Posts Tagged ‘social change’

Seeking Social Benefit

March 17, 2013

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How do we lead new, more effective ways to deliver social benefit? For many decades, private sector management has applied this lever to their parallel performance challenges. Bill Gates recently extolled its value. A reasonable answer to the question: measurement.

The Gates Foundation 2013 annual letter spells out accomplishments and an ambitious agenda. But, a key message is measuring for managing. “I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition,” wrote Gates. He cites the intent to eradicate polio. And, describes timely, local, accurate measurement is a prequel to “figure out what is wrong, and fix it.”

Performance Management
Measurement is intimately connected to performance management. Performance management relies on data collection, analysis and course correction. Increasingly, the public, stakeholders, funders and others ask:
• What value are we getting?
• What more can our work deliver?
• How are we changing lives and systems?
These are all fair questions that paid (and volunteer) manager-leaders are eager to answer, too.

In Michigan, measurement has had serious application in early childhood development efforts. First Steps, in partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, has focused on what works under what conditions in high-risk neighborhoods with vulnerable children. For example, in less than a week, a pre-kindergarten “camp” positively affected the socio-emotional status of children along with adoption of routines. In addition, Play & Learn groups showed changes in children’s language and literacy skills. Because of measurement, it’s possible to demonstrate progress, thoughtfully adapt programs and identify the value interventions contribute to children, their families and the education system.

Funds for Results
In most contexts, funds are given for the promise of a desired change or intended result in the nonprofit sector. However, as resources are more scarce, connecting funding with proven success may become more common. New financing instruments called social impact bonds require explicit results to continue funding. The planned results and associated cost savings are built into the economic model. And, even the US government is exploring the idea of results-based resources in their programs that offer financial support for social challenges (called Pay for Success).

The discipline of measurement is underutilized, perhaps because of the distinct skills it requires. It also carries some risk, because it points out poor program design, plans and/or implementation. Measurement can certainly identify waste. Notably, not everyone has the same vibrant passion for efficiency and effectiveness.

Social Progress
The old adage goes: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. While “social engineering” has plenty of detractors and critical issues in it – much of our tax exempt or civil sector have huge caches of social, political and economic capital aimed at social change that can deliver more, better value.

Literacy and competencies in measurement are essential to both leapfrog and routine progress. These days, a noble cause is only a great start. Authentic claims about impact or serious change must be grounded in precise measurement. Ask Bill Gates.

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: http://www.pwkinc.com

The Size and Speed of Change

May 24, 2011

 

Recently, a professor and a marketing consultant, suggested creating a $300 house. They punted it up publicly. The response has been overwhelming. Their target could transform the lives of millions of desperately poor children and families across the globe. If it happens – it is a breakthrough innovation.

This goal challenges what’s feasible, alters expectations and prompts innovation. These are vital levers for big, fast change. Name the intended result, assemble the case, articulate the implications. Then, gather the knowledge, skills, insights, experience, enthusiasm and possibilities for strategy and execution.

 Progress & Pace

Reflect for a moment on two dimensions of change – scale and time. A continuum of scale could cover polar ends: from none (simply preserving  the status quo) to boldly disruptive. A range for time can span from instant to perpetuity. What’s a “fair” expectation for progress and pace?

An insulated and isolated organization (or community) may not make much progress year after year. The adjacent possible is severely oppressed and any change comes grudgingly.  Even incremental, minor movement may be difficult. Although essential to growth and vitality, substantial change won’t happen until there are new people with different training, experience, expectations and habits. Moreover, disruptive change doesn’t occur until there’s a sudden tip point, often the result of a power shift.

 The Best Attitude

“Let’s go slow to go fast” is commonly said in organizations that must improve. This can translate to “I’m risk averse” or let’s quietly move the goal posts. Alternatively, it  may mean there needs to be more knowledge, skills and trust to do the work ahead. Sometimes it is appropriate – sometimes not. If for-profit organizations don’t change fast – it’s certain they will fail. Current and emerging marketplace competitors ensure that. Although far less sensitive to market forces, non-profits must adapt to perform, too.

Many organizations affect internal culture by clearly describing expected attitudes. For example, a “humility and a hunger to learn” is one of several Kellogg Company leadership values.  The San Diego Food Bank operates with an “acute sense of urgency.” ConAgra identifies simplicity, accountability and collaboration as key internal principles. Nestle wants a “willingness to learn” commitment among their employees. All of these declarations signal an environment which supports change.

 Target & Timing

If nearly anything is possible: What’s your stretch goal? What’s the deadline? Perhaps a 28% return on investment or no domestic violence for one month. Maybe, in six months, it’s a $25 toilet or no drunk driving in your county. By 2014, what about a 60% reduction in teen pregnancy, creating a $1,000 car, or every high school graduate in your town will be college-ready.

Thought leadership can be an essential prompt for the size and speed of change. We know most people are deeply motivated by satisfaction and results. By specifying an audacious goal and deadline, expectations for scale and pace are set. Why not start with these?

 –Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Intrigued? Tap this link for more information on a $300 house.

The Best Combination

February 28, 2011

How can nonprofit organizations best provide responsive charitable services and simultaneously create social change?

A two-part answer helps significantly: improved governance and management. Strength in both these areas is essential to organization performance.

Great Governance
Trustees of nonprofit organizations play a critical role via tenacious, thoughtful leadership that insists on choices which yield measureable progress. Their governance role is specifically designed to review management competencies and associated organizational performance. Their function, in trust, to multiple publics is as a watchguard for the organization’s mission. It could be high quality education, hunger relief, women’s independence or children’s safety. As the “guard,” trustees are not necessarily cozy protectors of staff. Trustees don’t seek self-interest, they seek the common good.

These roles can put volunteers in a tough position. Regardless, their first duty isn’t as social support for each other or staff but to ensure that the community is well-served. This is their principal accountability. They should guide, question, provoke, measure, encourage and demand organization performance. Trustees must be willing to be unpopular in order to tackle tough decisions. It is both necessary and fair for trustees to set explicit, high expectations. As demands on time mount, doing a great job in governance isn’t easy.

Capable Management
When talented management does their work well they lead organization priorities and plans. They interact responsibly with both trustees and their peers in allied organizations. Capable non-profit managers have a long list of critical responsibilities. While surveilling and interpreting the external environment, managers also gather resources, develop staff competencies, communicate effectively, skillfully design and implement appropriate programs for those in need and pursue a change agenda (to erode the conditions that disable people). Some nonprofits provide charitable services, others exist to create social change and some have a mix of both agendas.

The requisite talent for this work include both attributes as well as knowledge and skills. A commitment to transparency, integrity, equity, empathy, learning, candor, others, and passion are all on my must-have list. Professionals believe and act on these values or they don’t. Critical knowledge and skills include a broad repertoire of design, planning, analysis, evaluation, facilitation, applied research, political acuity, policy, change/project management, marketing, communications, coalition–building and distinct subject matter expertise (in education, health, youth, seniors and other areas). Capable management can lead and be team members. They have enough wisdom and experience to coach others.

Strong : Strong
The best combination of governance and management is when both are strong. A strong executive can take advantage of a weak board or engage them in inappropriate roles. Similarly, a weak executive will never deliver what’s needed for an organization to perform. The relative proficiency of the nonprofit sector to process change is an essential, adaptive reflex. It could mean fewer organizations. It should mean a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo and new ways of working.

We all need talent in both functions that will take strategic, progressive action. The “exempt” reference that precludes tax payments isn’t a free pass at accountability – whether in governance or management.

-Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also a W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow.Contact her at:lisawk@pwkinc.com.


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