Who in your organization has the power and responsibility to deliver consistent results to your community? Do these specific staff know that?
Recently, as part of our sector survey, we found that community foundations and nonprofits are transitioning from traditional operations roles to new ways of delivering better, more consistent results to their community. Learn more of the survey finding in this executive summary. Innovation Operations Survey Summary.
In this blog series, you will read how foundations and other nonprofits are changing roles, responsibilities, and how they support staff to serve their community with greater impact. I will share ways your team can meet and exceed community and program needs with the resources you have now. Organizations that use these approaches are finding that their staff members feel engaged and empowered. And when communities are being served more effectively and efficiently, boards are satisfied. Would such outcomes be valuable to you?
All organizations have two aspects to their work: what they do (their strategy) and how they do it (their operations). Strategy has long been seen as the driver of community impact. Yet every organization has an opportunity to fulfill its mission more productively by focusing on improving operations, or how work is done.
Learn more about these two aspects in our recent blog article: Lead Operations Transformation to Increase Community Impact.
Operations has several levers to improve how work is done. One is how we assign and support work roles.
Early in my career, I worked with two giant companies, Cargill. and American Express. Leaders in both companies coached staff in how to approach tasks in an efficient manner to achieve the desired outcomes. Whether they used Lean Operations, Six Sigma, or Operational Excellence, these well-run companies maximized the quantity and quality of their work through proven methodologies. By effectively implementing these methodologies, they experienced a high customer retention rate and overall success. When surveyed, their customers said they felt good about their experience with the company.
A component of these organizations’ success was clear accountability about who did which tasks and how they did them. This accountability was reflected in the use of the word operations in their role titles. For example, titles such as vice president of service operations, director of technology operations, and manager of investment operations made it abundantly clear that these individuals were charged with ensuring that day-to-day work done and that the expected outcomes were achieved.
Now, according to my firm’s recent survey, some foundations and other nonprofits are starting to incorporate operations into their job titles and responsibilities just like for-profit entities.
Some organizations are defining accountability for services to the community at the C-suite level. For example, in a community foundation, operations responsibility could include issuing grants, setting up new funds, or processing donations. In a community action agency, a nonprofit that delivers government-sponsored services to community members, an operations leader could be accountable for managing and delivering the expected outcomes for Head Start, transportation services, or energy assistance services. C-suite leaders with operations responsibilities may have a title such as chief operations officer or chief financial and operations officer.
In addition, some complex nonprofits have an operations person in each area of the organization. These people are accountable for getting work done, managing processes and systems, and resolving how they support staff success. Examples include the following roles:
• Donor relations operations
• Program operations
• Finance operations
• Technology operations
Given that operations staff are accountable for doing the work that produces outcomes from each process, they need specific training that will build their skills in systems, process, and change management.
Systems skills: Operations doers must have a deep knowledge of your systems in order to make daily work happen and to troubleshoot emergency issues quickly. For example, if a customer has a complaint, the operations person must be able to use the organization’s technology to unpack what happened and resolve the problem swiftly.
Process skills: Our operations staff manage and monitor the steps of work, while improving those same steps when needed. Managing and monitoring processes to ensure every work step is done as designed is how we deliver a consistent experience to the community. This quality management work and the related skills are the cornerstone of the world-renowned ISO certification and are critical technical skills needed in our sector. Another important process skill is successfully and efficiently improving how work is done. Therefore, managing, monitoring and improving processes are important skills for every operations person.
Change management skills: Doers are accountable for getting work done and for improving the steps of work. Therefore, they need two types of change management skills: task (or project) skills and competence in gaining alignment on changes. These skills are very different than those needed to design programs or foster positive community relations. Therefore, it is important to screen for these skills when hiring and to coach operations staff on how to build these skills once employed.
Savvy doers need to continuously strengthen and broaden their skills, because technology, sector opportunities, and characteristics of the community continuously change. That means you need to budget for training employees on process management and improvement, project management, and human change management, as well as use of your organization’s technology resources.
Learn more about my firm’s process improvement and management training here: Innovation Process Design Services – Process Improvement Training
Refining roles and responsibilities to improve how work is done can help you get more work done. Once operational roles are clearly delineated, your employees can deliver faster and better service to the community. They can recapture capacity and open the door to the next program or level of service. Foundations and nonprofits are taking these steps and experiencing success as a result. You can too.
