Archives - Business: Page 25
Author: paul carson (Mon Nov 20, 2006 6:12 pm)
Title: Lessons in Management From the For-Profit World
Lessons in Management From the For-Profit World
By CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH
Published: November 2006
IT looked like a typical General Electric training session. About 22 people gathered at the Danbury, Conn., headquarters of GE Capital Solutions to learn how to set and carry out goals. Or, in G.E. parlance, to learn CAP, the more pronounceable acronym for the company’s Change Acceleration Process.
“Don’t assume the need for change is obvious,” announced Karen A. Dougherty, the GE Capital Solutions manager who led the program. Sharon Garavel, the unit’s senior vice president for global operations and quality, chimed in with, “Recognize that bad processes, not bad people, let waste creep in.”
Good business advice, for sure, except that none of the participants worked for G.E. They were all employees or board members of the Regional Y.M.C.A. of Western Connecticut, and they were there on that rainy October day to learn better ways to run their programs, and to smooth relations with their communities, volunteers and staff.
“G.E. understands that philanthropy is not just about money or volunteers, but about giving us the skill sets that businesses use,” said Deborah McCuin-Channing, senior vice president at the Y. And the price was right, added Gary Kozak, the Y’s president. “I can’t afford to send people to training, and G.E. gave it to us on a platter,” he said.
To the folks at General Electric, the question is not why, but upon reflection, why not sooner. About five years ago, the company inaugurated ACFC At the Customer, For the Customer a program to share some of its management practices with its paying customers.
“It just made sense to extend this to some of the nonprofit groups in the communities where G.E. has businesses,” said Ken Peters, customer loyalty leader for GE Capital Solutions.
So Mr. Peters and his colleagues asked executives of the regional Y.M.C.A. to identify areas where they needed help. Their answer: improve coordination and communications among the five branches, as well as between the branches and communities they serve.
“We have one branch full of early-childhood educators, another full of fitness specialists, yet another with an after-school center that specializes in the arts, and we need them to benefit from each other’s expertise,” Ms. McCuin-Channing said. The Y also wanted to get word of its activities and programs to potential donors and customers, Mr. Kozak said.
Besides the management training, GE Capital Solutions helps with traditional volunteerism and financial support in Danbury and elsewhere. In Danbury, it supports the Y’s Escape to the Arts after-school program with painting and fix up projects.
“The problem is, people think of the Y as a gym, and we have to find ways to get across how much more we do,” Mr. Kozak said.
The GE Foundation, reluctant to see any of its money frittered away by inefficiency, has made management assistance a condition of some of the mega-grants that it makes. “If they won’t accept senior-level engagement from G.E., they won’t get the money,” said Robert L. Corcoran, the foundation’s president.
Last year, for example, the foundation granted $25 million over five years to the Jefferson County public school system, which operates 152 schools in Louisville, Ky.
GE Consumer and Industrial is based there, and the foundation has arranged for local G.E. executives to help put together a districtwide science curriculum, and to teach methods for tracking student achievement and improving after-school programs. This month, the foundation made large grants with similar non-negotiable offers of management help to school districts in Stamford, Conn., and Cincinnati.
“We don’t know how to educate children, but we know how to manage; we know how to measure; we know how to do things efficiently and achieve outcomes,” Mr. Corcoran said.
Now the individual General Electric businesses have hopped on the bandwagon. GE Capital Solutions has been particularly gung-ho, setting up teams devoted to training nonprofit groups not only in Danbury, but also in Scottsdale, Ariz., Minneapolis and Sydney, Australia all areas where it does business.
“They’re teaching us how to identify our target audiences, and then get our messages out to them,” said Joseph Errigo, president of CommonBond Communities, a Minneapolis group that provides affordable housing, job training and after-school programs for poor families in 35 Midwestern cities. “And we’re just scratching the surface of what G.E. can do for us on a sustainable basis.”
Experts in nonprofit management say that “sustainable” is the key word in making the training stick. They note that companies routinely lend accountants, lawyers, human-resources people and information technology professionals to help nonprofits solve problems. But, the experts say, that is rarely enough.
“They’ll tell the nonprofit group what needs to be done, but too often the group does not have the resources to follow through,” said Patricia Deyton, who teaches nonprofit management at the Simmons School of Management in Boston. Just as problematic, others say, is that corporate executives tend to talk down to their nonprofit counterparts.
“They act condescending, and that so alienates the nonprofits that they really can’t appreciate any wisdom or insight that is offered,” said Sheila W. Wellington, a professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University who is introducing a course on relationships between the commercial and nonprofit sectors.
Condescension was not in sight in the Danbury classroom. Indeed, the GE Capital Solutions people took great lengths to humanize themselves and their company. Ms. Dougherty, the G.E. manager who led the program, talked of combating the “schlumpy factor” employees who “schlump” from the parking lot to work. She quoted from Dilbert “Change is great: you go first.”
Ms. Garavel, meanwhile, shared tales of how one G.E. division had routinely kept customers waiting because the files it needed were kept in a remote storeroom, and how another took forever to process orders that had to be approved by people several floors apart.
But once the “we’re in the same boat” mentality had been established, the G.E. trainers tried hard to couch their points in Y.M.C.A. terms. Are you rewarding the right results? Don’t praise people who bring in the most donors, but those whose donors contribute the most money. Are your marketing programs working?
The day developed a rhythm Ms. Dougherty demonstrated exercises, and teams of Y people carried them out. The students defined their mission in 15 words or less. They identified their promoters and supporters, and suggested ways to encourage supporters to become promoters. They documented accomplishments that showed that the Y was worthy of support, and listed areas where they needed to find more proof. “We’re training them to offer all their ideas, then clarify them later,” Ms. Dougherty said.
At the same time, G.E. facilitators circulated among the teams, gently keeping them on track. “Maybe you should be a bit more specific,” Mr. Peters prodded one team.” Elizabeth Goehring, corporate citizenship manager for GE Capital Solutions, convinced another team that more mailings would not generate enough excitement for their programs.
It is too soon to tell whether the training will bring change. But when the day was over, the skeptics in the group many of whom were there because their bosses had insisted had become enthusiasts.
“I would never have thought that a large company had anything to teach a nonprofit,” said Ms. Coleman, who manages many of the Y’s physical fitness programs. “But I’ve really learned a lot today about how to manage a staff.”
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