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.
Use Process Improvement to Transform Outcomes.
Is your organization planning and budgeting for the next fiscal year? Are you tired of fighting the same pain points year after year, such as overwhelming workloads, demands for better or faster results, or challenges to maximize costly technology? During this year’s budgeting and planning season, consider investing in a coached process deep dive to recapture capacity and solve pain points.
Create a Plan that Succeeds
This is planning and budgeting season for about 30% of the organizations I know. Even with today’s unusual times, many are creating concrete plans and budgets to solve their pain points this year and beyond. If they do not, organizations will experience the same old pain and frustration they have in the past.
Organizations that help and serve others are recapturing hundreds—even thousands—of hours of capacity. They are serving their customers, community, board, funders, and donors in half the time. They are retaining employees. Their secret? Investing to transform processes and results.
Most of us have done process improvement. We have tweaked processes and resolved breaks. Some organizations are taking their improvement work to a transformational level. They are cutting their work steps in half and delivering to their key partners in fraction of the time. They are freeing up thousands of staff hours that can be used for other purposes.
These organizations budget for an investment in process transformation training and a coached deep dive during their annual planning. Here are the results they are achieving.
• Recapturing over 4,000 work hours.
• Sharing services across functions.
• Maximizing expensive technology.
• Remaining error-free for 3 years.
• Delivering to customers in half the time.
Does it work? In a survey of process redesign results, our customers cut their process work steps by 52%, improving quality and speed while recapturing time. Figure 1 illustrates the before and after steps of several organization’s redesigned processes.
Figure 1: Process Change with Process Transformation
In addition to achieving this enviable result, these leaders are committed to building a culture of ongoing improvement. They can easily fix and improve any process and result because they have learned the tools to see and solve transformation opportunities. Their employees are fully invested in the process transformation game because they have been involved as stakeholders since the inception of the training.
Here is a case study about one team’s journey: Case Study: Community Foundation Creates Powerful Scholarship Program
Invest in Building Process Improvement Muscle
Leaders are bringing the story of process transformation to their organizations’ annual planning discussions. Yet a common question is: What does the initial investment consist of?
The initial investment in transformational process improvement includes two components: dedicated staff time for learning and implementing new approaches and out-of-pocket costs for training and coaching.
A typical employee will spend between 5 and 40 hours annually doing successful process transformation.
The out-of-pocket cost of the training and coaching depends upon the amount, level, and number of hours needed. Our training to help teams think and act differently includes our live online or onsite 4-hour Concepts and our 4-hour Tools think differently process transformation training. After the training, we coach your team either onsite or live online to use their new process skills to dramatically improve a key process. These process team coaching sessions are between 20 and 30 hours together.
Plan to Solve Pain Points in the Coming Year
Organizations that train their employees in process transformation find that work gets done faster and with fewer errors. The time saved leads to better service to the organizations’ customers and community, and greater job satisfaction among employees. You can, too! Contact me, Lee Kuntz, to learn more about how your organization can plan to solve pain points and thrive.
Recently, a software vendor told me that organizations considering a new software system would do well to supply their vendor with a detailed process map. Having such a map helps the vendor better address the organization’s needs and generate a more accurate quote. In four hours of work with your team, my firm can produce a process map that will help you achieve a better software outcome. Contact Lee Kuntz, CLSSBB to learn more.
Is your organization looking to make a bigger community impact? Your operations—that is, how work is done—can be a powerful contributor in accomplishing your organization’s mission.
For philanthropic organizations, the nuts and bolts of operations are what enable teams to award and deliver grants quickly, set up and service fund accounts accurately, and work effectively with their boards. Some organizations have discovered that fine-tuning these operations equips them to magnify their community impact.
These organizations function at their best when their processes, systems, and people are maximized. Here are three ways organizations can maximize to operate for impact.
Better service to the community. When an organization’s grantmaking work steps are consistently carried out as designed (including substantial error proofing), grants are issued accurately. Proactive operations staff make these grants in the manner that is best for grantees, whether electronically or with hard-copy checks. Having processes in place to verify email and postal addresses eliminates the need to reissue communications or follow up on missing grant payments. When organizations manage processes for accuracy and a high service level, everyone’s time and energy can be spent wisely.
Quicker turnaround. Most organizations spend hundreds of thousands—even millions—of dollars on technology. From my experience, few of them use more than half their system’s capabilities. Instead they rely on manual processes and system work-arounds, all of which slow the delivery of payments to grantees and receipts to donors. When payments and receipts do not go out on time, grantees and donors typically start calling to find out the status of their payment or donation. Fielding calls and tracking down an explanation takes precious time away from the main purpose of the philanthropic effort.
A grantmaker who makes best use of the available tools, such as leveraging templates in Outlook and creating system reporting rather than relying on manual work-arounds, gets grants and confirmations out the door fast. The donor or grantee’s focus on creating an impact continues without disruption.
Efficiency that creates lower administrative costs, enabling more community investment. Philanthropic work, whether related to program design or operations, is paid for by fund expenses. Therefore, greater internal costs mean higher fund expenses and less money available for making a philanthropic impact. Doing operations work more efficiently can help decrease internal costs. A key component to that efficiency is maximizing staff time.
Yet too often, operations staff are hired and then shown their desk and a pile of work. This may unwittingly imply that their role is less important than the functions carried out by program designers.
Nonprofits that support their staff by defining clear roles, providing purposeful training, and delineating business rules find that their staff gets work done faster and better. And not inconsequentially, their employees are satisfied, productive, and energized.
Grantmakers and operations staff working in finance, technology, human resources, and other areas have an important role to play in enhancing efficiency. By proactively managing and improving processes and making best use of systems, you can increase the philanthropic impact of your organization.
Learn more about how to enhance operation in this recently published article: Invest in your operations teams to drive your mission forward – PhilanTopic | PND | Candid
Lee Kuntz is founder and president of Innovation Process Design, Inc. As a certified process coach, she provides process improvement training and coaching to help teams look at their work with new eyes, transform how work gets done, and create tangible results in operations efficiency and effectiveness.
Many nonprofits and philanthropies have come under pressure to be more efficient and effective than ever before. Yet, the dollars just haven’t been invested to support the kinds of operations needed to carry out today’s heightened level of giving in addition to addressing emergency programs.
With organization’s planning and budgeting for the next fiscal year, now that is changing. Learn more in Lee Kuntz’s recently published article.
Is one person in your organization performing a critical role, the responsibilities of which are not even known to others? Then you might appreciate this foundation’s success story.
Most philanthropic organizations take pains to carefully design and then redesign their mission, strategy, and programs. They, along with their board of directors, often hire strategic consultants and share best practices with like-minded organizations to frame their goals and objectives. Yet many spend little time improving their daily operations to deliver on these plans, even though community impact will happen only by doing so.
Sound planning without excellent execution is unlikely to produce the desired results. Operations—meaning how work gets done—is the key determinant of whether organizations succeed in accomplishing their mission. For philanthropic organizations, the nuts and bolts of operations are what enable teams to award and deliver grants quickly, set up and service fund accounts accurately, and work effectively with their board.
Not surprisingly, the majority of grantmakers’ resources are spent on operations. Our recent informal study showed only about 10% of employee time is used for mission, strategy, and program design. Yet 90% of employee time is spent on the operations to deliver on that planning. Yet in philanthropic organizations, little energy is spent maximize those operations resources.
Each full-time employee of a philanthropic organization works about 2,000 hours annually. Staff leaders can assign and manage that time in an efficient and effective way. Or they can assign employees to tasks that duplicate efforts and don’t add value. Either way, the money is gone and the community pays for that time through fewer grant dollars being spent.
Operations success requires specific skills. These include focusing on details to produce desired results, practicing strong project and task management, solving problems effectively, and having a deep working knowledge of process management and improvement.
A great first step toward enhancing operations expertise is to identify employees with an operations aptitude, then provide them process management and improvement training. Our operations and process transformation training uses proven process methodologies to maximize what the organization already has to improve outcomes. We show attendees how to maximize work steps, technology, business rules, roles, training, and forms—all of which are components of operations.
As a result of our training and coaching during these deep-dive events, we see organizations achieving a greater understanding of the value of operations work. Their employees are also transforming how work is done, significantly reducing and improving the work steps to decrease turn-around time and improve community impact. Learn more through this case study describing how one team went from overwhelmed and delivering late to making a much greater community impact.
