NPO, TLA and s=fx

Noble Purpose, Teams No Comments



Two TLA  so far in this series. And this is only the second post.

So here is another, sort-of, three letter acronym – and I think the most important.

s = fx

Actually this is a bit of a formula.

It should probably be: s= f(x)

That is, satisfaction is a function of expectation.

I believe that when looked at in a variety of ways (be it a theory, framework or assessment), noble purpose organisations perform much like any other institution or outfit. Neither better or worse. Leadership, team and individual performance is on a spectrum from the stellar to the spectacularly disappointing. Much like other places. From heart-warming and hopeful to a real headache and source of ‘heart sink’ feelings.

I have run many assessments with groups from Noble Purpose Organisations. The pattern of results is similar to those from other sectors and places: for example, in one assessment based on Lencioni’s work there is often an avoidance of conflict and accountability. I have found familiar findings with the idenk wheel assessment I have been using since 2006: the scores with this regularly show meetings are far from productive, whilst poor performance and behaviours are not tackled.

So if NPOs are similar to other types of workplace, what is the problem?

This is where the ‘x’ comes in. s=f(x). Satisfaction is a function of expectation. If we go to a see a film or eat in a restaurant others have raved about, our threshold for disappointment gets lower – we are more easily frustrated and more easily dismayed.

When people enrol with a NPO they expect something better, much better. In joining a charity or part of the public services youngsters fresh into the workforce, or mid-career staff looking for a change, or volunteers looking to be helpful, all expect one thing: that is the organisation is deserving of their commitment; ways of working are worthy of the purpose; there is agreement about what needs to be done and how it should be achieved.

When these features are not there to any greater degree (and possibly co-exist in equal measure with politics, jobsworth-ishness, personal ambition etc), then hearts get broken. Ideals are shattered. Stress increases. Cynicisms spreads. Burnout brews.

The NPO Paradox (see the previous blog) is encountered.

So, what can we do about it?

I argue a first step is to acknowledge this problem: that we are expecting so much of our peers and places of work. Only then is it possible to do something about it. And that something might lead to expectations being surpassed, in quite dazzling ways.

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