Are You ‘High Performance’?

Are You ‘High Performance’?

“High-performance organization” is a moniker most organizations—private, public, or nonprofit—would love to earn. And yet who can say what “high performance” really means for mission-based nonprofits? More important, how do executives, boards, and funders get there from here?!

For over a year, we’ve been working with dozens of colleagues from many parts of the Leap of Reason community to develop clear, actionable answers to both questions. After countless debates, iterations, and vettings of this work, the group has now completed “The Performance Imperative: A framework for social-sector excellence” (PI). We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the 50+ co-creators of this product, whose names are listed on the document.

Let’s face it: In this era of scarcity and seismic change, high performance matters more than ever. The social and public sectors are increasingly steering resources toward efforts that are based on a sound analysis of the problem, grounded assumptions about how an organization’s activities can lead to the desired change, and leadership that embraces continuous improvement. This is the formula at the core of the PI.

Please consider watching a short intro video and then downloading the PI. If you find the PI is not worth a few minutes of your valuable time, we’ll give you your money back (easy to do, given that it’s free!). If the PI resonates with you, we hope you will share it within your organization and networks. Visit “Spread the Word” for easy ways to do so.

The launch of the PI marks the beginning of an ongoing campaign to inspire great organizations for greater societal impact. As part of this campaign, on March 19, GuideStar will be hosting “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Organizations,” a free webinar featuring Cynthia Figueroa, Jacob Harold, and Fay Twersky. On April 16, PerformWell will host a free webinar on the PI, moderated by Ingvild Bjornvold and featuring Molly Baldwin, Michael Bailin, Paul Carttar, and David Hunter. In next month’s newsletter, we’ll share a link to the PerformWell webinar as well as reports on how colleagues are putting the PI into action.


And now for this month’s brief updates:

  • Feedback Movement Blossoms” in the February 8 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy highlights the many ways nonprofits are gathering insights from their beneficiaries to improve their programs. Our hats are off to Hewlett’s Fay Twersky, the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Phil Buchanan, Keystone Accountability’s David Bonbright, and others for their tireless work to advance the field of beneficiary feedback. We’re glad this work is finally getting its due.
  • In this blog post for the American Evaluation Association, Latin American Youth Center’s Tony Fujs offers useful advice for those who are working to build performance management systems. He argues that if these systems are as simple and easy to use as a GPS, they’ll catch on. Organizations that continue to rely on manual systems that are as intuitive as an ancient mariner’s will have a very hard time building cultures of continuous learning and improvement.
  • If you’re interested in doing a deeper dive on performance management systems, read “Delivering the Promise of Social Outcomes,” a new report from Impetus (UK), The Social Impact Lab (Portugal), and Think Impact (Australia). The report is aimed at nonprofit leaders, but it makes a great case for donors to support their grantees’ efforts to build performance management systems: “There’s no such thing as a ‘proven’ intervention—every intervention can always be improved, or conversely can fail if it’s not implemented well,” says Andrew Levitt of the UK-based funding organization Bridges Ventures. “When performance analysts start work on the programs that we’ve backed, the fog starts to lift. You always find some things that are not going well, but that is always good news, because now you understand what’s going on and can do something about it.”
  • If you’re in the mood for a refreshingly blunt assessment of our sector’s efforts to “better represent the quantitative performance of qualitative value,” check out “The Metrics Myth,” a post by social return on investment (SROI) pioneer Jed Emerson. He’s highly critical of social entrepreneurs and impact fund managers who “view metrics and performance tracking as ‘something we do for funders’ rather than something we need do for ourselves to ensure our work is actually creating the impact we seek rather than the outcomes we claim.” Despite his decades of slogging through the measurement trenches, he remains hopeful that it’s feasible to create and implement systems that measure the right things well. “We know it can be done—and indeed, we see the metrics mist clearing by the year.”
  • President Obama‘s FY2016 budget proposal to Congress shows that the Administration continues to pursue new ideas for using evidence and data to get better results. For example, the President proposes to create a new National Education Research and Development Center to “gather crucial data on children’s early life experiences and test different practices to see which are most effective at improving child outcomes.” Here is the White House’s summary of all the budget provisions focused on building evidence of what works.
  • Knowledgeable colleagues are recommending the new book Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better, by four senior leaders at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The book represents another good example of leaders drawing on the field of “improvement science” to identify ways of learning faster and implementing better. We’ve not yet read the book (we’ve had our heads down getting ready for the launch of the PI), but we’re looking forward to doing so.


Events/Webinars for Raising Performance: