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Sustainability and outcomes

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Non-profit, focused on outcomes

Non-profit, focused on outcomes

Few days ago, I attended the General meeting of the non-profit association I am treasurer of. As each year since 3 years now, I presented the financial statements to the attendees, and the budget for this year. These two documents were approved, and employees were happy about the good results of the association even if we are crossing difficult time.

I was happy of course of this, but I remember people did not have always the same reaction. When I joined the board of directors 3 years ago, some people did not see positively a financial consultant joining a non-profit association. There were probably scared about some confusion with profit and non-profit. Such reaction was understandable, as the finance people are often seen as non-flexible people, only focused on profit and performances. Here is probably a confusion that could be done by employees of a non-profit, but by financial people too.

My first challenge was to be accepted by the people of the organization. My ambition to join this project was not to have power or to tell people how they have to do, but only to join an interesting social project as volunteer, and bring some competences in order to contribute to the success of the common project. My first thought was that I had to learn about the different activities of the organization, the interactions between the stakeholders of the different projects, in order to have a global picture of the association, to understand the work of each people and to be aware about the difficulties they were facing. This was a first condition for an efficient and harmonious collaboration. By showing interest to the work of each employee and volunteer, by asking some question to them about the different aspects of they job, I was showing my real and sincere interest in this project, and people began to trust me, as they noticed also that I did not interfere in their job. Each people his own competences.

There was clearly a need to professionalize the financial and administrative processes, in order to manage things on an efficient way, but also to provide credible financial information to the requesting subsiding authorities and potential partners. It was important to deliver a clear message about this need to get a structured financial process and to explain why. The accounting and the production of financial statement are not only legal obligations, but they represent also a financial management tool. This tool allows organization and her management team to have a clear picture of the financial situation on time, but also to have a “business” decision support. We know all that the business environment is not always a quiet story, but the non-profit environment is not quiet at all too, when your sources of financing are non-recurring sources, and that you are facing some regular crisis situations. In such situations, it is important to show that you have things on control, but also that you are able to define alternative strategies and to express what precisely your needs are, when you meet some potential donator or sponsors. People need to understand that financial tool is needed to ensure the sustainability of the project.

Here again, we speak about the confusion done by some people about things that are totally different. Indeed, what I mean here is that financial management does not mean profit. A non-profit organization does not focus on profit, but it is important to keep an eye on the balance between the expenses and the revenues, in order to preserve the owned capital. The goal is not to earn money, but to avoid to loose money. If it is the case, some decisions need to be taken in order to preserve the funds of the organization, but also to ensure the quality and the continuity of the activities and the provided services. It is not financial performance that is the focus in such environment, but the outcomes. If we try to reduce some operating and administrative expenses, it is not to save the integrality of the money, but to invest in more projects, responding to a demand and contributing to the goal of the association. The saved money will not be distributed to some shareholders, but will be reinvested in future project. This is a difficult part of the equation, to be able to have a long term vision with short term financial vision.

A long term vision is necessary, and projects have to be defined to materialize this vision. An appropriate strategy has to be implemented, in order to reach your defined goal. With these criteria, you focus on the sustainability of your project and the outcomes. These two factors contribute to social cohesion and personal satisfaction of people.


Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

April 19, 2013 at 22:52

Is telecommuting dead?

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Marrysa Meyer, Yahoo's CEO wants to remove telecommuting

Marrysa Meyer, Yahoo’s CEO wants to remove telecommuting

Recently, Marrisa Meyer, Yahoo’s CEO, creates the controversy with her move to take away the flexible working arrangements that Yahoo employee are benefiting from. The reason was that working home or in other locations was a source of inefficiency in the work organization. The Yahoo’s human resources chief, Jackie Reses, mentioned that communication and collaboration are important, so people need to work side-by-side and it is critical that all people have to be present in the offices. Such affirmation created a lot of negative reactions. By reading this, I was thinking about the pertinence of such conclusion and decision about work organization. The inefficiency causes are probably not linked to the fact that people are not working at the same place. Personally, I spent more than 20 years in offices where people are coming everyday, but who are not communicating, are not sharing information. The problem is probably somewhere else.

