• Growing as a Leader,  Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    Being Better Everyday than we were Yesterday

    There’s a hard reality we need to accept, and it’s simply this – if something isn’t growing then it’s dying.  There’s really no standing still. And by growing I mean getting better, progressing, moving forward, and by dying I mean things are slipping backwards in their usefulness or effectiveness.  I know this to be true for myself, I’m either getting in better shape physically, emotionally and spiritually or I’m slowly in decline.  I might ignore this reality but I can’t escape it.

    But what’s true for us as individuals is also true for organizations, whether it’s a company, an educational institution, a local church, or a nation.  Organizations are either moving forward or moving backward.  And leadership is the key to which direction an organization will go.

    That’s why one of the personal qualities and professional competencies needed by people who work for SpringHill is what we call “Continuous Improvement”.  Now understand I’m not a big fan of buzz words especially when they’re code words for something else. But I like “Continuous Improvement” because it’s a phrase that says exactly what it means.

    And it’s why we use this phrase to describe the personal quality someone needs to display, both in their personal life and in their work, to have long-term success at SpringHill.  You see SpringHill wants to be an effective and an enduring organization, which means every day, SpringHill, needs to be better than it was yesterday. And for this to be a reality SpringHill’s staff also needs to, every day, be better than we were yesterday.

    This is part 11 of 14 in a series of posts about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.

  • SpringHill Experiences

    The Beginning of SpringHill Indiana – A Reminder of God’s Working

    This past weekend we had a SpringHill board meeting held at our Indiana camp.  Keith Rudge, our Indiana Operations Director, gave a devotion to kick off the meeting. In his devotion he shared this video he found packed away in his desk and thought it was a great illustration of God’s faithfulness, His timing and His direction in guiding our lives and our work.  It was an excellent way to start to a productive meeting.


  • Leadership,  Organizational Leadership

    Do You Know What You’re Shooting For?

    “What get’s measured is what gets done.”

    I live in northern Michigan where opening day of deer season is a holiday. Schools close and very little business transacts. Part of the deer hunting tradition is the annual “sighting in” of a hunter’s gun that usually happens the weekend before opening day. “Sighting in” is where hunters shoot at a target for the purpose of aligning their gun’s sights/scope. The marks shot on the target indicate how aligned the gun’s sights are and direct the hunter’s sight adjustments. Obviously  “sighting in” is important to achieving  the goal of shooting a trophy deer.

    It’s this idea of targets, goals, and indicators that help SpringHill answer the question “How will we know we’re being successful?” Targets are what we shoot for in the long run (more than a year away) and goals are the immediate things (year or less) we’re trying to accomplish. Indicators, on the other hand, are those measurements that help us assess how we’re doing accomplishing our goals and targets. Targets and goals should align with each other and both should align with the future aspirations of an organization (its vision and BHAG).

    Typically an organization has a number of targets, goals and indicators that centered on such key areas as customers, finances/stewardship, market size, people, and operations. Every organization is different so the targets, goals and indicators should be different. The key is finding the right ones that lead the organization forward and tell its people how they’re doing. Then the team’s responsibility is to faithfully and regularly measure, watch, and effectively respond to those numbers.

    Targets, goals and indicators are essential for an organization’s ability to answer the question “are we being successful and heading in the right direction?” Without them, and the proper tracking of them, an organization is left to guessing at how they’re doing, which is never good when hunting for a trophy.

    This is part 4 of a series of posts about the questions every organization needs to answer to achieve their vision.

  • Leadership,  Organizational Leadership

    What Sandbox Are You Playing In?

    Remember those days as a child when playing in a sandbox was glorious? The self-contained structure filled with sand allowed us to use our imaginations to create our own little worlds, fight great battles, and build towering castles all in one spot. A sandbox is a brilliantly simple play option for kids while helping parents provide fun boundaries for their kids.

    This concept of a sandbox helps SpringHill answer the question “Where and who will we serve and through what products/ministries?” It’s the second of the Game Plan Questions every organization needs to answer if it wants to make an enduring difference in the world. An organizational Sandbox defines the self-imposed boundaries our organization will “play in” over a given period of time.

    Typical Sandbox boundaries include defining the target market, including geographic reach, the primary customers, and the products and services an organization will provide. A good Sandbox also acknowledges these “boundaries” are not forever so it includes a time horizon (typically no less than 3 years).

    Now the reason an organization benefits from such self-imposed boundaries is simple. Effective organizations typically experience more opportunities than it can successfully take on. The Sandbox becomes a useful tool to screen those opportunities and provide needed organizational discipline so it can stay focused on its best opportunities for success (and build the best castle in the world).

    The tension we’ve experienced at SpringHill, and one I’m sure is common among mission driven organizations, is our desire to be open to God’s leading and discerning the opportunities He may be providing. We don’t want to be too calculated and not allow room for something we didn’t see. But we’ve also discovered the Sandbox’s isn’t an automatic “no”, it just provides the reason to stop, evaluate and pray whether an opportunity is really right for our organization.

