New Thinking Tackles Old Problems

New thinkingOver the past few months, the board and staff of Volunteer Alberta have been working on a new strategic plan. This process has been both challenging and rewarding, as we have embraced the opportunity to redefine our goals and strategies for the coming years. For me, being new to strategic planning, the most interesting part of the whole process was how we started. To lay a strong foundation for the next months, we had Unstoppable Conversations work with us to get to the root of how we think and how we could think better.

Often when organizations identify problems that are holding them back, they come up with a list including resources, funding, technology, and people. For example, “there isn’t enough funding”, or “funding is too competitive”. These obstacles could actually be symptoms or results. Trying to change them without going further back to the activities that led to those results, and to the thinking that led to those activities, means nothing is going to change.

Sometimes, instead of trying to change our thinking (the root of everything we do) organizations work backwards – we let our results inform our activities rather than the other way around. For example, an organization might apply for any grant, even for projects only vaguely related to their mission, in order to solve the problem of a lack of funding. The new result? They are still lack the funding to meet their objectives, and they are spending a lot of staff time chasing money to do these additional projects, further depleting their human resources. Meanwhile, they have never stopped to ask what beliefs or thinking led them to pursue these activities in the first place.

thinking activities results

Kevin Gangel and Vik Maraj of Unstoppable Conversations teach organizations to look for their hidden constraints in their thinking so that they can begin to change their results and better achieve their outcomes. Some examples of the type of thinking that might lead an organization to use a lot of staff hours applying for every small funding source include:

  • “We don’t think funders value what we really do “
  • “We have always done it this way”
  • “There isn’t enough money to go around to the whole sector, so we need to compete for it”

That is some pretty bleak thinking. But we can change it. Some examples of new thinking that could replace these negative beliefs include:

  • “We have valuable impact and we can communicate that value to our donors, funders, and new potential supporters”
  • “We believe in working together with other organizations to meet our shared goals”

With new thinking like this, activities and results can start to change. Suddenly an organization isn’t asking for every grant they hear about it; instead, they are shopping around in new places for funders that share their vision and who are a good fit for their core programs. They now have staff time to do it, because they aren’t using all of their human capacity on additional grant applications or side projects!

Or maybe the organization tackles their issue of competing for funding by applying for collaborative funding with another organization, or only applying for funding after ensuring they aren’t duplicating existing services.

What other thinking could we change? What else is holding organizations back? Take a look at your thinking, rather than your results, and you might just find a new and better way to achieve your goals!

Sam Kriviak, Project Coordinator