once said that ‘A leader is a dealer of hope’. This quote resonated with me
while reading the case study of Willa Seldon as she was brought in to deliver
hope to the company and it’s employees after a difficult year. In order to
fully analysed Willa’s approach and reflect on my future plans, I will detail
my arguments under the headings of finance, strategy, leadership and
Using the knowledge you have gained during this
module describe and critically assess Willa Seldon’s leadership approach
Tides initial finance
model entailed not competing with other non-profit charities which are
potential new projects but instead charged projects an administrative charge of
10% of their annual income and by increasing the amount of new projects they
would also increase the income. This
finance model was successful in the initial phase of the company however it
slowly failed as the company grew.
structure during the period prior to Willa’s appointment was mainly short term
planning but it lacked a strategic aim to work towards. This resulted in
indiscriminate cuts such as the large amount of lay offs which lead to a
demoralised and overwork employees. Tides also lacked the financial support to
update its technology compounding the problem as it lead to inefficiencies and
When Willa started
as the CEO of Tides, one for her main actions was to appoint Booz-Allen
consultants and a new CFO to steer Tides towards a new business model. As Willa
and Drummond Pike understood that Tides is a service organisation and as it
needed to be operated like a business.
time Willa spend in Tides, the company were under a lot of financial
constrained. I thought it was a good idea for the CFO to talk in regards to the
financial situation in a ” All Hands Meeting’ to ensure transparency. However,
the decision to not increase salaries and end mandatory furloughs looked like
it was a top-down decision. Part of the foundation
of financial planning is the involvement of anyone responsible
for spending money directly or indirectly. This reduces that level of
anxiousness felt by the employees as the decision to end mandatory furloughs
and reduction in lay-off in exchange for no salary increase is a fair decision.
drawn by Booz-Allen consultants and Willa pushes Tides towards strategic
planning where it can envision the business in 3-5 years. However this does
change Tides initial model where it accepts all projects irregardless of size
and towards a more customer-centric model. This means investment in new staff
and new technology.
Tides is in a
unique position where is is between both the world of profit and non-profit. As
much as Tides reaps the rewards by its rapid growth it also can damage the
company as it is pulled in two opposite direction. This is where strategy comes
in and plays a crucial role.
“Strategy is the creation of a unique and valuable
position, involving a different set of activities” Porter 1
strategic position was along the vine of variety-based positioning as it
provided fiscal sponsorship and services to charitable initiatives regardless
of size, constituency, or location. In addition, Tides was the only program
sponsor explicitly focused on promoting social change which was different to other
fiscal sponsors and it served Tides well in the initial stages of their growth.
position evolved when the results from Booz Allen consultants which confirmed
Willa’s views. The recommendation of differentiate the level of service given to
low and high income projects would bring the company towards access-based
positioning as it is segmenting customers who are accessible in different ways.
only one of three key principles underlying strategic positioning, it alone is
not enough for a sustainable advantage. Trade-offs are equally important. I believe this is the main reason why Tides
initial strategic position failed. They were unable to make trade-offs and
tried to straddle the market. Willa’s decision to reduce amount of low income
projects and to cut inactive projects are the first steps in identifying the
trade-offs Tides is going make to strengthen their future strategy.
strategy was undermined by a poor initial strategic position, organisational
failures and the desire to grow. Willa showed that this was one of the
fundamental problems with Tides and with the help of Booz-Allen, she was able
to start rediscovering what their strategy is. This is crucial for the survival
of Tides as Kellogg has entrusted Tides to come up with best practices for
fiscal sponsorship. This will then be a benchmark for other companies to copy
off which will eventually lead to absolute improvement in operational
effectiveness in Tides, but also to competitive convergence. Without a good strategy Tides will find it
hard to compete with newer companies with better technology and operative
In addition to
strategy, Willa was able to recognised the importance of mission and values to
a company. The creation process of Tides’s missions and values involved the
core members who will uphold it which are the employees. This was a great way
to define a company’s values and also it allows staff to understand the values
ensuring that it is at the core of all Tide’s activities.
leaders really do is prepare organizations for change and help them cope as
they struggle through it” Kotter 2
that strong leadership and strong management complements each other. As a
leader I thought that she was able to fulfilled majority of the 7 demands of
leadership as outline by Gallup 3. She had the vision to bring Tides
forward through value base leadership and the ability to recognise talent. In
addition, Willa continually raises the bar for herself and she tap into her
pervious experiences from Air Touch. In terms of building a rapport with her
employees, I believe that Willa understands the importance of this but has not
perfected the art yet. She does sometimes come across as lacking in empathy
which is important in emotional intelligence. This can be seen in the senior
management meeting on Willa’s first day. Her action can interpreted as she is
taking charge of things or it can intimidate new colleagues.
