Whether you’re one who makes resolutions or not, the New Year is always a good time to take stock, clarify priorities, and set goals. Here at Leadership Akron, we’ve been working through one of my favorite books on leadership, Peter Drucker’s The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization. While the title is long, the book is a concise gut-check for any organization. It’s especially relevant for nonprofits that sometimes face pressure to stray from core principles to respond to the wishes of partners, funders, or others.
Recently, our team has been meeting to work through our own responses to these questions. The exercise has been a great way to share our story, and help everyone on our team understand how our responses to these questions came to be. And, teammates have had valuable insights to add that help us respond to these questions more fully. I’m sharing the questions and our (abbreviated) responses below to provide an example, and also to give you an opportunity to identify with the core principles that guide our work:
What is the Mission? This core purpose statement undergirds everything an organization does and becomes the reference point by which existing and potential activities or changes in direction are measured. At Leadership Akron, ours is to connect, inspire, and develop leaders to strengthen the Akron area.
Who is our Customer? The customer is the primary user/beneficiary of the organization’s services. In our case, we see our customer through the dual lens of the individual participant and that person’s employer. The participant gains individual growth, networking with fellow leaders, and rewarding community involvement. The employer gains the benefits of heightened productivity, engagement, and retention that comes from talent that is immersed in community. This seems simple enough, yet often organizations are tempted to accommodate other stakeholders at the expense of the customer. We regularly encounter situations where the prominence of a local group could take precedence over bringing the absolute best learning experience to our class; each of them presents a healthy test of our customer focus.
What Does the Customer Value? Healthy organizations find ways to see the world not only through their own eyes but through the eyes of their customers. They then use that perspective to design the products and services. Often in nonprofits, we can be susceptible to trying to figure out how to get the customer/client to engage with what we already have, rather than designing for their needs. At Leadership Akron, our graduate engagement taskforce spent over a year determining what our graduates valued from Leadership Akron, and discovered two primary drivers: access to places they wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to visit, let alone go behind-the-scenes with their leaders; and access to people across sectors who share a commitment to community leadership, but whom they would not encounter but for Leadership Akron. These insights informed the design of LAAA’s newer Akron Encounters experiences
What are our Results? Often, in nonprofits there are multiple notions of the organization’s results; and sometimes activities are confused with results. At Leadership Akron our results take many different forms, but tend to fall into three major areas: broadening awareness, building relationships, and heightening involvement. These three results become promises to keep across every experience: each participant should walk out with a wider view of Akron, a new set of relationships, and momentum for community impact in the areas they care about.
What is our Plan? Any organization needs a clear path to generating its intended results. Our current plan involves moving from a provider of self-contained learning experiences to an ongoing partner with leaders across the stages of life and career. A number of recent initiatives, from a new podcast to the Alumni Association’s Akron Encounters, help advance our plan for a more ongoing presence and more compelling results for the leaders we serve.
As our Spring Community Leadership Institute introduces participants to principles of community involvement, they will be asking questions like these as they explore a host of community assets. By thinking rigorously about these questions with respect to the nonprofits they visit, they will become better positioned to address them in other situations, bringing clarity and intentionality to their leadership.
Click here to read more about the Spring CLI