innovation

Funders Who Reward Capacity Development

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Creative and sustainable nonprofits are drawing more and more funding from "investors" while the pool of feel-good "donors" is shrinking.

You can trace much of how nonprofits operate back to the source of their funding.

The majority of nonprofits have a Development Director whose key role is not development of the organization, but development of funds for the organization. They are in charge of writing grants, reporting on grants, courting foundation contacts and major donors, managing fundraising campaigns, and basically asking for money.

In my experience, very few nonprofits see "development" beyond the role of asking for money, over and over and over again.

If we trace this back, it's easy to see the reason for this reliance on repetitive fundraising.

Historically, many foundations and donors demanded that the greatest possible percentage of their funds be invested in direct program services. In other words, donors have demanded that nonprofits spend donated funds right away, with no investment in the future.

This idea was set in stone by organizations like the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Guidestar and Charity Navigator; sites whose profit model was based on giving donors solid information about the nonprofits they were considering donating to, but whose lack of concern or awareness of genuine indicators of mission efficacy resulted in a long era of comparing nonprofits based on one major indicator: their "overhead".

In fact, many states (including Utah) still publish the percentage of donations invested in direct program services on charitable solicitations permits - requiring these permits to be displayed on location and making such information available online, as if it were a genuine indicator of impact that was comparable across mission focuses.

This hyper-focus on a particularly meaningless percentage has resulted in enormous pressure to pay as little as possible for everything, from space to supplies to talent. Nonprofits are expected to get everything donated and to attract bleeding hearts who will work hard in crumbling offices on the bad side of town for less money and terrible health insurance.

I was talking with several talented employees of a local nonprofit that I admire a great deal for their forward-thinking revenue models last week. I was amazed to learn that because of their location, they are approached daily by drug dealers and have to watch their young clients deal with the same interactions as they come and go from classes.

A for-profit arts school would absolutely never subject their clients to this type of environment; it's bad for business. This organization is catering to the same clientele with unique and important STEM education, yet they have not made it a priority to move to a better location. Why? Almost certainly because it would increase their overhead.

While many nonprofits are responding to opportunities for sustainability and internal revenue creation, they continue to sacrifice in ways that ultimately lead to poor performance of those initiatives, or outright failure.

However, the nonprofit culture is shifting, albeit slowly.

Family foundations are now being run by a younger generation, a generation characterized by entrepreneurship and impact. More and more corporations are investing in nonprofit grants and awards that reward sustainability and innovation. And thanks to technology, we are witnessing nonprofit and for-profit startups that are making a splashy impact, while giving 100+ year old nonprofit in the same niche a run for their money.

With this shift, those big three online nonprofit rating services finally backed away from this percentage as an indicator of mission performance with an open letter in 2013 and a follow-up letter to nonprofits in 2014.

The days of doling out $10,000 checks for feel-good programs are petering out and it's a good thing.

While I've witnessed many nonprofits deny this shift and struggle to incorporate better business models into their long-term mission strategy, the process is leading to stronger, more accountable, and increasingly sustainable cause organizations who may very well multiply their impact on homelessness, domestic violence, animal cruelty, addiction, and every other mission focus.

And much of this credit comes back to funders and donors who are willing to invest in the long game, who are looking beyond the percentage of donations invested in one-time services and reinforcing the importance of internal capacity.

Eide Bailly's Resourcefullness Award is just one example of a funder that sees the bigger picture, investing a total of $15,000 in nonprofits with creative and sustainable revenue generation initiatives in Utah, Arizona, Colorado and Minnesota (applications are due August 12th).

Here in Utah, our Community Foundation just held it's third Social Investors Forum, curating a community-wide dialogue around the importance of funding unique, innovative, and sustainable nonprofit initiatives while bringing new funders to the table who are more comfortable with "investing" rather than "donating".

Our state Arts & Museums Division invests up to $2,500 in arts organizations each year specifically to aid them in developing their capacity.

These focus changes are critical to creating long-term impact. In effect, these are genuine investments that multiply the impact of the funders. They trigger and support internal capacity development and revenue generation programs that allow the nonprofit to further its reach and its mission, year after year.

That's a donation check I want to write.

So, whether your making a personal donation, a grant award, or a creating a corporate giving program, consider reaching out to nonprofits within your mission focus area and finding out which ones are making this leap.

