Staying Focused and Clearing the Noise

Staying Focused and Clearing the Noise

There was a time when organizations had a contingency plan just in case things changed. In today’s world, change is the rule rather than the exception. How do we manage the daily onslaught of distractions, continuous change and upgrades and stay focused on our mission? 

How do we clear the noise?

Each year The Fedcap Group launches a new Leadership Academy—comprised of emerging leaders from across the organization. During the first session, we spend time discussing the importance of tuning out the noise in order to enhance our focus, and our analytical and critical thinking.

We talk about the importance of using questions to clear the noise…moving away from being swayed by what we think we know and focusing on learning more and developing a deeper understanding of the problems we are trying to solve.

Business Insider advises that in order to develop the focus muscle, companies need to select 1 to 3 high priority goals and stick to them. In the same spirit, several years ago Steve Jobs said something that has stuck with me: “Focus is not about saying yes. It is about saying no to the hundred other good ideas that clutter the mind and shift the focus.” 

This has been the strategy of The Fedcap Group as we established our five bold goals to make a lasting difference. In my December 9th 2019 blog, I introduced our 5 bold goals:

1.) Every person living in foster care has the resources to go to college and graduate;

2.) Individuals who leave prison/jail get a job, rejoin their communities and do not reoffend; 

3.) Adults with an intellectual disability who want a job are employed at a competitive wage;

4.) People on public assistance obtain jobs and reduce dependency on government assistance; and

5.) Children ages 0-6 are prepared and inspired to complete their education, obtain employment and live full lives.

We are driven to achieve these goals. We are spending our time researching these five issues. We are asking questions. We are studying what has worked and what has not worked. We are establishing our baseline, building and testing innovative practice strategies, developing mechanisms for measurement and reporting, and we are building an organizational culture of possibility and accountability.

As a large organization these goals bind us –they are the demonstration of our common mission. And as these goals become reality, they become our legacy.

To be successful each leader of The Fedcap Group has to critically think, clear the noise and, as Steve Jobs said, say no.

Equity: A Square Deal for Everyone

Equity: A Square Deal for Everyone

Last week I discussed the concept of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the workplace. This week I would like to focus more on this concept of Equity—not just in the workplace but across society.

The Square Deal was the name given to President Theodore Roosevelt’s domestic program, which reflected his three major goals: corporate responsibility to citizens, consumer protection and conservation of natural resources. Over the years the Square Deal was applied to his approach to conflict resolution–listening to both labor and management, his attitude of kindly justice between man and man, without regard to what any man’s creed, color, birthplace or social position, and his efforts to equalize the power imbalance between corporations and common people.

At The Fedcap Group, this concept is at the core of our work.

When I think about Equity, when I contemplate “a square deal”, I think about it in terms of aspiration and opportunity.

In the simplest terms, when you believe that achieving a dream is possible…when you believe that you have options and choices, when you are inspired by those around you to aim high, dreams become reality. Do you know that when a child has a savings account, even less than $500, she is 3 times more likely to enroll and 4 times more likely to graduate from college? The very act of just having the savings account inspires a young person to believe that college is possible. And then, college is not just possible, but it is a reality. Too often, bright youth in the child welfare system believe that they have no other option than to go to work directly from high school. They don’t believe college is a choice. Yet they are by every measure as smart and capable as their peers who happened to have the luck of the draw to grow up in a supportive family. When we instill in them the belief that they are capable, when they come to believe that they have a choice about attending college, they can—and do—rewrite the narrative that once told them college wasn’t possible.

So many people come through our doors believing the narrative they have been told about who they are –and about their potential. People told them they were lazy, and they believed it. Others said that they were not going to amount to anything, and they believed it. Others said that they weren’t very smart …and they believed that too. Soon their “brand”, their self-definition, the way that they presented themselves to the world was driven by these words. And the world responded accordingly.

But, if instead, what would happen if we told people how smart they were —and they started to believe it? If we told people how motivated they were, and they started to believe it? If we looked into their eyes and told them that they could accomplish anything they set their mind to, and they started to believe that too? What kind of a world could we together create? This is why our work with youth with disabilities or adults on public assistance is so critical. We don’t want to help young people simply transition to an adult service system—but to college, a job, and a full life in the community. And we want to help those relying on public assistance find employment and the pride of earning a paycheck.

Every day at The Fedcap Group we strive to find ways to help children, youth and adults with barriers to economic well-being, complete their education, obtain training, find employment and secure their pathway to long term self-sufficiency.

We work as hard as possible to help them get a “Square Deal”.