    So defining your Sandbox will not only help your organization make an enduring difference in the world, it will likely make your organization a fun place to play.

    This is part 3 of a series of posts about the questions every organization needs to answer to achieve their vision.

  • Leadership,  Organizational Leadership

    The 20 Mile March

    How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

    The first “Game Plan Question” an organization needs to answer is “What are the consistent steps we need to take to achieve our BHAGG and our Vision?” It’s a question SpringHill has wrestled with on and off for years. Common sense told us achieving a long-term goal requires breaking it down into manageable chunks. Yet we just couldn’t get our arms around how to do that.

    Then we read Jim Collins‘ new book Great by Choice. There we found the perspective we needed to answer this Game Plan Question. It’s a concept Collins calls the “20 Mile March” based on the Antarctica explorer Roald Amundsen’s strategy to be the first person to reach the South Pole. Amundsen planned his entire trip on 20 mile marches. He and his team did everything in their power to march 20 miles a day, no more or no less, regardless of the weather. This breakdown of his “BHAG” – to be the first to the South Pole – into manageable chunks was a key factor in his team achieving their goal.

    Collins defines a 20 Mile March in organizational terms by saying it’s “more than a philosophy. It’s about having concrete, clear, intelligent, and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that keep you on track.” He also provides a number of compelling case studies worth reviewing.

    For SpringHill we’re testing a 20 Mile March defined by annual growth in campers served that will move us towards fulfilling our BHAGG of serving 260,000 people a year by 2025. We’re simply calling it “the 13.5 March” representing the annual percentage increase in campers we serve each year. It’s a number we believe we can achieve year over year and it’s a number that provides us an annual target to strive for regardless of the conditions. It’s our attempt to eat this elephant one bit at a time.

    This is part 2 of a series of posts about the questions every organization needs to answer to achieve their vision.

  • Leadership,  Organizational Leadership

    Questions Every Organization Needs to Answer to Achieve Their Vision

    In the past I’ve written about what we at SpringHill call the “6 Key Questions.” They’re questions every organization needs to answer if it desires to make an enduring difference in the world.

    These 6 questions (and how we answer them) are:

    • What do we believe to be true? Statement of faith, beliefs about reality
    • What’s important to us? Core Values
    • Why do we exist? Mission
    • What do we want to become? Vision
    • What do we want to achieve? Big Hairy Audacious “God” Goal (BHAGG)
    • What makes us distinct? Hedgehog

    Yet if an organization answers these 6 questions but stops there, it could find itself falling short in making the answers a reality.

    So there are 6 other questions we address that flow out of the answers to the 6 Key Questions. I call them “The Game Plan Questions’ because they translate the Key 6 Questions into an actionable plan. The 6 Key Questions are strategic, philosophical and long-term in nature while the Game Plan Questions drive the organization towards tactics, goals, actions that ultimately make  the answers to the 6 Key Questions reality.

    The Game Plan Questions (and how we answer them) are:

    • What are the consistent steps we’ll need to take to achieve our BHAGG and Vision? 20 Mile March
    • Where and who will we serve and through what products/ministries? Sandbox
    • How will we know we’re being successful? Targets and Goals
    • What do we have to do to be successful? Big Moves
    • What’s important right now? Annual Moves
    • What do I need to do to contribute to our team’s success? Individual plans and goals

    Over the next couple of weeks I will provide a deeper look at each of these Game Plan Questions and how an organization can answer them to assure the necessary clarity, alignment and buy-in by its staff and board which is necessary if it’s to have the enduring impact in the world it desires.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    The September Whirlwind

    This has been the longest stretch I’ve had in three years between blog posts. I have no excuses except its September which means two things. First, September is when we transition out of our busiest season at SpringHill – summer – and move to catching up on all the things, both personal and at work, that didn’t get done during this busy season. Things like those pesky yard and house projects which I got started but now need to be finished before the snow flies.

    Second (and the real reason for my sporadic posting) I went on two fishing trips to northern Ontario, Canada (Camp Anjigami) this month (I know you don’t feel a bit sorry for me on this one and, frankly, you shouldn’t). One trip was with a large group of SpringHill friends and other was with long-time friends from college. Both trips were excellent, full of fishing, food and fellowship but not a lot of writing (or sleep for that matter).

    But I’m now back at it, thankful for the break, but also energized for the great fall ahead.

    So here’s a few of my take-a-ways from this September –

    • It’s always good to step away from regular routines or disciplines, even healthy ones like writing. Even a marathoner has a rest days.
    • There’s something very special about being with good friends in cool places, doing fun, adventurous activities. It always gives me a deeper appreciation for my friends and for my life.
    • Finally, going someplace and actually disconnecting from the world is incredible. Everyone should try it; it’s good for the soul.

    So yes, God willing, I’m back in the digital saddle again and looking forward to writing about the life ahead.

