You use the term "out of the hustle and into alignment." Can you describe what alignment means?
Alignment is about having that opportunity to step back and proactively look at the skeletal system of an organization. If you think about the skeletal system in our body, it performs so many critical functions. It protects our organs, it produces blood cells.It’s the support for the body. And so it's really important for organizations to be able to look at their systems and their structures, which really are that skeletal system. We try to find ways for organizations to do that where they get to look at not only the soft elements of what they do, but the hard elements as well.
We look at what we call the seven S’s: shared values, strategy, structure, systems, staff, skills and style.
We centre this discussion around the shared values - as an opportunity to really think about if we are living those values.
The organizations that we have the privilege to work with are doing such important work. They are breaking ground, holding ground, providing essential services. And so that in itself can feel like a hustle. So we want to support organizations to be in alignment. Imagine the things they can achieve with everything working in harmony.
The way I'm picturing this, the seven S's is almost like a flower with the center as the shared values. And the rest are petals that sort of connect and create that fullness. Am I picturing this right?
Sure, you can look at it as a flower. We draw it as circles and the circles are all connected. I liked the idea of a flower.
So imagine a flower, but at the heart of it is this idea of shared values is that center, right? How does that inform the core of the process?
Well, I think it's important because we ask organizations, “so what are your values?” And they can run them off - integrity, anti-racism, anti-oppression. Any number of things, but really it's getting to the idea that your values are about your purpose.
It's not just saying we have an anti-racism and anti-oppression framework that's a core value for us. What does that then mean within our structure, in our systems? What does it look like in our communications internally and externally? What does that then translate to in terms of our human resource practices? What does it look like in our performance management and how we support people to be better and do better? What does it look like in a time and monetary commitment to training and development?
It's taking words on a page and having them come alive because if your values aren't being evidenced both by the people who are doing the work and by the people who are using services, who you're standing shoulder to shoulder with, things are gonna start to fall down.
So now it sounds like the first thing is to get a clear picture of what those values are and a general understanding that everyone has of those values. Once we do that, once we're on the same page and we say, okay, we understand this is our mission and these are the values, how we approach fulfilling that mission how do we then work through the rest of those S's to bring us ourselves into alignment?
You look at strategy because strategy is attached to your mission. It's attached to your theory of change. It's attached to a strategic plan. It's what you've set out to do, how you're going to maintain the organization. So we start to ask questions about that, how do you plan to get there? How do you intend to achieve those objectives that you've set out? What are the pressures internally and externally, what's changing in the environment? And so we start to ask those questions, which allow us to understand, and more importantly, it will help organizations to reflect on the current strategy that's in place. And in some cases strategic plans tend to go stale.
That's an understatement of the century!
They're that pretty document that sitting over there that no one can quite remember. Right?
So moving into systems, what are the systems that allow you to maintain and refresh your strategy? We talk about structure and we look at how do you have teams and how are those teams divided? Is there a hierarchy? How do folks understand who's coordinating what? And without fail we think that our structure is clear inside of an organization, but often it's not. And often there are the unspoken structures, right?
So, so we, we start to take a look at that. How does decision making happen? Are there opportunities to flatten and include and engage? Oh, and really importantly, what are those lines of communication and transparency and accountability.
And then, all of the systems that support everything that you're doing. What systems do you have? The main systems, the core systems that run the organization where controls are needed? Are they in place? So it's policies, it's procedures, it's how you do things?
Then we get into some of the softer pieces around style. So how is the organization led? How effective is the management style?
Then we look at skills and staff. Are staff supported to develop the skills they need to do their very best job and to be supported in the hard work that they do?
We ask so much of our frontline staff, management staff and executive directors. They are the heartbeat of your organization. We look at having the right roles in place. What are the positions? What are your training methods? How do you mentor and support staff? And employees, volunteers, peers.
So those are just generally how we go about looking at those S's and as we ask a set of preliminary questions. As we go through, other things start to surface then you know where to take that deep dive. It becomes very evident very quickly.
How do we approach this with some hope and optimism and understanding that things can change. Because in my experience in our sector, there are some chronic challenges around being underfunded, underappreciated, under-resourced, and sometimes it can feel like this is just the way it's supposed to be. What level of hustle isn't “normal” or acceptable and when do we start to ring the alarms and know that this is just not sustainable and we need to do something about it.
Even out of alignment the organizations that we work with do so much every day. And so I think it's really, really important to start by celebrating success because even when things are completely chaotic. Stop and say thank you to each other. Simple ways that we find moments of gratitude and stillness.
You are going to be hustling, right? Some of our clients deliver emergency services, 24-hour services, it is the nature of the work. However, there's a difference when you go to do something and the policy's not there to guide you or you go to do something and there aren't enough people on the floor. Or you're trying to lead on or support massive change in an organization and you don't have the director team that you need to do that.
I want organizations to think about proactive self-assessment and review as an opportunity to get a checkup or maybe physical.
So I would say if, when someone takes your stapler, it's a big deal, then that’s a good sign that things need a little intervention.
Yeah. And while that's a silly example, I actually feel like it's quite appropriate because it's when we're out of alignment that those little things feel so heavy, right? That we do sweat the small things. And that's a really a time when we start to get deep burnout too. I had someone describe it as like trying to drive while you have on the parking brake.
Now I want to come back to the idea of measurable behaviours. Let's talk about how we can measure our success and our progress. I think that's often missing from a lot of these processes. Where do we start to measure and how does it look as we start to check in with ourselves?
Well, it often looks different for different organizations. Organizations will have metrics in place around their strategic plan. So they might have key performance indicators. So there are already things in place where we can help them to see if they're actually meeting targets that they set or performance indicators that they've set. When we look at the values though, it's less often that people have that conversion, right?
So it's stepping back and really thinking about, “if we live these values, what would they look like in our style leadership style, across our staff teams, in terms of staff composition and representation?” What kinds of skills? How do we build that in? And is it evidenced in our strategy? So it's getting concrete and identifying in each of these areas, what did we think was going to happen? How did we think these values were going to impact our strategy or the way that we feel like our values live in the structure. And is that how other people experience it?
It is about taking that step back and documenting it. And then having that shared understanding, outlining the expectations and then checking in.
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The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano