It’s Season 15 on the Business Infrastructure podcast and we’re trying something different. Many of you asked for it and it’s here – a business infrastructure masterclass!
Over the next 13 episodes, you’ll hear the alternating stories of entrepreneurs faced with the challenges of unfilled customer demand and the specific tactics used to calm the chaos. Discover how they each rise to the challenge through lessons taught by Alicia Butler Pierre – lessons that you can immediately apply to your small business.
First up is the story of Emily Miller, the founder and Executive Director of a fast-growing non-profit. An appearance on a daytime talk show puts her non-profit on the map but also exposes her leadership weakness. When she learns the board is threatening to replace her, she springs into action by hiring a consultant who introduces her to the Business Parts Analysis – the first element of building business infrastructure. This helps secure her future and reputation.
More About Host, Alicia Butler Pierre:
Alicia Butler Pierre is the Founder & CEO of Equilibria, Inc. Her career in operations began over 20 years ago while working as an engineer in various chemical plants and oil refineries. She invented the Kasennu™ framework for business infrastructure and authored, Behind the Façade: How to Structure Company Operations for Sustainable Success. It is the world’s first published book on business infrastructure for small businesses. Alicia hosts the weekly Business Infrastructure podcast with a global audience across 55 countries.
More About Sponsor, Equilibria, Inc.:
Equilibria, Inc. is an operations management firm specializing in business infrastructure for fast-growing organizations. Our mission is to provide access to tips, resources, and proven frameworks that revolutionize the way small businesses operate. We do that through original podcast episodes, blog posts, videos, presentations, workshops, and coaching sessions.
Emily Miller is the founder of a successful non-profit. Her recent appearance on a daytime TV show puts the non-profit on the map, but it also exposes her leadership weaknesses. In fact, she’s heard from a reliable source that the board wants to replace her. What she interprets as an impending coup d’etat threatens to undermine what she’s built. She’s running out of time and options. This puts her in a vulnerable position. She needs to work with someone she can trust. She’ll ultimately get support from an unlikely source who’ll introduce her to business infrastructure. Specifically, they’re going to do a Business Parts Analysis that will secure her future and reputation. That is, if it’s not too late.
[Emily]: “Oh my goodness, she’s singing this song about me!”
On what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, Emily Miller found herself sobbing uncontrollably as her favorite artist, along with 50,000 concertgoers, sang with the band harmoniously playing along. Emily’s friends had surprised her with a trip to London, England, to see Sade perform.
January 10, 2015, marked her 55th birthday and, considering her recent divorce, Emily needed a mood lifter and her friends knew it. She was thrilled to be here, yet she couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of sorrow. Emily’s cheeks were beginning to burn from the tears now flowing from her eyes. Her only redemption was the fact that it was dark inside the arena and her friends were too distracted to notice her. Quickly, she reached into her purse and grabbed a tissue to wipe away the evidence. She was sure her makeup was a mess by now.
As the next song played, Emily began reflecting on the past 10 years of her life. How could this be? In the blink of an eye, her life turned from a merry-go-round of good fortune to a roller coaster of unpredictable peaks and valleys. This trip to England was also to celebrate her non-profit’s 10-year anniversary. Little did her friends, yet alone most people, know that her board was planning to dethrone her as executive director.
You see, Emily was good at keeping up appearances. Her adolescent years spent in charm school taught her that masking public emotion was proper etiquette. Before the concert ended, she had already re-applied her makeup, further masking her pain with her trademark smile — a quality known for being a key ingredient in getting her way. Friends and family alike always joked that Emily would make an excellent salesperson or attorney. She was good at persuading people to give her what she wanted.
However, that all seemed to be changing; her charm was fading. After 32 years of marriage, her husband asked for a divorce and now she was in jeopardy of losing control of her non-profit — an organization she had built and nurtured from inception. These painful reminders overshadowed the remainder of her London trip and, sadly, she still had no viable solution for the board’s plans to replace her. She convinced herself the answer would present itself on the flight home.
