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Welcome to the February 2011 issue of Alignment Solutions! Here’s what’s going on:

  • Pat Lynch recently was selected to serve on an American National Standards Taskforce on Measures and Metrics. The group’s purpose is to draft an American National Standard for Investor Metrics. Members include experts from other countries as well as from the U.S.

This month’s theme is seizing your destiny. The world order is changing dramatically and rapidly as people in countries long characterized by dictatorship and suppression are rising up to demand a different future, one that they choose rather than the one that others impose upon them. It’s inspiring to see people choosing to seize their own destiny instead of accepting the one seemingly thrust upon them. The question now is, in what direction will they head?

The Feature Article, “Three Key Elements for Addressing Organizational Challenges Effectively,” identifies the critical aspects of creating an effective “big picture.” The organization’s vision and/or mission are the organization’s touchstone. This article helps leaders set a clear direction for claiming the desired future.

In “Case Study: Transforming a Survival Mindset to a Thrive Mindset,” the Business Solutions section describes how one organization changed its future by altering the way it viewed its present.

In the Personal Solutions section, “The Gift of Your Talents” contends that we all have talents, whether or not we choose to use them. Following up on last month’s article (“The Courage of Your Talent”), it suggests ways to remove obstacles that may prevent you from sharing your talents with the world. 

I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

Do you know someone who could benefit from the value we provide? If so, let’s create a win-win-win situation! Contact us about how we can make this happen.

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Three Key Elements for Addressing Organizational Challenges Effectively

Organizational challenges come in all different forms and levels of difficulty. Regardless of what form they take, one critical success factor stands out above others as a determinant of leaders’ effectiveness in addressing them: having a clearly articulated “big picture.” More specifically, an optimal “big picture” focuses on outcomes or impact, and it is stated in the affirmative. All three of these elements are key: the absence of any one easily can sabotage leaders’ efforts to achieve effective solutions. Let’s look at each element briefly.

The first element is the presence of a clearly articulated “big picture” – i.e., a mission or vision statement that describes the outcome the organization is seeking to achieve. Having such a picture – and communicating it widely - is key: unless leaders and stakeholders share a common view of the value the organization provides, they cannot align their efforts effectively, nor can they allocate resources properly or measure their progress and achievements. The “big picture” is the touchstone against which all decisions are tested. Every person, program, system, and process must support that picture if there is to be alignment throughout the organization.

The second element of successfully addressing organizational challenges is ensuring that the “big picture” focuses on outcomes or impact. Too often organizations articulate their methodology instead of their value – i.e., the “how” instead of the “what.” For example, a company that specializes in training accountants may tout itself as the best provider of accounting workshops, when what it really needs to do is identify the impact of those workshops on its clients. By focusing on its methodology, the company (a) ensures that its workshops are viewed as commodities, which are a dime a dozen, and (b) severely limits the effectiveness of its decision-making. Consider the difference between focusing on the quality or quantity of workshops provided (the “how”), versus concentrating on increasing clients’ peace of mind (the “what”) because they can be confident that the company’s financial statements are being prepared correctly. Would you rather be selling workshops or peace of mind? Focusing on the value provided would result in greater opportunity, creativity, and innovation throughout the organization.

The third element of successfully addressing organizational challenges is stating the “big picture” in the affirmative. Too often we see well intentioned leaders proclaim their mission or vision in the negative, such as when the organization dreams of eradicating a problem altogether. The problem with this approach is that it fails to provide a substitute picture – i.e., there is no information about what will be different when it achieves its goals. For example, an organization may declare that it intends to “stamp out world hunger” or to “end domestic violence.” While these certainly are worthy goals, the fact that they are stated in the negative does not provide stakeholders with a clear picture of what things will look like when those goals are achieved. What they really need to know is what will be different after the mission or vision has been achieved – e.g., what the world will “look like” when there is no more hunger anywhere on the planet, and how families will interact differently when there is no more domestic violence. For example, The Hunger Project is a global, non-profit, strategic organization committed to the sustainable end of world hunger. Its vision statement paints a clear picture of what the world will look like when it has achieved that goal – e.g., every day, every person has enough of the right food to be healthy and productive; babies are born healthy and strong, and girl babies are prized as much as boy babies.

Organizational challenges range from the relatively simple to the very complicated. Regardless of their level of complexity, having a clearly articulated “big picture” that focuses on outcomes and is stated or described in the positive will make addressing them much easier than if leaders had no such touchstone.

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Case Study: Transforming a Survival Mindset to a Thrive Mindset

In a time of exceptionally scarce resources, it may seem counterintuitive for leaders to heed advice to “think big” rather than to follow their instincts to circle the proverbial wagons and concentrate on keeping the operation running day to day. Yet this is exactly the right time to create as expansive a “big picture” as possible, to focus on the value that the organization provides, and the impact it has. Challenging times like those we are experiencing now provide a great opportunity for leaders to take a look at what their organizations do, why they do it, and how, and to make conscious choices about what they want for the future.

By creating an expansive “big picture,” leaders allow for the possibility that the organization will achieve it: everyone is focused on ways to make that outcome a reality in spite of the immediate constraints. Given this “thrive” mindset, chances are very good that the vision will be achieved, though perhaps not in the short-run. On the other hand, when leaders choose to concentrate narrowly on how to keep the doors open, they and their stakeholders ignore opportunities that present themselves because no one is looking for them: they are too busy looking for things NOT to do. As a result, the organization’s impact is seriously diminished, and customers, employees, and other stakeholders pay an unnecessarily high price for leaders who choose the “survival” mindset.

