Human capital concerns stifled by shifts in volunteerism and culture building

December 30th, 2008 by Admin

by Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek

As a final installation of our blog series catching readers up on our recent writing, we offer two more pieces that we wrote for the Washington Times – both dealing with important human capital concerns.  The first addresses the opportunities to harness the full potential of “volunteer capital” and highlights two organizations that have created national models for realizing the full potential of volunteers in highly creative ways.  The second shares the story of a remarkable shoe company that turns culture building and leadership development on its head – and offers a lesson to other organizations looking to recruit, develop, and retain the best and brightest.

“More Than Licking Envelopes,” Washington Times, June 7, 2008.

Two years ago, Nick Cotter retired as a senior executive at Exxon Mobil. Before retirement, he had managed activities in nearly 200 countries. Yet when he volunteered for a local nonprofit, his role was restricted to sorting food and “lugging boxes around.”

Confident he had the energy and experience to have a greater impact on those in need, Mr. Cotter started exploring other ways to help. He got tapped into Greater DC Cares, an organization that coordinates volunteering and business philanthropy in the District.

With the organization’s guidance and support, Mr. Cotter came up with a game plan to develop a set of governance workshops for area nonprofits, drawing on his years in the for-profit sector. Based on a successful pilot program last year, he is scaling up the program through a network of fellow executive volunteers who serve as management coaches and mentors to local nonprofit leaders.

Alas, stories like Mr. Cotter’s are too few and far between.

To view the entire blog, click here.

“Zappos Culture Sows Spirit,” Washington Times, July 16, 2008.

In today’s challenging economy, business and social entrepreneurs are becoming reacquainted with the importance of “culture,” of addressing the spirit of the place and not just the numbers. Developing a culture of excellence and engagement is notoriously difficult – yet critical for organizational performance.

One jaw-dropping example – with salient lessons for organizations across the sectors – comes from, the leading online shoe retailer. There, all new corporate employees receive four weeks of customer loyalty training – answering phones in the call center – before starting their actual job, whatever that may be.

After the training, they are offered $2,000 to leave the company – no questions asked. This “quit now” bonus, which started at $100, is designed to ensure employees are there for the right reasons. About 97 percent of trainees decline what the company calls “the Offer.”

To view the entire blog, click here.

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The Triple Bottom Line – One Book at a Time

December 26th, 2008 by Admin

by Christopher Gergen & Gregg Vanourek

We recently discovered that our book is now being sold by online bookseller Digging deeper, we discovered that these guys are the real deal in terms of the “triple bottom line” of people, planet, and profits. (Be sure to check out our interview with co-founder Xavier Helgesen in the audio player below.)

BetterWorld was started by three friends and ultimate Frisbee teammates at the University of Notre Dame — Helgesen, Jeff Kurtzman, and Chris Fuchs. Looking for a way to make some extra cash, they started selling their used textbooks online. The idea gained momentum and, in partnership with a local community center, they launched a more aggressive book drive – this time collecting 2,000 books and raising $10,000 for the center. Sensing they were onto something, they submitted a business plan to the McCloskey Business Plan competition and won the “Best Social Venture” category. With their winnings, these budding entrepreneurs launched “Book Drives for Better Lives” on college campuses across the country.

Read the rest of this Harvard Business blog here.

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Fitness center develops into much more

December 20th, 2008 by Admin

by Christopher Gergen & Gregg Vanourek

Imagine this: a place dedicated to the enhancement of the individual. A place where people are challenged to set personal goals and a community has been established to help them pursue those dreams – free from judgment by others and reinforced by mutual respect. Sounds pretty good, right? It is.

For a lucky community of young people in the San Francisco Bay Area, this place is a reality they can enjoy every day. Starting it out of his home in the late 1970s, Gary Riekes created the Riekes Center for Human Enhancement to build self-esteem in young people through a strength-and-fitness academy. Woven into the model was an emphasis on providing outlets for personal expression through the creative arts and a set of values that reinforced teamwork, confidence-building, goal-setting and lifetime wellness, regardless of skills or background.

Read the rest of this Washington Times blog here.

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Classic Mistakes

December 16th, 2008 by Admin

by Christopher Gergen & Gregg Vanourek

Here we offer three blogs we penned for, one on how entrepreneurship has some pitfalls that budding entrepreneurs should guard against, another on why entrepreneurs should pay special attention to creating their organizational culture, and the other on how entrepreneurs should go about recognizing opportunities in the marketplace.

“Classic Mistakes, Part 1: The Over-the-Top Entrepreneur,”, August 29, 2008.

We’ve all seen data on the high failure rate for new enterprises. But it’s not always external factors that doom an enterprise. Sometimes it’s the entrepreneur him or herself. With this in mind, we will focus our blog entries on avoiding classic entrepreneurial mistakes—highlighted by revealing stories and real-world examples. Through it, we will tease out the lessons of entrepreneurial excellence.

The essential traits of an entrepreneur—ambition, optimism, feistiness, confidence, independence, tolerance for risk—have potential downsides that can undermine success. As such, knowing what to avoid is essential.
Based on our research and hard-earned experiences, we offer up the following shortlist of classic pitfalls that sabotage many entrepreneurs.

To view the entire blog, click here.

“Classic Mistakes, Part 2: Ignoring Your Company’s Culture,”, September 3, 2008.

For an entrepreneur consumed with the countless tasks of start-up, it can be tempting to ignore culture–to allow, in other words, the new enterprise to organically develop its own culture without deliberate attention. But that can be a big mistake. Developing a culture of engagement and excellence, while notoriously difficult, is critical for organizational performance in the long run.

