Change from the Middle

change-1076220_1280A topic that has been on my mind for the last year is the idea of change coming from the middle; people like myself who have about ten years of experience, but don’t have a title with the authority to make change without approval. There were several case studies I read in my Organizational Behavior class and a few experiences from my own career that have kept it consistently on my mind. With a course about change coming up in the final semester of my MBA program, I wanted to write my thoughts about the subject now and then reevaluate in several months.

With millennials now over 50% of the US workforce, I am in a category of individuals who desire to make positive change, but are up against an older generation with different perspectives on many issues. In this situation, change can come slowly, if at all. So, how does one go about making change then? These are my thoughts.

  • Become a leader: This doesn’t have to come with a title or position, rather the feeling of those around you. Take on added responsibilities and/or volunteer for projects, don’t take shortcuts, do what is right and not what it easy. These are the practices that others see and understand the value of positioning themselves alongside.
  • Be the change: As is stated in my favorite quote from Gandhi, we have to be the change we want to see. What this means to me is that if I want something to be different, I have to put myself out there and set the example and take the risk. An example of this is challenging an established culture and choosing to blaze your own trail, such as working hard because that is what should be done, as opposed to doing the minimum because no one is looking over your shoulder.
  • Define the change: Even though those from a different generation may hold a different perspective, it does not mean they will not understand and consider a change. I think it is a matter of sharing in terms they will be able to understand. An example from a conversation I had with a client not too long ago comes to mind. He didn’t understand how spending time and money on being environmentally responsible would also be profitable. I explained that by being environmentally responsible, a different group of customers would be attracted to his business, which would increase revenue. A bit simplistic, but an example nonetheless.
  • Data: When all else fails, take the time to run the numbers and show what change can mean to the bottom line. This can result in more motivated employees, a more efficient sales force, better ways to reach potential customers and so on. Put together projections and reports using relevant data and let the numbers speak for themselves.

These are the best methods I have found and used to create change in my own environment. Now, I just have to see what new tools can get added to my “change” tool-belt this semester. I have big expectations from my professor, Dr. Bret Simmons, whom I have had for two other courses.

What other methods of positive change have you tried? Please add what has worked for you in a comment below.

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The Business of a Nonprofit

InnovationMy favorite class from the fall semester was Social Entrepreneurship. It brought great perspective and clarity to many topics of interest to me. The one I want to delve into here is regarding the viewpoint of nonprofits; what they are and how they operate. Several different speakers highlighted one simple idea – nonprofits should use their status to their own advantage, but still look at themselves as a business. I see this through the lens of innovation and using creativity to find or increase success.

The first idea that was brought up is that of using the “fee-for-service” model. This option can take on several different forms. Boys and Girls Clubs of America offer a fee-for-service in providing an after school option, but at a highly subsidized rate. The Executive Director for the Truckee Meadows clubs discussed how this income helps to offset some of the organizational costs incurred through operations. While this idea wasn’t new, it really stuck a nerve about providing regular income to the organization.

Another aspect of fee-for-service is reimbursement, which I feel adds to the ability to become sustainable. Life Change Center, located in Reno, NV, provides recovery services for addiction and is reimbursed for those services. The executive director spoke about the center’s success rate as a result of running the organization as a business; investing in experienced professionals and further investing in keeping them engaged in their work. Their website shows their success rate of 72%, as compared to a national average of 55%, which has been partially attributed to their business mindset. A key difference the executive director pointed out was that the profits are being reinvested into the organization, rather than being distributed to investors, stockholders or other owners.

The third speaker who really hit this point home was a co-founder of Zawadisha, a nonprofit focused on providing microfinance to women in Kenya. These loans are for acquiring household items that are safer, healthier and increase available time throughout the day to focus on other aspects of life, including small businesses. One of the ways Zawadisha has been able to find success is by creating an efficient and effective supply chain. The co-founder who came to speak with us also sent me this article on the subject of nonprofits and business, which I felt was also interesting.

In each of these cases, the organization has used its nonprofit status to their advantage while operating with a mindset that they are still seeking profitability. The point where I would like to go deeper into this topic is finding ways to apply this to existing organizations, as well as helping new organizations better plan using this business mindset. That, however, will be a post for another time.

What are your ideas for implementing business solutions to nonprofit organizations? Please post in the comment section below.

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Make Their Day – FISH! Philosophy

make their day2Of the four elements of the FISH! Philosophy, I saved this topic to write about last – make their day. The reason is because it took me the most amount of time to truly wrap my head around the concept in terms of applying it to my everyday work life. As part of my personality, I tend to help others and take time to create a positive work environment. The concept of making their day, however, can come very close to working against a leader if they overdo it with the need for affiliation with coworkers (McClelland’s Need Theory). What I have found is that there is a happy medium.

Below are the things I try to do for those around me. These are not necessary over-the-top actions, but I find that it is often the smallest actions that have the greatest impact.