As founder and president of Innovation Process Design, Lee Kuntz has spent over two decades using process improvement to solve the unique challenges faced by leaders of complex service organizations. Through expert training and coaching, she helps teams look at their work with new eyes, transform how work gets done, and create real results. Contact Lee with questions or to talk about what you see and what you want to achieve.
Does your organization face nearly overwhelming demand, yet you have limited resources or staffing to fulfill that demand?
I am told that being under resourced and understaffed is a common constraint for nonprofits. Despite such limitations, community action councils (CACs) are doing amazing work as the last line of support to address poverty in their communities. But our communities need more help.
In this blog series, you will read how CACs are engaging staff to change how work is done, resulting in a bigger community impact. I will share with you ways your team can meet and exceed community and program needs with the resources you have now. CAC employees who use these approaches are feeling engaged and empowered. Boards are satisfied and communities are being served at a new level. Would those outcomes be valuable to you?
All organizations have two aspects to their work: what they do and how they do it.
Both are important and both are needed to make an impact on the communities that they serve. Now let’s look at each side of the organizations’ work.
What we do: This aspect consists of the services an organization offers. What we do is based on decisions we think long and hard about. We test them. We adjust them. They are important. Collectively, these decisions about an organization’s mission guide the development of that organization’s strategy. Generally, people think that strategy creates community impact.
How we do it: How we execute that strategy or how we do work is also important. It relates to how we deliver services. This is generally considered operations. We spend about 90% of our time and resources on operations. Therefore, the how is important.
Looking at organizations through the lens of strategy and operations is common in for-profit organizations. Many have a chief operations officer who is accountable for how the work gets done. For-profit organizations typically have operational titles and roles at the director, manager, and individual contributor levels. These organizations understand the power of the how.
Within CAC agencies, decisions about strategy and tactics are made by CAC leaders in conjunction with the board. For example, some energy assistance programs offer three levels of energy support as shown below.
The specifics of an organization’s operations are determined by the agency’s staff. They design how work should be done. In this example, the five steps describe how an agency might provide the various levels of support to its clients.
Given my experience and certifications, I see myself primarily as an operations coach and trainer. I help teams put good ideas into practice. I believe CAC employees are the right people to improve how processes and operations happen. With strong process improvement skills, they can achieve impressive results for their community. I have seen it over and over again. Working with teams to enhance their skills-and-will to do work better and deliver impact is my passion and my vocation.
The good news about operations is that we have tools and approaches to make processes work well and deliver great outcomes, with the primary goal always being to maximize community impact. These levers include work steps, equipment, roles and responsibilities, training, forms, and internal rules.
Regulations may mandate the forms you use, yet it is these six operational levers that can help you maximize your impact in the community.
I recently worked with a CAC transportation team to help them better leverage their six operational levers. Through process training and then a one-day deep dive, the CAC team determined that they could improve their ride intake process and outcomes through maximizing use of their existing tools, adjusting roles and responsibilities, retraining request intake staff, rethinking their internal policies, and simplifying work steps. As a result of the team’s work, they quickly implemented their new mobile vaccination van, employing new processes to deliver an improved rider experience.
All nonprofit organizations, including CAC teams, can improve their operations to provide more services and generate greater impact for their community. If your organization is experiencing unlimited demand with limited resources, you have the opportunity to look at your operations to improve outcomes. Other organizations are expanding their community impact by leveraging these six operational levers. You can too.
Learn more about improving operations through our next blog post, or contact Lee Kuntz to discuss your unique situation.
When a foundation or nonprofit updates its software system, the purchase typically requires years of research and a financial investment that can run well into six figures. So, it’s important to make the most of that purchase. The most effective way to do that is to use system upgrades as an opportunity to reexamine internal processes
That kind of self-reflection allows the organization to get the best return on their investment, while following best practices for a software purchase. In fact, in a recent Innovation Process Design survey, 100% of participants said process design is essential when adding new software. By maximizing internal processes, organizations can get employees out of the back office and back to serving their communities.
“It’s important to have a high-level outlook of what outcomes drive the process and not be married to current processes in order to achieve the same result in a more efficient manner,” wrote one respondent.
“I can’t imagine how you can put in new software without reimaging the process,” wrote another.
