Vision, Expertise, Performance & Impact: 4 New Online Courses

May: Vision, Expertise, Performance & Impact — and 4 new courses coming online

Vision, Expertise, Performance & Impact
May 2010 Newsletter

This Month’s Online Courses
We are offering our course ‘From the Ground Up’ again in May; participants from 62 countries are have enrolled in our courses since January. See what students are saying. There are still a few remaining places in May’s course “From the Ground Up”.

New Online Learning Summer/Fall Catalogue
Our catalogue includes courses in Sustainability, Funding, Climate Change, Organizational Development, and Food Security.

OL 141.
Getting the Job Done: Your Organization’s Vision, Expertise & Performance
Create a Strategic Action Plan that shows where you are now, where you want to go and what actions to take for getting there.

OL 142. From Local Actor to International Professional: Aligning Your Organization to the World of Impact
The importance of impact, what works in development, using global resources for impact-oriented programming models.

Food Security, Nutrition and Home Gardens 1: Introducing sustainable, nutritious food gardens to communities
What is Food Security; good nutrition? What works in developing family garden projects that support them?

304. Food Security, Nutrition and Home Gardens 2: Weeds, bugs, compost, nutrition, recipes, kitchen hygiene and healthy kids.
Caring for food gardens. Combing produce with daily staples for nutritious, vitamin, protein & micronutrient filled meals.

Vision, Expertise, Performance & Impact
My friend Carl and I were having a cup of coffee. Carl runs one of the more effective NGOs in Guatemala. He was frustrated because the board wanted him to move in one direction, the founder had an agenda, and his staff was disgruntled. Carl felt he was being pulled in too many directions. On top of that, he that didn’t feel that they were practicing squeaky-clean, good development.

The founder was very top-down, at a time when Carl saw that the bottom-up tended to create more sustainable projects. The board members each had their own pet projects that they liked to promote – but none of them had a background in development. Many of his staff members didn’t really feel part of the team.

Sound familiar? This storyline seems to be the mantra of many executive directors that I work with. And, on top of it all, they are all running like crazy to keep up and don’t have the time to address these issues. What they need are solutions that don’t take much time to implement, can be done inexpensively, and will work the first time. They need silver bullets.

Here are the questions that I ask in an effort free up the logjam.
1. Where do you want to go?
2. Where are you now?
3. What do you need to do to get from where you are to where you want to go?

Over the years I have put together a plan of activities for NGOs to use to find the answers to 1, 2 and 3 above.

1. Your organization’s vision.
Properly done, a one day staff retreat can get everyone sharing a common vision. By staff, I mean almost everyone: field staff, grant writers, program managers, and admin staff. If the executive director has a strong personality (not a bad thing at all by the way, but staff may not be as open during discussions with the boss there), I may suggest that they let me be their proxy at the retreat. I might also suggest that one, understated board member attend in order to get a good sense of what’s happening on-the-ground.

I like to ask each member of the team to express what it is that the organization does. We hang a HUGE piece of paper on the wall and let them begin illustrating their vision of what the organization does – and what their role is. Properly facilitated, the group begins to assemble a map of the organization. Many people in organizations don’t really know what the vision is. Interestingly, because of this, they sometimes have the best insights!

During the course of the day, a group vision begins to emerge. Typically, it isn’t too far off the mark, but several great things come out of this process:
1. Ownership. They developed this vision – and it’s theirs!
2. Teamwork. They developed the vision together.
3. New information. Often new ideas come up: solutions to problems, new opportunities to look at, a new turn that makes the vision compelling.
4. A sense of place. The bookkeeper realizes that he is an important piece of the puzzle. Field staff that don’t get into the main office much realize how important they are in fulfilling the organizational goals.

2. Where are we now?
I’m big on low-hanging fruit. Frequently problems have simple, cost effective, easy to implement solutions. After the vision retreat, one can make appointments with the individual participants. Are they comfortable with how their department is working to fulfill the organizational vision? If not, what do they see that is missing – or that needs to be done to get on track? I am continually surprised that after interviewing staff at organizations, solutions tend to fall into a series of common areas.

a. A shared organizational vision.
b. An organizational strategy for fulfilling that vision
c. Who does it? Do they have the training and experience to do it?
d. Do they have all of the information that they need to do it right?
e. Do they have the resources to get on with the job – and are the resources where they need to be – and at the right time?
f. Are project partners aligned to the goal (donors, beneficiaries, partnering NGOs)?
g. Is there a learning plan in place? Are they able to see if projects are working? Do they have the information to make corrections en route?
h. Is there an end to the project and a well planned hand-over to the community?
i. Is there a final wrap-up report with clear communication about the learning process with all of the staff & stakeholders?

3. How do we get to where we want to go?
This can look positively daunting – but it doesn’t need to be. Each one of the questions above has a solution; the trick is to phase the solutions. The first solutions should be the low hanging fruit: identify the simplest solutions that are going to have the biggest immediate impact.

For example, documenting implementation procedures does not mean that the Program Manager needs to take a three month sabbatical to do this. A simpler solution is to begin gathering day-to-day project information and stick it in a folder – or a three-ring notebook. Knowing where to find it when you need it is the big part of the battle – and this is a quick solution.

So here are some simple, approachable solutions to the questions above:
Define Implementation Strategy
Define the project design team and the project implementation team – and delineate their responsibilities

Package the Program Strategy: Discover how to quickly assemble outline drafts of:
Staff handbook on project management, community engagement and participation
Staff handbook for your standard products and interventions
Lesson plans and workshop materials for field staff to use in community workshops; Take-home learning materials for beneficiaries

Identify what types of training you need now
Determine training that your staff is requesting and find where they can get it

Funding and Community Support
Do you have a simple funding plan?
Define the size of a typical proposal
Do you have a fundraising and proposal writing team?
Do you have a list of appropriate donors to approach?

Developing trusting relationships with the community
Do you engage field staff members that are from the same culture/language group as the beneficiaries?
Are you providing field staff with handbooks, manuals and copies of project budgets, logframes and schedules?
Do you have a community feedback mechanism that allows field staff to know if information is understood and appreciated?
Do you ensure that the community is ready to take over at the end of a project?
Are mentoring and follow-up are in place?

Packaging your Strategic Action Plan
Where did you find gaps in fulfilling your organizational vision, program strategies and sustainability?
Prioritizing in two levels: which actions are going to have the most immediate impact and which actions do you have the resources to do today?

Getting started:
Information gathering about dreams and reality is the first step. A facilitator is the way to go. They will be able to solicit information and ideas without intimidating staff and stakeholders. The facilitator should be a person who is not an authority figure in the organization. If you are the executive director, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can switch hats and suddenly, for a day, be someone different who can facilitate a sensitive workshop.

Half-day or full-day retreats, away from the office, can be tremendously productive. Follow-up meetings with the individuals can clarify specifics.

A matrix to receive the information in order to analyze it and organize it for an action plan is also a must.

As an executive director, receiving the information with an open, positive frame of mind is a necessity. Implementing affordable solution activities represents the path to change.

If you don’t have the resources to work with a consultant, consider taking one of our online courses on project development or organizational development.

See you next month!

Tim Magee

The 62 Countries:
Australia, Argentina, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, China, Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ethiopia , France, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Peru, Qatar, Rwanda, Serbia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Trinidad & Tobago W.I., Turkey, Uganda, UK, Ukraine, United States, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.