Michele Roy Martin
Expectations--Outcomes vs. Process

Setting Expectations--"Whore to the System Syndrome"

In a previous post we talked about the six boxes and how they impact organizational performance. Today I wanted to more closely explore the issue of setting expectations.

For organizations there are two types of expectations--the ones that are set for the organization to achieve and the ones that individual employees must achieve to support the organization's objectives. In this post, we'll focus on organizational objectives. In a later post, we'll examine how to set individual expectations so that they support organizational objectives.

You Get What You Measure
Before we look at setting organizational objectives in a non-profit environment, we first need to understand the role that expectations play in the day-to-day operations of an agency.

Here's the bottom line. You get what you measure. If the organization is held accountable for raising money, then the organization's daily operations will naturally be organized around that goal. If your success is measured by the number of people served, then your focus will be on getting as many people in your doors as possible. Human beings do what they are rewarded for and they don't do what is punished or ignored. Whatever the agency is talking about as being THE goals, those will be the things that people work on every day. When we explore individual employee expectations in a later post, we'll look at this issue more closely as part of the law of unintended consequences.

For now, let's look at how organizational goals are set in many NPOs.
Organizational Objectives in a Non-Profit Environment

For most non-profits, organizational objectives or expectations are generally based on two things--the organization's mission and clients and the organization's funding sources. Here's where I'll make some people mad:

While most organizations want to believe that they are "mission-driven," I have repeatedly seen that they are more funder-driven, becoming what I call "Whores to the System." This is particularly true if the NPO is supported by government funding, although it can also be the case with foundation dollars.

Here's what happens. NPOs need money to operate. They become aware of a funding opportunity--a government grant or foundation money that seems like it would serve their customers. So they apply for it. They need the money and they go after whatever they can get. It's perfectly understandable.

This would be fine if the requirements of the funding source were always in the best interest of the customers the agencies serve. But this is often not the case. In fact, many times the expectations of the funder can actually work against the organization's mission, although most agencies don't seem to realize this connection until it's too late.

Here's an example of what I mean--I've worked with NPOs  that have set for themselves a goal (based on their mission) of helping unemployed people find work that pays a living wage. To serve these clients, the NPOs receive government funding. One of the requirements of this funding is to find employment for individuals within a specified (very short) period of time. The problem is that many of the clients served by this organization need additional training and education in order to find work that is self-sustaining.

So the NPO is caught between a rock and a hard place.

If the agency does what the funder wants, then they should be focused on getting as many people as possible back to work as quickly as possible, regardless of the quality of the job. If they are going to respond to their organizational mission of helping people find work that pays a living wage, then they should be helping people to get the education and training they need to find that kind of work BEFORE they help these clients get a job. Guess which option they choose? 

In another post we'll talk more about this whole "Whore's to the System" thing again--I think there are alternatives to chasing the dollars--but for now, the point I want to make here is this:

To be able to clearly communicate to your staff about organizational success and the expectations for performance, you need to be clear about who your real customer is. If you're serving the funder, then you need to be honest and up-front about that so you can look at how you're organizing your work practices to meet those goals. What often happens is that agencies lie to themselves and say that they're serving the client, but in reality, everything they do is geared toward meeting the needs of the funders. This is confusing to everyone and makes for a lot of really poor work performance. Better to be straight with yourselves so you can operate from reality.

In our next post, we'll look at the difference between Outcomes and Process and what they has to do with setting organizational and individual expectations.


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