Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lessons From Nonprofits

Can we business executives and consultants learning anything from nonprofit executives? Yes.

I have had the opportunity to work with some very competent nonprofit executives. I just read an article in this month’s “Chief Learning Officer” magazine that reminded me that successful nonprofit executives are a source of ideas for us profit-oriented types.

In the article, the authors (Strauss, Rosenheck, D’Aurelio, & Rosenheim) shared Sarah Clark’s “seven daunting challenges” as director of outreach and training at Amnesty International. Most, if not all, of her “challenges” face business executives as well.

Long-Term Vs. Short-Term

Nonprofits tend to have a long-term focus since they are not judged on a quarterly basis (although this has been changing for some nonprofits). This has allowed nonprofits to “incorporate capacity-building initiatives” that often “span years or decades.” Learning and development (L&D) officers at for-profit companies should look at these nonprofit programs.


Nonprofits rely heavily on volunteers. Nonprofits cannot demand that volunteers participate in training. Nonprofits have learned how to motivate volunteers to learn. We can certainly take advantage of this knowledge.

Training on a “Shoestring”

Nonprofit executives have learned how to provide training on very tight budgets. E-learning and technology is used of course, but these nonprofit execs have also learned how to take advantage of a wide range of training possibilities. Here again for-profit L&D officers can learn from their counterparts in the nonprofit sector.

My Suggestion

What am I suggesting? I am suggesting that you take an executive from your favorite nonprofit to lunch and discuss training issues.

To learn more about organizational learning and other organizational effectiveness topics use the Search function on my blog or read my book, “Strategic Organizational Learning” (available at or my website

Sunday, September 28, 2008

ProBusiness with Dr. Mike Beitler

“Pro Business with Dr. Mike Beitler”

Internet-Radio Talk Show

Premieres October 23

Every Thursday

Airs Live 10AM Eastern/7AM Pacific

Repeats 10PM Eastern/7PM Pacific

Join Mike and his guests as they discuss business improvement ideas and issues affecting business from a libertarian, free-market perspective. Listen as global leaders in business, economics, and politics share “how to” and “what’s new” insights. Email your question for Mike’s guests for on-air coverage. (If your question is used on-air, you’ll receive a free copy of Mike’s new book for your contribution to the show.)

“Pro Business” will air live on the VoiceAmerica Business Network on Thursday mornings. Catch re-broadcasts 12 hours later or visit the archive of previous shows. Save this link:

Mike wants you to be actively involved. Your questions and feedback are critical to a vibrant and relevant show. Don’t wait until October 23; start the dialog now! Email Mike your questions and suggestions today.

Please forward this message to everybody you know.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ways to Fail

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Paul Carroll and Chunka Mui wrote about several ways big organizations fail. Their warnings apply to small organizations and individuals as well, albeit on a different scale.

Carroll and Mui included the synergy mirage, pseudo-adjacencies, stubbornly staying the course, and betting on the wrong technology as ways for big companies to fail. They are right, and they offer many examples. But small organizations and individuals make the same mistakes.

The synergy mirage is clearly demonstrated in corporate mergers. The authors shared the example of a group disability insurer merging with an individual disability insurer. At first glance it appears smart. “It turns out they had entirely different sales models and customers.” The mistake: defining talents and skills in very broad terms.

Instead of defining yourself as an accountant, perhaps you should say you are a cost accountant specializing in cost containment in the auto parts manufacturing industry (a talent and skill set very different from that required of an accountant who specializes in small business start-ups).

Pseudo-adjacencies are also common mis-steps of even the most sophisticated business decision makers. Carroll and Mui give the example of a school-bus operator company spending millions of dollars to move into the ambulance services business. The company “expected its logistics expertise to carry over, but discovered ambulances were not a transportation business but a highly regulated health care business demanding skills it sorely lacked.”

Stubbornly staying the course can be an admirable trait in an organization or an individual. But at some point, it is important to know it’s time to abandon the original plan. I have purchased stocks “on the way down” believing they were cheap and the price would rebound quickly. Eventually I had to admit the stock was properly priced at its lower level, and sold at a loss. Selling at a loss is painful (financially and emotionally), but it is better than continuing to accumulate loses.

Finally, betting on the wrong technology is typically associated with organizations not individuals. But individuals also bet big on a particular skill set. Refusing to accept the fact that they are becoming obsolete, their value in the marketplace falls on a daily basis.

I hope you can see how easily these mistakes can be made in large organizations. But equally important (or more so), can you see how you can make these mistakes in your own career?

To learn more about organizational and individual effectiveness use the Search function on my blog and read my book, Strategic Organizational Learning (available at or my website

There are also many free resources on the Free Stuff page on my website.