Start-ups & Turnarounds

deerheadsI’ve had a number of questions recently from some newer not for profit organizations as well as a few mature ones who are at a crossroads. While both are looking at different ends of the elephant the questions are similar when doing a start-up or reinventing an organization.

I usually start by asking “What do you stand for”? Then I ask if you have a lawyer and accountant on your board but that’s another story for another time.

When I ask that question of audiences and organizations I usually get that deer in the headlight “look.” Another question to consider and equally important is, “what do you want to be known for”?

Some organizations have done the serious work required to answer these fundamental questions to ensure that their companies or organizations are built on strong purposeful and caring foundations. Others spend a lot of time coming up with clever mission statements that fall short of the vision. More often than not organizations requiring retooling started out missing some of the key fundamentals.

There a hundreds of books that deal with start-ups and turnarounds however most have an old world view of organizations where only a few speak to a new business or organizational paradigm so be careful what you wish for. Too often mission or vision statements are just “happy talk” and in conflict with the day to day actions and culture of an organization.

Fortune 500 companies do something different than all others. The best not for profits get the best marks from Charity Navigator and as importantly the IRS & CRA for their ability to run their organizations efficiently and effectively. It’s not just about the bottom line or raising more money. I am more convinced than ever that communication, good and bad, brings out the best or worst in any organization and it’s pretty easy to see who walks their talk.

Alignment is difficult and requires hard work from everyone. When an organization is built with integrity and where careful consideration has been given to every aspect and detail of the organization for the well being of their constituents and staff alike – they are congruent and magic happens.

A back to basics approach might start with a quick check list to see how you are doing. So take as much time as required to figure out “What you really stand for” and “what you want to be known for”? Does everyone in the organization believe it? Does everyone understand what to do and what they are responsible for? Is there mutual respect and trust? How do you measure your desired outcomes? Is there alignment throughout the organization and so on…

While business plans can be valuable they can also be shallow make work projects that exhaust human resources when they are not embraced and championed. Engagement and passion not realized can easily turn into disillusionment and turnover leaving an organization in constant chaos. That is not to say that a road map or plan is not important. For any organizations there are a number of places to go that will help get you get started and hopefully avoid some potholes along the way.

The Mutart Foundation along with the Alberta Government, Culture and Spirit created a number of workbooks to help design the best not for profit boards and job descriptions for its members. There are many other templates and suggestions available however this is a good one and may prove helpful during a start-up or reorganization. After all if your board isn’t sure what the organization is all about or what is expected of them how can you expect it to be successful?

If your board of directors, staff and volunteers look like they could be in the picture above, you clearly have some work to do. If you are certain that everyone knows what you stand for, their place in the organization and what is expected of them and as importantly – is passionately engaged in this work – you really can change the world!