We have a friend that is bemoaning his fate. Wanting to go to medical school, he was discouraged by the quota system that favored more women than men and ethnic minorities than from Caucasian background.
Well, for one, you can’t blame the ethnic minorities who are immigrants for this treatment. They came without no network, no recognized credentials, no language skills, no schools or professors that can support them, no neighbors, no coaches, no extended relatives, no government subsidies, not a lot of friends in high places, literally not a lot. But they are doing their best to get the education, jobs, and lifestyle they want in Canada proving that they can make it here in their new country. If you think this is unfair, it wasn’t a level playing field, to begin with.
This excuse cannot fly in the midst of a lot of successful people that went on to medical school and got their degrees and become full-fledged doctors! The quota system, the high tuition fees, the grueling apprenticeship, and the initial practice can break your resolve, but there is no such thing as get-successful quick.
I say it to young people. If the doors are not open for you, try the door at the back. Try the next door that is open. Try the door on the side. Try different ways to get into the building. It can take time, but with creativity, planning, and lots of support, you can figure out a way to get connected, one door at a time.
In the Filipino culture, we say "weather, weather" when we mean that there are highs and lows in life.
Sometimes, you are on top, and sometimes you are in the valley.
Sometimes, you are in-between and have to wait.
Sometimes, the wait is over and that your reality has caught up with your desired state.
Borrowing from Ecclesiastes, there is time for everything.
Enjoy every moment that comes your way.
The present is a gift.
Yesterday was behind us all and tomorrow is to be experienced.
The new Saskatchewan bridge has fallen.
There was something completely wrong here when a newly constructed bridge collapsed a few hours after it just opened. The construction tendering system is completely perverse. They low-ball anything to the point that quality suffers in the name of the price. And who cares about safety and quality when the best friend of the mayor or the councilor or the favored contractor gets the project.
And of course, rural politicians are not the best judge of construction work, more so competent and professional enough to decide on the award. The local politics get in the way of competent service to the community.
Well, the human race has built the tallest buildings in the world, the largest submarines, and the biggest and baddest airplane without a major construction defect. A small rural functioning bridge is not impossible to have.
Incompetency has to be stamped out. The reason why there are bad contracts and bad work in a public agency is that management failed to act based on integrity, due diligence, and utmost professionalism in these cases. And this patronage system festers for years until something major like this happens.
Firing somebody is palliative. An overhaul of the bidding system is required.
Voters, are you there?
A few years ago, I learned about Open Book Management and its wonderful benefits to organizations no matter the size, industry, and complexity.
If you google it, Wikipedia will say that the basis of open-book management is that the information received by employees should not only help them do their jobs effectively, but help them understand how the company is doing as a whole.
According to Case, "a company performs best when its people see themselves as partners in the business rather than as hired hands" (Case,1998 as cited in Pascarella, 1998). The technique is to give employees all relevant financial information about the company so they can make better decisions as workers. This information includes, but is not limited to, revenue, profit, cost of goods, cash flow and expenses.
In July, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shawn Plummer, the President/CEO of Food for the Hungry Canada based out of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. FH Canada is one of the rare nonprofits that had tried and successfully benefited from the open book approach. It drove accountability, clarity, strategic focus, and innovation into their organization.
The transcript below is from Shawn’s own words describing their journey.
About FH Canada
FH Canada is a part of the global organization where the Canadian office is one of the affiliates. FH Canada operates in 8 countries: Cambodia, Bangladesh, Haiti, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda.
FH Canada aims to graduate communities out of poverty one community at a time. We operate with an asset-based management approach, exploring what assets exist in the community and together, with local community leaders and families, determine where the gaps are. 95% are national staff with very few expats.
As for our strategy, community-owned development plans are set by local leaders. As for our exit strategy, within 10 years, if we collectively feel that the vision and targets have been reached and a sustainable plan is in place, we will exit from the community and celebrate together at the time of “graduation”. There is a commitment to mutual transformation between the communities being served and the Canadian partners (whether churches, investors, business partners, and other supporting partners).
I was hired in 2010 to work on partnership development, for 8 years in fundraising, donor relations, and child sponsor acquisition. I became the President/CEO in late 2017.
There were some issues in the organization back in 2010 that needed to be addressed.
We lacked a strong brand so the whole practice of evaluating who we are, who is our audience, who is our market in Canada was stemming from that weakness. Ben Hoogendorn, the former President thought of hiring an executive coach to help our senior leadership team implement the Rockefeller Habits and then his successor, Bernie Willock, initiated the open book management process. This was sold to the Board and then changes slowly happened.
Origins of Open Book Management for FH Canada
Before, our strategic plan was for 3 years and 15 pages long that no one read. The coach guided us through a process that proved to be beneficial. There were two books that provided the inspiration: 1) Scaling up: practicing the Rockefeller Habits by Vernie Harnish, and 2) The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack. Scaling Up provided the 4 strategic elements: people, strategy, execution, and cash.
The result was a one-page Strategic Plan. It has driven clarity, focus and being able to say No! to a lot of things that do not align with the plan.
Bernie took on and implemented the open data management process because he had been doing that in his company before joining FH Canada. Before, only a few people were looking at the numbers. The rest of our leadership team weren’t always clear as to our annual targets, how to effectively monitor/track them, and that included cash management.
Our meeting rhythms have changed too. At the start of each month we set monthly projections for revenue and expenses. Each member of our team has a budget and expense line to watch. We analyze our Profit & Loss (P&L) weekly so we have a good idea where our cash is at when we look at our month end actuals.
The cultural shift was having a staff name beside each revenue and expense line and adding a layer of accountability. Being responsible for monitoring the numbers and knowing why those numbers rise or fall is another thing so we look at trends. Now, staff have a voice at the table and can challenge the expenses or challenge the return on investment when we’re considering new opportunities.
