THOUGHT LEADERS : Lessons for Corporates

I believe very strongly that community organisations can excel in their leadership and management capabilities.
There is problem in defining community and non-government organisations (NGOs). The term voluntary sector doesn’t fit now as many organisations don’t only rely on volunteers for their workforce. Some call it the third sector but who wants to be third? Barnardos has 1000 full- and part-time staff and nearly 800 contractors. Our annual turnover is $45 million. That ranks us among New Zealand’s largest organisations.
NGOs have matured in the past decade. Gone are the days of poverty mentality. benchmark for me is that when we advertise positions, especially senior ones, the most outstanding people from all sectors apply. I don’t have difficulty reconciling professional disciplines with charitable objective. We have stewardship role and must get the best value from our resources. Barnardos has built our culture and systems to operate in financially sustainable manner.
I think that one of the ways my role differs to that of corporate sector CEO is that I have wealth of people who are already highly engaged by their commitment to assisting people to manage their lives in effective ways, and achieving best outcomes for children.
The difference we can make motivates everything we do and it’s incumbent on me to ensure the way we run the organisation enables the best outcomes to be achieved.
Over recent years we have taken strategic vision of who we are and how we work. We have set of core competencies in early childhood care and education, and in community and social services provision.
Our recipe is simple. We’re clear in what we want to achieve. We have highly skilled managers to support and develop staff, build relationships with other agencies and government, and to ensure Barnardos operates in financially sustainable manner.
We have learned, and can still learn from, the private sector but they can also learn from us. They can learn the value of staff engagement and building passion for what you do. I believe you can train people to do most jobs – what you can’t train them for is the attitudes, values and beliefs they bring to their role. If, through judicious recruitment, support and leadership you can align personal motivation with clearly articulated organisational objectives, great outcomes are possible.
Leadership in this sector, as in any other, is about people; the right people, doing the right things, for the right reasons. The many technical disciplines and professional capabilities held by leaders in any organisation are only truly effective if they are matched by the ability to relate to and inspire the best from people.
I’m chartered accountant by profession yet I lead this organisation full of the most amazing people, including educationalists, social workers and others.
My challenge is how to lead them effectively. It’s about providing support infrastructure, both in terms of systems and culture. It’s about ‘giving of permission’, allowing people to be the best they can, ensuring they have support to do that and holding them accountable for the outcomes.
Our staff are given overriding objectives which determine what they do. These are ‘is it in the best interests of the child?’ and ‘does it keep themselves and the organisation safe?”
We want them to base their work on those foundations, while demonstrating their creativity and personal commitment in the things they do.
Clarity and simplicity is also demonstrated in other areas: our two-year strategy plan and risk framework are one page each. If we’re serious about trust, then strategy setting and enabling people to operate effectively within framework, are very important.
In many ways the things we’re trying to do bring corporate and not-for-profit sectors closer together. To participate with government and corporates, with everyone working responsibly for children and families, we need to work in ways they understand.
Our management and leadership development has focused around the work of some inspired people: Pete Senge’s thinking around organic organisations and importance of relationships in development and decision-making; Jim Collins’ studies to determine the common factors which made certain US organisations great; Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, who uses the orchestra as metaphor for how organisations can succeed if they play in harmony. His concept of leading by making others powerful is very important to us and is underpinning much of what we are doing.
People aspire to be great in whatever they do but they often need encouragement and focus to do that and to have fundamental belief in its value. That is achievable in any sector if you instill belief in what you can achieve collectively.

Murray Edridge is chief executive of Barnardos New Zealand.

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