Our Program Design

Silicon Valley Next (SVN) seeks to develop the long-term leadership capacity of 12 selected Fellows by focusing on three key areas of professional development:

  1. Personal calling
  2. Management of people
  3. External social capital

These areas of development were identified as critical to SVN’s overall strategic aim to develop a more robust executive leadership talent pipeline for the sector. SVN aims to equip the Fellows with a set of paradigms, experiences, and relationships that will sustain growth in these areas in an ongoing fashion after the year-long program.

In this post, we seek to explain the following:

A. Specific learning goals under each of the above listed growth areas
B. Main program ingredients that will accomplish these learning goals
C. Sector benefits that should also inform program design

A. Specific Learning Goals

  1. Personal calling

In terms of the prospect of becoming a future executive leader, many of the Fellows simultaneously feel attracted and uncertain. SVN aims to help them to diagnose more precisely the nature of this attraction/uncertainty, and then empower them to resolve the tension with a clearer sense of calling.

Specifically, by the end of the program, each of the Fellows should be able to articulate and own deeply the answers to the following questions:

• What am I called to contribute to the world?
• What personal experiences inform that sense of calling?
• What core values must govern how I make that contribution?
• How does a future of nonprofit executive leadership align with the above (contribution, experience, values)?
• How might a future of nonprofit executive leadership fail to align?
• To the extent that such a future aligns, what are the other “voices” that cause uncertainty?
• How do I wish to respond to those voices?
• What do I need to do next to grow in my clarity and confidence about my calling

2. Management of People

The typical Fellow has been rapidly promoted into management, usually with little systematic management training along the way. Their current management approach is often a “grab bag” of personal instincts, osmosis, trial and error, and a few formal trainings here and there. As managers facing every expanding and always urgent demands, they have lacked the opportunity to reflect thoughtfully, synthesize lessons, and intentionally plot a growth path. SVN seeks to provide a context for them to step back and answer the overall questions, “What kind of manager do I wish to become? And how will that happen?”

To answer those overall questions, SVN will lead the Fellows to address the following topics:

• What are the key practices and principles that currently inform my management approach?
• Why have I adopted them?
• How well am I actually implementing them?
• How well are those practices and principles serving the people under me and the mission of the organization?
• What additional ingredients might be needed?
• How will I acquire those new ingredients?

3. External social capital

One of the biggest differences between the current job descriptions of most Fellows and the job of an executive director is the responsibility to represent the organization to external parties such as donors, government, peer agencies, etc. For a large percentage of the Fellows, the external facing part of an executive director’s job (especially in fund development) is the most daunting aspect of that potential future.

SVN seeks to give these Fellows increased confidence, training, and actual “reps” in the art of building external social capital. Specific lessons in this art will include:

• Strengthening the instinct to ask continually, “Who would it be helpful for me to know?” (vs. defaulting to “Who do I know?”)
• Mobilizing existing social capital to get introductions to targeted parties
• The professional etiquette involved in networking (i.e. asking for a meeting, scheduling, paying, thanking, following up, etc.)
• Acquiring convening power
• How to build external social capital in ways that are congruent with core values

B. Main Program Ingredients

In order to accomplish the above learning goals, SVN will rely on the following main program ingredients:

  1. Monthly retreats
  2. Outside learning assignments
  3. Coaching (both peer and executive)
  4. Project based learning

Below are some comments about each of these ingredients.

  1. Monthly retreats

These retreats will comprise the backbone of the SVN program. Each retreat will be day long, with high commitment for attendance. Fellows will be invited to “show up” with authenticity, vulnerability, and curiosity. A core premise of SVN is that the professional development of all the individual Fellows will be significantly accelerated through meaningful relationships and mutual learning with the other Fellows.

These retreats will address the learning goals through a variety of formats including:

• Presentation of material
• Group discussion
• Breakout sessions
• Guest presenters (especially those that can serve as role models)
• Individual times of reflection
• Case studies presented by Fellows (i.e. from a current management issue one is facing) with discussion
• Other learning exercises (i.e. self-evaluations, role-playing, network mapping, etc.)

In terms of logistics, the retreat location will combine easy accessibility for Fellows (most likely in San Jose or nearby), an intimate and calming aesthetic, and capacity for breakouts. Lunch and coffee/snacks will be provided.

2. Outside learning assignments

Because these Fellows are already stretched thin in their jobs, SVN will be highly circumspect in terms of requiring additional work such as reading or writing. Most of the learning outside the monthly retreat context will take place in the coaching and selected project (see below for both). However, where helpful, SVN may assign short articles or advance reflection exercises to the entire cohort in order to prime the discussion at the monthly retreats. Executive coaches may also assign a customized reading or exercise for individual Fellows to match particular issues that arise.

3. Coaching (peer and executive)

Each Fellow will receive a monthly one on one session (hour long) with an executive coach. This executive coach will be either Curtis Chang or Kris Starr-Witort. The same assignment will remain in place throughout the program. This executive coaching will seek to support growth during the SVN program and on the learning goals of the program. However, given that many of the Fellows have never received executive coaching before, this provision is also meant to prepare Fellows to take advantage of this practice for their career. SVN will provide some meta-level guidance on topics such as when to seek executive coaching, different coaching styles, what they need to do to optimize value from sessions, etc.

In addition to the executive coaching, each of the Fellows will be assigned to some peer coaching structure. The details of this structure is TBD, but as with executive coaching, SVN is seeking to prepare Fellows to adopt the practice of peer coaching as a matter of ongoing habit.

4. Project based learning

In the application process, every Fellow will be asked to identify a project that is part of their job. This project should have the following characteristics:

• Important to the organization and to the ED
• Relatively new initiative
• Leading it represents a “stretch” for the Fellow
• Involves people management (i.e. it is not a solo research project)
• Elicits passion within the Fellow

SVN will lead Fellows to apply the learning goals to the context of this project. Examples of this application could include:

• How to explain this project to others (including those that need to be won over) by connecting it to one’s personal experiences (Personal calling)
• Designing this project to resonate more strongly with core values (Personal calling)
• Identifying new supervisory practices that will be required (Management of people)
• Reflecting on how they themselves are being managed by their supervisor around this project (Management of people)
• Identifying what new external networks could accelerate progress (External social capital)
• Experimenting with different strategies to make those connections (External social capital)

The program will particularly support their growth in external social capital around this project by making available the social networks of CWR, Knight, Sobrato, and Heising-Simons Foundation to make introductions (the process itself will require some training of the Fellows on how to do this). Fellows will also be encouraged to leverage their status as Silicon Valley Next Fellows in seeking connections. For projects where convening others is an appropriate strategy, the Knight Foundation may offer the opportunity to conduct such gatherings under the “Knight Roundtable” banner, and also provide some logistical funding. Finally, every Fellow will be awarded $1,000 to spend in their external social capital formation efforts (to cover cost of taking people out to lunch, defraying travel expenses, etc.).

C. Sector Benefits

In addition to promoting the individual development outlined above, SVN also seeks to strengthen the sector with the following benefits:

  1. Reinforce the tie between the Fellow and their current organization

SVN seeks to promote retention as much as possible. We subscribe to research that show people are motivated to stay in organizations that invest in their development. As such, the Fellow will experience SVN as part of their organization’s commitment to their growth.

It is quite likely that for some Fellows, discussions and reflections in the program will name existing tensions between the Fellow and their organization. In such cases, the strong bias (especially in executive coaching) will be to encourage the Fellow to productively engage their supervisor on the key issues.

2. Strengthen the collaborative muscle of the sector

In discovery interviews during the research phase, multiple executive directors commented how the competition between agencies for talent is now more intense than that for funding. Everyone agrees that systematic talent poaching only weakens the sector; but to date, there has not been any other model for how agencies can more productively relate to each other.

SVN seeks to point the way towards collaboration around talent. The future of our sector depends on finding ways to grow the talent pie together, instead of fighting for the same slices. To signal this conviction, every participating organization will agree to refrain from actively recruiting Fellows from other organizations for a period of three years (starting at the program’s commencement in Jan 2020). Additionally, all the participating executive directors will commit to convene in an ED-only meeting (to be held in the second half of the program) to hear emerging lessons from SVN about talent development and discuss additional ways to collaborate.

3. Connect funders to emerging talent

This sector wide collaboration around talent development will require the ongoing investment of funders. SVN will promote funder visibility into this overall issue with periodic briefings of the founding philanthropies, as well as conducting outreach with other foundations who may be interested in future iterations. SVN also will host a Capstone Event where Fellows will deliver brief “What I learned” presentations to an audience comprised of other Fellows, the executive directors of the participating organizations, program officers of the three foundations (and perhaps other interested philanthropies as well).