Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Four Fundamental Questions

If you want focused, effective, coordinated action from the people in your organization, then every one of them should be able to answer these four fundamental questions:

*Why are we here? 
*What do we stand for? 
*Where are we going? 
*How are we going to get there?

Why are we here?  This is the mission question.  But we don’t need to make people memorize the mission statement.  It’s much more important that everyone can, in their own words, explain the impact your organization intends to make and for whom.  Invite people to practice doing this with one another at your next staff meeting.  It will help them the next time someone they meet asks what you do.

What do we stand for?  If you don’t have a list of articulated values of your organization, then add this to your “to do” list.  But don’t just check the box when you are done and file them away.  Regularly – maybe quarterly – refer to them and ask one another how well your organization is living up to them.  How well have you navigated the inevitable ethical challenges that have come along?

Where are we going?  Can everyone state the organization’s most important goals for the coming year, and for the next five years?  And what about your vision for the future?  Have people been given a chance to share their dreams and contribute to creating a shared vision for the organization?  Allowing people to participate in crafting the future of their organization can help develop a more empowered team.

How are we going to get there?  This is, of course, the strategy question and most people in most organizations cannot articulate this.  Writing in Harvard Business Review in 2008, Collins & Rutland made this observation:

“Leaders of firms are mystified when what they thought was a beautifully crafted strategy is never implemented. . . .  They fail to appreciate the necessity of having a simple, clear, succinct strategy statement that everyone can internalize and use as a guiding light for making difficult choices.”

Make the four questions a topic for your next staff meeting or go even deeper on them at your summer staff retreat.  The questions are also a great topic for employee orientation.  When everyone can clearly answer these questions you have a much greater chance of coordinating action and making even more of a mission impact.

For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at www.SheehanNonprofitConsulting.com   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.

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