One of SSE’s strengths over the past decade or more has been its adherence to both a central mission (supporting and developing social entrepreneurs in order to etc etc) and a central product (long-term action learning, practitioner-led, and peer-networked programmes, involving a variety of different interventions). This has given the organisation clarity of focus, and a well-refined, improved and robust product offering: a proven methodology that is replicating around the UK (am just back from Penzance!).
But the flipside to that clarity and focus is that it can affect flexibility, the ability to change with the times and, to an extent, the ability to seize a varied range of opportunities. This isn’t totally the case with SSE, as our work has, if anything, become more and more relevant over time….and the programme appeals to a wide range of audiences. Nevertheless, I have been frustrated recently looking at other organisations who, seemingly, go for anything vaguely in this sector….decisions that are clearly powered by pound signs, not purpose.
When doing Myers-Briggs or Belbin-type team analysis, a key person is the ‘values holder’…the person(s) who is principled and helps keep an organisation focused on its mission. The person who will discuss and debate with those who are pushing for a more diversified / entrepreneurial route. Ideally, those debates end up at a healthy central position between the two. But there are a few organisations for whom the values holders seem to have (literally) left the building. Or whose lack of clarity about their product / specialism is actually beneficial because it means they can shape themselves (or a work programme) to fit any tender, application or proposal. And this is, arguably, particularly the case in the social enterprise / entrepreneurship world where the primacy of the financial and social missions is less evident.
I’m not normally a fan of management tools and frameworks, but I am a fan of the old mission-money matrix. The one below comes from Fieldstone Alliance’s Tools You Can Use:
I particularly like the imagery here….obviously the ideal is everything falls in the ‘star’ category, but the reality is often activities dotted in all three (heart, star, cash) categories. If you’re doing anything that loses you money and has nothing to do with your mission, then please stop now, as the sign suggests.
What’s important in using this simple tool to evaluate business development choices is to have clarity of mission first and, ideally, clarity about how you’re measuring that impact. Otherwise, financial sustainability can naturally become the pre-eminent force, and you end up with organisations sustaining themselves in order to….well… sustain, rather than in order to achieve the social impact / mission that prompted their establishment.
Of course, this is a balance, as I’ve discussed before. And money remains of utmost importance…….but importance as a means to achieving social change, not in and of itself. And, ultimately, drifting off mission will have medium-to-long term effects: staff leaving, internal disputes, diminution of credibility in any one field/area, reputational damage from competition at all costs and so forth. Drifting starts with rapid movement and a swirl of activity….but soon forms into a frozen, stationary mass.