2012 08 08 Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo book maze @ RFH - picture by @michaelambjorn

What we’re reading: the latest on alignment for the Third Sector

A round-up of recent materials that can help you with your alignment work – this issue is focused on Alignment for the Third Sector but many of these insights apply across all sectors.

A new guide to the Chair-CEO relationship is out

A Question of Balance – a guide to the Chair and Chief Executive relationship – has been published by the Association of Chairs. Alignment between these two roles is crucial to Third Sector success. As the guide sets out:

Forging a successful relationship with your CEO is a key part of the Chair’s role. The quality of the relationship with the Chief Executive is a recurring theme in many of our conversations with Chairs and at a number of our events.

This guide aims to help those of you who have a Chief Executive or lead officer to explore and strengthen that relationship. We recognise that is no simple task. Each relationship is complex, dynamic and unique.

You can download a copy here.

People power: Why trustees, staff, volunteers and donors matter

A worthwhile read – here’s one brief except:

2015 11 What we're reading - Zurich tips

/via The Chief – the Guardian Voluntary Sector newsletter.

Download the PDF by clicking on the image + see the notes from the Five ways charities can tap their people power discussion hosted by the Guardian.

What are you reading? Share @alignyourorg

Michael Ambjorn is Founder @alignyourorg | Chair @IABC – and next week you can find him in Australia.

Does communication really make a difference?

Guest post from #11ways co-creator Stephen Welch:

Billions of dollars a year invested in communication by organizations around the world in an effort to improve how they communicate, and make an impact with their target audiences.

Does it really make a difference?

Well to those billions and millions, we can add thousands. Thousands of minutes invested by communication professionals around the world to participate in the second version of the #11ways survey. And what do this year’s results reveal?  Does communication make a difference?

It seems the answer is “yes”.

Our research – covering over 100 organizations with over a million employees – tells us that there are some clear differences between high performing organizations and others in terms of their communications.

  • 89% of high performers align communications and strategy, but only 58% of average companies do.
  • High performing organizations (HPOs) are 3x more likely to rate their communications as excellent or very good.

Of course, correlation and causation are two separate things but a clear theme emerges in high performing organizations – a theme which is absent from the others:

They think about impact, not just output.

The high performers, for example, are more likely to keep their language simple, make emotional connections, and think about communication from the audience’s point of view.

In these organizations, we also see stronger connections between the communications team and the rest of the business:

  • In a HPO, communicators are over 2x as likely to claim that they have strong business know-how and operational understanding. Less than one in five communicators in an average organization would say this.
  • In an average company, only 12% of communicators rate the communication skills of line managers and business leaders as excellent or very good. This figure is 3x higher in a HPO.

However, despite these indications that there is a connection between being and HPO and being a good communicator, there is still some way to go if communicators want to really make a difference:

  • Across the whole sample, only a quarter of communicators would rate their organization as excellent or very good at communication.
  • Almost three in ten admit that some of their communication is not aligned to strategy and goals.
  • 53% keep their language simple and jargon free. Too bad the other half obfuscate.
  • 34% still measure their success by their number of twitter followers or facebook likes; and less than one in ten links communication to sales, profit or productivity.

Communicators still struggle to make an impact, it seems. Especially in a world where 96% of senior managers think they are good communicators. And when a communicator does come along – to give some advice or coaching – it is hard to make an impact if you only have a one in four chance of having business knowledge or operational understanding. As a business leader, why should I listen to you if a) I think I’m quite good anyway, and b) you don’t understand my business?

There are some hopeful signs, though. Since our 2014 survey, we’ve seen some positive trends:

  • While less than three-quarters say they align communication strategy and goals, this is at least significantly up from the 2014 figure (from 54% to 71%).
  • The number who aim for simple and jargon-free language has gone from 32% to 53%.
  • Almost half (47%) have processes for creating great stories, up from 31%.
  • 53% claim to regularly make emotional connections, up from 34%.

So there is hope, but still a long way to go.

Note: this is the preliminary report from the 2015 #11ways research, conducted April-May 2015, across 124 organizations. For fuller details, data and quotes, please get in touch.

For more information or detailed analysis, please contact:

Stephen Welch | Dana Poole | Michael Ambjorn

A study in simplicity with takeaways for any organisation that involves people

Book Cover: Organizational Innovation by Integrating Simplification: Learning from Buurtzorg Nederland (Management for Professionals) Hardcover – by Sharda S. Nandram (Author)A brief book review:

If you’re involved with any kind of complex organisation – and quite possibly complicated ones – you’ll find something to take away from this book.

What do I mean by complex/complicated? Any effort that draws on more than a few dozen people trying to achieve an overarching goal often has bureaucratic elements that override effective delivery in the interest of efficiency. In the complex organisation it can be a blocker, in a complicated one it can hold back delivery of the intended outcome altogether. Basically, the work put in is not aligned with the vision of what should come out of it.

This comprehensive case study of a Dutch care organisation (Buurtzorg) delves into how they managed to create self-managing teams, encourage on-going problem solving through a clearly articulated ‘intranpreneural’ model, and ultimately deliver better, cheaper and more reliable care – and I’d venture that many of these approaches are transferable to other fields.

The book also has a useful section on the potential limitations of the overall organisational model which is refreshing.

