Building Nonprofit Networks--Part One

I've been reading NetGains: A Handbook for Network Builders Seeking Social Change by Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor and I think it has some interesting things to say about building networks. One of the most important is the notion that there are three kinds of networks "that form a progression that a network's evolution is likely to follow." While networks may not move through all stages of the progression, we do know that to reach the third stage successfully, you must first progress through the previous two.

Connectivity Networks
This type of network connects people to allow the easy flow of and access to information and transactions. The focus is on developing ties between people so that they can develop trust and gain understanding of one another prior to moving to another level of connection. This is the "base" network that must be formed in order to move to the other levels of networking.  Without connectivity, you cannot develop alignment or move to action. These kinds of networks are particularly important when you are concerned about the isolation of particular individuals or groups from other people.

The task of a network builder in a connectivity network is to "weave," that is, to help people meet each other and to increase their ease of sharing and searching for information. Flickr's start-up story offers a prime example of a connectivity network:

But even beyond the product and (user interface) Flickr emphasized making new users feel welcome. Caterina mentioned how there would be a member of the Flickr team moderating the Flickr forum 24/7 just to make people feel part of the community. While this might sound a bit exaggerated, you get the idea. Flickr put a tremendous amount of effort into community development and support.

Alignment Networks
In this type of network, the focus is on aligning people around collective values to develop and spread a common identity. This identity usually reflects some of the individual interests of members, but in this network, they've come together because they share some common values or identity. Their goal is then to develop and spread that identity, both among the members and outside of the community. College alumni and professional associations are examples of alignment networks.

Network builders in alignment networks are facilitators. They help people explore their shared identify and meaning so that they can define and communicate their common core values. They are listening to the individual members and helping the group arrive at a collective vision of their identity and shared purpose.

Production Networks
A production network "fosters joint action for specialized outcomes by aligned people." In other words, it is designed to move people who are united on a common cause from affinity to action

Network builders in production networks act as coordinators. Their primary work is to help people plan and implement their collaborative actions. Network members actually do the work of the network. The coordinator provides the glue to hold their actions together. They pay attention to the activities that are required to keep the group focused on collective identity and collective action.

The Critical Lesson
It's been my experience that because many nonprofits form collaborations in response to funding opportunities or requirements, they move immediately into developing a production network. However, network research indicates that such networks are doomed to failure because a production network is based upon having developed first a connectivity network and then an alignment network. In other words, to create a production network, you need connectivity and alignment first.

The other key thing here is that the activities that it takes to form each of these three types of networks are different. You cannot build a connectivity network by immediately moving to the strategies that are necessary to build a production network. They are not the same.

In another post, I'm going to share what Plastrik and Taylor have to say about the strategies for building each type of network. But for now, to me the important piece of this is to understand that networks evolve and that attention must be paid to developing first connections, then alignment before a network can become focused on action.

Michele 


Building Nonprofit Networks--Part One

I've been reading NetGains: A Handbook for Network Builders Seeking Social Change by Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor and I think it has some interesting things to say about building networks. One of the most important is the notion that there are three kinds of networks "that form a progression that a network's evolution is likely to follow." While networks may not move through all stages of the progression, we do know that to reach the third stage successfully, you must first progress through the previous two.

Connectivity Networks
This type of network connects people to allow the easy flow of and access to information and transactions. The focus is on developing ties between people so that they can develop trust and gain understanding of one another prior to moving to another level of connection. This is the "base" network that must be formed in order to move to the other levels of networking.  Without connectivity, you cannot develop alignment or move to action. These kinds of networks are particularly important when you are concerned about the isolation of particular individuals or groups from other people.

The task of a network builder in a connectivity network is to "weave," that is, to help people meet each other and to increase their ease of sharing and searching for information. Flickr's start-up story offers a prime example of a connectivity network:

But even beyond the product and (user interface) Flickr emphasized making new users feel welcome. Caterina mentioned how there would be a member of the Flickr team moderating the Flickr forum 24/7 just to make people feel part of the community. While this might sound a bit exaggerated, you get the idea. Flickr put a tremendous amount of effort into community development and support.

