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Is it Time to Explore a Strategic Alliance or Merger?

Over the last 12 years, Vista Global has supported nonprofits across the country to examine whether a strategic alliance or merger was a strategy for increased impact.  

When the pandemic began, most nonprofits looked at current reserves to evaluate whether they could weather a 3-6 month downturn in revenue.  We are now passing the 6 month mark and all indicators are suggesting that we will be in this stage for at least another 6 months, if not longer.  

Can your organization continue to weather this economic situation on its own?

In the 2016 study called the Chicago Nonprofit Merger Project, 25 nonprofit mergers were analyzed from 2004-2014 to identify how trends have shifted over the last 20 years. The study identified that strategic partnerships and mergers are seen as a competitive strategy to support organizations in increasing growth and services. The study saw organizations using strategic partnerships and mergers as a response to market and policy trends to improve their competitive advantage. In addition, many of the organizations in the Chicago study had previous merger experience. In 85% of the cases, the board chair or board members emerged as chief merger advocates.

The Chicago study, maps out the key stages and key questions for evaluation for a strategic alliance and through this process, your organization can make a strategic decision as to how an alliance or merger can advance a shared goal, respond to community need, improve program outcomes, reach more clients and maximize financial resources.

From July 2019 to March 2020, Vista Global guided Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Fox Valley Region and Best Friends of Neenah-Menasha, now known as Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Central Wisconsin (BBBS-ECW), as they explored each stage of a strategic alliance. 

When the pandemic took hold, BBBS-ECW was prepared, having already pivoted their organization efficiently and sustainably in several ways. 

Recently, BBBS-ECW CEO, Lindsay Fenlon shared with community partners how the recent merger prepared them to navigate COVID-19:

Through the help of community partners, we invested roughly $250,000 into the merger negotiation and integration process. This financial support enabled us to “do it right,” creating a new organization with the ability to pivot efficiently  and sustainably in the following ways: 

  • Operational Systems: We chose to integrate and transition all critical operational systems to cloud-based options, including financial management (Quickbooks Online and online banking), telecommunications (VoIP phone system with virtual meeting, texting, scanning,  and information sharing and storage (Office 365, Sharepoint and Onedrive file systems), program database (Salesforce platform), donor database (eTapestry) and board communications (Microsoft Teams).  As such, we were able to transition to 100% work remote within 24 hours.
  • Technology: In anticipation of the need to work remotely, all staff laptops and technology devices were replaced with camera and microphone enabled laptops with Bluetooth capability. We were able to stay connected to our cloud-based operational systems with no need to wait for additional supplies or materials to facilitate “business as usual.”
  • Leadership Capacity: The merger required an organization restructure and we elected to maintain all personnel, focusing on adding more management positions to expand the leadership team. While this initially carried a higher salary impact on our operational budget, we gained additional capacity of leadership-thinkers, poised to strategically tackle the diverse crisis that COVID-19 brought while simultaneously achieving the following two weeks after the Safer at Home order was announced:
    • Pivoted 100% of programming to virtual mentoring;
    • Transitioned all program processes to virtual, including new enrollments and make-match meetings. The first virtual match was made 10 days after the Safer at Home order went into effect;
    • Postponed and restructured fundraising events for optimal revenue retention;
    • Designed and implemented a multi-audience communication plan, successfully communicated small wins and big breakthroughs with PR, social media and direct communication to stakeholders
    • Developed financial forecasts that allow for 100% retention of employees
  • Board Cohesion: The negotiation process required that each board of director associated with the original agencies come together to listen, learn and dream big about the future.  Ten days into January, the newly combined board of BBBS met to define a cohesive way of moving the mission forward. Clear board member responsibilities, committees and goals, and communication expectations were defined and refined throughout the first quarter of 2020. When COVID-19 hit, board members were among the first to reach out to BBBS leadership to offer support and empower myself to take drastic action as needed to ensure the organization’s sustainability. As such, I was able to mobilize swiftly to take advantage of federal legislature and operational modifications necessary to best protect the mission of the organization and the safety of the BBBS team.
  • Culture of Adaptability and Resiliency: As part of the merger, our team faced the need to embrace change in order to move forward under the umbrella of one unified agency. Policies, procedures, practices, and organizational structure throughout the entire agency were modified as we got use to the adage that “the only thing consistent in life is change.” When the life-altering changes that came with COVID-19 were first coming to light, our team embraced it as just another situation to adapt to. In the weeks since, the staff and board of directors have acknowledged having full confidence in agency leadership and in each other, identifying that the cultural challenges inherent within any merger actually led us to coming together as a dynamic and diverse group of mission-committed individuals with the tools to keep kids connected during a crisis. 

