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December 2008

Building a network of trust and honored obligation

It is one of the most beautiful compensations in life that no one can sincerely try to help one another without helping oneself.  Ralph Waldo Emerson


The first lesson of networking is to always give without an expectation. We have all encountered those that take first, never intending to return the favor. Or worse, those that deceive to gain advantage. The news is replete with the con artists, the grifters, the felonious who take advantage of the gullible and the weak. The scandalous and despicable Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme has littered the financial, charitable, and investor community with hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of victims. Victims, who through a network of trust, were deceived on so many levels. It is now clear that the biggest victim may be our trust in one another. Every time someone gets burned, deceived, and hoodwinked, one of the candles of trust is blown out and we live in a darker world. Don't some of us have to look in the mirror and ask how much do we have to answer for this misplaced trust? Were we partially blinded by the prospects of extraordinary returns? Avarice and selfishness can be influential accomplices in our mistaken choices. 

Trust is so essential to our lives. It guides us through the traffic intersections, at our babysitters, when we enter our credit card #, and when someone shakes your hand and makes a commitment. We have all been betrayed. And it gives us pause and perhaps makes us each a little more callous and a little less trusting. In the end, you have to write-off, literally and figuratively, these setbacks as aberrations and exceptions. And if you are like me, you trust again. I am a bit of a sucker. And I have many stories where my good faith investments of time and resources were based upon deceit or false hopes. I have endured great disappointment in myself and others. However, these experiences have taught me many things. But being less compassionate has never been one of the lessons. Regrettably, we can become more wary in granting unconditional trust, but we have to recommit ourselves to trusting and believing in human decency and reciprocity. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

The LA Times columnist Tim Rutten reports that, "...every just society is bound by the ties of reciprocal obligation. Each member of the social order owes to every other an equal commitment to the common good." Reciprocity is the most powerful form of networking. Mutual obligation and our connection to the common good is unique to the human race. Alvin Gouldner and other sociologists have reported that "there is no human society that does not subscribe to the expectation of reciprocation." The world re-known anthropologist Richard Leakey agrees: "We are human because our ancestors learned to share their food in an honored network of obligation." Robert Cialdini, noted social psychologist, found in his extensive research that "human societies derive a truly significant competitive advantage from the reciprocity rule." In short, when we need each other, when we depend on one another: we become a stronger community. We have to make frequent and generous deposits into the bank of goodwill knowing that withdrawals can be made when needed.Call it kharma. Call it insurance. Call it the power of we. While we may endorse this concept, and there are reasons to doubt it, wouldn't it be amazing if we all lived this way? 

Madoff exploited this human virtue and damaged our community trust. We are grateful if we were not directly victimized and we reach out and help those who were. It all has to start with our mindset. Giving first. Nurturing our networks. Being true to the common good. And rejecting any violations of reciprocity as violations of our connection to one another. Networking is not a technique to get a job or a favor, it is a way of life that spans all cultures and defines the human species. Investing in our networks strengthens our sense of belonging and our interdependence. Through our ethical commitment to networking, we add more fire to the eternal flame of human trust and shed more light on our common ground. 

Happy Holidays! May the spirit of giving continue to guide and inspire you! Thanks for reading, John

The networking race---drafting and slowing down

As the world's unprecedented economic implosion forces more people into involuntary career and soul searching exercises, networking becomes a new and popular strategy. Fear drives us to do things we would never consider. Knowing this human tendency, I developed this site to help people adopt a lifestyle of connecting and helping one another in all times good and bad. Yet, emergency networking becomes the strategy du jour.

I just got back from frozen Chicago where I spent the afternoon with a group of ambitious Pepsi employees who want to advance their careers and their lives through the mentoring and networking lifestyle. Pepsi invests in their employees and gives them many opportunities even through these challenging times. The aftermath of the layoffs of 3000 of their colleagues was already a distant memory and this group was re-focused on how to re-tool and push ahead. Fear was not present. We discussed a wide variety of topics, including how supervisors who are not aligned with your goals can be impediments to advancement. Talked about the importance of "drafting" off of a leader. You remember the way Michael Phelps and Jason Leizak swam just behind the lead swimmer and then slingshotted ahead to win. Or how Jimmie Johnson rides the bumper of the car ahead and passes on the turn. To me the single most important criterion for taking a position is the ability to draft--to be inspired and challenged by a supervisor who is interested in my advancement and development. 

