This blog is written by a member of our expert blogging community and expresses that expert’s views alone.
So you’ve joined the board of a nonprofit where you care about the mission and the work, you think you can be useful, and you like some of the people you’ll be working with–the ones you’ve met so far. What do you do next in order to be productive?
1. Learn more about the organization and the community you serve.
- Spend some time with the nonprofit’s CEO (and if appropriate and necessary, the CFO and senior program people) learning about the organization, its core programs, and the business model.
- Make a site visit to learn about core programs and the organization’s key clients and constituents.
- Understand the revenue model, who the funders are and their interests, and the funding challenges and opportunities.
- Be observant in the board meetings about who leads, and the nature of the group dynamics.
2. Figure out where you can be most useful.
- It’s very possible that you will be asked to help in a myriad of ways. Stop and consider! And discuss with the CEO and/or board chair exactly how and where you can be most useful (and where you will also find the experience most rewarding). It’s best to dig in and do an outstanding job in one or two ways, and then add to your plate.
It’s been a whirlwind week for me in the UK. After spending two days at IBX’s Purchasing Executive Summit in Oxford and giving the opening keynote address (stayed tuned for a number of posts next week on the event), I headed to London to catch up with a number of colleagues and friends from various firms. The trip has reinforced an idea that I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. And that’s my belief that in contrast to most areas in the enterprise where Europe is years behind the US, I’m beginning to feel that they’re actually ahead in at least some areas of procurement in terms of adoption and philosophy. In contrast, the usual equation suggests the UK is a year +/- behind the US when it comes to technology and process excellence and the continent is another year or two slower than the UK to adapt to new changes. Whether or not this is true as a rule, I can’t say with near certainty. But when it comes to procurement, it’s most certainly false. In fact, I think there are a handful of areas where large European companies are actually ahead of their North American counterparts in procurement and supply chain.
The first area is cross-border physical and financial transactions. Because Europeans have had a long history of trade, they’re inherently more familiar with what it takes to source in a multi-country environment. And as a result of regulation within the EU, many companies are that much more sophisticated when it comes to both local and cross-border invoicing and payment mechanisms than in the US. While many of the most successful eProcurement implementations are no doubt in North America, I’d wager that the majority of the most successful large invoice automation and payment implementations are in Europe (not to mention a good many successful but broader P2P initiatives as well, such as Lufthansa’s, which I learned about at the IBX event).Supplier information management is the second area where I sense Europe is ahead, both offline and online. Because of a longer history of CSR initiatives and the general need to keep track of suppliers outside of country borders, many European companies appear further along as a rule than those in North America when it comes to managing supplier information (included but not limited to performance, quality, and CSR data). Granted, I’d argue US companies are a bit ahead on the risk side at this point, but I suspect European procurement organizations will rapidly catch up here as well, integrating such efforts into broader approaches to gather, maintain and proactively manage supplier information. The third area where Europe feels ahead to me is in public sector procurement, at least in the UK. Now, I have nothing against the fine ladies and gents running our Federal procurement efforts in Washington, but candidly, the folks in the UK seem further along by years in every area, from sourcing and negotiation (reverse auctions, optimization, etc.) to realized savings and supplier management, at least from high profile initiatives. I had a hard time accepting this at first because its not supposed to be this way. After all, the UK has perhaps the worst reputation for government bureaucracy of any country throughout history (India can thank the Brits for holding them back for decades by leaving behind their bureaucratic legacy). But it’s really true — UK public sector procurement feels years beyond where the US needs to go, let alone where it is today. The fourth and final area where European procurement appears more advanced is more subjective. And that’s overall philosophy and the non-technical side of supplier relationship management. So many industries and companies in the US have developed an absolutely wretched reputation for mistreating suppliers over the years. And yes, these types of organizations exist in Europe as well. But there’s something about Europe that just feels more civil to me when it comes to building collaborative buyer/supplier dealings. After all, in the US, we often negotiate and plan with suppliers while heavily caffeinated over the phone. But in Europe, the business lunch (and dinner) replete with wine and a slower pace of life is still alive and well. And this, I’d argue — despite my sourcing and reverse auction training — can go a long way to establish and build the types of supplier relationships we need over the long term. – Jason Busch
