Working Toward Full Inclusion and Equity

Today, December 3rd, marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities as first proclaimed by the United Nations General Counsel in 1992. Fifteen percent of the world’s population—over one billion people—live with some type of disability. The theme of this year’s commemoration is: empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.

The discussion around the theme of empowering persons with disabilities sparks conversations around the world about how best to do just that. Here at The Fedcap Group, we spend every day testing and implementing innovative strategies to change the life experience for people with disabilities. Our goal is to design and refine precise interventions to break through the barriers that interfere with an equal platform.

Through our many companies of The Fedcap Group, we break the process of “empowering” into specific, sustainable practices that can be replicated world-wide. These include innovative approaches to skill-building and employer-based training in high demand sectors, job placement, job coaching, and long-term career planning. Our efforts are fueled by partnerships with businesses and organizations who share our commitment to empowerment. This is the work that has propelled us forward throughout our 80+ year history.

Key to being on the foreground of system change is asking the question WHAT ELSE? While we have come a long way, what else can we do to break down barriers for those with disabilities? What else can we do to create access and equity?  What else can we do to eliminate stigma?

Sometimes it starts with us.  What do we believe about the capacity of people with disabilities to work in competitive employment settings?  Are there any biases we hold that impact our ability to help a person with a disability dream big dreams?  As sad as it is, sometimes the helping profession is an unwitting ally to those who would segregate.

Sometimes it starts with families.  In our work with individuals with developmental disabilities, from time to time we meet families who are fearful of having their adult child enter the competitive workforce, because they fear their loved one may be subjected to ridicule or embarrassment.  And the truth is they might be.  Helping families see the importance of their child taking a risk, making their way in the world, feeling pride in earning a paycheck overcomes the fear.

Sometimes it starts with business.  Businesses are interested in making a profit.  And they are interested in community engagement.  The Fedcap Group partners with over 6000 businesses across the country.  While in the beginning businesses may be skeptical, we find that our business partners are delighted by both the productivity and the spirit and work ethic that people with disabilities bring to the workplace. We have heard time and again that the presence of those with a disability raises the caliber of the culture and the integrity of the workforce around them.

What is your approach to working with those with disabilities? What are the “what else can we do” questions that you are considering in order to achieve equity and inclusion?

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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Tonight’s Celebration of the Power of Possible Gala

This evening, nearly 600 people will come together to celebrate a year of tremendous growth, innovation, and impact for The Fedcap Group. Our annual gala is an evening where the extraordinary efforts of our stakeholders—our boards, donors, business partners, leaders, staff, and those we serve—are highlighted and heralded. It is an evening when we will experience first-hand what it looks like to believe in and achieve what was once only a dream. We will see our impact through the stories of those we serve and individuals who have, through their persistence, enlivened the Power of Possible.

This year, we are highlighting our commitment to innovation that results in impact.

Innovation comes from precise improvements in way we deliver services, utilizing technology that expand our ability to reach people.

Innovation is born out of an unrelenting commitment to find solutions to some of society’s toughest problems.

Innovation is a result of a “what’s next” mentality…”

Innovation impacts generations.

Tonight, the room will be full of people from diverse backgrounds, disciplines, political persuasions, and ideas. However, we all share one thing in common: we are driven by the knowledge that together we make a difference in the lives of the individuals and the families we serve, and together we are working to change the world.

Leading for Purpose

Here at The Fedcap Group, our mission is to create opportunities for people with barriers to economic well-being. Our mission is well-articulated throughout the organization, driven by our tagline “the Power of Possible.” Throughout our myriad programs and agencies—and through our four practice areas—Education, Economic Development, Occupational Health, and Workforce Development—the Power of Possible permeates the day-to-day work, and it is this mission that attracts people to become stakeholders as staff, donors, board members, and as consumers of our services.

It’s clear that our mission is a noble one. And yet, our conversation at every level delves beyond our mission to articulate our purpose. Our purpose is the “why” of our mission. Why do we come to work every day to enliven the Power of Possible? Why does it matter that we create opportunities for people with barriers to economic well-being?

It matters because our purpose is why we exist. We exist to combat inequality and inequity. Inequality and inequity undermine social justice. They rob individuals—children, veterans, immigrants, those with physical or developmental disabilities, those living with substance use disorder, and our senior population—of the chance to realize their intellectual, social, and economic potential. Inequality undermines growth. It contributes to a segregated society where growth is stunted and tensions mount.

When purpose is clearly articulated—and demonstrated through the work of every day—research tells us that businesses will fare much better in a number of ways. Retention  improves by at least twenty percent. Sixty-four percent of employees report a higher level of fulfillment. And there is a forty-nine percent increase in motivation to contribute to the company’s success. Ultimately, employees will feel a sense of ownership and loyalty, and they will be motivated to do their best work.

Connecting employees and stakeholders to our purpose is a deliberate and intentional process, not just because it is a good idea, but because it genuinely contributes to the bottom line and to the success of the organization. For-profit businesses are learning this lesson and discovering the impact of connecting purpose on the bottom line.

