Reflections on Non-Profit Leadership: #Icebucketchallenge

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Like many people, I am amazed at the viral social media success of the ALS #Icebucket challenge fundraising effort. According to the website, donations have reached $62.5mm as of 8/23/14.  It seems impossible to visit Facebook without seeing a video of somebody taking the challenge.  I can’t think of a better example of the NEW SCHOOL doing good things for a worthy charity.

As a former board member of the Down Syndrome Association of Memphis/Mid-South (DSAM), it brought back many memories of 6+ great years of non-profit service.

Every year in October, the DSAM held their annual “Step up for Down Syndrome” fundraising walk.  To say that it was a labor of love put it mildly.  Some rough numbers:

  • Well over 3,500 people attended
  • Nearly as many King Cotton Hot Dogs were consumed!
    • Monogram Foods (parent company of King Cotton) was always a fantastic supporter, and I was proud to call Monogram home for 8+ years
  • The number of volunteers that touched this event went well north of 50.  From high school kids looking to earn volunteer credit, to moms, grandparents and staff members that worked long hours with selfless dedication to the cause.  Ever try throwing a party for 3,500 plus people?   Not easy.  Which brings me to my next point.

Many of my fellow MALE board members would often joke about the weekend preparations leading up to the event.  Lots of physical activity took place, and plenty of sore muscles lasted for a few days.

The joke among my guy counterparts?  The role of the female staff leadership vs. the male board members organizing the event:

“To pull this off, what we need are strong backs and weak minds!”  

The guys on the board all joked about this.  Call this the Old School summary of our role helping out for the event.

These are guys that all had some type of managerial full time job, many with large and growing companies.  Suspending ego, playing a support vs leadership role is not exactly in our DNA.  But it was needed for success.

We’ve all heard the expression about too many chefs in the kitchen.  Organizations, whether striving to make a profit or striving to fulfill a service mission without one, need a mix of strong minds writing the playbook, and strong and dedicated people delivering it.  Neither is more important and without each other working together the mission won’t be achieved.

After fulfilling my #Icebucketchallenge, I looked back fondly on not just my years of service to a great non-profit, but the staff leadership I was lucky to get to know.  They were all talented, dedicated and driven.  I was happy, (at least on the weekend of the event), to value my back over my mind.

I hope with all the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, there can be a few leaders (or aspiring leaders) that are inspired to give back something more important than their money to any cause that hits home:  Their time.  Their talent.  Their energy.

When people make that choice to serve, they will almost definitely be blessed like I was.  They will meet those talents that personify the word HUSTLE.  

Their talent enriches the lives of the people they serve.

I couldn’t imagine better people to surround myself with, and hope others do as well.  


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The Best $25 Investment In Business?

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A CAKE.  To Celebrate Birthdays.  Or ANYTHING for that matter.

There is something universally acknowledged about CAKE.  It’s what you eat when you are celebrating something special, usually a birthday.  Some things come to mind when I think about a birthday cake….

  • The first impression of seeing the cake:  Is it chocolate?  Strawberry?  Ice cream?  Anticipation…
  • The flame of the candle and the drip of the wax.  Always a skill seeing how many you can light and the Hustle/bustle of rounding people into the room in time
  • The Singing.  I can’t sing to save my life, but I enjoy watching everyone sing Happy Birthday.  Someone is bound to ham it up
  • The blow out of the candles, and the occasional struggle to leave a couple burning.  And the ridicule that follows
  • The slicing ritual, a little different each time.  I enjoy critiquing the slicer, although some call it “ball breaking!’
  • The funny stories that usually flow while eating the cake.

One of the first of many happy memories I have at LM Foods was our first birthday celebration.

I struggle to remember the specific stories, the flavor of the cake, the time of day.  But I DO remember how my stomach felt.  Sore.  Not from the cake, from the laughter.  Better than 100 crunches.  And the knot in my shoulders loosened up for the rest of the day.  I suspect it did for my fellow team members too.  

Some businesses have more to celebrate than others.  But every business has people, and every person has a birthday.  Spend the $25.  Let them eat cake.  Enjoy the laughter.  

  • Celebrate Business with Cake!

    An LM Foods Birthday Celebration!

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Assessing Organizational Culture: Start With Relationship Churn

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Culture is viewed by some as “soft,” hard to measure, difficult to quantify, but most will begrudgingly acknowledge its importance.

