Monday, August 22, 2005

What's Hedgehog Got to Do with It?

While studying for my certificate in organizational development a couple of years ago, I had the pleasure to read From Good to Great by Jim Collins (Harper Business, 2001). In particular, I was fascinated by and have subsequently used his adaptation of "The Hedgehog Concept." The hedgehog survives and thrives because it knows one thing really well-- in its case, how to roll up in a ball with needle-sharp defenses.

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:

  1. What are you are deeply passionate about?
  2. 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)
  3. 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?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Why this Blog?

So why am I doing this? Certainly there are enough blogs out there to keep all of us busy on a constant basis. Yet I'd like to see more engagement about the intersection of the various fields that overlap our work:

  • technology assistance
  • nonprofit management
  • communications
  • organizational development

to name just four. Many of us approach our work from one of these fields; probably most of us have an appreciation for the contributions of each of the others; and some number of us attempt to draw from one or more of them in our work. What we have in common is that we seek to help our clients and ourselves become effective and powerful. And most of us are driven by a desire for some sort of social change.

I see this blog as a place to address this intersection of expertise. I intend to post and discuss resources and tools from a variety of disciplines. I am interested in exploring how we can apply tools from one field to that of another, leading towards a more wholistic (and I misspell that word intentionally) approach to both our practice as consultants & service providers as well as the work done inside of organizations.

If you are interested in this intersection as well, please join me here. Expert bloggers: you know what to do to keep informed of updates to this blog; for those like me who are inconsistent bloggers, but want to stay informed, contact me and I'll add you to the informal alerts system I'm establishing.

I look forward to your comments.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What If....?

The Global Business Network is calling for a different approach to strategic planning in What If? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits. Most strategic planning includes some kind of visioning: What is the future that our organization seeks to create, to shape? What will be different in our community, in our country, in the world, because of the work we do? This approach has the organization looking outward from inside: what is the impact that we will have out there?

What If? suggests incorporating "outside-in" visioning by brainstorming several possible futures or scenarios-- "provocative and plausible stories about diverse ways in which relevant issues outside of organizations might evolve." For example (and I made these up; they're not from the book), what if...

  • ...the price of oil exceeds $100 per barrel?
  • ...the Democrats re-take Congress and the White House in 2008?
  • ...our primary local employer outsources all its work?
You'd make up your own scenarios, then discuss: What might the organization do in each reality? How would the organization need to adapt? Who would be good partners in each scenario? What opportunities and challenges would need to be faced?

Why do this? GBN authors say that this kind of thinking builds a deeper understanding of the world in which your organization operates, helps you anticipate and prepare. "The reliability of the scenarios’ content is less important than the types of conversations and decisions that they spark... The test of a good set of scenarios is whether it enables an organization to learn, adapt and take effective action." The theory is that an organization that is more able to learn, and change its way of working based on what it learns is stronger, more adaptable, more likely to succeed no matter what scenario comes into existence.

Scenario thinking can be practiced at various levels of strategy development-- whether you’re engaging in a full-blown, multi-month strategic planning effort, you need to make a decision about a specific issue, or you want to test the sustainability of your current status quo. The publication also includes many case stories that illustrate how real organizations have applied scenario thinking.

I’m looking forward to incorporating scenario thinking into my own practice, and would love to hear from both consultants who are using it in their work with clients, and from nonprofits who have engaged in it. What works and doesn't about it?