In all, 24 philanthropic and nonprofit organizations completed the survey. Approximately half of respondents were financial leaders. The other half were grantmakers and technology leaders. Most respondents — 80% — had recent experience implementing sizable new software projects.
Exactly what reimaging should look like depends on the type of project in question. If your software installation is small or low risk, following vendor best practices or holding internal discussions may be enough. Larger or more involved projects may require an outside coach to lead the process or provide redesign training.
Wondering where to start? Here are a few key questions to answer before you complete your next software purchase:
1. How should you redesign? About half of survey respondents said they typically manage process redesign internally. Another 41% said engaging an outside coach is an important part of the process. A coach’s process improvement expertise can be a powerful tool when employees are hesitant to make changes, too busy to fully focus on the task, or inexperienced in process design.
2. When should you redesign? Reimaging before selecting a new software system gives nonprofits a clear picture of how they can work more efficiently and may even help them realize they don’t yet need new software. Redesigning after a system has been selected but before it’s installed, on the other hand, allows foundations to build new processes with the new system’s capabilities in mind. Building processes after the system is in place is another viable option, but respondents said it often feels like “trying to build a plane while it’s in the air.” Half of respondents to the Innovation Process Design survey said the best time to redesign is after selecting the new system and before installation. Meanwhile, another 37% say redesigning before selecting a new system is the way to go, and the final 12% say redesign should be done after the new system is in place.
3. Should you go big? The answer to this question may depend on the size of your software purchase or the needs of your processes, but 60% of survey respondents said they received more benefit from major process redesign than from minimal or no redesign. For some, going big led to better outcomes, faster implementation, and more significant return on a major systems investment, while giving team members the confidence to ask and resolve questions. In addition, 58% of participants combined process improvement training with redesign. These organizations said they received significant value from process training and this approach.
Understanding the goals of work is the first level of process redesign. It creates a framework that organizations can use as they proceed to the second level, which includes process work — identifying the structure of who does what, and when they do it. The third level is process detail — identifying the screens, fields, reports, and steps used to complete the work. However, all organizations should incorporate level three – process detail – when implementing a new software system.
Once an organization has a clear picture of its needs and the scope of the software project at hand, the team can identify the steps needed for reaching its goal — whether that involves a major design or a few simple process tweaks. This thinking is summarized in a matrix you can use to identify the specific process redesign steps to help your team be successful. See the matrix and survey summary report here: Summary of Reimage Processes for New Software Survey
Changing the way things have always been done is intimidating, and there are inherent risks. But applying time-tested resources in a way that best meets your nonprofit’s needs will make it easier to successfully manage the twists and turns of process transformation.
Donor-advised funds are a big growth area for foundations. More donors are contributing to these accounts at their favorite foundation than ever before. Yet these funds provide little margin to pay for the services they require. Foundations are squeezed between low margins and high service requirements as the number of funds climbs.
Some foundations address this challenge through maximizing each donation opportunity. Some are looking internally. These foundations are decreasing the labor and cost to serve donor-advised funds while delivering better and faster results to their contributors.
When a donor contributes to a donor-advised fund at a public charity, that person is generally eligible to take an immediate tax deduction. Then those funds are invested for tax-free growth, and the giver can recommend grants to virtually any IRS-qualified public charity. Donor-advised funds are the fastest-growing charitable giving vehicle in the United States, because they are one of the easiest and most tax-advantageous ways to give.
Public charities, mainly foundations, receive minimal fees for the work they do to manage donor-advised funds. Yet these funds require substantial services, including investment management, grant payment, and grantee due diligence. For many foundations, the labor and cost of performing these tasks approaches or is greater than the fees they receive for these accounts. As these funds continue to proliferate, some foundations find that managing them siphons significant time away from fulfilling their essential purpose.
Some of these foundations are turning to advanced process improvement to decrease their labor and costs as they support their donor-advised funds. Once they get trained on the tools that are working for community foundations, these proactive leaders are redesigning process to recapture work time while delivering consistently good service to donors.
For example, one community foundation used process implement training and coaching to go from 75 to 39 steps in completing donor-advised grants. Once the new steps were implemented, their average processing time dropped from 50 minutes to only 25 minutes. With the savings of time, the foundation is able to deliver grants more predictably and efficiently—to the delight of donors and the nonprofits that receive those grants. In addition, the recaptured work time is now being used to address other community needs.
