Nine Strategies to Scale Impact

We recently engaged with Virtual Enterprises International (VEI) to help them scale their impact across the nation. VEI is an incredibly effective live business simulation that integrates with the school day and allows students to become young professionals in a transformed classroom. After 18 years of program design and delivery, VEI has proven its model and expanded to 350 schools nationwide, reaching 10,000 students. But think about it: there are 25,000 public and 12,000 private secondary schools in America. That’s a total of 18 million secondary students. The chasm between the number of students currently served and a population-level scale is vast.

This challenge is classic in the social sector. Highly effective models tend to be resource and human-capacity intensive. Teach for America, a remarkable and well run nonprofit with a $212 million annual budget, still only reaches 750,000 students per year. Many social sector organizations must truly pivot to scale and achieve maximum positive impact.

Building on the great work of many of our colleagues, including Jeff Bradach, we believe these are the nine of the most powerful strategies to scale impact:  Continue reading

Generate Leads & Influence Your Target Audience with Network Analysis

Applying social network analysis to strengthen and grow the global B Corp network.

Social Network Analysis (SNA) allows us to visualize and measure the connections between individuals, information, and organizations. Applying SNA can reveal how various stakeholder groups within a network are connected, and how information and resources flow through that network. From this, SNA can identify individuals or organizations who are key influencers exhibiting high degrees of “social capital” within a given community or around a given topic. While not a silver bullet, SNA is an important tool for network and community-building efforts.

When paired with emerging real-time and public data sources such as Twitter, SNA can expand your ability to quickly identify promising leads, distribute key messages through the most influential sources to reach your target audience and track online conversations in real-time. Continue reading

The One Thing You Need To Collaborate Effectively

Trust-Matters“The fundamental insight of 21st century physics has yet to penetrate the social world,” Peter Senge wrote. “Relationships are more important than things.”

Human systems are effective when the relationships between people are strong and authentic. Consequently, the most important currency in any collaborative effort is trust. But what actually is trust?

Fernando Flores and Robert Solomon, in their seminal book Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life, make a distinction between simple trust, blind trust, and authentic trust. Simple trust is the untroubled, unthinking trust that young children have for their parents. Blind trust is the refusal even to consider any evidence or argument that one should not be trusting, the kind of trust demanded perhaps, by some religious cult leaders, or that we might feel in spite of mounting evidence that one’s spouse is cheating.

Authentic trust – what we call “trust for impact” – is concerned with the ongoing integrity of relationships, and is mature, prudent, measured. It is a choice, not a state. It is not dependent on mere familiarity. It is something one does – not something one has.

As they write, “authentic trust in business and politics provides ample opportunity for complex and cooperative projects that otherwise would have been unthinkable. Authentic trust, as opposed to simple and blind trust, does not exclude or deny distrust, but rather accepts it and goes on to transcend it in action.”

While there may be significant beliefs that we do not share in common, authentic trust is all about finding the sliver of ground that we do have in common. It means engaging in generative, constructive, and meaningful ways despite whatever differences exist, allowing us to work together even when personal disagreements arise, and even see our differences as potential assets.

For widespread change to occur we must find a way to choose trust, especially with those who are very different than ourselves. Effective collaboration, not to mention the future of democracy, depends on it.

Participants in a large, complex collaboration can build a capacity for finding common ground—and it doesn’t have to take years. To learn how, read The Tactics of Trust, as seen in Stanford Social Innovation Review’s Winter ’16 issue. 

 

A National Gathering of Network Leaders to Help Advance the Field

Earlier this year we had the privilege to lead, and participate in, a convening of 14 of the top network leaders, practitioners and thought leaders from across the country. The idea was sparked two years ago while two of us (Sawyer and Ehrlichman) had dinner with Jane Wei-Skillern after we guest-lectured in her UC Berkeley Haas School of Business class on network leadership. Jane is a good friend and one of the top academics on network leadership in the world. We quickly connected over our shared belief that “there needs to be a dramatic change in the way people think about their work and act in service to the mission,” as Jane says.

The convening was a great success, and just the start of a larger effort to help move the field forward for maximum positive impact. It was particularly interesting for us to see that even with the wide range of issues and varied applications of networks represented in the room, we were all aligned around shared core principals for what makes networks really work – trust for impact, deep relationship, shared values, and authentic conversations. These are the network principals we hope to collectively spread far and wide.

Below is a repost of Jane’s recap of the convening, first published on the Haas Social Impact Blog.

Practicing What I Preach: Creating a network to study and advance networks for impact
By Jane Wei-Skillern

jen-weiskillernI have been doing research and teaching in the social impact field for fifteen years and have met countless social sector leaders over the course of my career. While I am always impressed by the good intentions and the drive of these leaders, only on rare occasions will I find a ‘needle in a haystack’. A leader that works tirelessly with a single-minded focus on advancing the mission rather than their organization, a leader who is better at being humble than at self promotion, works well with trusted peers and routinely advances the field ahead of their own interests.

These are some of the most accomplished leaders that you likely have never heard of. They have helped to generate social impact efficiently, effectively, and sustainably in fields as wide ranging as environmental conservation/climate change, housing, education, international development, economic development, animal welfare, and health, among others. These leaders have achieved tremendous leverage on their own resources by catalyzing networks directly with the communities that they serve and supporting the development of local capacity to serve these needs on an ongoing basis. Continue reading

Harnessing Disagreement, from Mihnea Moldoveneau

Mind meldThis post is a part of our Think Piece series, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books, articles & thought leaders. The following has been adapted from an interview with Mihnew Moldovenau, published in the Spring 2015 issue of Rotman, the Magazine of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto.

Decisions do not occur in the vacuum of one’s mind, but in the caldron of relationships. It is a process fraught with political and interpersonal conflict and tension, but which relies on collaboration and cooperation in spite of the emotional landscape on which it unfolds.

No single mind can behold the right solution at a glance, nor can any single mind even behold all the promising solutions.

As a result, disagreement needs to be harnessed rather than camouflaged in order to uncover all of the sources of value that each contributor brings to the table. The final requirement for solving complex problems in collaborative settings is a set of tools that turn disagreement into generative tension.

Mihnea Moldoveneau, Peter Pauly, Rotman School of Management, Rotman Magazine, Spring 2015

Conflict = Thinking, from Margaret Heffernan

At Converge, we think a lot about how networks and organizations can learn to generate productive tension, rather than shut down in the face of disagreement. When teams and groups master the ability to harness creative abrasion, the result is smarter strategies, better decisions, stronger relationships, and higher morale. In short, greater positive impact.

As Margaret Heffernan explains in this TED Global talk, good disagreement is central to progress. She illustrates how the best partners aren’t echo chambers — and how great research teams, relationships, and businesses allow people to deeply disagree.

Margaret HeffernanSo what does that kind of constructive conflict require? Well, first of all, it requires that we find people who are very different from ourselves. That means we have to resist the neurobiological drive, which means that we really prefer people mostly like ourselves, and it means we have to seek out people with different backgrounds, different disciplines, different ways of thinking and different experience, and find ways to engage with them. That requires a lot of patience and a lot of energy.

And the more I’ve thought about this, the more I think, really, that that’s a kind of love. Because you simply won’t commit that kind of energy and time if you don’t really care. And it also means that we have to be prepared to change our minds.

So it’s one thing to do that in a one-to-one relationship. But it strikes me that the biggest problems we face, many of the biggest disasters that we’ve experienced, mostly haven’t come from individuals, they’ve come from organizations, some of them bigger than countries, many of them capable of affecting hundreds, thousands, even millions of lives.

So how do organizations think? Well, for the most part, they don’t. And that isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s really because they can’t. And they can’t because the people inside of them are too afraid of conflict.

