Friday, July 28, 2017

Hot Button Values

I was recently cleaning some old folders on my laptop to make room for the new.  (No matter the  model purchased, I always seem to run out of hard disk space.) I came across a memo that I updated from time to time for my team when I was CIO.  This edition is from 2006, when I was at Save the Children.  It still rings true for me, which means it's likely part of my values that endure across the years of  change.

Now that I'm teaching in the fall at U. of Michigan I thought I'd look at this through the lens of leading a class of students and research projects.  My sense is that it still applies.  What are your thoughts?


To:           IS Managers
Date:       April 17, 2006
Subject:  Hot Buttons

What Gets Recognized and Rewarded? Here are my management and work values:

1) Work hard, with passion
  • Enthusiasm and high energy are contagious
2) Be on-time
  • Set deadlines and make them
  • Raise the "red flag" early about projects running late
  • Call, or email in advance, changes in your schedule
  • Make up missed time, on the honor system
  • Do what it takes to deliver results, with self-directed flex time as the guiding principle
3) Don't waste mistakes
  • Screw-ups are OK; they're an opportunity to change and improve something
  • Be able to say: 
          a) What went wrong,
          b) What you changed so it doesn't happen again,
          c) How you're going to be faster fixing it if it does occur again.

4) Say what you mean, do what you say
  • Honesty and integrity are fundamental to a team; there can't be mutual trust without it
  • Say what's on your mind (keeping problems inside is a good recipe for ulcers)
5) Take ownership
  • Admit mistakes, take responsibility
  • Say what you're going to do to improve
  • “Sign-up" and commit to get things done
6) Propose solutions
  • Identifying the problem is only half the job; “no problem identification without recommendation.”
  • When you have a problem to solve, take time to think about and suggest possible solutions to discuss
  • Avoid complain mode and "dive-bomb deliveries;" keep ownership of the problem.
  • That way we problem solve as a team, instead of hosting a gripe party.
7) Be frugal
  • Handle time and expense records as if they were your mother's checking account
  • Look for a low cost solution that doesn't lose quality
  • Travel as if it's your credit card and bank account
8) Continuous Improvement
  • Everything can be better the next time
  • Check your work for quality, accuracy --you are your own QA department!
  • Take initiative to constantly learn new things
          o Build prototypes
          o Test hypotheses
          o Dig into things with some research and analysis
          o Have a "book-of-the-month" (CD, seminar, etc.) mentality

9) Think positive
  • Look for the bright side, the silver lining, the prize at the bottom of the box
  • The glass is not half-empty, it's half-full
10) Play hard
  • Have fun with everything you do
  • Foster a rich sense of humor (it's the best antidote for stress!)
  • Play seriously - play is work: it's the key to innovation
11) Teamwork
  • Respect your neighbor
  • Hold inclusive meetings: every opinion counts
  • Solicit all participants input; “no wall flowers!”
12) Bias for Action
  • Meet, discuss, build consensus.... but then take action and “do something!”
  • End every meeting with a clear understanding of who will do what by when
  • Look for the pragmatic solution; “80% solutions are good enough.” “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”
  • Planning is good, but so is humility: “50% of what you need to know is learned by doing;” so get started!
13) Service orientation
  • Take the time to help somebody get something done
  • Take the time to teach - help others become self-sufficient
  • Treat other departments as if they are your customers, as if they are writing your paycheck.
14) Servant Leadership
  • The management pyramid is upside down - managers serve their people
          o Help remove obstacles
          o Champion causes up the line
          o Get people what they need to get the job done.