The eight-hour flight from Heathrow to Dulles was a blur. Emily needed more time to ponder her next move. Play chess, not checkers is what she kept telling herself. It was a phrase her father often told her whenever she pondered a decision as strategic thinking was never her strong suit.
[Emily]: “But how? I don’t even own a chess set. I don’t even know the rules for playing chess! All I’ve ever known is how to play checkers.”
Then she remembered a book her oldest son gave her as a birthday gift. So far, he was the only one who knew what she was going through and, in his gentle, indirect way, he inserted into the book the business card of someone he believed could help his mother.
As Emily examined the card, she managed to draw a smile. She recognized the name on the business card. It belonged to her son’s best childhood friend, Timothy McKiver. Though apprehensive, she decided she would take her son’s advice and call Tim the next day. Just then, the pilot announced that the plane would descend in Washington, D.C. in 20 minutes.
The next day saw Emily feeling better. When she turned on her cell phone, she learned that her voice mailbox was full. Her top priority was to call her parents as well as her sons. They all needed to know she was okay and had arrived home safely. Her conversation with her parents was the usual heartbreak; her dad seemed to lose memory of her as each day passed.
The dementia progressed faster than her family anticipated. The next phone call was to her youngest son, Michael, a freshman at Arizona State University. He always managed to make her feel better with each conversation. Emily’s last call was to her oldest son, Brian, a real estate attorney and freshly minted entrepreneur living in New York City. When he answered, her mother’s intuition told her that something was wrong.
[Emily]: “Are you okay, son? What’s wrong? You sound down. How’s the business coming along?”
[Brian]: “I’m okay, Mom. I don’t want to bother you with my troubles. You have enough stressing you out. Hey, have you called Tim yet?”
[Emily]: “No, not yet. I plan on calling him this afternoon.”
[Brian]: “Don’t wait, Mom. I don’t like what the board is up to. We need to jump on this right away. I’ve already talked to Tim and he’s expecting your call.”
After ending her call with Brian, Emily held her cell phone in one hand, picked up Tim’s business card with the other and headed toward the staircase leading to her basement. For the past 10 years, this basement has served as the headquarters for her fast-growing non-profit.
But the board argued that it was time to relocate to a “more suitable location conducive to business.” Deep down, Emily knew they were right, but she liked the coziness of her space and worried that a new location would change the culture of her non-profit.
She sat down at the head of a long, wooden table that rested in the center of the basement and then dialed the number on the business card.
Tim knew the reason Emily was calling and, out of respect for their mother/son-like relationship, waited for her to bring it up first.
[Emily]: “Tim, Brian gave me your card and said you could help me. I really don’t know where to start. Shortly after you boys finished high school, about a month before the start of school the following fall, I received notification that my services were no longer needed at the middle school where I taught.”
[Tim]: “Oh Mrs. Miller, I’m so sorry.”
[Emily]: “Ah, don’t be. And by the way, it’s Ms. Miller now. Sure, I was upset at first but that waned once I started my non-profit, which I was inspired to start as a result of meeting with so many people my age who were also displaced from work. We were all too young to retire legally, yet too old to hire. Their stories were all so heartbreaking. I decided to channel my anger and frustration into creating an organization that would empower us to convert these obstacles into opportunities through the power of relationships.”
[Emily]: “I’m a firm believer in the idea of six degrees of separation. The concept took off, too! With the help of my garden and tennis clubs and the scores of contacts through my husband’s, I mean ex-husband’s real estate law practice, I had a strong pool of employers eager to attend my matchmaking events. My events are a far cry from a career fair. I work hard to create an environment that encourages genuine conversation and networking. Before I knew it, people were getting jobs! And word about my events spread faster than fire.”
