Great social sector organizations achieve organizational outcomes such as increased revenues, increased efficiencies, and increased impact. The research contained in Impact & Excellence (Chaney Jones, 2014), highlights how there is a significant positive correlation between these organizational outcomes and leaders who have successfully adopted a high-performance measurement culture. These are organizations that not only have organizational data aligned with their mission, but use this information to make organizational decisions. The problem is that only 27% of nonprofit organizations and 18% of government organizations have currently adopted these cultures.
The great news is that there is no correlation between success and creating a high-performance measurement culture and an organization’s size of budget. This means that small organizations are just as likely to be successful or unsuccessful as big organizations. The main factor that predicts success is the commitment of the leader to achieve high levels of success by taking a data-driven approach to decision making.
The question I get asked most often when sharing this research is, “How do I get my leadership to embrace these principles of a data-driven culture?” This is a very important question. Success starts with the commitment of the leaders; it is essential to have leaders on board. Sometimes it is executive directors struggling to get their boards to understand and invest the time and resources needed to start measuring what matters and make decisions based on this information. Other times, it is middle-management or leadership team members who are frustrated because their top executive office has yet to embrace the importance of managing to outcomes. How you get your leadership on board will depend on if you find yourself in one of two scenarios.
Scenario 1: Leaders don’t know what they don’t know. This is the best case scenario and the easiest one to address. In these organizations, leaders are not taking the steps to embrace a high-performance measurement culture in their organization because they either don’t know how or they don’t know why it is essential to their success. In these scenarios, leaders are motivated to serve the organization and are focused on the mission, but they just don’t yet have the tools and resources to help them achieve their goals in the most efficient and effective ways. The board and leaders of these organizations possess strong leadership characteristics. When they learn about how high-performance measurement cultures can help them, they quickly start moving towards this direction. I see these types of leaders all the time in my workshops and presentations; they discover the steps required to develop these cultures and quickly start implementing the principles with great success. To find out if this is your situation, introduce your board and executive leaders to these two books, Impact & Excellence and Mario Marino’s Leap of Reason. If they are committed to the success of the organization, these two resources will spur them into action.
Scenario 2: Leaders are Ducks disguised as Eagles. Unfortunately, this second scenario is often the case in far too many government and nonprofit organizations. It is also a little more complicated to address. The key to moving these organizations towards truly high-performance measurement cultures requires you to become the champion for success. It will take some time, but improvement and change is possible.
In Leadership Gold, John Maxwell makes the analogy that great leaders are like eagles wanting to soar and reach optimal levels of success. In our society, not everyone has the desire, motivation, or mindset to be an eagle. Some people are more like ducks; they are content to maintain the status quo, focus on convenience, and not work too hard. As Maxwell says, “There is nothing wrong with ducks, just don’t ask them to soar or hunt from a high altitude. It is not what they do.”
Organizational problems arise when individuals with “duck” mentalities are placed in leadership positions. You know you have eagles if when you provide individuals in leadership positions with the tools and resources to achieve greater impact on this world, they design a plan to implement. If the individuals receive this information and choose to ignore it or do nothing, then it is likely you have ducks. There are two things you can do if you find yourself in an organization with ducks in the leadership positions.
- Hire Eagles: If you are a board member or you have the power to hire people, it is essential that you hire eagles. You want to bring people into the organization that are committed to the organization’s mission. You ideally want to hire individuals who are willing to put their personal agendas and comfort aside to make decisions that are best for the organization’s mission and the individuals they serve. When selecting for board members, executive directors, and other key leadership positions, look for individuals who value open communication, collaboration, continuous improvement, and learning from feedback. These are the traits found in leaders that will have the greatest success adopting high-performance measurement cultures.
- Be an Eagle, Not a Duck: Just because your current board and executive directors are making decisions with “duck” like mentality, doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. You don’t need the leadership title in order to be a leader. One way to influence the culture of your organization is to be an eagle and make the commitment to take a data-driven approach in the things that you can control. Study up on leadership best practices and the steps in Impact & Excellence that will help your organization soar. Where you have influence, implement or suggest measures that are aligned with the mission and make decisions around these results. Educate yourself so you can initiate change by asking the right questions. When a new decision is being made, respectfully ask leadership why this change is occurring. If you believe that there are data to support a better approach that will lead to greater success, present your case. The goal is to be the leader you wish you had. Don’t complain and grumble about the ducks in your organization; lead by example. You may be surprised at how contagious your thoughts and ideas may become. If all else fails, go find an organization that you are passionate about that is looking for eagles. If you are an eagle, don’t force yourself to be a duck for the sake of your leaders.
Moving towards a high-performance measurement culture takes time, but the investment is worth it. Creating a culture where decisions are made based on measures aligned to the organization’s mission allow organizations to attract more funders and serve more individuals, and make a greater impact on this world. By exposing your board and other leaders of the organization to this message, you will help success occur faster. Implementing these principles into your own practices where it makes sense can also have a profound effect on the impact. Don’t ever give up; your clients depend on you!
If you are looking to develop performance and outcome measures that motivate others to support your mission, Measurement Resources is here to help! We can help you align your mission, your measures, and your culture. Our favorite part is to celebrate our clients’ success on their increased impact on the world! We’d love to help you make data-driven decisions with confidence. Contact us today for your FREE 20-minute strategy session.
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