More on outcomes being about what comes out rather than what goes in.

Missions and beliefs….strategic plans… … job descriptions…data base. These are among the items included in that stolid list of nonprofit practices. I discovered with colleagues at TRI after working with over 300 individual nonprofits that this list is hallowed by tradition far more than by effectiveness. Why? It speaks to what goes in rather than what comes out. For example:

  • I rarely meet a nonprofit with bad values or ones bereft of a wordsmithed mission statement. But I sure see many who do not fully understand, build and hire to the core know how they must have to fulfill that mission and put the beliefs into practice.  Core know- how answers two questions: 1) What business are we in? and 2) What do we know how to do especially well?

  • Strategic plans are documents. They are stuffed with goals and aspirations and with work plans but lack that middle connector that makes all behavior intentional to achieving defined success. Let’s get from plans to strategic maps that literally show present location, destination, routes, and both obstacles and opportunities.  Maps have far more visual explanation than do plans and prompt improvement not rearrangement of words on screen or paper.

  • Job descriptions speak to what goes in… will supervise x people and be responsible for y functions. Few employees report any excitement with this summary of what they do and even who they are at work. How much more powerful is a result description which tells everyone what they have to achieve in the next six months to be highly successful. Job descriptions separate people—this is your job and this is mine. Result descriptions convene people in that you most typically cannot achieve great results without collaboration.

  • Data bases are seen as a technology issues—we need the right software to fulfill funder requirements, insure privacy, and track the flow of people through our programs to verification of outcomes. But we find that when groups get the data bases they have coveted, it may make no difference in how much they achieve for the people they serve.  That requires data use.  People need readiness and capability to use information to improve performance not just report it to funders and stakeholders.

In these and many other areas, I approach outcome guiding by always moving from what goes in to what comes out.

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