In my recent conversations with foundations, I have noticed a greater commitment to scrutinizing how work is done. This includes identifying staff to focus on monitoring operations outcomes while also managing processes and systems. Increasingly, grantmakers are redesigning roles to build in detailed operations accountabilities. We have seen three approaches to this intensified concentration on operations:
Identify an operations person in each major function: Some organizations are establishing operations accountabilities by naming a person in each area as the operations lead. For example, one philanthropy team includes a senior operations manager who “ensures the productivity and efficiency of the Philanthropic Services team while working across departments to improve cross-team collaboration and communication.”
Another organization employs an operations manager who “guides the development and implementation of efficient processes within the Community Programs team to maximize the team’s efforts toward racial and economic equity.” This same organization employs an operations manager in their finance area to deliver on the chief financial officer’s agenda. This operations manager “owns and drives Finance & Operations team planning, project management and process development. The role also is the primary liaison for Finance and Operations communication across teams and collaborates on cross-foundation operations initiatives.”
Hire a chief operations officer (COO): Some organizations are grouping functions that are highly operational into one leadership role. For example, one job posting noted that the COO “will work in alignment and harmony with the CEO and will be responsible for effectively managing the organization’s infrastructure, processes, human and financial resources.”
Another philanthropic group shared that the COO “leads the Information Technology, Grants Administration, Board governance, Human Resources, Organizational Development, Office Management, and business continuity functions.”
Add the management of operations to a senior leader’s responsibilities: Some organizations add “Operations” to the responsibilities of the chief financial officer (CFO) or another leader. One foundation’s description of its CFO and operations role includes: “Responsible for leading the Foundation’s financial reporting, risk management, budget, technology roadmap, and investment oversight.”
Another organization lists some responsibilities of the vice president of finance and operations as follows:
Making a positive community impact is possible only when effective operational practices are in place. Foundations are now building their operations capabilities and accountabilities, enabling them to focus on both planning and operations successfully. Your organization can too. Contact Lee Kuntz to talk about the operations challenges you see at your organization.
Many consultants offer process improvement services alongside their other services, but a consultant who is certified in proven business process improvement methods can help your team reach ambitious goals most effectively. A certified process improvement consultant can help you achieve significant, measurable results such as recapturing capacity and realizing a faster return on new system investment.
Business process improvement methodologies are all about transforming how work is done to improve outcomes. These approaches range from the latest techniques to traditional methods, some of which have been around for almost a hundred years.
Each of these methodologies produces desired results when used as designed. However, not all these industrial engineering techniques and tools work in every situation. For example, Six Sigma makes use of significant statistical tools that are great for challenges encountered at manufacturing companies, but they are of little value to service organizations. Yet the process control component of Six Sigma is valuable to any organization looking to deliver consistent results. The key is to identify and use the right methodology and tools for the challenges at hand.
Some professional certifications have a strict, common definition. For example, the AICPA governs the Certified Public Accountant designation, setting standards that are respected around the nation. Passing the CPA examination was a proud moment in my life, because the certifying exam was so difficult.
In contrast to public accounting, where the content is clearly defined by a single entity, becoming certified in business process management requires demonstration of competency in multiple disciplines. These disciplines overlap each other, as shown below.
Figure 1: Methodology Overlap
The training and certification exam for each methodology includes tools that are not taught or tested in the other disciplines. For example, the American Society for Quality includes only a handful of Lean operations tools in its Six Sigma Lean Operations Black Belt training and certification. The Lean Institute makes use of only a few Six Sigma tools in its program. For most of these methodologies, people seeking certification must prove their mastery through education, testing and, at times, the submission of completed projects that demonstrate their competency.
Business process management certification is important for several reasons. First, it represents independent verification of the applicant’s knowledge and skills. Certification serves as confirmation that the applicant has learned and mastered techniques.
Second, certification supports achieving significantly better outcomes, which is critical as process improvement success is judged on the results achieved. These significantly better outcomes could be fewer errors, higher quality, faster outcomes, a better experience for customers, or a new system installation that pays for itself in two years.
The chart below chart illustrates transformational results some of your colleagues in the philanthropic sector achieved when they used our certified process improvement services. Process steps were reduced and improved. Quality and speed were improved.
