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Is It Time To Change Your Strategic Heartbeat?

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

The heart is the central organ that pumps life to the rest of the body. You may think the brain is the central control system but the heart, it keeps the whole body alive.

Your organisation’s Driving Force is the Strategic Heartbeat and the reason that the organisation is alive. It directs your purpose. Your supporting operational pillars, even your Strategy itself, though important, takes direction from this Heartbeat. Your organisation’s Heartbeat or Driving Force is like the engine of a train – it leads the rest of the components in your organisation.

All hearts in the organisation must beat as one; members must stand behind one Driving Force. The organisation’s Driving Force, just as with the Strategy, must be explicitly understood by all and cannot reside only in the head of the Chairperson, Chief Executive or Executive Director. Do all members of your organisation clearly know that one drumbeat that you go by? Do your induction programmes communicate this explicitly? Is the Leadership even clear what this one heartbeat is, the reason you exist?

Is this heartbeat still beating a relevant tune vis a vis changes to the internal and external environment? Is it time to shake out of mere existence, reinvigorate the organisation, align your members and discover a new and changed heartbeat?

4.1 Understanding your Current Driving Force

So, exactly what is “Driving Force”?

The concept of what we call Driving Force is central and unique to DPI’s methodology. It is that one element or component of an organisation that determines the nature of the programmes/ services, clients, partners, issues/ sub- issues, and geographic markets. It drives an organisation towards certain programmes, to address certain issues and client groups, and to serve in certain geographic markets. It helps Boards and Management decide on which leads and opportunities they will chase or not chase, where resources should go or not go. Thus, it determines that organisation’s ‘look’ or profile.

4.2 Ten components, One Driving Force

What, then, are some of the key components of an organisation that drive its strategy, and thus, the decisions of Board and Management as to what they choose to emphasise or de-emphasise?

Figure 4.2.1 shows you our concept of a universal “business” model. Every organisation’s business model, we find, is made up of some or all of these 10 important strategic components:

  • Technology/ Know-how

  • Resources Capacities/ Capabilities

  • Programmes/ Services

  • Outreach/ Marketing methods

  • Distribution methods

  • Clients/ Partners

  • Geographic “Markets”/ Sectors/ Sub-sectors/ Issue types/ categories

  • Size/ Growth

  • Outcomes/ Output

Fig 4.2.1

If we may use a simple illustration to explain the above diagram: Programmes or Services almost always flow from three components - Resources and/ or Technology/ Know-how feeding into Capabilities/ Capacities to arrive at Programmes/ Services which an organisation carries out. Going back to our earlier example on The ART (Assumption Restaurant for Training), the land (Resources) accords us the 5000 square foot space for a versatile training restaurant, which taps on the F&B and catering expertise of our partners and our team of dedicated and experienced staff and volunteers (Capabilities). These all add up to enable holding up The ART of Assumption Pathway School (APS) as a model for F&B vocational training (Programme) for youths unable to access mainstream secondary school.

Programmes/ Services are then marketed and distributed via networks or channels, through effective and collaborative Partnerships to reach service-users and clients, address certain sectorial issues and serve specific geographic markets. These are then measured in terms of growth or outcomes and/ output.

Although all of these components are present in most organisations, only one of these is strategically most important to any one organisation at any one point in time, and is the engine or purpose that propels the organisation forward.

4.3 Your Driving Force and Strategic Capabilities

Once an organisation’s Leadership understands which Driving Force is at the root of the organisation’s strategy, it can then come to grasp about which Strategic Capabilities it must logically hone and how it can set priorities and allocate finite and precious resources.

Strategic Capabilities are describable skills or competencies that an organisation deliberately cultivates to a level of proficiency greater than anything else it does and particularly better than any other player. These capabilities take time to build and endure alongside an organisation’s Driving Force.

4.3.1 Strategy driven by Programme/ Service

An organisation that does counselling per se is what we would call a Programme/ Service driven organisation. The next Programme/ Service that will come out of the organisation? One that is counselling in nature, be it Youth counselling, Marital counselling, Addiction counselling or Gerentological counselling. In the consumer world, what would be the next product you would expect to come out of a brand like Rolex? Yes, another watch!