2020: Increasing Focus on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

2020: Increasing Focus on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

We are entering a new decade. As with any new milestone, we look back and we look forward. As I looked back, I contemplated how far we have come in terms of equity in the workplace AND how far we still have to go.

Some of the important pieces of legislation that stand out to me in our national quest for equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace include:

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that creates the right to a minimum wage;

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 that mandates equal pay for equal work;

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that promotes racial equality in the workplace by prohibiting racial discrimination in applicant recruitment, candidate selection and employee retention;

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life;

The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons; and,

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 bolstered worker protections against pay discrimination, allowing individuals who face pay discrimination to seek rectification under federal anti-discrimination laws.

These important milestones were driven by the recognition that the status quo was no longer acceptable, that we can do better as a country and, for some pragmatists, a conviction that companies do better when employees are treated fairly.

And those pragmatists were right. According to Josh Bresin, Principal and Founder, Bersin by Deloitte, companies that embrace equity, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business, absolutely outperform their peers by every measure.

I believe that in 2020 there needs to be an even greater focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Our talent pool is changing, and we need to be prepared to recruit, fully engage and retain talent that looks and thinks differently than our talent of the past—a workforce that helps us succeed in our future of “known unknowns”.

In thinking about this, I found that unpacking these terms can be helpful. Robert Sellers, the Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Michigan described them as: “Diversity is where everyone is invited to the party—we do not discriminate by race, color, or creed. Equity means that everyone gets to contribute to the play list—we understand, accept and value the differences between people. Inclusion means that everyone has the opportunity to dance–we have fostered a collaborative, supportive, and respectful environment that increases the participation and contribution of all employees. And when everyone has the opportunity to dance—this is when businesses thrive.”

A study of global enterprises by Forbes concludes that increased diversity, equity and inclusion ties directly to increased innovation and creativity. “This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to better understand the dramatically shifting marketplace.”

As leaders, we need to create opportunities for discussion and education with our boards and our staff around best practices in diversity, equity and inclusion. We need to set goals, design a structure and implement policies that support those goals, and we need to monitor our progress.

I welcome your thoughts.

Celebration

Celebration

This time of year, many of us are celebrating the Winter Solstice, Hannukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa.  I spent some time contemplating the idea of celebration, even looking up the definition. One definition is to honor an occasion or holiday with ceremonies of remembrance and respect while refraining from ordinary business. Another is to mark an anniversary or special historical event with festivities or other departures from routine.  I noted that there is a common theme within these definitions of celebration: to do something different and better than what we do every day.

This is what I hope for all of us: that we take time to set aside our regular routines to enjoy this special time of year and recharge for 2020—the beginning of a new decade. My experience is that something important happens when we allow our brain to rest; we think bigger thoughts, we become more creative and even more hopeful.

I also contemplated all that I want to celebrate during this time of reflection.  I have a favorite saying, “celebrate that which you want to see more of.”   So, with that in mind, these are some of the things that I am celebrating at this time of year: 

COURAGE –the courage to take a stand—to set bold goals that will make a difference in the lives of people today and in generations to come–the courage to matter.

GRATITUDE—my deeply felt gratitude to everyone who helps drive the work of The Fedcap Group including board, staff, donors and those we serve. 

INSPIRATION—that spark, that exhilaration, that causes us to act with the goal of making a significant difference.   

PERSISTENCE— that firm course of action in of the face of difficulties or obstacles; even when those around us suggest that we give up.

FRIENDSHIP— that person who just seems to know what you need and when.

So, as we close out this decade, it is my hope that you take the time to celebrate—do something different than you do every day and contemplate and act on what really matters to you.

What I am Thinking About as 2020 Approaches

What I am Thinking About as 2020 Approaches

12-16-19

2020 is going to be an interesting and challenging year. Continued cyberattacks, technological advances, tax implications on philanthropy, political uncertainty and census results will all impact us every day.

Cybersecurity

“More than half of nonprofit boards cited cybersecurity as a major concern,” according to Nonprofit Standard, the blog of the BDO nonprofit and education practice. The Fedcap Group is seriously concerned, and we continue to explore and invest in new ways to manage the risks of cyberattacks. We have spent significant time with leaders discussing cybersecurity; we have trained our staff and worked to create a culture where everyone understands it is their responsibility to manage these risks.

When a security breach or cyberattack occurs, we require an immediate response by our IT personnel. The longer it takes to address the threat, the more damage may be done. Studies show that 56% of IT managers take more than 60 minutes to get information about an ongoing cyberattack. But a lot of damage can be done in an hour. Speed is of the essence for effective risk containment. The average cost of a cyberattack now exceeds $1.1 million and 37% of the companies attacked see a diminution of their reputation following the attack. Preventing such an occurrence will remain a serious focus for The Fedcap Group in 2020.

