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Management: 23 inexcusable sins!
March 27, 2007
No clear sustainability strategy:
No comprehensive sustainability strategy is in place to ensure the
organization is able to reproduce itself and achieve its vision.
Remember, the final test is for the organization to continue without
you. And to continue without you it requires access to resources.
Remember, sustainability does not only mean having enough funding.
It is much more than that. It starts with the intangibles like vision,
mission, strategies and values. And then it is important to have
a plan to recruit new donors, maintaining existing ones and get
them to give more, limit core expenses by developing cost containment
strategies, maximize the contribution by staff, volunteers and the
board and strengthen partnerships with NGO's in your sector.
Remember, you cannot sustain your organization by default. You must
do it by design!
No succession planning is in place. We never think of succession
until it is too late. No person is fallible and we cannot control
what will happen to anyone at any time. This is why a succession
plan is vital. And if you don't have the skills inside the
organization, then go and look outside. But have a plan in place.
You can either force staff members to take up a position or you
can prepare them for it.
management strategy in place
No risk management strategy is in place to protect the organization
against the potential loss of property, accidents, funding gaps,
staff retention, etc. We usually wait for the crisis to first hit
us before we think of putting a risk management strategy in place.
Well, will you commit resources to an organization where nobody
is aware of the risks involved in operating the organization? Surely
not? Then why do you expect donors to do it?
board is regarded as a necessary evil
There is no proper investment in board members. No inductions take
place. There is no proper recruitment strategy. Many organizations
don't even have a board development budget! The board is seen
as rubber stamp. It is what donors require. As soon as board members
start to ask difficult questions then they become a liability. Then
they are set up against the staff and critical information is kept
away from them.
is busy being busy
In most organizations everybody is so busy being busy! There is
either too little time or no time for proper planning and quality
reflection to extract valuable lessons and learnings from the field.
Staff members work for 8 hours a day or more on structured work
and leave no time for responsive work. Then they must take work
home. The result is continuous burn out and stress! Staff members
come to work with no work plan, no clear objectives related to the
strategic focus of the organization and no clear outcomes to be
achieved. The result is duplication of work, confusion, chaos and
tension reflected in personality conflicts. Then people get in each
other's way! Instead of proper communication the noise levels
start to increase!
Some organizations either have no proper objectives or when they
have it is too many. And sometimes the objectives are confused with
aims. Remember, an aim is a general statement of intent or an ideal.
It is something you wish for. An objective is a specific and measurable
activity that you engage in to achieve this ideal. It is the rung
on the ladder. The aim always comes first. Unless the objective
is clear then your specific course of action will also be unclear.
Because the way you act is the way you think! Or to put it differently,
the way you attack a problem is the way you conceptualize it. This
is why one can find staff members come after 6 months or more to
report work left undone! They are paralyzed in their thinking and
therefore paralyzed in their actions.
poor staff performance
Most leaders are not able to get rid of poor performing staff. Now
this is a very serious challenge within many NGO's. There
is a good reason for this. NGO's are value based organizations
where we work to help people change lives and so we are very reluctant
to let people go when they don't perform. We feel sorry for
people. Past attachments also influence these decisions. In fact,
we will tolerate poor performing staff and sometimes it will go
on and on. But letting the person go is not an always an option.
We may even redeploy the person, change the job description which
is a code word for trying to ignore the problem. This is dangerous.
Condoning the incompetence of one person condemns the whole organization
to mediocrity. It becomes a cancer that will eat away at the whole
organization. Any person who is incompetent and cannot deliver according
to predetermined expectations should be immediately removed for
the sake of the organization and the person her/himself.
policies in place or no implementation
There are no proper policies in place. And where policies exist
they are not implemented or implemented properly according to a
procedure. In the absence of policies it is a free for all. Leaders
do as they want. Where policies exist they are manipulated to suit
a small elite within the organization. Every decision taken becomes
ad-hoc or just to suit the moment. There is no consistency. It is
in this climate that nepotism or favouratism will rear its ugly
There is no proper financial management from the strategic plan
and its strategic objectives to the annual financial plan, quarterly
financial plan, monthly budget plan to the daily cash flow analysis.
Forget about being transparent about these plans if they exist.
Usually a small clique will control all information related to finances.
We swear to transparency but well, when it comes to finances it
goes a bit too far!
approach to funding gaps
There is a reactive approach to funding gaps. There is no proactive
response. Funding gaps is a reality for all NGO's. We cannot
control donor agendas and processes. We will always be vulnerable
to funding gaps. But we can control our response to it. Start a
reserve or sustainability fund. And don't wait for the next
funding crisis. Start today if you haven't acted already.
Remember, if you cannot pay salaries then you must blame yourself,
not the funder!
There is no organised abandonment of projects that don't work
and don't produce results. There is no creative destruction.
Some staff members become sentimentally attached to pet projects.
Sometimes we are afraid to state the obvious - that a project
is not working and not producing results. We are afraid of offending
others so we keep on pumping funding into projects that only disappoint.
We invest scarce resources into the past! And this is not all. We
will even start new projects that will consume more and more limited
resources on top of the ones that don't work. Sometimes these
projects are funded driven and not even driven by need. The worst
case scenario is that these new projects are not even funded at
all drawing resources away from other projects threatening the performance
of the projects that work and produce results.
for external evaluations
How many organizations are open to external evaluations? How many
are prepared to put themselves on trial? We always find excuses
to open ourselves up for scrutiny. We only want to hear what we
want to hear. In the process we perpetuate internal deformities
by not only allowing external evaluations. There is always not enough
funding to do this, forget about requesting others to give us an
opinion about our development practices. We fear the critical voice
always becoming defensive and not open to critique. Remember, development
is about being open and not closed!
