How to Know if Your Nonprofit Organization is Designed to Face Inward

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How to Know if Your Nonprofit Organization is Designed to Face Inward

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Eighty percent of executives say creating an “outside-in” culture is a high priority for the future. Outside is where the good stuff happens. Buyers buy. Inventors invent. Competitors compete. An outward-focused organization has its eyes on the action. They see what’s happening now and what’s coming down the pipe. Equally important, it sees itself the way it really is, how it stacks up, and what futures are possible.

Most organizations are unconsciously designed not to do that. I say “unconsciously” because no leader would intentionally blinker with their own organization. I say “designed” because layers of decisions stack up to create an organization that spends most of its time thinking about itself. Decisions about how to communicate, what gets rewarded, and what information is important.

How can you know if your organization is designed to face inward?

Ask people to name the three most important things the organization could do for the future

If all three of them are process, organization, or cultural changes, you might be inwardly focused.

Look at the data people bring to meetings

If almost all of it is about your own performance, you might be inwardly focused.

Review your research

If your research mostly includes your own customers, you might be inwardly focused.

Ben Franklin once said: “three things are extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” Once an organization has turned inward, it often clings to that for dear life. In one extreme example, a prominent membership organization had seen a start-up insurgent out-innovate them. It grew to three times its size in a few years. Alarmed, one leader commissioned a detailed study of their new competitor. They wanted to know how they had built a new digital model that had undermined the way they did business. The rest of the leadership not only dismissed it, but also denied it. They refused to believe it was happening. External perspective becomes threatening if it challenges the status quo.

Another client, a prominent membership organization, was long mired in old ways of doing things. We helped them take a radically inclusive and transparent approach to make external perspective a lever for real change. The process was exhaustive. It encompassed their entire profession, members and non-members alike. They held in-depth conversations with admired and like-minded organizations outside their own space. What ensued was a deep reflection on their competitors and similar, more successful, organizations. As a result, they came to an entirely new vision of who they needed to be and where they needed to focus. With great fear, the leadership opened themselves up to an outside view, only to be pleasantly surprised at the clarity it brought them.

You can’t read the label while you’re sitting in the jar. Becoming intentional about turning outward as an organization could be the most strategic move you could make.

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