Onward Focused” “How are you going to Impact world?

I think that Ben puts it best AARP foundation in developing its Dashboard/Balance Scorecard, is missing an “onward focus” and mission impact.  It’s completely internally focused because their actual mission is financial performance as their Dashboard/Balance Scorecard was almost completely driven from The AARP’s Dashboard.  The intriguing question here is that who works for whom?  If AARP is lobbying congress for money, as Ben indicated, why would they want to give it to the foundation?  As we have learned in the class all semester long:  that the mission drives the strategic planning process and hence driving the growth of the company.  Rosie from United Way states it best:  “what are we trying to do, why are we trying to do it, how are we going to do that, and who are we doing it for?”  These questions are not clearly answered or defined in the AARP’s foundation Dashboard/Balance Scorecard.

When Shabnam was doing her analysis she stated:  there needs to be better “Organization and Clarity” if this tool is going to be useful to drive the foundation’s mission.  Oh, that’s another issue!  Does the foundation really know what its mission is? Is it a charitable organization or actually a nonprofit?   Is the foundation free to operate on its own or does the board and owners of AARP dictate how the foundation operates?  When Shabnam was speaking I thought of the Susie B. Komen foundation where the sister and founder of Susie B. Komen had to step away from the nonprofit organization because her views and mission became the mission of the foundation while the organization lost track of what they were actually trying to accomplish for their customers.

It’s great that the foundation wants to align and to be integrated with AARP to optimize their resources and make the greatest impact.  But to what ends?  Ben mentioned that AARP/Foundation is targeting the “disproportionally [upper to] to wealthy middle class” when that is not their primary customer.  The AARP Foundation was created in response to Congress passing laws to combat corruption in profit organizations such as AARP so the grants and funds would get to the people as intended; to make a social impact.  Essentially, the AARP foundation was created as result of these policy changes to ensure AARP would still receive its money from the government.  If AARP really was only established as a funding arm the purpose as to “why” a nonprofit is created and the policy changes from Congress are lost hence being a way around the law or a loophole for AARP to keep making the same amount of money.

Like Zerina said the strategic processes should have been done independently.  The strategic planning team after spending several months going through a planning process just got lazy and didn’t take the time to “assess, reassess, and reevaluate objectives.”  It just “plugged and jugged, copied and pasted” their performance measures from AARP.  This makes you wonder whether the foundation actually had control of this or was there a non-transparent directive from AARP.  This seems to be a recent trend in business over the last 10 years to develop foundations or different parts of companies so the company can make more money, have tax write-offs, and protect themselves from litigation.  As we learned in order for a strategic planning process to be successful and nonprofit’\s to have the greatest social impact, organizations need to focus on its MISSION and CUSTOMERS to drive its structure/culture.

– David

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You Actually May Not Know AARP: How c3s and c4s Operate

Of the discussions that came out in class, the reconciling the 501(c)(3) vs. 501(c)(4) vs. the for profit wing, status came out as being possibly a positive for the AARP foundation, because they have access to the brand name, and people thus take them seriously, and possibly being a negative, because people “wrongly” associate the non-profits actions with the politically active AARP. These positives and negatives are explained in terms of how they affect the nonprofit, however very few people seem concerned about how this confusion or association wrongly affects one of the most important stakeholders at any organization, the organization member.

I argue, that while organizations can evaluate the advantages of creating simultaneous it creates unfair confusion and deception for members and stakeholders who, in joining an organization for its benefits or its charitable actions may not understand the politics to which they are agreeing. Another classic example of this deception comes from AAA. Millions of drivers sign up for AAA every year in order to receive the Automobile Associations’ uber-reliable (or comically unreliable, depending on your history) service. I wonder however how many of those millions of drivers know they are actually signing up for a political advocacy organization. I’ll be very few. Even more sure am I that even fewer are actually aware what those political positions actually are that their money pays for. Instead, it seems mostly, that they are content with just having their roadside assistance.

AARP works the same way, or possible even more deceiving. When you become a member, for say, the benefits, of AARP, do you know what they are advocating? Do you care? How much of your money goes towards actual charitable efforts like AARP Foundation.

In the age of complete transparency for Non-Profits, I find this a problem. Non Profits should be more transparent when you are signing up for an organization, and members deserve to know more than the benefits. They need to know what the AARP foundation is and how its different from AARP.

– Michael

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Fear of Measurement

Last class, we had a wonderful guest speaker, Keanne Henry, the Director of Strategy and Innovation at AARP Foundation, talk to us about her experience with the strategy development process.  One particular part of her presentation that I found quite compelling was her thoughts on the fear of measurement exhibited by staff, and even leaders, of organizations.  Indeed, in my own experience as a management analyst responsible for developing human resources analytics, I’ve often encountered this reaction to metrics.  A part of this fear is the punitive consequences that some may perceive to be attached to any newly developed metrics that are to be tracked on a regular basis, something that Keanne also pointed out.  Staff and managers may not want to have their performance tied to metrics, even if they have control over them.  But I think it can also have a motivating effect on people.  Without metrics, how do you know if you’re on track to meet your goals?  What motivates you to do better when you don’t even know where you are currently or where you should be heading?  What better way to define your current state and your ideal state than with some objective quantitative (or qualitative) measures?

So as a leader of an organization, how do you help your employees overcome a fear of measurement? First, leaders may need to leave some room for their staff not reaching a target.  People shouldn’t see metrics as something that can lead to a drastic pay cut or a loss of a job.  Second, the metrics that employees are held accountable for should be numbers that they can actually control.  You certainly don’t want to have someone’s performance and/or goals tied to measures that they have absolutely no control over.  Third, you need to implement effective measures despite people’s fears. Yes, people may not like it at first, but sometimes it’s necessary for everyone to step out of his or her comfort zone.  And finally, talk about measurement. It’s important for those impacted by metrics to realize that there is a purpose behind those numbers.  Indeed, we live in an age where metrics are becoming more and more important. What organizations measure allows them to track their progress, focus their attention, and aim higher.

– Shabnam Tehrani (Shabi)

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Should divisions or individuals also have own mission, vision and strategy?

We had a very exciting and inspirational class this week, having Keanne Henry, Director of Strategic Planning, AARP Foundation. As I was listening to her and dealing with Harvard Business Review cases regarding their “dashboard” creation process, I was trying to figure out if AARP Foundation, a distinct legal entity which, however, is strongly affiliated to AARP, should have its vision and mission separately from AARP. I was applying a similar question to consider about my group project; our group is studying Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine (HJF), which was originally established according to a congressional bill to advance military medical research. If a nonprofit organization is strongly affiliated to the Federal Government, should it have its own “aspirational” vision, for example? Coming back to AARP, if each legal entity should have its vision and mission, how about divisions and sections of an organization? How about individuals? Impressed by AARP Foundation’s vision and mission introduced by Keanne, and after subsequent contemplation, I am thinking having own vision, mission and strategy, formally or informally, could be beneficial to all entities I mentioned above to exploit their full potential. At the same time, relationships with their affiliated entities should be well taken into account for their visions, missions and strategies to be made; organizational, divisional and individual’s visions and missions bi-directionally ripple one another. I am now feeling urgency of the need for having my own professional vision, mission and strategy. How do you all think?

– Makoto

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Wishy Washy Doesn’t Inspire

First, congratulations Shabi, Ben, and Zerina! It was fun to see how many different perspectives we all used to approach the assignment and develop recommendations to improve AARP Foundation’s dashboard.

Keanne Henry, Director of Strategy and Innovation at AARP Foundation were an absolutely dynamic speaker and a wonderful way to wrap up our course last evening. Personally, I was inspired by her commitment to involve her staff in improving strategy and performance management at the AARP Foundation.

During her presentation, Keanne mentioned the article “Success Without the Pitfalls” by Dr. Robert Davies. In the article, Dr. Davies mentions the following 7 keys to success in creating a Balanced Scorecard:


  1. Work out your strategy. Without a clear strategic direction, the scorecard becomes a confusing and ambiguous tool.
  2. Do not use the scorecard process as a top down management control tool. Implement it not only in Head Office, but in all areas of the organization.
  3. Ensure that local measures and objectives are developed to support your organization’s strategy.
  4. Sponsor action when significant scorecard variances are revealed
  5. Remember that the Balanced Scorecard is the organization’s performance management system – not one of several
  6. Embed the scorecard within your strategy process and ensure that the implications of any strategic change are worked through its four dimensions
  7. Avoid reification – the scorecard is a window through which you see your world. Make sure it gives a clear and not distorted view.

Source: Dr. Robert Davies (2005)

As we discussed numerous times in class, if the scorecard/dashboard sits on a shelf or buried under a stack of files, it’s not serving its purpose.  A scorecard/dashboard should motivate staff and organizational performance. If it’s the latter, then it’s time to remove any uninspiring “wishy washy” or unclear language, integrate metrics with performance, embed the scorecard/dashboard with strategy, and develop a user-friendly or visually appealing design.

While I see the value in scorecards/dashboard and love Dr. Davies 7 keys of success, I must admit I am still debating if the tool is useful for strategy implementation. After spending a semester learning about strategy development and working directly with local non-profit organizations, what do you all think?

– Anna

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What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

One of my favorite inspirational quotes is, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” While I have often thought about this notion within the context of my personal life, I previously had not thought about its application in a professional framework.

I have spent my entire career in the for-profit sector, where “checking the box” and goal achievement is valued. Corporations, particularly in the financial services sector, establish targets with the explicit intention of achieving those objectives; failing to do so has negative ramifications. Throughout this course, however, I have learned the importance of developing strategic stretch goals in the context of creating an idealized vision. Challenging an organization to envision a better world is inspirational. In the corporate world, creating an idyllic vision is less applicable, and frankly, less enjoyable. Imagining the idealized version of a luxury-clothing retailer or a vinyl siding manufacturer would hardly be inspiring.  Moreover, a “perfect” company would be inwardly focused on maximizing that specific firm’s profitability, whereas the “perfect” nonprofit would address problems in a communal manner, working to create a better world for all.

Aspirational thinking in nonprofit organizations makes people excited about the future and unlocks creative potential.  During the semester, we completed a creative SWOT exercise. We were tasked with envisioning a world without constraints stimulated creative ideas for creating a world-class Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. Not only was the exercise fun and exciting, it encouraged participants to dream big and test the limits of the organization’s potential. What would the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership be if we had no limits and could not fail? Certainly, forming a vision for the Center that was free from constraints allowed the team to dream of goals that would otherwise be considered almost impossible. Hopefully, we will all have the opportunity to apply such visions to better the world in the future.

– Alison

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Resisting Resistance: More Leadership Guidance from Kotter

Kotter is on it. Not only does he lead us through the change process in 8 easy steps, he then steps back and looks at resistance to change as well. Kotter’s resistance model, which I found on a website listed below, identifies 4 foundations for resistance: Parochial Self Interest, Misunderstanding, Low Tolerance to Change, and Different Assessments of the Situation. Categorizing different types of resistance allows a more nuanced choice in how to confront an individual’s or sub-population’s concerns. Overall, Kotter and another researcher, Schlesinger, offer a menu of six “change approaches” one may take upon encountering resistance.
The first and perhaps most essential is education and communication. Readings suggest trust is an essential element in a successful business environment and sharing information openly is a way to set a strong foundation. Participation and involvement are the next suggestion. People who feel they are a part of something are more likely to support it than those left outside. At this stage, involvement is not co-optation, but that will come. For those fearful of the effects of change, facilitation and support are recommended to ease the transition and build comfort with the new systems, skills and habits valued in the new arrangement. When power is not fully concentrated at the top or the drive for change is not unanimous among the decision elite, Kotter and Schlesinger suggest negotiation and agreement can mitigate some concerns and still keep a majority of the change emphasis moving forward. Even if it means making some sacrifices and allowing some “vetos”. In some cases, they think allowing resistant parties to phase themselves out through retirement or other means can also be effective.
Despite the collaborative spin on the four suggestions above, Kotter and Schlesinger offer two more suggestions for “when other tactics will not work or are too expensive” or when there is a need for speed. Their final two methods are ‘manipulation and co-optation’ and ‘explicit and implicit coercion’. Co-optation can mean giving a possible opponent a symbolic leadership role, though this will backfire if discovered. Coercion can be threats to privileges, funding or values such as discussing the bleak future if change is not allowed to occur. It could also mean establishing letting it be known that there is no longer room for those against the change in the organization.
It is always nice to be able to think of multiple alternatives to use when striving for a goal and meeting resistance, so I have found this to be a useful framework. It is not a comprehensive framework however. These suggestions while useful are only applicable from a leadership perspective or from those holding some amount of power. Kotter reinforces his idea that power leads change in the leading change articles we read. Grass-roots efforts that encounter resistance from the power structure could require a whole other set of tools and would be limited in their ability to select from the ones Kotter presents. However, the 4 foundations or power framework are useful more universally. Understanding the viewpoints of others can become a powerful tool in all efforts for change.

Sources: http://www.valuebasedmanagement.net/methods_kotter_change_approaches.html

– Jillian

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