A Programme/ Service driven organisation must excel logically and especially in Programme/ Service Development and Promulgation. Its Strategic Capabilities in service development, implementation and making that service understood and known must be honed far above anything else. It must know the latest and greatest in counselling trends and practices, new research and findings, and what is being debated out there in the “market”, amongst other things. The implementation has to work as well as the service itself, and clients/ potential clients must have a way of knowing about and accessing info about its services.

(You will realise that it is not rocket science. That’s why we call it “Strategy, Pure and Simple”. Although “simple” is not always “easy”)

4.3.2 Strategy driven by Client Class

An organisation that targets or serves only at-risk youths is client-class driven. All its programmes work towards serving youths-at-risk, and meeting the needs of this class of service users/ clients is the reason the organisation exists. Future programmes and service enhancements would be made solely to better serve this user class.

In this case, the organisation would value client knowledge and by extension, client “research” above all else. It would also have to ensure that it captures its clients’ loyalty and is able to hold them as clients until objectives are met.

4.3.3 Strategy driven by “Market” or Sector Type

An organisation like the Social Service Institute (SSI) would be an example of a “Market” Type driven organisation. In this case, the SSI serves to build capabilities for the Social Service Sector. raiSE, The Singapore Centre for Social Enterprises, is another example of a sector type driven organisation serving as a sector developer and a membership body to raise awareness and support for social entrepreneurship in Singapore.

An organisation that exists to serve only a specific “market” or sector/ sub-sector must then excel at market knowledge and research, to intricately understand and anticipate (both the explicit and implicit needs of their target market(s). Similar to a client-type driven organisation, a “market” type organisation must build client loyalty within the market pool. Whether Client or Market type, the essence of having to get beneath the surface and know your market/ client deeply and respond to their hierarchy of needs, remains. The difference? A Client Class driven organisation serves “warm bodies”, a Market type driven one doesn't necessarily.

4.3.4 Strategy driven by Technology/ Know-how

An organisation that is always researching, developing new practice or care models, testing, and pushing the frontiers of knowledge acquisition and new findings is likely to be one that is know-how driven. Perhaps less of the “technology” end of the spectrum in the non-profit world today (although more and more going into the future in this technology- permeated age), but we do see good examples of know-how driven organisations in the social service landscape in Singapore. Tsao Foundation is one such example of a know-how or knowledge-driven organisation that is pushing the boundaries of empowering matured persons to master their own ageing journey over the life course in terms of self- care, growth and development. Think Tanks are also more likely than not, knowledge/ know-how driven.

Strategic Capabilities in Research and Application Optimisation are two areas of excellence that a know-how driven organisation must have, in order to be a thought and practice leader, and a knowledge hub in their area of specialisation.

4.3.5 Strategy driven by Facility Capacity or Capability

A Facility Capacity-driven organisation is one that operates on the need to optimise facility capacity. In a typical state- operated school, it would be right to say that the facility is built for a certain anticipated capacity and when cohorts or intakes drop, that’s when land-scarce countries like Singapore have to think about merging schools or extending its facilities such as school fields, running tracks or badminton halls for public usage on weekends, so that precious capacity-built spaces and facilities can be freed up for other uses or better optimised. Commercial companies such as airlines and hotels are driven by the need to fill every empty plane seat and hotel room. Low cost manufacturing companies are driven by factory production capacity - it’s a volume game with round the clock production and as little down time as possible.

The business concept of a Facility Capability-driven organisation centers around the need and ability to leverage its capability-built facility. Hospitals are good examples, housing millions of dollars’ worth of state-of-the-art diagnostic, surgical aid and other medical equipment.

An organisation which is driven by facility capacity or capability needs to have the underpinnings of strong Operating Efficiency and Substitution Marketing. Whether you are filling up capacity or leveraing faciity capabilty, the “use rate” must justify the sunk costs – afterall, facilities and space, especially in Singapore, entail high investment costs and high-tech equipment is almost always capital intensive. Also, the “use rate” must come about as efficiently and at as fast a turn as can be expected, while providing value and quality.

Such an organisation would also be thinking about how to get other users to switch over or give preference to them for services over other providers. Budget airlines now pop up as first choice for the cost conscious customer who values ala carte choices of flight add-ons (still at value prices) over a full-fare packaged alternative. Big group travellers can now rent an entire cottage, complete with on site mini farms and play yards for some with the advent of Airbnb, at a fraction of the cost – bye bye adjoining hotel rooms or suites. In substitution marketing, unlike direct competition, the substitute is often not a duplicate of the original service but one that “solves the same customer problem”.

