Monday, April 21, 2014
Friday, April 11, 2014
How do you plan a consulting project and provide oversight to the workplan to get the most out of a time-limited relationship? It will be as good or as bad as your organization makes it!
Develop a project that is relevant to the organizational needs:
- successful consulting projects are driven by and responsive to the organizational strategic plan
- successful consulting projects are responsive to organizational strengths and needs.
- successful consulting projects have a draft plan in place before potential consultants are approached
- successful consulting projects are rarely driven by "friend of the board" consulting opportunities, to address shortterm needs due to staffing/funding shortfalls, nor projects proposed by the consultants themselves
Choosing the consultant. Find someone with strong relevancy to your organization's needs.
- Talk to colleagues, funders, professional organizations
- Look at the past experience of the consultant for indications that they know your sector and how to work with organizations of your size, especially when sectoral knowledge is very key to the project.
- Be sure the skills and expertise of your consultant is a match for the specific focus of the project, e.g. "social media marketing" and not just "marketing" if they are charged with a social media marketing plan.
- Be sure that the consultant you are in conversation with is able to be as hands-on and present in the organization or as independent as your project needs them to be. Be frank with the consultant about what you need and don't need.
- Discuss the draft plan with the consultant as well as the opportunities, strengths and limitations of your organization. Be receptive to suggestions that enhance your plan but wary of someone who wants to make huge changes to the plan. They may not be a fit for what the organization needs.
Assure everyone involved in the project is clear about lines of authority, responsibilities and reporting.
- In successful consulting projects there is organizational oversight. Who directs the consultant's work? Who intervenes if a consultant's work is not being done, goes off-course or is being disruptive of operations?
- Is there a staff member(s) assigned to assist the consultant? If so are those staff members aware of how they will be expected to assist? This needs to be spelled out, "You will be required to occasionally assist X by research and assembling information. This is not to take precedence over your regular work, should not involve more than 1-3 hours work per week."
- In successful consulting projects, staff understand the scope of the project and how it integrates with their own work and what they might be asked to do to assist with the project
- Do staff know what information is permissible to share? Be thoughtful about privacy legislation and your own valuable contact lists.
- Do staff understand the likely outcomes of the project? "The information you give us on information flow and 'who does what' in your department will guide an HR reorganization that could change reporting structure and job descriptions". Understanding the importance of the project will elicit buy-in.
Why consulting projects fail?
- Irrelevant projects: A marketing plan for an organization without the staff or finances to support the plan. A "think outside of the box" innovational strategy that is not sustainable due to known factors.
- Choosing the wrong consultant: You picked someone with a knowledge of foundations and government funders to plan and pioneer an individuals and corporate donor campaign.
- Absentee or "in your hair" consultants: lack of clarity about workplan and style leads to a consultant that no one can connect with, ("I'm sorry but I am in Abu Dhabi for 6 months and I need to get my cellphone unlocked before I can call you back") or a consultant who is disruptive of daily work with a barrage of phone calls, emails and drop ins
- Lack of oversight: Consulting project takes on a life of its own due to lack of oversight. Results unlikely to reflect original goals and project either becomes irrelevant or disruptive. Results become hard to assess when it is unclear what the consultant actually did. Staff resent a consultant taking on roles that is in their job description.
- Lack of clarity about reporting structure/staff roles; Due to busyness and lack of information staff are uncooperative, stalling the project or the opposite, staff unduly priorize consulting project to the detriment of higher priority work. Consultant, unclear of how to get needed help, goes to anyone who answers the phone for help sometimes causing duplication and confusion. Consultant unclear of boundaries, contacts staff at home, via personal email etc. Staff who have no mechanism to refuse to put in extra hours for consultancy project ask for huge overtime payments or time in lieu due to work heaped on them by the consultant.