In Fall 2020, Vista Global in collaboration with BBBS-ECW, will release a white paper that shares the learnings and key success factors contributing to BBBS-ECW’s merger and how that prepared the organization to navigate COVID-19.

Other Vista Global blogs on nonprofit mergers: 

Five Lessons Learned from Nonprofit Partnerships & Mergers

Nonprofits on the Move with Mergers

Tips on Nonprofit Merger Success Through Organizational Cultural Integration

If you are wondering if a strategic alliance or merger might be your organization’s strategy for success, let’s explore the options together.

Asking Questions For Which You Have No Answers

  “Conversational rituals allow us to build common language, definitions and meanings that in turn create community. They influence our behavior at the neurochemical level.” Judith Glaser To uncover “conversational blind spots” you have to become mindful of when you are making assumptions, interpreting incorrectly, and jumping to conclusions. This begins with asking the right kind of … Continue reading “Asking Questions For Which You Have No Answers”

 

“Conversational rituals allow us to build common language, definitions and meanings that in turn create community. They influence our behavior at the neurochemical level.” Judith Glaser

To uncover “conversational blind spots” you have to become mindful of when you are making assumptions, interpreting incorrectly, and jumping to conclusions.

This begins with asking the right kind of open-ended questions.  Questions that open our minds to explore new avenues of thought with each other. Questions for which we have no answers.

In Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser explains there are three levels of conversation.  Level 1 is a basic “Tell/Ask” interaction. It is directive with no open-ended exploration.  Level 2 is more provocative and the interaction is labeled “Advocate/Inquire.”  Referred to as “Share/Discover,” Level 3 is the most dynamic and exploratory interaction.

People Sitting with Question Marks

The example below illustrates how questions from the 3 levels result in different experiences.

Level 1:

  • “Do you mind including this brochure in the donor information packet?”

You ask a question that you don’t have an answer to but it is really a statement in disguise.  This is “tell/ask” interaction to exchange information.  There isn’t much trust.  By asking the question this way, you are attempting to validate your own view of reality.

Level 2:

  • “I really love the brochure. It has all the compelling elements for donors. What do you think? Is there anything stopping you from getting on board with this?”

This exchange is dominated by “advocate/inquire” dynamics. You are advocating for what you want (not just telling). You are inquiring about the other person’s beliefs in an effort to persuade them. Trust is conditional.

Level 3:

  • “Which of these pieces of collateral do you think will be the most compelling for this donor? Are there any concerns we should talk through before making a decision?”

This conversation is marked by “share/discover” dynamics.  By asking in this way, you are sharing that you’re open to being influenced and that you care about your colleague’s thoughts. This signals to the listener that they can offer ideas and you both influence the decision that achieves greater shared success.

Learning to ask an open-ended question for which you have no answer strengthens your ability to have meaningful conversations that lead to transformational results.

Stay tuned for more C-IQ tips!  This is part of a blog series on Conversational Intelligence course by Judith E. Glaser. Check out related blogs such as “Listening to Connect” and “What We Can Learn from our Worst Conversations.”

 

Photo credit: Rawpixel.com via Shutterstock

Metrics for Success: Which Leadership Assessment is Right for You and Your Team?

There are dozens of assessment tools to choose from if you are a CEO, manager, human resources professional, board member, or community leader. As your partner, Vista Global helps you cut through the clutter and match your needs to the industry’s leading assessments. The first step when selecting the right assessment is to determine your … Continue reading “Metrics for Success: Which Leadership Assessment is Right for You and Your Team?”

There are dozens of assessment tools to choose from if you are a CEO, manager, human resources professional, board member, or community leader. As your partner, Vista Global helps you cut through the clutter and match your needs to the industry’s leading assessments.

