Organizational Health: Answering the Growth or Decline Questions

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2I read a blog post by Seth Godin recently that discusses a variety of options on how to organize one's business for growth. The article is spot-on and illustrates the high demand we see for process design: the right answer isn't clear from the outset, but must emerge from values and vision, not just from reacting to the current situation. There is more than one way to design one's work to meet the demands of the present based upon what the desired outcome is. Choosing that is where wisdom and discernment meet good process.

Growing a business (or nonprofit, or congregation, or federation, or network, or franchise, or brand) can be just as challenging, and sometimes just as frustrating, as leading a declining, shrinking organization. Just think through these questions:

1. How can we maintain quality service with such limited resources?

2. Our staffing model is struggling to meet new, unanticipated needs. How do we restructure without destroying morale and effectiveness? 

3. We aren't as relevant to our most solid customer/client/constituency/membership base as we were, and increased disaffection from them saddens us in terms of relationships and challenges the bottom line. Do we retool to rebuild these relationships, pursue the new relationships, or somehow do both?

4. My training didn't equip me for this situation. How do I get up to speed without losing momentum?

5. If I introduce some new product / service / program, what will that do to the current items on offer and those loyal to them? Growing_and_Declining_Orgs

6. If we stop doing what we used to do, how we used to do it, what impact will that have on us moving forward?

7. How do we keep costs aligned with revenues as we scale?

8. Our most loyal and vocal relationships are connected to a net loss event / service / product / program. How do we rectify that while building the brand, not harming it? 

9. How do our key relationships feel about us? How can we find out? 

10. What customer/client/constituency/membership relationships are we missing out on? What do those people want? How do we find out? How do we match up our events / services / products / programs to meet their needs? How do we do all of that sustainably?

11. A disruptor has entered the marketplace. How do we respond?

12. What is our vision, what are our values?

Notice that these questions are the same questions for both growing and shrinking organizations. The tone they take on may be different because of the larger narrative they are written in, but the questions are the same. Those narratives are often growth/innovation/hope, or decline/loss/fear. These narratives speak to the organization's history as well as the vision the leaders hold.

This means there is real opportunity for leaders to wrestle with the overarching narratives of growth, sustainability and decline: for growth can become decline, and decline can become growth, depending on how leaders approach the questions and implement their answers. 

How will you seize your opportunity?

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, organizational design, organizational decision making

How Much Does It Cost? The Importance of Process Design

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Usually very early on in a conversation with a prospective client, I hear one of two interrelated questions: "How much is this going to cost?" and/or "How long is this going to take?" 

These are very valid, and very important questions in any work we do. We certainly want to acquit ourselves well in efficiency of both time and expense. However, in many cases, these questions are very difficult to answer up front. In organizational design, the real answers to those questions are as much dependent on the client - their complexity, their goals, the speed at which decisions are made, the "institutional will," and so on - as they are dependent on the skill, expertise, or quality of the consultant

matthew-thomas-2How, then, do we go about answering those questions?  

For basic engagements, we work through a series of questions, ones that may be familiar from school essay-writing:

  • Why (Why this work? Why us?)?
  • Who is involved (who supervises, who funds, who signs off, who approves, who must be consulted along the way)?
  • What detailed outcomes or deliverables do we expect?
  • Where is the work to be done?
  • When does the work need to take place?
  • How shall we proceed?

Once we work through those, answering the cost and time questions is a lot easier. We find that working from clear objectives in this manner helps bring clarity to the client's situation even from before the work begins. 

Many times, though, the full nature of the work required to solve the problem is still not clear even after asking all those clarifying questions. The reason is, typically, that the client still is operating with some unknowns, and does not have key pieces of information to give to the consultant that would help specify what is needed. In those cases, we have two options: either work from our educated best guess as to what we think it will take (which may or may not have enough information to be accurate in the first place), or design a process whereby the missing information may be obtained, within an assessment and discovery process, all of which points toward a clear way of moving forward, reflected by clearer answers to our six questions.  

This process design allows everyone involved to take a step back, lower the heat a bit, and create a way forward that is the most timely and cost-effective given the nature of the problem and its solution. With truly complex situations, everyone understands that working toward solving one problem may surface other related, but as-yet unaddressed problems. 

Design Group International helps organizations and their leaders transform for a vibrant future. We are committed to doing just that, from the earliest stages of conversation to the completed work. We have found that using this method helps increase client satisfaction and helps our consultants really provide the help we desire to offer. 

If you're reading this, and thinking, "I think this process approach might really help a situation I'm in," then I invite you to click the button below to begin a process conversation with us. 

