Posted by: danielrashke | January 25, 2019

Giving is an Essential Activity

cfc logoThe Give Back Foundation (GBF) and TASC recently published an op-ed in the Federal Times, a news service for government managers. GBF chair Jeanan Yasiri Moe and TASC president Cliff Mason wrote about “How a federal charity program is coping with the shutdown.”

As Jeanan and Cliff noted, the partial government shutdown unfortunately occurred during the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) giving period, which will have a profound impact on the services provided by charities supported by the federal government’s workplace giving program. Although about 75 percent of the government is still working, the Office of Personal Management (OPM) has suspended non-essential operations, including CFC activities.

I encourage you to read the full Federal Times article to learn why OPM recently approved an extension of the CFC giving period…and how the Give Back Foundation and TASC contributed to that decision.

We understand that many federal workers are struggling to pay bills because of the shutdown. Some may have to turn to charities for help during this difficult time. That means philanthropy is more essential than ever.

Our commitment to keeping the CFC campaign open allows those who have the capacity, capability and desire to give to do so. The support they provide to our country’s charitable organizations may have an even greater impact now than ever.

Posted by: danielrashke | January 4, 2019

Where There’s a Wish, There’s a Way

As if the honor of being named a 2019 Executive of the Year by Madison’s In Business magazine wasn’t enough, I recently had the opportunity to contribute to the article, “Madison’s execs wish big for 2019.” Kudos to In Business for encouraging business leaders to think beyond resolutions—which are so often forgotten—to instead focus on actionable goals to improve our organizations and our community.

My three wishes focus on the concentric circles of TASC, Dane County (the local community where our office is headquartered), and the community at large. Here I’ll expand upon the ideas noted in the In Business article.

    1. Improve the health, wealth and well-being of our customers, employees and community
      TASC lives this mission every year, but in 2019 we’ll do it bigger and better. We’re bringing to market a new technology system that will help our customers work smarter and faster. I’m not exaggerating when I say this upgrade will disrupt the benefits administration industry. Like so many others, the benefits industry has evolved in silos, fragmented by government policies, regulations and laws. TASC has designed a way to simplify unnecessary complexities. We’re excited to roll out this new model so we can all work smarter, easier and more connected.
    2. Schmidt Futures backing for We Care for Dane Kids
      Three Dane County initiatives have advanced to the final round of a challenge issued by Schmidt Futures with the lofty goal to increase the net income of 10,000 middle class households by 10% by 2020. The We Care for Dane Kids team (including Wisconsin Early Childhood Education, the University of Wisconsin, the City of Madison and others) proposed a comprehensive suite of investments into the child care system. TASC is championing a component that would boost tax savings for parents and employers, and we’ve recruited a few other Madison-area employers to show their support. As much as we’d like to see We Care for Dane Kids win the competition, we believe that any of the three initiatives will have a significant social and economic impact on our community.
    3. Legislative action on the Everyday Philanthropist Act
      Through The Greater Give, I’ll continue supporting The Everyday Philanthropist Act, a bipartisan bill that aims to democratize giving for all. Regular readers will recall that this bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2018. It will have to be reintroduced to the 116th Congress, whether as an independent idea or tucked into another bill. Additionally, we’re optimistic that a companion bill will be introduced in the Senate. Given the legislation’s broad bipartisan appeal and support, we’re looking forward to the implementation of pre-tax giving that will benefit working Americans, employers and charities across the nation.

As we embark on the new year, I’m inspired by the many opportunities ahead, here in Madison and beyond. Now it’s time to dig in and make these wishes come true.

Posted by: danielrashke | October 1, 2018

Building An Internship Program for the Future

TASC is a relative newcomer to internship programs. For many years we were so focused on adding the experienced and expert talent we needed to grow our business that we didn’t feel we could give interns the attention they deserved. If we were going to bring people in, we wanted them to do more than the stereotypical intern duties—more than collating papers and getting coffee. We wanted our program to be strategically focused and meaningful both for our interns and for us—an internship program of the future, not the past.

Two things helped convince us that it was time to act. The first was that our company reached a point where we felt we could provide a quality internship experience. The second was that I saw the enormous benefit my own children derived from their internships. My son Quinn landed spots with two outstanding Wisconsin companies, Exact Sciences and S.C. Johnson. The latter internship developed into a full-time staff position as a chemical engineer. My daughter Tia spent this past summer in South Africa working as an intern with the Southern African Bishops’ Conference Parliamentary Liaison Office, where she researched and wrote a briefing paper on how migrant children are received around the world. I saw that in addition to gaining valuable practical experience, Quinn and Tia had been able to contribute meaningfully to the companies and organization they worked for. And I knew TASC could benefit by a similar infusion of youthful energy and thinking.

