In his examination of companies that went from good to GREAT, Collins found that the great companies are hedgehogs-- "Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest... Those who led the comparison companies tended to be foxes, never gaining the clarifying advantage... being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent."
I have subsequently taken Jim Collins' three circles of focus that together form an organization's "hedgehog concept" and used this in strategic planning with nonprofits:
- What are you are deeply passionate about?
- What can you be the best at in the world? (and, equally important, what can you NOT be the best at?-- and let go of that)
- What drives your economic engine? (Walgreens: profit per customer visit; Wells Fargo: profit per employee; Fannie Mae: profit per mortgage risk level. In nonprofits, it would be cash flow per X...)
This can be a particularly good approach when working with organizations that are already doing great work. Such organizations may often receive attention from funders wanting the organization to take on more or new kinds of work, because they've clearly proven that they're competent. This makes it all too easy to succumb to mission-creep. Same goes for organizations undergoing a strategic technology planning effort, or considering how best to use new technologies to support their mission. The drive to adopt new tools can also pull an organization off track.
Undergoing a "hedgehog analysis" helps re-align an organization's staff and board with what they really, truly care about, and grounds them firmly in what they know they can be excellent at. Coming from that place, organizations will be much better positioned to make choices about new initiatives and how best to use technology to get them there.
When you get your Hedgehog Concept right, Collins writes, "it has the quiet ping of truth, like a single, clear, perfectly struck note hanging in the air in the hushed silence of a full auditorium at the end of a quiet movement of a Mozart piano concerto."
Wouldn't you love your organization to have that?