Alignment Networks
In this type of network, the focus is on aligning people around collective values to develop and spread a common identity. This identity usually reflects some of the individual interests of members, but in this network, they've come together because they share some common values or identity. Their goal is then to develop and spread that identity, both among the members and outside of the community. College alumni and professional associations are examples of alignment networks.

Network builders in alignment networks are facilitators. They help people explore their shared identify and meaning so that they can define and communicate their common core values. They are listening to the individual members and helping the group arrive at a collective vision of their identity and shared purpose.

Production Networks
A production network "fosters joint action for specialized outcomes by aligned people." In other words, it is designed to move people who are united on a common cause from affinity to action

Network builders in production networks act as coordinators. Their primary work is to help people plan and implement their collaborative actions. Network members actually do the work of the network. The coordinator provides the glue to hold their actions together. They pay attention to the activities that are required to keep the group focused on collective identity and collective action.

The Critical Lesson
It's been my experience that because many nonprofits form collaborations in response to funding opportunities or requirements, they move immediately into developing a production network. However, network research indicates that such networks are doomed to failure because a production network is based upon having developed first a connectivity network and then an alignment network. In other words, to create a production network, you need connectivity and alignment first.

The other key thing here is that the activities that it takes to form each of these three types of networks are different. You cannot build a connectivity network by immediately moving to the strategies that are necessary to build a production network. They are not the same.

In another post, I'm going to share what Plastrik and Taylor have to say about the strategies for building each type of network. But for now, to me the important piece of this is to understand that networks evolve and that attention must be paid to developing first connections, then alignment before a network can become focused on action.

Michele 


Building Nonprofit Networks--Part One

I've been reading NetGains: A Handbook for Network Builders Seeking Social Change by Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor and I think it has some interesting things to say about building networks. One of the most important is the notion that there are three kinds of networks "that form a progression that a network's evolution is likely to follow." While networks may not move through all stages of the progression, we do know that to reach the third stage successfully, you must first progress through the previous two.

Connectivity Networks
This type of network connects people to allow the easy flow of and access to information and transactions. The focus is on developing ties between people so that they can develop trust and gain understanding of one another prior to moving to another level of connection. This is the "base" network that must be formed in order to move to the other levels of networking.  Without connectivity, you cannot develop alignment or move to action. These kinds of networks are particularly important when you are concerned about the isolation of particular individuals or groups from other people.

The task of a network builder in a connectivity network is to "weave," that is, to help people meet each other and to increase their ease of sharing and searching for information. Flickr's start-up story offers a prime example of a connectivity network:

But even beyond the product and (user interface) Flickr emphasized making new users feel welcome. Caterina mentioned how there would be a member of the Flickr team moderating the Flickr forum 24/7 just to make people feel part of the community. While this might sound a bit exaggerated, you get the idea. Flickr put a tremendous amount of effort into community development and support.

Alignment Networks
In this type of network, the focus is on aligning people around collective values to develop and spread a common identity. This identity usually reflects some of the individual interests of members, but in this network, they've come together because they share some common values or identity. Their goal is then to develop and spread that identity, both among the members and outside of the community. College alumni and professional associations are examples of alignment networks.

Network builders in alignment networks are facilitators. They help people explore their shared identify and meaning so that they can define and communicate their common core values. They are listening to the individual members and helping the group arrive at a collective vision of their identity and shared purpose.

Production Networks
A production network "fosters joint action for specialized outcomes by aligned people." In other words, it is designed to move people who are united on a common cause from affinity to action

Network builders in production networks act as coordinators. Their primary work is to help people plan and implement their collaborative actions. Network members actually do the work of the network. The coordinator provides the glue to hold their actions together. They pay attention to the activities that are required to keep the group focused on collective identity and collective action.

The Critical Lesson
It's been my experience that because many nonprofits form collaborations in response to funding opportunities or requirements, they move immediately into developing a production network. However, network research indicates that such networks are doomed to failure because a production network is based upon having developed first a connectivity network and then an alignment network. In other words, to create a production network, you need connectivity and alignment first.

The other key thing here is that the activities that it takes to form each of these three types of networks are different. You cannot build a connectivity network by immediately moving to the strategies that are necessary to build a production network. They are not the same.

