This conversation was had again yesterday in a meeting I attended in which we, as a Board of Directors, tried to define success for the organization. My colleague on the Board, Michael Costello, named three ways of thinking about success - program success (is the program/product what we want it to be?), financial success (are we able to do what we do in 5-10 years?) and process success (is what we do done really well?). Let's consider these three separately and together:
Program/Product Success - I think this is built around the organization's core purpose, mission, vision, values,and goals; in other words, is what we had hoped would happen as a result of what we do actually happening? I think in order to measure this type of success, certain standards should be determined ahead of time that allows the organization to know they have been successful in their programming, i.e. impact, numbers, satisfaction, position in market, etc. Sometimes these ideals are difficult to measure, and yet measurement is needed. Having targets are critical for any organization...and please remember that some targets are quantifiable while others may be less so.
Financial Success - those of us who have spent our lives in non-profits or faith-based organizations seem to shy away from this measure of success, and often want to relegate it to a neccesary evil of doing business. Leaders of organizations (whether that be CEOs, presidents, or boards of directors) have an obligation not only to the current clients or customers; they carry an obligation that this organization will be around in the future to continue living out the mission. A popular saying among non-profits is "no margin, no mission." While the mission and vision may not inlcude a measure of financial success, the organization MUST focus on what it means to be successful in this area, and then work relentlessly toward achieving those measures.
Process Success - while it may not be true for all organizations, I have a belief that if one does thier core business practices well, there will be a certain amount of success, both externally with its customers and internally with those who work for the organization. Understanding what it is the organization does, finding or figuring out best practices, then relentlessly pursuing the delivery of those practices carries with it a certain amount of success. This is where measurement can come in on a regular basis, whether it be satisfaction surveys, meeting certain internal targets, or receiving recogntion among one's peers for the work they have done (i.e. the Malcolm Baldridge Award).
Now for the final piece - a successful organization has to be successful in all three categories: program/product success with poor finances or poor processes will cease to exist; financial success with poor program/product or poor processes will lose customers and employees; and process success with poor program/product or poor finances might lead to the organzation feeling really good about itself, but the doors will eventually close. The challenge to the organization and its leadership is to keep all three in balance and not fall into the trap of focusing on one at the expense of the other. In the school business I often hear, "It's all about the students." If that was true, they would receive a free education and all of their requests would be granted, no matter the result...other types of businesses and organizations can easily focus on one or the other depending on the nature of what they do and the people they typically hire.
So what about your organization - where does the majority of the focus lie? should there be a better balance? what needs to be done to bring more attention to a balance? should one area be emphasized more during this time in the organization's history? is the right leadership team in place so that all three areas can be balanced? has the board or executives determined what success looks like in the three areas so that the management team can deliver on them?
Before I finish, I want to give kudos to two organizations that inspired today's blog:
- Lutheran Music Program: I serve on the board of this incredible organzation that brings together musical excellence, faith, and intentional community that produces life-changing experiences in young musicians through Lutheran Summer Music. This program is worthy of anyone's support and bringing it to the attention of high school aged musicians who are serious about music and faith.
- The Pacific Institute: This organization partnered with Concordia University Texas in our strategic planning process over the past several months, and did a great job in helping us move to a place where we can more fully define success for oursleves. Spcial thanks to Rosie Baker for her marvelous leadership of the process.