Random Thoughts on Life and Work

November 18, 2015

Care About Your Impact

Filed under: Non-Profit,Strategy,Work — Darren Mullenix @ 8:52 am
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Seth Godin’s blog post for today was too good to not share.

I have worked with organizations that fall on both sides of the spectrum described in his post. And from what I have seen, those organizations that get it – the organizations that value the work their people do over the adherence to a set of prescribed actions – have a far more engaged and healthier team.

While some of the responsibility is on us to choose our tribe wisely, it is also a principle that organizations can use to impact their culture and drive the end result. As a leader, which set of instructions do you give to your team? Individually, what set of instructions do we tend to gravitate towards? One comes with continuing challenges. The other becomes rote.

I don’t need to say much more. Check it out here. Think about it.

August 2, 2013

Job Apathy

Filed under: Charity,Management,Work — Darren Mullenix @ 1:22 pm
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Great article today on FastCompany.com by Roberta Matuson titled “Do Your Employees Have A Sense of Purpose.”  While those that work in non-profits might think they are exempt from this due to the “cause”, I would suggest that you not jump to that conclusion quite so quickly.

One of the things that I see repeatedly is the reliance on developing the perfect job description for a new position. After all, the desire is to attract the employee with a position that is challenging and fulfilling. But maybe we have missed the boat. I like the idea of crafting a “results description” instead of a job description. By releasing an employee to accomplish a task in the method that is efficient and effective without handcuffing them to a particular method, we allow that individual to flourish, take risks, and have a sense of ownership. With results expectations clearly defined, the employee can be released to “go for it”.

In organizations with a heavy top-down approach, unexceptional service can become the rule. After a number of attempts to accomplish a task or attempts to initiate projects that are not within the scope of duties are crushed, ignored, or criticized, it is no wonder that apathy results.

So here’s the challenge – as you look at growth and new positions, or as you re-evaluate existing positions, consider how you are going to describe the position to a prospective employee. Are you going to describe the way you want the job done or the result you want to see? Do you have the structure and metrics in place to back it up?

February 1, 2012

Hard Choices

Filed under: Charities,Charity,Management,Non-Profit,Strategy,Work — Darren Mullenix @ 8:45 am

Had a difficult day recently. In a strategic shift for our department, we eliminated a position. It meant informing a staff member that she would no longer have a position with us. We had been wrestling with this for some time and finally got clarity on which way we wanted to proceed. Hated it. But it is necessary.

Brings me to the question of the day. How do you make those challenging decisions? Do you find them easy? We went through the following process:

1. Is the current strategy something we need to continue? (Lots of evaluative work done here.)
2. If no, why not?
3. Is there a more pressing need within the department and our overall context within the organization?
4. Define the need.
5. Can the current position holder fill the new role?
6. If yes – easy decision. If no – hard decision.

Now we begin the process of moving forward.

March 15, 2011

What Do You Bring?

Filed under: Charities,Charity,Management,Non-Profit,Strategy,Work — Darren Mullenix @ 8:29 am

An interesting post this morning by Seth Godin on his blog.  You can see it HERE.

When work becomes “just a job” why do you stay?  Security?  Fear?  Lack of motivation?

Maybe it is time to ask yourself, “Why?”  Why am I still here?  Why is this job important?  Why will my coworkers miss me if I leave?  Will my coworkers miss me?

I’ve been on an interesting ride lately and not sure what to make of it.  Working in a non-profit can be both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time.  There’s a “call” to make a difference in the world.  That’s what brought me here.  But what am I bringing to the organization?  And is it valued and needed?  If not, maybe I should take it somewhere else.

It’s more than just doing a good job.  Anyone, with just a little bit of effort, can do that.

What do you bring?

April 9, 2008

Project SharePoint – A Follow-up

Sharepoint has turned out to be a great tool for us.  We are now about 5 months into heavy use of it and it is serving as a great consolidator of information.  We are able to keep our various project information up-to-date and in an easy to access location.  The group calendar functions have been an added bonus.  The one drawback that we have at the moment (due to a technical situation) is that the calendars are not linking withour personal calendars on Outlook.  I have been told that will be rectified soon with a future update to our Microsoft Office software.

June 15, 2007

Project SharePoint

Filed under: Charities,Charity,Management,Non-Profit,nptech,Philanthropy,Software,Strategy,Work — Darren Mullenix @ 8:47 am

One of the challenges that we face (and I am sure we are not alone) is the rapidly changing “project status” reports.  For those that deal with gathering information and writing status reports for funders, you will probably shout a loud “Amen” to this challenge.  The challenges often come from two sources:

  • different information received from different project sources
  • different information needed by various funders (i.e. individuals vs foundations vs organizations, etc)

So a couple of us started brainstorming quite a while ago about how we best manage the information that we have at our fingertips and the reports that are generated by our creative team.  We started with a simple document library concept thinking that if we put our reports in folders organized by subject we would be able to cut and paste as needed.  We quickly learned that this wasn’t going to work.  So we continued to limp along a little while.

We began to realize that one of our biggest problems was not the accumulation of reports.  That was easy.  The hard part was the gathering (and dissemination) of consistent, accurate information.  Often, if one staff member called their source for an update about a particular project, they received one packet.  If a different staff member called a different source, they might get a different packet and not even realize that a) information was already available and b) what they were just given might be different from what the first person received.  (Okay, I realize that this may point to a much large systemic issue that we will get to later.  But for now stick with me.)

