Structure in Service to Innovation

Structure in Service to Innovation

A Google search of “the importance of innovation” will turn up more than one hundred million hits related to business.

“While centralized authority was the driving force of business in the 20th Century, brainstorming, innovation and lower level decision making characterize emerging companies of the new century,” writes Alex Cooper, in “Innovative Organizational Structure” at He points out that organizational structure must be intentionally designed to generate innovation from teams and individuals. Mike Sicard, CEO of USI emphasizes the importance of structure serving as a vehicle to advance strategy. He emphasizes that a good structure accelerates what you are trying to accomplish as opposed to serving as a barrier.

Kristi Hedges, contributor to Women at tells of a leader who “kept a plaque on his wall of everyone who had tried and failed—spectacularly—in the pursuit of an audacious goal.” Every executive saw the names when he or she interviewed for the job, and each time they came into the leader’s office. The tone was clear: we value risk taking and reward it as we seek to innovate.

It’s widely known that innovative companies are more creative, collaborative and productive. We also know that innovative companies achieve sustainable growth, renewed competitive advantages and ongoing customer relevance. In other words, they make a more substantive impact. The challenge to leaders is structuring the organization to tap these traits within staff.

The structure of The Fedcap Group has been intentionally designed to advance innovation resulting in sustainability, relevance and impact. In 25, 50, 100 years from now, we expect to be continuing to provide smart interventions that make a lasting difference in people’s lives.

      • We have developed four major areas of practice: Workforce Development, Education, occupational Health and Economic Development—each led by experts allowing us to influence state and federal policy and program design.
      • We have developed a growing body of expertise and accompanying evidence-based interventions in improving the outcomes for specific populations including the justice involved, children ages 0-6, youth transitioning from foster care, adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities and individuals on public assistance. This allows us to focus our efforts on building effective program interventions that meet specific needs.
      • We have combined with a growing number of top-tier mission-driven organizations. These companies engage the practice area and population expertise to design new programs and expand services, impact and diversify revenue streams.
      • We have built an array of corporate services with state-of-the-art technology in the areas of Finance, HR, IT and Facilities with the capacity to support companies in their growth and impact efforts.

And to ensure we effectively leverage this structure to design models of service that can create lasting impact, we have implemented a “Cube” approach to program innovation and business development supported by a robust technological platform. The platform manages information related to each opportunity from lead through cash in the door and creates consistency in business development processes.

With this Cube approach, practice leaders, company executives, population experts and corporate services staff come together to create responses to requests for proposals from government funders, to design models of intervention to test with foundations and to prepare bids for managed care organizations. Each piece of the cube works synergistically to accomplish the goal—a winning proposal/bid.

Through the cube we are building a culture where everyone is responsible for innovation and everyone is responsible to help design an approach that has the potential to fundamentally improve outcomes for individuals we serve.

I welcome your thoughts.

The Right Talent as a Catalyst for Innovation and Impact

The Right Talent as a Catalyst for Innovation and Impact

Over the last few weeks, I’ve written about the strategic risks leaders must address to thrive in a competitive environment. Recently, I’ve discussed the importance of creating and sustaining a positive culture that helps drive innovation and change.

Critical to creating and sustaining the right culture is the sourcing, finding, and cultivating the right talent is another key catalyst for driving innovation and impact.  

Our people are our most strategic resource.  We have just implemented a new Human Capital Management system, as employing state-of-the-art technology around talent acquisition and management is critical to recruiting and retaining top notch staff.

The ability to recruit top talent stems from being known as a premier employer and building relationships with feeder institutions such as business, universities and local chambers.  And with that we have developed a description of the DNA of those who are successful in The Fedcap Group.

      • Passionate: They are driven to create/identify and resource the most effective ways to solve problems for people with barriers.
      • Informed: They are current within their respective fields.
      • Credible: When they speak, people listen because of their depth of knowledge and expertise.
      • Smart and Fast: They can see the end result and take quick, thoughtful and decisive action.
      • Creative: They generate innovative and often unexpected answers to difficult problems.
      • Curious: They thrive on new information and opportunities.
      • Dedicated: They run a continuous campaign to advance the position of The Fedcap Group and the people we serve.
      • Understands the concept of “Good to Great”: They constantly look for opportunities to improve the work of The Fedcap Group, searching for best-in-class practices–not reinventing the wheel.
      • Flexible: They are able and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
      • Fun: They take their work seriously, but not themselves.

Once recruited, the interview process demands its own structure and expertise.  When hiring for top positions in the agency, I ensure they spend time with every key leader.  I invite them to one of our “Corp Weeks” – where key staff from throughout the company come to New York to discuss corporate health, emerging trends in our areas of practice, review data about our company’s performance and brainstorm potential areas of innovation.

When I assess talent, these are the things I look for in prospective candidates:

      • How does the candidate think? What is important to them?
      • How does the candidate keep current on trends in their area of focus?
      • What do they see as trends over the next 5-10 years?
      • How do they use information to advance new ideas?
      • How have they made a difference?
      • How have they built effective structure in the past? How do they know they were effective?
      • Is the candidate one who consistently considers “what if?” scenarios?
      • How comfortable is the candidate with ambiguity? And if comfortable, how do they bring clarity and structure to that ambiguity?

The vision, the talent, and the ability of the staff to execute all combine to create the catalyst for driving—and realizing—innovation and ultimately impact in the lives of those we serve—creating a legacy for current and future generations to come.