Setting a direction
Even prior to
starting her role, Willa had a direction of
securing a larger grant which is different to the existing strategy. I
thought it showed forsight to not just focus on the development of best
practice but to look into the future of Tides.
In the first few
months, it was obvious that Willa was trying to steer Tides in a new direction,
towards a more customer-centric model.
This can be seen through various moves especially the rebranding
projects to customers. This resulted in mixed emotions and to employees who
objected to it may feel like their views are not heard. However, I can
understand how simple word can be so important in setting a new direction.
The creation of a
Strategic Action Team(SAT) to focus in this issue showed that Willa understood
the difference between a leader and a manager. She was able to delegate the
planning of the new direction to a group of people who are motivated as they
volunteer their time.
The amount of time
Willa invested in aligning people showed that she understood the importance of
this which I believe came from her pervious role in Air Touch. The process of
meeting and interviewing each one of her staff would be labour intensive but
important as aligning people helps with motivating them in the future.
The creation of
the SAT and the M-team improved communication between management and employees. The SAT were successful in breaking down
barriers and work towards a new direction
Motivating and Inspiring
In her first
‘All-Hands meeting’ the use of discussion groups was inventive way for the
staff to be able to look within the organisation and identify problems. In this instance Willa showed that she is
able to motivate and inspire her staff. She did not try to control or push them towards the direction
she wanted them to go but rather allow them to think and problem solve in their
own way. This utilises intrinsic motivation which has shown to be more
successful then extrinsic motivation.
was always a top priority as it was discuss even before Willa started her role
as it was neglected by prior management to a point where Willa said
‘Underperformance tolerated and endemic in the system’. The lack of a
performace review proccess and large amount of lay offs in recent times would
lead to anxious employees who might feel
threaten by a new performance review. Through the customer survey we know that
even dissatisfied customers still attest to the dedication of Tides employees.
Hence it does come across that the underperformance maybe due to the broken
system more so then the staff.
The initial plan
for a focal review was a good way to streamline the process. The idea for the
360 review was promising as it allow employees to have a discussion of
development goals instead of just evaluating performance. It seems like a very
constructive way of undertaking a performance review as each employee would
have a voice.
I believed that
the unsuccessful test of 360 review with the M-team should have been done with
Willa’s presence considering this is one the most important change that she
planned. The main problem looked to be a communication issue but the specifics
were not clear. To echo the sentiment used by Willa ” if you don’t measure it,
you can’t improve it”.
The suspension of the
launch of the 360 review was a good idea as its flaws were not addressed. This was revisited after Tides decided an
changing their business model as employee performance would be a key factor in
the success of the model. However, Willa seemed adamant to introduce the 360
review as it had work in her pervious post even though it was not supported by
her management team. In part I wonder if Willa just felt pressured into
bringing it in without fully exploring other alternatives.
If you were Willa Seldon, what would your plan of
action be over the coming year?
Willa was able to
accomplished a tremendous amount in the first 6 months of being Tides CEO. She
has laid the ground work in re-directing tides towards a more robust model and
strategy. However the next 12 months would be crucial in implementing the
changes to solidify that strategy.
In order to move
forwards with the new strategy Tides would require an upgrade in technology and
hiring new employees. The case studies briefly touch on getting the necessary
finance through a 4 million Kellogg grant. It did not go into specifics on how
it would use the grant.
I think it would
also be important to involve different departments in the budgeting process to
encourage bottom up participation. I would do this by giving parts of the
budget especially where it is relevant to each department such as day to day
expenses and future improvements that they would like to see. The benefits of a
bottom up approach would can allow middle and lower management have a sense of
control over their own destiny which is important in this time in Tides as many
employees feel anxious and helpless in their role.
