Each engagement highlighted is grounded in the The Performance Imperative: A Framework for Social Sector Excellence, which provides a north star toward clarity and the various pillars to get there. The definition states that high performance is: “The ability to deliver – over a prolonged period of time – meaningful, measurable, and financially sustainable results for the people or causes the organization is in existence to serve.”
Although the needs of the people we serve are changing in some unknown ways due to the evolving implications of the COVID pandemic, we need to gather as much feedback as possible to know how to deliver programs and services that have meaningful results. From there, we focus on how to measure achievement for continuous improvement; and how to sustain financially. The Performance Imperative is a helpful framework, with a clear assessment tool to start the journey. And in this time of COVID-19 uncertainty, clarity and focus on high performance is paramount to survival and success.
In this second blog, we explore a small (under $3M annually) direct service agency. Their scope, reach and resources are vastly different from the foundation profiled in the first blog; however, the two decisive factors in making progress on the journey are similar, namely: 1) the leadership readiness, willingness, and energy to start; and 2) leaders harnessing their role to guide the culture of the organization toward learning, for the long-run.
SHALVA: A domestic abuse agency
Background: After SHALVA solidified new leadership in the Board president and Executive Director six years ago, the two leaders felt urgency to bring the organization to the next level, and they jointly decided that they wanted to push toward high performance. The organization had an almost 30 year history of strong governance and a positive reputation, but they were emerging from a challenging financial period. They needed to ensure services were aligned with both feedback from their participants and clients and that they were structured with a solid strategic direction as they headed into a new decade of existence. After solidifying multi-year funding, they started their journey - a strategic effort to clarify and define what success looked like, determine how to measure their progress and to identify what data would be needed to balance their anecdotal stories moving forward.
Progress: Starting in 2016, they engaged the full Board and staff to re-define their vision, mission, and guiding principles. Determining the “destination” facilitated much clarity and energy. From there, they codified their Theory of Change for long-term clinical therapy, defined a set of results for community education and outreach, and defined and documented a shared language.
Knowing what was meaningful to measure and manage, SHALVA implemented solid tools to learn about actual results – the progress toward their desired outcomes. Over time, the staff shifted from paper notes and organizational knowledge only captured in the brains of a few people, to a phased approach to implementing a comprehensive data system.
They incorporated a listening process – not only for Board and staff, but also to learn from “client voices”. Through confidential interviews with clients, they designed feedback surveys for both departments. They also implemented a clinical assessment protocol tied to the Theory of Change.
Through all of this work, staff gained an understanding of the importance of consistent and accurate data collection, and they entered intakes, surveys, clinical assessments and updated demographics into a common Excel spreadsheet.
Once they determined which data was most meaningful based on analyzing the Excel information and format, they researched and implemented a robust data system to capture the collected data and imagine various elements of analysis to use for both the internal learning and external dissemination.
Mistakes and Course-corrections: In the data analysis and curation process, SHALVA identified a data integrity issue and the need to focus on additional internal training and data ownership to ensure more consistent data for reporting and communication.
Over time, SHALVA experienced staffing changes, which caused capacity challenges in maintaining ongoing training, documentation, and data curation. New employees often did not understand the learning mindset needed to make best use of the data, and for some staff, the process was reduced to an exercise for the benefit of funders.
By including a “data report” into staff meetings and engaging a mix of board and staff on a High Performance committee, they are navigating the continuous process of creating a culture that values learning. Part of the journey is the learning that emerges from digging deeply into results. They are looking forward to a calmer phase of the pandemic that will allow for additional questions and solutions to emerge.
Current state: Since analyzing hundreds of survey responses and clinical assessments of clients on their “healing journeys”, SHALVA continues to try to carve out the time to provide ongoing formal and informal training to streamline and best use the data system. Especially in the time of COVID-19, and at time of writing, this is a significant challenge.
Working with SHALVA’s internal data manager to monitor the data system for accuracy and integrity, we are considering significant updates to the survey tools, mainly to simplify, streamline, and ensure relevance with phone therapy (rather than in-office sessions). They are also streamlining useful interactive data reports for staff and Board. The “High Performance Committee” is working to ensure continuity of the multi-year efforts, as well as to maintain progress. The goal is knowledge management and data use - to create on-demand reports as learning for staff and Board.
Based on interest from the funder and their Board, SHALVA prepared to present their clinical theory-of-change and supporting data at a national conference, in a broader field-building effort (postponed due to COVID-19). They are now re-purposing that data visualization for internal learning and improvement efforts.
Based on intentional engagement with SHALVA’s community education and outreach staff, they uncovered a need to focus specific efforts on programming for third parties – friends, family, clergy, colleagues who know someone experiencing domestic abuse. With special innovation funding, they developed a series of scenarios in the form of interactive videos to provide guidance to third parties and how they can help. This month, SHALVA released an online tool as part of their new website, specifically targeting the community effort needed to assist survivors of domestic abuse. They are also offering more counseling services to help friends with the secondary trauma of having a loved one in an abusive situation.
If you are interested in learning more about SHALVA and their journey to high performance, they are featured as part of the paper Small but Mighty; in this GuideStar webinar; and in this blog. These resources provide answers to some key questions about the Performance Imperative for small nonprofits.
One specific way to start your own journey to high performance is to read the Performance Imperative and make use of the many free tools on the Leap Ambassadors website.
I hope you find these mini cases useful and informative as you chart a path forward through this pandemic period of uncertainty and into a bright and clear future. Let me know what you think!