[Emily]: “The next thing we knew, we were helping dozens of people throughout D.C., Maryland and Virginia with quality connections that landed them jobs. Mikey had already taken Brian’s room when he graduated and left for college. So I used the empty bedroom as my new office. I quickly outgrew that space and moved down to the basement. I had more room to spread out and things really took off. Eventually, I hired an assistant, started adding more people to the board and…”
Emily stopped abruptly. Thinking about the board and the recent anguish they had caused her almost made her cut the story short.
[Emily]: “The board! The board! The current bane of my existence!”
Emily didn’t want to leave the wrong impression and immediately regretted saying that. Instead of going down a path of negativity, she continued talking about what led to her latest fast growth predicament.
[Emily]: “Just when I didn’t think things could get any better, I had the opportunity to appear as a subject matter expert on that daytime TV show. I was only on the air for about five minutes but that was enough to see my nonprofit’s popularity go through the roof. We were gaining momentum…fast!”
[Emily]: “Turns out, that was their concern – that it was happening too fast. The board said that my being ‘the face’ of my non-profit was an issue. ‘What if something should happen to you?’ they’d always ask. Meanwhile, with each new donor, each new client, each new event, my time was no longer mine. It belonged to my organization. This meant more time away from Dan, the boys, my parents…pretty much everyone. I justified it by saying that I was saving people’s livelihood. Dan would say, ‘Yeah, while destroying your own.’”
[Tim]: “Sounds like you lost work/life balance in the midst of the growth. Is that an accurate assessment?”
[Emily]: “In retrospect, yes, that’s exactly what happened. Before I knew it, Dan filed for divorce, my dad was diagnosed with dementia and one of the board members, who I still consider to be a very good friend and a reliable source, told me about the board’s plans to replace me.”
Looking at his watch, Tim realized that 30 minutes had passed and he needed to leave for a meeting across town. He wanted to resume their conversation and invited her to dinner. Once she hung up the phone, Emily decided to take a walk. It was cold out, but she needed fresh air. An hour later, she returned home, checked her phone and noticed an email from Tim’s assistant. Emily and Tim would meet for dinner next week at a restaurant in Baltimore.
[Emily]: “Baltimore?! Well, at least I’ll get a good crab cake.”
As a native Washingtonian, Emily grew up with a natural aversion to Baltimore, Maryland, a city relatively close in proximity to D.C. that seemed worlds apart. Although she was apprehensive about traveling to Baltimore to meet Tim, she knew she would have to put that aside and focus on the issue at hand — rescuing her non-profit. When Emily arrived at the restaurant situated on the Inner Harbor, Tim stood up from the table where he was sitting and held his arms open. Emily was just as he remembered her — an attractive lady with short, neatly cropped blond hair, always wearing a dress suit and her signature pearl necklace and earrings.
[Tim]: “Mrs. Miller, you look stunning!”
[Emily]: “Well, you don’t look so bad yourself, Tim.”
[Narrator]: After several minutes of small talk, they realized they needed to place their order as the waiter stood patiently waiting.
[Tim]: “So, Mrs., I mean, Ms. Miller. I understand you’ve been blessed with a problem recently.”
[Emily]: “I beg your pardon?”
[Tim]: “The situation at your non-profit.”
[Emily]: “You call that a blessing? It’s for sure a curse!” “If you knew the whole story…”
[Tim]: “Well, why don’t you tell me that story?”
Tim hoped he didn’t come across as condescending. He wanted to be careful not to offend Emily, but he also realized he needed to be in consulting mode.
[Emily]: “As I mentioned during our last call, things were going well until the board grew larger. It was important to me to have an odd number of people so that we’d never run into a split vote situation. I also knew it was important to have a diverse board that included men and women, all with different backgrounds. Don’t get me wrong. All of them are exceptionally bright and talented but, for about the past year, I’ve bumped heads with one board member in particular. Unlike the other members, I didn’t personally appoint her; she was voted in. One of our members resigned due to retirement and the board seized that moment as an opportunity to try something different.”
[Tim]: “Something different?”