Closer to the social/ community space, we see many services such as day surgeries, less intrusive/ complicated procedures, or managed chronic illnesses being attended to or treated at Community Hospitals, less as a result of price competition but more as arising from the need for better resource efficiency – lessons those of us in the capacity/ capability-driven Non-profit “business” can learn from, as to how we may think out-of-the-box using substitution marketing, for ideas that may lift the overall sector/ sub-sector.

4.3.6 Strategy driven by Marketing Method

Crowd Funding, Kick Starter, Giveasia and other online/ blended giving or campaigning platforms are examples of strategies that are driven by Marketing Method. You have a cause or an idea, you market, sell, broadcast it and those who identify with it and buy into it can contribute directly towards funding it. Selling effectiveness is a strategic capability that such an organisation must hone – is it easy to give? How many clicks does it take? In multi-level marketing as with the property and insurance agencies, or in paid fundraising, sales recruitment is also of utmost importance – bringing in either capable sales people and/ or voluminous numbers of sales people with lower upfront cost.

4.3.7 Strategy driven by Distribution Method

A familiar example of a strategy driven by Distribution is the Family Service Centre (FSC) network under the purview of the Ministry for Social and Family Development. Each FSC serves the residents within the demarcated zone. Amazon, too thrives on the distribution method. What would be required in its well of strategic capabilities? System effectiveness and organisation. The set up and its “tentacles” and nodes need to work as a seamless ONE, and if you look at Amazon, now with Amazon Prime adding to the perfection of that system.

4.3.8 Strategy driven by Natural Resources

Even though our nation is natural resource scarce, we see regional and international Non-profit groups such as WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) and Palm Oil and Mining companies using Singapore as a regional base for their sourcing, marketing, research and distribution hub, within a natural resource rich, developing ASEAN region. With the rise of green consumerism in an increasingly transparent world, natural resource driven organisations must ensure that Think Tanks and NGOs focused on conservations are on the ‘must engage’ list as partners, consultants and collaborators for Exploration that does not leave the earth in deficit, and that is coupled with high-yield, zero-waste Conversions that has Circularity as the end goal.

4.3.9 Strategy driven by Size/ Growth

More applicable to a commercial environment, a strategy that is driven by size or growth leverages the strategic capabilities of volume maximisation and asset management. In such a set up, size matters and growth is their ultimate goal – to gain market share, share of revenue, mind share and other related measures, to be a formidable force in the market place. In the social impact space, sometimes size does also matter – when new care models are tested, proven, gain traction and scaled up; when your service user pool is so large that the organisation’s voice on the policy influence front, from a ground-up perspective, is hard to ignore.

4.3.10 Strategy driven by Returns/ Outcome

Wherein the for-profit world we talk about “returns”, with non-profits, “outcomes” may perhaps be a more commonly pursued end goal. A pregnancy crisis service with a mission to prevent abandoned babies is an example of an outcome-driven strategy. In a “returns” driven concept, portfolio management, as with a basket of stocks, is critical. Information systems that enable the assessment of whether the expected outcomes have been met, is also mission critical. Another example of an outcome-driven strategy? Singapore’s national family planning schemes that encourage “two or more (children) if you can afford it” is one such drive.

Pause for Reflection

  • Which is your organisation’s current Driving Force?

  • Is there enough “petrol in the tank” in your current Driving Force to help you achieve your Vision/ Mission?

  • Is there a potential “knock out punch” in the future operating environment?

  • Would you be better placed to achieve your Vision/ Mission if you explored other Driving Forces as you review your internal realities, the current playing field and the Future Operating Environment?

  • Which one then should be the Driving Force to move your organisation to Distinct Relevance?

‘Is It Time to Change your Strategic Heartbeat?’ is the fourth of an article series from DPI Asia to aid Non-profits in their strategic thinking. Look out for our next article where we will outline the steps for drawing up the possible Options and Scenarios to guide your future direction.

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.

No part of this article and its contents may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, for any purpose without the expressed written permission of DPI Asia.

© Decision Processes International Asia. All Rights Reserved. January 2019


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