People and the future of organizations

Our organizations (and their budgets) are made up mostly of people. What we do, what we plan, how well our programs work, how much we spend are all functions of people.

Organizations rely on people for inputs and actions. Image: Bartolomeo Eustachi: Peripheral Nervous System, c. 1722 via @brain_blogger, Flickr.

Think of organizations as organisms and the staff (or team members) as organs and limbs. The organization might act and speak collectively but voice, touch, sight and hearing are all based on the people that make up the eyes, heart, fingers, and toes.

Each individual needs to excel on her own and in the system for the organization to be healthy. Creating and maintaining a healthy system is hard stuff that takes up much (or most, at times) of an organization’s resources. Our nonprofits (and businesses) spend hours and hours (sometimes most of the day) coordinating, planning, collaborating, conference calling, managing and generally trying to figure out how to maximize the system’s function.

Meanwhile, communications technology, databases, social networks, email and the Internet have altered the landscape in which organizations and their staff operate. Organizations are more exposed to the public (members, donors, media, everyone). The tools of organizing and fundraising for social change are more readily available to everyone – reduced friction means change makers don’t need to rely on organizations. The 24/7 news cycle (most of which happens on social networks) also means that fingers and eyes can’t wait for the rest of the body to figure out how to react.

Are Organizations Ready for People?

At last month’s Nonprofit Technology Conference we had opportunity to meet Maddie Grant and talk with her about her new book, co-written by Jamie Notter. The book is called Humanize: How people-centric organizations succeed in a social world. This is an important book that we hope you’ll read.

How to “get more likes on Facebook” or even “how to engage your social network followers” might be the most common blog and discussion topics of the day but mostly miss the mark. We firmly believe that organizations that are people-ready will have few concerns with getting likes, creating useful engagement ladders, finding volunteers, and getting meaningful support in a networked world.

A few days ago, Maddie Grant posted The Future of Work: A Manifesto which, in some ways, focuses in on how the web, social networks, and changing cultural and economic experiences are altering the role of organizations and people in them. The organizational body is evolving due to external conditions and pressures. But organizations still need people and people still need organizations (though perhaps to a lesser extent?).

The Future of Work speaks primarily to businesses but if you are in or fun a nonprofit we hope you will read, think carefully about and discuss it. Nonprofits don’t produce or sell widgets (or apps) and don’t get feedback from the market. This means that they rely heavily on the people in and around the organization. Questions of how those people – especially staff but also members, fans, donors, followers – fit in the organizational body will dictate success more than ever.


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