Thursday, September 11, 2014

5 Ways To Get Your Organization Moving At The Speed Of Change

Trouble with most discussions about ‘flattening’ and ‘empowering’ organizations is that the case studies are often high-tech histories:  Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel, Google,  W.H. Gore.  This makes it easy to dismiss as irrelevant to the leadership issues of today’s nonprofit….”this doesn’t apply to me”.  The sense is that innovation is taking place in some far off locale with little relevance to the day-to-day challenges of a nonprofit endeavoring to do the pedestrian such as feeding the hungry as opposed to the glamorous work of developing the next killer app.

A nonprofit is an affair of the heart.  Ninety-nine percent of the time when we inquire of an individual why they work for their specific organization, the explanation involves some passion connected to the mission. We want to make a difference and have an impact. 
Today's nonprofit leaders face a difficult and unprecedented challenge. The world is changing much faster than our organizations.  Thus examining our organizational design is imperative.  For our success is now more dependent upon the quality of the organization than in the effectiveness of our program.   A “B”-level organization with an ‘A’-level program will produce ‘D’ level results.

Here are a few thoughts about what sharp executives need to concentrate upon in redesigning the organization structure of our nonprofits.

1)      Laser focus on What Does Our Customer Value?  These are the people that we serve relevant to our mission.  What will make their life better?    Nothing more demoralizing than an organization which serves its staff, funders and donors well, but its customers poorly.  Create value and then trust that the money will follow.

2)      Establish What Does Success Look Like? Develop a narrow set of metrics which measure if we’re delivering customer value.  These outcomes provide guidance to every board member, staff, volunteer in prioritizing their activities and guiding their choices.   Accept nothing less than value added activities.

3)      Unleash our native collective intelligence.  Most innovations in organizations come from mid-level and entry level staff, NOT from elaborate strategic planning processes at the executive level.  Great ideas die because of laborious approval processes.   No one should have the authority to kill a good idea.  Lack of ready resources to exploit opportunities is also a problem.  We also need to be establish an off-budget pool of ‘risk capital’, so that when a promising innovation arises we can move fast to take advantage.

4)      Make accountability a collective responsibility.  In a hierarchy, a staff member is generally accountable to their immediate supervisor.   Thus an employee need only satisfy one person.  Evidence shows performance improves when a staff member is accountable to a team rather than to a single individual.   When we remove ourselves from the need to supervise, teams develop their own norms…if you have good people, they develop good accountability norms.

5)      Create a culture which values Speed, Innovation and Collaboration.   As Peter Drucker quipped, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.    The leader sets the culture.  Be quick, be creative and be in partnership.

 With all the buzz about social entrepreneurship and the emerging economy, it’s imperative we move at the pace of change.  It’s vital to understand that we already have what we need and that our success requires us to redesign our enterprises for this new environment.  By doing so, we let loose the talent which surrounds us to create new ways of doing business which ensure that we continue to add value to the lives of the people we serve.