Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Duct tape on a bumper, band aid on an amputation- costly short sighted thinking

Growing up, my Dad always taught me that once a car had been in an accident, no matter how good the repair, you don’t want to drive it again. Instead, spend the money and get a new car that hasn’t been in an accident.  He’s reasoning became so clear one night around 11pm at the top of a hill when my newly repaired car died because of a wiring problem that was overlooked during the body repairs to it. I appreciated his advice as the city bus bore down on me in my stalled car even more and I ran for the hills. It’s like that in our industry too, with short sided thinking costing us more in the end than the initial expense that no one wants to swallow.

So here’s the thing I’ve noticed a great deal about non profits. We tend to plan and run at the same time, often with damaging results. Think about it in terms of growing up; you were always told not to run with scissors and pencils, it can get pointy. It’s just a short term model of thinking that has a few drawbacks, among them: it can be costly both financially and in human resources, its short sided and doesn’t allow for long term strategy, and does not benefit the organization in a directed strategic manner.

We see this far too often in donor relations and events especially. Lack of prior planning turns into emergencies and hastily done projects at the expense of the greater good.  People are newly hired (sometimes without the proper training or background of skills) and upon their laps is laid all of the responsibilities of building a program, all at once, oh and by the way with limited or no resources.  Instead, I always advise folks to take one project, plan and do it really well, hone and refine it and then move on to the next task.  It isn’t just frustrating; it’s dangerous.  In the rush, large and small details can be overlooked that can truly be costly.  It is much better to spend a little time and money up front than try to fix the problem later. You end up spending more time and money in the end and in the meantime, there can be large amounts of frustration and waste.

So how do we solve this problem? We can be a force of change, a voice of reason and a resource for those who need true problem solving. I have my reputation in the industry as a fixer for a reason (think Olivia Pope for you Scandal fans). I can come in, assess the Situation when I arrive, build Tasks to help solve the problem, define the Actions taken and express the Results. It’s called the STAR approach. But I go a step further and have people understand what could have prevented this in the first place. We learn how to avoid these emergencies that need fixing and build enhanced thought processes for the future.  It’s a valuable and important skill.

The other half of that fixing is the willingness to be able to be a vocal advocate before the train wreck happens.  I’m okay with being the one to speak up and voice concerns. You can’t be afraid. You have to take a risk by opening your mouth and not letting mediocrity happen.  But when you do, make sure you have the data to back it up. Make sure you don’t just voice a problem; you also bring three solutions with you as well.  The more you do this, the more valuable you will become in the process and the organization.  Help people set boundaries and proper strategic planning. You can be very effective by helping folks invest in infrastructure, plan using cost analysis and be strategic in their decision making.  And when you plan for costs, by all means demonstrate that spending $4000 up front is actually much cheaper than spending $8000 in two years.

I’m happy to help people solve problems; I’m a fixer. But I’m also a strategic planner, and would rather avoid those pressure packed situations where I’m scrambling for a solution and wiping sweat off of my brow and exhaling when they work. Hyper-focused fixing is just planning in the short term, taking the whole strategic process and condensing it. Let me tell you folks, it makes for many sleepless nights and can wear your out! So how have you helped your organization think in more long term frameworks? I would love to hear your commentary on this theory.


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