15) Keep Score
  • “Teams that don't keep score are only practicing”
  • Gather data, run the numbers, prove the difference, “move the needle” forward

Of these 15, my top "hot" buttons are these 4:

#1 Bias for Action
  • Meet, discuss, build consensus.... but then take action and do something
  • End every meeting with a clear understanding of who will do what by when
  • Look for the pragmatic solution
  • Keep score
  • Deliver!
#2 Service orientation
  • Take the time to help somebody get something done
  • Take the time to teach - help others become self-sufficient
  • Treat other departments, vendors and each other as if they are your customers
          o As if they are writing your paycheck

#3 Take ownership
  • Admit mistakes, take responsibility
  • Say what you're going to do to improve
  • “Sign-up" and commit to get things done

#4 Play hard
  • Have fun with everything you do
  • Foster a rich sense of humor (it's the best antidote for stress!)
  • Play seriously - play is work: it's the key to innovation (prototype everything)

"The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent positions, strategies or opinions of any of the organizations with which I am associated."

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Digital Divide and Context

A few things happened in the past few days that surprised me.  First, was hearing that in Detroit, just 45 miles from the University of Michigan campus where I work, 40% of the population do not have access to the Internet[1].  For the past 15+ years, I’ve been focused on the digital divide in developing countries, places like sub-Sahara Africa.  Now it is an issue in my backyard.  How can that be? The age, class, and community differences for US Internet access have narrowed over the past 15 years.[2]  Is Detroit an American anomaly?

Second, at a conference on University of Michigan and Detroit programs, an anthropologist cited that Detroit has one of the largest populations of unbanked citizens in the US, 20%, nearly twice the national average of 11%.  That’s citizens without a checking or savings account[3].  It’s a cash culture; credit and ATM cards are a foreign currency.

The third surprise came from the presentations at the conference.  Surveys and solutions were all touting digital delivery.  “Didn’t that risk losing the voice and participation of the population they most wanted,” I asked?  The “best” answer I heard, “we should distribute more phones!”  One of the professors went so far as to tell us how the computer science teams always start with repeated meetings with stakeholders asking them what they wanted.  “Technology came later,” he said.

What I came away with was a sense that the gap was a mindset gap. We really don’t get the local context.  If your frame of reference is that technology is what gets applied, that it’s the way you do things, have we really heard our audience?  For a population that is not connected, does not use banks or credit cards, I’d like to hear more about the non-technical approaches—at least until the digital divide problems are solved, and that means solving the cost and value barriers, before we suggest the next best app or web site.   Perhaps we can learn from the successes and failures in sub-Sahara Africa.  Who would have thought?

[1] Jim Kerstetter, “A Digital Divide in Detroit,” The New York Times, May 23, 2016, here:  and the companion article by Cecilia Kang, “Unemployed Detroit Residents Are Trapped by a Digital Divide,” The New York Times, May 22, 2016, here: .  The latter cites the 2013 US Census Bureau data for the figure.
[2] The Pew Research Center Report, “Americans’ Internet Access: 2000-2015,” June 26, 2015, states “For other groups, such as older adults, those with less educational attainment, and those living in lower-income households, adoption has historically been lower but rising steadily, especially in recent years. At the same time, digital gaps still persist.” Yet the racial gap is less than 10%, with 84% of all American adults using the Internet.  Here:
[3] This report supports the anthropologist's claim: Kasey Wiedrich, “New Data Reveals High Unbanked, Underbanked Rates in Localities across America,” CFED, December 3, 2015. Here:

"The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent positions, strategies or opinions of any of the organizations with which I am associated."

Monday, November 14, 2016

Connections for Good

Last week was the annual NetHope Summit.  It was also the US election.  I think that juxtaposition merits a closer look.  As humanitarians and conservationists we have learned to deal quickly and constructively with crises.  Here are three things we practice:

1) We go to where the crisis is.  When a disaster strikes, many of us are on planes heading to center of the storm within hours.  We carry equipment and know-how and are ready to help. Running for safety, shelter or solitude is not who we are.  We go to the fire.

2) We work together.  We know the strength of collaborating.  We do this with each other and especially with the the local people we serve.  We also work with a strong sensitivity to the local culture. Context matters to us.

