If you only read one thing this week…

Steve Jobs by Nick
October 5, 2011, 5:34 pm
Filed under: If you only have 15 mins, Management

The tragic death of Steve Jobs today made me think about some of the things he said about the work of transforming Apple from a good to a great company. I think this video from 1997 is pretty interesting, Jobs talks about focus, and how, without it, Apple had been less than the sum of its parts. “Focusing is about saying no,” says Jobs. Watch the video here.


ALNAP’s new study on humanitarian leadership by Nick
June 9, 2011, 11:36 pm
Filed under: Articles, If you have 30 mins, Management

The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (yes, that’s really what they are called) has just released the most recent in a series of reports on the state of the humanitarian system. This one focuses on leadership in humanitarian operations, and features several interesting case studies of successful leadership as well as a sobering survey of humanitarian workers, most of whom, according to the study, believe that a lack of effective leadership presents the main challenge to effective humanitarian action today.

Decide for yourself here. Full PDF here.

Thanks to Ruth Allen for bringing this one to our attention.

Getting in to sticky situations by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek

The book, Made to Stick: Why some ideas thrive and others die by Dan Heath and Chip Heath isn’t directly about the world of humanitarianism but the issues it looks at are fully relevant to us as we strive for both scale and sustainability in our programs. If we could really understand what makes ideas live on (and/or what kills them) and then apply it to our programs we would really be on our way to making a difference. The book outlines six principles for successfully getting an idea to take hold – summarized in the link below.

To read more about the book and decide whether you want a copy yourself read either this review from Time magazine or this summary.

Planning and Process: Business Plans for Nonprofits by Rob Neal
February 24, 2009, 7:10 pm
Filed under: Articles, Management

If you have never done a business plan, or need to update yours, Business Planning for Nonprofits can offer some guidelines.

According to the authors most business plans have four components:

  • Strategic clarity
  • Strategic priority
  • Resource implications
  • Performance Measures

The authors walks the reader through each part using examples from the  Bridgespan Group’s client base to illustrate their points.

The end product is important, but so is the process that provides the nonprofit with an opportunity to reexamine the relationship between “missions and programs, to specify the resources required to deliver those programs, and to establish performance measures.”

Balancing Mission and Budget by Rob Neal
February 24, 2009, 7:07 pm
Filed under: Articles, Management

How can nonprofits effectively balance their mission with their budget in a changing environment?  One option is to revise (and probably limit) the organization’s focus.  Another is to follow the guidelines set out in Zeroing in on Impact.

Here the authors want us to look beyond the mission, to “clarify what success looks like.” Their approach is more grounded than this phrase sounds. They suggest using a process that looks at the identity, purpose and capabilities of the organization.

In the end, the organization’s leaders should have a strategy that “reflect the aspirations of the organization’s mission as well as the constraints of its bottom line.”

Why are borders still so important to us? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
July 2, 2008, 11:18 pm
Filed under: If you only have 15 mins, Management

A Business Week article from a few years ago recently resurfaced in a discussion humanitarian planning, and it made me think about why we still have the concepts of ‘headquarters’ and ‘field’ offices long after leading transnational companies have abandonned these in favor of truly distributed leadership with executive level folks spread out around the world to leverage proximity to clients, lower costs, talent availability and time zone responsiveness.

Take a look at the article here, and let me know what you think – why don’t NGOs have more of their senior leadership in the countries where they work?

Strategic Planning – does it really make us more strategic? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
April 16, 2008, 4:26 pm
Filed under: Development theory, If you only have 15 mins, Management

As someone who is fully immersed in my agency’s annual strategic and budgeting process right now, I am fascinated in reading thought provoking articles on the issue. This thought piece by Becky Andrews entitled Why Strategic Planning isn’t Strategic struck me as a good, concise account of where we go wrong in our planning processes. I have listed out her key arguments below but it is worth reading the full article (it’s only 2 pages). My frustration lies in the fact that she states the problems clearly but doesn’t give much of a hint as to what the alternatives are (unlike the piece on budgeting that we posted last week). If anyone has any suggestions on things that have worked for them, please post them here.

What goes wrong when we try to plan strategically:

  1. We mistake goals for strategy
  2. We generate more goals than we can reasonably pursure (this sounds familiar!)
  3. We expect strategies to fit within a rigid timeframe
  4. We confuse strategic planning with consensus building
  5. We try to forecast the future from a snapshot in time
  6. We pretend to be objective (she has a funny analysis of how we kid ourselves in SWOT analyses)
  7. Staff get frustrated through bad data and/or inaction
  8. There is a tendency to overrely on bad data
  9. Time delays put the organization on hold
  10. The whole process wears us down