In another post, I'm going to share what Plastrik and Taylor have to say about the strategies for building each type of network. But for now, to me the important piece of this is to understand that networks evolve and that attention must be paid to developing first connections, then alignment before a network can become focused on action.

Michele 


Playing To Your Staff's Strengths--Help them Develop a Career Plan

Yesterday, we talked about some great resources for identifying employee strengths and using them for more effective management. Today I want to follow up with some thoughts about how career planning can be used to make that process even more effective.

Why Should My Organization Care About My Employee's Career Plans?
When individuals prepare a career plan, they must start with an understanding of themselves. What are their values, passions and skills? What are their strengths that they can build on and what are their weaknesses that they need to manage around?

This process of self-discovery can provide two major benefits for the organization:

  1. Staff and managers get a clear picture of the staff person that can be used to redesign work responsibilities and find new avenues for staff to explore. In many cases you get a renewed sense of commitment to the job and greater excitement about exploring learning opportunities and new responsibilities.
  2. In some cases, people find out that they are really not well suited to the work they are currently doing. In my experience, the people who discover this are the ones who are considered to have "attitude problems" or to be "burnt out." On several occasions I've ended up counseling people out of their current professions and this has turned out to be a tremendous service both to the individual and to the organization that employed him/her.

Resources for Developing Staff Career Plans
In another post, I'll discuss a holistic process for working with staff to develop and implement their career plans. For now, I'm going to share a few resources that staff can use on their own or working with management.

Explore Values
Find Their Calling is a great article from Fast Company on how to identify and honor staff values. In most cases, job satisfaction and performance is tied to the extent to which the job and organization jibes with the worker's values. This article discusses how you can use this process with staff and describes some of the benefits.

Be Bold
The Be Bold Career Planning Journal is a nice piece geared specifically toward people in the nonprofit sector. Developed by the Be Bold Team,  this workbook helps staff:

  • "Find their Truest Self"
  • Identify their "Moment of Obligation" (what are their passions or sources of inspiration?)
  • Develop the "gall to think big"
  • Find Solutions that are New and Untested.

They also have an online quiz to help users figure out if they're "bold."

The advantage of this handy guide is that its focus on commitment and finding solutions can also fit in well with an organizational planning process. I'm a big believer in the idea that organizations run better when the goals of individuals are aligned with the goals of the organization. This provides a process for doing that.

If You Aren't Feeling Bold
Bold isn't for everyone, although I think it offers significant benefits when it comes to translating individual career plans into benefits for the organization. If it's not your style, though, you might want to have staff work their way through the Career Development e-Manual developed by the University of Waterloo. This great resource has been around for a while and provides step-by-step guidance for developing a plan.

We Want Your Feedback!
Drop us a line in the comments to let us know if your organization helps staff develop their own career plans. If you do, how's it working for you?

Michele


Playing to Your Staff's Strengths

Strong Last week I did a training/planning session with one of my Job Corps clients. This group is responsible for attracting applicants to Job Corps and then helping them through the admissions process.

These two aspects of the job require very different skill sets. The outreach piece is essentially sales--staff must be able to go out to a variety of applicants and organizations and "sell" Job Corps. The admissions component of the job is more about counseling and preparing young people for the demands of a Job Corps education.

In the course of our planning, we got into a discussion about these two disparate job responsibilities. I asked how many in the group enjoyed the admissions/counseling piece. Two thirds of the group raised their hands. Then I asked who enjoyed the Outreach piece. One third raised their hands. And there was basically no overlap between the groups. They either liked outreach or they enjoyed admissions. Only one or two liked both.

"How many of you," I asked, "spend more time on the piece you enjoy and find that you do a better job at it?" They all raised their hands.

Later I was speaking to the manager of the department. He reported that he wasn't surprised at the results. The people who enjoyed counseling applicants were the ones who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing outreach. The outreach people, on the other hand, tended to not do as well with the applicants and their families.

"Why," I asked him, "do you then split the job this way. If you know you have a group of people who love and are good at doing outreach, why not have them doing that full-time, while the others are doing what they love and do well?"

It was like a lightening bolt had hit him. Like most organizations, his has defined jobs according to organizational needs, rather than the skills and talents of the workers. But as we talked, he began to realize that he would be able to better meet the needs of his organization if he worked WITH the strengths of his staff, rather than fighting their "weaknesses."

This is a common mistake at most organizations. Even those nonprofits that specialize in helping clients with career and job search plans do nothing to ensure that their own staff have a career plan that clearly identifies their strengths. Further, even if they do, little is done to actually capitalize on those strengths.

I've come to believe, though, that if we tap into staff passions and strong points we can actually boost our organizational performance in ways we never imagined. When people love what they do and feel like they're doing what they are good at, they will naturally become your top performers. In many cases this can happen by accident, but why not be more deliberate about it?

Resources for Managing to Staff Strengths
If you're going to explore how to manage to staff strengths, your education should begin with First Break All the Rules (if you don't have time for the book, then at least try this summary). Then follow it up with Now Discover Your Strengths, which includes a free code for taking the online Strengths Finder to discover your own personal strengths.

These two books by Marcus Buckingham describe in easy-to-read terms how successful, high performing managers help their staff identify key strengths and then structure the employee's job responsibilities to capitalize on these strengths and minimize weaknesses. They give explicit step-by-step instructions that can be used by any organization to get the most out of their staff, something I think is key for many nonprofits.

_______________________________________________________________

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk in some more detail on how to use a career planning process to engage staff and management in talking about strengths and engaging them in what their areas of passion. This is another way to approach the strengths process that I think is also very in line with some key themes of the 2.0 revolution.

Michele


Volunteerism in America at a Thirty-Year High

Volunteerism New report from the Corporation of National and Community Service states that volunteerism is at a 30-year high! Twenty-seven percent of Americans are volunteering. The report found that older teenagers (ages 16-19) have more than doubled their time spent volunteering since 1989; that far from being a “Me Generation,” that Baby Boomers are volunteering at sharply higher rates than did the previous generation at mid-life; and that the volunteer rate for Americans ages 65 years and over has increased 64 percent since 1974; and the proportion of Americans volunteering with an educational or youth service organization has seen a 63 percent increase just since just 1989. Go to their web-site to get a PDF copy of the full report.

Jann


Fast Company's 2007 Social Capitalist Awards

Social_capitalist_awards On the long flight home yesterday, I was finally able to spend some time reading the latest Fast Company, which features their 2007 Social Capitalist Awards:

Our fourth annual Social Capitalist Awards honor these leaders, who combine savvy business models with solutions to pressing social needs in ways that challenge our assumptions about making a profit and making a difference. . .

On these pages, you'll find evidence of a movement that's not just changing the world, but changing how we think about creating change. Increasingly, we're witnessing the blurring of commerce and charity: Companies now tend to their citizenship; nonprofits hitch income-earning solutions to markets. That phenomenon led us this year to assess the most innovative corporate partnerships among our winners--alliances that represent both business value and a choice about what kind of future to create.

There's a lot to explore in this comprehensive article, not the least of which are all the ways in which nonprofits are incorporating business practices and developing deeper partnerships with business to be more effective at accomplishing their missions.  Winners include:

  • Hands On Network, a 17-year-old group that links national corporations and local nonprofits to fuel volunteer efforts in community-service projects. Last year, Hands On marshaled 168,000 employee-volunteers to work more than 1.4 million hours at 48,538 projects.
  • The Housing Partnership Network, a peer network and business cooperative of 87 of the most accomplished affordable housing nonprofits in the country. Members operate on a citywide or regional basis and share a similar public/private business model that forges entrepreneurial partnerships among the business, community, and government sectors to create and sustain affordable housing.
  • Springboard Forward partners with employers and community-based organizations to improve job performance and promote upward mobility for the low-wage  workforce. They provide coaching services for business and career management services to low-wage workers.
  • EcoLogic Finance, a nonprofit offering affordable financial services to community-based businesses operating in environmentally sensitive areas of Latin America and select countries of Africa and Asia.
  • First Book, which gives low income children the opportunity to read and own their first books.

There are also some great resources for social capitalists and a nice slideshow on lessons learned. Well worth a look.

Michele

 


How Do We Learn in the 21st Century?

Kathy has an interesting post on why the U.S. is falling behind in preparing math and science workers for the future. Her point is that the educational system we've set up doesn't teach people the skills that they actually use as mathematicians, scientists and engineers.  There's a focus on a rote/drill and kill, problem-solving by recipe approach that has nothing to do with the kinds of right-brained, holistic, design and intuition skills that are necessary for true success in the field.