3) We restore communications.  Connectivity is in our DNA.  People's need to communicate often rises above their need for food and shelter.  They need to know their loved ones are safe and to tell them they are safe.  They want to connect and help, and we help them do that.  We restore the voices of the broken and the lifelines of data.  We do not rest until citizens and responders alike are able to rejoin the conversation.

Imagine if we applied these principles at home, right now.  How might we behave differently?

"The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent positions, strategies or opinions of any of the organizations with which I am associated."

Friday, November 4, 2016

On NetHope’s 15th Anniversary

As we gather for the 23rd NetHope Summit in Atlanta, I’d like to adjust back the clocks to October 2001 for just a moment, when we held our first summit in San Jose. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but we just passed our 15th anniversary!

A few weeks ago, the Basu’s invited the founding members, sponsors, fellows and guests to celebrate this 15th anniversary[1]. The group again gathered around Dipak and Radha’s table to share a meal and talk about our dreams. I was not able to make it this time, but sent my greetings in a video from Lisbon, where I am on sabbatical. I wish I had been there to raise a glass of Dipak’s wine in a toast to our successful venture in collaboration.

I’d like to reiterate the three things I shared. First, not being there is in itself a positive message. It means that the organization carries on, surviving its founders. I note that among the list of attendees at the dinner in 2001, most have moved on to other places. A few remained with NetHope or rejoined from other organizations, but most went on to other sectors.

In Jim Collins words, we have become clock builders rather than time-tellers; we have built an organization that makes it possible for others to interpret the times[2].

Second, breaking bread together around a kitchen table is intimate; it's personal. NetHope has been about relationships from the very beginning. Our fundamental value of trust depends on our friendships. While the setting of a small dinner is casual, collaboration is anything but casual; it runs deep. We believe in it. It is something we return to again and again.

I can picture our small group standing in Radha and Dipak’s kitchen last month 15 years ago. And an amazing thing is that our founding group of 7 NGOs will soon be 50.

Third, affirming our founding hypotheses. From the paper I presented at Cisco in 2001, the founding hypotheses continue to hold true:
  1. We had to be able to solve the “last mile” problems faster, cheaper, better if we did it together. 
  2. We would be a much stronger partner to the technology companies, on whom we depend, if we came as a group rather than the one-off, hat-in-hand organizations we had been.
NetHope is a collaboration that works, and it is clear that we are better together[3]

The potential of our collaboration was something Cisco saw from the start. We owe them a word of special thanks. Things tend not to hatch without some incubation. Cisco was our first incubator. Cisco, Microsoft and other partners been there since the early years helping all our members, and those we serve, through the NetHope relationship.

At an early Summit, I asked John Morgridge, then Cisco’s Chairman, who sat on a number of NGO boards, what frustrated him most about nonprofits? His answer: “That they don’t work together more, like you are doing at NetHope.” Working together and collaborating more is something we bring both to our nonprofit sector and our corporate partners. Let’s not forget that.

More importantly, we have become the example on how to collaborate in the nonprofit sector and with corporate partners. We have set the bar high. That’s something to be proud of. We now have a broader educational responsibility. The NetHope method of collaboration is something we can and should share.

In Conclusion, I’d like to share something I wrote when reflecting about NetHope a few years ago:

“This is how NetHope was born. There was an obvious and shared need, a scarcity of resources, and a desire to be part of a larger group that could gain some real momentum."[4]

We can celebrate this. We make connections for good. As I imagine turning the clocks forward in the spring, I look with even greater expectation to the next 15 years.

[1] Our first Summit in October, 2001 was with founding members STC, WVI, CARE, MC, CRS, WI, CI; Cisco hosted us on their San Jose campus.

[2] Jim Collins, Building Companies to Last”, Inc. Special Issue—The State of Small Business, 1995, with the headline “Make The Company Itself the Ultimate Product—Be A Clock Builder, Not A Time Teller”, here:

[3] This is the title of my active book project, which you can read on-line, here: . For some entertainment, listen to Jack Johnson’s “Better Together”, with lyrics, here:

[4] “We Are Better Together”, chapter 5.1,

"The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent positions, strategies or opinions of any of the organizations with which I am associated."

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Next Chapter

Dear Friends and Colleagues, 

I am pleased to announce that I have decided to take early retirement from IFRC. It's something I've planned carefully, with the welcome support of my USG over the past few months. 

I celebrated my 64th birthday last month, and mandatory retirement would be a year-away.  However, we completed our 5-year IT Strategy in 2015 and are in the midst of a strategy refresh process for 2016-2020. Under any scenario, I will not be here for its implementation.  If I were a new CIO coming into the IFRC, I would want a say in finalizing the IT strategy, and not be faced with reassessing it one-year into the plan; for IFRC, this would not be the best use of time and resources.  So the turn of this year was the right time to propose a new CIO come in earlier, finish the strategy work and own the new plan.

The CIO position has been posted on the IFRC job site. Please refer candidates here. (Note that the job closed on 21-June; announcements to follow by end-August).

My last day at office will be on Aug. 10th.  My wife and I will be moving to Lisbon until mid-December.  I will be working on finishing a few book projects and volunteering to help a colleague on a new NGO venture.  So the good work continues!

We look forward to being home for the holidays to celebrate with family and friends. Then the next chapter begins teaching at a university (still to be determined).   Thank you for your interest in and support of our IT and innovation work.  It has been an honor serve the RC Movement these past six years, and I have always believed that the best is yet to come.  So stay focused on the morning star. Best regards,


Edward G. Happ
Global CIO and Director of IT

“Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”  --Will Rogers, American Humorist

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
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"The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent positions, strategies or opinions of any of the organizations with which I am associated."

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Strategy: Mainline or Disruptive?

A few weeks ago Kevin Delaney wrote an article on strategy that Quartz posted[1].  His premise, as his title says, is that no one should have the word “strategy” in their job title.  He gave two reasons: (1) the gap between strategy and execution is already too wide; (2) giving strategy to one dis-empowers the others. Solution: Focus on execution and its improvement, and encourage everyone to think strategically.

This sounds curiously similar to the arguments about innovation: we need the incremental improvements in operations, and everyone should be doing it.  But it is precisely the routine aspect of this that is dead wrong.

Four points to consider: first, strategy needs to rise above the routine and chart a course to a new destination.  Doing things we’ve always done, but a bit better, won’t cut it for a strategy, nor work in a rapidly changing world.  I’m reminded of the Gartner strategist who said we are getting good at landing planes, but at the wrong airport[2].

Second, not everyone is a strategic thinker. Marcus Buckingham and the folks at Gallop taught us that we all bring different strengths to the job[3].  This is not about elitism; it’s about leveraging the different strengths we have.  The connecting the dots and seeing around the corners of strategic thinking, is not for everyone.  It’s for people who think that way.  Finding these thinkers in your midst, and listening to them, is a leadership mandate.

Third, strategy can’t be delegated; it must be led.  If the captain can’t articulate the destination, you need a new captain.  That doesn’t mean the captain doesn’t have to listen, that they are always right.  That’s also dead wrong.  But if strategy is not led from the top, the organization won’t get out the harbor.

Fourth, strategy needs to focus on the few.  Trying to include everyone’s idea is a recipe for failure.  The adage that a camel is a horse designed by a committee is a case in point.  Nonprofit organizations, whose culture is to reach consensus, is another context to consider.  The “Big Umbrella”[4] approach lacks the focus to execute well—precisely one of Mr. Delaney’s critiques.

So is strategy a mainline activity, a trait and job for all; or is it something that disrupts the status quo and thinking-as-usual?  I’d put my bet on the latter.

"The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent positions, strategies or opinions of any of the organizations with which I am associated."