Invest in the long game, not low overhead, which is too often an indicator of low growth, unsatisfied employees, high turnover, and ultimately, low impact.

And for you nonprofits, invest in talented, creative minds that can challenge your status quo, and brag about how you are positioning to make a difference for now, and for the future.

Give a man a fish...and you've got a problem

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The problem? He's coming back for another fish tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. Too many organizations fail to empower men (and women) to fish on their own. There exists a powerful opportunity to improve the long-term outlook for every client we reach, whether we operate a nonprofit or a for-profit. And consumers recognize the difference.

What is the long-term impact of your work? For the individual? For the community? 

Case in point: The U.S. Healthcare System

Within the traditional disease-oriented "healthcare" system:

My child has a rash that is concerning. I call the local pediatric clinic after searching online for which one is in my plan. I make the earliest possible appointment for tomorrow afternoon. It's the only appointment available, but I will be at work, so I ask my husband to handle it. They drive 15 minutes to the clinic, fill out four forms, and wait 15 minutes for the physician. The nurse rooms my daughter and they wait for another 10 minutes. The physician looks at the rash for 5 minutes, recommends an over-the-counter cream, and then bills the insurance for $180. After contractual adjustment, we pay $153 a week later. The rash has still not cleared and my daughter came down with a bad cold several days after the visit...my own throat is a little scratchy.

Consumers, within the healthcare sector and beyond, are beginning to demand a different experience.

They recognize when they are authoritatively told what to do and when they are educated, cared for, and empowered. The latter is a much more satisfying experience.

In what ways are you only giving out fish? Your customers may be demanding a fish. They may genuinely appreciate the fish. But, how you could add in the resources, tools, and approach to truly empower them to fish?

This is especially imperative within mission-driven organizations.

I can hand out a box of food at the local pantry to an impoverished single mother of four and feel really good about it. But, what will that mother do when the food in the box runs out in a few days? Will she have a job, transportation, child care, a living wage, a safe home, and the ability to buy or grow her own food?

The next step could be as simple as a job skill training once a month in the pantry warehouse or posting the job ads and relevant wrap-around services on a bulletin board where clients wait in line to pick up their box.

For-profits get caught in the fish giveaway trap as well.

As a consultant, I may undermine demand for my own services by offering do-it-yourself resources and tools, but the truth is: If you serve your customers well and empower them to do more, you will always be in demand. Meanwhile you will empower yourself to do more by removing dependence on a limited asset...you.

I hire a CPA for my taxes to avoid learning all the ins and outs of various IRS schedules, but I demand that my accountant educate me on how to manage my personal finances better. I've referred nearly a dozen friends and family members to my current CPA because he exudes this rare quality.

The organizations who will rise and stay at the top aren't creating dependency. They are creating empowered evangelists who sing their praises, and become donors or referral sources.

Are your teaching your clients to reel in their own tuna?

The Laws of Subtraction

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The Laws of Subtraction by Matthew E. May was selected in a book club I recently joined. It's a compelling concept and I would have picked up the book otherwise, but I might not have finished it. The six laws of subtraction that May proposes are designed to help us remove the superfluous because success in the "age of excess everything" demands the skill of subtraction. That piqued my interest, as we really do have unlimited options and distractions and the key is the ability to prioritize and tune out the rest.

May compiles more than 50 different stories and perspectives on the topic, resulting in a book more than 200 pages long. I am an easy reader - I love nonfiction and I love new ideas that I can put to use. Unfortunately, I fell asleep twice while attempting to read The Laws of Subtraction.

May failed to apply his own methodology to his writing. The stories and metaphors designed to illustrate his laws went well beyond the point. I would have expected a book on the laws of subtraction to be short, concise, and laced with thought-provoking "Aha!" moments. Unfortunately, the gems were buried in lengthy explanations and I truly don't recall any of the specific laws themselves - they weren't catchy and actionable.

That being said, I respect May's obvious expertise and passion for the topic and took away a few pearls that certainly made the read worthwhile:

Pulsing

Pulsing is the concept of working in 90 minute stints with recharging breaks in between, such as a walk, meditation, doodling, or reading. Studies of brain activity show that we move from higher to lower "alertness" every 90 minutes. May points out that the symptoms of pushing the boundaries include restlessness, hunger, drowsiness and loss of focus, which explains why I find myself staring out the window and eating M&Ms.