Technology

Technology continues to enhance our ability to operate efficiently and effectively, and 64% of nonprofits are planning to invest in new tech this year. The Fedcap Group invested in upgrades to our Oracle System in 2019 with the launch of our new HRIS and financial systems and a significant upgrade in our Salesforce and Blackbaud platforms. In 2020 we will also see the expansion of our procurement functionality within Oracle. While I am pleased with the investment in these upgrades, it is critical to ensure that staff throughout the agency have an equal commitment to using the technology and increasingly move to data-informed decision making.

Census

According to United Philanthropy Forum blog, Philanthropy Can Help Address Challenges of the 2020 Census, “The nonprofit sector relies on accurate census data to assist in planning for programs and services for children, seniors, veterans, and other core populations, and identify community demographic trends that inform long-term plans and grants.” The census, however, faces serious challenges for public launch in April 2020: insufficient federal funding, scaled back preparations, and the fact that it will be online for the first time amid growing community reluctance to share information with government. The Forum has been working with a network of organizations to ensure a fair and accurate count. We, too, are hopeful that the census will accurately count everyone across our footprint as it is critical information in our long-term strategic planning.

Philanthropy

John Gilchrist, a blogger for networkforgood.com, said “It looks like the nonprofit sector did OK in the first year of the new tax legislation,” but adds that “donor retention remains a huge problem for the nonprofit sector.” He suggests it is critical for nonprofits to place a concerted emphasis on building monthly giving programs and improve their mobile presence because “25% of donors complete their donations on a mobile device.” He also advises that we “focus on relationships, not transactions!” This is a major focus of The Fedcap Group, and the executive directors across our agencies must continue to play a significant role in building important relationships with a growing number of donors who care about the work within their companies.

What are your major areas of focus for 2020?

https://www.bdo.com/blogs/nonprofit-standard/july-2019/top-10-trends-in-the-nonprofit-industry
https://www.networkforgood.com/nonprofitblog/taxes-impact-on-nonprofits/
https://givingcompass.org/article/philanthropy-can-help-address-challenges-of-the-2020-census/
https://www.thenonprofittimes.com/npt_articles/looking-to-2020/

Making a Lasting Impact

Making a Lasting Impact

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As a nonprofit agency, we are committed to knowing that what we do matters and lasts.

Today, “the nonprofit sector is the third largest component of the American economy, beating out banking, construction, telecommunications, and accounting,” writes Heather McLean Grant in a Philanthropic News Digest article, “Force for Good: Six Practices of High impact Nonprofits.”

This reality provides the nonprofit sector with a tremendous platform to make a fundamental, lasting impact.

During our Gala this past week, The Fedcap Group put a stake in the ground in our commitment to making a lasting impact. We announced our Five Bold Goals that will drive our work for decades to come.

Our Five Bold Goals include:

      1. Every person living in foster care has the resources to go to college and graduate
      2. Individuals who leave prison/jail get a job, rejoin their communities and do not reoffend
      3. Adults with an intellectual disabilities who want a job are employed at a competitive wage
      4. People on public assistance obtain jobs and reduce dependency on government assistance
      5. Children ages 0-6 are prepared and inspired to complete their education, obtain employment and live full lives

We are focusing our research, resources and talent on achieving these goals. Succeeding will make a dramatic and lasting difference—leaving society in a much better place.

A recent video talk by Anne Wallestad, President and CEO of Board Source, resonated with the way I think about our work. In order to achieve lasting impact, we need to: 1. Start with purpose – why do we exist? 2. Define our values and live them. 3. Cultivate resilience and relevance through flexibility. 4. Build influence by demonstrating the power of possibility.

This requires that the leadership of our nonprofit companies be strategic. To achieve high impact, we must be continually moving and evolving – getting better, refining our focus and the quality of our practice. Authors Meehan and Jonka shine a spotlight on the importance of our role: “We are at the dawn of a new age, the “Impact Era” in which nonprofits will play an ever more pivotal role in supporting, safeguarding and sustaining American Civil Society.”

I believe we are up to the task of making a lasting impact.

What are your thoughts?

Embracing Evolution

Embracing Evolution

Sequence of seed germination on soil, evolution concept

There are very few good leaders who dive headlong into change without some caution, yet at the same time we know that in order to fulfill our mission, we must EVOLVE to make progress.  To meet our goals and succeed in achieving long term relevance, sustainability and impact, nonprofits need to continue to refine technology, human resources, communication strategies and approaches to donor engagement. 

At The Fedcap Group we are driving into the future with our eyes on the following high level goals:

      • Every company of The Fedcap Group achieves clearly defined corporate health indicators.
      • Every company of The Fedcap Group is supported to meet or exceed contractual, regulatory and compliance standards.
      • Every company of The Fedcap Group has assets that must be leveraged in order to amplify our ability to achieve significantly improved outcomes within our five major focus areas: youth in transition from foster care, children ages 0-6, adults with disabilities, the previously incarcerated and individuals on public assistance.
      • The Fedcap Group continues to develop and implement solutions that impact the design and delivery of government services—shifting the overall outcomes of the system.

In order to accomplish these major goals, we have spent a considerable amount of time ensuring company leaders are fully engaged and onboard and understand their role in achieving success.  We are investing in the staff of the organization through new efforts to listen and learn from their perspectives. We are upgrading our technology to provide staff with state-of-the-art tools required to effectively monitor program outcomes and finances. And we are engaging our community of donors in very specific ways around our future.  In other words…we are evolving.

In “Creating Change: A Brave Path Forward for Nonprofits,” Jessica Haynie and Vicki Pozzebon, reporting in North Carolina State University’s Philanthropy Journal, stresses the importance of creating forums where leaders are able to talk openly about the pressing questions and/or issues that are blocking them from moving forward. This kind of self-check is critical. We have spent a tremendous amount of time over the past several years clarifying expectations, laying out and refining our major areas of focus, building more effective communication strategies, and supporting leaders in their ability to effectively lead.  These conversations are not always easy, but they are imperative.

We have also engaged partners in very dynamic ways.  The bigger the goal, the more important the partnerships.

Paula Schneider president and CEO of Susan G. Komen, the leading breast cancer organization, suggests in a Forbes Nonprofit Council post, that nonprofits need to work together for real change. “As much as we’d like to think our nonprofit organizations are uniquely equipped to change the world, we can’t always do it on our own.” She believes “partnerships are an essential part of our existence. It takes everybody rowing in the same direction, tackling each project hand in hand and focusing more on reaching our common goals than on who gets credit for the effort.”

This has proven to be true for The Fedcap Group.  To make the kind of systemic changes needed to significantly improve outcomes for our target populations requires strategic partnerships—moving from fractured systems to integrated and seamless pathways to getting the right services at the right time.  

Evolution is not always easy—but it is imperative for organizations who want to make a difference.

The Practice of Gratitude in the Workplace

The Practice of Gratitude in the Workplace

11-25-19

As individuals in the US are getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, I thought I might share some interesting perspectives on gratitude in the workplace.

According to Greater Good Magazine, the practice of gratitude has started to infiltrate workplaces, from new software companies to older institutions like Campbell Soup, whose former CEO wrote 30,000 thank you notes to his employees. Though research on gratitude has exploded over the past two decades, studies of gratitude at work are still somewhat limited. The results so far link it to more positive emotionsless stress and fewer health complaints, a greater sense of confidence in the mission.  It also can help us achieve our goalsfewer sick days, and higher satisfaction with our jobs and our coworkers.

Emerging research suggests that gratitude is revolutionary in the workplace, contributing to the kind of workplace environments where employees actually want to come to work and don’t feel like cogs in a machine.

Robert Emmons, author of The Little Book of Gratitude: Creating a Life of Happiness and Well-being by Giving Thanks, and a leading researcher on the subject states “Most of our waking hours are spent on the job, and gratitude, in all its forms, is a basic human requirement.”  Emmons highlights that gratitude takes people outside of themselves and to a place that is part of a larger, more intricate network of sustaining relationships that are mutually reciprocal. “In this sense, it, like other social emotions, gratitude functions to help regulate relationships, solidifying and strengthening them,” he says.

Researchers from the London School of Economics, in analysis of 51 companies, found that while financial incentives can backfire when it comes to motivating employees there is overwhelming evidence that gratitude and appreciation are highly effective motivators for staff.  They found that 80% of employees are willing to work harder for an appreciative boss.

Expressing gratitude is not difficult, but it does require a small bit of time and intentionality.  In this season of thankfulness, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the board members, staff, donors, funders and consumers of The Fedcap Group—for their unwavering commitment of time and talent to doing the right thing, in the right way to achieve the right results.  

Structure According to Strategy

Structure According to Strategy

Everyone who meets me learns fairly quickly that I value structure.  I spend a lot of time discussing structure, and I firmly believe that good people fail in the absence of it. 

