A few months ago, I made a short presentation on the value of understanding the results that mission-based organization have been producing. This is to support the thesis on building management’s capacity to manage their results effectively.
What kind of results is your organization producing on a regular basis? Is this adding to your performance story? How results data are used to learn from the feedback from interventions in communities, beneficiaries or intended audience?
Regardless of the kind of performance the organization is bringing to the table, there are some sort of results/outcomes that get reported to donors, stakeholders, and funders. In this essay, I interchange results with outcomes and vice-versa.
This could be:
· project-based results – results from project interventions and activities
· strategic outcomes- which come from corporate strategies
· performance measurement outcomes- results that come from individual performance of employees, performance of departments, or performance on a specific task or function
· development results- outcomes that come from identified broad strategic development goals that organizations have set from the beginning, usually aligned to sectoral or national/international benchmarks
These results form part of the narrative of how the organization has been effective in its mission, how it has articulated its reason for being and how it is using its resources effectively to optimize its relevance for its target audience. And lastly but not the least, how this results mindset increases success for the organization. Most of these are upward accountability- to keep the funders happy and thus keep the funding flowing.
Most non-profits and mission-based organizations these days have some sort of a results-based management system. Other organizations in a more regulated industry have come up with their own results-driven management systems in place. Either they align to these industry benchmarks in a specific or general way.
According to Treasury Board of Canada, results-based management (RBM) is a comprehensive, lifecycle approach to management that integrates strategy, people, resources, processes and measurements to improve decision-making and drive change. The approach focuses on getting the right design early in a process, focusing on outcomes, implementing performance measurement, learning and changing, and reporting performance.
This is always the question that I encounter.
For small organizations with tiny budgets, few staff and programs running, or a volunteer-run board/committee working on specific activities only, what can the results-based management offer?
1. FROM ACTIVITIES MINDSET TO RESULTS MINDSET
It offers a solid framework to wrap strategy, resources, people, processes and measurement together. While most RBMs have been used in program and project interventions, it can (should be) also be used at the organizational level where no resources, inputs, people can leave unintegrated or fall of the cracks of the process.
For example, what can a group of volunteer moms supporting a local day care or after-school programming think for results? They need to think of the changes that took place in the lives of the students as a result of their programming.
When I was starting in the sector more than a decade ago, this was revolutionary. There was an 'aha' moment and felt liberating to be freed from the numbers game.
2. STRENGTHENS THE PERFORMANCE STORY OR IMPACT CLAIMS
It strengthens the performance story in a seemingly tightening regulatory and accountability demand from donors, funders, and general public. The intensity, complexity, and stronger demand for evidence puts organizations under pressure- to perform, to evaluate their work with rigor, to engage and learn from their innovations. Without an RBM as a framework to set and start this process, organizations will be caught unprepared, ill-equipped and will be scrambling all the time for the next “shiny” object to understand and communicate their results. The pressure cooker environment is not the best place to learn, innovate, and adapt.
No.1 and No.2 have clear implications for management to respond to the call for understanding and organizing their decisions based on results not on outputs they do regularly. Number of trainings conducted, number of wells built, number of school nutrition program started, number of basketball coaching provided, etc. These are outputs from activities. The trees not the forest.
Unfortunately, a few weeks ago I randomly scan around various organizations in the social sector and I see that outputs are claimed as outcomes. These impact claims are false and deceptive. There is a lot of room to grow on this area.
It is definitely difficult to retrofit the organization to think strategic and see the forests from the trees. But even small organizations can adapt to understanding the effects (including unintended, unexpected, and negative impacts) they have on their audience, their costs, methods, and implementation strategies, among other things.
This is not to say to comply for compliance sake. These regulations are coming down the pipeline faster than most of the social sector can possibly take. While compliance is one thing, it is best to work at a point of advantage, having an organic, bottom-up system that is in place. Not perfect but good enough to start. It is also time that the funder walks the talk on organizational capacity-building!
Let me know your thoughts. Did I miss something important?
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