Foundation leaders are savvy. They constantly tinker to improve how back-office work is done. But the donor-advised grant squeeze may require more than a few tweaks in process. It may require making an investment in advanced process improvement.
Contact Lee Kuntz to learn how to address this squeeze through redesigning processes. Several community foundations have built their process knowledge and redesigned their donor-advised fund processes to recapture thousands of hours and deliver better and faster results. You can too!
Have you been part of a process improvement project that required an investment of hours upon hours over months or even years? Was a process improvement effort stopped because the team could not agree upon which improvement ideas to implement? Or an improvement initiative that made things worse instead of better?
With results like these, no wonder leaders hesitate to authorize process improvement initiatives. Yet some leaders are achieving impressive results from redesigning processes. They cut the work time to serve their customers in half, recapturing and repurposing thousands of hours. At the same time, they deliver better outcomes to their communities, boards, and partners.
These diametrically opposed outcomes beg the question: What creates the big difference in results?
The difference in results stems, in part, from the varying working definitions of process improvement. One website defines process improvement as “a systematic approach that can be used to make incremental and breakthrough improvements in processes.” While this approach sounds promising, it falls short of bringing transformational change.
A process redesign project that focuses only on improving how work is done will not significantly improve outcomes despite taking many hours of staff time. For example, one team shared that they worked on an improvement project for eighteen months. They met for two hours every month and talked about a host of cutting-edge ideas. Yet the team could not come together behind any idea they were willing to try. After they had invested more than 400 work hours generating ideas without implementing any of them, people started dropping out of the project. Then the CEO identified a new initiative and the team switched its focus to that priority.
I view process improvement more holistically. I see it as a tool to improve outcomes in a broader sense. It can be leveraged to enhance quality, customer experience, accuracy, compliance, or any other key process outcome. When leaders start by identifying the specific outcome(s) that must be improved, they make it possible to achieve impactful process improvement results.
Recently, a chief operations/administration officer (COO) became aware that her organization was incurring significant late-payment penalties. Phone calls about the late payments from both internal managers and external partners were eating up her team’s time, and the organization’s financial resources were being squandered on paying the penalties.
The COO talked with her team about what she saw and then initiated a process redesign project with the specific goal of getting payments out on time. She leveraged my team’s process improvement training and mentoring to help the team better understand what was actually happening. Once her team saw that they could solve the pain they were experiencing, they eagerly stepped forward to be on the redesign team. This team used their new process improvement knowledge to reduce the payment process from 110 steps to 60 steps. Now they are implementing these new ideas and have shortened the time to get payments out. They will no longer be plagued with collection phone calls and can reinvest their time in helping the organization fulfill its key objectives.
Achieving process improvement results starts with identifying the needed outcome(s) first. After all, would you start a road trip without picking a destination? With no destination, you may end up in Alaska, rather than California. Or on the side of the road, out of provisions for the journey. Only through setting a clear destination can your team succeed in achieving the improvement they need.
As a coach and a trainer, I have opportunities to influence leaders as they seek to achieve process improvement results. Therefore, I first ask which outcomes need to be improved.
When leaders focus on improving specific process outcomes, they foster employee engagement and leadership support. Starting with a particularly painful outcome is a great first step. For example, a director of donor relations received calls from three donors who said they received someone else’s gift acknowledgement letter. After awkward apologies were made and the letters were corrected, the director called me to learn how she could quickly address this situation so it would never happen again. I coached her and the team through a four-hour rapid process improvement event. I encouraged the group to kept one essential outcome in mind: Gift acknowledgements must be sent out to the correct donor every time.
Being clear about the goal helped galvanize the team to take action and be laser-focused in their redesign work. This focus shortened the time needed for the improvement work, as there were no side trips that consumed valuable team time and energy.
When your team needs to attain a given process outcome and is missing the mark, think process improvement. Whether your issue is an unhappy customer, overwhelmed employees, or a board demanding answers, start by identifying the specific outcomes needed. Communicating with employees about the missed mark and committing to resolve it can begin your journey to achieve impressive results.
Some organizations have built their process management skills and routinely fix inadequate outcomes successfully and quickly. You can, too. Contact me, Lee Kuntz, to talk through how your team can undertake rapid improvement that achieves process improvement results and promotes organizational success. Achieve Process Improvement Results: Start at the End