Back to Blog
I had the great privilege of doing research around cooperatives that are run by immigrant professionals or catering to the immigrant submarkets in Canada. This is very interesting to me as a part of the advisory committee, as an independent consultant, an instructor and lifelong student of social entrepreneurship.
The best thing about the process of building a newcomer professional cooperatives for the whole country was our decision to start small, low, and slow. We need to learn from those that have been around 15 years ago up to those that just started during the height of the pandemic. How are they persisting, surviving, or what led to their early demise?
One by one factors became clear. The founding members of the cooperative can make and break the organization by simply pulling out commitment and engagement at an early stage where everything is just dependent on everyone putting in their share of the work. Another reason is the lack of process of arriving at decisions that are equitable and fair for all concerned. The definition of fairness, equity, and cooperation is something that could be based on values, mission, and vision of the organization and the practicalities of creating a team where needs are met and valued with respect and dignity.
The third factor surprisingly is about how they show up for income-generation to get them started. With the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) on high demand by organizations and companies, these cooperatives rode on the high but do not have the Plan B in case the hype on this subject wanes and hits its inevitable decline. The truth of the matter is that like any other hype-driven, externally-imposed change practices, research shows that it is more tokenistic and rarely brings about lasting change unless management and senior leadership provides support, buy-in, and commitment to the outcomes they are trying to seek. Buyers of this service would peter out for sure as organizations realize that this is not just about a purchase of coaching, a training session, and three-ring binder of the module or a video.
Lastly, most of these cooperatives are for-profit enterprises that have a clear goal at the outset towards a viable commercial success. But unlike the private competition, the issues of money, financial discipline and controls, and sustainability are not as rigorously thought or understood, or maybe have been evaded until the worse becomes a reality. Marketing has become an afterthought or a knee-jerk reaction. Most of them are subject matter experts and are not really marketing strategists and does not have the time or inclination or discipline to learn more in this department.
Running a business is not a hobby or a charity for which some incomes go to the staff who needs to send some back home to feed his family. Survival in the marketplace is always tough and cooperatives are not spared of this even though, they mean well.
Back to Blog
Two Saturdays ago, we went out fishing on a lake near us.
We went for the first few hours to the favorite spot where we usually, I would say 75% of the time catch fish. There were bites but nothing moved much. We got one fish, that's all.
So we decided , us ladies to get to the next part of the lake, where the guys were not that keen. But of course, having been out for a while, we wanted to get more action. So we went, and after another hour or so, no bites, no fish, nothing.
My father-in-law said that maybe we should just trawl and see what's inside these waters. So we did, and we caught two by just crisscrossing the lake going back to the same old original spot that we had earlier.
Back to the same spot, we waited for an hour and a half. No bites, no fish this time.
Everybody immediately agreed, that maybe we should just trawl. Trawling is an accidental success that we should maximize.
Sure thing, we trawled to the farthest left and to the farthest right section of the lake, but lo and behold, no fish. It was getting late and it was time to go home.
Positioning is important. I recall what one business trainer would lecture that, "It's all about positioning."
What do you do when there's no bite? Do you move around to get to where your customers might congregate, perhaps a watering hole or a hub? Do you modify your strategies for outreach? Do you sit tight until new opportunities arise for you to take advantage of?
Patient waiting, positioning, and creative outreach. That will get you your fish and lots of them. The key is to move around and not get stale.
Back to Blog
When all the processes of strategy formulation is completed, and now, voila, you have it in a nice two-ring binder for everyone to see. Congratulate yourself for a job well done.
After the communications campaign is launched and the implementation starts, four things can happen and you are the best judge for it as the main executive tasked with spearheading this project.
1. There are no changes to be done as everything that went into the strategy document suits the rest of reality that follows. If you believe that you have a perfect document, very well. Let' see in the next few months.
2. There are minor revisions that will need to adjusted, mainly the baseline data, the situational assessments, the analysis for which the decisions were based. These elements are ordinarily monitored, assessed, and adjusted as the strategy moves forward.
3. Major disruption that derailed or almost decapitated the strategy. There was a change in the whole landscape of the organization, internally, in terms of capacity, interests, and aspirations such as a leadership vacuum due to a leadership and management crisis, a situation where a major funder has pulled out creating a huge financial burden, and other internal stakeholder issues that would derail the implementation or compromise its chances of success. Another example of a external threat to the strategy was the COVID19 pandemic which based on many accounts, left many purpose-driven organizations without an anchor for 6-12 months just operating and surviving. Not even thinking about growth strategy or change initiatives.
