This month’s print edition of HBR makes mention of a new study supporting ‘the purpose-profit’ connection (p32). The study looks at the relationship between strong purpose and public company financial performance. I believe the insights apply to all organizations – That is, any organization with a strong purpose will see increased performance. The study finds there is a strong link between PURPOSE and PERFORMANCE (or, in my adjusted language, IMPACT). Researchers make a distinction in two types of high purpose organizations. The first is what it calls ‘high camaraderie’ where everyone simply has a sense that they are doing something great, TOGETHER. The second type of purpose is ‘high clarity’ from management. This is noted as the type where managers excel at translating purpose into action. The statistically significant performance bump was only found with organizations that have ‘purpose clarity.’
As a leader, think not just about PURPOSE, but ‘PURPOSE CLARITY.’ To help you with this, I would bridge some of the findings of the research with some of the For Impact teaching. Think about PURPOSE as an anchor for your STORY. And, by story, I don’t mean a narrative with a beginning-middle-end. I mean how you FRAME the organization. A GREAT STORY…
Some of the writing in the research study further supports thinking about placing PURPOSE inside of STORY. “The company’s primary purpose – the real one, which isn’t necessarily the one written in the official documents or etched in the wall plaques – [that] guides its actions and decisions.”
———————– Gartenberg, Claudine Madras and Prat, Andrea and Serafeim, George, Corporate Purpose and Financial Performance (June 30, 2016). Columbia Business School Research Paper No. 16-69. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2840005
Prior to his post at Manchester United, he managed Aberdeen, a Scottish Football Club. He learned about the importance of ZOOMING OUT to lead. My emphasis in bold…
Watching is (an) underrated (leadership) activity…it costs nothing. For me there are two forms of observation: the first is on the detail and the second is on the big picture. Until I was managing Aberdeen and hired Archie Knox as my assistant manager, I had not appreciated the difference between watching for the tiny particulars while also trying to understand the broader landscape. Shortly after he arrived at Aberdeen, Archie sat me down and asked me why I had hired him. The question perplexed me, until he explained that he had nothing to do since I insisted on doing everything. He was very insistent… Archie told me that I shouldn’t be conducting the training sessions but, instead, should be on the sidelines watching and supervising. I wasn’t sure that I should follow this advice because I thought it would hamper my control of the sessions. But when I told Archie I wanted to mull over his advice, he was insistent. So, somewhat reluctantly, I bowed to his wishes and, though it took me a bit of time to understand you can see a lot more when you are not in the thick of things, it was the most important decision I ever made about the way I managed and led. When you are a step removed from the fray, you see things that come as surprises– and it is important to allow yourself to be surprised. If you are in the middle of a training session with a whistle in your mouth, your entire focus is on the ball. When I stepped back and watched from the sidelines, my field of view was widened and I could absorb the whole session, as well as pick up on players’ moods, energy and habits. This was one of the most valuable lessons of my career and I’m glad that I received it more than 30 years ago. Archie’s observation was the making of me. As a player I had tried to do both– paying attention to the ball at my feet whilst being aware of what was happening elsewhere on the field. But until Archie gave me a finger wagging, I had not really understood that, as a manager, I was in danger of losing myself to the details. It only took me a handful of days to understand the merit of Archie’s point, and from that moment I was always in a position to be able to zoom in to see the detail and zoom out to see the whole picture.
Stepping back to watch from the sidelines is not natural (at least not to me!) This story has powerful leadership insights and implications for all of us.
Ferguson, Alex; Moritz, Michael (2015-10-06). Leading: Learning from Life and My Years at Manchester United (p. 18). Hachette Books. Kindle Edition.
In designing, managing and leading hundreds of ‘building campaigns’, these are questions we ask – at altitude:
30,000’ WHY? VISION
Are we in the Re-Construction Biz or the Impact Biz?
What is the Purpose(s) of the ‘Space(s)’?
How does it relate to our Vision?
Have we dealt with the ‘Footprint’ & ‘Bubbles’ before Wall Coverings & FFE?
Do our Financial Goals match our Constituent’s Capacity?
Is this about ‘Ownership’ or ‘Control’?
How do we Share this Story (of Impact) vs. ‘Sell Recognition/Naming Rights?’
Have we explored Partnerships? Multi-Use Facilities? 24/7?
14,000’ WHAT? STRATEGY
Have we engaged all stakeholder groups to validate that we have the best solutions/plan?
Are there other cheaper and/or more creative real estate solutions to achieve our goal? If so, can we address why we’re not pursuing?
Have we looked at all Creative Financing Opportunities?
Are we telling the architects and planners what we want and need, what we can afford, how it fits… or are they telling us?
Cost per sq. ft. needs to fit our situation
Entire Project/Cost must enable our Case for Support
3’ HOW? EXECUTION
Can this be divided into phases? (Both Building & Funding)
Can we take 3 to 5 Year Commitments? Do we need Bridge Financing or a Construction Loan?
Have we made Everything A Project? (within the Big Initiative)
Are there Projects (In-Kind Opportunities) to Maximize Gifts?
In sharing this, I also want to encourage leaders and readers to engage with us EARLY in the formative stages of a building project or strategy. By asking the right questions up front you can save time and money – but it’s not just about that – It’s about identifying the right solution and needs to help you with your impact!
The vision for your organization must live in one person’s head.
The vision can’t sit with a committee. Many can contribute to the building of a clear vision but, there must be one person that holds that vision. This ultimate vision keeper could be the CEO or it could be the Board Chair.
We use this nugget often as the first step toward strategic clarity – many leaders don’t realize they’re trying to juggle or navigate 3-4 visions.
The ultimate vision keeper is often trying to make room for others – inviting them to contribute to the vision. This can be great, so long as it’s clear that there will be one person that ultimately owns the vision.
From the archives, but still relevant today – Read on for how to avoid Vocabulary Wars.
Last week we were with an organization that helps homeless people find and secure permanent housing. The Executive Director of this organization had spent the last 10 years – off and on – trying to get three specific area Foundations ‘on board.’ In that time, some $10K grants had been awarded but for the most part the Foundations said, “We don’t fund projects like yours.”
The mission statements for the foundations were almost identical to that of this homelessness organization. And, each Foundation had funded similar agencies working in the homeless arena.
After some discussion, I realized that the challenge has been vocabulary, not fit. For example:
This organization receives about $1M annually from the government — to be used for ‘capital’. It turned out that ‘capital’ in this definition meant anything that had to do with the actual home or residence (including programs to get into the residence.) In the case of this organization, the ‘home’ was the OBJECTIVE of the program. Kind of hard to end homelessness without a home somewhere in the equation… no?
The Foundations avoided ‘capital’ projects. It turned out the ‘capital’ meant ‘capital campaign’ to the them – bricks and mortar, campaign committees, fancy office chairs, etc.
The organization had structured all of its internal vocabulary based on conversations with the government. These vocabulary words were deal killers with the private foundations who heard “capital campaign” when they wanted to focus on more “programs for the homeless.” (I’m not making this up.)
So, here’s what we did:
We coached the organization’s senior leadership to go back to one of the Foundations. This time the organizations was to ask questions, listen and use the Foundation’s vocabulary to advance a discussion.
The key questions to ask were, “What is the biggest challenge you’re seeing with respect to ending homeless in this area? How are you working to address that challenge?”
The Foundation said it felt a lack of ‘housing opportunities’ were available to the working poor and that it was trying to identify agencies that worked as a catalyst to create more opportunities. Note: The most critical point of this entire story is probably right here. The organization had to LISTEN to the foundation to pull off the right ask.
The organization’s leadership was then able to position its work as a ‘catalyst to create more housing opportunities’.
Both the foundation and the organization leadership described the ensuing conversation as ‘electric’ and ‘exciting.‘ They will be meeting again next month to talk about a multi-year financial partnership.
For 10 years, would-be partners had failed to align for what amounted to a vocabulary war. At times the relationship was even contentious – there were debates and arguments between foundation heads and leaders in this organization about right/wrong and ‘justice’ in funding.
It’s important to realize in this story that at 30,000’ they were in COMPLETE alignment: all parties were trying to end homelessness. The fact that the homeless organization was getting a token $10K here and there was an indicator that there was alignment on the CAUSE (WHY), but not the CASE (WHAT). The relationship was advanced – light speed – by really, really listening and aligning the solution in terms the funder understood.
The only way to avoid a vocabulary war is to listen.
Note: In the actual coaching I said to the ED, “I want you just to listen.. to really understand the foundation’s challenges. When you hear a word you don’t understand, ask them to define it. Keep listening until you can say, ‘wait a minute, we can help solve that!’”.
As a leader the vision makes the most sense to you because it lives in your head. You probably have the most complete view of the operation, you spend the most time thinking about the vision, and feel like you’re constantly communicating that vision.
And yet, that vision is likely under communicated! Here is a great excerpt from Adam Grant’s Originals about how change agents under communicate their vision:
“When Harvard professor John Kotter studied change agents years ago, he found that they typically under communicated their visions by a factor of ten. On average, they spoke about the direction of the change ten times less often than their stakeholders needed to hear it. In one three-month period, employees might be exposed to 2.3 million words and numbers. On average during that period, the vision for change was expressed in only 13,400 words and numbers: a 30-minute speech, an hour-long meeting, a briefing, and a memo. Since more than 99 percent of the communication that employees encounter during those three months does not concern the vision, how can they be expected to understand it, let alone internalize it? The change agents don’t realize this, because they’re up to their ears in information about their vision.”
The vision for you is a full-length motion picture in which you’re the writer, producer, director — surely worth millions of words. But likely, for the rest of your team, the vision is a word-cloud they heard on Tuesday.
In a nutshell: The vision can’t be over-communicated!
Part of our For Impact story has been the invention of THE ENGAGEMENT TOOL. This one-page presentation flow, at altitude, has become an absolutely indispensable part of our client and coaching success.
IF you’re out making VISITS and PRESENTING THE OPPORTUNITY (which all of you
should be) – you need a SIMPLE, POWERFUL, ENGAGING PRESENTATION TOOL!!!
I can almost guarantee you don’t have one now because an Engagement Tool is not a PowerPoint, Campaign Brochure, 3-Ring Binder, or stuff from “National’s Marketing Department.”
An Engagement Tool is used to Present the Opportunity ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’.
As Tim Allen of Tool Time fame says, “The RIGHT TOOL for the RIGHT JOB.”
GREAT PRESENTATION TOOLS can:
Create a terrific FRAMEWORK for the FLOW of the VISIT,
GRAB PEOPLE’S ATTENTION,
FACILITATE important DIALOGUE,
Create ENGAGEMENT and INTERACTION,
COMMUNICATE STATS & STORIES, LOGIC & MAGIC, and much more!
We organize our PRESENTATION TOOLS around “these 3 things”:
A FLOW SHEET
An ALTITUDE MAP
You can download an EXAMPLE of each one of these here.
A few weeks ago we published “10 Action Steps to Help you Engage in 2016.” Over the next 10
weeks, we are going to use each action step as a week long theme to help you get it done!
This week’s theme is SIMPLIFY YOUR MESSAGE.
Some quick reminders and primers coming into this post:
A potential funder needs to be engaged around the message at three levels – the WHY, the WHERE (money goes) and the HOW (can help – supported by a funding rationale). Read our Altitude Framework PDF for a comprehensive look at this.
Here are eight common messaging challenges we see:
The message (engagement) starts at the wrong altitude. Engagement begins at 30,000’ – about changing, saving and impacting lives. A quick assessment of the way most ED’s are talking about the organization and you see that it’s so programmatic (think: 14,000’). We do a lot of coaching to get people up to the 30,000’-changing-the-world-level.
No simplicity. Not able to state 30,000’ on a napkin. Not able to communicate three priorities. Not able to articulate a simple funding rationale.
Special note: One way to simplify your message is through the use of visuals!
No engagement. Several times each month I look at an organization’s message and say, “That’s actually pretty damn good! I’ll bet you’re just not ENGAGING anyone with the message.” What I mean is, you don’t need to wordsmith or reframe anything. Instead, you have a message problem in that no one is actually HEARING and INTERNALIZING the message. This could be because we’re not out visiting with or it could be because we’re out talking and not LISTENING. Listening allows us to frame our message in a way that makes sense to the other person.
No funding rationale. No math or no story to support ‘the ask’. This is identifiable when we have a funding goal only and we’re either saying, “Can you give?” or we’re just picking a number out of the air. See my earlier post on 9 Types of Funding Pitches.
No WOW. Only commentary here is that most organizations DO have a WOW factor. They often don’t see it because they focus on what’s not perfect.
Story is not awesome. By this I mean your 30,000’ narrative is not representing your transcendent purpose, your BHAG, your audacity.
Framing is about the INCOME. Not the IMPACT. A common 14,000’ example. Whereas we should be communicating how ALL of our funding supports specific projects, priorities and programs we say something like, “We need funds for staff salaries… admin… overhead.” YUCK. You frame everything around your excel spreadsheet and not the PURPOSE or INTENT of the expenditure. Again: Yuck. Another example is the message that’s all about the business plan. WHY do you exist and WHAT do you hope to achieve with said business plan (around the IMPACT).
All CAUSE, no CASE. (Or, All PROBLEM, No SOLUTION.) This refers to a message that is heavy on selling me on the problem. So much so that I never really engage with the CASE – either because it’s not there, or because you’ve lost my attention. Note: Hitting all three altitude levels actually makes a simple and complete CASE FOR SUPPORT.