Then, thanks to the blogging of some of my peers such as Michele at Bamboo Project and Beth at Beth’s Blog, the light bulb came on.  Why not use a wiki to manage the information?  After setting some simple rules for how information is formatted when it is added to a page in the wiki, we should be off and running.  The fluidity of a wiki is really perfect for keeping track of the most recent information about the various projects that we have at any given time.  In addition, it allows the staff who write reports to gather the information that they need quickly and share new information with other staff just as quickly.

So then the question became – what platform?  So I went to our IT team to see what help I might get for a hosted solution.  Being somewhat familiar with what is available I knew we could get something that would work well for us.  But I received a rather surprising response – “Why not try Microsoft’s SharePoint?”  Not knowing much about it other than conceptually I agreed to at least consider it.   After spending some time in quick review, I realized that we may have stumbled on a great solution!  (Notice I didn’t go so far as to say the “p” word . . . perfect.)

And so, Project SharePoint is born.  I’ll try to post more details as we complete the setup but for now, here is a brief synopsis:

  • SharePoint has built in shared document functionality
  • SharePoint has a built in wiki which (so far) seems to be very easy to set up
  • SharePoint runs on the corporate intranet and can also be configured for remote access
  • Calendar, task, and communication duties in SharePoint can be integrated with a user’s Outlook

Much of this we are still working on so I’ll keep posting as we go. 

June 5, 2007

Change And The Complex System

Filed under: Charities,Charity,Management,Non-Profit,Software,Strategy,Work — Darren Mullenix @ 8:36 am

I recently read this post on the Freakonomics Blog written by Stephen Dubner that got me thinking about the processes that we put into place to accomplish our work.  In his post, Stephen discusses complex systems and how they evolve due to the variety of inputs.  In his post he posits the exercise of asking ourselves, “if we were making this system up from scratch today, what would it look like?” 

I have been working on documenting procedures for a variety of activities within our department lately, and I suspect this post struck home due to this exercise.  In addition to the “process” of creating procedural documents for those that come behind, we are working with our software provider to develop new systems for how our database presents information and tracks donor relationships.  All this makes me ask the same question – if we were doing this from scratch, what would it look like?

It is a scary thing to think about demolishing our existing structures and starting from scratch.  But maybe there are times when that is a better solution than continuing to limp along doing the same things time after time and expecting different results.  I tend to think that non-profits are particularly prone to this thinking.  After all, to start from scratch demands a certain level of financial commitment and an acknowledgment that resources spent on the existing systems may be perceived as wasted.  (False perspective but that concept is for another time.)

Our organizations are complex systems in themselves.  Breaking down the organization into its component parts (Finance, HR, Information Systems, Development, Programs), we can see smaller subsets that are complex systems as well.  Realistically, any entity that involves more than one human interface is a likely candidate for defining as a complex system.  Mid to large size non-profits will be especially complex as they start to deal with a multitude of human inputs. 

Periodically asking ourselves what the system might look like if it was designed from scratch is a worthwhile exercise.  It may be that nothing new is generated.  But how often have you said to yourself, “If I was doing that I would do it this way”,  or, “If only we could handle this this way.”  I believe the concept of strategic planning is changing.  The globalization of our world, the speed at which we are forced to make decisions and operate is forcing us into a new paradigm for planning.  I believe that in the context on ongoing strategic planning we need to be asking ourselves the following questions:

  • What are we doing that we need to keep doing because it is the core of who we are and what we exist to do?
  • What are we doing that we need to do for a short time longer to complete and then toss it out?
  • What are we doing that we should be doing differently because the original design and purpose has slipped?
  • What are we doing that we should not be doing anymore because it is outside of our core mission and purpose?

Then take a look at the systems that are in place to support your activity and in light of the answers to the above questions, evaluate which systems should remain and which should go.  Which systems need tweaking and which systems are operating at best efficiency.

If you had to do it over again from scratch, what would it look like?

September 5, 2006

How to Interview – Or Not

Filed under: Management,Work — Darren Mullenix @ 2:02 pm

Let’s change directions just a bit today and talk about staffing.  A relevant topic for every organization that has employees.  How do you find the right people to do the work that your organization needs done?  How much time do you spend making sure that they are the right person?  The interview process can be grinding for both the interviewer and the interviewee.  Maybe it is time to change that.  (more…)

August 16, 2006

Budgeting Time

Filed under: Work — Darren Mullenix @ 7:58 am

Okay, it is budget time here where I work.  My role during budget is to aggregate the input from various department heads and craft a budget for the division that I then present to our VP.  He then has to absorb the input, evaluate it with all rationale, and present it to the President who makes the final decision of acceptability.  What is wrong with this picture? 

Here are some of the parameters that I have to work with.  (1) Our department promotional efforts are run and budgeted in another division.  We just create the draft text of the various pieces and then let the “professionals” take over.  (2)  Special events for donors used to be run in a different department.  We are now taking over those events – but have to hold the line on expenditures.  (3)  Technology for the Division is budgeted in a different division under a different VP.  However, I get to meet with them to “negotiate” what I can plan (have) for next year. 

The whole process is so convoluted that it makes it almost impossible for good analysis to see if we are spending resources where we should.  True success (or failure) is almost impossible to measure accurately.

A rant and a thought for the day.

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