In my mind, telecommuting or home working will be a trend in the coming years for many reasons, but it is not an end on itself. It is a possibility collaborators can use in particular circumstances. As in each system, conditions and rules need to be defined in order to get good results, and you will see that some rules are only basic management principles.

  • How to measure productivity? Is your company measuring productivity by the number of hours spent in the offices, or by the deliverables and the produced added-value? People can spend hours in the office and show low performances and other can work less time but provide results that represent significant added-value for the company. Some people are working less time but more wisely than others. The added-value they are providing can bring more future benefits to the organization than the work of other people working more time.
  • Are the goals clearly defined? : People have to know the scope of the projects they are working on. If people have clear goals, if they know where they have to go, what they have to do, and if they can appreciate the contribution they will bring to a common project, a big part of the success is ensured. By meeting such conditions, you are sure that the goals match with their aspirations. If they are motivated, they will take the appropriate actions to meet these goals and provide the needed work. But it is also the opportunity to indentify what will be the methodology of work and to see if some tasks need to be done in the office or not. For specific tasks, you will be probably more productive by working in an environment where you are not disturbed by colleagues every five minutes.
  • Organize regular meetings: Regular meetings are essential to share information, to fix an agenda for the coming days. Define with your team what will be the topics of the meeting, and spend only the time needed to cover these topics. It will be the opportunity to fix the next point, reporting and deadlines.
  • Define a reporting frame and deadlines: In order to follow the work in progress, set up a periodical reporting. By reviewing the progress of projects with your team members, you will appreciate the work done, and see if the productivity is there or not. It will be also the opportunity to be informed what the potential issues are and what the appropriate actions are needed, in order to prevent them. Pro-activity and anticipation implies communication.
  • Provide efficient technology: it is essential to provide efficient technology to ensure the productivity of people working remotely. Just a quick remind that technology is only a tool who contributes to ensure a better efficiency and productivity, only if the previous point are defined. By investing in good technology, you will allow people to work in good conditions and improve their productivity. Your return on investment will be reached quickly, by the provided time gains.

If such conditions are met, working remotely can be a real advantage. Time spent by people in traffic jams to go work, represents an important economical cost, as this time is unproductive, but also a cost in term of health and wellness. I noticed often that some organizations do not work, not because they have not efficient tools or because people are working remotely, but only because there is a lack of organization and management, or because people does not subscribe to the project.

I would say that companies don’t need to adopt a single way of organization, working in the offices or remotely. Each system has his advantage for specific functions, in particular circumstances, for specific tasks. But it is something as many things that need to be prepared, evaluated and improved on an ongoing way.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

March 20, 2013 at 22:04

Act as a leader

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“The Key to successful leadership is influence, not authority” – Kenneth Blanchard

I would like to share an experience as member of the board of a non-profit organization. Some years ago, I join this organization in order to help them to professionalize the structure and to implement processes in order to meet operational and legal requirements. The particularity of this association is that there were never Operations director. Each cluster was managing his owns activities. Such operational structure can have advantages, but the directors who joined the board at that time had to note a range of lacks and some “original” ways of doing things. The problem was to know who was doing what.

As financial consultant, some people did not see my presence as something positive. The directors were obliged at that time to implement some rules and processes in order to meet legal obligations that were huge changes for people. The development of a new project and the impact on the organization in term of work processes en legal reporting made that we had no choice if we wanted to succeed. But as many of you know, people are reluctant to changes, and the challenge is to know how they will agree with the changes or the policies needed to be implemented. One element that is important to mention is that there were conflicts between some people, and my presence due to one of the employee made believe to the other people that I would agree with this person and be in conflict with the other.

A board of directors has to be unified, and communicate on the same way in order to gain credibility. It means that each matter has to be debated, but you will never have a full power or control on things. The question is how can you reach the assigned goal and how to gain the trust of people. Here are some tips I would like to share.