[1] Kevin J. Delaney, “No one should have the word ‘strategy’ in their job title,” Quartz, May 12, 2016
[2] Dave Aron, VP of Research, Gartner Group, CCitDG Conference, October 8, 2009
[3] Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths, January 29, 2001.  The authors note 34 themes from their broad-based research, of which “strategic” is one.  Buckingham would later say that expecting everyone to have the same strength is akin to expecting all members of an orchestra to play trombone.
[4] See the story of the “Big Umbrella” in my book project Letters to a Young Manager, here:

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Three Landing Strips

“[Many] organizations have great landings, but at the wrong airport.”  --Dave Aron, Gartner Group
In the past few weeks, I attended three meetings on Humanitarian innovation. The first posed the question of where do good ideas land? The second, where do proven ideas go to grow up and scale. And the third, how do successfully scaled pilots go mainstream.

This is a common set of questions and ready solutions exist in the for-profit world. Venture capital funds startups, and capital markets take them to scale[1]. But where do the means exist in the non-profit world?

There are some new models of nonprofit funding including social capital,[2] social entrepreneurs,[3] innovation contests[4] and a handful of innovation funds[5]. But the success stories are few.

An innovation center creates a place for good ideas and prototypes to land, and a runway for these to take-off and grow.

Following the above diagram, consider three inflection points: 

  1. Landing Good Ideas - What's needed is a receptive audience, a friendly landing place inside the organization that will protect and nurture experiments.
  2. Landing Pilots - Once ideas have proven themselves, there is a need for the second landing strip: where successful pilots go to take-off. This is about long term sustainability and growth that requires the next level of nurturing and funding. It also may mean handing off the innovation to the mainstream department or organization whose business it is to manage and apply this newly proven capability. For digital innovation it may mean a hand-off to a software company.
  3. Landing in the Mainstream - To truly have impact, our good ideas need to move from successful pilots, to going to scale, and finally to replacing old ways with new, as the production systems (process, program and tech) of our organization. 

Each of these landing strips requires advice, coordination and funding. But more importantly they require senior level commitment and protection.

The Nespresso case is an interesting example[6].  The Nespresso coffee making system was invented in 1976 by Eric Favre at Nestle.  However, it was not until 12 years later that it became a success and another 12 years until it became a high-growth product for Nestle.[7] A new product idea and prototype could not survive 24 years of development unless it was protected and championed, which is what John Paul Gaillard did. [8]

Avenues of Innovation Development

Development of a marketing-funnel approach to innovation—as illustrated in the figure above—provides a framework for growing innovation.  Consider the following means for “feeding” the funnel:

a)      Avenues for idea feeds
1)      Gathering problems to be solved and needs to be addressed, from the field
2)      Propose a variety solutions to be piloted
b)      Avenues for pilots
1)      Internally run experiments; internal venture fund
2)      Crowd-sourced to volunteer and technical communities (V&TC's) with best prototype awards
3)      An innovation lab to incubate pilots
c)       Avenues for scaling
1)      Partner with an internal “champion” department
2)      Internal venture fund II for next stage, larger initiatives
d)      Avenues for mainstreaming
1)      Transfers to production units; adoption: incremental or replacement
2)      Budget to operate

The point to this multi-stage approach, is that to get to a few mainstream innovations, you need to nurture the life-cycle of ideas-to-products. 

[1] For example, see the Wikipedia entry on Venture Capital,
[2] Olivia Khalili, “15 Social Venture Capital Firms That You Should Know About”, Cause Capitalism, April, 2010
[3] “What is a Social Entrepreneur?, Ashoka,
[4] Microsoft Imagine Cup student competition,
[5] Global Innovation Fund, and the Humanitarian Innovation Fund,
[6] For a brief history of Nespresso, see
[7] “In August 2010, it was reported that Nespresso sales have been growing at an average of 30 percent per year over the past 10 years and more than 20 billion capsules have been sold since 2000…”, Wikipedia,
[8] Also see the interesting Case Study on Nespresso, here  The case notes that developing Nespresso in a separate subsidiary also had a large role in its success.

"The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent positions, strategies or opinions of any of the organizations with which I am associated."