This week’s Stop Sign on the Road to Changing the World comes to us first from the Red Cross, but then also from your own organization. Let’s start with the Red Cross.
In 2001, the Red Cross made headlines the old fashioned way – through scandal. During the height of what could have been the shining moment for a disaster-relief organization – the disaster of 9/11 – their CEO was forced to resign.
Then, post-Katrina, in what could have been the “come-back shining moment” for a disaster-relief organization that had a bit of coming back to do, the Red Cross once again made headlines for messing up.
Now, in what seems mild by comparison, their CEO is resigning in scandal over an “inappropriate relationship” with a coworker.
I wrote about the Red Cross in 2001 – assembled a case study white paper on what I saw to be the real story, the story behind the story. The focus of what I wrote wasn’t bad PR or chain of command or donor intent, as all the other news stories were emphasizing at the time. Those are merely the symptoms we saw on the outside.
The focus of what I wrote was at the very core of the Red Cross’s being – a lack of vision for what they were there to accomplish, a lack of values anchoring their work. And from that, a lack of understanding of how to incorporate the results-focus of vision and values into the heart of everything they do. Because vision and values are all about end results.
Without that core guiding their work, I wrote in 2001, they would continue to flounder. And if they kept focusing on treating the symptoms – a change in governance, a change in policy about this or that – they would continue to flounder.
And so, they floundered.
They floundered despite the fact that their then-board-president agreed with much that I had written (he sent me a personal letter to tell me so). Oh, to dream of what could have been…
But now, here we are. It is 5 years later, 2 more wildly public scandals later, $10million in FDA fines later, and 5 CEOs later (2 real ones, 3 interims). And so, I spent last week taking a second look at that white paper.
In updating that case study, I found the following – a post I had written at Charity Channel, in September of 2005, immediately after Katrina.
“The job of a disaster relief organization is to think of the unthinkable, and to be ready when it happens. And don’t tell me, “Well they can’t think of everything…” because if Hollywood directors can dream it, so can the boards of disaster relief organizations. Or do we need to encourage them all to go to the Ridley Scott school of board training? Just put them in front of a week’s worth of disaster movies and perhaps that will get their planning juices flowing…
“But if the boards of the disaster relief organizations with which I am familiar are any indication, that is the furthest thing from their minds. They are thinking just like any other organization – how will we survive the current round of budget cuts, how can we get our board more engaged, and etc. Walk into the board room of your local Red Cross, and I defy you to judge from what they are discussing that you are in a different place than the board room of your local food bank or hospital or education trust. Are they talking about mission as the first, foremost and ONLY thing that matters?
“When all you think about is organizational survival, that is the best you will achieve. Instead, however, if all you think about is doing an incredible, over the top, amazing job for making your community an incredible place to live – that is the best you will achieve.
“And if yours is a disaster relief organization that is ill-prepared for disaster – well I have no words I can type in public for what I have been feeling this past few days. Perhaps I can use the word “despair” or “frustration.”
And that brings us to what this has to do with your organization. Because it has plenty to do with your organization, not matter how large or small that organization is.
The focus of the white paper I wrote in 2001, and then updated last week, is that it’s not just the Red Cross this happens to. It happens to any and every organization that has been encouraged to build internal capacity in the hopes that perhaps being strong will mean they can achieve more. (If you’re interested, the Introduction to the White Paper is posted at our site, as is a complete outline of the paper.)
Without FIRST focusing on achieving huge and over-the-top results for the people we serve, and only THEN asking what capacity we will need to accomplish THAT, we are building capacity for the sake of building capacity.
Sans vision and values – the focus on creating visionary results through values-based work – the work you do cannot achieve the kinds of great things your community is counting on. That goes for the Red Cross, and it goes for every tiny, all-volunteer, just-us-and-a-truck organization that serves our communities.
As we consider this Stop Signs to Creating a Better World, the Red Cross’s continued fumbles make it so blatantly obvious: Without a core of vision and values guiding our work, we have no ability to provide any more than marginal results. And further, without that core of vision and values, we will continue to problem-solve about our symptoms, while the white-hot-center of our problems is ignored, left to grow even stronger in its power to mess with our lives.
The results for our communities – based on that vision and those values – are truly all that matter.
A first step in avoiding the Red Cross’s disasters is these 11 Ways to Focus on Vision and Values.
(Are you new to this series – Stop Signs Along the Road to Changing the World? The archives may just open your eyes!)