Figure 2: IPD Certified Process Improvement Impact
Innovation Process Design (IPD) can teach your team the business process management skills you will need to identify process improvement opportunities on an ongoing basis. By developing proficiency of your own, you will not be dependent upon a consultant to make continual progress.
As IPD’s lead trainer and coach, I am certified, trained, and skilled in Lean operations, Six Sigma, human-centered design, project management, and public speaking. Our team’s depth and breadth of tools and experience enables us to select the tools and approaches that best address your specific challenges and goals. We have extensive experience helping philanthropic organization achieve significantly better outcomes. Our successful track record means you can complete process redesign faster, more efficiently, and with better results. Learn more about these results in these case studies.
Business process management certification matters. Other organizations have experienced the advantages and results that certified process improvement brings. Your organization can too. Contact me, Lee Kuntz, to learn more.
The pandemic has caused disruption to many organizations. The top priority for every organization has been finding ways to operate safely. Some also seek the capacity to do even more: more emergency assistance for their community; more internal and external social justice work; more services to donors. And they need to accomplish these goals in a safe, employee-friendly way.
To address these needs, we now deliver process transformation services virtually, in-person, or in a hybrid format.
Process transformation, unlike process improvement, goes beyond tweaking work steps. It entails a total overhaul to the way work is done. Some consultants produce rudimentary improvement, but a certified process specialist identifies approaches and provides tools to recapture significant capacity. Innovation Process Design (IPD) is certified in proven operations improvement methodologies, including Lean Operations, Six Sigma, and Human Centered Design. We know how to tailor our approach to each organization’s unique mission and circumstances.
As a result, over the last twenty years, clients who have engaged our Think Differently Process Transformation™ services have achieved dramatic reductions in work steps in key areas, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Impact of Process Transformation
By reducing and improving work steps, nonprofits recaptured significant amounts of time, which they invested in new programs that have increased their community impact. Board meetings are more productive and require a fraction of the preparation time that had been invested before. Payments are made without delay, better supporting grantees’ needs. Donor gifts are confirmed in a faster and more efficient manner. Learn more about organizations’ process transformation results here: Process Improvement Case Studies.
In order for process transformation to be successful, staff members must be actively and safely engaged. IPD has had years of experience conducting transformation events in a variety of settings: in-person, virtual, and through a combination of the two. Our prior experience made it an easy transition to offer our clients three ways to engage in process transformation. The advantages of each option are detailed in Figure 2.
Figure 2: IPD Services Channels
Engaging in an in-person deep dive to transform processes is a powerful experience. Yet this face-to-face experience requires committing staff to several full, consecutive days of in-person meetings. Since all-staff in-person meetings are highly unlikely for several months, waiting for in-person services will delay the time the team has to implement their newly designed processes and as a result, delay the benefits of process transformation.
Virtual meetings offer an alternative to full, consecutive day meetings, as three-hour transformation sessions can occur over several weeks. Spreading out this time works well for many organizations’ daily workflow. In addition, there is no travel time or travel cost for a virtual event, lowering the overall event cost compared to in-person meetings by around $2,000. Employees appreciate being able to continue to safely work at home, and the transformation initiative can start any time the organization is ready.
Our hybrid service channel provides the team options regarding who attends from which location. Our transformation trainer and coach, Lee Kuntz, can be at your site or at the IPD office. Your staff can attend in-person or from anywhere they have internet access.
Since work location is becoming more fluid, the hybrid model is likely here to stay. The benefits of the hybrid model, depending on how each organization configures it, include many from both the in-person and virtual channels.
Having these channels available to forward thinking foundations and other nonprofits means employees, whereever they are located, can safely and effectively transform their processes and results.
Many leaders see that their community needs more help. Yet key to taking on this new work is increasing capacity. The good news is that leaders can begin their process transformation journey virtually, in-person, or in a hybrid fashion. Through a safe, flexible, and customized approach, organizations can start realizing the many benefits of process transformation without delay.
As founder and president of Innovation Process Design Inc., Lee has spent two decades using process improvement to solve the unique challenges facing leaders of complex service institutions. Through expert training and coaching, she helps teams look at their work with new eyes, transform how work gets done, and create real results. Learn more about Lee and how she helps organizations at improveprocess.net.