done.

Is it a sign of the times? Are people just not willing to commit? If you agree to sit on a board, you are usually obligated to show up for a minimum number of meetings during the year as stated in the Bylaws. It is the duty of the board Chair to hold all board members accountable to this. With today’s technology, many organizations have shifted to virtual meetings and decisions via email. Travel, personal and work conflicts have made this an essential practice. So with this kind of flexibility, you would think that board members could make the commitment to show up, even if all they do is call in. However, it is still important for the board member to be mentally present and not distracted by whatever environment they are in.

Most people make a commitment, put the time and day on their calendar and make if part of their day. There are times when one can’t make the meeting due to business or personal conflicts, but for the most part, if it’s on the calendar, then the commitment should be met.

Is it a Generational Issue?

I’m finding that younger generations are either less organized or less willing to make the commitment their older, Baby Boomer counterparts do. Boomers grew up volunteering. It’s in their nature, thanks to parents who included them on the many volunteer commitments they had. Maybe it truly is a generation issue and those in their 30s and 40s (the Gen Xers) don’t have that same sense of commitment. Could this be true? After all, this is the generation that grew up as highly educated latchkey kids, in single parent households, and learned to be very independent. As they matured, married and are raising their own families, they’ve become the helicopter parents, overly devoted to family and a strong work-life balance. (read this blog for a deeper understanding about Gen-Xers). This generation is also one with a strong entrepreneurial bent – they grew up unable to get jobs out of college, and so they created their own (founders of Google, Amazon, Twitter).

Curiously, this generation had the highest volunteerism rate (29.2 percent in 2010), despite their heavy workloads and family commitments. One of the areas that garners their attention is education, largely due to many having school-age children at home. Millennials, those born after Gen X and in their late teens and early 30s now, will become the largest members of the workforce. These are the future managers, the technology kids who prefer mobile communication, communication apps, and collaboration tools, provided they increase productivity and communication. With a volunteer rate of 21 percent, their focus is also directed towards education and youth activities.

Perhaps it’s Not in the Corporate Culture

Another issue may be related toward employer attitudes toward volunteerism. Some companies and managers just don’t support it. It’s not within the corporate culture. For many small businesses, it’s difficult to support other than in traditional ways such as United Way fundraisers or donating products to an event. According to an article in the Ivey Business Journal, only 20 percent of small businesses support employee volunteerism vs. 52 percent for all companies in the US. While there are many benefits to supporting employee volunteerism, there are also costs, which impact small businesses more than large. This may be one reason non-profits find it challenging to attract the right diversity of board members and keep them engaged, especially if it’s not a priority at work.

Board Turnover Means Low Engagement

Turnover on the board is another issue. Just as the organization is trying to get everything organized, several board members leave. That means starting from scratch again to build the board. When you have a large board, it’s less of an issue; but for small boards, this can be devastating. Keeping members engaged and excited about the organization’s mission and purpose, and making sure each understands how they can contribute to further those become critical to reducing board turnover.

Getting the right people on the board who are willing to commit for at least one year, to recruit their replacement, and also do the hands-on work needed, is critical for smaller organizations. It’s easy to try to just fill seats, but if you can’t get people to show up, it becomes frustrating and more work for those who do. The organization just can’t move forward.

Here are 7 tips for ensuring you get the right people on board and getting organized:

  1. Identify the skill sets you need. Before you ask someone to join the board, carefully evaluate what skills you need. At minimum, an organization needs someone skilled at finances and accounting (treasurer position), a marketing person, an organized leader (perhaps to take the role of president or vice president), and someone skilled at digital marketing to handle email communications, website updates, and social media promotion. A fund raiser who is skilled at asking for donations and managing grant writers. A Board Secretary to document the activities and decisions made by the board.
  2. Look for a cross section of ages, talents, and experience. You want people on the board who span the ages from late 20s to 70s. This way you get the different generational perspectives. You also want people with differing levels of experience and talents so you can match the needs to their skill sets, interests and professions.
  3. Ask board members to choose the areas they want to support. Not everyone is good with numbers or comfortable updating websites. Make sure each board member has the opportunity to contribute according to their preferred skillsets. You will get better engagement because they will be doing what they like, not just what needs to be done.
  4. Interview candidates beforehand. Have two people interview prospective candidates and write up reports on the results. This gives you two perspectives when presenting the candidates to the rest of the board. Have a frank discussion at a board meeting about the candidates before you invite them to join the board. Make sure you have consensus first so when they do show up for the formal board meeting and induction, it’s mostly a formality. You will have done your homework ahead of time.
  5. Follow the Bylaws. Keep the Bylaws updated, and make sure everyone understands their contents. When members don’t show up for the minimum number of required meetings as stated in the Bylaws, invite them to leave the board. This is becoming more and more critical with increased oversight of non-profits by US Federal regulators.
  6. Establish an Executive Committee. Even if your board is small (fewer than 9 people), you can set up an Executive Committee, perhaps 3-4 people. This committee acts on behalf of the board and enables the organization to get business done and move the organization forward even when a quorum is not present. Your Bylaws will dictate the extent of authority this committee has. It’s essential in order to do business – especially if your board meetings are not satisfying quorum requirements.
  7. Create a calendar of regular board meetings one year in advance. By doing this, there’s no excuse about not knowing about the board meeting. Schedule the board meetings and get them on a calendar that is shared with everyone. They don’t need to be monthly; they just need to be on the calendar and communicated to all.

Hopefully, these will provide smaller organizations some structure to follow to help them build their boards more successfully and grow their organizations.