Founder & Chief Executive Officer
Dear THINK Together Team:
Welcome back from what I hope was a refreshing few days off. I hope that you and your loved ones had a very happy Thanksgiving Holiday. I want to start a long overdue series of messages in the weeks ahead on a framework for decision making and performance measurement that we have developed within THINK Together that we call our Strategic Objectives. I hope that you will save these series of messages as a reference tool as they will build on each other as they go along. I also hope that Site Coordinators will share these with your Program Leaders, particularly the PL’s that have an interest in staying on and possibly growing with the organization. The same goes for SES tutors and teachers. A number of people within the organization have been exposed to the Strategic Objectives, but we have never systematically communicated them throughout the organization. Now we are.
A year and a half ago a group of leaders from within THINK Together called the Strategic Leadership Group (SLG) came together to set priorities for the organization. This group is made up of the General Managers and various department heads and leaders within the organization for a total of about a dozen people. Our goal was to set some priorities for the organization that could be confirmed by our Board of Directors. These priorities would then be the things that we would allocate our scarce resources toward. These priorities would have a companion set of measurable outcomes by which the Board of Directors could measure the overall performance of the organization. As the leader of the organization, this also provides the framework for my own job performance evaluation by the Board.
The SLG raised up five areas within the organization. These priorities were and are:
- Program Quality
- Financial Health
- Communications & Technology
After THINK Together completed its large expansion in 2006-2007, we hired Dr. Carol Geffner as a consultant to come in and assess the organization. We wanted to better understand where we had strengths that we could build on and where we had gaps that needed to be addressed. We needed a plan to accomplish this so that we could ensure that we had a high performing organization at our much larger scale. We discussed Carol’s findings in a series of meetings and presented them to the organization in a series of town hall meetings.
These Strategic Objectives were developed in response to Carol’s findings. The rationale for choosing these five objectives was as follows:
- Program Quality – This is self-evident in that if we don’t have high quality programs, we have no reason to exist. Beyond that, we needed tactics to accomplish this at scale and measurements to determine how successful we have been in those efforts. Further, Carol identified that one of our weaknesses at that time was that THINK lacked a culture of accountability. So in addition to tactics and measurements, we needed to change the culture in this regard.
- Evaluation – As we grew to scale, we hoped to attract matching funds for our programs at a corresponding larger scale. This investment is necessary to achieve the program quality that has a positive impact on our students. That means appealing to larger more sophisticated foundations, philanthropists and the federal government among other things. To do that, we need to be able to demonstrate with objective data that our programs had a positive impact on students, especially in the area of academic performance. Internally, we also wanted to have data that could guide us in our own efforts to continuously improve our programs and our overall organization. To accomplish this, we needed to invest in our evaluation capacity and efforts.
- People – To accomplish everything we want to accomplish, we need to attract, develop and retain a high quality team of people. Our work very is people driven. To do this effectively at scale, we needed to re-organize our Human Resource, Recruiting and Volunteer Departments. These departments served us well when we were smaller but needed to be re-imagined to be even more effective at scale. To do this we also felt that these departments needed to be better integrated with each other and more seamlessly integrated within the rest of the organization and particularly with operations.
- Financial Health – None of the above can get accomplished if we don’t build a financially sustainable model. To do this we have to both attract more resources and manage the resources we do attract very effectively and efficiently. It turns out that after-school – from a business perspective - is essentially a high volume/low margin business. We serve a lot of students for a lot of days and hours on very little money. To manage high volume/low margin businesses effectively, from a financial perspective, two ideas need to be understood and implemented. One is that costs need to be managed very tightly. The other is that scale matters. The more students/sites you can spread over the organization’s relatively fixed costs, the more dollars can go into program and the greater investment in quality can occur. This is somewhat counter-intuitive and something we will explore further in the weeks ahead. Our fund development efforts also fit into this priority.
- Communication & Technology – One of the items that came out of the organizational assessment was that we didn’t communicate either internally or externally very well. Historically, this is an area that we have under-resourced (versus say program quality) and therefore have underperformed. Not a lot of people know who THINK Together is (which handicaps us in fundraising, recruiting, new business development) and our ability to influence public policy. Internally, it hampers our ability to build internal alignment, increase buy-in for what we do and how we do it, and collaborate effectively across the organization. We have taken a number of steps to improve communications internally and externally – town halls, team messages, principal meetings by district, annual reports, Miles of Change, social media including the blog/Facebook/Twitter etc., but this remains an area that is under-resourced during this recessionary environment and thus remains a work-in-progress.
This is also a professional development opportunity for all of us. As we develop and refine the Initiatives, Tactics and Success Measures that comprise the content within each Strategic Objective in the years ahead, we will all better understand how to build and operate a high performing organization that can serve thousands of students very well and help to transform their lives and our communities.
Thank you for taking the time to read and digest this information and for sharing the information with those on your team. Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below. And have a great week!