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Set a vision, then make your individual goals “SMART-EST”

by: Giselle Timmerman and Taylor Chamberlin

business08It’s hard to believe, but we are already more than halfway through 2015. Are you coasting along with your New Year’s resolutions? Or, like over a third of all Americans, did you give up before the making it through January[1] (no judgment, we promise)? Regardless, we believe the principles of effective organizational goals apply to you as an individual, so we’d like to share some surefire strategies for setting and following through on your goals.

The research is clear: those who set effective goals are happier and more successful in their personal and professional lives. There are three key components to setting and achieving individual goals: developing a vision, establishing a plan, and committing to the journey. We’ll explore each of these components over the course of this summer but today, let’s tackle part one: developing a vision.

Visioning

Select a goal you want to accomplish. To make sure it is right for you right now, test it using the following three filters:

  1. Are you excited and motived to accomplish it? If your motivation is below a 7 on a 10-point scale, consider revising or selecting a different goal.
  2. Does this goal help you to be who you really want to be?
  3. Do you have the skills and resources to start making progress tomorrow? If your answer is not a solid “Yes!” then this is where the help of a coach can be extremely useful.

You may have heard of “SMART” goals, but to be exceptional, we recommend you make your goal the SMARTEST it can be:

Specific – Clear and detailed (e.g., call my sister weekly vs. have a better relationship with my sister).
Measurable –Criteria and tools to monitor progress (e.g., run a 5k by May vs. get more exercise).
Attainable – Achievable, but still challenging. Otherwise, this goal is nothing more than a wish or dream.
Realistic – Logical, given your time, money, resources, and skills.
Time-bound – Limited by a deadline, otherwise you may sow the seeds of procrastination.
Emotional – Triggers intrinsic motivation. Does the goal give you goose bumps when you think of achieving it?
Significant – Should contain words of special meaning. What is your “why”? Why would you regret not accomplishing your goal?
Toward – Invokes a growth mindset by focusing on how you can learn. A growth mindset means effort matters, making challenges or setbacks easier to deal with.

After running your goal through the three filters and making it “SMARTEST,” you should have something that is ready to polish. Goals that are vivid are more compelling and thus more likely to be achieved, so take ten minutes to detail what you are striving for. What does accomplishing this goal look like? Feel like? How would your life be different if you were doing this thing all of the time?

For example, if you’re excited, motivated, and ready to train for a triathlon, close your eyes and imagine crossing the finish line at the end of the race. Envision the crowds, imagine your tired muscles, and picture displaying your medal prominently at your house. Then write down your vivid and compelling vision, along with your succinct goal statement.

Once you have polished your goal into a meaningful statement (worthy of showcasing as a new your desktop background), you’ve completed part one! Let us know how you decided what your goals for 2015 are in the comments below.

[1] Franklin Covey Survey, 2008, n=15,031

Doing Good With Data

by: Sithu Thein Swe, June 1, 2015

As we enter into the thick of conference season, I want to share my recent experience at a pretty unique and relatively new conference: Do Good Data 2015.

In just its second year, the conference brought 600+ data geeks from across the country (and even other countries) to Chicago — quadrupling the size of its first conference. There were opportunities to connect with like-minded do-gooders, the keynote speakers were inspiring, and workshops helped build practical knowledge and skills. Topics covered included program development, data visualization, evaluation, marketing and fundraising, and even machine learning.

Having spent some time post-conference “digesting” and sharing learnings with the Blue Garnet team, here are the highlights from the conference that resonated most with me:

  1. Ned Breslin speaking honestly about Water for People’s progress and hiccups in their pursuit of impact
  2. Michael Weinstein sharing the Robin Hood Foundation’s rigorous monetization approach to grantmaking
  3. Dean Karlan discussing the role of randomized control trials in today’s social sector landscape

1. Fearless honesty as a nonprofit

It is easy for an organization to feature anecdotes of success and suggest they are representative of all the work they do (regardless of how accurate this may be). But how often do organizations call attention to failures and shortcomings as part of a commitment to transparency and improvement?

The latter approach takes courage and leadership, and is exemplified by Ned Breslin, CEO of Water for People. He spoke about the “fearless honesty” necessary to understanding progress (and hiccups) towards impact. Rigorous monitoring helps them to constantly learn what’s working, what isn’t, and how to improve. For them, this commitment to fearless honesty entailed developing open-source technology, setting expectations with staff that data and monitoring are everyone’s responsibility, engaging partners, and taking blame for failures. Ned has taken fearless honesty to the extreme by literally stripping down on YouTube to call attention to projects that weren’t working and their commitment to do better.

2. Fearless honesty as a funder

Michael Weinstein shared the Robin Hood Foundation’s approach to philanthropy, which has many parallels to the transparent, data-minded, and bold (yet humble) approach of Water for People. I was impressed to hear about the Foundation’s efforts not to overstate impact by considering counterfactuals and displacement effects to better determine “true impact.” At the end of the day, accountability for funders is usually self-imposed, and the Robin Hood Foundation seems to set the bar high for itself and practice what it preaches.

Naturally, this rigor applies to the Foundation’s funding strategy. They practice “rigorous monetization” to better understand costs and benefits of programs across sectors, and how these programs help the Foundation achieve its intended impact. Their cost/benefit assumptions and calculations are made public; for example, they’ve calculated that the poverty-alleviating benefit of a high school diploma is $120,000 in earnings and $90,000 in health benefits. Michael has admitted they are imperfect—but by making this information open to all, he hopes others can help them become “less wrong.”

Michael and the Robin Hood Foundation’s approach may not be for everyone, but the advice he shared should resonate with funders of all types: “Never, ever make grants on the basis of arithmetic alone.”

3. Measuring what matters with CART

Dean Karlan, a development economist who has helped push the thinking in this field (and greatly influenced my own worldview), was another keynote speaker that left quite an impression. His work exemplifies just how powerful, insightful, and critical randomized control trials can be, as illustrated by a recent study on learning how to help the world’s ultra-poor.

Even though he’s a leading expert in randomized control trials, he recognizes that they aren’t always appropriate. His talk focused on how organizations can build strong data practices and measure what matters most, regardless of organizational size. His suggested “CART” principles are a helpful way of thinking about right-sizing data collection. He suggests we ask: Is the data Credible? Actionable? Responsible? Transportable?

Rather than flesh out each of these CART components here, I’ll refer you to his SSIR blog post for more detail.

We need leaders at every level to support data-organizations

Finally, a theme that emerged across the conference was the critical role of leaders. An organization that embeds data into its DNA doesn’t have all the answers—rather, this practice guarantees that data will surface failures and shortcomings. But that’s what helps organizations understand what does work and what doesn’t.

Staff, executives, and Board leadership need to be comfortable with seeing “bad” information that can help guide improvements. As Ned Breslin noted, this emphasis will in turn attract a different type of individual (and donor) to the organization.

In wrapping up, I want to pose a question:

  • Nonprofit leaders—what can you do to promote a data-hungry, learning culture within your organization?
  • Leading funders—amidst an environment that incentivizes organizations to only show successes, what can funders do to support bold leaders trying to take this data-driven approach?

My strategic plan is done… now what?

by: Sithu Thein Swe, 4/29/15

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the California Charter School Association (CCSA) Annual Conference in Sacramento, and presented to a group of charter school leaders alongside our friends at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. We had the privilege of supporting Camino’s strategic business planning a few years back, and it was rewarding to present with Dr. Ana Ponce and Atyani Howard as they shared how they’ve made their strategies real and ensured their plan is a living document.

I won’t pretend that this short post can do justice to the great insights, perspectives, and advice Ana and Atyani shared. Still, I wanted to quickly share a few highlights that stood out to me, on the hard work of implementing a strategic plan:

A strategic plan isn’t a silver bullet, it’s an anchor.
It’s important to note that a strategic plan doesn’t magically solve (or prevent) all challenges and issues. Rather, it serves as an anchor by helping institutionalize and codify the Camino model amidst tremendous growth. It eliminates wasted energy, keeps the organization focused on where it’s headed, and drives (and even simplifies) decision-making to focus on achieving the organization’s impact.

