NPO: What (and where) next?

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Time for a short pause in this daily series on Noble Purpose Organisations.

I will be back soon – with a case study, to be run as a mini-series over a number of instalments.

This is partly written. However, I would like your questions and challenges to complete it.

The story explores the tale of Bart, Elizabeth, Jenni and Jean-Paul. Four people with very different roles and lengths of service in (the fictitious and factious) anti-malaria campaigning charity Malfly.

What would you like to learn through their tale?


Noble word association

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Noble work

Organisational work

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Purposeful Organisations

Noble purpose organisations.


NPO, a research agenda?

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1. How far it is true that “organisations with a compelling mission tend to risk bad behaviours internally”? How far are the ‘shadows’ of co-workers a feature of noble workplaces?
2. Does it matter about being nice to each other if you have noble intentions? How far does a ‘toxic’ culture actually hamper the achievement of core goals?
3. What are the best ways to establish a family foundation to ensure the risks of the Noble Purpose Organisation Paradox are not institutionalised from the start?
4. Are the challenges of boosting productivity in public services largely due to the NPO paradox – or simply due to the context of the sector or ineffective leadership?
5. How far are NPOs more at risk of group think and team dynamics degenerating to chaos and entropy?



NPO, from the archives

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The Spectrum?

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There is a spectrum of business models.

From the noble purpose – to those with a purely commercial mission.

And there are some – maybe plenty – in the middle
– The CSR team in an investment bank
– Those looking to source ‘fairtrade’ raw materials for a fashion brand
– The bar staff in a live music pub
– The projectionists in an arts cinema
– The research team in a pharmaceutical company
– The human rights experts in a city legal firm
– The procurement specialists in a government department
– The team managing the endowment of a charity.

So maybe the spectrum it actually more of a Venn diagram. As a starter for 10, which Cambridge College has a stained glass Venn Diagram – and why? See here.

[Btw, a colleague extends this spectrum from noble through commercial to ‘vile purpose’. Depending on your politics that new end to the spectrum could include all capitalist enterprise or ‘merely’ tobacco or arms companies…or drug cartels, human traffickers, terrorist cells)


NPO Thinking: Getting and staying on the Front Foot, served Four Ways

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There are four things that are needed for a successful organisation, see the cycle and the balance – and do note the colours.

When one of these is missing, stuff happens (or actually, it doesn’t), see here

When the 4 aspects are in place, the fullest wheel is ‘invented’ – see the 4 colours again

And see this application of these 4 elements for a team you might know.


NPO, the evidence and effort – and elephant

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I am struck by how little literature there seems to be on the particular and tricky internal dynamics of leading charities. What there is often focuses on the skills to work in partnership with others, for example.

There are plenty of courses targeted at Charity leaders. I am struck that many development programmes seem to present generic modules that would suit aspiring and new leaders from a wide range of sectors, including fully commercial (non-Noble Purpose Organisation) ones.

What is the unique core curriculum a CEO or Director of a charity or public sector body needs to really help them prepare for their particular challenges?

I propose the ideas around the NPO paradox might be the ‘elephant in the corner’ of the education and research room.



The Reinforcing of some front foot assumptions for NPOs

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I like this blog by my former colleague Stuart on the ideas and inspiration he has received from Michael Bungay Stainer

A great example of curiosity and creativity.

I like the 3 dimensions for Great Work – maybe as they reinforce some of my beliefs of what is needed for successful, front foot, Noble Purpose Organisations:
– Focus (direction)
– Courage (momentum and coordination)
– Resilience (balance)


eFFOrt in the NPO

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In seeking to improve the ways of working in Noble Purpose Organisations, where is it best to start to get (or move further) onto the front foot?

To mix my metaphors, many are interested in ‘culture’ and ‘tools’ to fix the organisational ‘DNA’.

I have just read another ‘top 50’ list – the top innovators.

So here is my ‘top 6’. A few things I find helpful.

For Alignment: preferred scenarios and journey planners

For Attitude: working to ‘practice what is preached’ with the 5 level values model and perusing and encouraging strengths based leadership in groups

For Awareness: WITOS and the perspective assessment to try and see at least 2 sides of any issue – especially in meetings

And for Accountable Autonomy: the work of Gerard Fairtlough and ‘the three ways of getting things done’

Fundamentally, I think the cultural dynamic of Noble Purpose Organisations can be a pretty huge barrier to fundamental improvement. Blind ‘ego’ is part of the core dynamic. These 6 methods help increase the sense of
– agreed direction
– reinforced momentum
– co-ordination and collaboration
– and balanced working.

Or in other words, they help leaders get themselves and their teams on the front foot.

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Front Foot NPOs?

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In the late noughties I was watching the box set of West Wing. It took quite a while. I was impressed by the dynamic of the way the White House team worked for and with President ‘Jed’ Bartlett.

Having viewed quite a few episodes one weekend I came up with an alliteration I quite liked: how the team from CJ to Josh, from Leo to Sam was fast and focused, with some fun at times as well. There was lots of feedback to each other (even if it wasn’t wanted!), yet this forthright way of working was quite forgiving too (at least to those in the team).

I called this the features of the Front Foot Organisation (FFO). Over the coming months we developed the initial ideas into a set of actions to help achieve these characteristics – actions to achieve greater direction, momentum, co-ordination and balance within a team or organisation. We provided an assessment and even applied the FF idea to the family as part of a talk for fathers and sons at a school I was working with.

The FFO idea has proved to be one of the most popular and enduring of idenk ideas since first outlining it in 2008. Despite the fact that the genesis of the ‘front foot’ idea is unclear (though it is rooted in sports and even politics) it has a broad face validity and is widely used. You regularly hear how people want to put their ‘best foot’ forward, not be on the ‘back foot’, avoid being ‘wrong footed’. Our feet are in our mouths, literally!

I truly believe that each and every Noble Purpose enterprise should be a FFO. People who join them certainly expect them to be. The standard we assume is high – very high. However, often Noble Purpose Organisations are far from beacons of front footedness.. And when that happens, as we have noted, expectations are dashed and cynicism grows.

The CEO or Director of an NPO is actually their ‘chief culture officer’. The ideas on the FFO provide a handy checklist for that senior person to start working on the awareness, alignment, attitudes needed. They provide pointers about what to tolerate and what to hold firm on.

Social workers use a simple acronym to think about what to do ‘upstream’ to achieve the results that are needed when working with a young person. For example, when supporting a child in care they try to consider any Antecedents to observed challenging Behaviour and the negative Consequences that can result for a child and those helping them.

The Front Foot ideas offer some pointers to Antecedent Actions that leaders can use to get the outcomes they want. Results that achieve the purpose of the NPO.


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