Over the past week or so I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic. It is something we introduce in all of our leadership and management programs. That is the ability to turn and look outside while maintaining a conversation on the inside.
This process of ‘sensing’ the external environment is critical to the sustainability of any organisation. The challenge for many nonprofits can be that due to their funding model, they become complacent. At both the governance and executive level they fail to look outside the window – or they leave off doing so till it is almost too late.
The Tipu Ake model highlights this sensing component when it draws an analogy between organisations and a forest. In the forest trees sense the external environment, their leaves and in some instances the bark adapt to accommodate the elements, they sense where the sources of energy, water, sunlight are and how best to take advantage of the emerging environment. It is those trees that best sense and adapt to external factors that grow to become tall and old.
Clearly not every tree survives to become a towering giant, just as very few organisations grow and become truely sustainable. Only those able to sense both internal and external factors and plan accordingly are likely to become a force to be reckoned with.
In our organisations there is a further benefit from sensing – it encourages sharing and discourages silo’s from forming. It creates an environment of learning and continuous improvement. Only a handful of trees survive to become monsters of forest however they didnt get there on their own, their survival was assured by the way in which they formed a symbiotic part of the forest. Look around the bottom of a giant tree. You will see other plants that have been able to thrive because of the protection provided by the taller tree.
The downside of not sensing the emerging environment is that things sneak up on us – we don’t see them coming and even when we do our senses are not sufficiently developed to recognise any inherent threat – which then prevents us from putting place proactive strategies or defences. When this happens our first instance is to point to the ’emerging factor’ and say, it’s all their fault.
It is nobody elses fault, other than our own. We have choices and we have options. We choose to be insular and look inside, to take notice only of our own ‘press releases’, to fail to sense and spot incoming threats, or the opportunities these emerging events invariably present.
Can we change the way we do things? Of course we can. It is a cultural change, a movement towards sensing and becoming proactive. This is a change that must be lead from the top, by the board and by the executive team. When that takes place, miracles can occur.
Those are my thoughts for the day