Are you doing "the work?"

This week, I read an article in the Journal of Policy Analysis & Management entitled “Policy Analysts, Clients and Social Scientists.”  The piece, written by Robert D. Behn, made an interesting distinction between the approach of a social scientist, who evaluates issues broadly and focus on high level actions, and the policy analyst, who must seriously address implementation steps in order to be successful. Behn notes, “In physics, the definition of work is: w = F x d, or work equals forces times distance. It does not make any different how hard you have pushed against the rock; if you have not moved it, you have not done any work.

I keep coming back to reflect on this quote, because I wonder how many nonprofit organizations are really doing “work.”  The nonprofit community is filled with well-intentioned organizations who are putting in a ton of effort towards their mission every day—but are they moving the bar?  How do they know?

At some point in our careers, many of us have sat through a training on SMART goals—setting targets that are specific, measurable, attainable, resourced and time-bound.  But how many of us work for an organization that actually both sets and tracks progress towards SMART goals? 

At Gladiator, we believe that SMART goals, organized into an annual plan and reviewed on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis are essential to the success of any nonprofit organization.  Need help getting started?  Here are a few tips to set you on the right path:

  1. Not ready to make a plan for the whole year?  Start with a smaller chunk of time.  September is an ideal month to look at Q4.   Did you write an annual plan last December that got shoved in a drawer?  Dust it off, and check your progress.  Consider where you should focus your energy for the remainder of the calendar year to best serve your constituents and set you up for mission-driven success in 2018.
  2. Center every single team conversation around the plan.  Do you have a weekly team meeting?  Add a standard agenda item around sharing team progress towards goals.  If you notice that many team activities are not in service of your goals, interrogate why you’re prioritizing those actions.
  3. Make it visible. Post a copy of the goals in a conference room or another common space that the team uses frequently. Write in updates every week, noting where you’re making progress and where you aren’t.
  4. As you prepare to draft your 2018 plan this fall, consider how you’re involving the community in your planning.  The most common mistake that nonprofit organizations make around planning is to assume that they already understand the needs of their constituents, or to involve them only as a ratifying body. Engage them early and often to create goals with the highest impact.

Want to learn more about Gladiator’s approach to annual planning?  We’d love to chat and see if we can help with your 2018 plans. Drop us a note at

Mallory Rusch