Friday, September 9, 2011

Drucker on Leadership: Anticipating Crisis

Drucker’s second chapter on Managing the Non-Profit Organization is a wide ranging discussion on leadership. Much of what he says may seem like common sense, other points may not be so evident. The purpose here is to outline his key argument and to draw on it as a take-off point for additional commentary.

His first essential characteristic of effective leadership that Drucker highlights, the one that I will highlight here, is that of anticipating crisis in a timely manner, which, in turn, calls for the importance of “innovation,” or “constant renewal” at various smaller or larger scale. The emerging crisis could call for a changing focus on the level of organizational structure in order to better face new market or funding sources, or on the nature of the service in responding to unanticipated need, perhaps stimulated by changing demographic factors or new client demands. An example of the former would be some repositioning of staff responsibilities to better align with targeted service delivery.

As an example, I was initially hired by Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford as Manager of Community-Based Programming. My colleague served as the manager of the main program. We were both paid about the same and held equivalent rank, yet she supervised over 200 students while I worked with under75 students. Historically, providing services to a series of satellite centers had built in cost efficiencies when compared providing services in the main program with greater administrative support systems built in. After making a tough organizational decision to provide more resources into the main program, my boss divided up the responsibilities in which my colleague would oversee the ESL program while I managed the Basic Literacy program. The result was each of us were working more out of our core strengths and more closely working with an equal number of students and volunteer tutors That is an example of innovative change at the staff level which enhanced organizational capacity to more effectively realize agency goals.

The decision by my boss to drop the one-on-one tutoring program and to support students exclusively through the small group tutoring format is an example of a change at the level of service provision. The shift had been in the work for some years in the creation of our tutoring center in which we added small group tutoring as a vibrant complement to the traditional LVA individualized, “each one teach one” program orientation. The small group tutoring program provides a creative synthesis of the individualized student-tutor match and the collaborative dynamic of the ABE classroom. It also serves as a powerful source of community building in microcosm to parallel the program wide community building we were developing at our center. We were also facing certain demographic and cultural realities which pushed us toward an intentional embrace of the small group program in terms of increasing numbers of students desiring services and a diminishing pool of volunteer tutors to provide the instruction.

On a broader level, the shift to an all small group instruction program paralleled the broader agency-based transition of taking a suburban program model and transforming it into an urban program design. The one-on-one tutoring model is simply not an effective mode of program delivery when working with hundreds of students with a limited teaching pool with the programmatic desire as well to provide some decent managerial on-site supervision to assure that optimal learning is taking place.

The related shift was the declension in volunteerism in which it became increasingly difficult to say nothing of cost inefficient to training hundreds of volunteer for individualized student matches. The problem was compounded as we drew on a younger, upwardly mobile aspiring set of volunteers who would stay with the program for a year or two, but more likely to have multi-year careers as volunteer tutoring. The upside in drawing on this group is that as a whole, they were more receptive in serving as a small group tutor. The shift to an exclusive, site-based small group tutoring program was largely a response to these issues, which became feasible once we assessed that the model was intrinsically viable in meeting student learning needs.

It required the abandonment of the traditional model, which has been a stumbling block to many volunteer-based urban adult literacy programs which would be well served by making a similar move. Making these calls and carrying out the corresponding implementation processes required high level decision-making in the light of anticipated crises and abandonment of traditional programming, however valid they served the needs of the past. Effective decision-making is at the center of Drucker’s approach to managing for results that truly matter.

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