The first step to strategy formulation for Non-profits, and for that matter, any company "Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”
- John D. Rockefeller
Most of you are doing good work, both in terms of the nature and quality of the programmes and services you are providing to your clients. But can we do better? Is our Service Model appropriate, superior and sustainable? Are we “distinctly relevant?”
1. Current Profile Analysis
Our Strategic Thinking framework for Non-profits to help Non-profit organisations go from “mere existence” to achieving Distinct Relevance, starts with an analysis of ‘Where You Are’, manifested firstly by your Current Profile and, secondly, by your position in your ‘Sandbox’.
As they say, “You can’t improve anything if you can’t define it.” You can’t get where you want to be if you lack self-awareness now. Hence the emphasis in our methodology to analyse, name, and define our Current Profile (that picture of who we are right now), our current position and Operating Concept.
2. The Steps: Time-efficient, Proven, Repeatable
Suppose you wish to do such an exercise internally within your organization. How would you go about this? What steps would you take? Over the next few minutes, we will share with you a proven and repeatable methodology you can follow.
2.1 Identifying common characteristics across key elements of your Current Profile
As the subtitle suggests, the first step in creating that ‘picture’ of who you currently are, starts with identifying characteristics that are common across your organisation’s major programmes or services, clients/ service users, partners, and geographic markets.
Notice the emphasis on ‘characteristics’? All too often, organisations slip into creating a list of programme components, without identifying characteristics. “Mastering Circles” is a programme component of “Caricature Drawing”. “All programmes require the student to be tested on a basic level of proficiency” is a clear and self- explanatory statement describing a characteristic.
Characteristics may be a description of the programme or of the need it fills. It may also be a description of how it is developed, marketed or distributed. What is the scope of current programmes and services? How are these programmes and services grouped? What trends and cycles do they experience? Think also about their Function, Applications, Evolution, Components, Properties, Users/ Clients, Duration, Uniqueness, and if applicable, Price, Technology and Certification.
We also emphasise the identification of not just characteristics but common characteristics that cut across all major programmes and services. You’d first need to list all your major programmes and services. These are what you exist to do - not your minor programmes but your major ones.
Write a short and self-explanatory phrase that articulates the common characteristics that come to mind. Remember that others (and future generations) need to be able to understand your statements without the benefit of you presenting the findings or data to them.
Repeat the above to identify common characteristics for most of your programmes/ services. Not the 15% which are your ‘star’ or special programmes but the 67%, the bread and butter programmes for which if these stop today, you may cease to exist.
Repeat the above two steps for the following areas. Some of the questions posed under Programmes/ Services Characteristics will also apply.
What are the locations that you serve? Where do you operate in? (List countries/ regions/ areas)
What common characteristics best describe all and most of your geographic ‘markets’?
Service users/ Clients/ Partners
What service users/ client groups are you serving?
Who are your partners?
Service users/ Clients/ Partners can be organisations or ‘warm bodies’
What is the growth of these groups in the last few years?
What characteristics are common to all and most of your service users/ clients?
What characteristics are common to all and most of your partners?
Think also about Size, Geography/ Location, Industry, Terms & Conditions, Nature of ‘business’, Clientele, and History
In all these, we want to unravel what makes you tick, to understand your operating concept and discover the Strategic Capabilities that are giving you momentum.
2.2 Uncovering the Dynamics of your Current ‘Sandbox’ and your Current Position in it
No organisation exists in a vacuum and what makes you tick must be understood within the dynamics of your current ‘playing field’ and in relation to the positions of the other players in the ‘Sandbox’. (i.e. sector or sectors that you are in).
This second part of the exercise requires you to construct your current (in our parlance) ‘Sandbox’. The caveat here is to focus on the word ‘Current’; not the Future Sandbox which we see ourselves being part of, but the here and now.
You will be surprised at the differing views and assumptions that will surface from amongst even a small group of leaders at the helm of organisations at such a discussion. For example, is an organisation serving persons with Dementia operating in the Elder Care space, the Mental Health space, or more specifically the Dementia Care space? How you define your Current Sandbox will determine the breadth and depth of the players you name, who have control and influence over the terms of play.
If you will, think of it as a ‘food chain’ or value chain going from broad to narrow, upstream and downstream. In constructing the value-chain, put in answers to the following questions in the order below:
What is the Sandbox that we are in?
Draw and name the key groups of players e.g. Regulators, Funders, Think Tanks etc.
Who, specifically, are key Players in this ‘Sandbox’? Name significant organisations or categories of players under each Group. E.g. Think Tanks/ International Organisations; World Health Organisation, Research Organisations on Women’s Rights etc.
Who is in control of the ‘rules’ (or modus operandi) for the entire ‘Sandbox’? Identify them. Usually there is only one authority of control.
Who influences the rules?
What are they doing to achieve these?
What is your position? Are you an influencer? How are you influencing?
Consider, for example, a company in the Pet Care & Food ‘Sandbox’. The sketch of its Sandbox could look somewhat like this.
An online search will throw up various other pictorial models you can use (e.g. concentric circles, pyramid etc.) to depict such a value-chain relationship. Use any that will be clearly understood by your team.
3. Who should be involved?
In our practice, such an analysis is done either as part of a breakout-style powwow at the start of a strategy formulation retreat and then presented, or as pre-work leading up to a strategy formulation session.
In the case of the latter, it is best to form a cross-functional team of four to six members who are able to go deep on the common characteristics, who understand the dynamics of the sector and who have had a few years of experience with your organisation. This task can be allotted two to three months for members to meaningfully contribute, make reviews and enhancements as well as juggle their day-to-day duties.
This pre-work then gets circulated to all attending the strategy formulation session with enough time for readers to digest the information, make their own reflections and notes, and come prepared to share their points to enhance the team’s work – which forms a key part of the inputs to the strategy formulation process.
Organisations who use our services will see our DPI professionals facilitating the entire process, offering coaching offline and/or via face to face consultations, and synthesising the information for a clear picture of an organisation’s Operating Concept, Strategic Capabilities and Driving Force – a concept that is unique to DPI, which we will touch on in subsequent articles.
4. What can you do next?
Organisational self-awareness is always a critical first step if you have in mind a strategy review or formulation in the short to mid term. The year-end or start of the year is a good time to take stock of where you are as an organisation and make plans to move forward in the next 3-5 years.
If you plan to DIY and have found this article useful, by all means, use this internally to open the channels of communication with your managers, and start the process of creating a strategy (your shared strategy), owned by the very same people who will implement it, for the Distinct Relevance that will change the social purpose landscape, for good.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the scale of the task, just start from the start! All the best for the New Year!
‘Taking Stock of your Current Realities’ is the first of an article series from DPI Asia to aid Non-profits in their strategic thinking.
The materials provided herein are for Non-profit organisations’ internal use and reference only. Training using materials from this article is expressly forbidden except by facilitators certified by DPI Asia pursuant to the terms and conditions of a Licensee Agreement (License) between DPI Asia and the entity.
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© Decision Processes International Asia. All Rights Reserved. November 2017