We will likely fulfill our mission when we openly discuss our purpose in our one-on-one meetings with staff, in our team meetings, throughout our strategy and stakeholder discussions. Connecting those whom we serve to our purpose is equally important as they, too, will be motivated to join us in eliminating barriers and pursuing opportunities for economic well-being.

How do you link your “why” to the daily work of your organization? In what ways do you articulate your purpose? As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Building Market Share in the Nonprofit Sector

At The Fedcap Group, we are driven by mission.  We are driven by expanding impact.  We are driven by creating solutions.   One way of evaluating our success is by analyzing our growth in market share.  We define market share as revenue, customers served and geography where we successfully compete within a specific area of service i.e. helping those on welfare go to work, helping veterans transition to civilian life, helping youth in foster care go to college and graduate.

There is evidence that demonstrates that investor/donor Return on Investment (ROI) increases steadily as market share rises.  This is due in part to economies of scale, rapid and efficient start-ups, and leveraging existing knowledge and technology.  The financial advantages of a strong market position make it understandable that a common strategic goal, even in the nonprofit sector, is to increase market share.

One of our most effective strategies to date for increasing market share, is to strategically and intentionally integrate our program design, technology, pricing, and performance management structure.   When contemplating a response to a government or private sector Requests for Proposal (RFP), the program design is contemplated through the lens of technological efficiencies—thinking through how leveraging technology can impact efficiency and thus enhance our ability to bid competitively.  This requires that we stay on top of technological advancements that could be used to improve overall program performance.  For example, we have built an app called “Up the Ladder” that pushes out information about career fairs, job clubs, and community professional development courses to individuals whom we helped to employ.

This is equally true for performance management.   Because technology provides us with daily Key Performance Indicator (KPI) report cards and “red flag” reports that result in rapid performance correction—we are willing to venture into the growing milestones- based contracting environment.  Additionally, we are keenly aware of our competitors’ outcomes—assessing our own performance against those who provide similar services.  This keeps us sharp and focused on improving our approach to service design and delivery.  A recent article by the Banda Marketing Group cited that that among business units achieving substantial market share gains (5% or better annual increases), over two-thirds  reported improvements in product quality.

We also pursue product innovation.  Things changeAnd to do what we have always done in the same way we have always done it, is a dangerous path—for any business— including social services.  Expecting product innovation challenges leadership and line level staff to think critically and to ask frequently what else is needed to improve performance.  This expectation also promotes aggressively pursuing monies to fund the testing of program innovations.  For example, one area we continue to explore is our effectiveness in responding to the changing demographics of our country.  We consistently examining if our product design is tailored to fully engage the racial and ethnic diversity of those we serve, and then we test new outreach and engagement strategies.  Demonstrating our own investment in developing and introducing new products into the marketplace is one of our most important approaches to building market share.

Finally, we understand that in order to increase market share, reputation matters.   While we don’t “sell” our products in the same way that a for profit business might—we do “sell” our reputation.  Across our agency, we talk a lot about reputational risk, which is a threat to our good name or standing.  Reputational risk can occur through a variety of ways: directly as the result of the actions of the company itself; indirectly due to the actions of an employee or employees; or tangentially through other parties such as our suppliers.  By actively attending to our reputation, and rapidly addressing issues as they arise, we are seeking to mitigate issues that could impact market share.

I welcome your thoughts—how do you approach the increase in market share?

Honoring Veterans Every Day

Next Monday, we celebrate Veteran’s Day–an official day of recognition and tribute to the 18.8 million individuals living in the United States who have honorably given their service in the military. While I honor and celebrate this day officially once every year, every day, here at The Fedcap Group, we are honored to serve our veterans as part of our work to eliminate barriers and support economic well-being.

At the Fedcap Group, we are very proud of our affiliation with Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services. Dixon Center works with returning service members, veterans, and military families nationwide to create a network of support, resources, and partners to connect them to better access to resources for health and wellness, stable housing, and continuing education to support fulfilling careers. They are making a significant impact in over 750 communities in all 50 United States.

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This week, I am pleased to introduce Dixon Center’s Chairman, Retired Colonel David Sutherland. Colonel Sutherland commanded the U.S. combat Brigade in Diyala Province, Iraq, from 2006-2007, and he served as Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2009-2012. I am happy to share an op-ed piece he wrote for  InsideSources.com:

Why I Love Being a Veteran — October 31, 2018

Colonel David Sutherland, Chairman, Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services.

Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 10.29.44 AM.pngIf you had told me how I’d look back with fondness on the time I served as brigade commander during the worst of Diyala Province in 2006-2007, I would have smirked.  Of course I’d love being a veteran, I can imagine my younger self thinking. It meant I would be anywhere but Iraq.

Ten years — six of them since retiring from the Army — have given me perspective.  I love being a veteran not because it means optional workouts, less bureaucracy or not having to uproot my family, but because it’s given me an even greater sense of pride in who I am and with whom I served.

I’m a limited edition, part of a unique club. It’s not that veterans, who make up less than 10 percent of the U.S. population, are all that different than everyone else. We simply have different life experiences. Ironically, until I’d been out of the service for two years, I didn’t realize how much I loved and missed those experiences.

The longevity of these life experiences carries through now that I’m in the private sector. Though they translate to all generations, they are especially relevant to millennials, who will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025.

First, the military taught me to stand up for your people. Good leaders protect their teams so that they are able to accomplish what they’ve been asked to do. I love the fact that I can look back and say, “You know what? I advocated for my people, and I take great pride in what they accomplished.”

Second, you learn to be patient.  I often wish I’d be more patient with my lieutenants, who were often fresh out of school with little experience, yet possessed a core desire to step up and do the right thing.

Finally, I found out how much engagement matters. I challenge mainstream business to create the trust, pride and esprit de corps I felt as part of my units within the business environment.  In 2nd Battalion 7th Infantry, we accepted challenges with “willing and able.”   In the 82nd Airborne, we’d reply, “All the way, sir” and in the 1st Cavalry Division, the proper response was “Live the legend, sir.” Employees in a high trust environment such as the Army are six times more likely to achieve higher levels of performance than others in their industry.

When I came home from Iraq, friends asked me, “What did you do over there?” Family asked me, “How do you feel about what you did?”  I asked myself, “What did I accomplish?”  These are important questions.   Veterans Day is an opportunity for all of us — civilian and veteran — to reflect on the achievements and accomplishments of this unique population.   Rather than wish someone a Happy Veterans Day, I encourage you to ask them to share their reflections on their time in uniform.

We veterans share the knowledge that nothing is daunting. Sure, we may stumble. We may have challenges. But there is always a solution. It’s simply how hard you want to work to find it.

I don’t regret leaving the military. I remain part of its legacy. While I travel around the country speaking about leadership I take great pride in showcasing the achievements of my fellow veterans.

I love being a limited edition.

I love being a veteran.

A Culture of Accountability

“I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.” –Mia Hamm

Accountability is one of the key drivers of business culture. Absence of accountability erodes not only the culture but the vision, the strategy, the structure, the results, and ultimately, the entire purpose and integrity of an organization.

Webster defines accountability as “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” Personal accountability means that an individual owns up to the results of his, hers, or their actions, good or bad.

Sadly, in some organizations, when things go wrong, a culture of blame can supersede the ideal of accountability. It is understandable that individuals don’t want to get into “trouble;” they don’t want to be singled for making a mistake; they don’t want to look bad. And yet, sidestepping responsibility and accountability means that there is no learning, no foundation upon which to build the next thing, and ultimately, no mission accomplished.

Accountability requires courage. It summons strength of character. It requires vulnerability and authenticity. It means not hiding behind a veneer of passive resistance.

At The Fedcap Group, we are striving to build a culture of accountability.  We do this by rigorously building structure—as we believe that good people fail in the absence of structure.  We do this by ensuring that people understand their responsibilities.  We do this by creating an environment where supervision and feedback are integral components of the workday.  People cannot function to their optimal level if they are unclear about what is expected of them—including tasks, attitude and standards.  We also hire leaders who set the tone, who are clear and who take ownership.

We are united in our mission to work toward eliminating barriers to economic well-being. The work is hard. The work is challenging.   The only way for us to be successful is to be transparent in acknowledging both our achievements and our failures.

Living in a culture where we are accountable to one another, where we feel we owe one another our very best is how we will accomplish our purpose. By being deliberate in speaking openly about our mistakes and our accomplishments, we create an authentic sense of oneness. We are all in this together—on the good days and the not-so-good days. We have each others’ backs. This is how we realize the Power of Possible.

How do you summon personal, team, and organizational accountability?

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

 

Learning is the New Productivity

Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.  – William Pollard

When we think of productivity, we think of working harder, working smarter, multitasking, and ultimately, getting more done in less time. Being efficient with our time is an essential, foundational skill. Consistently looking for ways to streamline processes keeps us focused and productive. Discovering new ways to apply what we already know leads to more creativity and innovation.  Execution is one of the currencies of a competitive marketplace. And yet, working only with what we know right now means something important is missing in our day.

Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil has stated, “The 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of learning.” In other words, we have to deliberately and consistently spend time every day learning or else we will be working on yesterday’s information.

We will be behind.

Knowledge experts agree that today, learning is the new productivity.

I make it a habit to carve time out of just about every day to study, to learn, and to reflect. While sometimes this means I have to get up before the sun has risen, I find that this habit fuels me, inspires me, keeps me curious, and keeps me open to new ways of thinking and doing. I don’t just read, though I do that a lot. I listen to podcasts, I talk to people, I ask questions. I spend time just thinking and synthesizing and I take notes—lots of them. I consider my learning time to be some of my most productive time, and I am energized by it.

What else can I learn? What is happening in the technological world that will inform our solutions?  How are the best companies recruiting and leveraging talent?   These are the types of questions I ask myself every day, and these are the types of questions I encourage my staff to ask.

Is learning on your to-do list? If so, what does it look like? As always, I welcome your thoughts.