Scenario Thinking for Hospital System Foundation Leaders

Navigating Change as You “Rehearse the Future”

A common pitfall of leadership is sometimes being unable to see the forest for the trees. There are so many moving parts to the operating environment of any successful hospital system foundation that it’s easy to get lost in minutiae and not be able to identify the right questions to be asking of the strategic challenge ahead. If you have been asking yourself, “What decisions should I be making now amidst all these sweeping changes in order to position us for optimal operating success in the future?” then you’ll undoubtedly be hoping to see with new eyes how the central question could be answered.

My newest paper presents a scenario development tool that, while no panacea, helps you get to shared clarity and ownership of the work ahead. Additionally, it helps you marry your collective attention to your stated intention. Four operating scenarios are developed as an illustration of how to apply this thinking to your foundation.  Completing the scenario development exercise with your leadership team can provide you great insights and enable you to gauge the strategic thinking skills and adaptability of your team. Having done so in a proactive way, the operating transformations become more direct and the rationale for doing so becomes abundantly clear. In that way, you’ll avoid the drag of the skeptics and give the early adopters a clearer path on which to lead.

Free download of 7 page paper in PDF format


Benefits of a Staff-Led Feasibility Study

In this 2nd of four related posts, I’d like to share my experience to help you explore whether an alternative to the traditional counsel-led feasibility study offers you the right kind of benefits.

There are numerous ways that conducting a staff-led feasibility study can benefit your organization.

  1. It strengthens donor relationships with staff by using targeted conversations.
  2. Donors feel better knowing the conversations are about them first, rather than simply about their money (a huge benefit for a principles-based fundraising philosophy).
  3. Staff members gain experience asking sensitive questions about personal giving and interests.
  4. Interviews conducted by staff allow the organization to obtain valuable donor/prospect information that can be imported directly into database management software without being filtered (or lost!) by the consultant. Some consultants prefer to treat the entire interview as confidential, in part to retain information that subsequently makes the consultant more valuable to the client in providing campaign counsel. Said another way, the consultants who conducted the study must be retained in order to find out what your donors think and feel about the project.
  5. Consultants must often designate their availability so as to accommodate other clients, thereby reducing scheduling flexibility with donors. A staff-led interview process allows for greater scheduling flexibility for completing interviews.
  6. Depending upon the size of staff and the interviewing team, this approach may field multiple interviewers to gain multiple perspectives.
  7. Staff members feel a greater sense of ownership of the information, having harvested it in real time as opposed to simply receiving aggregate information in a report.
  8. Conducting a study with one’s own staff is a sign of growing professional maturity and experience, thereby increasing staff credibility among internal constituents.
  9. Given the competitive world of attracting and retaining professional development staff, such a staff-led effort builds valuable career experience, thereby helping to retain gifted staff.
  10. Finally, this approach may save money in consulting fees, making this savings available for other budgetary needs, such as prospect research, cultivation costs, publications, etc.

Trust deficit or trust equity?

Say what you will about the demonstration of leadership during the president’s State of the Union address last night (and the response of the House members and Senators seated before him), President Obama’s speech reinforces for me some earlier reflections and new perspectives on leadership.

The president talked about the current trust deficit; something no leader welcomes nor treats lightly, regardless of the sector. He clearly addressed how tough it is in the current environment to make decisions and to reach consensus. My memory sufficiently jogged, I reached for my little copy of Ten Things to Do in A Conceptual Emergency1, and seized upon an embedded phrase that applies so well: “simply accept the complexity and participate in it.” Regardless of sector-government, business, social (nonprofit)-we are nothing if not in community. Our participation is required to advance the common good. The bridges we build (literally and/or metaphorically) are necessary to transcend barriers of all kinds. Leadership-solid, selfless, intentional leadership-revolves around building trust equity and pursuing bold objectives. 

1, International Futures Forum, Ten Things to Do in a Conceptual Emergency, (Axminster, Devon, United Kingdom: Triarchy Press Ltd., 2003), 8.


New Perspectives on Leadership

Conversation 2009 yielded several cool insights and powerful exchanges. Any discussion of social sector and philanthropy effectiveness must touch on the issue of leadership. Here’s an advance peak at some of the highlights from our gathering last April.

As leaders, it is centrally important that we are effective listeners. Because we’re all from different perspectives, our responses are different. Leaders help others find their authentic alignment. Internal alignment and forgiveness is a huge part of staying whole as a leader.

“An alternative is to simply accept the complexity and participate in it. Relish diversity and the unique quality of all things. This engenders a sense of belonging—and hence reinforces the motivation to participate. What drives this reinforcing cycle is love, empathy, and relationships.”*

The people we lead seek community.

In an attempt to offer perspective, I reflected that as the builders of bridges—whether in metaphor or reality—leaders must neither underestimate nor undervalue the “trust equity” they have earned over time. This trust equity—some might call it relationship capital or relationship insurance—is not solely the product of a leader’s age, tenure, and personality. It is all that and more. This trust equity creates a platform for inviting others into a new type of conversation with deeper meaning. Leaders who have earned high levels of respect and who have demonstrated solid success therefore have more room to maneuver in introducing thoughtful questions.

No leader can afford to simply model someone else and expect similar results. Start by asking yourself, “What is the highest and best I can do on any given day?”

A leader’s ability to become a catalyst for transformational change increases when devoting quality time to the insight and clarity that stems from “being.” When unable to step off the treadmill of the “doing” role, the leader is pulled into daily work on incremental change for operational survival and sustainability.

Ken Hubbell's graphic illustration of our leadership discussion
Graphic illustration of our leadership discussion

Few social sector leaders have the luxury of being able to exclusively focus on one role or the other. They must balance both.

Imagine, too, the leader’s ability to refocus and reinvent their role and their organization’s response when inspired by these bigger questions. This shift requires organizational leaders to talk, think, and work together in new ways in order to develop a shared commitment to something new, something truly integrated. It requires investments of time and energy. It often requires a catalyst. Our current environment is calling for us to ask a different set of questions.

Who leads the conversation that leads us to a reshaped world?


*From the chapter, Give Up On the Myth of Control, in Ten Things To Do in a Conceptual Emergency, 2003, International Futures Forum, 8.

Illustration by Ken Hubbell