Then our conversation turned to networking and we talked about the misplaced desire to do networking FAST. This speed dating mentality is deadly. Networking and mentoring are not effective if they are rushed or considered a quick task. Does not mean we can not be efficient in how we target and focus this process, but super sonic speed in networking is usually iatrogenic (cure is worse than the disease) in building relationships for mutual support and benefit! My favorite coach, John Wooden, preaches, "Be quick but don't hurry." And that is the best advice for basketball, networking and life. 

So as you might imagine, I am overwhelmed with networking requests of the supersonic kind. People I have not talked to in decades are looking me up because they need me NOW! Their tone and their process is hurried and panicky. I always try and help, but if we have not worked together on weaving the net, it just doesn't work as well. The slow eating movement has a lot to teach us about the dangers of speed. When we network we have to slow down, be present, and try and enjoy the process. Reconnecting with someone for help has to be a pleasure not a pressure. Be reflective, humble and even apologetic, especially if it has been a long time. Nothing wrong with reconnecting but consider the recipient of the contact and how you would feel. Maybe even a telephone call is better than a quick and dirty e-mail. And the cardinal sin of the speed demon is becoming a hit and run driver. The networker who connects, gets what he wanted, and never is heard from again. Were the referrals and assistance provided helpful? Did you get an interview or a job? Incredible to me when people are so selfish that they don't invest in their networks by closing close the loop by providing feedback. Or use the opportunity to report on the lack of success or the need for additional help. Hit and run networking drivers run over everyone in their path and especially their own reputations. 

References as your networking starting point

People who are looking for a job, also need to think about their references. Your best references--those that like you and you like them, people who can endorse you, your track record, your character, your general greatness,--these are major networking hubs. By the way, why are there any other types of references listed? Always curious why some people contact their references at the end of a job search-- makes no sense. Or worse, never contact their references to prep them for a call and hope that something good happens. In these models, your references are the last to know about your new job offer and you explain why you were in the market to begin with and that raises unnecessary questions about what happened. Or your references learn about your career path and changes from the potential employer. Yikes!

Take inventory of your references based upon your current search and evaluate their relevance and support of you. 

  • Who should you add or subtract?
  • What gaps are there? Gaps that an employer will question? What is your story about those gaps? 
  • Can a colleague, vendor, customer, Board member be added to replace or enhance a list? 
  • And finally what is the status of your relationship with these people?    

Then 

  1. Contact each one to network about your possibilities and affirm their agreement to be your reference
  2. Describe your goals and seek their assistance 
  3. Keep them informed on your progress 
  4. Prepare them for the call from the potential employer 
  5. Let them know what happened and thank them for their help regardless of the outcome
Do you know how many offers are withdrawn over bad references today? It is increasing because competition is fierce, every open position is precious and any doubt is a reason not to hire. Why take that chance? 

Veteran race car drivers will tell you slowing is essential to going fast. Slow down and try enjoy the process of reconnecting with your network. Start and end with your references and you can speed up your chances for success in the networking race. 

Merry Chritmas! Thanks for reading. John
  
  
  


Non-profit network--optimism, obstacles, and opportunities

Don't recede during a recession

Spent the week meeting with about 350 non-profit leaders, representing more than 120 non-profit organizations (Nopes), about surviving the current economic crises. It was an exhausting and invigorating experience. It was an attempt to give these executives and fundraisers a reality check. As a serial non-profiteer I know that adapting and changing is not a core competence for this sector. But the world has changed and hunkering down to endure this period is essential. Chronicle of Philanthropy estimates that a 100,000 non-profits may close early next year. One thing is certain, this crises has hammered all organizations across all sectors. 