We started having fun keeping score and we’ve made huge progress as a team over the past 3 years.!
Results /impact in the field and your partners/stakeholders
the results are clear: One of our big goals is to always increase the % that we can get to the field in the 8 countries that we partner with.
There is a huge improvement in knowing where our cash is going and watching the number closely, anticipating needs and planning for contingencies.
This involves greater clarity, focus, and has improved our communication and service to our partners. Our partners are very involved in the process. There are more frank discussions about monitoring and evaluation because we know where we are at.
I thought we could roll out open book management much quicker than we did but we needed training in the beginning and it took us over a year to get things integrated.
It was a big cultural shift-having your name with a revenue target + expense line and it was daunting in the beginning. First, it felt like a competition but later one, it drove us to be better teammates. It made us look to where the growth opportunities are.
FH Canada have brought more partnerships-more accountability, greater clarity and focus and a clear BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) of graduating 150 communities out of poverty by 2029.
How can you encourage other nonprofits to be more open and accountable?
I would encourage them to read the two books that influenced our current business practices.
Consider using an executive coach to help build a strategic plan for your organization.
They need to operate as a business - people, strategy, execution, cash. There is reason enough to do this because of the distrust between nonprofits and business.
It was painful in the beginning but it reaped many dividends. Once employees understood, they can make predictions and they can bring questions and answers to the management team. Other nonprofits can see this as an investment worth their time and energy.
Nonprofits have to have a motivated CEO and management team plus a supportive board that encourages this type of intentional strategic planning. There has to be a deep desire for change within the organization and a willingness to do the hard work to get to a place of sustainability.
I married a farmer. I have no idea about farming three years ago, but now, I can apply almost most of the farming lessons to management solutions and techniques that so-called gurus out there would envy!
1. You can’t hurry farming.
It has its seasons of planting, harvesting and in between all other supports that you do to ensure that the crops are growing healthy, not prone to diseases, pests, and other hazards.
You can’t hurry success, love, and business deals. They have their cycles and seasonality. To this end, you have to look at the long-term viability and ask yourself, will this give me a return of investment in the next 5, 10, 15 years.
2. There is no substitute for great weather.
While there are hail, storm, floods, pests, and other weather disasters that befall farming, with enough sunshine, wind, rain, harvesting is a delightful experience! My grandma has sat in a combine with my grandpa for more than 50 years until they can’t farm anymore! This is a tradition in farming communities. Young and old alike cherish this moment once a year.
You have to bring in the right amount of discipline, focus, persistence, and opportunism to every business opportunity. The batting average is 10% or less. The rest is part of growing up and being resilient to failures and momentary setbacks. Celebrate all the milestones and happy events dutifully.
3. Negative self-talk doesn’t work.
There is too much on the line when they have not completed harvest yet. Any delay could mean a rotting unproductive, unsellable yield. Farmers are stressed out to the core. Negative self-talk in a pressure cooker environment will only yield to more negativity to the already volatile and stressful situation. It drains away those precious energies you need to tackle problems with level-headedness.
Instead of negative self-talk, be positive about the situation. Leave your rose-colored glasses, be realistic, and get to Plan B, C, or D. The moment you build contingencies to your decision-making, understand the risks factors, you will feel more confident to take the next action.
4. Farming is all about inputs, not anymore!
For the last 100 years, we saw great revolutions in the agricultural sector. In the last 20 years, there are more technologies and innovation in the industry that you can imagine. Newer editions of expensive tractors, rising price of arable land, and the stringent policies on quota system have discouraged a lot of people from farming. The cost of fuel, fertilizers, and other support inputs have become cost-prohibitive. More and more farmers are grouping their farms to the community to benefit from scale and leverage pooled resources.
What are you doing in your business to adapt to a changing environment? You didn’t need horses when the tractors came along. So this is true for other industries where changing practices, technology, and priorities have shifted consumer demand to other services, products, and techniques. Is your industry being driven away by cut-throat competition, stiffer regulations, or dying consumer attention? It is time to know what is hitting you before it is too late.
Who are your true fans?
They believe in the company. They are true fans, consumers or patrons of the company's products, programs, and initiatives. Real communities are driven by the members of these communities with less supervision by the company.
For example is the American Express Open Forum, a site dedicated to providing support to business owners, entrepreneurs, and executives to help grow their businesses. This site is independent of the America Express management and runs almost in parallel to them in terms of focus. There is a lot to benefit from the network of business entrepreneurs from around the world not just a quality hire but also in terms of developing and creating products that match the needs of businesses.
This is a tremendous resource that not all companies tend to do. This tantamounts to the concept of 1000 true fans (Kevin Kelly) and even more than just for quality hire but the quality of feedback and customer voice that you can have by cultivating your community.
For a small business without huge budgets devoted to cultivating their community, it is important to start with your client list and build your awareness about who they are, what makes them ticks, what products or services they love from your business, and how they want to be acknowledged, recognized, and supported. This intelligence will help you decide on how you can nurture them and keep them as real true fans for your organization for the longest time.
It can be just a blog that caters only for your community with topics that attract them more to your business and provides more reason to network, be more affiliated, and become ambassadors and vocal supporters of your products. Content topics should be engaging pieces about your fan's interests, passions, and causes.
If you are a pharmaceutical company, your topics could range from wellness, health, nutrition, treatments, healthcare services, etc. In general, it should be consistent with your mission, values, and branding strategies. Communicating with your community should be a regular fare and should not break your wallet or dominate your schedule either. Usually, it only takes a small token of action to let them know that you care about them and that you cherish their contribution to the success of your business.
How are you nurturing your community? What small gestures you can do today to let them know that they are valued and worth diamonds in your business?