Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Getting to Strategic and Generative Governance: Beginning the Journey with Your Board

Getting to Strategic and Generative Governance:  Beginning the Journey with Your Board

We live in a time of profound change. Faced with shrinking budgets, rapidly evolving community needs, a hostile political climate, and ever more intense public scrutiny, nonprofits are finding that it’s not enough to simply update a mission statement or patch over a list of outdated goals. In order to meet the challenges of building long-term financial sustainability, weighing strategic restructuring options, planning for leadership succession, and more, boards need to think and act differently.

Some boards are already making the transition by applying the lessons of the book, Governance as Leadership. This leadership model challenges boards to engage in three modes of thinking and decision-making: fiduciary, strategic and generative. While all three are important, the third, generative thinking, is receiving the most attention. Thinking further into the future about new possibilities through generative mode thinking, can lay the groundwork for board leaders to develop breakthrough strategies that will assure increased mission impact and sustainable growth in the future.

It has been my experience that once nonprofit leaders begin to grasp the importance - and necessity - of strategic and generative governance, they want to know more about it AND they want to know HOW to do it. They ask: what tools and activities will help us begin to govern strategically and generatively?

Interested in Enhancing The Capacity of Your Board for Strategic and Generative Governance?

We offer a number of training and consulting programs to help you do this. These offerings will provide a practical introduction to strategic and generative thinking and offer concrete ways to apply this approach in your board. As a result of these programs, you will:
·         Gain knowledge of the Governance As Leadership framework with emphasis on strategic and generative mode thinking;
·         Grasp the implications of strategic and generative thinking for the design and conduct of future board, committee and staff meetings;
·         Leave with a toolkit of activities, methods, and practices for incorporating strategic and generative thinking into the ongoing work of your board and committee structure;
·         Develop an initial action plan to apply these tools in the coming year.

For more information, contact us at Frank@createthefuture.com. Or call 414-961-2536.


Check out my latest LinkedIn blog post on: Tapping The Connection between Scenario Thinking & Mental Models


In preparation for a recent Board Of Directors Retreat, we engaged in two activities that have been shown to increase the capacity of board leaders for strategic and generative thinking. The results of these activities fueled the move to increased strategic and generative governance on the part of this board and others with whom we have worked. To learn more, check out my latest LinkedIn blog post on Getting to Strategic and Generative Governance: Tapping The Connection between Scenario Thinking & Mental Models at http://tinyurl.com/qa7hgwl

Monday, July 20, 2015

Getting to Strategic and Generative Governance: Tapping The Connection between Scenario Thinking & Mental Models

Getting to Strategic and Generative Governance: Tapping The Connection between Scenario Thinking & Mental Models


We live in a time of profound change. Faced with shrinking budgets, rapidly evolving community needs, a hostile political climate, and ever more intense public scrutiny, nonprofits are finding that it’s not enough to simply update a mission statement or patch over a list of outdated goals. In order to meet the challenges of building long-term financial sustainability, weighing strategic restructuring options, planning for leadership succession, and more, boards need to think and act differently.

Some boards are already making the transition by applying the lessons of the book, Governance as Leadership. This leadership model challenges boards to engage in three modes of thinking and decision-making: fiduciary, strategic and generative. While all three are important, the third, generative thinking, is receiving the most attention. Thinking further into the future about new possibilities through generative mode thinking, can lay the groundwork for board leaders to develop breakthrough strategies that will assure increased mission impact and sustainable growth in the future.

It has been my experience that once nonprofit leaders begin to grasp the importance - and necessity - of strategic and generative governance, they want to know more about it AND they want to know HOW to do it. They ask: what tools and activities will help us begin to govern strategically and generatively?

In preparation for a recent Board Of Directors Retreat, we engaged in two activities that have been shown to increase the capacity of board leaders for strategic and generative thinking. The results of these activities fueled the move to increased strategic and generative governance on the part of this board and others with whom we have worked

A Scenario Thinking Exercise, the purpose of which was to develop a set of alternative scenarios reflecting multiple worldviews or perspectives on how the future might unfold for this nonprofit. The purpose of scenario thinking was not to predict or identify the most likely future, but to create a map of uncertainty — to acknowledge and examine the visible and hidden forces that are driving us toward the unknown future. In the scenario thinking exercise, scenarios are created and used in sets of multiple stories that capture a range of possibilities, good and bad, expected and surprising. They are designed to stretch our thinking about emerging changes and the opportunities and threats that the future might hold. They allow us to weigh our choices more carefully when making short-term and long-term strategic decisions.

An Examination Of Mental Models held by board and staff leadership. Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, beliefs or generalizations that influence how leaders understand the world, define success for their organizations, and how they take action. Mental models, especially when they have grown out of date, are often the greatest barriers to implementing new ideas in organizations, but they are also the area of organizational learning where organizations can make the most significant impact. 

Here's an example: In the past, one mental model of library leadership might have been expressed as "A library is a building with shelf space to house book collections; patrons come to the library and check books out for reading elsewhere." With such a mental model in place, library leadership initially had difficulty noticing, understanding, and then acting upon implications of the Internet, and the rise of social media use especially by young people, on future planning for libraries. The new mental model of the library as "gateway to an expanding world of information" changes how the libraries define success and how they plan for the future, the professional development of new librarians, and more. We can see what this new mental model has helped library leaders to create in our communities.

We believe there is a close connection between scenario thinking and surfacing mental models. Our mental models, beliefs and assumptions can be expected to influence our efforts to think about the future and develop alternative scenarios about how the future might unfold for us. At the same time, scenario thinking can stretch our thinking about emerging changes and opportunities that the future might hold for us, and in the process, alter our beliefs and assumptions.

A recent article, Effects of Scenario Planning on Participant Mental Models appearing in the European Journal of Training and Development, by Margaret B, Glick, etal, provides evidence that, in fact, scenario thinking and planning can change individual mental models.

They began their research with the understanding that scenario thinking and planning, typically conducted in groups, naturally lends itself to group dialogue, conversation and decision-making. They note that it is well argued in a variety of scenario planning resources that one key outcome of this activity is to change the way participants think about an issue or problem and thus to change the participants mental models about it.

According to the authors, because scenario thinking provides this opportunity for group interaction, participation in scenario thinking and planning can also encourage the development of shared mental models, resulting in leadership teams with a more cohesive, congruent view of the organization and its potential futures. Further they suggest that the ability to shift mental models may lead to more innovative and creative thinking which can drive many organizational improvement initiatives. They conclude that scenario planning offers a unique way to help leaders learn and thus change and improve their mental models.

Interested in Enhancing The Capacity Of Your Board For Strategic And Generative Governance?

We offer a number of training and consulting programs to help you do this. These offerings will provide a practical introduction to strategic and generative thinking and offer concrete ways to apply this approach in your board. As a result of these programs, you will:
  • Gain knowledge of the Governance As Leadership framework with emphasis on strategic and generative mode thinking;
  • Grasp the implications of strategic and generative thinking for the design and conduct of future board, committee and staff meetings;
  • Leave with a toolkit of activities, methods, and practices for incorporating strategic and generative thinking into the ongoing work of your board and committee structure;
  • Develop an initial action plan to apply these tools in the coming year
 Contact us at Frank@createthefuture.com. Or call 414-961-2536.

Resources You Can Use Now:
In the meantime, here are some excellent resources on the subjects of surfacing mental models and scenario thinking and planning in the nonprofit sector:

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Moving Upstream to Root Causes




In my last post, I referenced When Good Is Not Good Enough, a recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. This article makes the point that the nonprofit sector needs to shift attention from modest goals that provide short-term relief to bold goals that tackle root causes. The dilemma is captured in the essay "A Contemporary Fable" which I included in my post. "A Contemporary Fable" has been around for a long time and reflects the same challenge to our work as a sector: Are we getting to root causes or are we inadvertently making it easier for unjust and mal-functioning systems to remain unchallenged and unchanged? As a sector, are we about social change or social control?

Here is the link to my earlier post: http://tinyurl.com/ox88hp8.  The following question was posed in response to this post: "How do you propose that a nonprofit fund such a preventive project? Many, if not most, have just enough resources to provide day-to-day services."

A few thoughts to get us started: Let’s begin with the good news. Today there are more and more donors and funders, deeply dissatisfied with our collective failure to solve a range of problems, who are looking for new approaches that get to the root causes of those problems. They want help "getting upstream".

The not-so-good news: Many nonprofits are simply not organized or positioned to work upstream. They have neither the leadership vision nor the revenue base to support such efforts. In some cases they are saddled with legacy programs that make it very difficult to consider anything different from what they've always done. Added to this, the words "social change" are used so loosely today and applied to so many things, that it becomes very easy to mistake well-intentioned activity for purposeful social change, as in "changing and transforming underlying systems" that give rise to so many problems facing our communities.

Not that every nonprofit needs to be working upstream. In fact, there are so many people being deeply hurt by the way our social and economic systems are organized, that some of the nonprofit sector needs to be working "downstream". Countless children who are hungry right now, recently returned vets who are unemployed and homeless right now, young people languishing in failing schools right now – all of these and so many others need help right now.

But the problem is that not enough of the nonprofit sector is working at the deeper systems level, addressing the root causes. So, for nonprofits that want to move upstream, how does that journey begin?

I think it starts with asking ourselves a few questions: What problem are we trying to address with the programs and services we currently offer? What is our vision of intended future impact on the problem -– What are the changes we seek to create and at what level? Do we understand the root causes of the problem? Do we see our role as primarily addressing the symptoms or do we want to address the deeper causes? Are we interested in going deeper – in identifying the root causes? Do we have board understanding and support for such an approach? Do we have a donor base that is supportive of such efforts? (Or are we dependent on donors who don’t want us to rock the boat?) If the answer is “yes” to any of these initial questions, what are we prepared to do to come to a deeper understanding of those causal factors and, based on this understanding, to then identify/ uncover/ design promising programs, services and initiatives that will address those root causes? In many cases such initiatives will involve our organization in nonpartisan advocacy and public policy work allowable by law – in addition to direct services.

Some more good news: there are many resources for analyzing problems in terms of root causes. The world of systems thinking offers us many tools and techniques. Also, in the last several years, there has been a proliferation of resources for developing theories of change for our work. A theory of change has been defined as a graphical depiction of the strategies that an organization plans to undertake to achieve its intended impact in alignment with its mission. All of these tools provide opportunities to analyze the problems we face at a deeper level. Often, we discover the underlying systems that give rise to the problems and symptoms we encounter in our everyday lives on a daily basis.

Armed with an understanding of root causes and promising approaches to address them, we can begin to consider other roles our nonprofit can play: We can launch new initiatives that increase our mission impact further upstream. Or we can enter into new partnerships and alliances with organizations that are already tackling the problem at its root. In some cases, we can redesign programs and services we currently offer in order to have greater impact at a deeper systems level. Or we may decide to divest of some programs and services so that we can free up resources and focus our future efforts to advance our mission. We might even end up changing our mission!

We are now in a stronger position to develop ways to communicate our intent and resolve to others: we can search for the donors and funders that that are looking for the new approaches to seemingly intractable problems. We also can also look for partner organizations that have an interest in tackling the problem at the deeper systems level. They’re out there. We have to find them and develop relationships with them.

There is so much more to say. What are others doing to move upstream? What problems and successes have you experienced? What have you learned?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

When Good Is Not Good Enough


When Good Is Not Good Enough, a recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review makes the point that the nonprofit sector needs to shift attention from modest goals that provide short-term relief to bold goals that tackle root causes.

"A Contemporary Fable" has been around for a long time and reflects the same challenge to our work as a sector: Are we getting to roots causes or are we inadvertently making it easier for unjust and mal-functioning systems to remain unchallenged and unchanged? As a sector, are we about social change or social control?

A Contemporary Fable: Upstream/Downstream (author unknown)

It's been many years since the first body was spotted in the river. Some old-timers remember how spartan were the facilities and procedures for managing that sort of thing. Sometimes, they say, it would take hours to pull ten people from the river, and even then only a few would survive. Though the number of victims in the river has increased greatly in recent years, the good folks of Downstream have responded admirably to the challenge. Their rescue system is clearly second to none: most people discovered in the swirling waters are reached within 20 minutes, many in less than ten. Only a small number drown each day before help arrives; a big improvement from the way it used to be.

Talk to the people of Downstream and they'll speak with pride about the new hospital by the edge of the waters, the flotilla of rescue boats ready for service at a moment's notice, the comprehensive health plans for coordinating all the manpower involved, and the large number of highly trained and dedicated swimmers always ready to risk their lives to save victims from the raging currents.

Furthermore, state of the art information systems capture data demonstrating that measurable outcomes are being achieved - even exceeded- in line with detailed program logic models and theories of change that clearly explain the service delivery approach. Extensive cross sector collaborations serve to increase the collective impact. Finally, solid financial plans assure long term sustainability of the rescue efforts.

Sure it costs a lot, but, say the Downstreamers, what else can decent people do except to provide whatever it takes when human lives are at stake.

Oh, a few people in Downstream have raised the question now and again, but most folks show little interest about what's happening Upstream. It seems there's so much to do to help those in the river, that nobody's got time to check how all those bodies are getting there in the first place. That's the way things are, sometimes.