Consider these impacts on philanthropy and fundraising:
  • 66% of all charitable giving comes from individuals 
  • Every 100 point drop in the S and P 500 equates to a $1.5 billion drop in individual philanthropy. That translates to a $12 billion loss this year!
  • Very wealthy will continue to give but "middle class" donors will significantly reduce or stop giving. 
  • Planned giving will increase as a % of overall giving. During the depression planned giving was 40% of all charitable gifts.
  • Government grants, corporate, and foundation giving will drop precipitously. $10 trillion in market value and equity lost this year.   
  • Competition for gifts and attention will increase.  
In short the pie has shrunk and is shrinking from every side.
 
For the non-profit organizations I met, individual giving represented less than 15% of their income.

The conversations were an interesting blend of resilience and denial. These leaders are passionate about their work and that keeps them going. But their emotional connection to their work often blinds them to the changes that should have been and now need to be implemented. This is especially true when the demand for their services is increasing exponentially. They compartmentalize their focus on surviving and their drive to serve. In times like these, a recipe for disaster. 

Our discussions ran the gamut from commiseration over apathetic Boards, to a how-to on lay-offs, to new models of coopetition, to random expressions of fear, and searches for sources of optimism...

One thing that seems to be giving false hope, at least in the short term, is the Obama factor, which has two facets. First, the belief that Obama's leadership will improve the economy, bolster government, and non-profits financial prospects will rise. While Obama's leadership will make a difference, there will be no financial influx to non-profits in early 2009 when many NPOs will face grim realities. Second, the idea that the Obama online fundraising machine is a model that every non-profit can adopt to raise new money. As I explained, NPOs are missing one key ingredient, the ingredient that made Obama online fundraising  work----OBAMA! Not to be so cynical but NPOs gravitate to mirage like solutions all the time. We'd rather add than subtract.

The recommendations flowed from these sessions and here are some of the top ones:
  1. Prepare for less and create budgetary scenarios that should start with a 10% to 25% cut as the starting point.
  2. Return to the mission of the organization, to the reason the NPO exists. Consider paring back or lopping off efforts that have been the products of mission creep and mission drift.  
  3. Increase communication to your Board to your donors. Tell them the truth and engage them in the effort to preserve what is important.
  4. Develop a new elevator pitch that reflects the new reality, that shows that the NPO is responding to community need vs the NPO's organizational need. No one cares that the NPO has to cut back, everyone is cutting back. What is the NPO doing to re-focus and respond? 
  5. Develop an investment/investor approach to current and new donors. Donors increasingly want to know that their gifts have a return on investment (ROI) not just keeping the lights on and the staff paid. What does a gift do for the community, for the constituents? 
In short, the world has changed for NPOs as well and they have to adapt to survive. They have to act quickly and urgently NOW to evolve to fight another day. Consolidation, partnerships and new forms of collaborating have to be explored. It is the greatest time to do what needs to be done. As the incoming Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said when he was appointed, "Let's not waste this crises." Make this crises the moment of change, the time to start the new chapter, and the chance to make our organizations better. 

NPO networking
If you are looking for an opportunity to meet new people, help the community, fulfill your personal sense of responsibility, and advance your career---jump into a non-profit volunteer post. They need help more than ever. Just make sure you align the opportunity with your values and your passions. Given the above context, can you imagine how grateful a NPO will be when you call to  volunteer? A few tips on how to make this work for you:
  1. Pick a NPO and a mission you really care about
  2. Conduct due diligence on the NPO to insure compatibility
  3. Ideally align the position with your career interests and the NPO's greatest need 
  4. Make sure you understand the expectations  of the volunteer position to meet and exceed them
Volunteer opportunities in California, Secretary of Service and Volunteering Karen Baker and I met last week and her office has put together a fantastic resource for residents of California to find opportunities. Outside of CA there are similar resources. It helps to know what causes, issues, constituencies you care about most. 

There is no more powerful form of networking that connecting with people who have an unconditional commitment to a common goal and NPO. 

