Why Trying Matters A Great Deal

“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”                        — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Every day, everything we do within The Fedcap Group is in service to creating opportunities for people with barriers to economic well-being.

Every day, we challenge the status quo—not accepting the stigma or the prejudice or the inherent bias that people with barriers face.

Every day, we are testing new ways to impact chronic societal problems.

And, every day, we are implementing precise interventions to change the course of an individual life.

And, every day we are trying to improve the world.  This is the only way that a legacy will be transformed, a system will be disrupted for the better, generational poverty will be eradicated…by trying.

It is our responsibility to keep trying, to keep learning, to keep taking risks, because it is in the trying that the true action—and results—lie.

At The Fedcap Group, we talk openly about trying. We are radical about improvement and relentless about truth.  We do not minimize or trivialize the act of trying.  We know that while we can’t always guarantee where the trying will land us, the very nature of developing a “spirit of trying” across the agency, communicates a belief in what is possible, what can happen when good people strive to do something right, something important, something honorable.

I know that as a leader, I must lead by trying.  I must demonstrate the impact of trying.  I must charter a course of trying … and point to the importance of trying as a driving value of the agency.

How do you articulate the “trying”? What does “trying” looking like in the day-to-day life of your organization?

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Standing Up for What We Believe

“Doing the right thing is not always easy, and it is not always popular, but isn’t it enough that it is right?”  — Senora Roy

As a leader, I am ethically and morally bound to stand up for what I believe.

  • I believe in the Power of Possible and that with the right kinds of support, people can achieve things they never imagined.
  • I believe in standing up for those whose voices have been silenced, who feel invisible.
  • I believe in the promise of second chances.
  • I believe in being a champion for equity.
  • I believe in our mission to eliminate barriers to economic well-being.

We are a values-driven organization and together, we are intentional about articulating our stand for supporting those who deserve a second chances. As we partner with agencies, foundations, businesses, and government entities, we work hard to reflect the values for which we stand. We are committed to changing the conversation, influencing the culture and eliminating the stigma that suggests that those who have fallen cannot get up again.

We, as a large and far-reaching organization, are living proof that second chances are worthwhile and productive on BOTH an individual and an organizational level.

Every day, each of the 4,000+ employees working in companies across the nation who comprise The Fedcap Group, renew our commitment to making a difference—in as many ways as possible—for those we serve.  This commitment is not comprised simply of noble-sounding words. This commitment is embedded in thousands of everyday actions. It is reflected in putting over 13,000 people to work so far this year, in helping hundreds of thousands of impoverished individuals obtain Supplemental Nutritional Assistance so that they can eat, and in helping over 6,000 children with disabilities learn and play alongside their non-disabled peers. It is reflected when a ReServist works with a foster family, helping them learn how to inspire young people in foster care to go to college; and in the pride of the staff of our Total Facilities Management company—cleaning buildings from Ellis Island to the Statue of Liberty.

This is how we maintain our credibility and integrity as an organization. This is how we change lives—one person and one system at a time.

Yes, there are times when standing up for what we believe sometimes comes at a price.  To me, it is worth it. Every time.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Learning as an Organizational Priority

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” — John F. Kennedy

As a non-profit, to be successful, like any business, we must focus on results. Results come from creating tight systems, processes, and implementing innovative and precise interventions.

How do we make that happen?

By being students of our profession. By seeking to understand. By testing new ideas.  By making learning an organizational priority.

When we recruit new staff, when we promote individuals to leaders, when we select individuals for our Leadership Academy, even when we consider new combinations, we look for curiosity and an articulated commitment to learning.

The lifespan of businesses is shrinking. The pace of change is so fast that thriving enterprises can disappear in short order—with a stroke of disruptive innovation by a nearby competitor. We must ensure that our level of responsiveness, our ability to be nimble, agile, and flexible is not just assumed, but is an articulated priority at every level of the organization.

So, what, indeed, does a learning culture look like?

  • It looks like leaders inspiring a shared vision for the future and intentionally imbuing our leaders as coaches, and teachers who help every individual throughout the entire organization—at every level —understand what their role is in helping to co-create that shared vision.

I often visit various areas throughout the agency asking staff to describe their understanding of where the organization is going.  This effort keeps me grounded and helps me to understand if the message is permeating into the very fiber of the agency.

  • It looks like building the capacity and tools to use information to advance our work.

Fedcap has invested a significant amount of money in the last decade in technology and in training and we still aren’t quite where we need to be.  In the absence of real time information an organization simply cannot survive—data must inform daily decisions.

  • It looks like being able to course correct at the speed of sound when the market place changes with little warning.

The moment we are awarded a contract, we plan for the day when the contract ends.  We spend a considerable amount of time thinking through the risk and rewards of our decisions.  We drive toward readiness to adapt—ready for changes in market forces. 

Our capacity to learn, to adapt and to innovate quickly will be—and is—our measure of success.

How do you manifest learning within your business? I welcome your thoughts.

Second Chances: Standing Up for What We Believe

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  — Martin Luther King Jr.

At Fedcap we stand for second chances. We believe that with hard work, tomorrow can be better than today. We stand for the Power of Possible.  This commitment is woven throughout the fabric of our agency—and drives us every single day.  For us, a second chance is the next step on a person’s journey to fulfilling their dreams of a better life.

Many of the people who come through our doors, many of the people in the systems we serve, and many of the people we hire, have struggled—for one reason or other. Some have wrestled with a substance use disorder, some have criminal records, and some have crawled across harsh land to find a new life in our country. We are committed to providing them with a second chance.

Statistics bear out that the majority of the time, those in recovery, those who were previously incarcerated, and those who immigrated from another country are responsible, trustworthy and dependable employees. These are individuals who have built strong resilience and who have overcome their past, with intention and purpose. They have much to lose by not succeeding on the job, and they know it.

The employer who offers an individual a second chance is modeling for its employees, other employers and for society as a whole, the values we all should strive for and stand for.

When we combined with Wildcat in 2011, we did so because of their pioneering efforts to provide a second chance to individuals involved in the criminal justice system.  Their history became part of our future.  Our innovative work within Rikers providing clinical, educational and workforce readiness services is resulting in men leaving jail ready to work.  And our exciting Women’s Project, funded in part by Robin Hood and the Open Society Foundation, helps women who are detained at Rikers due to lack of bail money, get out and find a job, a home and a future.

Throughout The Fedcap Group, we hire people both from within our programs and from without who have paid their dues, served their time, and who are entitled to a second chance. Who among us has not made a mistake—sometimes with great consequence—and has learned and grown as a result? Why should those who have struggled not be given a chance to contribute and to bring the resilience, the growth, the learning, and the clear and unwavering commitment to do better? We stand firm in our belief that offering a second chance is the right thing to do.

Our Executive Team completed a four-day retreat in late August.  During our discussion, each of us articulated our personal values and recommitted to our organizational values; we made clear what we stood for. We discussed at length the importance of standing for something, and then living by those principles, especially when others may judge us for our stance.

There are causes in need of trumpeting and the importance of providing second chances is one of them.  I firmly believe that failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker.

I challenge all of us, including employers in every sector—from retail to big business to non-profits to government to charitable organizations—to summon the integrity to support those in our society who are fighting for a second chance.   I think you’ll find, as we do here at The Fedcap Group, that these are employees who demonstrate their loyalty by going over and above, taking full advantage of the opportunity, and giving their very best efforts to do valuable work.

Will you stand with us and commit to supporting those who deserve a second chance?

What’s the Problem? Getting it Right the First Time

“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.”                                  – Peter Drucker

Few in either the for-profit or the non-profit sector would disagree that continuous improvement is key to growth, learning, and leading the way to incremental innovation. Our organizations are geared toward rapid response and driving results—quickly and efficiently. We charge our teams to think constantly about the next step and the one beyond it. But sometimes, in our haste to drive results quickly and efficiently, we neglect one of the critical keys to truly solving a problem. We forget to ask:

What, exactly, is the problem we are seeking to solve?

Too often, as many business experts will attest, we are distracted by a “downstream” problem rather than focusing on the root cause in the first place. Often, it takes small steps to actually accomplish something big. In the early 1980s, for example, in the South Sudan, thousands of people were infected with life-threatening symptoms due to the ingestion of the guinea worm, found in their water. In trying to solve the problem, companies worked on ways to treat the terrible symptoms of infection with pills and other interventions. Good money after bad was spent on trying to find the “cure” for the infection. But then, in 1986, the Atlanta-based Carter Center decided to work to eradicate the worm. They didn’t focus on the symptom, rather they focused on the cause. And they discovered it was the water itself that was causing the problem. And so they handed out water filters. Today, the guinea worm is all but eradicated.

Here at The Fedcap Group, our approach—always—is to bring together a diverse constituency and together dig into the problem and ask: What, exactly, is the problem we are seeking to solve? We wrangle questions that address the system, the environment, the societal norms and even the very tactical issues that with a precise intervention, can make a huge difference.  Solving the right problem can be the difference between making minimal short term changes in the lives of those we serve and making a profound difference that will impact generations.

This process is how we contributed to the improvement in the outcomes for youth transitioning out of foster care. We know that attending college is for most, the foundation for long term economic well-being.  We also know that for children not raised in the foster care system, the encouragement to go to college originates from their parents. We saw that very little was being done to help foster parents—the individuals who spend the most amount of time with young people in care— in their critical role as a cheerleader, guide, and educational advocate for college attendance and graduation.  As such, we created PrepNow!™, an innovative web-based curriculum that helps foster parents create a college-going culture in their home. We work closely with foster parents, helping them learn how to inspire youth to go to college, how to encourage, how to motivate and how to create a sense of all that is possible with a college education.

No matter how big or small the problem, we can save our precious resources of time and money by ensuring that we are focusing on the right problem.

How do you ensure that you are solving the right problem? As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Managing Marketplace Tensions By Maximizing Agency Intelligence

Uncertainty is a constant in any industry.

At The Fedcap Group, our collective focus is on ensuring sustainability and relevance and creating impact.

Every day, to accomplish these three mandates, we balance the tension between being smart and prepared for emerging market trends while at the same time meeting the day-to-day demands and “keeping the lights on.”

During our quarterly leadership meetings—our Corporate Weeks—we deliberate and struggle through this tension.  We examine “what’s next” questions, that require research, data/information and a deep understanding of the trends in service to vulnerable populations.  We explore how our investments in innovation, technology and talent and our attention to risk management and structure position us to succeed. We thoughtfully consider how the exponential increase in information generated by technology is or should be impacting our thinking and our decisions.

In order to thrive as a company and effectively manage the tensions described above, we must ensure that we are maximizing the intelligence of our agency— advancing our ability to be adaptive–even in our complexity. This is our competitive edge. 

Significant organizational enhancements are gained from the use of information generated by technology.  Leveraging technology to know what we know about our work, the environment, future trends, risks, historical impact and quality, allows us to manage the critical tension between emerging trends and day to day demands.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Strategic Considerations for Leading a Family of Companies

Growth is an essential part of our strategy here at The Fedcap Group.  Growth occurs through organic expansion of existing programs, acquiring new programs by responding to Requests for Proposals, and by combining with organizations with synergistic missions.   Our growth and expansion enable us to broaden and deepen our impact to individuals and enhance the capacity of systems that serve those with barriers to economic well-being.

Leaders from across our many and growing companies must consider the work from a 30,000-foot high lens, understanding market trends, shifts in government funding, ways technology impacts the competitive environment, while at the same time seeing our work from all stakeholder perspectives and keep in mind near and far-term goals. At the same time, they need always to maintain the essential on-the-ground work and tactical work that needs to be done. This duality of roles is no easy task.

Clear corporate goals, strategy and structure are critical components of a foundation that can sustain the kind of growth we are experiencing and expect to continue. Ensuring clarity around our goals, strategy and structure is a major component of our Corporate Weeks—where each quarter, leaders from across the country come together to strategize around issues that impact the future of our organization. These weeks provide an opportunity to continue honing a multi-enterprise approach to our work as we listen to perspectives from our diverse geographic, stakeholder, practice, and program areas.

It isn’t always easy to unravel the complexities of a multi-agency organization, but by being deliberate in the vision and manifestation of understood and agreed upon goals, strategy and our structure, and by communicating them—a lot—through multiple channels, we are building a team of staff who are continually working together to create relevance, sustainability and impact.

Recruitment vs Talent Acquisition—The Strategic Difference

Last week, I discussed the case for a year-long onboarding experience. Onboarding represents an investment in our new hires, a commitment to their training and development, and a promise of a fulfilling and ongoing relationship between a new employee and their new organization.

But before we bring on new talent, we must consider the acquisition of that talent at least as well-planned and strategic a process as the first-year experience.