It matters.


If you're reading this, and thinking, "This approach to problem-solving and organizational design really fits me; I'd like to see what it might take to link up with Design Group International to build my practice," then I invite you to click the button below to begin a conversation about whether Design Group International might be a consulting home for you. 

I think Design Group International might be for me. Let's talk!

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Topics: process design, Matthew Thomas, organizational design

Introducing the Five Stewardship Confusions

Posted by Matthew Thomas

I recently had the opportunity to present a workshop on Five Stewardship Confusions and the Four Financial Confusions to a group of congregational leaders. We have written some on the Four Financial Confusions before: Mark’s original summary post is here, and by clicking the button below you can get the free e-book on the topic.

4 Financial Confusions Get the free e-book

matthew-thomas-2The Five Stewardship Confusions is new material developed from the work of Mark L. Vincent and others that addresses some of the issues that get leaders of congregations and ministries stuck. The Five Confusions are:

  1. Confusing Stewardship with Fundraising
  2. Confusing a lack of direct conversation about money with the inability to discuss financial matters
  3. Confusing giving to your organization’s vision and impact with giving to the budget
  4. Confusing tithing with generosity as the goal of stewardship
  5. Confusing regular giving with the full giving capacity of a donor

Over the next few months, we will look at each one of these in turn.

In the mean time, if you are interested in exploring how these confusions impact your organization, we would be glad to talk with you. Click the button below and we can discuss options for working through these confusions in your context.

It matters.

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, organizational design, Five Stewardship Confusions

Organizational Design: When the Same People are Governing and Doing

Posted by Matthew Thomas

In settings where a board in a church, non-profit or government-connected organization acts both as the governing body for the organization and the primary people getting the work done, there is often a need to separate the task roles from the governance roles that the board plays.

Purpose tends to get bogged down in projects. Boards that are responsible both for governance and for getting the work done are extremely susceptible to this.

One strategy for dealing with this may be to take one meeting out of every four and make it all about purpose and mission – in the sense of what kind of big-picture goals the board has. This purpose and mission should operate at a high level: not merely, “we want to do x number of events this year,” but “this is the kind of impact we want to have on our organization, our community, and our world.” As these purposes develop in the “one-in-four” meetings, the tasks to be done will begin to cluster around those purposes. Of course, the board will have to be active in making it so, but it will be simpler to keep everything together.

Design Group International offers strategic mapping, executive coaching and governance services to organizations and enterprises of all types. Click on the link below to contact us to see how we may work together to grow your organization!

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Topics: governance, Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, organizational design

Organizational Design: Simplifying Finances

Posted by Matthew Thomas

As organizations grow, their finances naturally become more complex. Particularly in churches and non-profits, financial complexity increases drastically when people begin to earmark funds. Earmarks can be helpful when raising funds for specific causes and projects. However, many organizations hand out earmarks and designations like candy, and this increases their accounting complexity drastically.

Before making designations, consider the use of the funds: for a specific project, earmarks work well. For things that are part of the usual and general operations of the organization, consider broader uses of funds, so that there is less complexity and greater flexibility in accomplishing the core mission purpose of your organization. Use your most restrictive funds first, leaving you with more freedom down the road.

Design Group International Consultants can assist you and your organization in bringing simplicity to your financial structure. Click on the button below to contact us to see how we might work together!

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Topics: Simplicity, Matthew Thomas, financial management, Design Group International, organizational design

Organizational Design: Simplifying Governance

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Simplifying governance is a different animal than simplifying management. Many organizations have created governance structures that take on a life of their own. Innumerable committees, advisory groups formed in crisis and set in concrete, multiple layers of approval, separate-but-equal structures that operate without coordination – these things have become norms for many organizations. Moreover, the level of direct control the governing groups have in day-to-day management of the organization often confounds their governing role.

Some organizations try to simplify governance by reducing the numbers of people involved. This helps, to a point: however, reducing the sheer numbers of moving parts, independent or subordinate governance entities, and moving toward unified governance is the most reliable solution.

Most of all, though, getting governance out of micromanagerial and detailed monitoring roles will reduce the weight of governance significantly and aid greatly in its simplification.

Design Group International Consultants can assist you and your organization in bringing simplicity to your governing structure. Click on the button below to contact us to see how we might work together!

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Topics: governance, Simplicity, Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, organizational design

Organizational Design: Simplifying Management

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Simplifying management of an organization or enterprise can bring challenges. Upon joining an organization’s staff or volunteer corps, people fall into regular patterns of behavior rather quickly.

