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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

Action Plans

“Without an action plan, the executive becomes a prisoner of events.”
– Peter Drucker in What Makes an Effective Executive

Drucker goes on to write, “The action pan has to become the basis for the executive’s time management. Time is an executive’s scarcest and most precious resource. And organizations — whether government agencies, businesses, or nonprofits — are inherently time wasters.”

Synapse: Think about Drucker’s quote in connection with ‘How to Structure Your Time: A Sample Visit Schedule’. Part of taking time for strategy is taking time to decide goals, approach, and action plan for each prospect.

Present vs. ENGAGE

Many of us are taught to PRESENT, but almost nobody is taught to ENGAGE.

When we are taught to PRESENT we are instructed to stand up straight… speak slowly… project your voice… perhaps even with passion! PRESENTING focuses on the commanding actions of the presenter.

ENGAGEMENT focuses on the desired outcome of the other party, or audience. At For Impact we’ve developed this definition for ENGAGE(MENT):

A dynamic within a relationship that holds attention, heightens interest, and motivates toward action.

Without trying to teach the art of engagement in 500-words-or-less, I simply want to raise this awareness. The next time you’re preparing for a conversation, sale, or ‘presentation,’ think less about what you want to say and think more about ways to hold attention, heighten interest, and motivate toward action.

Here are a few nuggets to help you think about ENGAGE(MENT):

  • Think about questions to ask to get the other person’s brain engaged.
  • Use visuals, even and especially in one-on-one conversations.
  • Listen! Don’t interrupt! When someone’s talking it forces them to be present — when they’re talking they are ENGAGED.

If you’re really interested in ENGAGE(MENT) one of the best books I share is Brain Rules by John Medina — specifically Rule (Chapter) #4 on Attention. Medina goes deep into ways to keep the brain engaged.

Culture is HOW you work.

I just finished reading What You Do is Who You Are, by Ben Horowitz. I was a HUGE fan of Ben’s first book, The Hard Thing About the Hard Things. And, I’m just as eager to recommend his second book!

With his first book, really shaped some of my thinking about culture. He defines culture building as HOW YOU WORK. He distinguishes this from values and perks. A good cultural design lets values persist, but values are not in-and-of-themselves the behaviors you’re programming into your work, team or company.*

Ben builds on culture in this second book, going deeper:

Culture isn’t a magical set of rules that makes everyone behave the way you’d like. It’s a system of behaviors that you hope most people will follow, most of the time. Critics love to attack companies for having a “broken culture” or being “morally corrupt,” but it’s actually a minor miracle if a culture isn’t dysfunctional. No large organization ever gets anywhere near 100 percent compliance on every value, but some do much better than others. Our aim here is to be better, not perfect.

Horowitz, Ben. What You Do Is Who You Are (p. 17). Harper Business.

When I think about the most successful sales (fundraising) cultures we’ve seen, they all emerged from well-defined and then focused behaviors — sales team meetings, defined sales process, goals/metrics. This focus is a really simple insight for something as complex as ‘culture’!!!!

The behaviors are easier to identify, integrating the behaviors + people is always the trickier part which is why the last sentence is so important: Our aim here is to be better, not perfect.

*In the Hard Thing about Hard Things Ben says, “Yoga is a perk, not a culture.” <– For those who know us it’s worth sharing… years ago we started a fringe benefit program at For Impact | The Suddes Group to fund gym memberships, YOGA!, and other things that would help our team achieve optimal health. We named the program ‘Culture of Health‘. We still have the program and name ‘Culture of Health‘, but when we really geek out on ‘culture’, I will be the first to admit: the program is a perk which reinforces a value: it does not much inform a system of behaviors for how we work.)

You haven’t taught it until they’ve learned it

“You haven’t taught it until they’ve learned it.” – John Wooden


Tied to this simple nugget, Bill Parcells (in his biography) describes a lesson from his early days of coaching. Parcells was an assistant coach under Dean Pryor. A player messed up in practice and Parcells recalls ‘unloading on the guy.’

Pryor, voice raised, cut Parcells off. “Well, you obviously didn’t go over it enough, because he didn’t get it.” The teachable moment was the first time that Pryor had ever scolded his assistant, and it happened in front of a bench full of players.

“That cut like a knife to the heart,” Parcells remembers. “But it was one of the best lessons I ever learned.” Regardless of the mistake made by a player, his coach shared responsibility for any lack of execution. The onus falls on the coach to foster an environment conducive to learning—and retaining—instruction. Over the decades, Parcells would convey this same lesson countless times to his coaches when they blamed a player for not following instructions.

Identifying How Decisions Are Made

Every organization is perfectly designed to get the results they are getting.

This is one of our refrains. Whereas many consulting companies do feasibility studies or manage capital campaigns, at The Suddes Group our aim is to help an organization *design* for the right results — and then help implement to get those results.

As is the case with design work and culture change, this is often messy, iterative, and complex. It requires that we identify leadership and the process by which to make necessary decisions (that will move the enterprise forward).

Drawing on several frameworks, here are the decision-making modes that we seek to identify, name, and direct.

1. Autocratic
2. Input
3. Democratic
4. Consensus
5. Unanimous

Autocratic: While this can have a negative application, there are times when a decision just needs to be made, in order to move forward quickly. Leaders of social impact organizations tend to default to building consensus, but during an organization’s infancy, or when there is no ‘right’ decision, it might require that someone ‘just make a decision.’

Input still has one (clearly defined) decision-maker, but that person gathers input from others first; this style places an emphasis on participation, listening, and openness.

Democratic and Consensus: These are similar in some ways — they both favor a majority (or highest vote tally). Stylistically, a democratic decision-making process can sometimes be polarizing (think: Congress). In contrast, consensus is about finding an option that tries to build the most bridges, and the most understanding of different points of view. Note: Practically speaking, you can see the difference in this way — a consensus-building process requires many more rounds of back-and-forth, revisions, etc.

Unanimous: This is the hardest and most time-consuming option, to get everyone involved to agree on the decision. It requires a deep commitment from the team to listen, to let go, and to move forward as one.

The power of these styles comes from being deliberate about DECLARING them and then COMMUNICATING them within a process or plan.

Integration before Growth

Ichak Adizes created the working theory and framework for organizational lifecycles. Many ‘gurus’ have duplicated, or built upon, his lifecycle framework.

Here is a nugget nestled in the introduction of the latest edition of his work. It’s a specific insight about the importance of INTEGRATION as a key factor in predicting organizational growth. Most leaders might grow organizations a few times in their careers. We’ve worked to transform hundreds of organizations… and scaled just as many ‘funding efforts’… built and developed teams… to help raise over $2Billion. To us, this little nugget is HUGE and not to be missed!!!!

“I have learned that although it remains true that entrepreneurship causes growth and a lack of entrepreneurship causes aging, Integration is the factor that precedes entrepreneurship in predicting organizational growth and aging. This factor enables the creation of the nurturing environment essential for entrepreneurship and, thus, for organizational growth. Integration also allows organizations to treat aging problems more proactively—that is, earlier. Because this factor is subtle, it is commonly ignored and neglected in the pursuit of growth. That neglect is what causes organizations to take the typical path—with all its pains—on the organizational lifecycle.”

Adizes observes that large organizations are often working on ‘integration’ of teams, functions, systems. But his wording is insightful: integration is the ‘factor that precedes… in predicting’ where organizations are going.

We use this insight in our coaching.

Let’s suppose we’re helping you START an effort to build more individual giving. The trick is to balance ‘entrepreneurship’ (i.e., moving fast / doing things) and integration. In practice, this might mean that we prototype an effort inside of a large enterprise. Then, after there is some funding success, we’ll focus FIRST on how to integrate that function with other elements of the enterprise. That integration (buy-in, alignment, role clarity… the ‘culture stuff’) is predictive of the organization’s ability to successfully scale the funding model in an enterprise.

To increase sales, spend more time selling.

The title of this post is supposed to be reductively simple: To increase sales, spend more time selling.

This morning I’m reading through old HBR articles on ‘selling.’ We do this to find the research, studies, and science, and then use that information to back our approach and/or innovate. Here’s a little ‘finding’ from a 2006 article: The New Science of Sales Force Productivity.

Another question that leading sales organizations ask themselves is, Are the field reps spending as much time as possible selling? When we measure salespeople’s “non-customer-facing time,” we find that it often amounts to more than half of their total hours. If sales executives uncover that kind of problem, they have a variety of tools at their disposal. They may be able to channel some of the reps’ administrative functions to support staff… They also may simplify the systems that the reps are expected to deal with. Several years ago, sales executives at Cisco set a goal of reducing reps’ nonselling time by a few hours a week and charged the IT department with making it happen. The improvement led to several hundred million dollars in additional revenue.

I’m sharing this because it looks so simple. And it IS that simple. The problem is that most social impact organizations hold – as a cultural point of pride – the ability for each person to wear many hats. I was on the phone last week with a director of development who said, “Our president expects EVERYONE in the organization to be on the front lines providing service at least three mornings per week.”

That’s a decision.

In addition, we often see front-line salespeople being tasked with other functions – like running events. Or, in health care, the ‘fundraising executives’ are often asked to be at every health care system executive meeting (often this takes the BEST sales person offline for 40% of the month!).

These organizations are all trying to find ‘new ways to raise money.’

Our advice is not ‘innovative.’ It’s simple: Free up more time for your SALES PEOPLE to FOCUS on SELLING.

Brooks’s Law

Today’s nugget is an excerpt from Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (p. 127-128) by General Stanley McChrystal.

The late J. Richard Hackman, a Harvard sociology professor, found that teams are much trickier to build and maintain than we like to think. The issue is not that teams never work, but that team dynamics are powerful but delicate, and expansion is a surefire way to break them. “[It’s a] fallacy that bigger teams are better than smaller ones because they have more resources to draw on,” he explains. “As a team gets bigger, the number of links that need to be managed among members goes up at an accelerating, almost exponential rate.”

In his handbook Leading Teams, Hackman reminds us of “Brooks’s Law”: the adage that adding staff to speed up a behind-schedule project “has no better chance of working… than would a scheme to produce a baby quickly by assigning nine women to be pregnant for one month each… adding manpower to a late project makes it later.”

Reflect on this excerpt and think about the implications for your team(s).

On a large, late, or urgent project, the tendency is to add more people. We must first put extra resources into clear planning and then be prepared to commit resources (e.g., time and communication) to building/managing the exponential links a ‘team’ requires.

Fundraising Boards

I’m going to preface this joke by emphasizing THIS IS A JOKE.

Joke: We, at The Suddes Group, have taken great care to focus our work and market. We ONLY work with organizations that don’t have strong fundraising boards.

The joke, of course, is that NO organization has a strong fundraising board!!! The ‘strong fundraising board’ is as prevalent as the unicorn.

Read: Your Board Is Not Responsible For Fundraising

Defining Leadership

Amazon sells over 21,000 books on leadership, and we’ve read a lot of them. When it comes to effective leadership, the famous Supreme Court framing could apply: “We know it when we see it.”

A wonderful philanthropist, veteran business leader, and For Impact friend Bob Werner says it best: “Leaders Lead.”

Here are some themes and definitions we commonly use across all sectors, geographies, and types of organizations:

  • Leadership is about making decisions! This is a top challenge we encounter. One of the most important tasks of leaders is to MAKE DECISIONS. Teams can usually adjust and learn from a wrong decision, but they can’t adjust and learn from INDECISION.
  • Casting the Vision. It could be argued that this is a form of decision-making, but someone (read: ultimately ONE PERSON) needs to set the vision. Too often we see people in leadership positions waiting for the vision to emerge by magic, or by consensus (which–in this case–is also magic).
  • “Lead toward a brighter tomorrow.” I think I picked up this definition from Marcus Buckingham.  But so much of leadership is about setting the STORY and CONTEXT for the organization, team, or project. As humans, we want to feel a sense of progress in what we do. We need leaders to chart that path forward.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
– John Quincy Adams