Tuesday, February 26, 2008


In my last post, I talked about uncovering the yardsticks that senior managers use to make decisions. So what were the factors I used for making decisions at Save the Children? I felt this was an important thing to communicate to my team, especially if I was not going to be around to help making decisions. In the letter I wrote to my IT managers, I mentioned the five principles that I use for my yardsticks. There are some things specific to Save, but I think you'll get the point. Here they are:

1) Take risks. We may need to protect our base of infrastructure like it was our hard-earned savings account. But we also need to have experiments, some risky ventures, that are out on the edge, at the top of the pyramid--even some things that fail. We have found that those experiments, like our PDA venture, can soon become mainline. When taking risks, look to the future. Challenge the present with the future. Ask how a project or purchase or training will help us be where we need to be in three or more years, not just for today.

2) Hedge your bets. When you make plans, think about and include a "b-plan" with your "a-plan." If the a-plan starts to go south, push forward the b-plan. This is diversifying the portfolio. Remember, we most often don’t know how things are going to turn out! What will you do if things change?

3) Don't build up in-house what is better done by others. If it's a standard function, a “commodity,” use the off-the-shelf, standard solution, don't build it. If it's a basic process, partner with someone to do it, don't do it ourselves. We have more to learn here, but ultimately we will realize that the best protection for our jobs and our team by focusing on the truly value-added things, like integrating services and applications, not on the basic, commodity things that others can do better than we can ever hope to do. Ask what this means for email for example.

4) Start small and keep it simple. Again and again, we have found that small is beautiful. What you will learn from the pilot will be so important to planning the big project, revealing what will work and what won't--and how to keep it simple, pragmatic. We are a nonprofit; we don't take the gold-plated route to anything. We are the kings and queens of the pragmatic solution.

5) Get the return. Ask how this will benefit children before asking how it will benefit the agency or IS. Ask about where the connection to children is. If we can't draw the line from the project to the benefit for children, question the project! Remember that if you are not working for a child, you are working for someone who is.

I then said that if we follow these five principles, I know we will move the department and the agency forward in the way I would if I were here. These five may compete with each other, but remember than truth comes from the dialog. Talk about it, debate it, but make a decision and go forward with confidence!

God may be in the details, but I'm trusting my team to be Solomon.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The planning begins in earnest.

Within thirty days of my trip north, I'm gathering and planting the seeds of what needs to grow while I'm gone. There are a myriad of details from how do we move our strategy forward to who signs my timesheet?

An advisor suggested beginning with an exercise. Write a letter to your team, she said, on the most important things you want them to know. Make these about the how of what you do and not the what. And write it as if you are leaving in ten minutes. Go!

Nothing like an impossible deadline to focus the mind. So what's most important? Yardsticks.

When I was a consultant, a Wall Street client asked if we could help get their software projects on track. It became apparent that the key issue was too many projects that were all "immediate" needs. Through a series of exercises, we sequenced the projects over a three-year horizon. What was important about the exercise was not as much about creating a more realistic project plan as it was about clarifying a number of implied decision rules senior managers were using. Things like, "will it increase near-term sales" or "does it meet a new regulatory requirement" or is it a "client special request?"

The goal of developing a company's yardsticks is to enable managers and staff at all levels to (a) make decisions about projects and activities with a more senior management mind-set, and (b) to constructively question the priority of all projects and activities to assess whether they are aligned with the organization's key bets, or strategic goals. When the goals and rules of the game clear, it is possible for teams to be empowered to accomplish objectives with a high sense of mission and ownership.

So that's the goal for this week; communicate the yardsticks. And also figure out which books need to get packed in backseat of my car.


p.s. The press release of this fellowship has been posted on the Dartmouth web site, here: http://www.tuck.dartmouth.edu/news/releases/pr20080215_cds.html
Also check out the "RadioTuck" interview I did during my visit to the Tuck School last fall, here: http://mba.tuck.dartmouth.edu/digital/RadioTuck20/MediaPages/NetHope.html

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Where to begin? Lewis Carroll suggested to "Begin at the beginning...and go on till you come to the end: then stop." Imagine a Blog with a beginning and an end!

This adventure began with a dinner in Hanover, NH in late October. I was asking my host for recommendations for professors with whom I could partner in my part of the Connecticut woods. Save the Children offers its long-term employees a sabbatical, and I was looking to teach and learn (and write). "Why not consider Dartmouth?" he asked. "Why not?" I said. In hindsight I'm reminded of the adage, "be careful what you wish for; you just might get it!" I soon had a formal invitation, and the planning began.

At this point, it is customary to say what you intend to do in this bit of writing. For the on-line media it may include a commitment to frequency, topics to cover, places to visit, goals to achieve. I will resist all of that. If I have something worth saying, I'll say it. Otherwise expect nothing. You just may get it.