Before the holidays, I had coffee with a friend. My friend is an executive with a 75+-year-old non-profit.
The organization had gone international as a response to the last recession. They had also suffered through some costly failed initiatives over the past 5-6 years. Employee churn grew, with highly-valued long-time staff leaving. As a result, confidence within the organization was low.
New employees and contractors kept commenting “What does this organization do?” They couldn’t find a common thread among all of the diverse activities or why the organization did what it did in the way that it did. The value they were supposed to provide to their membership was unclear. If you asked each executive the question, “What does this organization do and what value do you provide?” you would get wildly different answers.
A few months ago, after managing to successfully upgrade their enterprise system (after two separate attempts), they realized that they had lost sight of why they exist in the first place.
They started a re-branding effort. As part of that effort, they asked themselves “What is the common thread across our organization and our organizational history?”
The answer “We are building a community of professionals in our industry who are out to create a positive legacy.”
This response guides how they operate.
- Events are focused more on networking vs. trade shows or sessions.
- Educational programs stress facilitating information sharing between members vs. having a few designated “experts.”
- Mentoring programs become a higher priority, and other historical activities become candidates for retirement.
- Project selection prioritizes member collaboration and member experience.
The organization has done this all along. Having it written down and very clear makes that guiding principle easier to act on and make decisions against. It’s easier to start asking questions that define their values and goals – such as, “What does ‘positive legacy’ mean?”
Having that guiding principle also makes it easier for their new employees and contractors to map their personal values to the organization. It provides high-level guardrails for individuals to measure whether their activities and choices are good ones for the organization. And, as a project manager, it helps me see whether the project will help the organization be successful according to that metric and, if it is, what the business outcome of the project needs to be.
Happy New Year!
Looking to get more organized in 2018?
I’d like to share a free PDF containing a useful personal prioritization exercise to help you get started.
I hope you can join me on this journey!
I’ve observed across many organizations “Forgetting the Organizational Why.”
Why does your organization exist?
What problem is your organization supposed to solve?
What is the one guiding principle that is constant across time, across growth and scale, as leaders change, as people come and go from your organization?
You may be fortunate enough to work in an organization that has managed to keep a consistent focus. An organization with leadership who always question whether the proposed activity supports that guiding principle says “no” to activities that don’t.
I’ve just found that groups of people “forget” why they are together as time passes and as people change within the group.
This forgetfulness is natural if not reviewed and checked.
Unfortunately, forgetting the reason your organization exists invites confusion among your employees, waste of your resources (time, money, materials, and your employee’s creative output), and, in the worst case, the disappearance of your organization entirely.