I have been working with various non-profit and for-profit organisations over the past decade of my consultancy, and I have noticed a worrying trend. Most companies or non-profits struggle and fail for more reasons beyond lack of access to capital and high operating costs. I realise there is a vast knowledge gap in running organisations in general.
I was introduced to a client by another long term client. The person he introduced me to was in distress. They believed they needed a communication and marketing strategy to help them get back to the height of revenue generation, as was the case three years earlier. Instead, they were in a downward spiral; business was not looking good.
Their core business was transportation, airport transfers and pickups. So I dug deeper to find out exactly how they do that. I soon realised there was no clear structure of how they operated.
They had taken advantage of the limited number of taxis at the airport a decade earlier, got licensing from the airport and always got the masses who arrived. But then uber and other taxi-hailing applications took over, and with hotels running their pick-up services, the organisation was scrapping to get business.
The company always received complaints of lousy customer service from drivers. There was a lot of delay in pick-ups. Finally, people just got fed up. So she fired a few drivers and tried customer service training for those that remained. But the challenges persisted.
On further investigation, the drivers had also complained about the haphazardness of their work. The organisation would send two drivers to pick up the same passenger, and the company did not employ the drivers. It was a commission-based job.
As the conversation with the client continued, it became clear that her challenges were way more significant than communication and marketing. Her challenges were two – she needed an operational model, and she required systems for her business operations.
Like many other organisations I work with, various systemic challenges compound this client’s challenges. Here are a few you need to look out for in your company or non-profit.
When I engage with them, I ask organisations, “what inspired you to start the business or NGO? Some are crystal clear on this; others are not. Others began their business purely because they had seen others make money in this line of work.
And there is where the problem lies. I have written about this extensively on this blog. I won’t belabour the point. If you have no idea why you are in business or running your non-profit, figure it out, or you will keep floundering. Floundering costs time and other crucial resources, which will soon dwindle. To know more about building a vision for your organisation, read more here.
Now that you know why your NGO or business exists, what is the strategy? You see the problem you are solving, so how will you uniquely solve it? That is strategy.
It gives you a blueprint on how to fix the problem. For example, suppose it is an issue of youth unemployment. You could run a post-graduation program that is either paid for, subsidised or part of your charity to equip these youth for the marketplace. Then you can also build partnerships with organisations and run a recruitment agency for talent in specific areas, such as a social enterprises, a non-profit or a company.
Once your strategy is clear, it helps you build a business model around what you do to ensure your operations are seamless and efficient.
A business model defines your competitive edge in a market. Of course, most business ideas and operations are not new under the sun. But there are ways you can customise your process unique to you that sets you apart.
Suppose we are to use the post-graduation program example. Then, you can develop various business models. For example, one could recruit from high school, college and university through notification of the Dean of students or principal, have them sign up, train them and wish them well.
Alternatively, you can start a pipeline. For example, you can start clubs in high schools and tertiary institutes in a pilot region close to your business or NGO base. Then, based on the initial programs offered in the clubs, clubs transition from an advanced level of training to a post-graduation program.
Your business can then partner with various NGOs and companies to run an internship program for three months, providing work experience. That way, the students get preliminary work experience post-graduation opening them up to employment etc.
This is something you need to fashion uniquely to your organisation. This is something that you may not get off the bat. You will iterate over time till you finally find what works best for you.
These models will also guide you on what kind of departments you need to have and which ones are not essential. And your guiding light here is your vision and your strategy. Those are your north star, not your competition.
Working with the previous example, if you intend to solve youth unemployment in Kenya through this post-graduation program, it is essential to set up specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound (SMART) goals to track.
In this example, you could target 200,000 youth for your program a year and set a placement rate for these trained youth at 70%. It is now up to you and your team to ensure your business operational model helps you achieve this goal. And you keep tracking this periodically, such as per month, per quarter and annually.
That way, you are constantly assessing what works, what doesn’t work and how to improve what you are doing to meet your target. Working aimlessly with no goals means your teams have zero motivation to work. And it’s primarily because they do not see where their role fits in the scheme of things. This brings me to my next point.
When your vision is clear, and your operational model is solid, you are tracking impact; then, you will know what positions need to be filled. And determine the skills and personality best suited for those positions and how best to remunerate and compensate them for the scope. You may not be able to afford the person entirely, but there are other ways to compensate people if the pay is not great. There are perks and benefits to offer as you steadily scale your operations to pay them what they deserve eventually.
The easiest way to fend off the lazy jokers who use your office resources for personal gain is to know your vision and strategy, have a clear operational model and be extremely clear on what impact you intend to achieve. If you don’t do this, you will always hire incompetent people. They are always the cheapest to hire because they do not offer much value to your organisation.