[Emily]: “Yes, something different. They told me that they had developed some criteria, a sort of checklist for what would make a good board member. They actually wanted to implement a new recruitment and interview process, you know, to make everything more formal. I thought it was absurd. Why fix something that isn’t broken?”
[Emily]: “So, they went on this quest to find a replacement for the member who had retired. I suggested that they start with the very people that we service: baby boomers displaced from their jobs before they can legally retire and collect benefits. They agreed that was a good idea. Wouldn’t you know it? The person they voted to add to the board was none other than a client that I highly recommended, Clara Dixon!”
[Tim]: “Is that a bad thing?”
[Emily]: “Oh, you don’t know the half of it! From day one of joining the board, I noticed a change in Clara. She started making sly remarks, wanting to change things here and there. It seemed harmless at first, but progressively got worse. She’s since been like a virus, spreading her poison and influencing the board that, mind you, I originally assembled for a non-profit that I created! She’s been plotting a coup to have me removed, saying I’m not qualified to be executive director, that I lack the vision to truly lead the non-profit to the next level.
[Emily]: “My source tells me she even accused me of merely being a ‘schoolteacher with a hobby’ as a way of further discrediting me. Clara argues that I can’t have intelligent conversations about budgeting and forecasting.
[Emily]: “All I know is that I bring in the money and lots of it! Through my events, we raised $2 million alone in the past year for a total of $2.5 million in revenue! That has to count for something.”
[Tim]: “Do you know this hearsay to be fact?”
[Emily]: “Yes. It sounds like something she would say. I’m sorry, I get so mad every time I think about it because this woman has cried on my shoulder, she’s eaten at my home, we’ve had many late-night conversations. She’s a former executive of a large non-profit and, truthfully, I think she wants my job. The time we spent together, I now believe, was merely her way of getting close so that she could take over.”
Tim made direct eye contact with Emily. It was time to deliver news that he was sure she’d take exception to. He needed to be careful in his delivery.
[Tim]: “Ms. Miller, first, thank you for sharing your story with me. There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’ll start with something I noticed from our phone call last week. You say ‘my nonprofit’ or ‘my organization.’ I think that’s a symptom of the larger issue. It does not belong exclusively to you. You need to change your narrative from owner to founder.”
Emily’s raised eyebrows caused fine lines to appear across her forehead. Unmoved, Tim continued…
[Tim]: “I have a hunch that you are a victim of the Peter Principle. Do you know what the Peter Principle is?”
[Tim]: “It’s the idea that, ‘in a hierarchy, employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.’”
[Emily]: “But I’m not an employee! As you just pointed out, I’m the Founder!”
[Tim]: “Exactly. When you started your non-profit you were keenly aware of the nuances of its legal structure. Aside from not paying taxes, you know that non-profits are governed by boards. By referring to yourself as the founder, it gives credit where credit is due, but it does not imply that you are ultimately the final decision maker in the same way that owner does. Does that make sense?”
[Tim]: “The non-profit has a fast-growth problem, which, by the way, is a good problem to have! What you interpret as a ‘coup’ is really their way of saying that they need someone qualified to take the organization to the next level. By you founding the non-profit, you automatically assumed the title, executive director, and the original board went along with it, perhaps not knowing any better.”
[Tim]: “But Clara is a former executive who knows firsthand the experience needed to operate on a higher level. Now that she has a bird’s eye view of the organization, she can see the limitations of your skillset. I know it sounds insulting, but she’s really pointing out that, unless the right people are placed in the right positions to manage the growth, the entire non-profit could implode.”
[Emily]: “Implode? Isn’t that a little extreme, Tim?”
[Tim]: “No ma’am, not at all. I’ve specialized in working with non-profits through my community activism for the past nine years and the ones that do well are operated by people who recognize when they may be getting in the way of success. One of the hardest things to do is to let go. But you have to let go in order to grow. In your case, this might mean letting go of your title, as a starting point.”
