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  • Dr. Ken Thiessen

When Being a Part of the Majority is Problematic


I read a recent statistic which indicated that 75% of nonprofit organizations do not have a strategic plan. At first I was somewhat taken aback but upon further reflection I began to wonder if that figure wasn’t actually understated. As I look back on my 25+ years of experience as a board member and employee in a variety of nonprofit contexts, I can’t think of one board or staff situation where the organization I was a part of had a clear, well articulated strategic plan, much less one that actually shaped the collective efforts of staff and board members! In none of the organizations where I was employed was I ever evaluated on the basis of my ability to execute my part of the strategic plan. As a board member, sometimes even as chair of the board, I never once evaluated the staff we were responsible to supervise on the basis of their ability to execute their part of the organization’s strategic plan. I’m embarrassed to admit that because in some of those contexts I should have been the one to champion the strategic planning process.

Was I being reckless, careless, or irresponsible in the exercise of my duties as a staff person or board member? From my perspective, the answer is a resounding and emphatic, “NO!” I cared about each of those organizations, was committed to the cause, took my responsibilities very seriously and called others in those organizations to do likewise! Not one of my peers who held similar positions with other nonprofit organizations were doing strategic planning, so surely I couldn’t be missing something really important. WRONG! The very fact that I was a part of the majority was problematic and should have caused me concern rather than provide me a sense of complacent comfort and assurance!

So why was I derelict in the exercise of my duties? Or was I derelict? What was the impact on those organizations, for better or for worse? Well, resorting to my least defensive tone (read as “impossible to do!”) I would suggest that I wasn’t derelict! I was uninformed and unaware. Using the template of the Johari Window, I didn’t know what I didn’t know! I was however, still responsible! Ignorance might be bliss, but it isn’t an excuse! And the organizations suffered from vision drift, lack of direction and focus. They were often held hostage to competing and conflicting core values. They experienced vision whiplash, driven this way by the vision of the strong leader of the day, then driven that way when that leader transitioned out and a new strong leader with a different vision stepped into the void. The perpetual revolving door was well exercised as quality staff and board members cycled through the organization unable to thrive in the milieu of uncertainty and constant change. Occasionally an organization would experience a period of growth, focus and strategic alignment, but that was more by accident than by design. Whether I want to admit it or not, there was a very clear sense that I was derelict in my duties. And I couldn’t use the line, “Everybody’s doing it!” (as in not doing strategic planning) as justification or rationalization. My collaboration with the majority was in fact problematic.

If you’re reading this blog and are part of the executive leadership team of a nonprofit, I’d bet that your story isn’t a whole lot different than mine. If the 75% stat is accurate, I’d have a 3 out of 4 chance of winning the bet! If this is your story, I feel your pain! I’ve read your mail! I know the sense of uneasiness you’re probably feeling right now. I know the angst you have, unsure how you begin the process, how you convince others on your leadership team that being a part of the majority is just as problematic for your organization as it was for me. I understand that.

What I also know about you is that you didn’t sign up for the role you have because you knew it would be easy! You signed up because you care deeply about the cause that drives your nonprofit! You want to see your nonprofit maximize it’s positive social impact on those who benefit from the service you deliver! You want to make a difference! You want to see lives changed, communities transformed, your city improved! Whether you’re feeding the poor, providing sports programs for up and coming athletes, or running a faith-based nonprofit, I know that to be true of you! Your community needs more people like you.

What your community doesn’t need are more nonprofit organizations who aren’t pursuing strategic alignment with all of the passion and energy they can muster. What your community DOES need is an organization like yours that is ready to admit that going with the flow of the 75% majority IS problematic. But more than just admit that it’s problematic, it needs someone in your organization to have the courage to champion the strategic planning process in order to bring about the strategic alignment that will allow your organization to maximize its impact! That’s a cause worth pursuing, a cause worth fighting for!

There’s no doubt I’ve laid down a challenge for you and your organization. You can’t claim ignorance, as appealing as it might be. You are now responsible to do something with the information you have. What can you do? I now invest my time and energy working with organizations like yours, seeking to offer insights gleaned from my mistakes along the way. Check out www.yqrfourdecisions.eventbrite.ca for information on how you and your executive leadership team can begin this all-important process! The investment you make will provide an exponential return on that investment!

Allow me to close with a few quotes from Jim Collins, best selling author of Great by Choice. Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All

“Planning is priceless. Plans are useless.”

“Strategic planning is a mechanism for stimulating disciplined thought.”

“Strategic planning is process of vigorous, rigorous debate/disagreement infused with the brutal facts leading to the best insights.”

“Strategic planning is driven by a search for the right questions more than a search for the right answers.”

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