Focus on Results

Huffington Post

March 18, 2010

by Marshall Goldsmith

Recently, the following question was posed to me: “I work in strategy and business development within a major university. How can I change our mindset from a non-profit to a profit mentality?”

This was such a provocative question, that I thought I’d share my answer.

My first response is that this person should rephrase the goal!

I served on the Board of the Peter Drucker Foundation (now the Leader to Leader Institute) for twelve years. We have worked with thousand of leaders in non-profit organizations. Many would be annoyed by the very wording of the question.

The question implies that “profit mentality” is good — while “non-profit mentality” is bad. Peter Drucker believed that many of the greatest leaders he had ever met (including Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts) came from the non-profit sector. The idea of changing one group of leaders to more closely resemble those in another sector will not sell very well. Several decades ago, I was a dean. From my experience with professors, I strongly believe that many faculty members would rebel at the very idea of having the strategy of their university copy the strategy of a for-profit institution.

Putting aside the wording of the goal, my guess is that the intent is to make the university more focused on results — and less on process or activities. Drucker would applaud this desire to make this change happen.

Here are a few suggestions for those looking to make their institution more focused on results:

– Involve key leaders throughout the institution — as well as their key stakeholders — in clarifying the strategy. The more the strategy comes from them (not you), the more likely they are to be committed to making it work. Without their commitment to the strategy — and its execution — the institution won’t get the results that it needs.

– Work with them to paint a picture of desired outcomes.

– Focus on results that are actually measurable — not vague generalizations. Set clear timelines.

– Hold leaders accountable for achieving results — and describe what this accountability will actually look like.

– Make peace with what you cannot change. Focus only on differences that can be made. Don’t waste your political capital on debates that you cannot win.

– Read Peter Drucker’s Managing the Nonprofit Organization for many more ideas.