Growing Without Imploding


By Chris Gandy

Most not for profits today face considerable pressure to grow and expand their services. This comes from many sources. As some services fall there is often encouragement from funding bodies and communities to step into the breach and fill the service void. On other occasions growth is seen as the only economic lifeline for a service. There is also pressure from the much put about myth that organisation can’t possibly be regarded as successful if it isn’t growing. And, of course, there is pure vanity. Let’s face it, hands up the Board Members and CEO who haven’t, at least once, wistfully thought about running a state-wide, national or international organisation – after all it can’t be that hard, just doing what we are doing on a bigger scale!

While many for profit and not for profit organisations have successfully ventured down the growth track the side of the road is also littered with the remains and epitaphs of many of those that didn’t make it.

So what makes this growth journey so precarious?

Basically the answer is it is a darn hard strategy to pull off. You are dealing with many unknowns or “little knowns” and it requires meticulous planning and a military like implementation.

This is highlighted in a recent publication Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling For Less by Sutton & Rao. It is well worth reading BEFORE you commit to a growth strategy. It provides valuable strategic and practical advice which will increase the chances of success.

For me three takeout pieces of advice from the book from a not for profit perspective were:

1. Understanding that you are spreading a mindset, not a footprint. Successful growth requires instilling the right beliefs and behaviours in people, not just running up the numbers as fast as you can.

2. Successful growth begins and ends with people. People need to feel “I own the place and the place owns me”. Effectiveness spreads and sticks when people feel inspired to live your mission and equally compelled to hold others to the same standards.

3 Getting your information and control systems right so they have just enough cognitive complexity but not so much to stifle service.

From my experience in leading not for profit growth, I would add another point that Sutton & Hao don’t mention in any detail – that is understanding your communities. By this I mean, fully appreciating and understanding the community context into which you are considering entering. What are the true community needs? Is your service going to address them more effectively? Remember a “cookie cutter” approach may not do this.

And finally, on the matter of community – consider how you want your “home community” to react to your growth strategy. Engaged and proud of your growth or feeling resentful and abandoned as you seek glory in greener pastures?  I have seen both outcomes.

About Chris – He is a former not for profit CEO and Founder of Cause & Effective – We help organisations get their growth strategies right

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

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