Entrepreneurs are not immune from the war for talent that has been raging in our economy for decades. Today’s leading organizations make bold investments to attract, develop, and retain the best and brightest, recognizing the link between culture and talent–and how they drive performance.

To view the entire blog, click here.

“Classic Mistakes, Part 3: Opportunity Recognition,”, September 10, 2008.

A defining characteristic of entrepreneurship is opportunity recognition. The successful entrepreneur is constantly alert, looking for new ideas, trends, and opportunities to do things better or differently. But how much is art versus science?
Though there is a natural flow to this that sometimes clicks on its own, there is also a process that can help entrepreneurs recognize, assess, and exploit opportunities. This begins with awakening to possibility, and it helps to adopt what has been called a “beginner’s mind.”

To view the entire blog, click here.

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Relationships, relevance & rigor matched with life as art

December 12th, 2008 by Admin

by Christopher Gergen & Gregg Vanourek

Below are two columns we wrote for the Washington Times, one on how a D.C. Catholic school for girls is achieving incredible things, and the other on how a paralegal professional from Oklahoma fell in love with yoga and created a studio, clothing line, book, and foundation for girls in the process.

“Raising Courageous Women,” The Washington Times, October 8, 2008.

Driving down Suitland Parkway in Anacostia, one comes across an unexpected jewel just off the Stanton Road exit. There, inspiration is waiting, tucked away in a neighborhood better known for tragic news than good news. One of the District’s most visionary projects sits in a gleaming glass-and-steel building with the letters THEARC stamped across the entrance.

Opened in 2005, the Town Hall Education, Arts & Recreation Campus is a 110,000-square-foot facility built on 16.5 acres in Ward 8. It’s is home to 10 nonprofit agencies ranging from Covenant House Washington to the Washington Ballet to the Children’s Health Project of DC, run by the Children’s National Medical Center.

To view the entire blog, click here.

“Yoga Cultivates Community,” Washington Times, September 24, 2008.

In her 20s, Kimberly Wilson found herself at the convergence of two big social trends.

The first? Social isolation. The first nationally representative survey on this topic in two decades, conducted by Duke University researchers, found a significant trend toward increasing social isolation between 1985 and 2004, likely caused by such factors as an increase in time spent at work and the geographic scattering of family members.

The second? The rise of yoga as a cultural phenomenon. The practice has been growing like wildfire. Americans annually spend an estimated $5.7 billion on yoga classes and products, with 15.8 million people practicing yoga, according to the latest “Yoga in America” study.

To view the entire blog, click here.

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Childhood dreams come true & transforming from CEO to educator

December 10th, 2008 by Admin

by Christopher Gergen & Gregg Vanourek

Below are two columns we wrote for the Washington Times, one on how a social entrepreneur we interviewed for our book turned his childhood dreams into an enterprising anti-hunger initiative in our nation’s capital, and the other on how the CEO of H&R Block turned in his corner office for a chance to teach middle schoolers in the inner city—and found fulfillment in the process.

“Making the Impossible Possible,” Washington Times, July 30, 2008.

After watching Casablanca when he was 12, Robert Egger dreamed of owning “the greatest nightclub in the world.” He explains: “I wanted to be an agent of change for something profoundly huge and big and good, and I was going to use showbiz to get it.”

After high school, he pursued the dream by working in D.C.-area nightclubs and music venues, but life had other plans. While Mr. Egger was volunteering with a Georgetown church that was delivering food bought from Safeway to the homeless, he saw an opportunity: feeding the homeless with excess food from restaurants while also training the recipients for restaurant and catering jobs. For him, it was a “beautiful circle.”

To view the entire blog, click here.

“From Corner Office to Classroom,” Washington Times, October 22, 2008.

Former H&R Block Chief Executive Officer Thomas Bloch details his journey from the corner office to a Kansas City classroom in his new book, “Stand for the Best: What I Learned After Leaving My Job as CEO of H&R Block to Become a Teacher and Founder of an Inner-City Charter School.”

The contrast is striking. H&R Block generates $4.4 billion in revenue annually through its nationwide network of about 13,000 company-owned and franchised offices. The company has served more than 400 million clients since 1955.
Mr. Bloch’s current organization, University Academy, a college preparatory public charter school, enrolls about 1,000 students – about 93 percent of whom qualify for the federal school lunch program, a common proxy for poverty – in kindergarten through grade 12 and has a budget of less than $10 million.

To view the entire blog, click here.

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The ‘pay as you can’ cafe

December 6th, 2008 by Admin

This holiday season, many are thinking of those who are less fortunate. Taking that sentiment several steps further, Brad and Libby Birky of Denver have created a nonprofit restaurant called SAME (So All May Eat) Cafe with a “pay as you can” pricing model.

Yes, you read that correctly. Instead of standard menu-based pricing, a donation box is set in the corner, and people are expected to pay what they can. Those who can’t afford to pay are asked to help with manual labor: washing dishes, mopping the floor and the like. Those who can afford it often pay a bit more to contribute to the social mission.

Read the rest of this Washington Times blog here.

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Three Ways to Beat Burnout

December 2nd, 2008 by Admin

Burnout is widespread today–especially among high-achievers. One could say it’s an epidemic in the modern workplace. (See the stats table at the bottom of this post for details.)

How do we slay this burnout beast? There are three primary weapons at our disposal, but first we need to understand exactly what it is we’re up against.

Read the rest of this Harvard Business Online blog here.

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