Some of the
decision in regards to the budget would require the use of the top down
approach as the budget will need to be consistent with a longer term
In this situation,
my main aim is to discuss the budget goals and objective for both strategic and
business plan with the CFO. The first steps would be to determine the outputs
and how to achieve it prior to deciding the input or budget. In essence a budget
is a management tool that underpins the planning
and control processes within the business4. I would entrust the finance team to further
develop the budget and present the finding in a meeting such as a “All Hands
Meeting” to ensure transparency.
with the new strategy, I would address the final link to having a strong
strategy which is creating “fit” among a company’s activities so that it can
interact and reinforce one another making it more sustainable. In the case
study some parts of this can be seen when Tides looked to developing services for higher income projects such
as the employment of a relationship manager.
understanding of the case study, it look like Tides were going to completely
separate the approach to low and high touch customers. I believe this would
essentially create 2 separate companies. It would be difficult to find a fit
between the 2 groups however it is possible to find a fit for all basic needs
that a customer regardless of income. Hence, I would assign a generalist from
the program component to projects for all basic necessities and provide an
added service such as a relationship manager for high touch services. I believe
this will help the basic services that Tides provide interact and link it to
the new services it will provide for the high touch companies to further create
a sustainable fit.
I would also move
towards the company new strategy and start cutting 20 % of inactive customers.
Prior to cutting the projects, I would recommend that we write to the affected
customers to allow them time to either reactivate their projects with a minimum
revenue or find a new fiscal sponsor. I believe that handling the cuts in
projects would have to be done tactfully.
In addition, one
of the biggest issues in Tides was its antiquated technology which was
systemic. It not only delays current activities but also will be an obstacle in
building a new Tides. Hence, updating the technology systems in all departments
would be one of the main changes I would enforce and a substantial portion of
the budget would go towards this. With an upgrade in technology, staff would
need to be train in new systems to further improve operative effectiveness. I would
also introduce an IT department to not only set up and maintain new equipment
but also to help train staff.
I also would be
looking into developing a new devision for providing services to high touch
clients. This will start with using the recommendations from Booz-Allen and
finding a manager to start planning and organising this department in addition
to finding and hiring relationship managers for individual projects.
While it is
important to look into the future for the long term survival of Tides, I will
also have to ensure its short term goals are met through the help of the senior
management team. Once we have determine that Tides is running effectively it
would be time to compile and present the best practice for fiscal sponsors to
fulfil the Kellogg’s initial grant.
It would be
important to start analysing the impact on changes made 1 year after starting
as the CEO of Tides to ensure that Tides and myself are moving in the right
I think Willa did
a great job in her first 6 months as a leader especially with setting a
direction. However I think more effort will need to go into aligning people.
Many of the staff in Tides found Willa’s new direction to be worrying as they
think that she is turning Tides into a for-profit company which will lead to a
different culture in Tides. I would ensure that the employees would know that
the values of the company such as innovation, excellence, integrity and
compassion would be upheld by Tides and all its employees including the CEO.
I think when Willa
started she wanted to come across as a strong leader but some of her actions
were misinterpreted as almost hostile. I would take a step back and try to
understand the people who worked in Tides. I think Willa focused more on their
views on the organisation instead. I think a group of people who would place
compassion as one of their top values should give an indication that maybe a
more empathic approach might be necessary. I think that defining the
responsibilities of Tides to their customer which would include legal
responsibilities will help employees accept the new term customer instead of
In addition, I
think it would be beneficial to announce Tides new strategy to all the
employees and allow a platform for them to give ideas about how Tides can
achieve their new direction. This can help motivate and inspire people towards
a new direction.
I can understand
the importance of introducing a form of performance review as it has been
neglected for a long time and will be playing an important role in developing
Tides towards a new direction.
I think the senior
managers concerns should be taken into account. The changes in Tides and the
already over stretch work force would be detrimental to the 360 review process
which in theory is a good review process which can be successfully introduced
at a later stage.
In order to have a
review process in place, I would listen to alternatives that the senior
management and Director of Human resources would have. It would be importance
to be adaptable in this situation, as we would need to bring in a performance
review which helps build individual employee and the company as a whole. The
success of the review process is paramount as it comes at a sensitive time where
it can be the first step in developing a more robust system. Hence, I would
most likely have a review process where employees can measure themselves
against the values of the company and set goals with management. In turn
management will also evaluate how each employee is doing. This would not entail
involvement of peers, subordinates or customer. One might call it a 180 review
instead. I think having a simple and organise review process at the start of
this process will help its success and longevity. Over time as Tides build as a
company and staff are better acquainted with its new business module the review
process can slowly incorporate more layers heading towards a 360 review.
Tides Center was
at a tipping point during Willa Seldons appointment. I think she brought a lot
of positive change to Tides but certain parts of her leadership style made
people anxious as it brought change. However to move forward and to bring a
company as large and established as Tides
a leader need to have the vision and the tools to reach it. As Charles Handy once said “Change means more
work but it creates possibilities. It means looking at old spaces with new eyes
and filling them with new ideas. Change is what we have to do to stay alive”.