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Impact Thinking: How Does Your Organization Compare?

by Jennifer Shen (11/26/14)

Thank you all for the incredible response to part one of our Impact Thinking brief!  Some say this paper has made them think about impact amidst rapid growth, others have used it to launch discussions of overall organizational effectiveness. We are thrilled to have ignited a conversation around the critical mindset we call “impact thinking.”

Impact thinking is an organization’s longer-term, holistic view of achieving its desired social impact. It is characterized by continuous learning and accountability practices that deliberately, doggedly, and effectively measure performance against intended impact. In part one of this briefing, we explain why impact thinking can be challenging and examine some common misconceptions.

Your feedback got us wondering: where are others on the path to impact thinking? Let us know where you or your organization falls, and see where your peers rated themselves by participating in the poll below!

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We know you’re excited to read part two of the briefing (we are too!), so we will be publishing it in mid-December. In part two, we’ll share how you can get “un-stuck” from limiting practices and become an impact thinker, some of the benefits you can expect, and leading examples of impact thinking in the sector. Stay tuned!

To Change or Not to Change (your strategic plan, that is)

Shannon Johnson (11/14/14)

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” -Woody Allen

Our clients have hags…BHAGs that is (also known as big, hairy audacious goals). You have to if you are working to solve complex social problems. While Woody Allen’s quote is good for a laugh, we definitely do not think that planning is futile. We fundamentally believe that organizations need to have strategic plans to achieve their BHAGs. We’ll take the liberty to translate Mr. Allen’s quote to “The best plans will (and should) adapt over time.” I know, not quite as funny.

We were excited to see that the folks at Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) shared the same view in a recent article and webinar “Strategic Philanthropy in a Complex World.”  SSIR did a great job of explaining (and visualizing) the concept of emergent strategies. The concept is this:

  1. You start with your strategic plan to accomplish your BHAG (intended strategies)
  2. Some of those plans don’t pan out (unrealized strategies) – let’s drop those
  3. Fortunately, some plans do work (deliberate strategies) – of course, we’ll keep these
  4. Hopefully we’re learning along the way, and new ideas and opportunities arise (emergent strategies). Now, what to do with these? As Lloyd Christmas says in Dumb and Dumber, “We don’t usually pick up hitchhikers. But I’m-a gonna go with my instincts on this one. Saddle up, partner!

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The SSIR language may be a bit formal, but the concept is simple: Start with your best thinking at the time, figure out what’s working, and adapt your plans with new strategies as they come. The concept of emergent strategies is freeing. You do not have to have it all figured out when you set out to create a strategic plan. Emergent strategy gives you permission to be “strategically opportunistic” and take advantage of new opportunities with confidence. And confidence looks great on you, by the way.

A charter school client of ours appreciated the nuance of being “strategically opportunistic.” Despite the constant flux of California’s education climate (due to frequent political and funding shifts), our client set a strategic direction with its staff and board leaders. They created a coherent vision for impact, prioritized specific investments and strategies, and considered various financial scenarios. Recently, this client had to let some unrealized strategies go. But by remaining flexible, they have stayed focused on achieving their overall goal of equipping students for college success.

Tell us: have you had to let go of an “unrealized strategy” recently? When did you know it was time to let it go? Have you had the opportunity to take advantage of an “emergent strategy”? Let us know in the comments section, or email us at hello@bluegarnet.net to share your thoughts!