Technology_2_1 I think that what she has identified is a problem that's applicable to all workers in all fields. As she points out:

Our educational institutions--at every level--need drastic changes or we're all screwed. The generation of students we're turning out today need skills nobody really cared about 50, 40, even 20 years ago. Where we used to prepare students for a "job for life", now we must prepare students to be jobless. We must prepare them to think fast, learn faster, and unlearn even faster("yes, that drug was the appropriate way to treat the XYZ disease, but that was so last week. THIS week we now realize it'll kill you.")

The Waterfall Model of education is failing like never before. We need Agile Learning.

This is where I think nonprofits need to be thinking differently about how they're preparing their own workforce for the future and how they use technology to do this. Reality is that we need structures in place that support knowledge management and "just-in-time" learning. Speed and adaptability are of the essence. We must be unlearning and re-learning on an almost daily basis. But the question is, how do we do create the right kinds of learning opportunities?

According to Jerry Wind and David Reibstein of the Wharton School of Business, in the new world of work, organizations must adapt their training strategies to:

  • Provide learning opportunities that are tailored to the backgrounds, interests, learning styles and motivation of individual learners.
  • Create learning that is active, experiential and based on the real-life contexts in which workers will use their skills.
  • Use mechanisms for delivering learning that staff can use anytime, anywhere as the need for that learning arises.

So times have changed. How do we adapt? While I think that nonprofits have been at a disadvantage in the training arena for years, this is where Web 2.0 technologies can finally put nonprofits on equal footing with their private sector counterparts.

Tools such as wikis and blogs are now ridiculously inexpensive to access. A Typepad account is $15 a month.  Some wikis can be had for free.

Audio and video options are equally accessible. With a $13 microphone and free recording software, I can create "just-in-time" learning podcasts that can be stored on the web and made easily accessible to staff anytime, anywhere.  Decent video cameras can be had for around $200 and through free video hosting services like YouTube and VideoEgg , I can easily and quickly create simple training/learning videos that can again, be accessible to staff as they need the information.

The real issue that we're dealing with here is the paradigm shift in our thinking about learning that we need to make in order to operate in a world like this. We aren't used to thinking that we could create and share audio and video on a dime. We're not accustomed to the idea of having a wiki where staff could collaboratively create knowledge and problem-solve around their learning needs. We simply have not adjusted to the fact that we must be constantly alert to where learning needs to be happening and then considering how we can use technology tools to provide those learning opportunities as workers need them.

Our other problem is that most nonprofits and their staff have not had experience in designing effective learning experiences. Having grown up in the "drill and kill" days, they don't necessarily have the background and skills to design learning experiences that will have the most impact. But again, this is where Web 2.0 technology can step in.

The community aspects of being able to share and access solid knowledge about training and learning ACROSS nonprofit organizations is a huge opportunity for leverage that we're simply not accessing. Yes, it can be expensive to design good learning for a single organization. But why do we have to design it for just one anyway? Why can't nonprofits create learning consortia that allow them to share knowledge and skill development opportunities among many different agencies? Why, for example, can't they share a "learning consultant" who designs learning experiences and manages the tools for delivering that learning for a group of agencies that share similar skill development needs?

I think there is a lot of untapped potential that is just waiting for us to find it. The challenge we're facing, though, is less about learning the technologies and more about changing our thinking about how we use them.

Michele


Time vs Money

All organizations are constantly battling the cost issue. I am often struck by howClock  much we waste in order to save a little. This is especially true in government, my home base. Whether we are government, non-profit, or for-profit we live by budgets and the image of how we manage them. Let me illustrate. In government today, there is a constant pressure to cut spending especially around election time. We tell constituents that we're cutting the budget another 10% to lower their taxes. What we don't tell them is all they are losing as a result of trying to meet a short-term goal of a tax cut. For-profits do the same thing when they cut personnel and research costs so that a business looks leaner and meaner for acquisition. In the non-profit world many organizations are so accustomed to doing without that they seldom look for a better way. Non-profits are also keenly aware that the image of fiscal responsibility is important to keep donors.

