October 31, 2014


Using ‘goal alignment’ to improve nonprofit efficiency

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Sean Conrad

Sean Conrad

Goal alignment is a key business tool that many nonprofits could make greater use of.

A way to ensure all staff are working to support organizational goals, goal alignment has been shown to improve profitability and success.

So how do you implement goal alignment?

First you need to establish clear organizational goals. In many organizations, these high-level goals tend to more closely resemble slogans or mission statements.

Why not use the same best practices we do for our employees and make the organization's high-level goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound)?

That way we can effectively measure progress and success, give our staff something specific to work towards, and we can be more clearly accountable to our donors and supporters.

Next, these organizational goals need to be communicated and explained to all staff, and made accessible to them at all times.

Once the organizational goals are set and communicated, every staff member should be invited to work with their manager to set individual goals that, in some way, will contribute to the achievement of the organization's overall goals.

Finally, the organization needs a mechanism for everyone to regularly report on their progress and the status of their goals.

And as the organization makes progress on achieving its high-level goals (or doesn't, as the case may be) the progress and status need to be communicated to all staff on a regular basis.

This communication is key to building engagement and accountability; you can't just set goals and forget them until your annual-review period.

This best-practice model of goal alignment is called the organization-centric approach.

It is an improvement on the older, more familiar "people- or manager-centric" goal-alignment model that sees each successive layer of management assign goals to their staff in support of their own goals.

This older model tends to result in employees who are disengaged from both the organizational goals and their own, because goals are assigned with little staff input or participation.

And because of the chain effect, their connection to anything other than their manager's goals is lost.

People-centric goal alignment also makes it hard for the organization to track its progress and be accountable for achieving goals.

Organization-centric goal alignment offers the advantage of giving every staff member a clear, line-of-sight view to their organization's goals, and of giving management a clear view of how every staff member is supporting the organization's goals.

Because all goals are connected like the spokes on a wheel, it's easy to track contributions and progress, and to address any challenges.

Therefore, the end result is greater accountability and engagement.

While many organizations encourage their managers to set goals for staff, few challenge managers and employees to work together to align their personal goals with the organization's high-level goals.

And most don't effectively communicate progress on goals. Aligning everyone's goals using organization-centric model helps:

  • Keep everyone focused on the organization's priorities and highlight areas and activities that are misaligned
  • Improve employee engagement
  • Increase understanding of everyone's goals and progress, including the organization's
  • Improve accountability at all levels
All of which are good management practices.

Sean Conrad is a certified human-capital strategist and senior product analyst at Halogen Software, a provider of performance-management software.

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