In surveys of European and American executives, fully 85 percent of them acknowledged that they had issues or concerns at work that they were afraid to raise. Afraid of the conflict that that would provoke, afraid to get embroiled in arguments that they did not know how to manage, and felt that they were bound to lose. Continue reading

Building Networks To Engage Complex Problems

Network diagram

Complex social and environmental problems – like reducing poverty, stewarding large landscapes, or providing high quality health care and education – cannot be solved by any one action or any one organization. These “wicked problems” are constantly changing and involve many different groups of stakeholders – each with their own perspectives, goals, and proposed solutions.

We believe that lasting change on these systemic issues requires building networks – people and organizations aligned around a shared purpose, connected through strong relationships, and sustained over time. Effective networks transcend silos, sectors, race, class, and other barriers to collaboration and progress. They find common ground, coordinate strategies, and collaborate generously.

Organizations often find they can have greater impact and access to larger pools of funding when they work together across networks in a meaningful way.

There are many forms a network can take based its context, the problem it’s trying to address, and the set of people and institutions involved. Networks are usually characterized by their purpose. Different forms of networks include but are not limited to:

  • Social networks: Connect with others to develop personal relationships. Example: Facebook, LinkedIn.
  • Learning networks: Share information over time to disseminate best practices. Example: Palliative Care Quality Network.
  • Movement networks: Engage others to change mindsets, public opinion and policy. Example: Joy of Giving.
  • Innovation networks: Develop and test a new model or a set of prototypes for greater impact across a system. Example: UCSF Health Continuity of Care Network.
  • Impact networks: Identify the major leverage points in a system and act on those leverage points in a coordinated, strategic way over a sustained period of time. Example: Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship NetworkRE-AMP.

In networks, form follows function – the size, boundary, process and convening design of a given network is adapted to suit its purpose. Organizations can also take a network approach to achieving their mission, without forming a formal network. For example, Interise and Catalyst Kitchens have used a network approach to service delivery to drastically increase the scale of their impact.

For more details and examples of effective impact networks, see our Networks FAQ.

Making Networks Work

The single most important asset of any network is the quality of relationships between leaders and organizations. Leaders must learn to “go slow to go fast”, taking the time up-front to develop enough trust to work together even when disagreements or miscommunications arise. As Otto Scharmer writes, “The most important ingredient is always the same: a few fully committed people who would give everything to make it work.”

Read The Tactics of Trust for specific examples of how participants in a large, complex collaboration can build a capacity for finding common ground.

Networks involving multiple organizations are rarely successful without a dedicated individual or team of network entrepreneurs. This role has also called a network manager, coordinator, or backbone staff, but we prefer the term “entrepreneur” because networks are constantly evolving.

The network entrepreneur’s role is to organize network convenings, facilitate the meetings, help form connections, and track and share information about ongoing collaborations while providing support when barriers arise. Over time, if funding is available, a single on-the-ground person working directly for the network can perform the entrepreneur role.

To learn about network entrepreneurs who are ensuring that systems-level, collaborative efforts thrive, read The Most Impactful Leaders You’ve Never Heard Of.

Network Evolution

The connections across networks evolve through four stages, drawing from Valdis Krebs’ and June Holley’s publication Building Smart Communities Through Network Weaving:

Network Evolution

Read The Five Steps to Building an Effective Impact Network for details on what it takes to catalyze networks across all sectors and issues.

Why Strategy Execution Unravels, from Sull, Homkes & Still

We think a lot about the relationship between strategy and execution at Converge, reflecting often on the famous quote attributed to Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for lunch”. Execution is about culture and leadership. Poorly executed strategies are not just a shame – they waste precious human and financial resources, are tough on morale, and undercut long-term performance. This think piece from a recent article in Harvard Business Review talks about large companies – the authors surveyed 7600 managers in 262 companies across 30 industries – but the lessons are also valid in the social and public spheres, and in smaller organizations. I found this article to be the most useful thing I’ve ever read on the topic.

Taming-strategy-400x379A recent survey of more than 400 global leaders found that executional excellence was the number one challenge, heading a list of some 80 issues, including innovation, geopolitical instability, and top-line growth. Two-thirds to three-quarters of organizations struggle with execution. And it’s no wonder: Research reveals that several common beliefs about implementing strategy are just plain wrong. Here are five of the most pernicious myths:

Execution equals alignment

Whereas companies have effective processes for cascading goals downward in the organization, their systems for managing horizontal performance commitments lack teeth. When asked to identify the single greatest challenge to executing company strategy, 30% cite failure to coordinate across units. Managers also say they are three times more likely to miss performance commitments because of insufficient support from other units than because of their own teams’ failure to deliver. More than half of managers want more structure in the processes to coordinate activities across units – twice the number who want more structure in the management by objectives system. Processes to align activities with strategy up and down the hierarchy are generally sound. The real problem is coordination: People in other units can’t be counted on.

Execution means sticking to the plan

After investing enormous amounts of time and energy formulating a plan and its associated budget, executives view deviations as a lack of discipline that undercuts execution. Unfortunately, no strategy survives contact with reality. Managers and employees at every level need to adapt to facts on the ground, surmount unexpected obstacles, and take advantage of Continue reading

Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems, from Jeff Conklin

wicked problemsThis post is a part of our Think Piece series, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books, articles & thought leaders. The following has been adapted from an interview with Jeff Conklin, Founder of CogNexus Institute, published in the Winter 2009 issue of Rotman, the Magazine of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto.

Discuss the relation between ‘problem understanding’ and ‘solution formulation’.

Today there is increasing awareness that a shared understanding of a given problem cannot be taken for granted, and that the absence of buy-in about a problem’s definition, scope and goals can kill a project just as surely as faulty implementation. Organizations are beginning to embrace the idea that these two aspects of projects – problem understanding and solution formulation–are not distinct phases, but rather different kinds of conversations that must be woven together from beginning to end.

Problem structuring is a critical aspect of the design process that takes into account the diversity of goals, assumptions and meanings among stakeholders. At the heart of this new understanding of organizational life is the recognition that project work is fundamentally social, and that communication among stakeholders must be managed and nurtured in order for the social network to cohere into a functioning entity.

Problem understanding is actually the more important and evasive part of the process. The social complexity aspect of it is that you have different stakeholders with strongly-held beliefs about what the problem is. Dealing with wicked problems is not simply a matter of coming up with the best answer; first it’s about engaging stakeholders in a robust and healthy process of making sense of the problem’s dimensions.

Any way you slice it, it entails heavy lifting, and you have to roll up your sleeves and have the hard conversations in order to expose where shared understanding is missing.

Quantum Problems, from Alpheus Bingham

Wicked Problems - colored gasAt Converge, we conceive of a quantum problem as a collection of wicked problems. Climate change is a mash up of all sorts of wicked problems, social environmental, even neurological. Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, explores these dynamics brilliantly.

We’re big fans of Rotman Magazine around here, and were very impressed by a recent interview with Dr. Alpheus Bingham, the founder of InnoCentive, about the power of open innovation in addressing wicked problems, challenges the military dubbed VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. Here’s what we learned.

“InnoCentive has embraced an approach called Challenge Driven Innovation. Please explain how it works.

Most of the problems we work on are ‘wicked problems’. Challenge Driven Innovation (CDI) essentially recognizes that big, complex problems are really collections of lots of little problems. Once a problem is broken down, each smaller problem gets written up as a semi-autonomous, stand alone challenge. At this point, each problem is ‘portable’ a module, and as solutions to the various modules are found, you assemble them as part of the solution to your bigger problem.

Talk a little bit about the importance of diversity of thought for solving wicked problems.

People start out with different assumptions so they ‘hop onto’ the rocky problem solving surface a different locations. Some of them might land near a ‘peak’, others in a ‘deep valley’, but they all begin navigating around the area they jumped in at. If you look at the results of that collective effort, each ‘hopper’ is actually mapping a different region of the landscape. We’ve done this 2000+ times, and we have found that by injecting diversity into the equation, we get to solutions that are not at all in line with the way things have been done before. Continue reading