Team Assessment Meeting

The first step when selecting the right assessment is to determine your desired outcome. Do you want to use the assessment to help leaders see their blind spots and be more successful with their teams? Do you want teams to be more effective working together? Do you want to support leaders in building more effective interpersonal skills?

Based on your desired outcome, Vista Global partners with you throughout the assessment process. Three of the most trusted assessments are detailed below.

Leadership Practices Inventory 360

Developed using the Leadership Challenge framework research by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI)® assessments help you gain clarity on your vision and purpose. These tools are designed to help you develop your skills within the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.

The LPI 360 measures 30 specific leadership behaviors on a 10-point scale. This tool is self-administered and is completed by observers such as co-workers, managers, and the staff you manage, giving you a complete picture of your leadership strengths and areas for improvement.

The Leadership Challenge framework also offers the Student LPI, specifically designed for high school and collegiate students in leadership roles.

StrengthsFinder

The leading benchmark for understanding an individual’s talents, the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment, provides a customized inventory of your unique talents. Based on the book by Gallup executive Tom Rath and the survey work of his grandfather at the University of Nebraska, Donald Clifton, this tool is designed to build on your strengths first and foremost.

A person’s talents – those thoughts, feelings, behaviors that come naturally – are the source of his or her true potential. Contrary to traditional professional development that focuses on fixing weaknesses, Gallup’s research proves that building on talents increases employee engagement, productivity, retention and organizational profitability.

TalentSmart Emotional Intelligence

Research shows that a leader’s emotional intelligence (or EQ) is the single greatest predictor of success. Using the TalentSmart assessment, Vista Global helps you assess your EQ and improve the interpersonal skills you need to achieve your personal and professional goals.

The most simplified individual assessment takes about 10 minutes and delivers scores on key components of your EQ such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Are you looking to get started with a leadership development initiative? Contact Mary today to discuss what assessment is right for you.

 

 

Photo credit: Rawpixel via Shutterstock.

Avoid Blind Spots to Navigate the Conversational Highway

This is the fourth in a blog series on the course I am taking on Conversational Intelligence by Judith E. Glaser. The fourth module called, “Navigating Conversations” provides tools to remap relationships around trust and navigate conversations successfully. When things start to go awry in conversations it is often due to conversational blind spots.  If you … Continue reading “Avoid Blind Spots to Navigate the Conversational Highway”

This is the fourth in a blog series on the course I am taking on Conversational Intelligence by Judith E. Glaser.

The fourth module called, “Navigating Conversations” provides tools to remap relationships around trust and navigate conversations successfully. When things start to go awry in conversations it is often due to conversational blind spots.  If you can become more aware of these blind spots, you can foster trust in your communications with others.

Check Your Blind Spot

Conversational Blind Spots

Blind Spot #1: Assuming everyone thinks like you (or should think like you).

When you are engrossed and attached to your point of view, you are unable to connect with others’ perspectives. Are you addicted to being right or winning a debate? During a conversation, you may subconsciously sense a lack of connectivity, and kick into persuasion mode to go for the win!  Winning a debate, whether the debate is real or perceived, triggers the neurochemical dopamine. This dopamine release makes you feel good and you may not even realize that in the process you have made others feel bad.

Blind Spot #2: Feelings change your reality.

This common blindspot refers to your failure to realize that your emotions will change how you see and interpret reality, which in turn, changes how you communicate that reality.  If you are in a state of fear or distrust, you produce cortisol which shuts down the prefrontal cortex part of your brain, the area that gives you access to empathy, strategic thinking, and innovation.  This causes you to feel threatened and move into protective behaviors which can hinder a productive conversation.

Blind Spot #3: You are too fearful to empathize.

Blind Spot #2 can easily lead to blind spot #3. If you are fearful, you are unable to consider another person’s perspective in order to build empathy and understanding.  Research done by Giacomo Rizzolatti in 1999 determined that our brains have unique neurons called mirror neurons. These neurons give us a view into what others feel, think and intend.  When you listen deeply and turn off your fear and judgment, you allow yourself to connect with others.  When you are fearful, the ability to connect is broken and your sensitivity to others recedes.

Blind Spot #4: You remember, therefore you know.