Emily began squirming in her seat. She did not like where this conversation was going. Tim was supposed to be on her side. At that moment, the waiter appeared to remove their plates from the table and asked if they would like to order dessert. Emily was too disgusted to respond. Tim could see she was upset and ordered a thick slice of cheesecake, thinking he could offer her half of it as a peace offering. He knew he needed to say more.
[Tim]: “Ms. Miller? I know this is a lot to process. By your own admission, you feel as though you’ve suffered enough loss: your beloved teaching job, Mr. Miller, your sons, and now this. Please be comforted in knowing that admitting when it’s time for someone else to take over the reins is not an admission of failure; rather, it’s recognition of your maturity as a leader. You don’t have to put out someone else’s light in order to shine. You and Clara can shine together! You’ve accomplished so much! Just as you had to let go of your sons in order for them to grow into independent adults, so you must do with this non-profit.”
[Emily]: “I don’t like what you’re saying. It’s hard to hear the truth when it stares you in the face. I realize you have no reason to hurt me so I want to believe that you are genuine in your remarks. It reminds me of what I used to tell my students and my own children: ‘I’m not telling you what you want to hear; I’m telling you what you need to hear.’ What can I do about this?”
[Tim]: “It may not seem like it Ms. Miller, but there is a win-win solution in this. I can help you.”
[Tim]: “You’re in an amazing position to leverage your network to secure jobs for a targeted group of people! We just need to get a business infrastructure in place that can sustain the growth and ensure its viability.”
[Emily]: “But we’re not a tech company.”
[Tim]: “No ma’am. You’re right. The non-profit is not a tech company. I’m talking about business infrastructure – an infrastructure that shows how the non-profit is structured operationally. You, as well as the board, are experiencing growing pains right now. This is compounded by the fact that there is no solid foundation upon which to keep growing. It’s like trying to build a house on sand without a concrete foundation. This is what I meant earlier when I said that this non-profit runs the risk of implosion or, in this case, it can collapse.”
[Tim]: “I’ve been around and worked in dozens of non-profit organizations at this point. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that the more successful ones have this business infrastructure, whether they refer to it as that or not, in place where the less successful ones don’t. They’re in a perpetual hamster-in-the-wheel state, spinning round and round yet never moving forward or upward.”
[Tim]: “I learned this system for creating business infrastructure called Kasennu. I realized that I could apply this to the political, legal and nonprofit organizations that I work with. Once implemented, I’ve personally witnessed the turnaround within those organizations. It’s amazing what people can accomplish when they have greater clarity about what they are supposed to be doing, why they are doing it and how they should be doing it!”
By now, the waiter returned with the check. They had been at this restaurant for almost three hours! Tim paid the tab and then looked at Emily.
[Tim]: “Would you like to move forward?”
[Emily]: “Yes, but I have one major concern. The board will meet again in about 45 days to discuss our 10-year anniversary celebration. I’m assuming they’ll also use that as a time to discuss my potential dethroning. What can we accomplish before then?”
[Tim]: “Leave that up to me Ms. Miller.”
With that, Tim then asked if he could speak with the one board member Emily described as a reliable source who had warned her of the coup. She agreed to pass along her contact information but stated that she needed to speak with that board member first. Emily knew this was risky, but she was desperate to fix this problem. Tim asked that she make the call as soon as possible since he wanted to submit a proposal to her before the end of the week.
As they walked toward the front door of the restaurant, Tim assured Emily that she was taking a step in the right direction. Once she arrived home, she called the board member whom she trusted, and gave her a recap of her conversation with Tim. Knowing the urgency of the situation, she agreed to speak with Tim.
The next day, Tim called the trusted board member. Their conversation was amazingly efficient, lasting no longer than about 15 minutes. In that time Tim learned that Clara Dixon, the new addition to the board, has a background in forensic accounting. Clara suggested that the board start making decisions backed by numbers, as opposed to educated guesses and hunches. The board complied and, in doing so, they learned that, although fundraising dollars and number of active clients were up, the number of complaints by the clients was also on the rise.
Their clients felt neglected. The board addressed Emily and knew that she had a knack for working one-on-one with the clients but, with more of them coming through, it was simply too much for her to handle by herself. She had a choice to make: spend more time with the clients or focus more time on fundraising. One thing the board was clear on was that Emily could not remain as executive director.
Clara showed them the danger in Emily not knowing how to interpret financial statements and have meaningful dialogue about them. Apparently, Emily thought it unnecessary but Clara argued that, although they had a tax exempt status, they still had a duty to be fiscally responsible and accountable to their donors and clients. This trusted advisor to share some figures with Tim and he happily accepted knowing it would add more context to his proposal. Their conversation ended with Tim asking Kathy if she would keep their conversation confidential.
As Tim conducted more research on the non-profit and prepared the proposal, Emily thought about how she would spend the remainder of the week. Thankfully, she had the foresight to take this week off too when she made her trip to London last week. In that time, she called her son Brian and told him about her meeting with Tim. Brian strongly encouraged her to work with Tim and mentioned that he wished Tim was available to help him with his own real estate business in New York.
Emily also bought and read a copy of the book about the Peter Principle. She came to the realization that she is, in fact, a victim of the Peter Principle! Her eyes welled with tears. She had to stop feeling sorry for herself. This was not the end of the world and, as Tim said, she had the power to fix it. She went to bed that night and, for the first time in a long time, felt hopeful.
Tim’s proposal soon arrived by email. At first glance, it seemed to be a repeat of their conversation. As Emily read on, she realized it included financial information she knew she didn’t disclose to Tim. That must’ve come from that board member she referred him to. She continued reading and came to a diagram that explained the Kasennu system Tim previously mentioned.
According to the diagram, the first step to take in defining and building the business infrastructure was the Business Parts Analysis. The proposal described what the Business Parts Analysis is as well as its benefits. That’s when Emily learned that by using simple, low-tech tools like stick figures, index cards, and large sticky notes, they would be able to quickly identify all the tasks performed at the non-profit and organize them into departments.
As she continued reading, she learned that they would also identify the best role to perform each task identified. From there, according to the proposal, the identified tasks, departments, and roles would be used to create more succinct, transparent job descriptions with a prioritized hiring strategy. This would help them attract the A-team needed to scale to the next level.
The last sentence in the proposal gave Emily pause. It read, “Like the founder, the non-profit is suffering from an identity crisis. It has the opportunity to evolve into something much bigger but requires proper guidance.”
Those were piercing words, and, for a split second, Emily had a mind to call Tim and scold him the way only a mother could. But she didn’t. After all, it was the truth.
Over the next four weeks, Tim worked with Emily and her assistant to identify all of the tasks they and others perform, making sure to distinguish between work that’s currently done vs. needs to be done in the future. They then assigned the ideal resource to perform each task, and later organized those tasks into departments.
Seeing all of the tasks required to operate the non-profit was eye-opening. For the first time, Emily saw the non-profit in a way she’s never looked at it before – from the outside in. And it was clear – she took on way too many responsibilities that she shouldn’t have.
When it came time to transfer all of their work into new job descriptions, she put up no resistance to changing her role as executive director.
Now all she needed to do was present this revelatory information to the board. Although she’s the founder, she still needs their funding approval to continue working with Tim and steer their ship in the right direction.
Two weeks later, the much-anticipated board of directors meeting took place at an upscale conference room Emily reserved. She arrived an hour early, giving herself enough time to set up for the presentations. She wore her signature pearl necklace and a two-piece suit the same shade as her sapphire pendant earrings. Not a single hair was out of place. She was here to leave a good impression today and every detail counted.
Emily felt as confident as she looked. The board of directors arrived one by one, including her anonymous source. Upon confirmation that everyone was present, the president of the board called the meeting to order. The first 15 minutes included a follow-up on action items generated during the last board meeting. The next item on the agenda was Tim’s presentation. Before Tim stood up to speak, Emily introduced him. Up to this point, the board was under the impression that Tim would be giving a sales pitch of some sort. Imagine their shock when Emily projected a graph displaying the financial figures from Tim’s original proposal.