Structure impacts communication, productivity, morale, efficiency, organizational learning and effective knowledge sharing. Well-designed structure promotes growth, drives innovation and provides clarity in roles and expectations.   

Companies build new structures for many reasons: a reaction to market shifts, to improve financial performance, to enhance internal collaboration.  Industry disruption on a global scale has led to more frequent restructuring–nearly half of all CEOs launch a restructure during their first two years on the job. 

At The Fedcap Group’s recent Solution Series on organizational structure, one of our panelists, Mike Sicard, Chairman and CEO of USI Insurance Services emphasized that structure has to follow strategy, and given the complexity of today’s environment, evolving organizational structure looks more like a chocolate chip cookie than the top down, formal hierarchies of the 20th century.

To drive innovation and growth, many companies are moving from 20th century hierarchical, siloed structures to flexible, collaborative structures with flatter networks and fluid, -outcome-focused teams—arranged within the organizational cookie like those chocolate chips. We need to learn how to change, restructure and work with cross-functional teams.  The proactive participation of mid-level managers in flatter organizations produces positive outcomes.

Also stressed during our Solution Series was the idea that structure must be in service to strategy.  Structure cannot be designed in the absence of understanding long term strategy.

One size does not fit all anymore as John Sutherland points out in European Business Review: “The purpose of structure is to organize your resources in such a way that you are able to deliver your strategy.” To prevent bureaucracy from suffocating innovation, he said, “effective structures bring clarity so that everyone can quickly understand how they are to act and relate to others, internally and externally.”

Today’s leaders understand that innovation is the key to growth and survival, and many believe that structure determines how innovative their organizations can be.

In a world where technology, markets, politics, and economies are in constant flux, one thing is certain:  structure that supports strategy results in innovation, productivity and financial performance is the way forward.

Honoring our Veterans–Individually

Honoring our Veterans–Individually

11-11-19

As we honor our veterans today, I am so pleased to invite Colonel David Sutherland, Chairman of Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services, to be my guest blogger. His experiences and voice are so important for us all to hear.

Diversity and inclusion frequently take a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, recruiting and retention may focus on veterans, as a whole, rather than the divergent qualities that enhance thinking and execution. 

 It’s ironic that lumping veterans together as a category defined as “diverse” may cause us to ignore the individual characteristics that make them assets to organizations.

 I like to say that if you’ve met a veteran, you’ve met “a veteran.” One veteran, one time, each one is unique.

 We veterans are more than just the sum of our parts. Yes, Veterans Day is a celebration of an amazing group of people. At the same time, we are remiss in not looking beyond the massed surface and into each one’s experiences and goals.

 My wish is for you to get to know us as a unique group of people who have taken a different path to get to this point in our lives, and who may have hit roadblocks on this journey created by their service to our country. Let’s start with three areas key to ensuring that veterans succeed where they live: 

      • Working with purpose. Those who served in uniform boast years of specialized training that make them experts in their fields, yet there remains significant underemployment and uncertainty. That’s why Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services works with employers, hiring managers, and recruiters to improve workplace hiring programs. This work goes beyond employment programs for veterans as a whole and instead seeks to establish a culture that considers the specific skill sets of each veteran and matches them to the position best for them.
      • Healing with honor. Let’s look at the data. Burn pits, enormous craters where waste is openly incinerated, are this generation’s Agent Orange. These chemical hazards are responsible for causing cancers, tumors and respiratory issues. Opioid abuse among combat-exposed individuals is 7 percentage points higher among those who deployed but didn’t see combat. Further, the number of veteran suicides exceeded 6,000 each year from 2008 – 2017 – or more than 60,000 over a decade. Part of what drives these numbers is an epidemic of disconnection that happens when we look at veterans en masse rather than creating a culture that considers the unique needs and isolation of each individual. It’s about making it personal – for both the veteran and the civilian.
      • Living with hope. T.S. Elliot said, “Home is where our story begins.” Dixon Center and its partners, among them Soldier On and Freddie Mac, are working to expand affordable housing, educate community-based organizations on fair housing practices for veterans, and increase compassionate outreach to those who are, or are at risk of becoming homeless. The goal is not to create new programs. Rather, the goal is to enable the integration of housing services that consider each veteran’s needs into existing programs to increase impact.

 This Veterans Day let’s keep in mind that as with people, one size does not fit all. In fact, one size often fits none.

Retired U.S. Army Colonel David Sutherland is Chairman of Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services. He commanded the U.S. combat brigade in Diyala Province, Iraq (2006-2007) and served as Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (2009-2012).