This blind spot is that you think you remember what others said when actually you remember what you THINK about what others said.  Researchers as early as 1957, published articles on the gaps in listening. People drop out of listening because the brain processes information much faster than we can talk. Instead of slowing down the brain to the rate of the spoken word, you fill those gaps with other thoughts. Your internal dialogue overrides the other person’s speech. You then remember what you think about what the other person said because it is a stronger internal process and chemical signal.

Blind Spot #5: You are listening so you think you actually know what others really mean.

The assumption that meaning resides with the speaker, when it actually resides with the listener, characterizes this blind spot.  As you listen you are trying to make meaning from the speaker’s words by drawing from your own experience vault in your limbic brain.  That is why, as a listener, what you see in your “mind’s eye” can be a completely different picture than what the speaker sees in their mind.  Meaning resides in the listener until the speaker takes the time to pause, and validate that you share the same mental picture and meaning.

All humans have blind spots. They spring from reality gaps.  Even when we are in the same room, you will come way from the experience with different impressions and a different understanding of time spent together.  That is why conversational rituals and practices outlined in C-IQ methodologies are so important.  These rituals harmonize our experiences, create a shared language, and help us bridge and connect with others more fully.

How do we make the invisible blind spots visible? Stay tuned for our next blog that explores levels of open-ended questions designed to help you better navigate the conversations.

 

 

Photo credit: OHoHO via Shutterstock.

It is Never Too Early to Develop Your Leadership Skills

There is so much literature about leadership development in the professional space, whether it is the corporate or social sector. However, leadership development begins as soon as children have the capability to experience self-awareness.  Children begin their leadership journey when they learn how to share, to communicate appreciation, and to talk about their dreams.  These experiences … Continue reading “It is Never Too Early to Develop Your Leadership Skills”

There is so much literature about leadership development in the professional space, whether it is the corporate or social sector. However, leadership development begins as soon as children have the capability to experience self-awareness.  Children begin their leadership journey when they learn how to share, to communicate appreciation, and to talk about their dreams.  These experiences are all building blocks of leadership.

One of my current clients, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) believes at its core that it is never too early to develop leadership skills.  The mission of NSBE is to increase the number of culturally responsible Black Engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community.  NSBE is a student-governed national organization committed to youth leadership development for more than 40 years.

Vista Global has been working with NSBE to design and implement a comprehensive leadership development curriculum that builds students’ competencies.  Several of those competencies focus on defining and understanding yourself as a leader. The first phase of any leadership program is examining your own leadership talents and skills. You have to know yourself before you can bring out the best in others.

Vista Global relies on the field’s best methodologies and tools to help clients strengthen their leadership skills, including the framework of The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.  This framework is effective because it was developed by conducting thousands of interviews of ordinary managers talking about a personal best experience when they had extraordinary results. Through these interviews and surveys, the researchers arrived at Five Practices that were universally demonstrated by these leaders. The Five Practices include:

  1. Model the Way
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision
  3. Challenge the Process
  4. Enable Others to Act
  5. Encourage the Heart

This framework is one of the few resources that has a customized design for student leaders, including a 360 Student Leadership Practice Inventory  (SLPI) assessment tool.  It evaluates 30 specific behaviors (6 for each practice).  It is a clear and concise way to determine how well a leader demonstrates a Practice.  The 360 degree aspect of the assessment includes observers that have seen the leader in action and can offer their perspective on the frequency of demonstration of behaviors.

This last weekend, I met with 80 members of the NSBE Collegiate leadership to review their individual results from the SLPI and start the process of developing a leadership action plan.  Each student determined one specific behavior to work on over the next month and identified an accountability partner to provide support and encouragement.

Leadership development is a lifelong journey and the NSBE leaders have a jump start on many leaders in the work force! If you are interested in learning more about The Leadership Challenge or 360 assessments, contact Mary today.

Creating the Environment: Moving from Distrust to Trust

This is the third in a blog series about the course on Conversational Intelligence by Judith E. Glaser. The third module called, “Aspiring Conversations” explores the neurochemistry of aspirations and how different conversations activate chemicals that either open or close the space for aspirations to grow. A recent Harvard Business Review article by Paul Zak, “The … Continue reading “Creating the Environment: Moving from Distrust to Trust”

This is the third in a blog series about the course on Conversational Intelligence by Judith E. Glaser.

