Cutting Corners: A Stop Sign on the Road to Changing the World

If this is the sector that was supposed to change the world, why has the world not changed? The answer to that question so often circles back to “organizational values.”

And when it comes to quickly getting to the heart of those values, no issue hits home like this one:

STOP Sign: Cutting Corners
As part of facilitating values sessions with boards, we ask this question: “Where is it ok to cut corners?”

Not surprisingly, most groups answer, “It’s really not ok to cut corners anywhere!”

Then we ask the follow-up question: “Where are you cutting corners now?”

Ah – the harsh reality of the talk we are not walking! Oh the pain of coming face to face with the “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” of organizational leadership!

In theory, cutting corners is something we like to think we don’t do. But when it comes to reality, there are many places boards indeed believe it is alright to cut corners. When budget time rolls around, organizations cut corners all the time!

And let’s not even focus on the most critical corners to cut – meeting community needs / building a better future for the community. Let’s focus on plain old operational issues where boards routinely cut corners at budget time:

• Board education
• Staff education
• Staff salaries and benefits
• Technology of all kinds
• Preventative building maintenance

The list goes on and on.

And why do I single out boards for cutting corners? Because boards are in charge of approving the budget. And because boards are at the top of the org chart. Boards are accountable for ensuring (or failing to ensure) that every decision the organization makes is rooted in the values the organization wants to be known for in the community.

And cutting corners is all about values. It is all about trade-offs, asking the question that quickly labels something a values issue: What is more important, this or that?

Not providing adequate education to the staff or to the board itself; not providing optimal equipment or facilities for getting the work done; and most critically, saying, “We do not have the luxury of focusing on long-term community impact” – that is cutting corners. It is a matter of trade-offs, a matter of “this” being seen as more important than “that.”

When boards aim their plans at ensuring they have adequate capacity, rather than thinking they are being “accountable” by failing to spend on needed infrastructure – just imagine what our organizations will accomplish!

That will all come back down to their values – on the answer to this critical question, “What is so sacred, we would never dream of cutting there?”

And that answer had better be, “What’s best for our clients, our staff, and our community.”

So what would you add to the list? What has your experience been? Where have you seen organizations cutting corners?

Find other Stop Signs in the series, “Stop Signs on the Road to Changing the World” here.

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