Work on a few strategic shifts at a time

My colleagues and I recently responded to a request-for-proposals to develop a batch of complex strategies for a non-profit organization.

While developing a proposal, we wondered how this organization would able to implement all these strategies at once, or whether a more focused approach might be more appropriate. We ended up proposing an initial strategic assessment that would shape the resulting strategy work.

This short article revisits the purpose of strategy and reminds us how organizations tend to have limited resources (e.g. time, money, people, mental and emotional space) that can be deployed to bring about strategic change.

Leading “start-ups” versus established organizations

Many social entrepreneurs set up organizations in order to change the world. Those working on a “start-up” enterprise need to think differently about their organizations from those who run established or mature organizations.

While start-ups require entrepreneurs to exist in a state of high-energy hustle, established organizations require leaders who are good at building systems and achieving results through others.

Treating an established organization like a start-up can do more harm than good! It may constrain an organization’s evolution by locking it into a developmental stage. Conversely, handling a start-up (with its limited resources and unrefined approach) in the same way that you would treat an established organization would make it difficult to get it off the ground.

The wisdom is knowing when your organization has become established (it normally takes around 5 years) and then shifting your thinking and behaviour accordingly.

This article explores how social entrepreneurs and leaders should see and treat their organizations, depending on whether they are busy setting it up or whether it is already established.

Social enterprise glossary

I’ve designed this glossary to help social enterprises and non-profit organizations in South Africa think clearly about their strategies and business models.

Strategic clarity involves clear thinking, and clear thinking requires clarity of language. Many of us also rely too much on jargon, which clutters our minds and encourages lazy and fuzzy thinking.

Here is some of the terminology that I regularly use in my consulting practice and lectures, and my short descriptions of what each term means in simple English.

Thoughts on the Social Economy Strategy in South Africa

The South African government is busy developing a strategy to help cultivate the social economy in the country.

I’ve been fortunate to contribute to the strategic process – I’ve been interviewed several times and shared some written insights with the project team.

At the time of writing this article (February 2019), the government has commissioned a Green Paper on the Social Economy – a draft set of policy proposals for discussion. Green Papers tend to be followed by White Papers or official policy documents.

Since this strategy has been on my mind recently, I took a moment to record my thoughts and share them online and with the policy team. I’m also curious about what form you think the Social Economy Strategy should take.

Governance versus management in non-profit organizations

Poor governance significantly increases the risk that a non-profit organization or social enterprise will under-perform or close down.

Yet for some reason, many governing bodies struggle to perform their duties effectively. These mandated structures seem more interested in micro-managing staff and processes, when they should be helping to lead organizations into their strategic future.

Ultimately, when a governing body stops providing effective and foresightful oversight and starts doing managers’ jobs, then the executive management team is undermined. Blind spots start to appear in the organization’s strategy. This can be fatal.

This article will explore the differences between governance and management. It will unpack what tends to go wrong and how to fix it. It will also contain insights from a lawyer I work closely with.

End-of-year reflection for 2018

The end of another year is approaching. It has been a challenging year, filled with meaningful work, many lessons and lots of opportunity. There has also been too little time to do everything I’d intended to do.

I believe strongly in the value of reflection and always do a formal debriefing at the end of the year.

Here are some of my thoughts on 2018 before I take leave on Friday 14th December to enjoy a much-needed break. It sheds some light into my work with non-profit organizations and social enterprises in South Africa, and things I’ve learned along the way.

Social enterprise: converging social and profit missions

Trialogue published the 21st edition of the Business in Society Handbook (formally the CSI Handbook) in November 2018.

I contributed to a Q&A on social enterprise. Read my answers on the nature of social enterprise in South Africa, the challenges they are facing, and the opportunities for businesses to partner with them.

Reduce overwhelm by fine-tuning your organization’s systems

Too many leaders have been consumed by their organizations. They’re too busy putting out fires to think about how they want it to run. They’re spending too much time in the “engine room” of their organization, rather than providing strategic direction from the captain’s chair.

I believe that we should learn to adequately appreciate and respect the important systems in our organizations. Then we can then begin to fine-tune them and get things running the way we’ve envisioned

There are signs of automation everywhere; fear of artificial intelligence taking jobs; and the “fourth industrial revolution” haunts the media. The good news is that if we learn to see and work with systems, then we’ll be able to benefit from these trends. We can use them to increase the sustainability and impact of our organizations.

This article will unpack my view of organizational systems and the benefits of working with them.

Keeping your non-profit organization going: which strategy do you need?

South African non-profits are struggling to generate the income they need to fulfill their purpose and sustain themselves. As such they are embarking on a mix of strategies to improve their circumstances.

However, I’ve noticed that many non-profit organizations in South Africa are confused by the differences between a “revenue strategy” or “social enterprise strategy”, an “income-generation strategy”, a “sustainability strategy”, and an “organizational strategy”. This has led to much confusion with specialists like me being asked to design one type of strategy when an organization wants and needs one of the others.

This article aims to clear up the confusion around which strategy to invest in. It will clearly explain the differences between these four strategies and indicate when each is required. It complements my social enterprise glossary which aims to improve strategic clarity through clarity of language.

A month in a consultant’s life: how I spent my time

I am increasingly obsessed with time. Maybe this is a consequence of aging. I see time moving too swiftly. I strive to make the best use of every moment.

I have conducted multiple experiments over the years to see how I can make better use of my time and be more productive at work.

This article concerns my tracking of my work time over a period of one month or 20 workdays. It will yield insight into how this freelancer (or independent management consultant) spends his time. Hopefully the results will still be useful more generally.

I also hope to address the misconception that freelancers spend all their time delivering their service. We must realize that freelancers are still running a business, and therefore need to make time for all the usual business functions within their work week.

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