The new trend amongst the well funded NGO's is to call in
a consultant for every little problem. Sometimes this degenerates
into only jobs for pals and it fails to develop internal capacity
in the organization and the hence the ability to deal with its own
challenges in future. Sometimes it is just sheer laziness amongst
some leaders. Remember, the solution to any problem lies inside
the organization and not with consultants. The role of the consultant
is to bring this awareness to the client and to create an environment
conducive for solutions to emerge collectively and not imposed arbitrarily
by so-called experts.
little sharing of information
There is no regular sharing of financial information and knowing
how much the other person is earning is sacrilege! This is a typical
corporate practice. Why should you be ashamed of what you earn if
you know you deserve it? Why should it be a secret what you work
for? You can only be ashamed if you know you don't deserve
what you are earning; if you know you are underperforming. Sometimes
staff will not even know who their donors are and how much they
are funding. Once again a small clique will monopolize this information,
creating the space for corruption and mismanagement of funds.
You cannot create continuous interest in your organization without
a clearly formulated communication and marketing strategy. I must
still find a NGO who can convince me that they have one and more
importantly, that it is implemented. Trapped in survival mode, many
NGO's forget to raise visibility about their work in the form
of newsletters (print and electronic), websites, blogspots, articles
in newspapers, brochures, pamphlets, letters, faxes, block e-mails,
etc. So trapped in survival mode, they forget their work is about
changing human lives and that they need to celebrate their successes.
And don't hide your challenges! Let others know about it!
And tell them what you are doing about it.
development regarded as a luxury
Staff development is considered a luxury instead of a necessity.
And where there is staff development it is usually not focused and
planned. Some staff members are sent to workshops just to fill up
places. And the aim is only for the staff member to perform better
in her/his work, i.e. it is only task focus and not also person
focused. Remember, you employ a whole human being not just half
a human being!
not congruent with true identity
The image (what you stand for in public) and true identity (what
you actually do in practice) of the organization are not the same.
What we write in our proposals, brochures, reports, not the same
as what actually happens in reality. They preach accountability
but provide each other with secret loans, salary increases, distorting
reports, etc to secure the next funding tranche. And then they get
the auditors to hide this. Some preach gender equality just to make
life difficult for females in the organization. Remember, the proper
balance between image and true identity leads to organizational
Many NGO's have a problem focused approach in their work.
They do not celebrate successes enough. They like to flog themselves
unnecessarily. When donors commit funding to projects, nobody celebrates.
It is seen as just another donor! So what? The same thing happens
when we hear success of stories of beneficiary, .g. a person who
is healed, reintegrated into a family and community, someone starting
a successful business or accessing sustainable employment, or a
policy change effected after pressure by the organizations, etc.
Instead we are looking for the next problem.
We pay lip service to a learning organization. It is more rhetoric
than substance. Instead of seeing the learning organization as a
means to an end it is approached more as an end in itself like some
renowned American academics do. Learning is viewed as a neutral
construct and not a process influenced by power relations. The learning
organization is not viewed in the context of a world of globalization,
etc. and as a tool to end social and economic relations based on
inequality and injustice.
Now here is a common illness. Too many meetings leading to analysis
paralysis, i.e. we analyze so much that we become paralyzed. More
time is spent inside instead of outside the organization where the
need and opportunities are. Remember, sometimes you may not only
have too many meetings but you may sit with the wrong people attending
meetings. The first question to ask when organizing a meeting is
not who should attend but who should NOT attend! Remember, you cannot
work and meet at the same time!
Financial accounting may be fine. But this is not enough. You need
to account socially as well. This is about accountability to the
vision and mission of the organization. That means keeping all relevant
stakeholders informed about both your challenges and successes.
It is your duty to do this. Failure to do this will slowly but surely
cause your organization to become irrelevant and degenerate into
job creation for a few individuals. Whilst funding last of course!
There is no tracking of beneficiaries to check the impact of their
work. If you want to establish the impact of your work then they
are the best people to tell you what worked and what did not work.
But we forget about them due to crisis management and losing focus
on the real reason why we exist. For e.g. it is rare to find educare
centres who track children when they reach primary or high school
or youth development centers who track youth accessing employment,
etc. We simply don't care. It is too much of a cost! It takes
too much time! And we are always busy being busy . . .
and nepotism in the sector
There is no sharing or little sharing of information and other resources
within the sector itself. Most of the time we are governed by a
scarcity mentality, i.e. that there is always not enough for everyone!
We fall into the mindless corporate trap of competing with each
other instead of cooperating. And even where forums or networks
exist to promote sharing of resources, these will descend into private
clubs to keep others out and not bring new ones in.
note: This list is far from exhausted. So feel free to
add other sins. We can only learn what to do and do it right if
we know what not to do and what is simply just wrong and unacceptable!
the task of a true leader is to create more leaders not followers!"
(John Maxwell) "A manager is paid to be uncomfortable. If you
are comfortable then it is a sure sign that you are doing something
wrong." (Peter Drucker)
Frank Julie, independent development consultant and author of "The
Art of Leadership and Management on the Ground" (A practical
guide for leaders and managers to develop sustainable organizations
for permanent social change)
To read more
about the book, view its detailed contents and comments from community
leaders and academics around the world, please go to www.frankjulieblogspot.com
To order the
book and get a free list of donors in South Africa, please e-mail
Zandile Stols (PA) at firstname.lastname@example.org
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