In summer 2017 we brought in two interns, Alexandra (Alex) Gallagher, a Nonprofit Studies major at University of Wisconsin Madison, and Vishal Narayanaswamy, who’s major is in Economics and Political Science at Berkeley. We picked them strategically, knowing their areas of study could help us develop The Greater Give, a 501(c)(6) formed to increase charitable giving by cultivating a movement of shared responsibility between employers and their employees. Alex and Vishal were instrumental in helping us build a case for “The Everyday Philanthropist Act,” a piece of legislation we hope will revolutionize giving. And I think both would tell you they got a lot out of their internships. In fact, during a recent trip to Washington D.C. I ran into Vishal, who had leveraged his experience with us into another policy-related internship.

In 2018 we built on that success. As with many businesses, our need for new and better information technology has been growing rapidly. That’s why we recruited eight aspiring Information Technology professionals. They came to us from University of Wisconsin campuses in Madison and La Crosse and from an innovative program through Madison’s YWCA called “Y-Web,” which provides Information Technology learning to women and men in minority communities. These interns helped write code, enhance automation, and fine tune our websites and applications.

This past summer we also refined the shape of our program itself. For example, we brought our interns in as a group, so they could support each other as cohorts. Besides giving them pizza and TASC swag, we provided access to senior leadership during coffee hours and a brown bag lunches. We helped them develop soft skills such as using email effectively, effective communication and listening, and effective time management. We asked them to put in eight hours of paid volunteer time, and to give a presentation at the end of their internships, where they could talk about what they had learned from us. Last but not least, we challenged them to tell us what they thought TASC could learn from them.

That point is key. Internship programs give businesses an opportunity to see how they look to the emerging workforce, the young women and men they will need to recruit if they hope to succeed in the future. In the final analysis, a good internship program should make it easier to recruit good people. In many fields, especially Information Technology, we’re all in competition with high profile names like Google and Facebook. To get the best people, you need to create a memorable experience that will make your company a destination.

This innovative approach to recruiting interns has already paid great dividends. We offered all three of our interns from the Y-Web program full-time positions. We offered other members of our summer 2018 program opportunities to work at TASC part-time while they finished school. In future years we hope to expand our internships beyond IT into other departments as well.

I want to congratulate this year’s summer interns: Edmond Apaloo; Ashley Budden; Gustave Gbossou; Paul Heyrman; Krishna Kunadharaju; Lucy Putnam; Junior Quintero; and Lexi Wegman.

We appreciated their enthusiasm, energy and intelligence. And we can’t wait until next summer to meet our next group of interns!

Posted by: danielrashke | September 18, 2018

2018 CFC: Looking Forward to Giving Back

CFC Logo_2018Recently, the president of the Give Back Foundation, Jeanan Yasiri-Moe, penned an Op Ed piece for the Federal Times. The Federal Times is a source of information for senior U.S. government managers on trends and issues facing them in their job performance and career. Jeanan’s article (Looking Forward to Giving Back Again) dealt with  the upcoming Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). As my regular readers will recall, the Give Back Foundation selected TASC to be the service provider for the CFC.

As the new campaign started on September 10, federal employees once again will have the opportunity to sign up and give back to their favorite charities through the CFC—a wonderful program begun more than five decades ago and with TASC’s help, recently revolutionized through a single nationwide online giving portal.

Needless to say, TASC and the Give Back Foundation are very excited about the upcoming campaign. After delivering the new platform on time, on budget, and with all the required sign-offs from the OPM, we’re more than ready to deploy Version 2.0 in the 2018 CFC.

While we were pleased with the 2017 campaign, we are hoping for better returns in 2018. In the 2017 campaign year, federal employees, contractors, and retirees pledged charitable contributions of more than $100 million, an average of $600 per donor. And only 409 calls regarding “charity lookups” came into TASC’s CFC dedicated call center, a ratio of less than one-quarter of one percent.

But what moved me the most was some of the feedback we received from the federal employees and donors who used the system. As Jeanan noted in her article, one member of the military told us the new online system was a “huge improvement over the old system.” He specifically appreciated the improvements in the search function that the new system offered. Overall, he believed it reduced his time to sign up from an hour and a half to only five minutes.

