All living things have certain things in common, and one of those is growth. Living things develop and mature as they age. Sometimes this is an actual increase in mass and sometimes a change in features and functions. But growth and development are key characteristics of life. As retired football coach and motivational speaker Lou Holtz once said, “In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying, so get in motion and grow.”
Organizations are like living things. They are made up of individuals that work together. They have different functions that work in concert to help them be productive. They have inputs, produce outputs, and consume energy. They respond – and hopefully adapt – to their environments. And like living things, organizations should grow and develop.
Unfortunately, once organizations get going, they sometimes stop growing. Many end up adopting a status quo and don’t continue developing their work or their organizations. Sometimes this is the result of poor leadership, sometimes it’s the result of comfort, and sometimes it’s what happens when organizations get used to operating under sustained conditions of limited resources. They grow stagnant and repetitive, doing the same thing day in and day out, without looking or moving forward.
You may wonder what’s wrong with this. I mean, if an organization is doing good work, then what’s the need to keep growing?
The bottom line is that there’s always more that can be done to further the mission. An organization is not done until the problem is solved, and if you are continuously doing the same work day after day, with no end in sight, then you’re probably not solving the problem. The work can always be improved, in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness. The work can be advanced to reach more people, tackle other facets of the problem, or do more to serve your constituents. The people doing the work can always benefit from development – of their knowledge, their skills, their teamwork, their behaviors. And your work would be easier and more successful if you had a bigger network of support, from donors and funders to partners and volunteers.
So how do you know if your organization has stopped growing? Ask yourself these questions:
- Is your base of support stagnant? Do you have difficulty acquiring new donors every year? Do you reach out to the same institutional funders for grants each year? Do you rely on the same volunteers for events? Do you feel like you’ve tapped out your sources of revenue?
- Is your impact expanding? Are you making measurable gains towards your strategic goals each year? Are you expanding your programs? Do your annual objectives push your programs to do more than the year before? Are you reaching more constituents? Are you forming more partnerships each year?
- Is your organizational capacity developing? Are you hiring more staff to achieve more? Do you have professional development opportunities for staff? Are staff getting better at their jobs over time? Are there opportunities for advancement and greater responsibility for staff? Are there less organizational issues to tackle year after year, or are you still facing the same ones again and again?
Your organization should be growing over time – in impact, in support, and in capacity. Without growth in these areas, you will not get closer to achieving your mission (or if you do get closer, it’s not fast enough for those who are affected by the problem every day).
Growth is essential for organizations. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.