I had a chance to meet up with a former colleague and good friend last week. In the past few years we had spent much time on separate projects
and so it was good to meet up and chat through the different experiences that we’ve had since we last worked together.
I was struck by the way we both talked about facilitating change in organisations that we worked with; and that it often seemed that from within the organisation it was difficult to see when change should happen (and why). We have been faced with founders who didn’t want to leave the board, weak trustees that just needed a little guidance away from a bullying CEO or a Senior Management Team that needed to grasp the nettle but were too afraid of the board.
Each of the scenarios that we talked through started out easily enough. But because someone in an organisation couldn’t or wouldn’t tackle a problem early or head on, things got worse until outside help was needed or the organisation was no longer viable.
Of course, it could seem easy for consultants sitting on the outside (and with much less to lose) to spot when and how change should be made. But with a little digging we can always find someone in the organisation who was aware that things needed to change and they were just too afraid or too wary to stick their head above the parapet and shout that change is needed before things go really wrong.
Knowing when to raise the alarm can be quite difficult, especially if you don’t think that you have all the information about the organisation’s real situation. But you are better off standing up and saying you think there is a problem, than staying quiet and waiting for the proverbial fan to be hit. After all, the organisation isn’t yours, it isn’t the board’s, it is there for the beneficiaries and regularly reviewing how your organisation is doing is a crucial internal behaviour that every NGO should cultivate.
Organisational review, and the change that leads from it, can not only help your organisation avoid disaster, it can also help you spot the longer term trends that provide opportunities for improving and scaling up your activities.
Organisational review should be an ongoing activity and is especially important during the business planning cycle. Honest appraisal of what works and what doesn’t work is vital for good organisational health.
Do you have a regular review process that allows you to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of your organisation? Do all your stakeholders feed into that process somehow? Have you had change forced upon you or have you had to push through change in your NGO?