Continue to engage those stakeholders
Board members, teachers, community members, parents, and supporters helped inform Camino’s strategic direction, as the planning process focused on engaging the right people in the right ways. In implementing the plan, Camino continues to engage these key groups, for example through their “State of Camino” annual address to principals and staff, where they share updates on the organization’s direction, how things are going, and refinements that have been made.

Expect that things won’t go perfectly as planned, and adapt
We’ve discussed Emergent Strategy in a past post, and it simply means strategies change and evolve. You will inevitably have some unrealized strategies (let those go), but you will also have realized strategies (keep these going) and emergent strategies (seize these opportunities). What’s important is recognizing this reality, learning from what’s working and isn’t, and adapting, while still focused on long-term impact.

It takes investment, but it’s worth it
Even from the few highlights listed above, it’s clear that implementation requires a lot of hard work. It can’t all fall on one person, and the leadership team that drives this work needs the time and capacity to carry through with it. Proactively preparing during the planning process can help, and taking the time to develop key tools can go a long way towards supporting implementation (e.g. an implementation roadmap that is regularly updated; an Impact Formula framework (aka Theory of Change); a performance dashboard at the Board-level and management-level).

Camino’s hard work is paying off—they’re serving more students, growing to additional campuses, engaging the community in exciting ways (such as through La Caminata), and getting recognized for it; they received Charter School of the Year from the California Charter Schools Association (see press release here). To learn more about how you can execute your strategic plan using an implementation roadmap, check out this briefing and to learn more about making your strategic plan a living document, you can explore our resources page.

Effectively visualize your impact using these 6 principles

Through their masters course at Pepperdine, Way-Ting and Jenni are teaching social entrepreneurs to think about, measure, and evaluate their organizations' impact. I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a class session, which focused on data visualization.

By following these six principles, whether you are communicating about a foundation, nonprofit, or, in the case of this course, a budding social enterprise, you’ll be primed to effectively marry "the head and the heart" to communicate your value and tell your impact story.

Read more

The “Un-sexy” Work of Making Strategy Real

by Way-Ting Chen (December 19, 2014)

At heart, I am a strategist. I have a bit of a confession to make: over the course of years, I have witnessed it over and over again—in my years as a research analyst, a corporate management consultant, and now a social entrepreneur. But despite having the soul of a strategist, I have found what I am about to share with you to be undeniably true.

Strategy matters. It matters a lot. Strategy that bridges aspiration with a grounding in what it takes to make that strategy happen is the most effective of all. But here’s the secret that “strategy consultants” don’t always tell you: strategy means nothing if you can’t make it real. How you do something will define success for what it is you set out to do. In the end, implementation trumps strategy every time.

But do not fear, my strategy-minded friends. Implementation planning (i.e. pacing and calibration of how to achieve your strategy) builds the bridge between what you’ll do and how you’ll do it, but its power goes beyond articulating how you are going to make your strategy real. If done as part of a thorough strategic planning process, it can help inform the strategy too. It’s not linear; rather, it is an iterative conversation. And it makes what you’re trying to do more likely to come true.

Think of it this way: it starts with the planning. Implementation happens in one form or another whether or not we plan intentionally for it, and I’ve seen my fill of “strategic plans” that define the what (e.g., strategy) without any reference to the how (sustaining the business model, organizational implications, implementation roadmap, etc.).

One of the leading strategy firms in the world, McKinsey, wrote about implementation of corporate strategy, but I believe it applies to the field of social impact as well: “good implementers retain more value at every stage of the process than poor implementers do, and the[ir] impact is significant.”

To be clear, I’m not advocating for implementation without strategy. Nor am I advocating for implementation planning without strategic planning. That would be like trying to map directions without knowing where it is you’re trying to go.

What I believe in is defining strategy in tandem with an implementation roadmap. Let strategy frame implementation, and let implementation ground strategy. When this intentionally and methodically occurs during the planning process, you get increased organizational clarity, healthier economics to sustain your organization, and greater accountability to drive results.

Check out McKinsey’s article to learn more about their findings regarding what sustains strategy throughout implementation. We want to know: what has been your experience with implementation and planning for implementation? How much have you invested in implementation planning has it related to your organization’s strategy? Tell us in the comments section or by emailing hello@bluegarnet.net!

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