  • Leadership,  Organizational Leadership,  Summer Camp

    T-shirts and Stretch Goals

    I love summer camp and always hate when it’s over. I especially miss watching God transform the lives of campers and staff. But I also miss watching our team perform during these crazy weeks. They’re committed and talented people who create incredible experiences.

    One of my favorite moments from this summer was watching our team go after the goal of having 25% of our campers pre-register for 2013 summer camp. You see in the past we’d only open up registration months after summer camp ended. A couple of years ago we decided to test whether parents would sign their kids up for next year’s camp at the end of their camp session. We tried some things and had some success, but nowhere close to what we desired.

    So instead of giving up we set a stretch goal of 25% pre-registration without a clear plan on how we’d achieve it. What we had were some t-shirts to give away to campers who signed up for the next year. So our Indiana overnight team created a plan that would generate excitement on the closing day of camp with the goal of moving parents to sign up for next year. The plan included having all professional staff wear one of these t-shirts, promote pre-registration during the closing rally, and have highly visible tables at key locations so parents could easily pre-register and receive a t-shirt before leaving camp.

    So what was the result of our Indiana team’s Week 1 efforts? We pre-registered more kids than the total number of 2011 Indiana pre-registrations.

    Word quickly spread throughout SpringHill and over the next few weeks our other team’s implemented similar plans with similar results. Today, at our two overnight camps, we’ve pre-registered close to 35% of our campers, easily exceeding our stretch goal of 25%.

    And that’s why it’s one of my favorite summer camp moments. Because I love when teams set stretch goals, create simple yet effective plans, work the plans and then share their successes so that others can succeed as well.

    It’s also one of the reasons why I’m already looking forward to next year’s summer camp.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Is it “Burger Island” or “the Island”?

    It’s the last week of summer camp and Sunday evening I indulged in my last meal at “the Island” or, as so many people now call it, “Burger Island”. As I sat there enjoying my burger (and brat), beans and great fellowship with our resident staff and volunteers, I couldn’t help but wonder “how did the name of this sacred place so inadvertently, so unintentionally (or maybe it was purposefully and maliciously) changed over the years?”

    It’s like the name of the White House slowing changing to the POTUS’ Crib, or The Rose Bowl becoming PAC 12 Field, or Saint Peter’s Basilica becoming simply Pete’s Crash Pad. Sacred and important places shouldn’t have their names change slowly over time without some forethought, right?

    (And yes, you can tell, it’s the last week of camp because I’ve drifted into thinking such “high level and strategic” thoughts, all of which will have serious implications for the future of …. uh, well, such things as t-shirts and property maps)

    So what’s a leader to do in such a situation? How does one undo years of slow creep? How does the popular name get change back to the right and proper title? Should nature take its course or should one fight to maintain what’s right? (OK, maybe I should be asking myself “why would a leader spend more than a minute on such things?”)

    My course of action? I’ll do what so often happens in leadership today – I’ll take a poll and find out what’s the most popular name for this sacred place, and then I’ll make that name the one I endorse.

    So tell me is it “The Island” or “Burger Island”?

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader,  Organizational Leadership,  Summer Camp

    The Lesson in Eclipsing 19,000 Summer Campers

    “By the summer of 2019, 19,000 kids will attend one of six summer camps.” It was 1997 and the SpringHill board and leadership had just updated and approved the ministry’s strategic plan using Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’ book Built to Last as a guide.

    Collins and Porras’ research revealed that enduring organizations had a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (BHAG). The “19 by 19” goal, as it was soon to be called, was SpringHill’s BHAGG (we added the first G – God – to our definition).

    Now understand, in 1997 SpringHill’s board and leaders were people of talent and faith who wanted to do something significant for kids and Christ’s Kingdom. And the “19 by 19” goal reflected both this desire and the best information available to them at the time.

    Yet today as I write, here in the summer of 2012, we just eclipsed this “19 by 19” goal. Please know I’m not sharing this with you so you can be impressed or congratulate us for handily beating our goal, but instead to demonstrate a point about goal setting that Collins and Porras doesn’t address.

    In goal setting we tend to be overly optimistic about short-term goals and overly pessimistic about long-term goals. The main reason for this phenomenon is that we tend to think of the future only in the context of what we know in the present. For example, our staff and board knew and understood overnight camping but could not possibly have foreseen the dramatic demographic changes that would lead us to begin our Day Camp ministry nearly 10 years later (this ministry has played a significant role in our beating the 19 by 19 goal seven years early).

    The lesson we learned, and then implemented in restating our BHAGG back in 2003 was that a visionary goal isn’t based on a “calculation”. It’s  bigger than that, so big that we’d have no any idea how it would be achieved. The goal needed to be big enough “to leave room for God”, as one board member put it. Today our BHAGG is that, by 2025, we’ll have 260,000 people a year experience SpringHill.

    Now, to be completely honest, only time will tell if we got this long-term goal setting thing right and whether the next generation of SpringHill leaders will judge us as fool hearted souls or Saturday morning sand baggers.


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