Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Selling Service: The Surprising Core Practice for a Community Service Organization

After reading through Jeffery Immelt's focus on what GE does best in "GE Goes With What It Knows: Making Stuff" and Neilson et al.'s recommendations for strategy implementation in "The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution," I am reminded heavily about my time as a lowly fundraising chairperson in a large international community service organization. Specifically, the mission of the organization and how the organizational culture affected the executive decision-making process is something that I believe is worth talking about.

"The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution," as it turns out, has a companion interactive tool that helps you diagnose what "type" of organization yours fits into, and how to put the case study on Goodward Insurance into context. Specifically, they link you to a Booz and Co. organization effectiveness simulator that allows you to test your management methods out based on their responses from thousands of employees in decision-making capacities and their relative successes. While I am usually pretty suspect about the validity of these types of exercises, I typically find them to be fun and thought-provoking (I had a pretty similar situation when I took the Gallup StrengthsFinder test--it was probably akin to palm reading).

Before I engaged in the exercise, I had to diagnose what "type" of entity my community service organization was. Booz and Co. helpfully provides an OrgDNA exercise to help you do just that. While the focus is on business for the most part (questions about profitability didn't apply), the questions about decision-making and organizational norms highlighted what I believed to be the unique aspects of my organization. First and foremost, most of the work performed by the chairpersons (the board members under the executive board--people like me) was highly dependent on having strong trust in others. That is, chairpersons and co-chairpersons had to really rely on each other to divide their workloads, since we hosted community service events every week. This, however, also highlighted a weakness in our organization--although we presumed that our information flows were fair and typically "free" between committee chairpersons leading events (we all took turns heading other committees' events on the day of the event if possible), the strength of communication was not always there because it was assumed that everyone knew when events were happening. In the long term, for events that required planning beyond more than a month, this made things difficult because we simply weren't planning for the future.

I think that the assessment that OrgDNA provided me was fairly accurate. There are seven different organizational types listed:

  • The Passive-Aggressive Organization
  • The Overmanaged Organization
  • The Outgrown Organization
  • The Fits-and-Starts Organization
  • The Just-In-Time Organization
  • The Military Precision Organization
  • The Resilient Organization
While a place like GE under Jeff Immelt would fit into "The Resilient Organization" (described as "as good as it gets"--flexible enough to adapt quickly to external market shifts...and aligned behind a coherent business strategy), my organization was listed as "Just-in-Time." And sadly, that makes a lot of sense. We usually scrambled for deadlines, and, as suggested, we were "inconsistently prepared for change" but could "turn on a dime" if necessary. We weren't necessarily as resilient as GE, with its multiple business lines, but we did have something in common: we had something that we did very well. That something, as it turns out, is not community service.

Many times, we would ask people why they liked being in our organization. Some said it was because of the community involvement opportunities, but the vast majority stated it was because of the organizational culture. People really liked going to service events not necessarily because they thought they were adding a lot of value to the community but also because many of the people they went with were their friends. We lived basically in the present, one event at a time. I know that the executive leadership attempted to foster the same atmosphere for members--come hang out with your friends and do service. We knew how to make people comfortable, and that was our selling point. Trying too hard to be like other service organizations that only offered service events was not our forte. It would be similar to GE focusing its strategy on GE Capital and ignoring its other business units. That's why we were successful (on a side note, it also made for good community service--we won the highest international award for achievement for our organization's size). It was always hard for new boards to live up to this standard because we were "Just-In-Time" and we never really had a long-term strategy (which returned to bite us in the butt over financial issues) but nevertheless we retained the same organizational mindset every year.

Do you think that there is a reasonable correlation between core organizational culture and resilience from the GE example and the underlying theme from my service organization? What kind of organization is your organization according to the Booz and Co., and how does your strategy mesh with your organizational type for organizational effectiveness?

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