Friday, February 17, 2017

Challenge to Change

Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector by Gowdy, Hildebrand, Piana, and Campos (2009) suggest five trends expected to reshape the social sector. In my experience, present opportunities were once past problems. And, since the social sector tends to adjust to change more like molasses than a rushing river, those past problems are still boisterously present in the social sector. In this brief examination, I look to examine those five trends as problem areas and explain why organizations are slow to catch on.


1. Demographic shifts redefine participation

The authors suggest that a younger generation is comprising a larger percentage of the workforce and, with them, come a changing set of skills, values, and expectations. The shift is a great asset because it breathes modernity into the field. However, the transition is slow turning and the current state of authority often have residual and decided feelings about process. In an interview with Jack Welch, chairman and CEO of General Electric at the time, published in the Harvard Business Review by Noel Tichy and Ram Charan (1989), it was remarked that Welch's transformation of G.E. relied on transforming attitudes where, culturally, employees struggled to release emotional energy. This idea of work and self-development/satisfaction as separate entities is still present. As a younger creative workforce enters an organizational, there is and has been push back against the value of those creative and innovative ideas as they grind against the established culture. This brings up the second trend.

Solution: Focus on assessing the fit of staff and volunteers (Renz, 2016: 601-603) and implement a criteria for retention such as that recommeded by Watson and Abzug (Renz, 2016: 615-629).

2. Technological Advances Abound

Social media presents an opportunity for nonprofits to enhance their communication, openness, and transparency. But, with changing times, many organizations feel that they must change their identity because, for them, their identity includes their mission, work culture, and priorities, amongst often temporary, actionable components. So, when they change those malleable pieces, they shift their identity. From personal experience, if an organization is unaware of what their identity is, they won't be able to communicate it through social media, which undermines the total impact of the tool.

Solution: Focus on target marketing (Renz, 2016: 373-376) and establish the narrative for vision and mission. Lead volunteers and stakeholders with that narrative/rhetoric so they not only know what they're doing, but why they're doing it and can communicate that later (Gamel and Prahalad, 1989).

3. Networks Enable Work to be Organized in New Ways

The researchers recognize the catch-22 of this trend. On one hand, "new technologies and new norms for working collaboratively, the potential impact of network is increasing exponentially (12)." While networking is not new, the global possibility to network and the wide range of platforms for partnerships is certainly an asset. However, "the flexibility poses a threat to the organizational coherence and sense of permanency of large but static nonprofits... (12)" For organizations that are not adjusting to the growing trends or have very rigged and fixed identities and hierarchies, partnerships are not inviting. Consider the small town school with decreasing enrollment and decreasing tax support as the town is aging and growing smaller. Collaboration is nearly frowned upon because identity is at risk and support is scarce, which inevitably transforms the approach adn structure more similar to a competition-driven business model.

Solution: Engege in partnerships as they are found to be a measure of effectiveness, but focus on defining the target community, service area, goods/services provided, and resource capabilities so that, when competition does ensue, the program has not engaged in mission creep or fiscla irresponsibility (Renz, 2016: 274-290).

4. Interest in Civic Engagement and Volunteerism Rising

Greater volunteerism and civic engagement is always a greater asset to a community. It is important for organizations to understand how to appropriately communicate the needs and goals of an organization, which is reliant on a fundamental understanding of and communication of that organizations identity. The inability to do this will drive long-term, sustainable volunteerism away from the organization. Further, this civic engagement, at a broader political level, will shift the burden of utility away from state and federal governments and more toward nonprofits, potentially without supporting funds. This puts greater stress and pressure on those organizations and can thwart their ability to function maximally.

Solution: Implement the ten-step strategic planning process to target volunteers in an organized manner (Renz, 2016: 243). Partner this with the aforementioned program-determined rhetoric and narrative to foster volunteer commitment.

5. Sector Boundaries are Blurring

Blurred sector boundaries means that organizations are better understanding the dynamic needs of their communities and the interrelatedness between them. This is, in my significant trending shift in America in every sector. This brings the potential for greater effectiveness, greater funding, and greater collaboration. However, without a clear understanding of one's identity and goals, it would be a slippery slope to over-extension that could debilitate an organization.

Solution: Analyze and assess multiple markets and strategic inputs to determine opportunities and niches (Renz, 2016: 221-232)

All-in-all, the factor that undermines facilitation and absorption of these new trends and tools is an unwillingness to change and the absence of a full, rich, and dynamic understanding of one's organizational identity. An unwillingness to change is a cyclical and self-revolving problem that both explains and is explained by these five factors above. The catalyst for change must be great and apparent, which explains, to a degree, why nonprofits are so slow to change and adapt.

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