The third module called, “Aspiring Conversations” explores the neurochemistry of aspirations and how different conversations activate chemicals that either open or close the space for aspirations to grow.

A recent Harvard Business Review article by Paul Zak, “The Neuroscience of Trust” states that employees in high-trust cultures have 100% more energy at work, 76% more engagement, and are 50% more productivity. Zak identifies eight management behaviors that foster trust. One of those behaviors is “intentionally building relationships.”

Meetings Designed to Build Trust

One way to intentionally build relationships is the design of meetings. You can shift the outcome of a meeting by starting with a trust-building activity. This will slow down the primitive (fear-based brain) and allow other parts of the brain to actively engage and shift toward a belief that this will be a good experience.

“Knowing others is intelligence, knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.” — Laozi

I have seen many meetings start with “ground rules”. The “do’s and don’ts” checklists do not activate the prefrontal cortex-heart brain connection where we have our whole mind, heart, and body invested in the outcome of the meeting.

The heart brain is the most basic of our hardwiring. It enables us to connect to others. We are either in sync or out of sync with others. If we are in sync, we move towards the person as friends. If we are out of sync, we feel hesitation and move away, feeling the person may be a foe.

The prefrontal cortex is the youngest bring, often called the “Executive Brain”. It provides us with the ability to see the future, create scenarios, and have empathy.

How do we engage the prefrontal cortex and heart brains?

Start meetings not with “Ground Rules” but “Group Agreements”. Rules close down the brain for some people. If they see “rules” as stifling, just using that word may have them begin the meeting already in a state of opposition. Agreements create a framework for a social contract, which brings people together.

Group Agreements Move toward Trust

To begin the exploration, ask everyone to identify one practice or behavior that would give this meeting the best outcome. What do we usually hear? “Respect other’s opinions.” “Be open to other ideas”.

Here is where this approach is different… when someone using one of those frequently offered words, as a facilitator, use a skill called “double-click”. Just like a computer folder, to open up to deeper meaning, you double-click. Saying something like, “When you say ‘respect’, what does that mean for you?” This helps get to the core essence of what is important for that person.

Make sure you hear from everyone in the room. If someone is quiet, reach out to them and ask, “What behaviors are important to you?” You want everyone’s voice and therefore brain activated, moving toward the prefrontal cortex-heart connection.

Here is another important distinction from ground rules. Once you have your list, ask people to identify how they can give feedback if a group member is not honoring the agreements. This helps give agency and ownership to the team to be transparent, and supportive to guide the behaviors, that they agreed will create the successful outcomes for the meeting.

When you create group agreements using double-clicking and establish collective ownership for monitoring the practice of those agreements, your meeting is primed with the level of trust in the environment that fosters a culture of aspiration. Anything is possible!

Stay tuned for more tips to have meaningful conversations that transform leaders and organizations.

This is the third in a blog series. Read the first blog at “Listening to Connect” and the second blog at “What We Can Learn from our Worst Conversations.”

 

 

Photo credit: Rawpixel via Shutterstock.

Academy Update: Upcoming Webcast and Live Chat

Vista Leadership Academy, a new Vista Global Coaching & Consulting program, invites you to join founder Mary Stelletello and Academy Class of 2016 Alum Cristina Manfre for a special webcast and live chat Tuesday, May 2, 2017 , from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT. Get your sneak peek into the Academy and learn how the … Continue reading “Academy Update: Upcoming Webcast and Live Chat”

Vista Leadership Academy, a new Vista Global Coaching & Consulting program, invites you to join founder Mary Stelletello and Academy Class of 2016 Alum Cristina Manfre for a special webcast and live chat Tuesday, May 2, 2017 , from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT.

Get your sneak peek into the Academy and learn how the program’s unique design can help you!

You’ll hear Alum Cristina share her transformative journey through the Academy’s online classes, individual coaching sessions, and immersive retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Mary will describe the core values and career insights that led her to found the Academy.

Please note: Space is limited. The number of registrations will be kept small to help ensure everyone can participate in the live chat Q&A. Don’t miss your chance to ask Mary and Cristina if the Academy is right for you!

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

 

Are you ready to take the lead in your work and life? Applications for the Class of 2017 are being accepted through May 15, 2017. Learn more about our application requirements and register for the webcast.