I was invited by two board members of a large social organization to give a seminar to the Board of Directors. This organization has been doing years of good work among the underprivileged. On asking the context for the seminar, I understood that they had certain organizational efficiency issues and there was hesitation from a few in the Board to accept what exactly the problem was. Hence these folks who approached me thought I could help bring in a perspective which will ‘encourage’ the rest of the Board to tackle the problem head on. An interview with some of the Board members made it very clear what exactly needs to be fixed in the organization. With that finding, I designed and presented my seminar with couple of case studies. I had to respect my hosts’ desire that I do not catch the bull by the horn, and hence had to cleverly mask the obvious.My seminar was well received. Many of the Board Members who I had not talked to earlier were delighted that my communication was quite clear about their organization’s health, and they recognized that the problem was obvious. They understood. They nodded. They went back.
A few weeks later, I checked with one of the Board Members who had contacted me whether the Board was able to take the right decision. He told me that the Board was hesitant to do that because of certain human factors issues, though they were fully aware that it was impeding growth and health of the organization. So they are now looking at creating another role to fix the issue!
If you car engine has a problem, you would not fix it by a spoiler in the rear! If that sounds ridiculous to us, why does the hesitation to not fix the obvious problems not surprise us equally well. If the heart artery needs a bypass, it needs a bypass, and it cannot be fixed by inhaling fresh air everyday. Many organizations unfortunately lack the small boy who shouted that the Emperor has no clothes after all!
This story is not just in social sector organizations. I have seen similar incidents in the corporate world also. However, in the corporate world, such evasion of action typically does not go a long way since the topline and bottomline are at stake, and the results would be obvious to the investors and stakeholders. On the other hand, in the social sector, if the organizations do not have a clear way of measuring the impact, then the surgery that is needed in the organization gets postponed, and the impact of the organization will come down slowly, with no one realizing the slow death. These decisions become even more difficult when some of the founders of the organization are now the cause for the bad health. In the absence of metrics, the feelings many times overpower logic.
Let us not shy away to fix the inside if the problem is inside. Cosmetics can only take us forward only for a short while before the warts get exposed. In the case of the social organizations, the target community is a bigger stakeholder than the individuals involved. The commitment to them can help us take the right steps to fix the issues and move on to larger impact.
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