I would add emphasis on the first 90 minutes of the day. What would happen if you invested the best of yourself each day into your highest priorities, with a targeted deadline less than 90 minutes away followed by an enjoyable activity? Sprints result in quick wins that build momentum.

Design...In Everything

FedEx LogoWe often only think of design when it comes to logos and advertisements, like this FedEx logo. (Do you see the white arrow?) But simplicity and clarity truly are desirable in all our interactions, so why not consider how simple and clear our lives and businesses are designed?

I often explain too much, burying my focus in a muddle of words. I also save way too many documents in a pile on my desk, just in case I might one day want to review one. What areas of your organization are cluttered or absorb an inordinate amount of your energy? Do you have white space where a person can relax, create, and work effectively?

Intentional Limits

In the past two years, I have often found myself paralyzed by the sheer number of directions I could go in. We all have a variety of passions, interests, and strengths...which to pursue? May observes that intelligent limitations provide the necessary frame to contain our efforts. Without those purposeful guideposts, we stare at a blank page.

Derek Sivers, author of Anything You Want, notes, "Give yourself some intentional restrictions in life and you'll finally get inspired to act. Restrictions will set you free." In what ways can you set better boundaries on your work, your time, and your relationships so that the next step is obvious and builds on the steps that came before?

The Principles of Skunk Works

Skunk Works is the top secret Advanced Development Program for Lockheed Martin. Their legendary chief engineer, Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, developed a strict set of principles for leading this shoestring rapid innovation team to repeated success, and they hold true for leading any team:

  1. It's more important to listen than to talk.
  2. Even a timely wrong decision is better than no decision.
  3. Don't halfheartedly wound problems - kill them dead.

The implications of the lessons contained in The Laws of Subtraction are open for application to large organizations, small groups, and individuals. Fewer distractions, clear direction, and clean space benefit everyone involved.

A surprising and genius vacation policy

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Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to speak to my local American Society of Training and Development chapter on building a change-ready culture. During the presentation, I had participants team up to discuss how they could tackle some of their urgent change problems. The teams shared some of their results afterward and a couple gems emerged around corporate vacation policies that I had to share:

The typical company vacation policy: 

Each employee has the opportunity to take up to X vacation days during the organization's fiscal year and must submit their vacation request ahead of time with manager approval contingent on coverage, seniority, yada, yada, yada.

Invisible fine print: We pretty much expect you to still manage everything while you are out on said vacation. While we can't force you to respond to emails and calls, we will reward and promote the type of employees who aren't ever really on vacation.

The genius company vacation policy: 

You MUST take at least X vacation days and management will actively monitor whether you are taking said vacation days and how your team functions while you are gone.

If YOU are required to deal with the situations that arise, then you are FAILING. If you are micro-managing from Tahiti, you will find yourself across from your supervisor when you return. In fact, we are going to monitor the number of emails you send while you are off duty and if it surpasses X, IT will shut off your access on your next vacation.

Why? 

As Wes Stockman of Nicholas & Company and Jay Naumann of RC Willey pointed out (two fantastic minds on organizational development):

Vacations provide natural opportunities to grow your teams and develop new leaders. Micromanagers hold their teams back and communicate to their direct reports that they are not competent or responsible enough to rise to the occasion, which sabotages a culture of ownership and excellence.  Leadership should empower synergy, not bottleneck growth.

Of course, there is also the more obvious benefit: your employees actually return to work recharged and rested and should they fail to return (or need to be escorted out at some future date), you will have plenty of competent replacements ready to jump in without interruption.

So, next time one of your employees requests time off, consider who will be empowered to practice their role while they are out and communicating strict email boundaries - for everyone's sake.

The Purple Cow | Why It Matters & Giveaway!

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Do you have a purple cow? While Seth Godin may not be an author you are familiar with, this concept might change the way you think about fulfilling your mission, especially if your organization has been around for years and years. All too often, the experience within the purpose-driven community, especially among nonprofits, is a territorial one. It is a sense  of scarcity. The myth of a limited pie of donations is still strong. Many opportunities are wasted by focusing on what others are doing and how to guard the island of grants we've carved out.

But what would happen if instead of chasing dollars with dollars, after all it does cost money to ask for money, we invested some of that cash and effort into being remarkable.

Literally...remarkable.

