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.