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Six Things Not-for-Profit Leaders Should Think About in 2017

Jan 09, 2017
Lyn McDonell Lyn McDonell, CAE, C. Dir., CMC (guest author)
The Accountability Group, Inc.

These are disruptive times and organizational leaders would do well to stay sharp and take nothing for granted. Here are six key dimensions for success in 2017:

1. Think Scenarios.

Scenarios are plausible narratives about futures. When thinking about the future, don’t ask what it will look like, because the future is the net result of so many factors. Rather, identify the major trends affecting your organization and work through their implications. Consider changes in constituencies served, technology, funding, partner organizations and competitors, etc. Look at all the potential ways this trend could evolve in the future. How might you respond? To up the ante, imagine two or more trends happening together. When we explore different ways the future could unfold, we create improved readiness to respond in real time and better risk mitigation.

2. Know True North Outcomes.

Outcomes flow from vision and mandate. Make your outcomes crystal-clear, not just the how-to strategies. These “arrival” points define success. Since there may be more than one way to get there, many traditional methods and channels cannot be assumed to be fixed. Organizations must get leaner, undertake collaborations, and become more digital. What is it that we really want to enable with our resources and activity? With clarity around outcomes, we can better discern which new possibilities are a good fit.

3. See the Collaborative White Space.

Assess collaborative opportunities. Take a page from health care. In that sector, leaders are focusing on the transitions between organizational services so clients/patients experience more seamless care. Similarly, our organizations serve people in some discrete way. What other services are our clients or members accessing? What possibilities exist in the white space between our organizations to make it easier for them? This way of thinking can lead to new opportunities for collaboration and greater impact.

4. Get Empathy.

According to David Silverstein and Philip Samuel Neil DeCarlo, the “job to be done” of customers, clients or stakeholders is key. It is what your stakeholders are wrestling with in their environments, leading to how they will judge value. Understanding this requires deep connection and listening. Leaders often think they know, but it is the next layer of understanding that drives value forward.

5. Imagine Success.

When planning, don’t start at the bottom of a steep hill with your vision at the top. It’s already exhausting. It is easier to figure out how to overcome challenges when there is a positive direction. Jump to the organization’s relevance, work in the future, and free yourself from the constraints of today. Do a work-back: What did we do? What did we get right? Who was involved? How did we pace things? Energy builds when we approach from that more resourceful place of accomplishment.

6. Engage Your Community.

Plans are more likely to be informed, sound, and responsive if they have had a solid front-end process of community engagement. This entails stakeholders sharing, on the one hand, what trends they see impacting them and the organization and, on the other, what needs to happen. Yes, strategy is ultimately set by the board of directors, but when people are involved, strategy is more robust and there is increased ownership of the resulting plan.

The Accountability Group, Inc., supports not-for-profit organizations in governance, strategy, and organizational accountability.

Related Webinar

Looking Forward: Not-For-Profit Governance Challenges in an Ever-Changing Environment
The Conference Board of Canada, February 7, 2017 at 03:00 PM EST

The views and/or opinions expressed in this article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect The Conference Board of Canada’s position. Responsibility for content accuracy also rests with the author(s).

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