Organizing for Success

Organizing for Success

As consultants, we are engaged for many reasons: an organization has a great mission, but needs help to operationalize its program; or an organization has a need for funding, but doesn’t have a plan; or the Executive Director micromanages and needs help in sorting out what she/he should actually be doing.

One thing every organization needs is time. Time to plan. Time to think about the how’s, who’s and when’s.

Planning is key to operational success. Yet, we hear clients tell us they feel reactive or they are constantly trying to get ahead of the work, ahead of funding deadlines, ahead in their jobs. Is it any wonder we have such high burnout in our sector?

These are the 5 common pitfalls we see.

1. Underestimating how much time it takes to plan, going through a rational process start to finish. Team building is fun, although there should be an outcome at the end of any planning process beyond good morale.

2.  Underestimating resources, both money and human. Who is going to do the work and from what budget? To put it another way, organizations need to set realistic goals for the money, time and human resources that need to go into a process. You get what you pay for.

3. Underfunding operations, fundraising, marketing. It is hard to raise money when your organization isn’t well known, or doesn’t have brand recognition. Simply hiring a fundraiser without a support structure ends in failure. Believing that the fundraising department alone will save your organization also typically ends poorly. We all agree, without heavily investing in the programmatic side of the work, there would be no mission, although there does need to be an institutional balance to keep organization culture healthy and productive.

4.  Being unclear on outcomes. What you are measuring and why? Many people in an organization have many ideas and priorities, usually all of these are important to the fundamental programs or operations of the organization. It takes a strong, compassionate leader to balance all the priorities and build a cohesive, achievable outcome. Often as consultants, when we ask for results, we are given a laundry list of measurements, but not all are useful or demonstrate an improved outcome.

5.  Underestimating time frames in demonstrating impact, once outcomes are operationalized. Good numbers take time. It’s never a good idea to rush the data. In the era when many institutional funders want results within the grant cycle, it can feel impossible. If you set a solid foundation of information gathering and gathering the right information to demonstrate impact, it is possible to show year over year gains. However, it does take some time to lay the groundwork. Also, do not be afraid to interpret the results and make changes to programs or systems that aren’t working.

Einstein hypothesized that time is relative. That may be the case universally, but for us, time is the resource we most need to improve quality, operations, outcomes and everything else we do. Organizationally, let’s be honest about the time we need as well as what other resources we need to be successful.

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