As in, "I cannot believe how neat this project is. I want to be a part of this. I can't want to tell my friends and family about it."

The concept of a "purple cow" is just that...it's remarkable, unlike the hundreds of other white or brown or black-spotted cows. What do you do within your organization that is truly remarkable?

Thousands of organizations feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and save the children. What if a new organization opened their doors in your hometown with a remarkable way of fulfilling your mission better, or just differently? What kind of impact would that have?

We have entered an age of social innovation rather than "social work". Social entrepreneurs, benefit corporations, social enterprises, and impact investments are driving forward new ideas and testing opportunities to create a bigger impact.

While the recognition of opportunity within the social sector benefits us all on the whole, the climate is charged with tension. There is a divide between the old traditions - boring galas, silent auctions, and holiday appeals for the broken dishwasher - and the exciting pioneers who are pushing the limits and taking major risks.

Regardless of where you fall on the continuum, you're in a crowded field. What sets you apart? What makes your organization remarkable?

Wouldn't it be remarkable if the local homeless shelter installed a large greenhouse on their roof and the homeless and unemployed could work part-time farming food for the soup kitchen, building their resume and earning income?

Would you talk about a women's empowerment group that sent young women to flight school as a precursor to business school scholarships?

Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective "Earn-A-Bike" Program

What if a bicycle collective taught disadvantaged kids how to build a bicycle and then gave it to them, providing confidence, exercise, and transportation? What if they then hired these youth later on to work as bicycle techs in their shops?

The Green Urban Lunchbox

What if a sustainable farm-to-table organization transformed a school bus into a greenhouse so that kids could actually see and take part in where their food comes from at local schools?

These last two purple cows already exist right here in Salt Lake City.

Could you create a purple cow within your mission delivery?

Since we can all agree that passionate, creative organizations who are excited about solving problems in our community are a more attractive location to invest our dollars, share with us what you already do or could do to stand out.

The purplest commentator by the end of the day Sunday, April 13th will receive a free copy of The Purple Cow. Good luck!

5 Ways to Unleash Your Inner Intrapreneur

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I always imagined that once I reached the executive level, I would be free to focus on the bigger picture. Sadly, the C-suite is not a rooftop loft with inspiring views and glass walls where we hatch innovative ideas and brilliant plans with scented dry-erase markers. The reality, for many executives, is a never-ending load of administrative oversight with a fairly constant interruption of “not my job” problems that land on your desk as the last stop. After all the daily organizational maintenance, how do you ensure you stay ahead of the curve — or, better yet, pave the way in your industry with new and better solutions? Whether you’re naturally entrepreneurial — and your inner innovator has simply been stunted by the mundane — or you’re a traditional administrator needing to solve entrenched problems, you can quickly incorporate inventive thinking into your daily repertoire with a few interventions.

Click here to read my full article on the C-Suite Network

Maximizing Impact through Mission Driven Strategy

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Following the latest post on mission drift, how can nonprofits effectively grow, adapt, and innovate for superior performance, while remaining aligned with their ultimate mission? Mission Driven Strategy is a set of guidelines for designing and evaluating strategy toward maximum, mission-based value creation. In many instances, mission-oriented models and guidelines are created within the bubble of the nonprofit culture. Mission Driven Strategy, however, was adapted from the for-profit model, Return Driven Strategy, authored by Mark L. Frigo and Joel Litman.

Stepping back for a moment, if you are involved in a nonprofit, what does strategic planning look like in your organization?

For many, if not most, nonprofits, strategic planning takes the form of an annual retreat where the executive or management team comes together to set a few (or a dozen) goals for the coming year. Very few organizations have a 5-year plan or tangible vision for the future and many are flying by the seat of their pants as they squeeze in the all-day retreat to check-off the annual planning task before they get back to putting out fires while fulfilling five other roles in order to keep overhead low.

While our nonprofits are constantly focused on today, or even yesterday, successful for-profit organizations are positioning for tomorrow. Their products can become irrelevant overnight if innovative competitors get a few steps ahead of them. They therefore invest heavily in strategic planning.

Mission Driven Strategy is simply one of many models which can help us gain a bigger perspective around strategy and effectively position our organizations for sustainability and increased social impact.

As always, we must be cautious in applying overt profit-rooted models and methods to our nonprofit organizations, ensuring that we don't fall into the trap of maximizing revenue around our social causes while disregarding sustainable, positive impact. After all, the latter is why nonprofits exist.