Challenging Conversations: A Pathway to Innovation

Challenging Conversations: A Pathway to Innovation

At The Fedcap Group, we are committed to finding precise interventions that will alter the status quo and create lasting and sustainable change in the lives of those we serve.

Our growth—and our success—depends on our staff coming to work each day with this innovator’s way of thinking. As a leader, I know that a big part of my job—and that of all of our leaders—is to create the conditions that allow for the open flow of ideas—good, bad, or impossible.

To create these conditions, as leaders, we must be intentional about establishing a common understanding that we can—and will—make mistakes, engage in generative dialogue, and appreciate the essential role that conflict plays in arriving at breakthrough solutions. The root of the word “conflict” is “striking together.” It is only by pushing each other to think beyond our immediate understanding and by challenging each other to see things we haven’t thought of that we will find not just good solutions, but the right solutions.

Many people do what they can to avoid conflict. Instead of challenging their peers or their superiors, they say yes or they stay quiet, hoping to stay “under the radar.” Part of the reason for our success is that we encourage our staff—no matter what the level—to speak up with their insights and ideas. I never want staff to agree with me if they see something I haven’t seen. I want to be challenged, I want us to challenge each other, because I want to get it right.

This environment requires that we have built a solid foundation of trust.  If we don’t trust each other, and if we don’t engage in challenging conversations, we simply will not innovate. It is my job to ensure the conditions are right for truly striking together to ignite powerful solutions to society’s toughest problems.

Social Entrepreneurship: The Marriage of Creativity and Innovation

Social Entrepreneurship: The Marriage of Creativity and Innovation

Creativity has two parts: thinking, then producing. Innovation is embedded in the creative process. It is the implementation of creative inspiration.” —Linda Naiman

The term “social entrepreneurship” was first coined in 1953 and then popularized in the 1980s and 1990s as a way to describe the work of organizations whose aim is to improve the well-being of society. Social entrepreneurship differs from entrepreneurship in that its successes are not measured necessarily by profits or revenue, but instead by the ways that society improves as a result of the work.

We know that there over 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. with 10,000 nonprofits in NYC alone. Each aims at addressing a societal problem and righting it. Yet there are still thousands of people living in poverty, homeless, suffering from substance abuse, recidivism, or stigma. We are not all pulling together to keep the environment healthy. There are still many hungry people in this country. What will it take to make a substantial improvement in society’s most pressing issues?

Social entrepreneurship is really about changing a system—a social system. The work of social entrepreneurship is to change the way society views—and mitigates—a problem. But changing a system means changing attitudes, prejudices, and fear.

Last week I wrote about stigma and offered a challenge to consider the ways we allow our fears to overtake reason and statistics. But change cannot subsist on emotional appeal alone. Behind the scenes, there must be strategy and structure that facilitates space for creating and innovating non-traditional solutions to address societal issues that touch us all—directly or indirectly.

The work of social entrepreneurship is to marry a creative solution or idea with very precise infrastructure and strategy to support that work. It means having a plan and being nimble enough to pivot and adjust as new information, technology, policy, or practice offers increased clarity. The key is being able to see what’s coming and not to hold too tightly to the how we’ve always done it—even if a solution worked in the past.

These solutions mean having people working in social enterprises who are brave, who know themselves and who enjoy a good challenge—even conflict—because they know it will make their own thinking better. It means gathering people who not only have brilliant ideas but also those who can innovate and implement those brilliant ideas and precise solutions. We can all be inspired by our work in social entrepreneurship—even in the day-to-day implementation of a great idea.

Every day I think about ways I can improve my own thinking and my own creative approach to solving problems. Gathering people around me who challenge me and who make me better is what inspires me as a leader. What inspires you?

Making the Case for Investing in Innovation In Social Services

Making the Case for Investing in Innovation In Social Services

When we think of innovation, we think of modern-day visionaries like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, historic figures like Marie Curie or Thomas Edison. We think of companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. We don’t usually think of the non-profit service sector as the bastion of innovation. Yet, it is here where I believe the most profound innovation can take place.

Many people think of innovation as the creation or invention of something entirely new. I believe innovation is much more complex and interesting. I am fairly certain that the cure for polio, the invention of the light bulb or the iphone didn’t come to their inventors in a flash. They came as a result of try after try after try and often months, or years, of experimentation and revision.  Yes, sometimes there are ah-ha moments, but most of the time, innovation comes about in an effort to solve a problem or meet a need and happens incrementally.

In the nonprofit arena, innovation exists on both a small- and a large-scale measure. Creating a resource rapid response team to help individuals find a critical service when they need it is an innovation. Crafting a job opportunity board based on an individual’s personal interests, skills, and experience is an innovation.  Implementing an effort like our PrepNow! to help foster parents create a college-going environment in their homes is an innovation. Building an at-home coaching partnership for families caring for a loved-one with dementia is innovation. These are just a few that we have pioneered here at Fedcap. These innovations are precise and they are folded into the existing social systems. They make a difference.

What if we as a whole society were to invest our time, money, energy and talent into creating innovative solutions that social services nonprofits exist to solve? What if we were to invest in our nonprofits the way we do in for-profit companies—only the “profit” to shareholders is measured in lives improved?   What is the precise intervention needed that will inspire the hearts and minds (and pocketbooks) of society at large to rally around a solution to poverty? What would happen if there were a paradigm shift that made the impulse to cure poverty as intense as the impulse to buy the latest piece of electronic equipment?

It would be quite a revolution if we were to invest in innovation in the social services the way we invest in stocks and bonds. But then, isn’t innovation really a revolution?

I welcome your thoughts.