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.

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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.

Recognizing an Entrepreneurial Spirit

Each of the organizations within the Fedcap Group has a history of doing something new and innovative—committed to righting a wrong, improving access or changing attitudes. Their vision and entrepreneurial spirit continues to propel us forward.

As a leader, I seek to surround myself with people who harbor and who foster the same entrepreneurial spirit as that of our founders. And while I wish it were so, this spirit is not something that is readily teachable. Rather it is an innate quality that can—and must—be recognized. It can be nurtured and encouraged, but I have found that those who possess an entrepreneurial spirit have certain instinctive characteristics in common.

First, they have a passion for solving, not serving, the problem. They feel an emotional and a tactical connection to the people we serve and the and the challenges we seek to solve. The drive to help improve the lives of others is what drives and compels them to work long hours and to give 150%.

Second, they never stop questioning how to do “it” better. They seek input from all perspectives. They research. They read. They talk to strangers about their work to get completely objective opinions. They learn from others doing similar work. They are rigorous in their quest to understand data and how to measure success. They never rest on the laurels of yesterday’s success.

Third, they posses a spirit of realistic optimism. They believe that the environment, the circumstances, and the challenges they face can improve. They understand that sometimes it is just one precisely placed intervention, one shift in funding can result in significant impact. They are optimists about the goal and realistic about what it takes to achieve it.

Fourth, they have a high tolerance for risk. They understand that there are economic, reputational, and financial risks in every new direction and every new venture. But they also understand how to strategically understand and manage the risk.

Fifth, they know how to identify and engage talent to get things done. They know how to build teams that effectively manage their time, their talent and their resources. They know how to create a vison, establish goals, create a strategy in service to those goals and a structure to effectively accomplish the work.

What other traits might you add to my list? As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts.

Maximizing Organizational Intelligence

Tomorrow, October 9th, at the Mutual of America Building, 320 Park Avenue, The Fedcap Group is hosting its 16th Solution Series: Maximizing Organizational Intelligence: Building Capacity to Create and Strategically Use Knowledge. The recent spotlight on the importance of knowledge in corporate management is highlighted by studies estimating that the value of employee know-how, patents, brand recognition and other forms of knowledge rose from 38% of corporate assets in 1982 to 62% in 1992. In 1997, knowledge accounted for 80% of all corporate assets and in 2018 knowledge accounts for 83% of all corporate assets.

Organizational intelligence is defined as the capacity of an organization to create knowledge and use it to strategically adapt to its environment. Actionable knowledge that drives insights and leads to better decision-making is necessary for success in a fast-changing global marketplace.

Maximizing organizational intelligence presents companies with both opportunities and challenges. Intelligent organizations that successfully leverage information have a distinct competitive advantage, but they risk being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data that is available to them.

To fully leverage data and analytics, we have learned that we need to manifest all the elements that define an intelligent organization – business, emotional, social, and cultural intelligence. This requires technological capabilities, understanding the dynamics and motivations of a multicultural workforce and being structured to manage complexity and change. Every member of the organization must learn to think analytically, seek out new knowledge, embrace experimentation and innovation, and encourage creativity and independence.

The Fedcap Group is a global network of nonprofit agencies dedicated to advancing the economic and social well-being of the impoverished and disadvantaged. We fully appreciate the need for and complexities of leveraging powerful new technologies, intensive market placed research, as well as the intelligence of our own diverse and talented workforce to drive actionable insight.

At The Fedcap Group, we embrace the challenge – it is the only way forward.