An organization that is not aligned, does not get things done. Is your vision compelling enough to align the team?
I’ve had the pleasure and honor to work with a number of non-profit organizations of late and have observed the importance of one key thing to be able to get things done:
It’s hard to make your idea of change happen if no one is paying attention. Ideas don’t happen in a vacuum. The right people pay attention to you when you are relevant. It’s what I wrote about a few weeks ago. But underpinning this is the need to focus everyone on the same prize.
I recently worked with a non-profit who had an incredible opportunity that would help them advance their mission, but several things happened that didn’t allow them to take advantage of it. First, they would need additional funds and community support to pursue the opportunity. A feasibility study revealed some things that caused them to abandon the initiative.
- Many in the community didn’t trust they could execute the plan if they received the funds.
- Many weren’t even aware of this organization.
- They were making decisions in large committee settings and having trouble getting consensus on approaches.
It was a classic case of misalignment.
An organization that is not aligned does not get things done.
I know what you’re thinking: We have a mission and a vision statement, and everyone has it memorized. Alignment isn’t our issue.
Does your mission and vision have some magic? Is everyone excited about it? Does it instill a feeling of pride? Does it motivate staff, volunteers, and donors to be engaged and involved?
A great vision story should do all those things. They are stories people actually want to read. There’s no jargon and meaningless terms, but specificity. We can see the impacts and outcomes and how they make people feel. Vision stories all have happy endings. And none of them are mysteries or suspense stories, so I like to give up the happy ending at the beginning.
Nurse practitioner Nichole Grimm recently made a pitch for a $10,000 grant for Bonner Partners in Care Clinic for which she volunteers as a physician.
She started the pitch with the expected introduction and overview of the clinic, explaining they serve those who fall in the “insurance gap.” These people either have super-high deductibles or can’t afford insurance and opt for the tax penalty rather than the coverage. She provided statistics of visitors to the clinic, statistics of those who fall in the gap, the underserved in our market, and the many services they provide.
And then she paused and said, “Let me tell you a story about a young girl. This girl confirmed exactly why it is what I do.” and she went on to describe a teenage girl who works at a local pizza place and came in for ongoing stomach pains. She had some tests done and came back in a week later to review her results, and there appeared to be nothing wrong. The girl asked Nichole, “then why do I have stomach pains?”
Nichole, thinking that things weren’t adding up, began to ask more questions. She learned this girl has never been in to see a doctor before. She eats only when she is at work because that’s her only access. She is suffering from anxiety. She is hungry. (Right here in my town! I probably have bought a pizza from her and didn’t give her a second thought.)
Nichole described how she connected this girl with the resources to help her – the local food bank and mental health professionals. She said,
“I can be as exhausted as ever from a full day at work, but when I show up for my volunteer shift at the clinic in the evening, I can stay as late as needed. I will never turn anyone away. This is why I do what I do.”
Bonner Partners in Care won the grant that night. A good story told well gets volunteers excited to volunteer, donors excited to donate, and staff and board excited to be involved. It creates serious alignment.
I like a vision that goes deeper than lip service, broad brush strokes and idealistic language. I like a vision that tells a story like Dr. Grimm did. That paints a picture that aligns everyone around outcomes, not programs.
Programs are great, and we need to hear about them. Outcomes align the group.
So, where does your organization land in this model? The further you arise from alignment to relevance and engagement, the less you feel that inevitable turbulence (pandemic, economic recession, etc). There is always turbulence. Our job is to rise above it.
Jen Mulholland and Jeff Shuck of Plenty Consulting identify three ways you can tell your organization is misaligned:
- You can’t get initiatives launched.
- Meetings last forever and feel unproductive.
- It takes a long time to make a decision.
What would your world look like when you have fully achieved your mission and there is no longer a reason for your organization to exist? Describe it in stunning detail. Use stories as metaphors for statistics.
Take a stab at it and let me know what you come up with.
Take care out there,
Stay in touch.
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