The problem with these short-term, often image driven solutions, is that your organization runs a strong risk of burning people out. For the non-profit this is a critical issue as human resources are so hard to recruit and retain. There is a better way. Equip and train your staff adequately to do the job. You can prove the return-on-investment you get by upgrading your computer system and software by the staff hours you will save. That is more time they can devote to your organization's mission. Convince your Board that working smarter, not longer benefits everyone. I propose that "smarter" not "thrifty" is the image to work toward in the 21st century. Continue to look for more innovative technologies that can make your work, and that of your staff, more efficient and easy.

The following book is an engaging read regarding how organizations waste the professional, and then consequently the private time, of their staff.  Finding Time: How Corporations, Individuals and Families Can Benefit from New Work Practices by Leslie A. Perlow, makes a strong case for the fact that our high pressure work culture places our employees in a chronic state of crisis, that actually costs the organization and the individual. I saw my own organization in the situations presented in this book.

A final point on this discussion for non-profits. This field constantly discusses the lack of talent and the problem of competing with for-profit salary structures. By using technological innovation, you can attract bright people interested in learning. It can be a selling point for your talent recruitment strategy. The other side of that coin is burning out good people because they get tired of making due and realize that they are not learning new skills. From a human resources point of view, that is a lose-lose position.

Jann


Loyalty Can Work for Your Organization

Non-profits state that competing with corporate America for talent is difficult. I think that's because non-profits try to act like corporate America. Recently, I listened to Executive Directors of multiple non-profits lament their inability to offer competitive salaries. I think this is limited thinking.

Competitive salaries are an important part of the equation, but a non-profit that really makes a commitment to a strong organizational culture that engages in "high-commitment" HR practices can, in my opinion, offset this disadvantage. High commitment is the new phrasing for what was the traditional loyalty exchange between a company and an employee. This "loyalty" pact was mutually beneficial. It stated that in exchange for hard work and company loyalty, the employee could expect back fair treatment and a thing that was called "job security."

129102566_50891724a0_m1 If you will indulge me for a moment while I review corporate changes in the employer-employee relationship, I think you'll see my point. In the eighties corporate America became "leaner" and meaner" and cut costs through lay-offs. This became the standard operating procedure to make a corporate financial statement look good to potential buyers. It is a short-term strategy that many adopted because the idea was that human capital was a commodity like any other raw material. In the abstract, I agree, but in practical terms, I think an organization that views its employees as commodities is not looking toward the future. The plastic used to make widgets, doesn't think and feel. Humans do.

The result of this attitude toward human resources, is a marked decrease in productivity according to several studies. In the article, High Commitment, Strong Performance: Companies Can Have Both, the author provides examples from multiple studies on this subject. Interestingly, the article states that studies indicate that a lack of mutual commitment between employers and employees is highly correlated with negative employee behaviors and weaker financial performance.

How does that help non-profits attract and retain good talent? By giving your employees something not highly valued in corporate America: satisfaction of working for the public good and a commitment to fair treatment. A high commitment HR management system is built on these fundamental management beliefs:

  • Reciprocity- Demonstration of a mutually beneficial relationship for both employer and employee.
  • Trust and confidence- Treating employees with trust in their competence. Genuine opportunities are presented for the employee to gain further skills and grow. In retrun, employees trust the motives of the organization and demonstrate that trust through work ethic and public discussion of the organization.
  • Social memory- Both employer and employee remembers good behavior in difficult times. This leads to mutually respectful treatment whether the company is going through difficult times or the employee. The author of the article has some interesting thoughts on this. I believe this is built through the demonstration of reciprocity, trust and confidence.

Adoption of these practices does not mean instilling a system in which a poor performing employee is guaranteed employment, but it does mean installation and commitment to strong employee evaluation and feedback as part of your system. There are ways in which to deal with mismatches of talent and job without demeaning either party.

If your organization is willing to make this part of its culture, start using it in your job postings and interviews. Have a staff retreat that explains this commitment to your employees. Be clear about expectations on both sides and introduce your staff evaluation system. Become known for a commitment to your mission and your employees. This approach can and will attract quality employees. High commitment HR practices matched with your mission can be a powerful incentive.

Just my thoughts,

Jann