Organization Culture - 7s model

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Culture is not something to be acknowledged, it is EVERYTHING about a business.  

It may not be easy to pinpoint and understand, but it’s there.  Culture will determine what is acceptable/not acceptable behavior better than an employee handbook.

Culture as they say, “Eats strategy for breakfast.”

There are many aspects of a business where you want to assess an organization’s culture.  It is most critical to focus on culture when you are UNFAMILIAR with the organization.  A few scenarios come to mind:

  1. A business acquisition
    • You are looking to assess the culture relative to your objectives, and ultimately shape it over time to become a competitive advantage.
  2. A change of employment
    • You are looking to see if you can adapt and thrive in the culture, you’re not looking to CHANGE the culture
  3. You want to establish a new business relationship (sales or any other form of networking)
    • You want to understand the culture to POSSIBLY adapt; you always need to be aware, but may not need to alter your natural style to conform to their culture.

So the million dollar question is “HOW” to assess the culture?  

Here is a starting point to understand Culture:

The Relationship Churn Rate

A measurement of critical organizational relationship change.  The higher the churn, the more “change” in the number or impact of relationships.

  • What is the “tenure” of people that come into contact with the business?  Do they stay long (greater than 5 years?) or are the relationships more transactional with lots of churn every year?  
  • You need to get a feel for the Churn among the organizational stakeholders as there could be different dynamics within each.  Organizations have both internal and external stakeholders.  
    • External Stakeholders
    • Customers
    • Suppliers
    • Financial institutions:  Creditors & Investors
    • Internal Stakeholders
    • Employees:  Both hourly and salaried employees

If you think about 2 comparable businesses, each with very different churn rates, couldn’t you start to draw some conculusions on culture?

Said differently, if one business has a crew of key employees with an average tenure of 12 years with the business, and a different company is closer to 3, isn’t that worth understanding why the differences exist?

  • Is turnover an issue?  Why?  Is it driven by compensation/benefit rates, environment, or management practices?
  • What about customers?  Are the top 20% of customers a revolving door, or have they been stable over time?  Why?  Are service levels, pricing, new product offerings, sales approach, etc. driving the churn rate to be high or low?  Is there one dominant factor or a combination of all elements driving a churn rate?

Like all analyses, the magic is not knowing a churn metric, it’s understanding the WHY’s behind what drives it to begin with.

Keep in mind:  Low turnover, stable customers, suppliers and stakeholders is on the surface a positive sign, indicator of stable culture.  What you need to do is put that stability up against the business results and asses cause and effect of the low churn rates to the end results of the business.

If your goal is to dynamically CHANGE the end business results, the existing culture needs to be considered as to how best to make that change happen.  Keep in mind; cultures are built over time, not overnight.  Changing a culture is therefore a process, not an event.

Culture matters.  Get to the Churn rates at the stakeholder level.  Then get to the Why’s behind the Churn Rates to paint a picture for the culture.

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Integrity Matters: What We Can Learn From The A-Rod Saga

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I’ve been disgusted with the A-Rod saga for a long time.  Yes I’m a Yankee fan, and yes I love winning.  There is no doubt that a talent like A-Rod, (albeit his numbers have plummeted in recent years) is a talent that can tilt the odds in the Yankees favor.

A-Rod Ban

First, let’s try to suspend the steroid issue for a moment, granted that is difficult.  Here’s a superstar with plenty of baggage outside of this core issue.  Yankee leadership had to be struggling with the basics that all leaders confront when it comes to questionable employees:

When is enough, enough?  At what point does the baggage become too much to tolerate?  When does this impact the rest of the organization to the detriment?  The rest of the league?  The fans?  The sponsors?

The answer relative to the Yankees/A-Rod is probably “too much” and has been for years.  And what has Yankees ownership done?  They have sat back while Major League Baseball plays out their investigation.  Guaranteed contracts certainly don’t help.

There is one part of the human anatomy that is dangerous for Leaders to lean on in the decision making process:  Their heels.  

People can find a way to rationalize the “baggage.”  Baggage: Attitudes, surliness, off-field high profile romances, struggles in clutch time that can’t be over-come.  Stupid remarks that erode team-work vs. help it.  Office politics, gossip.  That’s baggage and it erodes performance.

Every organization has it’s “baggage factor.”  There are degrees of baggage everywhere.  You have a bit, average, or excessive.

An organizations “Baggage factor” can be managed. But one factor is simply Non-negotiable in Business:  Integrity.

Why is integrity different than baggage?  

  • There tends to not be “degrees” of integrity.  It is more absolute than baggage.  You have it, or you don’t.

  • If you do NOT have integrity, anything and everything is fair game.  Rules go out the window.  Self-interest trumps organizational/Stakeholder interest.

  • When integrity is questionable, the lines of decision making are blurry at best, vs crisp black and white.  That is dangerous.

The Yankees have been struggling with a clear Integrity issue on their team for years.  They knew this years ago.  They could have acted before hard evidence came out, but chose not to.  It’s easy to be on the outside, and armchair quarterback what they SHOULD do.  That’s not fair, but Fan is short for fanatic correct?  

I gave a prescription for the Yankees options in Feb ’13, which they didn’t take.  They would have been much better off, and their “brand value” would have increased substantially.  And the overall industry (Major League Baseball) would have been further along than the mess they find themselves in now.  

There are times when a market leader needs to suspend “self-interest” for the good of the entire industry.  Like a rising tide that lifts all boats, a falling tide has the same impact.  

Choosing to Lead is often difficult.  Sitting on your heels seems less painful.  But in the long run, the heels rarely are the right part to rest on.

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The Danger of Over-Valuing Star Players: Even One’s With Great Nicknames

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Maria Bartiromo, dubbed the “Money Honey” announced her departure from CNBC to head over to rival Fox Business News.  By all accounts, Bartiromo’s 20 years with CNBC were great for both the network AND her career and she’s generally regarded as a superstar, attracting many A-listers and strong ratings.

Maria Bartiromo

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The departure appears amicable (only those on the inside really know however).  From the NY Times on 11/18:

“After 20 years of groundbreaking work at CNBC, Maria Bartiromo will be leaving the company as her contract expires on November 24th,” the network said in a statement. “Her contributions to CNBC are too numerous to list but we thank her for all of her hard work over the years and wish her the best.” 

“The signing is a coup of sorts for Fox Business, which has struggled to establish a profile. Last week, Fox Business averaged fewer than 10,000 viewers in the group that attracts advertisers, those between the ages of 25 and 54. CNBC had more than three times as many with 31,000.”

The questions that are always asked when a superstar leaves are predictable:

  • How much will this hurt?

  • Can we afford to let them go, especially to a rival?

  • What are the players that remain saying?  Will they rally and be able to fill their shoes?

  • Is this a warning sign for top executives to pay attention too, a wake-up call?

  • From the rivals that scored the great talent:  Great steal, now we are on our way!

All of these are predictable when a Star leaves your team.  And in my experience, all over-dramatized.

YES, a star like Bartiromo deserves all the accolades and good fortune she has earned.  However, a business is made up of more than just stars.  And some businesses that dominate, stars happen to be the norm.

CNBC happens to be #1.  If the figures for daily viewers are accurate and CNBC is pulling in 31k to Fox Business News 10k, AND if these are these are 2 leading business networks (Bloomberg networks may be in the mix too), that’s a pretty hefty Market Share.  Probably 50+% share of this audience (would be 75% with just these 2).  Market Share Matters, POWER is the most important missing “P” of the marketing mix.

CNBC- First in Business World Wide

Here’s the deal.  You don’t get to be #1, by a massive margin with 1 star player.  You get to this spot in business with a TEAM of stars, and a TEAM of support players.

I happen to be a CNBC Junkie.  I am at my desk at 5:30 CST after working out (Start Early!) and consider Squawk Box mandatory viewing for anyone in business.  The talent on this show and others is off the chart.  Any one of them could step into the role and they wouldn’t miss a beat.  But they would not need too, their “Bench” is deep and they appear frequently on many shows.  This assignment wouldn’t faze them; in fact it would energize them.

Loosing key stars is a fact of business life.  It should always be taken seriously. And it’s also a sign that you are developing grade A talent.  Just make sure you have a hungry and talented bench ready to step up.

Bartiromo’s final bid farewell was all class, and she went down a thank you list a mile long.  

All stars by definition, recognize that it takes more than just enormous talent, it takes a TEAM, or in her case, a CAST to make the best production possible.

Bartiromo will go on to achieve great things.  As for CNBC, it will take more than just a star or 2 to knock them off their leadership perch.

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