Emily began to speak. She practiced this introduction for the past two weeks, figuring out the best way to convey the message without letting on that she knew of their plans to replace her.
[Emily]: “As we all know, we’ve experienced double-digit growth over the past four years. This growth, while exciting, brings challenges as we struggle to keep up with the demands and expectations of our clients and donors. I’ll be the first to admit that I failed to ask for help and that refusal may have jeopardized our amazing organization!”
[Emily]: “I was in denial, and it first became apparent when I was at a Sade concert while in London. As I watched her sing, I found myself drawn to her band. Without the band, there would be no Sade and without Sade, there would be no band. Then I started thinking about all of the people it probably took to put the concert together. I know from experience what it takes to plan an event and our events pale in comparison to that concert. I thought about all of the people, the equipment, the promotions, and the logistics that it takes for Sade’s team to replicate this concert consistently with each city they visit on the tour. When I returned home, I mentioned this to my oldest son, Brian. He strongly suggested I contact Tim.”
[Emily]: “I’ve known Tim most of his life but saw less of him over the past several years. I honestly had forgotten about his background in working with some of the largest non-profits in the area. I was elated to hear that he started his own consulting firm. We met and Tim constructed a plan of course correction for us. For four weeks, me and my assistant worked with him in some of the most tedious, but fun meetings I’ve ever participated in! Tim will now summarize the work we accomplished together and present his recommendations for moving forward.”
Emily introduced Tim before anyone from the board could object or ask a question. Some members clapped – they were proud of Emily. Others sat stoically – they were furious with her for not getting their approval for working with Tim in advance. Tim walked toward the front of the room. With the click of a button, he projected his presentation onto the whiteboard behind him. Standing to the side of the whiteboard to allow room for others to see, he first thanked Emily for her introduction of him. On the whiteboard was a picture of a charter bus and a mini-van.
[Tim]: “Every organization, regardless of its size, industry and maturity, needs business infrastructure as it answers the following questions:
1. What work needs to be done?
2. Who is supposed to do the work?
3. How do we do the work?
4. What is the contingency plan just in case things don’t go accordingly? and
5. How do we profitably replicate our business model?”
[Tim]: “What Ms. Miller described in her introduction can be summed as supply not meeting demand. The issue here is that, although there are many people sitting in the proverbial van, some are not sitting in the right seat. Ms. Miller has been in the van’s driver’s seat for the past 10 years. But now the roads you all are traveling on require a stronger, bigger vehicle that can also accommodate more people. Unfortunately, Ms. Miller knows how to drive the van, not a bus.”
[Tim]: “My research and observations proved there was a lack of transparency in the day-to-day operations. This may have led many of you to question how Emily and her assistant spend their time, especially as the rate of client complaints escalated. I recommended we first implement the Business Parts Analysis element of the Kasennu system for business infrastructure. Together, Ms. Miller and her assistant went through a rigorous four weeks to formalize an operational structure that supports the non-profit’s growth as well as promotes transparency. We made sure that Ms. Miller was still able to meet all client appointments during this time.”
Tim advanced to the next slide. It contained an infographic that summarized information like the total number of sessions, the number of tasks identified, the names of the new departments, and a listing of all positions identified. It even included an image of a new job description. He ended his presentation by inviting the board to carefully review the work they completed.
He also noted the number of new, vacant positions they identified and suggested that they heed the prioritized hiring strategy. He asked that they consider developing a personality, work and communication style profile for each position. They could leverage assessment tools like Kolbe and DiSC® to help them match the right person to each position. Their current pool of volunteers and clients seeking employment was an excellent place to start.
Tim’s 15 minutes were up. Any anger some board members may have felt waned when Tim left the final slide of his presentation on the whiteboard. It showed a picture from their brainstorming session when one of the walls in Emily’s basement was covered with large sticky notes containing all the tasks performed in the non-profit. Before moving to the next item on the agenda, the president of the Board thanked Emily and Tim for an informative presentation. She hinted that there were questions they’d like to have answered, but that they needed to move on to the next item on the meeting agenda. But before doing so, she first asked how soon they could begin using the new job descriptions to recruit and interview people to fill those vacant roles identified.
[Tim]: “Now! And thanks to Ms. Miller, a good bit of the initial grunt work is done. Now that we know the tasks, roles and departments, this information will provide the foundation for developing an organization chart, paper and electronic records management systems, the physical layout of the new headquarters location and business processes.“
[Tim]: “In fact, there’s a business process workshop coming up in Atlanta. We didn’t have time to discuss this, but Ms. Miller self-identified the fact that she should no longer be the executive director; rather, her title should be managing director. She and the new executive director can share responsibility for donor relations. I strongly recommend getting these processes documented sooner rather than later so that all new hires will know how to perform certain tasks.”
The president thanked Tim again for his time. Shortly before adjourning the meeting, she turned to Emily and asked why she kept this work with Tim a secret. She admitted not knowing the true volume of work and how much Emily was struggling to keep up. Emily always appeared to have everything under control. At that moment, Emily stood up in front of the room to address everyone.
[Emily]: “Yes, I know. It was just a façade. I don’t like admitting failure. Tim helped me realize that my only failure was in not seeking help. He also helped me realize that my strength is in fundraising and helping the clients and I should remain in this capacity. Being the executive director requires more than just being able to raise money. It requires skillful coordination of the entire organization, including financial management, and I hate getting bogged down in details. This was something my ex-husband often complained about.”
[Emily]: “I now have a better appreciation for some of the things he used to tell me about his law practice. For instance, I never understood why he always delegated to the paralegals and junior attorneys. Now I know. When it comes to our financials, I only look at the bottom line to determine whether our total donations and expenses are trending up or down. The truth of the matter is I don’t know how to read financial statements and have no clue about how to look for signs of trouble, aside from the obvious.”
[Emily]: “A couple of weeks ago, I spent several days at the library poring over all kinds of business books. I even signed up for some online classes to help me better understand certain business basics. I never thought any of this was necessary since we are a non-profit, but I know better now. We still have to remain in compliance and show responsible use of all monies raised.”
Emily took the fact that they were now half an hour past their allotted time on the meeting agenda as a good sign. It showed there was interest. As they walked out of the conference room, Clara Dixon, Emily’s arch-nemesis, asked if she could speak with her. To her surprise, Clara gave her a big hug and told her how proud of her she was. It took courage to do what Emily did and that was the hallmark of a true leader. Emily masked her suspicion with a smile. It would be a while before Clara could earn her trust again, if ever.
With a renewed sense of purpose, Emily realized she was not losing her identity; rather, she was strengthening and redefining it into something even more spectacular! This was Emily 2.0. If she had had this kind of awakening in just a short time, she could not imagine what would happen after this business process workshop in Atlanta.
All she needed was the board’s approval. Would they allow her to continue building this business infrastructure or would they halt her progress?
We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. If so, please leave a five-star rating and a review to let us know what you liked best. While you’re at it, go ahead and subscribe wherever you’re listening to this podcast. That way you’ll know when the next episode becomes available. Trust me, you don’t want to miss it. I’m going to explain exactly how Tim created this Business Parts Analysis for Emily so that you can achieve similar results at your organization.
A special thank you to Equilibria, Inc. for making this masterclass possible.
The story you just heard is based on Chapter 2 of the book, Behind the Façade: How to Structure Company Operations for Sustainable Success. A link is available in this episode’s description and also at BusinessInfrastructure.TV.
Audio editing and sound mixing by Olanrewaju Adeyemo. Voice acting by Kamaria Goggins and Frank Jones. Written, produced, and narrated by me, Alicia Butler Pierre.
This is the Business Infrastructure – Curing Back-Office Blues podcast.