- Lack of clarity/process and ethical considerations in information sharing. Wary staff refuse to share information needed for the consultancy. Staff fail to priorize information sharing because they don't know how it will be used. Staff who misunderstand Consultant's scope share privileged information. Consultant offers the organization contact information that is not supposed to be shared. Our contact list is shared against our wishes and our contacts complain. Individuals added to our contact list complain about spam. We see a decline in funding results from known sources the following year and discover our list of funding contacts is being used by a competitor who has hired our former consultant.
- Strategic needs and long-term goals should drive the project, not shortterm opportunities or needs
- Select a consultant who matches the project, the organization and the work style of the team
- Provide clear oversight to the consultant and clear responsibilities/communication lines for the staff
- Get the necessary buy in from staff by sharing the project's goals and likely outcomes
- Be thoughtful about information sharing making sure protections and permissions are clear
- Track the project regularly assuring reports are accurate
Friday, April 04, 2014
In the not-for-profit and arts world I believe we set ourselves up to be uniquely vulnerable to the pitfalls of ethical systems based on utilitarianism. This is the ethical system in which the "good of the many" always outweighs the "good of the few", a system that becomes challenged when the means are not ethical in and of themselves. In not-for-profit workplaces we think about "Ends" all the time. Right on the top of all our literature and websites we spell out the "Mission". We are focused and passionate about the mission of our organizations, whether it is feeding the hungry, housing the homeless or assuring the survival of a classical orchestra.
Into all this passion and energy for achieving worthy goals comes a number of roadblocks that can make us, as non-profit staff and managers, feel that government funders, sponsors, regulatory bodies, are treating us unfairly, stacking the deck against the success of our organization to achieve our mission. Those challenges include: the preference for funding projects and program costs, over needed support for core operations; shifting priorities and programs from governments and foundation funders; narrow program objectives that don't match the needs of the communities we serve. And some days we feel like if we hear the word "innovation" one more time, we'll scream. We twist our programs pretzel shaped to try to qualify for those innovation grants when, really, we think that the way we have always done things is probably pretty soundly based on best practices.
Between the passion to do good and the frustration about roadblocks that seem illogical, unpredictable and insurmountable there sneaks in a philosophy of the "end justifies the means". Whether we bend the truth a little bit in our funding application to make our planned activity seem like a better fit, or we move expenses in accounting lines to shift expense from administration to program and marketing, we are embarked on a slippery slope. Tensions mount in organizations when doing whatever it takes to get or keep funding pushes staff members beyond their comfort levels.
These are not victimless crimes. Public dollars, the reputations and health of workers, the continuation of programs and services that the public counts on are jeopardized when organizations foster a culture of unethical expediency. Staff members feel helpless in organizations where they are not just asked but required to do unethical things: back-date mail machines to send in applications after funding deadlines, forge a signature because someone is unavailable, spend all their time working on one project that they are not funded to work on and neglect the work they are funded to do (a common way of shifting funds from one program to the other surreptitiously), directly shift funds from one program to another without the funder's knowledge, invent statistics, report fundraising costs of a special event fundraiser as a "program" cost, report expenses of one project as the expenses of another, double and triple raise project revenues for one pet project while reporting a reasonable budget in each request, over-spending ridiculously on one area. . . all things that have been sanctioned in organizations I have worked for in the past. Yet there is little over-sight of non-profits and whistle-blowers at the staff level often have their careers ruined while they sometimes see the non-profit manager who forced the questionable or outright disgraceful practices be backed up by non-profit boards and even to be recognized with national awards.
Any solutions have to deal with both the problem and its causes. Adequate funding of basic operations of non-profits that are operating effectively in the public good will stop the need to fudge program costs to cover operations. I could say that Boards should stop propping up corrupt leaders but . . . that's not going to happen. The "friends of X" board is alive and well everywhere. I have come to the conclusion that there needs to be tougher regulatory bodies at the provincial and federal level that will investigate allegations of mismanagement of publicly funded non-profits. Working currently in a very well-managed and ethical non-profit has given me new perspective on the harm that unethical non-profits do to workers, funders and programs.