It is priced as an academic title – and laid out as such which makes for slightly less accessible reading. Nevertheless, worth a run through. You may also want to check out the talk that the founder of Buurtzoorg, Jos de Blok, gave when he accepted the 2014 RSA Albert Medal, (incidentally how I first came across this work). Enjoy.

Michael Ambjorn is Founder@alignyourorg |Vice Chair @IABC | Director-at-Large @NearDesk

P.S. Want to more reviews (or simply want to vote this one up or down) – go here.

2015 #IABCLI Hashtag Reference Card handheld back

Your ABC Checklist for Conference Success

2015 #IABCLI Hashtag Reference Card handheld back

Next week I’m heading to a leadership conference and I thought I’d share my basic high-level pre-attendance checklist in case it is useful to anybody else:

A is for Align

Take a moment to clarify what success looks like.

Think of it like a countdown:

  • 3 for the organisers
  • 2 for the people you’re representing
  • 1 for you

Confused? Read why Venn anyway.

B is for Briefed

You only get out what you put it. Arriving well informed tends to help. Here’s apractical example.

C is for Connect

Tap into the community.

Most likely people have already started the conference well before it kicks off – say, via Twitter. Check out the hashtag for the conference and get stuck in.

D is for Develop

Conferences are all about developing what you’ve got into something more. A great way to do that is through sharing your insights and learning (hint, refer to C above).

E is for Engage

Engaging without a purpose is pointless. Right?

Be sure to follow through: say thanks to the organisers (they’ll appreciate it), as well as any speakers you found inspiring. Also, connect to relevant people you met via LinkedIn and otherwise follow up on any actions you agreed and promises you made.

In conclusion:

A for Align
B for Briefed
C for Connect
D for Develop
E for Engage

What does your checklist look like?

Michael Ambjorn is Founder@alignyourorg |Vice Chair @IABC | Director-at-Large @NearDesk – and next week you can find him at #IABCLI.

P.S. Hat tip to Jane Mitchell for the 3-2-1 thought – and Sharon Hunter for always constructive copy-edit assistance.

What’s Your Endgame? The 1% conundrum for the non-profit sector

1.2% of UK charities turn over 68.9% of the cash cycling through the sector. So never mind Oxfam’s predictions for individuals – it is already true for the sector that often says it is out to change the world for the better. Are they doing enough though?

A recent Stanford Social Innovation Review webinar grappled with the way organisations think about scaling (specifically to achieve wide-ranging and lasting change) – the authors, Alice Gugelev & Andrew Stern, focus on non-profits, but the thinking is useful for any organisation trying to change the world.

Having an end in mind is essential for aligning your board – and other stakeholders – yet, many organisations omit this from their planning.

One example cited is the formation of new charities – and whilst the authors focus on North America, it is relevant elsewhere too. Quoted in The Independent, Sam Younger (recent Chief Executive of the UK’s Charity Commission) sets this out in stark numbers:

In the 2013/14 financial year, the Charity Commission received 6,661 applications for new charities in England and Wales, a 16 per cent rise on the previous year. “There are more people coming forward to establish charities than is really desirable, in the sense that I think some of those people might operate better not by establishing a new charity but by collaborating with, working with and associating with existing charities,” Mr Younger said.

Let’s connect that to the bigger picture for the UK:

Charity Register as of 30 September 2014

Annual income bracket Number of charities % Annual income £bn %
£0 to £10,000 67,972 41.4 0.227 0.4
£10,001 to £100,000 55,207 33.6 1.945 3.0
£100,001 to £500,000 20,940 12.8 4.618 7.2
£500,001 to £5,000,000 8,358 5.1 12.580 19.6
£5,000,000 plus 1,990 1.2 44.680 69.8
SUB-TOTAL 154,467 94.1 64.050 100.00
Not yet known 9,630 5.9 0.000 0.0
TOTAL 164,097 100.0 64.050 100.0

Do you serve on the board of one of the start-up non-profits mentioned above? Or perhaps on one of the minority large-scale players (only 1.2% of UK charities turn over more than £5m). Either way, you owe it to yourself and those you serve to seek clarity.

And let’s be direct: it is perfectly valid for a small charity to serve a niche need and never seek to scale. Just be clear about it.

My main concern is in fact the 1.2% who sit on 69.8% of the income. Especially if we’re to take the figures in this table as transferable to settings beyond North America (heckles welcome):

The Stages of Organisational Growth and Social Capital Chasm
Figure by Alice Gugelev & Andrew Stern from What’s Your Endgame? – Winter 2015 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review

What to do?

With apologies to Voltaire: ‘with great resources come great responsibility’ – so whether a charity turning over just a few thousand, or one of the 1%ers:

  1. See the top five take-aways from the webinar in the Tweets below (RT as relevant).
  2. Look at the Stanford Social Innovation Review brief survey (in the last embedded tweet).
  3. Review “Plotting an Endgame” in the last visual and ask the “What is our Endgame?” strategic question at your next board meeting.

The six options laid out by the authors may help – and don’t forget to think through the resource implications.

Need help aligning your thinking on this issue for your organisation? Get in touch.

Michael Ambjorn is founder of @alignyourorg. You can follow him @michaelambjorn

Full SSIR article: What’s Your Endgame

Plotting an Endgame: Six Options - Winter 2015 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review
Figure by Alice Gugelev & Andrew Stern from What’s Your Endgame? – Winter 2015 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review