  • Take time to say hello to everyone in the morning and stop to ask how they are doing.
  • Reference an earlier conversation on an important subject to them.
  • Offer to help with tasks that are not my normal responsibilities.
  • Ask follow-up questions when someone is obviously having a noticeably good or bad day.
  • Noticing something new or different, such as a haircut.
  • Share positive feedback with them in front of the team.

What I have found is that making someone’s day has to be part of who and what you are. People have to understand that you are doing something nice with no expectation of a return. When that is not the case, people question the motives and usually will not accept the action as intended.

For many years I considered myself a “nice guy,” but that didn’t really evoke the right feeling. I now like to describe myself as a good person. That is what allows me to show kindness and make people’s day because they trust who I am and what I am about.

There are wonderful payoffs when making someone’s day. While that is not the objective, it can certainly be an outcome. Last November, I was walking to class and stopped to help a student who was having trouble carrying some boxes. We were headed in the same direction and struck up a conversation. It ended up that she was an intern in the office I was applying for a job (my current position). While she was not in a position to help get me the job, it was a coincidence that helped buy me credibility before I even started.

You never know who or what is around the corner, so it is always a good idea to be kind and choose to make their day.

What is the best example from your own professional career of someone making your day? Please share in a comment below.

Related Posts:

FISH! – Be Present

FISH! – Play

FISH! – Choose Your Attitude

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AAR – After Action Report

AARI recently read a case study about Army General Rebecca Halstead, who became accustomed to writing a short after action report following almost everything that happened throughout her day. This idea really got me thinking about how this process could help me account for and improve my own work. While I believe that I reflect heavily on my responsibilities, I don’t take the next step and truly analyze and record what happened efficiently; what went well, what didn’t work and what I learned. So, I thought I would use a blog post to help hone in on an idea for my own After Action Report (AAR). Below are the 5 steps I have developed for my own AAR.

  1. Initial Objectives: Start by listing the initial objectives of the project as early as possible. Discuss these items with all of the relevant stakeholders and compile a comprehensive list. Make this a living document that is updated throughout the process to keep it accurate. However, an original draft should be kept for later comparison.
  2. Final Objectives: Save a final draft of the objectives and analyze what items changed, or were added, and why.
  3. Failures: What did not go as planned and why? Are those elements likely to repeat?
  4. Success: What went well and why? Are those items likely to repeat in the future?
  5. Knowledge Gained: What was learned from the process? What are elements that should be carried into the next project? What should be alleviated? (Note: All alleviated processes should be recorded and saved.)

Thinking about implementing this process immediately makes me stop and think – how am I going to make this relevant over the long-term? Meaning, how will I avoid this being started and then slowly forgotten. In order to keep this as a “front-burner” item, I will add this to my project listing Excel file that I created to track all of my work. My original goal was to be able to recall what I did last for someone who I haven’t spoken to in some time, but this is a logical addition that provides real value. I can add in those 5 steps and update them as work progresses. Additionally, I will create a new document to compile all the information I have learned and processes that have not worked; this will help develop best practices. Now, it is just a matter of implementation.

Do you have your own after action process? If so, please share it in a comment below.

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Work/Life/School Balance

Blue-Sky-CloudsAs I sit here writing this blog post, I look outside to see a beautiful Sunday afternoon, with a few perfectly formed white clouds in the sky and a temperature of 86 degrees. Why am I inside? Because I am attempting to balance a job, school, and life. Now, I will first say that I am not slaving away without a moment for myself. Not too long ago, I stopped to watch John Oliver discuss sports stadiums in the United States. However, working on these three items, simultaneously, comes with its own set of unique challenges.

On the work side, I am very fortunate to have a tremendous amount of autonomy that allows me to mostly work when I want and where I want. Just this morning I revised a future newspaper article and sent it off for approval; all from the comfort of my desk at home. Starting tomorrow, and going through Thursday, I will get to the office a little early in order to take Friday off. As I mentioned in a previous post about working remotely, this puts me in a position to be successful because I am not boxed into parameters that limit my productivity.

For school, the setup is also quite nice. All of my classes are in the evening, so there are generally no conflicts with work commitments. While there are social events I occasionally miss, I make the time to spend with family and friends. However, going to class isn’t as much of the difficulty as the work required once off-campus. While I absolutely love my program, there seems to be an endless amount of knowledge to absorb that can take up all of my time – if I allow it to.

Now, the issue arises with balance between the three because of the very things that make work and school great; autonomy and loving my program. For work, I am constantly thinking about what else I can do to help a client, coworker or my office; there is always more work that can be done. That also comes into play with school. Because I like what I am doing so much, I find there is always more information to look at, read about and analyze. That has put a damper on my ability to truly relax. It has come to the point where I often feel bad for taking a few moments to myself; feeling like it is wasted time. And, I have found this only to be an issue when school is in session. None of this is overwhelming, but definitely creates an imbalance in the system.