Trust is fundamental to markets, and to MBA courses
City A.M. – Business with Personality
MY word is my bond”, is the motto of the London Stock Exchange. There is a reason that this notion is fundamental to the City. Without trust, there can be no business – on the most basic level, you have to be able to believe that the goods you have paid for will be delivered, and that you will be paid. That business needs to be ethical was also understood by Joseph Wharton, who founded Wharton business school in 1881. His aim was to create “pillars of the state, whether in private or in public life”. Business was seen as a good thing, something with social utility.Such sentiments might be met with a hollow laugh these days, when the global downturn is blamed by some on the greed and dodgy dealings of those in finance. But those who are currently taking MBAs are very aware of the ethical dimension of their subject. “We’ve known from the outset that public trust in finance generally, and scepticism of the City in particular are serious problems,” says Alex Ritson, who is currently studying for an MBA at the Cass business school in London. He and his colleagues, he says, often discuss the importance of ethics. “What keeps coming back is the importance of rebuilding the public’s trust in the City,” he says. It’s not just in London that MBA students are taking ethics seriously. Those at Harvard Business School (20 per cent, anyway) have taken a pledge to “serve the greater good”, and some British MBA students have signed up too, though without official endorsement from their schools. Course providers are also keen to point out that they take ethics seriously these days, pointing to the Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) elective which most provide. Others go a little further – at Nottingham, for example, 44 per cent of students take that course. In 2006 Oxford’s Said Business School launched a working group on CSR. Even the United Nations has got in on the act, setting up an initiative earlier this summer to promote the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), whose aim is to “to inspire and champion responsible management education, research and thought leadership globally”. Most of the leading business schools have signed up. But ethics is nothing new for business schools, as Paul Palmer, professor of voluntary sector management at Cass, points out. He says that until the late 1960s sociologists or philosophers would teach ethics in business schools as a matter of course – but in the late 60s that disappeared, as the focus became more narrowly financial. There has been, says Palmer, “a focus on short-termism at the expense of longevity”. But the truth is that “if you don’t have trust, you don’t have a product”. Back in the days before business schools, Palmer says, people were apprenticed in a trade through the livery companies or worshipful companies, and behaving in the right way was built into the framework of their education, in the same way that medical ethics are part of medical students’ training and inform everything they do. Ethics classes are of limited use – doing things the right way is more important. VALUE JUDGEMENT
That is the way that business schools should, and mostly do, teach ethics. It is not unknown for tutors to take a student to one side and have a quiet word if they question his or her values. The picture of business schools as palaces of free-wheeling, Gordon Gekko-esque capitalism is wrongheaded. Sean Rickard, director of the MBA programme at the Cranfield school of management, says: “I can’t really imagine that anyone really went into a room full of MBA students and said: ‘The secret of success is to behave unethically’”. The problem, he says, is not that businesspeople are unethical, but that the temptations became too great. “If somebody offers you a £5m bonus, then it is hard to stay ethical.” Part of the problem too, he believes, is the youth of some of those in the City. Younger people are more likely to be tempted by a chance to get rich quickly, he thinks. Cranfield students tend to be a bit older than those in some schools, and less gung-ho. Perhaps those promises of City riches are part of the problem. For some people, business has become synonymous with short-term wealth-creation – indeed, the major rankings of MBA courses look at the boost they will give to your salary over three years. With all that cash sloshing about, it is no surprise that the City, and by extension business schools, will attract greedy people. All the CSR courses in the world won’t eradicate unscrupulous behaviour or change human nature. The schools can only do what they always have done: tell their students that there’s more to business than money.