An Adapted Overview of Mission Driven Strategy

Foundational Concepts:

In order to effectively discuss and design a strategic plan, there are a few concepts that we must understand about our organizations. Similar to conducting a SWOT analysis, reviewing the organization through these lenses lays the foundation for the strategic design:

Genuine Assets

What unique or high value assets do we own? Examples could be our unique mission in our geographic area, an ideal location that is embedded within our constituents' community, or a staff comprised heavily of former constituents.

Significant Forces of Change

What external forces are driving change for our mission now or in the near future? Consider scientific or technological breakthroughs; statutory, regulatory, and political change; and cultural and demographic shifts.

The Strategic Plan

Our resulting strategic plan should fulfill the following three goals:

#1: Ethically Maximize Mission-Based Value

Are we doing the right things for the right reasons? How can we adapt or innovate our models, delivery mechanisms, or infrastructure to maximize the value we provide?

#2: Address Constituents' Unmet Needs

Do we have a clear understanding of our causes' needs? How have the needs changed and how will they likely change based on the trends and coming events? How can we best fulfill unmet needs in line with our mission or through partnerships?

#3: Target the Greatest Needs for the Greatest Impact

Where are needs increasing or acting as substantial barriers to mission-delivery? How are we uniquely positioned to impact the greatest needs our constituents face?

Measuring and Monitoring Impact

Example adaptation of the Balanced Scorecard model

The model authors recommend using the Balanced Scorecard model (Kaplan and Norton) for establishing metrics and tracking performance around your Mission Driven Strategy.

The Balanced Scorecard tool was developed to help organizations integrate strategic objectives into daily operations, essentially connecting goals to tasks to measurements. A coming post will review best practices in applying the Balanced Scorecard to our Mission Driven Strategies.

The Bottom Line: Considering how forces of change will drive unmet needs within our mission focus, how can we leverage our genuine assets to develop, deliver, and measure maximized impact?

Nonprofit piety won't change the world

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Why do we get involved in a cause? 88% of us give to charity each year. A quarter of us actually go out and volunteer our time. 10% of us have chosen to work for a nonprofit. We want to change the world for the better.

Perhaps you think about your involvement in a more humble way. You're connected to a cause because you want to do "a little good". You hope to have a small part in improving air quality or feeding the hungry in your home town.

But the deeper drive is that the reality we are faced with, whether it be kids having asthma attacks at recess or a decorated veteran going without a meal, is intolerable. So intolerable that we are willing to take action, even if just through a $10 donation or spending an hour serving soup one evening a month.

It is unbearably frustrating that more than 16 million American children go without something as basic as adequate food while Apple releases unimaginable innovations in technology and Facebook made it possible to share our latest meal with strangers in real-time a decade ago. How have we not solved these basic social problems by now? 

Uncharitable author, Dan Pallotta, sheds light on the root problem; the giant wall that stands in the way of world-changing solutions.

It's us.

It's an entire belief system rooted in the "ethics" of charity and reinforced by decades of indoctrination around how nonprofits should operate. Take 15 minutes and watch Pallotta's paradigm-shifting, eye-opening TED talk:

Intrigued? Pallotta recently spoke to the Utah Nonprofits Association in depth. It's an hour that will change how you donate, where you volunteer, and why. If you then share it with a few people you care about, maybe we can truly empower our nonprofit organizations to begin changing the world.

Our biggest problems don't need a bandaid. They need ground-shaking, innovative solutions that require risk, experimentation, and failure. But, we've been trained to look for reverent organizations who simply transform 90% of our donations into direct relief. Instead, we need to look for organizations that will multiply our donations into a force for change that makes more than a dent in today's suffering while also trying new approaches to prevent tomorrow's.

Follow Pallotta's efforts to change the way we think about charity on Twitter: @charitydefense

Thank you to Lauren at the Community Foundation of Utah for forwarding the UNA video (the second it was available)!

New opportunities for cause collaboration

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Non-profit organizations grew out of early social welfare roots. People driven primarily by moral beliefs fed the poor, took care of the sick, and took in orphans. These groups became more specialized and structured and eventually the non-profit organization was born from legal tax classifications. The mission was the seed and still comes first. Conversely, business is rooted in the ability to make a profit; to earn a living by providing goods and services to customers. There was even a possibility of striking it rich with the next big idea. The financial bottom line was the seed and is still the common metric by which all businesses are measured by.

Despite very different roots, business and mission have always shared a symbiotic relationship. Mission-driven organizations create desirable communities, providing medical care and hospitals, animal welfare and clean-up services, safety nets and religion. Ultimately, non-profits lay the foundation for a dependable workforce for employers.  Businesses in turn provide financial support, in-kind donations, and leadership for non-profit governing boards.

Over the years the boundaries between business and mission have blurred. Businesses have increasingly integrated sustainability into their models and more and more non-profits are being managed by experienced business leaders. More recently, the intermingling has spurred hybrids, creating for-profit organizations with a mission.

Social enterprises have been cropping up for years, but have only recently become recognized in their ability to apply business strategies to tackle social and environmental challenges in just the past few years. The low-profit limited liability corporation, or "L3C", was first created out of Vermont legislation in 2008. Nine states has since adopted similar legislation, allowing business with a purpose to take advantage of flexible LLC laws while also qualifying for "program-related investments" from private foundations.

The benefit corporation, or "B-corp", was born in 2010 when Maryland first passed legislation recognizing this pairing of business with community impact. Unlike traditional business, benefit corporations have a formal purpose to have a "material positive impact" on society and the environment. Their hands are not tied to make decisions that deliver the greatest financial return for the shareholder. As of this writing, 19 states have passed B-corp legislation.

These new models represent giant steps toward solving pressing social challenges...if we work together. Because regardless of how smart, creative or passionate any one of us is, together we create synergy that takes advantage of diverse strengths, expertise, and experience.

Share your best practices. Start a think tank on a shared goal. Reach out to potential partners. Invite new, crazy ideas. Just don't stick your head in the sand and plow forward with the ways you've always done things, or conversely blaze what you think is a brand new trail based out of entrepreneurial ego. Cause collaboration and innovation has never been more accessible or fruitful.

Ignite Your Intrapreneurs Into an Innovation Engine

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Many organizations, especially non-profits, are lacking an innovation engine - the capability to identify and invest in long-term strategic opportunities that produce growth.

Identify Your Intrapreneurs:

A recent article on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network (Recognize Intrapreneurs Before They Leave) and another from Forbes contributor David Williams (The 4 Essential Traits of Intrapreneurs) help to identify this unique and often neglected species of employee through 6 traits:

1. Their primary motivation is influence and freedom, not money.

2. They're future-oriented and passionate about learning.

3. They "greenhouse" ideas - carefully tending to seeds until they have a strong plan.

4. They engage in "visual thinking" - formulating a series of solutions from the initial spark.

5. They are able to "pivot" - balking momentum in favor of better direction.

6. They're confident, but humble with high self-awareness and sense of purpose.

Interestingly, the authors of the HBR post suggest:

In a firm with 5,000 employees, we’ve found, there are at least 250 natural innovators; of these at least 25 are great intrapreneurs who can build the next business for your firm."

That means that only 5% of your workforce are natural innovators and one half a percent are great intrapreneurs.

If you don't have thousands of employees, you may be looking for a needle in a haystack, which makes it all the more important that you intentionally prepare for and nurture these hidden gems, taking advantage of their entrepreneurial combination of talents.

Nurture an Innovation Engine:

As a former intrapreneur who became fed up with bureaucracy and jumped ship, here's what kept me loyal for years and what would have kept me around longer had it been done better:

  • Foster a culture of grassroots best practices, even if you have a long way to go. Intrapreneurs want to be on a winning team. If you involve your frontlines in steering toward a better direction, your natural innovators will come out of the woodwork.
  • Recognize intrapreneurial qualities and connect your innovators with a mentor. Intrapreneurs question the status quo, which often isn't rewarded in management meetings at lower levels. Connect them with a mentor who can support their ideas and refine their approach to change leadership.
  • Recruit several intrapreneurs onto your executive leadership team. Without change leadership, your executive meeting is all talk with depressing status updates.
  • Intrapreneurs in leadership positions are prone to burn out. Support these executives with enough authority and a team so that they can effectively tackle strategic initiatives with success. This is your innovation engine.
  • Channel your innovation engine's ideas into an ambitious goal and gift it back to them. Big projects that will have a big impact are bright, shiny objects to intrapreneurs. I was always excited to be part of the process of strategic innovation.
  • Create a safe environment for experimentation and revisions. Too many leadership teams try to change on demand, doling out deadlines and metrics to their innovators, which in turn deters creativity and the ability to change course when needed.
  • Lead with integrity. Nothing kills loyalty quicker than deception and loyalty is a cultural pre-requisite for the change that your innovation engine needs to initiate. Adhere to strict values and take swift action to remove negative influences in your culture before they drive your talent out.

The concept of entrepreneurial employees isn't necessarily new, but it's gaining more attention because it's easier and more rewarding than ever before to leave your 9-to-5 and start your own business. Your best intrapreneurs are an online form and a quick website away from complete autonomy.

That being said, people are social creatures who want to be part of something bigger than themselves. By creating and nurturing an innovation engine, your organization will gain enormous competitive advantage over time. Plus, you will likely keep your intrapreneurs from going rogue longer and attract a steady flow of new ones to fill those big shoes.

What do you think? 

4 Activities to Scale Your Impact as a Leader

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As we reviewed in the prior post, The Single Biggest Mistake Type-A Leaders Make, leaders are often very effective producers on their own. However, once you make the move into a leadership position, you're impact needs to scale. In fact, if you can generate results beyond your solo efforts early, your move to leadership will happen sooner and more smoothly. I would also add that this topic is easily adapted to entrepreneurs and startup leaders. Employees need the same types of interactions as your tribe, although the vehicles will be different.

1) Build influence.

First things first, you need influence within your relationships in the organization. Your influence factor is your ability to have an impact on the behavior of others. With your new title comes some perceived and real power and therefore some built-in influence.

However, new leaders often rely too heavily on this surface influence to get things done and are surprised when the outcomes are lackluster.

To foster a deeper level of influence with your colleagues you need create trust, buy-in, and engagement. These three elements could each generate a hefty book, but the basics always hold true:

  • TRUST: Be honest and transparent. Don't play office politics. Never gossip. Bring concerns up directly and early. Follow through on what you say. Admit to your mistakes. Be accessible and visible.
  • BUY-IN: Relate. Ask for feedback. Share experiences. Reserve your veto for emergencies only. Demonstrate commitment. Know the front lines. Learn spouses' and kids' names.
  • ENGAGEMENT: Interact often. Be positive. Nurture confidence. Invite perspective. Maintain an open line of communication. Ask questions. Listen. Appreciate.

2) Focus on a few priority projects.

Nothing is more deflating than the inability to complete assigned tasks, except maybe the inability to complete exciting voluntary tasks. Your impact will wane dramatically if you spread everyone too thin or take on so much that you overwhelm your teams.

Recognize that your level of impact on each project is inversely correlated with the number of projects you attempt to lead. Take time upfront, especially as a new leader, to intimately understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing your organization. An intimate understanding means that you grasp both the 10,000 foot view and get your hands dirty on the front lines.

3) Invite a variety of talent to your teams. 

No matter how much you try not to, there will inevitably be a handful of trusted direct reports and colleagues who you want to involve in every project. Unless you want to lose those assets, don't do it.

Formal teams, such as the executive team or the finance team, should not be the go-to team structure. Their views are biased based on what they have in common and any decisions that impact "others" will fall flat.

Regardless of whether your project campaigns are occurring simultaneously or years apart, always recruit fresh talent. While having one status meeting and managing only a few personalities is easier in the short term, each project's outcomes are further diluted by the number of repeat players. Like yours, their time, energy, creativity, and focus is limited.

Plus, if you are going to create greater and greater impact, you are going to need to consistently source new leaders and engagement from all levels of the organization. Project teams are excellent staging grounds.

4) Continuously source and meld ideas.

You may believe you have the perfect solution, but its not only highly unlikely, it's also a surefire way to kill your influence factor, which means that implementation will inevitably fail.

Always ask for ideas. Whether you're holding a focus group or having lunch with a colleague and regardless of what phase a project is in, ask for perspective and genuinely emphasize the value of their opinion.

As you meld ideas together or act on advice, give credit where credit is due and be sure to include everyone in the celebrating milestones, even if their advice fell flat.

Ultimately, these activities become your full-time job as a leader. They build on one another and generate highly impactful and sustainable results. With greater impact comes greater confidence and momentum to tackle the next priority.