Traditionally, going to the movies has been my escape. Off-hand, I would say that I have seen fewer movies in the last year than I have since I was not able to drive on my own. The reason for not going to the movies is not necessarily that I can’t make the time, but because I feel bad for going when I know there is work waiting to be finished. To rebalance my mental system, I have to find a way to allow myself to understand that by taking the few hours to go see a movie, I am putting myself in a better position to be efficient for the time I have my eyes on the computer screen looking at business plans or in a book reading about leadership.

Movies are my mental escape to refresh the batteries, but what are yours? Please post in a comment below.

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Be Present – FISH! Philosophy

Fish-Philosophy-Be-ThereThe third concept I will discuss from FISH! Philosophy is “be present.” It goes beyond the idea of physically being present when talking to a friend, customer, coworker, etc. It is about giving your full, undivided, attention – actively listening. This seems so simple, but I have found it takes a great deal of effort to do it – every time. When thinking about this blog post I came up with a list of situations I have found where being present is most important.

  • Teleconference calls: This can perhaps be the toughest situation to be present because you are not physically in the room with other people. It is all too easy to surf the web or check your email as other people talk. I have done it and found that I don’t actually take anything away from the that conversation had while I wasn’t present. This has taught me to just close my eyes and take in the entire conversation, only stopping to write down notes.
  • Business meetings: Sitting in a room full of people I have found two ways to not be present; daydreaming and using my computer. I write all of my notes via computer, so it is easy to switch over to check my email. That one moment takes me out of the room and then it takes more time to get back into the conversation. Daydreaming is tough because, honestly, many meetings are irrelevant. However, it is important to be present because you never know when someone will ask you a question or reference a conversation from the meeting.
  • Customer conversations: Perhaps the most important time to be present is when you are talking to a customer. It doesn’t matter if it is on the phone or in person, being present in these situations can be directly connected to revenue. It is easy to tell when someone is present during conversation and when they are not. I start with making sure to say the other person’s name and then try to reference something said, both so they know I was engaged and for me to better understand and remember the conversation.

I have clear memories of times where I was not present and it caught up with me. Those moments are embarrassing because it truly is so easy to just be present and pay attention. I, like everyone else, am very busy and have my attention constantly being pulled in different directions. This is why being present is even more important because hearing something the first time and being able to take action, as well as creating and continuing positive relationships, is a clear path to success.

The next time you are talking to someone and find yourself not being present, refocus and find your own system for keeping your mind on what is at hand.

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Related Posts:

Play – FISH! Philosophy

Choose Your Attitude – FISH! Philosophy

Born to Blog

BornToBlogAs a new blogger, I am constantly looking for ways to make improvements and reach a larger audience. I have reviewed a number of resources and my goal is to take away at least one new element from each. I recently read Born to Blog, by Mark W. Schaefer and Stanford A. Smith. Written for those who are just getting started, this book provides excellent information to help newcomers find success. My greatest takeaways are laid out below.

  • Blogs are a noninvasive, trust-building, relationship booster: This stood out to me because, when done right, I have seen how powerful a blog can be.
  • There are five elements to writing a successful post: 1. Create a captivating headline. 2. Give a unique personal viewpoint. 3. Take a personal risk. 4. Create an entertaining spin. 5. Use words that sing.
  • Blogs offer the most potential value for businesses. The benefits include brand awareness, direct and indirect sales, sales support, R&D, PR, crisis management and expanding search engine traffic.
  • There are specific traits of a successful blogger; tenacity, focus on passion, flexibility, consistency and courage.
    • Tenacity in blogging comes down to working for years to start to build something; there is almost never instant success.
    • Without passion, failure is likely just a short time away. The true passion has to shine through in each post. It can’t be “all business.” People want to find out what you have to say.
    • Consistency in blogging means new posts at least once a month; there are many reasons for this and daily can become even easier over time. Every post doesn’t have to be profound, but does have to give some value.
    • Courage is likely the single most important element; sometimes just to hit the publish button.
  • There are three areas where blogging goes wrong; the wrong purpose, the wrong content and the wrong people.
    • Blogging must be done to tell you or your company’s story and share the core values.
    • The content must be real and connected to what you or your company are all about.
    • The people must be authentic and likely working for the company itself; not outsiders.
  • There are eight ways listed to develop readership for your blog. 1. Give away your best. 2. Add your blog to your current marketing efforts. 3. Contribute to other publications. 4. Get active on your reader’s social channels. 5. Use savvy, simple SEO; research keywords, optimize blog titles and post content. 6. Use guest bloggers. 7. Join and sponsor conversations, such as Twitter chats and discussion forums. 8. Reward your readers.
  • Bloggers for a company should come from every level, ranging from entry to C-suite, and training and support should be given to ensure quality and consistency.

These few items are just a portion of the pages of notes I wrote down, but were the ones I felt most applied to what I am doing with my own blog.

If you are looking to start blogging or would like to get a fresh perspective to improve your current blog, I would encourage you to check out the book.

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