The key to successfully overcoming the challenges facing organizations is the mindset with which leaders approach the task. The following case study illustrates the dramatic difference between a “thrive” mentality and a “survival” mindset.

In early 2009 I conducted a strategy formulation session for the board members of a non-profit organization that provides shelter and services for women who have been victims of domestic violence. The economic environment looked very grim, especially for organizations that rely heavily on private donors and government grants for funding. The question posed to me by the group was this: “How do we keep the lights on this year given the recession’s likely negative effect on the economy?” Unwittingly, they were asking the wrong question, which meant the answers would not serve them well. So we changed the question.

Using an appreciative inquiry process, we took a step back to remember and identify the things the agency had done well, the values it embodied, the vision to which it aspired, and the impact of its work on clients and the community. Participants recalled their personal dreams for the organization and the outcomes they hoped to achieve when they first joined the organization. Those conversations resulted in a composite of best experiences, strengths, and the conditions necessary for success.

Using that information as a foundation, the board members created a shared vision of the agency’s desired future. They figuratively painted an expansive picture of what that vision would look like, going well beyond what they previously had envisioned and focusing on the impact the agency would have on clients and the community. Casting aside their original question about how to keep the lights on, they focused instead on ways to empower women to live safe, non-violent lives with their children. The resulting range of possibilities addressed the expansive picture of a thriving agency rather than the more constrictive issue of survival. Board members left the session feeling exhilarated about the possibilities, and importantly, confident that the compelling picture they had created would inspire individual and institutional donors, staff, volunteers, and the community to support their cause.

What changed during the course of that session? Certainly not the external environment! It was the shift in mindset of the session participants, from one of survival to one of thriving. By asking questions about how to achieve this new, expansive picture, they found answers that enabled them to imagine a future for the agency that exceeded anything they previously had envisioned. Necessarily, the issue of how to keep the lights was addressed in this vision - but it was not the centerpiece. As a result, people’s creativity and innovativeness soared. Though this group of leaders had their work cut out for them due to external constraints, they left the session energized by the positive impact their agency could have and inspired to bring it to fruition.

This type of transformation doesn’t require a rocket scientist. It does require leaders to act on the counterintuitive belief that creating and working toward an expansive “big picture” in tough times is critical for leaders who want their organizations to thrive rather than merely to survive.

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The Gift of Your Talents

In the classic holiday movie It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart played the role of a small town young man whose greatest ambition was to leave for the big city at his earliest opportunity to seek his fortune. When fate seemed to have other plans for him, he grew despondent and felt hopeless. A guardian angel named Clarence was sent to give Jimmy Stewart’s character a gift: to see what life in the small town would have been like had he never been born. As you might imagine, the world deprived of his talents was a totally different, and much darker and desolate, place.

Although this story was fiction, its message is both real and relevant. Each person is born with talents that she/he is free to share or to hoard. When people share their talents, the world literally becomes a different place. Those who hoard or hide their talents deny the world the benefit of their gifts.

Although we may have been led to think otherwise, each of us has the power to share our talents with others. The various “pieces” that coalesce to make us unique individuals (e.g., personality, values, how we view the world) are a combination of nature and nurture –– i.e., some came to us genetically, while others through choices we have made, consciously or unconsciously. For those who have been led to believe that their talents either are non-existent or not worth sharing, I have news for you: you are mistaken. For those who need some suggestions, here are three ways you can consciously change your mindset so you are able to share your talents with others rather than hoard or hide them.

  1. Some people believe that they are in control of important elements of their lives, whereas others think that other people or things are in charge. While we may have a predilection one way or the other, it’s not set in concrete: we can change it. Skeptics need look no further than the dramatic changes occurring right now in the Middle East. People who long have accepted life under dictatorships and repressive regimes suddenly are realizing that they can choose to take control of their own destinies. You can as well. Stop believing that people and things outside of you are in charge of how you live your life. Start taking an active role in setting your own course.

  2. People tend to view the world in one of two ways. Using the proverbial glass as a metaphor, some people see the glass as half empty while others see it as half full. The former seek out and concentrate on the difficulties and obstacles that they encounter in life, while the latter find opportunities in those challenges. Whether you choose to focus on obstacles or opportunities, you will find them. It’s your choice.

  3. We also have choices about how we experience life. We can select healthy alternatives that support us and enable us to seize our destiny and share our talents, or we can opt for victimhood. While some people would have us believe that they are victims of circumstances beyond their control, they are sadly mistaken. While it is true that there are some things in life over which we have no control, it also is true that we always get to choose how we experience whatever comes our way. So really it is your choice: a healthy life in which you share your talents freely, or victimhood, which not only hurts you, but deprives others of your talents.

These are just a few of the ways that you can clear the perceived obstacles that prevent you from sharing your talents with the world. Although making these mindsets a part of who you are may require some effort and practice, the payoff is tremendous. The only person standing in the way of your experiencing your “Wonderful Life” is you. And you can choose to get out of the way.

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Date of Publication: February 2011
Pat@BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com
www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2011 © - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch