Friday, September 9, 2011

Drucker on Leadership: Anticipating Crisis

Drucker’s second chapter on Managing the Non-Profit Organization is a wide ranging discussion on leadership. Much of what he says may seem like common sense, other points may not be so evident. The purpose here is to outline his key argument and to draw on it as a take-off point for additional commentary.

His first essential characteristic of effective leadership that Drucker highlights, the one that I will highlight here, is that of anticipating crisis in a timely manner, which, in turn, calls for the importance of “innovation,” or “constant renewal” at various smaller or larger scale. The emerging crisis could call for a changing focus on the level of organizational structure in order to better face new market or funding sources, or on the nature of the service in responding to unanticipated need, perhaps stimulated by changing demographic factors or new client demands. An example of the former would be some repositioning of staff responsibilities to better align with targeted service delivery.

As an example, I was initially hired by Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford as Manager of Community-Based Programming. My colleague served as the manager of the main program. We were both paid about the same and held equivalent rank, yet she supervised over 200 students while I worked with under75 students. Historically, providing services to a series of satellite centers had built in cost efficiencies when compared providing services in the main program with greater administrative support systems built in. After making a tough organizational decision to provide more resources into the main program, my boss divided up the responsibilities in which my colleague would oversee the ESL program while I managed the Basic Literacy program. The result was each of us were working more out of our core strengths and more closely working with an equal number of students and volunteer tutors That is an example of innovative change at the staff level which enhanced organizational capacity to more effectively realize agency goals.

The decision by my boss to drop the one-on-one tutoring program and to support students exclusively through the small group tutoring format is an example of a change at the level of service provision. The shift had been in the work for some years in the creation of our tutoring center in which we added small group tutoring as a vibrant complement to the traditional LVA individualized, “each one teach one” program orientation. The small group tutoring program provides a creative synthesis of the individualized student-tutor match and the collaborative dynamic of the ABE classroom. It also serves as a powerful source of community building in microcosm to parallel the program wide community building we were developing at our center. We were also facing certain demographic and cultural realities which pushed us toward an intentional embrace of the small group program in terms of increasing numbers of students desiring services and a diminishing pool of volunteer tutors to provide the instruction.

On a broader level, the shift to an all small group instruction program paralleled the broader agency-based transition of taking a suburban program model and transforming it into an urban program design. The one-on-one tutoring model is simply not an effective mode of program delivery when working with hundreds of students with a limited teaching pool with the programmatic desire as well to provide some decent managerial on-site supervision to assure that optimal learning is taking place.

The related shift was the declension in volunteerism in which it became increasingly difficult to say nothing of cost inefficient to training hundreds of volunteer for individualized student matches. The problem was compounded as we drew on a younger, upwardly mobile aspiring set of volunteers who would stay with the program for a year or two, but more likely to have multi-year careers as volunteer tutoring. The upside in drawing on this group is that as a whole, they were more receptive in serving as a small group tutor. The shift to an exclusive, site-based small group tutoring program was largely a response to these issues, which became feasible once we assessed that the model was intrinsically viable in meeting student learning needs.

It required the abandonment of the traditional model, which has been a stumbling block to many volunteer-based urban adult literacy programs which would be well served by making a similar move. Making these calls and carrying out the corresponding implementation processes required high level decision-making in the light of anticipated crises and abandonment of traditional programming, however valid they served the needs of the past. Effective decision-making is at the center of Drucker’s approach to managing for results that truly matter.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

On Literacy Day a Success Story

The following article appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune on September 8, 2011.


Literacy is referred to as “the people’s campaign,” partly because of the volunteerism in this effort. But the real “people” here are the students who emerge from darkness with a burning torch and from silence with voices that tell of their journeys to literacy.

Meet 23 year-old Dominique Calhoun.
Growing up in Reno, Dominique thought he would become a truck driver, like his father. But in school, something was making him see letters “backwards.” He knew by age 6 that he was not getting it. “All the other kids knew how to read and I didn’t. I knew right away. They called me ‘dumb’ and ‘stupid,’ and I was in fights all the time.”

He remembers a teacher from second grade who was helping him learn but who went away. He says, “At that time, I knew I was learning.” Years later, he was told by his ninth-grade teacher that, at best, he would end up being a thug. “I didn’t understand it. There was nothing wrong with me. I knew I could be somebody.”
Today, Dominique, a student of literacy programs associated with the San Diego Council on Literacy, is a graduate of the Adult Learner Leadership Institute, a leadership development program for advanced literacy students.

When asked if he thought this day would ever come, he said, “No. I thought I’d be dead or in prison. Four years ago, I couldn’t read at all.”

“I was homeless for two months, and that’s a scary thing,” Dominique said. “I left Reno and went to live with my sister in San Diego and she helped me. She looked at my reading skills and said, ‘Dominique. You can’t read anything.’ Once I became part of a reading program, I found out that I wasn’t alone in struggling to read.”
Dominique remembers the day when he realized that he was consistently breaking the code. “The letters and the sounds were all coming together for me. I broke down in tears and I raced home to tell my sister. It was my tutors who kept me encouraged.” One of his tutors was Gilbert Sandoval, a former literacy student himself. His tutors, all volunteers, saw that Dominique had the ability to read and reach his goals.

Eventually, his hard work paid off. “I can read my bills now. I can fill out an application; I can read a lot more work-related materials. I’m a janitor now. People think that janitors don’t need to do much reading. I not only have to read. I have to write and I have to do math.”

His future plans include going to college. “And I want to speak to other young people, the troublemakers and class clowns and low-level readers, because I know that if they learn the way that I did, they’re going to be more motivated than the average person. I want to be a schoolteacher.”
Dominique now reads at an eighth-grade level but is also enjoying college-level books.

More than 20 percent of adults in San Diego County read at the lowest level of literacy, and most of them are fluent in English. On this International Literacy Day, as the San Diego Council on Literacy celebrates its 25th anniversary, this is a good time to remind the San Diego community about the importance of literacy and its impact on individual lives, families, communities and indeed, the nation.
More assistance for literacy students and programs would translate into parents being better equipped to help their children with their schoolwork and employees being better prepared to meet the informational needs of an increasingly service-oriented economy. It would also result in residents being better able to critically read and interpret the social and political issues of our time and to participate with a stronger knowledge base in the local community, thus contributing greater vigor to our home, San Diego.

Literacy programs alone are not the solution. If we want our children to succeed in school, dropout rates to decrease, more children from low-income families to go to college, health care costs to decrease and health care quality to increase, better parenting, a reduction in crime and an increase in employability, we need communitywide investments in greater literacy.

As Dominique discovered, he was not alone. And, as Dominique has proved, our investments are making a world of difference. The “people’s campaign” requires people. We invite you, encourage you, to join the San Diego Council on Literacy in going to the core of so many of our community challenges through the power of literacy.

Cruz is chief executive officer of the San Diego Council on Literacy. Demetrion is an adjunct instructor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reflection on Drucker's Thoughts on a Well-Crafted Mission Statement

For the time being I will be drawing on this site to highlight blog posts I have written on my website, gdemetrion Inquiry-Based Consulting

The blog that I created for that website is titled Transformative Change Management which will focus on various aspects of organzational deveopment at the staff, team, program, or agency-wide level. As the conprehensive adult educator, my focus extends into the arena of human resource development. Posts like this will probably be of interest among tose perating programs or agencies, though with creative appication could speak to classroom teachers as well.


Peter Drucker’s book Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Principles and Practices provides many useful insights relevant to the nonprofit as well as the for profit sector. In fact, Drucker observes elsewhere that “successful and [well] performing nonprofits” have a great deal to teach those operating for profit businesses especially in the area of professional management and ongoing training for all staff. In this, he draws a common link in organizational life that applies to both sectors.

In the first chapter of Managing the Nonprofit Organization Drucker draws out the importance of a well-structured mission statement which he lays out in broad, but impressive strokes. His points may appear obvious, but it is in its operation rather than in its formal articulation that is critical if the mission, in fact, is going to drive the organization. In this respect it is not the elegance, but the directive of the mission statement leading to “right action.” Such action, in turn, needs to be based on what is really going on in the current operation as it relates to what could come to be if organization or work unit were effectively structured to attain its optimal potential. Such a properly aligned mission statement would be the operational engine in the attainment of core values or principles. This is what Drucker prfoposes.

Among other things the mission statement needs to be both clear and narrow in focus in which, if well- articulated, still requires much finesse in bringing the mission to successful fruition. The challenge, as Ducker lays it out, are the few things that an organization is particularly adept in carrying out which will have the greatest impact on its stakeholders. Coming to terms with the few things an organization can do well often requires abandoning things which are currently done, but which don’t have sufficient payoff to warrant continued commitment to them.

Abandoning pet projects or even time honored programs and activities if they know longer fit the current or near future term of the organization is one of Drcker’s reoccurring themes. It is essential to any sharpening of an operationally focused mission statement that empowers action rather than staying on the shelf. In Drucker’s words, “Things that were of primary importance may become secondary or totally irrelevant. You must watch this constantly, or else you will very soon become a museum piece.” The reality of this observation is apt justification for its truism, which requires a great deal of amplification in bringing mission, including a well-crafted one to the operational objectives of the organization.

I’ll use our 55+ community as an example where I serve as the President of the Recreation Club. Our by-laws contain the two primary purposes of the club:

To promote good fellowship, encourage sociability, and insure a friendly feeling among the residents of the community.
To promote, organize, and execute activities that will encourage participation by all residents, thereby furthering a harmonious fellowship.
For the sake of this discussion I’ve restructured these two purposes to read as a single mission statement; namely: “To promote good fellowship, encourage sociability, and insure a friendly feeling among the residents of the community through the effective organization and execution of activities that will encourage participation by all residents, thereby furthering a harmonious fellowship.”

On the surface this may be a perfectly fine statement, which it would be if it actually reflected the motivation underlying our community life at this time. The issue is that it may not fit our current reality in terms of what the residents' actually believe and act on in our current setting, even though it may have done so in a previous era. To the extent that the current mission statementdoes not reflect the current reality, it sits on the shelf as an ideal or is simply ignored.

Part of the current reality is that only a relatively small number (20-40 out of 180) participate in community activities on a regular basis and others do when there is nothing else going on for them. That is, for most members, the club activities are a low priority. This doesn’t mean that the synthesized vision statement is not viable. It does mean that there is some substantial gap between the stated mission and the reality on the ground. This, in turn could mean that a more effective organizational structure is needed to better realize the goals embedded in the mission, or that another mission statement is needed to help the community better enact the ideals of sociability, good fellowship, friendliness, and participation in common activities that may be effectively served by another structure than a formal Recreation Club.

I won’t explore this matter here since I’m using it simply as an example. To resolve this issue we could do worse than that of applying the three “‘musts’ of a successful mission statement" Drucker lays out in the conclusion of Chapter One.

The first is that of exploring opportunities and needs. As Drucker puts it, “Where can we, with the limited resources we have,” of time, energy, and money, “really make a difference?”

The second is that of competence; that is, what are we as a community good at and able to accomplish with distinction?
The third is that of commitment; what is it we will really put our heart, soul, and energy into on a consistent and long term basis?
Drucker’s core point in this chapter is that a cogent exploration of these three conditions provides the basis for a well-constructed tightly woven mission statement with a high operational impetus. That is, it provides the directive force to the fulfillment of its embedded ideals and keeps the organization on course. By contrast, a mission statement that falls down on any of these three lever points will fail in some fundamental sense.

There is obviously more to effective operations than having a well–crafted mission statement dynamically aligned with institutional behavior. However, it is a key standard upon which to construct what Jim Collins refers to as the great organization, one built to last. Without such a framing mission, the problem of going in too many directions and not building sufficiently on core values and strengths becomes all too pervasive. This, too, is one of Drucker's core claims with which perhaps many of us can resonate.