4. The strategy is useless, unimplementable, a mirage in a desert. Well, this is the worst kind of realization that can happen after a 6-12 month process. It could happen to any organization without having to think too much. Say for example, you have a totally new Board, a totally new executive team, a totally new set of staff and leaders, no budget for implementation and the previous leaders who put this together bid sayonara with you nothing to work on. The new leadership could not, will not, assume accountability and responsibility, and have no will power or creativity or simply felt powerless to enact anything other what they created. Best scenario is to reduce this to a doable strategy that could work in new circumstances. Keep it real and simple.
These four scenarios are real-life hurdles neatly disguised in confused state- aka what makes you sleepless at night. Besides the initial worry about not going smoothly as planned, there are always options and alternatives. Talk to your Board. Consult the experts in this area. Read what others have done in your sector. Confer with colleagues. And lastly, the smartest way is to learn from the mistakes of others.
Back to Blog
How many organizations have strategies that are unimplemented? You will never know unless you get inside the cubicle.
This is not just prevalent in the profit sector, not for profit organizations are as well not implementing their strategies.
I question this: if the strategies are not implemented, why are they expending their staff time and managerial attention on something that will not be used at all? There is simply no logic to this!
When I asked an Executive Director why not? The answer I got was: "We just make this because of our funders. We have to wait for the funding cycle to begin to really create a strategy that will restructure the way we work. For now, it will be just a transitional one."
Fair enough. I get the point of transitional strategy. Emergent design is what the current climate calls. Managers and executives must adapt to the rigors and demands of modern organizations where supply chain issues, financing and sustainability, climate and diversity challenges, impact day-to-day decisions.
But non-implementation is a totally different issue. I vehemently challenge the notion of doing something for something else's and not for the benefit of the creator.
What drives this performative action is a culture of obligation, 'looking good,' and conformity.
In my book Provocateurs, I discussed how the culture of conformity creates conditions for organizations to punish early-warning signs of problems and issues, which leads to you know, failures. The same culture of conformity outlaws innovation, creativity, and simply rebellious thinking that shifts control and power.
Your donors do not know you're doing this. Probably, I bet, that this practice is not something that is generally accepted and outwardly legitimized. But because this is what's happening, I also bet that this is not a one-off deal. More organizations are acting this way despite what management books are saying.
Practice defines organizations. Tell me who's not implementing their strategy, and I will tell you there's more to the strategy than meets the eye.
Back to Blog
There are many sites for strategic insights. None of these make sense if the mentalscape of leaders is confused, tentative, and cluttered.
Many distractions and wrong routes to getting this right in the minds of leaders, which include:
- muddled up ideas and process on strategy;
- political considerations and dynamics within;
- confusing strategy with program thrusts and value-driven motivations;
- pleasing all stakeholders for the sake of appeasement;
- not budgeting for monitoring, implementation and evaluation of the strategy outcomes;
- delegating the process to 'one or two people' in the organization;
- using a strategy as a a tick-box solution for other ills in the organization;
- short-term thinking;
As a leader, you better know why you're doing this and what outcomes you're seeking. Just because the old one is expiring soon, it doesn't mean that you should automatically create a new one without further introspection.
Declutter your mentalscape. Protect it from distractions and short-term mindset. When you do, the vision becomes clearer, the process is straightforward, and your budget is maximized on value.
Back to Blog
It's that time of the year.
I was on the phone a few months ago, with the Executive Director who was looking for a Strategic Planning service. As usual, the conversation went as far as detailing the needs, specifications, and the rationale for reaching out for an external resource.
Let's break the four misconceptions about strategies and strategic formulation, in general.
1. Get the text out soon. The product is important but there's more to the written text
The process dynamics will be so rich that you should capture the momentum to bring your organization to another level of development or competency. Strategy exercises expend a lot of energy and resources, do it all with care and devotion, it will have positive compounding effects.
2. We begin from zero every time. The process is not linear and you don't have to start all over again
The brick-and-mortar style can be shortened, there is no hard and fast rule on stages and how organizations should approach the strategy development. Use your prior strategic decisions to move you forward on a long-term path unless there's a big reason to make a radical right turn.
3. We don't have to implement them. Yes you do.
It doesn't mean that you have to implement them all at once and with equal amounts of strategies and tactics. Implementation is an art and a science. There are bridging processes to ensure that the old strategy gives way to the new one without cutting off continuing impacts. It's like buying an expensive exercise machine and not using it or winning the lottery and returning the money back. Get the point?
4. We want to include a specific commitment to (another motherhood value statement). You can't include the kitchen sink, sorry.
Remember, its your strategic direction- how you are going to act in the face of internal and external challenges, constraints, and opportunities to achieve your goals. Unless, it's strategic, leave it to the values section.
Read this before you call someone for external support or talk to your Board or staff so you can get on with the program. Call me when you're ready to proceed.
Back to Blog
I asked this question because many organizational executives are comfortably in a fear mode in these difficult times.
What's the next disruption that will derail, disrupt, disembowel your organization's market positioning? or for that matter, your reason for being? what is the most existential threat likely to happen in the next five years?
If it's the fear of the uncertain/unknown that drives your executives to grind down everyday, you better back up and check that the fear is a positive fear that you can control and manage.
If it's the fear of being left out/missing out in the trend-train, check the rational behind the impulse, and fall back to where you are actually generating sustainable outcomes.
If it's survival and modest growth, plan to pivot when you can transition comfortably in the next 3 years, until such a time when you have the golden opportunity to create this new future.
If it's growing and reclaiming lost ground, there is no better time, than now. Get consensus and act on what you have existing at the moment.
"What's driving you forward?" is a better question than "What drives your executives sleepless at night?"
You need to capitalize on the dynamics of forward-motion than the idealized notions of lessons learned. And I hope you're not running around a carousel.
Back to Blog
An organization that identified a huge gap in their operational talked to a consultant recently. They are willing to confront the pain and are willing to take steps to immediately reset their efforts. Then silence, silence, silence.
What's happening behind the scenes would be telling? When managers have no strategic confidence to make decisions on the basis of information acquired and in the best intentions, paralysis-analysis occurs. They like bring too many people in the analysis of the problem, the prognosis, and the actions to be taken. They want to be told what to do. In short, they want to avoid failing at all costs.
When this happens, failure-avoidance leads to very smart but all too narrow gains. What can you lose with that investment? Reputation loss, money, staff time, and opportunity costs?
Think hard, are you losing all of them right now as we speak by doing the paralysis-analysis and failure-avoidance techniques.
If you're too afraid, shut the doors and windows, and stay under the covers.
Back to Blog
A year ago, in a course seminar, one of my learners told me that their organization does not have a strategy. They, in practice, have what we call an emergent strategy.
Emergent strategies do not come up from strategy retreats or top-down planning process of their leaders.
It comes from continuous patterns of behaviors, inclinations, and moves that stem from an adaptive understanding of the competitive field and the resultant effects to products, services, and priorities. Smaller organizations rely on their yearly assessment to generate the kind of strategic knowledge they need to maintain their ordered disorder. More of a 'gut thinking' than a reliance to a formal systematic cognitive process.
However, emergent does not mean not being able to define, articulate, and leverage your strategy to be able to win against competition or survive in tough times. A strategy is like an arrow in a skilled marksman. It's sharp, unyielding, and produces the intended impact, whether to defend oneself or make a ruckus. Be intentional with your target, because as "the arrow chases the target, the target chases the arrow." - Paolo Coelho.
You can be precise but completely wrong, instead adjust as you build.
Back to Blog
How can on-purpose organizations become better at securing more resources for their organizational development and building up their resiliency? The 10% budget for administration will never get you there.
1. Change your mindset
This practice has been ingrained in your psyche long enough that it becomes the proverbial truth. Far from it, this practice squeezes out the smaller organizations from existing and thriving. Anything that involves being strategic will require financial investments. It may not be a large amount but it should be sufficient enough to build capacities through systems and processes that have direct benefit to staff well-being, Board strengthening, and programs and impact-generating activities. You need to educate yourself, build a business case and build a team to champion it. It is an investment, not as cost to control.
2. Link to strategic objectives
Your strategic plan spells out clear alignment over goals and objectives, measures, activities/program, budgets, and performance evaluation. Institutional activities that support strategic aims should be supported by budgets and clear metrics. If the links are clear and well-established, flows out are part of the strategic management.
3. Support from the top leaders
Nobody cares whether your organization exists tomorrow, but you do and you must lead this conversation inside and outside your organization. Your Board, executive team, and staff have a stake and roles to play to make this happen. Organizational sufficiency is worth the struggle and effort so you can build a generational impact around your mission. In the end, everybody benefits.
4. Get donors who understand
You might say 'our donors insist we keep lean as much as possible.' Lean doesn't mean bare bones structure. Your survival is at stake. Get out from the group that rewards this mentality and reach out to funding organizations and donors who have a broader and progressive outlook on sustainability economics. When you're ready, fire the ones that will block you from achieving success in this direction.
These are easy to say but hard to do. Like with everything, getting there takes effort and courage. Don't be proud to tell the world that you have a 10% budget on administration and that you have great volunteers who help out. You're lucky but it's not the route to real sustainability. Get on the right road.