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The Effectiveness-Lab

Development and its strategy-myopia monologues – Series 2 of 4

In this second series of the strategy-myopia monologues, the Effectiveness Lab shifts its attention towards an important but often overlooked aspect of a viable organisation, identity.

ICSO Myopia!
ICSO Myopia!

In series one, the Effectiveness Lab asked whether the International Civil Society Organisation (ICSO) should bother defining strategy at all. After all, lacking capital resources, all the ICSO can do is to follow and implement strategies of the monied. In other words, the ICSO is an entity that can only implement the vision and mission of other capital-rich organisations. It is as simple as: ‘…look, you will do what we want you to do or look for someone else to meet your financial needs.’

To the ICSO bosses reading this, how many times have you been at a donor meeting, doing what most of us are hired to do – mobilise resources; and you listen to the other side and think, ‘Ooooh my god, do they know what good-development is?’ At the end of it all, because the ICSO bottom line cannot cover the dreaded overhead, you still will submit to such ‘moneyed interests’. The Effectiveness Lab calls such moments ’strategy-myopia’ time; it is the choice that you make to accept money to do something that you know as ICSO leader, is strategically inept. It is such ineptness that has mired ICSO leadership for years and has turned us into a bunch that presides over ’survival-games’ and not ‘ground-breaking’ poverty solutions.

Many ICSO’s have become ‘hobby-testing’ houses for the rich. This is reinforced by an internal ICSO market that casts one functional unit against another; for example, the marketers or fundraisers at the ICSO will identify ‘hobby-testing’ opportunity mostly for the rich, that opt to give back to society; the marketers make it a point to convince and if not ‘force’, program-implementing functions within the ICSO to accept such ‘hobby-testing’ money. We all know that marketers work to tight targets and timelines and trying to engage them in a discourse on what is ‘good-development’ or not, can be mistaken for: being difficult to work with, lacking in team dynamics, frustrating the mission, and simply not understanding development and the changing times.

Now, let us carefully analyse the internal ICSO market dynamic above. The marketer/fundraiser, who normally does not understand development well, accuses the development technocrat of not aligning to the mission and in the very extreme, not understanding the changing times in modern development. I fully understand where the marketer/fundraiser is coming from; they have targets to meet and for them, it is a number game. However, for the development technocrat, a good one if I may add, it is all about ‘good-development’ that will positively and sustainably change the fortunes of the poor. Sadly, the development technocrat, good or bad, needs money to i) continue their development work ii) stay in a job and put bread and butter on the table at home.

From situations like the above, one quickly appreciates how the strategy-myopia monologues at the ICSO become ingrained in the value chain and culture. ICSO folks are forced to fend for ‘the tomorrow’ and no more. There are very fine margins between ‘survival’ and ‘going-under’ at the ICSO; robust, viable, and long-term strategy discourse becomes a luxury at times. The fight for survival has built a culture of short-termism at the ICSO. Strategy-myopia starts with ICSO leadership and is facilitated by the very system that appoints and manages ICSO leaders; leadership-service cycles are four to five years at a particular station. That in itself reinforces the ICSO strategy-myopia monologues, as leaders will think of and fight to secure ’their tomorrow’ and no more. Many of you from the ICSO ranks would be familiar with situations where you arrive at a station, only to be met with huge budget-deficits, carried over year after year by your predecessors.

So, how can IDENTITY stem the strategy-myopia monologues at the ICSO?

We all know that ICSO’s spend thousands of dollars every year analysing and defining strategy roadmaps for themselves. You cannot fault a ‘good’ ICSO when it comes to defining and documenting strategy. Yet, ICSO strategy-myopia monologues have not gone away. So, what more can the ICSO do to stem strategy-myopia, given what they have already done? May the answer lie in proper ICSO identity definition and compliance?

I have recently read Built to change: by Edward Lawler & Christopher Worley; both authors put the case for effective strategy being built around a 24/7 model for change. At the Effectiveness Lab, we have written about change in its various manifestations and argued that change should become the seamless variable in both organisational value-chains and staff skills set.

Built to Change defines identity as a stable set of core-values, behaviours and beliefs. The authors of Built to Change also write that: ‘organisations are anchored by who they are’.  Sadly, this is where the ICSO strategy-myopia monologues start. ICSO’s may not always be anchored by who they are, but instead by the various ‘moneyed-interests’ that they serve. In certain instances, ICSO’s have found themselves ‘identity-less’; even where ICSO identity is strong, we find traces of ‘identity-mix’ and the resulting ‘brand-compromising’ situations.

Identity should instead be considered the ‘overarching and enduring statement of how the ICSO shall achieve its longterm mission’

According to Built to Change, If ICSO’s define and follow their identity, the longterm benefits are clear and extremely rewarding. At the Effectiveness Lab, we call this ‘Identity-compliance

  • Identity-compliance contributes to ICSO effectiveness by defining a dominant approach to business. ICSO’s can no longer continue to be the jack-of-all-trades; this strategy-myopia has to stop
  • Because identity derives from organisation culture, the lack of identity contributes to a situation where ICSO employees ‘paint in the dark’. They often do not know what they should do or even what will be rewarded handsomely by the organisation. It is a hodgepodge at the ICSO
  • ICSO identity-compliance and the rewards that would emerge from the same, can only be attained if the image of the ICSO as seen and articulated by customers, competitors, and its very employees wasn’t a hodgepodge – what does the ICSO do in this world? Looks like everything there is to do in development. Perhaps, the ICSO can learn from companies like Apple when it comes to the subject of identity-compliance

My takeaway: Stopping the strategy-myopia monologues at the ICSO starts with defining and complying with your identity – a tough one I know, but one that has to be done. There are rewards that await ICSO’s that ensure identity-compliance: according to Built to Change, when the ICSO identity is strong and protected, employees shall innovate and push boundaries. It will take new and bold leadership for the ICSO to start taking steps to create and exploit identity-compliance

What should ICSO’s do to exploit their new identity-compliance? Look out for series three of the strategy-myopia monologues next week


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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