Getting Focused on Results

Harvard Business Review

November 11, 2007

by Marshall Goldsmith

To begin with I would rephrase your 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 — including some in your university — might be annoyed by the very wording of your question.

Your implication seems to be 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 can tell you that many of your 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 your goal, my guess is that your intent is to make your university more focused on results — and less on process or activities. Drucker would applaud your desire to make this change happen.

Here are a few suggestions:

– Involve the key leaders throughout your institution — as well as their key stakeholders — in clarifying your university’s 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 — your university won’t get the results that it needs.

– Work with them to paint a picture of desired outcomes — in terms of educated students, committed alumni, satisfied donors, and a better community.

– 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. For example, it is highly unlikely that you are going to get rid of the tenure system. 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.