  • Focus on the goal of the organization. You have to show that you join the organization because you are interested by the activities and the pursued goals. The success of an organization, of a project depends of the will of each member to reach the common goal and to work together.
    Let show also that you are not scared to lose your position of director. You are there to take responsibilities and to take difficult decisions if needed, to bring expertise and recommendations, to work with people, not for the power and for your ego.
  • Define clearly your role in the organization: you need to explain clearly what you want to bring to the organization and why you want to do it. You have to avoid to interfere in the work of other people, a work where you have no expertise. Each people have complementary skills and expertise. Define how you can work together, what are the needs of the people and how can you help them or how can they help you.
  • Be persuasive and defend your ideas: as member of an organization, you can have a power of influence on things. Often, when a person is joining an organization, it is an opportunity of change, to develop new projects, strategies. Some projects or strategies are not developed because people or directors don’t feel comfortable or have not a clear vision of it. By bringing your own vision, by bringing your strategy, you can influence the way of doing things and can be a motivation source for the other team members.
  • Listen to the people: as explained previously, there is no operational director in the organization. Each director is in charge of specific matters, and employees can talk about the problems there are facing. By listening to people, you can advice them or make suggestions, and you are yourself learning a lot of things about the organization and the daily activities. By sharing knowledge, people are moving together.
  • Act as a mentor: By sharing your knowledge with people, your goal is to make them gaining autonomy in their work. You can help them to put a process in place, but the goal is that they have to be able to manage it themselves. By sharing knowledge and transmitting responsibilities, you show that you trust on people, and bring to them the feeling to be valued. Such attitudes contribute to wellness and to self confidence. Try to communicate your entrepreneur mind.
  • Put milestones: You want to reach some goals and see realized achievements, but things are not always progressing as you want. Don’t forget that your expertise is obvious for you but not necessarily for other people, and that they can not move as fast as you want. Advice them about some improvement in their work and underline the realized significant steps. Maybe you don’t reach yet the assigned goal, but see where you are coming from and all the steps already done.
  • In conflictual situations, be neutral. In the organization, there are often conflictual situations, caused by emotional attitudes and reactions. People are proud about what they are doing and consider their tasks as something personal that somebody else can’t make to their place. Sometimes, volunteers don’t accept certain rules or remarks, they want to do things on their own. Explain to them why you ask to act differently, but underline also the value and the importance of their work for the organization. Explain to them that they have their place in the organization, but that some rules need to be applied to move to the same direction, and to reach the common goal.

There are probably more other things that can be said about the way to find your place and be accepted in an organization. In small organization operating with small team and limited financial resources, competences and motivations are the key elements to succeed. By sharing our experiences and expertise each other, we can expand our horizons and face new opportunities, build a better society, we can build our own way. This is what makes good leaders.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

February 18, 2013 at 22:22

The intangible side of an organization.

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Traditionally, each company or organization used to publish financial statements in order to present their results and the performances of the activity. Most of the time, the level of profit is the main concern of companies. Of course, making profit is a essential condition to ensure the durability of a company and to finance in future projects. But is profit the only condition and the only parameter proving the good wealth of a company, of an organization?

A financial statement is a picture at a T time of the property of a company, an organization. A picture provide a range of information, but the evolution between two period of time will tell more about the trend of the business or the activity. In other words, the movie will tell us more than a couple of pictures. Nevertheless, these financial information does not include a range of intangible values that will have a positive or negative impact on the activity or the business.

What are these intangible values contributing to the sustainability of a company, of an organization? Let us review a few of them:

  • Innovation: in a fast moving environment where a lot of competitors are acting, innovation is a key factor of success. Innovation requires to perceive the trends of evolution, to look at the expectation of people, of to potential market needs. Innovation means to anticipate and to look further than the horizon. Innovation and creation of new innovative products or services will distinguish your company from your competitors. Success is never definitively acquired. But sometime, companies are meeting success and forget that success has a time. The major point is not how to survive to failure, but how to survive to success.
  • Talent and competences: An organization or a company works only thanks to the collaboration of people having competences and skills. The development of competences level will contribute to the performance level. The organization needs to have a long term view in term of competence development. Some people are leaving the organization, and it means that a part of know-how is leaving the company too. To ensure the sustainability of resources and talents has to be a major concern of the companies.
  • Vision and team spirit: The organization needs to have a clear vision and all the member have to subscribe to that vision, to the common goal. It is only by sharing the same vision that they can contribute to common goals and show team spirit. A company like Appel Computer succeeded in her major realizations, because Appel members are sharing Steve Jobs vision.
  • Motivation: Each collaborator, each member of a team has competences. But competences is not the only condition making him contributing to the organization by giving the best he can do. The key factor is motivation. He can only be motivated if he has clearly assigned goals and if these goals and the role he has to play within the organization fits with his expectations. People who are not motivated will show poor performances and the level of performances will decrease with the time. People need to be able to express their talents, and to find sense on what they are doing.
  • Wellness: Wellness is linked to motivation. People needs to love their job and to do it with a feeling of to wellness. They need to enjoy their work environment in order to be motivated and to provide the best work they can give. Stress and lack of wellness have a negative impact on the health, and on the productivity. People are only waiting to go back home, their do not want to be considered or identified as a team member of the organization. In these circumstances, it is difficult to reach a common goal.
  • Corporate social responsibility: People are paying more and more attention to the reputation of companies and their engagement to social responsibility. The economy is a major actor of the society and has to integrate values that are respecting the society and the people.

These are a lot of intangible aspects you will never find in a financial statement of an organization or a company. Nevertheless, these aspects can have a positive or negative impact on the performance, but also on the reputation of the organization. And with the development of information technologies and the social medias, your bad reputation can be known quickly and cause important damages to your organization. To take care about these things will contribute to empower the efficiency and to ensure the sustainability of your organization.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

August 16, 2011 at 21:08

The “Working” board

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Board of directors of a non-profit organization

Few days ago, I was publishing a question on a LinkedIn forum about experience as volunteer. One of the people who answered to that question talked about his experience, by mentioning the fact that he was member of the “working” board of directors. He was meaning of course that he was not there because it is smart to have such title, but he was contributing effectively to the management and operations of the non-profit organization.

I really like this concept and the meaning of “working” board, because as member of the board of two different non-profit organizations, I noticed two kind of directors. There are directors who were probably invited to join the board by other directors who are friends, and they are very proud to acquire a title, but they have not specific competences of real management background. There are other directors who have a specific competence contributing effectively to the organization processes.

I already mentioned in a previous post the situation of a non-profit organization who received some years ago an important donation. The association was by the time wrongly advised by the bank and they lost a lot of money in their investment. But what I noticed also in their accounts during one year, was the fact there had important operational losses and that nobody reacted during the year about that. When they received the donation, they decided to hire people, but the budget was not in balance at all. What happened a day, is that there were obliged to fire people, and each member of the board rejected the responsibility of such disaster to the other member of the board. Such situations allow to conclude that these people were totally incompetent, and did not want to face their responsibilities and take difficult decisions when needed, to avoid to get in trouble with the other directors. Such disaster is the result of non-decision, as I was writing in a previous post.

Let us talk about the other type of directors. These people are joining the board of a non-profit organization because they have specific competences, and they can help to implement solutions and improve processes in the organization. Competences are really important and are an added value when the organizations have a important and critical size. As you know, the more a project is important, the more the risk to fail is high, and the more experienced people are needed. In an organization where you have around ten people on payroll and fifty volunteers, like the one I am director of, you are definitively in a small enterprise. Like in commercial companies, structure and management are essential and are the key factors of success. The goal of a non-profit organization is probably different than the one of a commercial organization, but management and strategy are essential in both case to reach the assigned goal and to sustain the activities.

This second category of directors is the most useful, specially when non-profit organization are subsidized with public money. They have to guarantee the good usage of the allocated funds in order to make a successful project and to reach the assigned goal, and will be able to do it. This is the mission of a “working” board.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

June 8, 2011 at 22:25

Take the time to save time.

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Remember that time lost cannot be regained.

You probably have to meet such situation where people are running after the train, in order to meet a deadline. Running after the train because they are working following a reacting mode instead of proactive mode. Often, they are taking shortcut and postponing some tasks or duties because they have no time, because they are running to meet the deadline. But the postponed task will have to be done one of these days, and the train they are trying to take will finally crash into the wall.

Why people are facing such situation? Why can they not reach the goal on time without having to speed and to take shortcuts? There are mainly two reasons to that. The first one is a lack of organization and lack of planning. One of the keys of time management is to plan tasks and to make the distinction between what is important and what is urgent. Most of the time, there is confusion between emergency and importance. You can have important things to do which are not urgent and urgent things to do which are not important. When important things have to be done urgently, it is probably because you did not plan them correctly. As consequence, you will not probably meet the deadline.

Another reason of missing the deadline is an inefficient way to work by lack of efficient tools. By building some tools, spreadsheet of databases, you can automate some tasks or processes and you will gain a lot of time by getting information or results on a faster way. But of course, you have first to build these tools. It means that you have first to invest time to build these tools, but you will spare a lot of time after. It implies to determine exactly the needs and purposes of these tools, but also to have a long-term view. By determining this and by implementing the appropriated solutions, you will have a double return on investment. You will gain more time than the invested time in the solution implementation, and you will have a gain of quality level. You will be able to gain time on processing tasks and dedicated to other more added value tasks.

Planning and appropriate tools are two key components of an efficient work. It is just a question to take the time of implementation in order to save time after.  Remember that time lost cannot be regained.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

May 11, 2011 at 21:49

The consequences of non-decision

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Influence of people in a meeting

Most of us, we had physical science courses at school, and we learned that inertia is also a power. We can observe this phenomenon not only in physical science, but in other contexts, and such phenomenon has time to time negative consequences. I was reading an article few years ago in a magazine explaining that some negative events are the consequences of wrong decision, and can be avoid. For example, in the tragedy of the “Challenger” space shuttle, engineers were aware about the leakage problems with the boosters and the linked risks, but they decided to take off the shuttle. We know what happened after. If the consequences are known, why do we take the wrong decision?

Most of the time, we have to face a problem, we analyze it and elaborate solutions to solve it. But this problem has to be debated with other partners. In this group of partners, there are people who have more influence than others, who can influence the others. And some of the people will finally accept the decision of the majority

I would like to tell an example of such phenomenon of inertia and the negative consequences of it. A non-profit organization received a donation amounted to 750 thousand euros from somebody who had no heirs, which was a really appreciable amount for this small organization. At that time, the board of directors decided to take advice from a bank and invest that money in quoted shares. They decided also to hire permanent employees in order to develop some projects and to promote the organization. The plan was to cover the needs of the organization with the expected interests revenues and realized gains of the invested capital. But this plan totally failed with the fall of financial market in the year 2002.

At the general assembly I was attending, I received a sample of the annual accounts. I was surprised to see an important loss in the accounts, but what surprised me was that the amount of all the revenues did not cover the salaries costs, and apparently, the board of directors did not take any appropriate measures of action plan to avoid such situation.

My first thought was that this board of director was not competent to ensure the assigned responsibilities. Some of them said that it was the fault of the bank if they lost so much money. We can not agree with such comment, as it is the treasurer or the financial director who is responsible to manage the finance aspects and to take the appropriate decisions. So, my first thought was not so bad, but by discussing with each directors, each of them told me that it was not their own decision to invest the received money in such financial product. I found this attitude very strange, but it showed the temper of these people. If such decision is taken, it is because everybody agree, or because some people does not want to decide and take the same opinion than the others, and because they want to stay pleasant in the eyes of the others. It is also the problem of shared responsibilities. If a group of people have to decide something and by this way have a shared responsibilities, some people will always say that if something fails, it is the fault of the other. Can we consider that such board of directors is competent?

The consequences of this situation is that some employees received their letter of dismissal. And some directors said that it was really a social tragedy, as it was the consequence of the non-decision of other people and not of them.

The question is the following: when we need to have a group of people to take a decision, are each member of the group independent and competent, or are they chosen, because we know that some of them will have the same opinion than the majority? If it is not the case, like in the described example above, we can see what are the consequences of non-decision, and that inertia is a power,…a negative power.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

November 17, 2010 at 23:39