We all have to do our part. We all have to engage with the causes and issues we care about. We can not retreat during a recession. We need to connect and strengthen our sense of community. The power of WE is an unyielding force. Reach out and help the NPOs that mean the most to you and the returns will come back to you and all of us in many ways.  

Thanks for reading. John

Perspective on our possibilities

First of all thank you for all of the feedback on my got gratitude? blog. Loved hearing the stories where you contacted your mentors, doctors, relatives and others to thank them. Again, expressing our gratitude is such a mutually beneficial act!

Yesterday I celebrated another anniversary of my birth. I have reached a stage in my life when these moments are a reminder of time that has passed and the time that is left. Don't get me wrong I enjoy marking the annual milestone, and I had a quiet nice dinner with my family. But I use these yearly events to gain a bit more perspective. What have I done? What do I want to do? What is really important to me? I think perspective is everything. How you view things, what you see, and how you feel often determines what happens next. 

I was very fortunate to have been raised by a mother and father who operate on polar opposite hemispheres of the brain. My Mom Tomi, is a right brainer, an artist, a creative person, and curious. My Dad Rod, was a CPA for more than 50 years, a left brainer, analytic, rational, and decisive. Traversing these world views gave me many strengths and weaknesses, but it helped me appreciate what lies between. My Mom sees possibilities and opportunities--she sees the negative spaces and the positive spaces in everything. Her glass is not so much half full as much as she admires the purity of the water and the beauty of the vessel. My Dad's glass is less full, the water tastes funny, and somebody did not wash the glass!

Seriously,  my parents' gift of those diverse perspectives gave me a great life navigation system. 

BTW, just resurrected my copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, a gift from my mother. A great read and a way of revealing your creative side. 

I have learned that your perspective, your pessimism or optimism may determine your life expectancy. Optimists live longer. Half full or half empty study Seems pretty intuitive that people who see the possibility have a longer trajectory than the ones who doubt it. 


So we need both perspectives to understand reality. See the possibility and yet understand what it takes to get there. But perspective, like life, has to adapt and evolve. Your perspective has to shift, it has to be dynamic, it has to be alert to the changes that surround us. It has to re-focus on what lies ahead how the current circumstances and "inconveniences" can be overcome to get to the next part of your journey. That's positive realism and that will buoy your energy and perspective. 

Excerpt from Jim Collins book Good to Great:

"Throughout our research, we were continually reminded of the 'hardiness' research studies done by the International Committee for the Study of Victimization. These studies looked at people who had suffered serious adversity – cancer patients, prisoners of war, accident victims, and so forth – and survived. They found that people fell generally into three categories; those who were permanently dispirited by the event, those who got their life back to normal, and those who used the experience as a defining event that made them stronger."

Appreciate what you have and then you may see what is possible. Easy to become a victim to the self-fulling prophecies that create certain failure. I just talked to someone looking for a new job and they said, "Going to start my search after the holidays, because no one is going to hire now." If many people feel that way, then this is the BEST time to look for a job, right?!! I always think NOW is the best time to start anything important. 

The challenge is in every moment and the time is always now. James Baldwin

There is an old story about British shoe salesmen who went to Africa at the turn of the century. One wrote back to factory and said, "Very discouraging, no one wears shoes here." The other salesman wrote, "Fantastic opportunity no one wears shoes!" It all depends on how you view things. 

Perspective of time is something I think a lot about, especially during birthdays. How can we maximize the time we have? How do we jam in to what seems like a shrinking and ridiculously small sized life, all of our opportunities, dreams and goals? As I say, more choices and less time! So we have to choose what is important and not let things just happen. We have avoid the "I wish I would have" syndrome. We have to use our time well, otherwise you start to accumulate regrets. As you know, I believe that age is defined by the quantity of your regrets. NO REGRETS! is a way to slow that aging clock. :)

So our perspective impacts how we feel, what we do, and where we are going. Step back and see the chance instead of the challenge. See the opportunity vs the obstacle. 

Thanks for reading. John