A View from Blue Grotto

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A tale of two Chief Executive Officers

While researching nonprofit best practices, I came across an interesting article, What Business Execs don’t know – but Should – about Nonprofits. Les Silverman and Lynn Taliento, of McKinsey & Company’s Nonprofit Practice, discuss the differences in challenges facing leaders of nonprofits and their counterparts in the for-profit world.

Beyond the obvious, that leaders of nonprofits are forced to do more with far less resources than any for-profit management team, two challenges cited by nonprofit leaders stood out for me.

One was the difference in the role of the board in corporate and nonprofit communities. While agreeing to the mission of the organization, the nonprofit board often reflects diversity in its members’ vision of how to achieve it. And while the competitive nature of industry requires for-profit companies to be highly-responsive and definitive in their decision-making process, the volunteer capacity of nonprofit board members calls for consensus-building and they can be slower to act. Peter Goldmark, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation, described it as needing “a much more consultative, inclusive decision-making style."

The second point I found interesting was the role of communications and its importance in an organization’s success, especially in fundraising. The nonprofit CEO is almost always the chief communicator for the organization, both internally and externally. And the comparison of investor relations in for-profit CEO responsibilities to that of “chief fundraiser” title of the nonprofit CEO highlights the unique nature of communications in a nonprofit.

Storytelling is an incredible tool in nonprofit communications. Not just the feel good, pull at your heartstrings stories about your mission of “saving the world” “one child at a time,” but the micro-level stories about your organization’s best practices - the purposeful ways you accomplish great things. As the authors of this article found, quantifiable results can sometimes be elusive in nonprofits, yet important to the corporate community when asked to support a nonprofit’s mission. Corporate leadership can better understand and appreciate the challenges their nonprofit counterparts face, and overcome, through an evaluation of decision-making, leadership, innovation and philosophy.

Email me with examples of how your organization leverages the inherent philosophies, values and best practices that make up your competitive advantages. And I challenge you to think strategically about communicating your organization’s traditions of leadership, advocacy and innovation – beyond the mission statement.

You can find the full article on the Stanford Center for Social Innovation website:

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Debriefing enhances organizational knowledge

I just met with a colleague the other day to discuss the Value of Storytelling workshop we developed at Blue Grotto.

In describing our work on helping clients to collect and communicate their best practices through a narrative process, I mentioned an article by Jimmy Guterman – The Lost (or Never Learned) Art of Debriefing. In it, Guterman tells how the model of military debriefing can be extremely useful in business.

At Blue Grotto, we talk a lot about nuanced information, the information you can’t get from an elevator speech, a customer satisfaction survey, an employee exit survey, etc. I can go on and on about all the sound bite tools companies use in the quest for better, more quantifiable information.

In our work, we’ve found that the nuanced information is usually locked away inside someone’s brain. Perspective from hands-on work and experience. Information a person didn’t know may be valuable to someone else, maybe everyone, in the company. And they typically don’t know how to convert that knowledge to the company’s knowledge infrastructure. Debriefing may be just the tool to get you started.

A few of Guterman’s suggestions for debriefing:
· Build in the expectation that the employee attending the conference or event will be providing detailed information upon their return.
· Be succinct and debrief as soon as possible to leverage enthusiasm, stick to the highlights.
· Remember the power of stories – narratives will help your audience to digest information and understand the impact of it. (Of course, I am particularly in favor of the storytelling component.)

There are dozens of ways to incorporate the debrief process into everyday communications and reporting. The “from the field” aspect of the debrief makes it credible. The trick is to successfully synthesize the details into information that everyone can use. Helping people inside your company – from sales to facilities management - to understand why something worked is as important as congratulating the team on the fact that it worked. It really is an art. One Blue Grotto client took the debrief seriously and managed to incorporate knowledge they had acquired the year before to develop an award-winning tradeshow booth two years in a row.

Email me with examples of how you use the debrief inside your own company or organization, and I’ll debrief everyone in a future blog.

Link: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/2940.html to view the complete article by Jimmy Guterman

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.