Feedback from several of the charities was equally as supportive. “Thank you for the online form. I was prepared for this form to be difficult and time-consuming. However, my processing time in 2018 was reduced from three hours in previous years to 15 minutes,” said one.

“I use a number of online application systems, and I found this one to be one of the most straight-forward, user-friendly systems I’ve come across. Thank you,” added another.

We understand that last year represented a huge change for the federal employees and retirees. I strongly believe that as more federal employees get used to the new system and move through the change curve, we can expect the number and amount of online donations to rise further in the 2018 fall campaign.

Posted by: danielrashke | September 4, 2018

Intrapreneurs are Essential to Innovation

Entrepreneurs take on great financial risk in the hope of creating something successful. But what about after they have successfully launched their business? What then? The natural inclination is to play it safe and keep doing what made you successful, but resisting change can be fatal. Times change, markets change, and people change. If you stop innovating because you feel like you’ve “made it,” you may find yourself, and your company left behind.

Our business is a strong example of how change can pay off. My father was an entrepreneur. He went into business selling life, health, and disability insurance to farmers and people who owned small businesses (I cut my teeth working in that business, too). My father was also an intrapreneur as our company evolved to showing those farmers and sole proprietors how they could benefit by adding a medical reimbursement plan and moving those expenses to their business returns.
Entrepreneurship got us started, but innovation and intrapreneurship keep us going and growing– at more than 20% annually.

So, when I was invited to speak at the University of Wisconsin Family Business Center’s Family Business Retreat, I knew I wanted to talk about the importance of intrapreneurship. But then, entirely by coincidence, I came across a Harvard Business Review article titled, “The Myth of the Intrapreneur.” Here I was thinking intrapreneurship was essential, and the Harvard Business Review was saying I was all wet. Or at least, that’s what the title suggested.

The real point of the article, I soon discovered, was that companies can’t count on a single “lone genius” intrapreneur to power their innovation. Innovation, writes author Andrew Corbett, “has to be a company-wide endeavor.” I completely agree. Intrapreneurship isn’t a person. It’s a culture. And since most companies aren’t set up for innovation from the start, change management is necessary to support the shift into a culture that makes it happen. We’ve worked hard at TASC to create that culture. Here are some of the ways we foster innovation.

We start with basic requirements gathering questions: why, when, what, who, how, and where. “Why innovate?” should be your first question. If you don’t know why, it doesn’t pay to put a ton of energy into the “how” or the other questions. Your innovation should be strategic and sustainable.

After “why,” the most important question you need to answer is “when.” In his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen addresses the difficulty of knowing when to innovate. Your business is successful. You’ve got things rockin’. But at some point, your gains are going to level off. Waiting until then is probably too late. Some people believe that with TASC’s continuing success we should be all-in on driving growth and efficiency instead of spending money and resources on innovating for the future. I tell them I’m innovating while we’re successful because I know that eventually, a downturn will happen. It’s inevitable. I just don’t know exactly when it will happen.

Here’s another way to look at it. TASC has done great, but we’re a 40-plus-year-old company. That’s old. And I don’t want to be old. Sometimes the only way to keep a successful company from getting old is to create what I call a midlife crisis. Create a culture that says, “If I don’t start looking for that next new thing, we’re going to be dead soon.” Use that sense of urgency to jump-start your thinking about how to innovate inside of your company.

So how do we make innovation happen? Several ways. We ask our leaders to continually be assessing who has intrapreneurial spirit? Who is thinking about problems and solutions creatively and from a perspective of opportunity as well as risk mitigation? We want those people invited to the innovation tables.

We have a few different groups formed for what we call our Ideation Clubs. People from throughout the company get together during off hours. They take ideas and start throwing them together. They collaborate. We give them resources, tools, food, and beverages. They feed us ideas.

We also have a New Product Development Pool. We train people on how to create a new product or business model. They come away with a resume that says they know product development. We get more talent to help us research and vet new product ideas.

To foster innovation, we allocate money and time to exploration outside of your normal research and development efforts. This doesn’t need to be a big investment – it just needs to be prioritized and committed to by more than just one person. When your innovators land on something with real potential, fund it and then starve it just enough to create a hungry, start-up mentality.

I’ll drill deeper into TASC’s innovation culture and methodology in future posts. Meanwhile, give some thought to why and when your company should innovate.

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