Strategy Hack #10….“we’re too small”


Many small organizations have a mistaken sense that, "We're too small for strategy".


If anything, small organizations have more reason to attend carefully to strategic planning because they have fewer degrees of freedom to risk. They can also be more efficient in creating, testing and adjusting strategy. The payoff multiples from successful strategy are commensurately more important for small organizations: a 20% gain in member support means more to the viability of an organization with a $1M cash flow and a staff of three than it does to an organization working with $1B and 300 staff members.


Excuse #10: The Munchkin Mentality
Regardless of their actual developmental stage, some organizations persist in perceiving themselves as perpetual underdogs always challenged by start-up issues.


Successful organizations, enterprises and associations do not spontaneously appear; nor should they keep the same operating structures as they mature. Organizations grow through predictable stages and can move through these stages towards increasing product and niche differentiation within a few years.


Structure and scope of strategic planning changes at each developmental stage, but is present and required in all stages.


Stage 1: The Start-Up. One, or a very few, founders with a novel thought and the personal drive to pursue that innovative direction. Monetization is unclear and uncertain. Every decision is strategic.


Stage 2: Initial growth. This is ‘proof of concept' where the first supporters/ members/ buyers are attracted. Founders doing all work required. No one is paid although direction for revenue streams emerge. Strategic planning is focused on niche identification.


Stage 3: The first board. Wise founders set up at least advisory boards very early in their growth period. Organizational, production and sales work shared by founders and board members. No one is paid. Initial revenue streams established. Strategic issues concern niche exploration, revenue expansion and cost control.


Stage 4: Board assumes responsibilities. Growth is steady; paid employees added to match growth and organization functional requirements as they are identified. Work is assigned to specialized board committees that cover all work from governance through operations. Founders focus on evolving mission and begin to divest themselves from operations and governance control. Initial revenue streams established. Strategic planning required to inform these scope changes.


Stage 5: CEO/ ED is hired. This chief staff officer is charged with carrying out the organizational mission in accordance with the policies established by the board. More part & full time employees. Board role is entirely governance; no longer operational. Founders in the background or have left the organization for new ventures. Strategic planning needed to refine and adjust mission, roles, goals (including revenue sources) and tactics as required.


Diagnosis:
Does your organizational structure and function match its' developmental stage? How well are the leaders doing in meeting the functional, operational, governance and strategic needs of the organization appropriate to that developmental stage?

Does everyone in the organization know where the organization is in its' developmental trajectory and what the organization is aspiring to become next? Can everyone from the board chair to the cleaner articulate what comes next for the organization and their personal role and responsibility in making that happen?


Treatment:
Get some well-experienced outside help to focus internal organizational self-reflection and to support required adjustments. The first objective is to reach agreement on which developmental milestones the organization has achieved.


Access to additional KSAs may be required to move ahead in any of the developmental stages. It will be important to supply this support quickly and efficiently to enable nimble modifications. These KSAs could come from short-term consultants for organizations in early developmental stages. Stage 4 and beyond organizations should have in place HR functions to identify and correct internal KSA deficits.


Board and senior staff leadership should have access to personal leadership coaching and strategic planning KSAs on demand across all organizational developmental stages. Outside eyes and novel KSAs can be catalytic if leadership is stuck in a small mindset.

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