Until the last decade or so, businesses used basic recruiting as a means to fill vacant positions. Recruitment meant waiting until an incumbent left and then, all too often, frantically searching for someone to fill the role. It meant finding a candidate who matched as closely as possible the qualifications, certifications, and experience to fit the position. Recruitment was a wholly reactive process. Recruiters I have known have told me that this process can be frustrating and painstaking when it is launched with the departure of an employee. It can take too long, especially when someone leaves a position in a hurry, and when there is a dearth in the marketplace for qualified candidates. And a vacancy left too long in the team, practice area, or organization poses a financial and cultural risk to the organization. (It costs 150% of an employee’s base salary to replace them.)

Today, in the smartest organizations—for profit and not-for-profit—companies use the process of Talent Acquisition as a robust strategy for finding, hiring, promoting, and nurturing top-notch and well-prepared employees. Yes, recruitment is embedded in Talent Acquisition, but it is only one part of the acquisition process.

Where recruitment is mostly tactical and reactionary, Talent Acquisition is wholly strategic.

Talent Acquisition requires a long view of industry trends and specifically, an understanding of an organization’s long-term planning and future needs.

Talent Acquisition includes the following elements:

  • Workforce planning. Workforce planning means analyzing the current workforce and identifying strength and gaps, as well as looking at the future needs of the organization. It also includes an internal process of ongoing assessment of skills, attributes, potential, and development of internal candidates as successors to current positions. Utilizing internal candidates to fill vacancies is much more cost-effective, given existing employee engagement and loyalty and investment in their growth.
  • Building employer brand. According to SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management), 62% of candidates rank employer brand as the key factor in applying for a job. These days, social media is the number one mechanism for building brand. People want to work for employee-friendly organizations with a strong mission. The brand must reflect the true mission and culture of the organization, and the organization must live up to the promises it propagates in its advertising.
  • Sourcing and recruiting candidates. Rather than using ad placement as the sole tool in sourcing candidates, it is essential to establish relationships with colleges, universities, and other institutions with like missions to connect with potential candidates. Internships and externships are also great mechanisms for sourcing candidates.
  • Analytics and Technology. Technology can and should be used in a number of ways. Data analysis of dynamics such as turnover rates, job performance, employee engagement, and even cultural fit can fold into a dashboard that monitors the employee talent pool. In addition to organizational branding, technology can also be used for basic recruitment through mobile apps and various social media.
  • Onboarding. As I discussed last week, onboarding plays a key role in the bigger picture of talent acquisition. The employee experience is key in attracting and retaining top talent.

While the initial creation of a talent acquisition process takes planning and strategy, once a structure is in place, the entire workforce can incorporate it into their day-to-day work—from being an ambassador for the organization through social media and professional affiliations to internal training and professional development, and the articulation and manifestation of a culture that is reflective of the mission and character of the organization. Talent acquisition is cost effective and ultimately results in a more productive, committed, and loyal workforce.

I am curious about your talent acquisition process. What works?

The Case for Strong Onboarding

According to a recent Gallup study on employee engagement, 50% of Americans in the workforce would change jobs were they to find something more compelling. This is a challenging statistic given the cost of replacing an employee.

One solution—of many—to the turnover problem is the implementation of a strong and robust process of onboarding.

Many organizations assume that once an employee has gone through a day-long orientation, they are “onboarded.”  At Fedcap, we disagree, and are currently working to design and implement a comprehensive year-long process of integration and acclimation to the mission, strategy, structure, and culture of our organization.  To design this process, we asked a group of employees new to the agency to meet for 3 months in our virtual Innovation Garage.

Innovation Garage Logo

This group of young talent researched, studied, conducted surveys, interviewed for-profit company leaders and eventually laid out the elements of a “Cadillac” onboarding process.  They presented their work to our Executive Team with rave reviews; we are leveraging all of their work in our design process.

We know that strong onboarding will lead to better retention, motivation, and job satisfaction, which results in a committed, engaged, and loyal employee.

Just as Talent Acquisition is different from recruitment so is onboarding is different than orientation.

Onboarding is the process of bringing someone thoroughly into the agency, building their knowledge of the company and creating a sense of real connection to people and to mission. 

Because we want to support employees in serving as ambassadors in the community, they must be fully oriented and understand their responsibility for risk management, and to bring their creativity in the name of continuous improvement, innovation, and engagement.

As employees, we want our voices to matter, we want to know what is expected of us, and we want to feel engaged. We want access to information and we want strong two-way communication throughout the organization. The groundwork for this kind of employee engagement rests in a strong onboarding process where our employees are inspired, supported, and compelled to create relevant, sustainable impact, and where they understand their role in creating the power of possible.

What are your onboarding practices that work?

I welcome your thoughts.