Do your programs add up?

In my last post, I wrote about misalignment between an organization’s problem statement and the solution it offers. This diminishes the organization’s value proposition and raises questions and doubts about its ability to solve the problem.

Another problem comes from misalignment between an organization’s mission and its strategies and programs. This creates different problems for both program implementation and fundraising and communications. Program staff may not understand or be on the same page about the purpose or goals of the work. Development and marketing staff may have a hard time selling programs that don’t seem to make sense or that are difficult to link to the organization’s overall goals. The result is a disjointed organization that feels stressed and unfocused. Oftentimes each individual strategy or program can make sense, each with its own clear purpose, rationale, and goals. A problem arises, however, when it is unclear how the programs either contribute to the organization’s mission or align with each other in a way that adds up to the mission.

There are several reasons why a program might not align with the mission or other programs. Sometimes the strategic plan is not clear enough to guide decision-making about program design. Sometimes older programs do not fit with the new direction an organization may take. Sometimes organizations receive funding to take on new work in a separate program. Sometimes organizations suffer from mission drift in an effort to acquire funding to support the organization. Whatever the reason, it may become difficult to explain or justify the work in a way that is consistent with the organization’s overall messaging.

In other cases, each of the programs may align with the mission, but they do not seem organized in a clear, logical manner. For instance, programs may have overlapping work, or, at the other extreme, completely disparate work that seems disconnected. It may be difficult to understand how the different programs will work together to achieve the mission. It may be hard to explain why programs were designed the way they are. There may be lots of questions about the rationale or thinking behind the creation or development of programs. And as with a single program that is not aligned with the mission, it can become increasingly difficult to find a coherent, consistent way to talk about the organization’s programs.

So what can be done to ensure alignment of mission, strategy, and programs? There are a few options:

  1. Ideally, programs are designed under the framework of a clear strategic plan. The plan would have a clear mission to provide strategic goals, articulate values that guide decision-making, and delineate purposeful strategies that demonstrate a strong rationale for achieving the mission through various strands of work. If your organization is having trouble aligning the different aspects of your organization, a new strategic plan may be in order. (And a theory of change will help to clarify your organization’s mission and purpose.)
  2. If the mission is clear and the strategies make sense, then you should take a look at your programs. It may be that some programs need to be refocused or repurposed, or you may need to look at your program framework – the overarching criteria that determine the nature of your programs. Though there are often concerns about losing funding when changing programs, it is often the case that it is easier to solicit funding when the programs are clarified and cohesive.
  3. Sometimes the work is clear, intentional, and in alignment with the mission, but how it is described is misleading or confusing. Rather than redesign your programs or rewrite your strategic plan, perhaps all you need is to redo your messaging. Clarifying the purpose and value of each program – and aligning each program with the mission – can help bring strategic focus and cohesion to your programs.

Strategic focus means acting with the goal in mind. When programs do not align with strategies or the mission, an organization can be unfocused, where staff have different ideas about what they are trying to achieve. This can lead to confusion, stress, disengagement, and lower performance for the organization.

Clarity of purpose and common understanding about how the organization plans to achieve its mission can energize staff, making them feel more comfortable and certain, and empowering them to succeed in their roles. Be sure to align your organization’s work so it is more focused, more productive, and more successful at achieving your mission.


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