November 17, 2017
 
Nonprofits Need to Align Key Components to Meet New Demands

By Dan L. Gibbons

Dan Gibbons
Nonprofits, under pressure to meet ever-increasing demands to do more with less, should first ensure that the major components of their organizations are aligned so they can make the best use of resources to increase performance and better accomplish their goals.

Organizational alignment ensures that the mission, vision, values, strategies, structures, personnel, leadership, culture, policies, and operational and service delivery systems are linked and in sync.

Few nonprofits make the effort to align these components on a regular basis; most often it occurs when the organization is under stress, e.g., transitioning of an executive director, especially the exiting of a founder, or a crisis such as the loss of major funding.

Although not a silver bullet for optimizing performance, organizational alignment offers significant benefits, including:
  • Making everyone keenly aware of mission drift, the unintentional moving away from the stated original mission. This could be caused by, among other things, conflict between espoused and practiced values, uncritical pursuance of monies, etc. Or perhaps it really is time to seriously reconsider your organization’s mission.

  • Ensuring that everyone shares a common understanding of desired organizational goals. Individual staff members may work on different sections of the “puzzle” but it is still the same organizational puzzle everyone works cooperatively on to complete. This reduces the conflict between what gets done and how things get done.

  • Linking performance measurements to strategic goals throughout the organization. This means that all personnel at any given time, regardless of departments and/or programs, understand what the organizational goals are and how performances are being judged.

  • Lowering costs from reduction in errors, missteps, and competing priorities. An aligned organization is more strategically and operationally efficient by having everyone on the same page moving in the same direction

  • Boosting internal morale and generating external support. Aligning the organization exposes value incongruities and lets you correct them, which is important, as staff, clients, stakeholders, and resource providers will experience any inconsistencies when interacting with your organization.
There are various approaches to creating greater organizational alignment, each emphasizing different themes, such as systemic, strategic, process, components, etc. Whatever approach one takes, the following tips will help achieve optimal results.
  • First and foremost be brutally honest. If you have to rationalize an alignment, the components being examined are probably incongruent.

  • Alignment entails clear and obvious direct support of one organizational component for another. Ask the two “acid test” questions:
    1. Does Component B (e.g., our youth program) directly support Component A (e.g., our mission)? Does Component E (e.g., our IT system) directly support Component B? And so forth.
    2. If so, how? These interdependencies should be clear and obvious.

  • Be advised that all nonconformity in your organizational alignment efforts need not be eliminated. Some is necessary for creativity and innovative thinking, in which case some latitude needs to be afforded to the creative personalities.

  • All organizational alignment, regardless of complexity level, involves change. This is why you are undertaking it – to adjust to new circumstances and demands. Hence, engagement in some aspect of change management is required.

  • Lastly, your organization’s culture will be involved. This doesn’t mean wholesale change, but it should be examined to ensure support for your organizational alignment efforts.
Organizations are complex dynamic systems with components that are constantly interacting among themselves, and interacting with an ever changing environment. An organizational alignment is a tool that will help your organization keep pace and achieve top performance in this environmental flux. What might seem at the outset like a challenging effort will become an important part of your managerial norm.

Dan Gibbons is an organizational effectiveness consultant to nonprofits with more than 25 years of management experience. He can be reached at 508-345-4053 or at Maxeffect1@aol.com.
May 2012

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