Clear delegation, proscriptive boundaries (don’t go outside of these lines, but do whatever reasonably falls within them), and clear organizational structure help to simplify day-to-day management.

Even with these things in place, organizational leaders must discipline themselves to keep on track with them – or else the behaviors revert to previous patterns, and no organizational chart in the world, no matter how simple, will be able to overcome behaviors that are modeled from the leaders down.

Design Group International Consultants can assist you and your organization in bringing simplicity to your management structure. Click on the button below to contact us to see how we might work together!

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Topics: Simplicity, Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, organizational design

Organizational Design: Simplicity

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Many organizations begin to flounder when their complexity exceeds their capacity to manage the structure – whether the people, the moving parts, or required components.

Structures tend to grow in complexity through an organization’s life, so leaders must be proactive in keeping structures from growing wild.

Look at the complexity required to do the basic tasks of your organization’s work: who is involved? How many steps are required? Are there good, accountable ways of doing things more simply?

Asking those questions and then acting to simplify will shift energy from administration and into purpose and mission.

(Do it!)

Design Group International Consultants can assist you and your organization in bringing simplicity to your structures. Click on the button below to contact us to see how we might work together!

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Topics: Simplicity, Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, organizational design

Organizational Design: E-mail Marketing Pitfalls

Posted by Matthew Thomas

A few years ago, I signed up for a rewards card with a nationally-known big-box retailer. As one of the conditions of the card sign-up, I had to give an e-mail address so they could contact me with information about my (hopefully accumulating) rewards points.  However, this also linked me into their database to receive regular marketing e-mail from this retailer. At first, the marketing e-mails came periodically, with most of the communication being about the rewards. After a while, though, the stream of marketing e-mail deepened to near-flood level, so that of late, the messages had become a daily occurrence. 

This practice, over time, began to change my attitude toward this retailer. While this retailer is still the only one of its type in my area, and while I have chosen it over other options when I lived elsewhere, the daily e-mail marketing became like a steady drip – something that gets in your head and starts to raise your blood pressure. I began to resent the rewards card for the near-spam I kept receiving in my inbox.

So what to do? I decided to take myself off the e-mail list, no matter what it did to the not-accumulating-very-fast-rewards, just to put an end to the constant sales pestering. To my surprise, the unsubscribe form I got to from the link in the bottom of one of the innumerable e-mail messages stated that it could be up to ten days to get off their list.

Ten days? Seriously?

In those ten days, my attitude toward the retailer didn’t improve. It actually plummeted, if I may be honest. The inability for me to turn the barrage off left me feeling even more frustrated and powerless.

I used to go into their store and browse a bit when I needed to shop for stuff they carried, looking at their gadgets (it’s a gadget-y kind of place). Now, my frustration level with them is high enough that I only go in there when they are the only place I can get what I need, and then I’m in there only long enough to get in, find the widget, and get out: no lingering, or “while-we’re-here-ing”. Not something a marketing department was hoping for from their campaign.

There are lots of takeaways from this experience, but here are a few that the Sustainable Vision readers might find most useful:

  1. People like managing their own data.  If I have to give out my e-mail address, (which I always bite my lip and think long and hard about, or give an address that I don’t check often, if at all), I want to be able to have control over the flood of messages.
  2. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Another smaller, boutique retailer offered a rewards card, which resulted in a similar volume of e-mail. However, when I went to unsubscribe, they gave me options as to how much I wanted to hear from them. I selected once-monthly messages (because they didn’t give quarterly as an option, but oh well), and they actually rose in my esteem, and my frustration level with them dissipated.
  3. Response time is essential.  Most people I talk to only unsubscribe from a marketing e-mail list once the messages have passed the point of annoyance, usually by quite a bit. The big-box retailer had poor customer database management, which means customers were going to continue to be needled by the unwanted messages for a week and a half after they asked to be removed. By contrast, the boutique retailer that offered frequency modulation also responded immediately by cutting off the flow.
  4. Over-marketing can turn your most loyal customers / clients into your worst word-of-mouth enemies. If someone comes across your path twice a year, don’t expect that they want to hear from you every day – or even more frequently – in their personal e-mail inbox. If you over-e-mail, you are likely to become that annoying message that increases anger and frustration. Especially since, in many cases, it has just dinged on someone’s smartphone, disrupting whatever else they were doing, even if it was just slingshot-ing animated avians at defensive hogs. They then mutter under their breath to their friends that they got that annoying e-mail from Big-Box Retailer again, delete it without reading it, and go back to using their frustration to help those birds vent theirs.
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, organizational design, data management