Thought Leadership

Recipe for Metrics Success

Across our work, we aim to strengthen organizations that strengthen communities. But, to know if we are strengthening an organization or it is in turn strengthening a community, there has to be a clearly defined method for measuring impact. When thinking about how to design and implement effective performance management practices at your organization, we recommend focusing on three key elements: culture, systems, and reporting. Specifically, we mean:

  1. Establishing a culture that is data-driven and performance-oriented
  2. Developing systems and data-collection processes that are scalable and sustainable
  3. Designing reporting tools that are targeted for specific audiences and inform actions

The activities that feed these three elements include the development of new or refined KPIs and metrics, systems for collecting data, tools for reporting progress, and processes for incorporating findings to improve future work. We’re often asked, and rightfully so, “What is the difference between a KPI and a metric?” KPIs, Key Performance Indicators, show how effective a program or project is at achieving its goals. A metric measures ongoing performance of a program or project, but may not be tied to a specific goal or goals. Rule of thumb: all KPIs are metrics, but not all metrics are KPIs. For example, a workforce services provider might track the number of walk-ins that inquire about services, but might not have a target number of walk-ins (here, walk-ins are a metric). On the other hand, they might track the placement rate for graduates of a training program, and be driving toward an identified placement percentage (here, the placement rate is a KPI).

Culture that is data-driven and performance-oriented
The first place to start is building a culture that embraces the power of data-collection and performance management so that these practices take hold and thrive at your organization. This can only happen successfully if a clear understanding of goals, accountability, and necessity are integrated at all levels of staff, not just those designated as a “data” team. In our work with Change Capital Fund, a collaborative of 16 funders, which invests in community organizations to increase economic mobility in persistently low-income neighborhoods, four local development organizations are working on a collective effort to alleviate poverty through affordable housing, workforce, youth, and adult education programs. We’ve worked with these organizations to develop a set of common metrics to measure individual and collective impact and also discussed best practices for engaging executive, program, and front-line staff in the metrics process. A recent op-ed by Eileen Auld at Citi, one of the Change Capital Fund funders, demonstrates how this culture has taken root and driven results across the grantees.

Systems and processes that are scalable and sustainable
With a data-driven culture in place, you then want to make sure you are focused on measuring ongoing performance, not just completing a one-off process that’s difficult to repeat on a recurring basis. This requires processes and responsibilities that are clearly defined, realistic, and integrated into day-to-day work. You will need to be able to answer questions such as when and how is data going to be collected and who is responsible? For example, the Change Capital Fund organizations are utilizing existing touchpoints with program participants, including at intake and program completion, to collect data. The organizations have also worked on building or refining their data-tracking systems to more seamlessly track participant progress across programs. So, even as the number of program participants grew from 5,400 to over 8,600 in the course of a year, data collection processes were positioned to scale with that growth.

Reporting tools that are targeted and inform actions
Successful metrics reports will have a clearly defined user and provide key information necessary for that user to adjust. An easy analogy is a speedometer in a car: the defined user is the driver and displaying the speed of the vehicle allows the driver to adjust and be accountable with changing speed limits. In the Change Capital Fund example, individual organizations have detailed internal reports for staff and a separate report for the Change Capital funders themselves with higher-level information and a summary across organizations. Having tailored reports for different levels of staff or stakeholders allows unique groups to inform their decision-making in a way that’s most relevant to their area of responsibility.

We love data, but numbers are only part of the recipe for success. Incorporating performance management into your organization positions you to evaluate the current state, identify where you want to be in the future, and build tools and processes to track progress towards goals. Culture, systems, and reporting are ingredients that will help you set up an infrastructure that is conducive for successful performance management and measuring your organization’s impact.

Strategic Planning the Public Works Way: Collaborative, Actionable, Measurable

Public Works is thrilled to be sharing our approach to strategic planning this month on a panel at New York Nonprofit Media’s event, Nonprofit BoardCon. This event will bring together board members and senior leaders from New York City nonprofits to discuss strategies for collaboration. We plan to share our strategic planning methodology, particularly our strategy for making these plans visionary; inclusive of staff and board objectives; and an actionable roadmap for nonprofit leaders. Our process is grounded in two principles – we:

  1. Tailor our approach to align with our clients’ organizational culture and objectives, which helps create a plan that fits the client context.
  2. Collaborate closely with our client to lay a foundation when it comes time to challenge accepted norms and build buy in around change that will drive innovation.

Here’s a snapshot of our methodology:

Graphic, strategic planning blog

I. Organizational Assessment and Stakeholder Engagement Planning
We begin our strategic planning process with an assessment of the organization’s structure, program model, performance, funding schemes, and budget, which allows us to identify strengths, challenges, and opportunities. As part of the assessment, we map out internal and external stakeholders and an engagement plan to gather input iteratively from various levels along the way.

One of the most critical stakeholder groups is the board of directors. We’ve learned the importance of working with board members early and often to drive toward consensus around a vision for the future. We work with clients to quickly get up to speed on board roles, history, and decision-making protocol to determine the most effective intervals for productive board engagement. For instance, and quite often, we would establish three points of board engagement during the strategic planning process: the beginning (to lay out the vision, perhaps at a board retreat), middle (to share recommendations), and end (to present the final plan). We’ve also found that one-off board member engagement, in breakout groups or one-on-one conversations, can be beneficial for allowing stakeholders to share feedback on their unique areas of expertise, test the validity of our assumptions, or understand the areas where we’ll need their support (such as fundraising or making connections to potential partners).

II. Establishing the Vision, Setting Goals, and Measuring Progress
Following assessment and establishing stakeholder engagement, we move into developing a vision and setting goals that drive toward fulfilling our clients’ mission. We find it most effective to start this phase at a retreat or working session where we can dig into programmatic inputs, outputs, outcomes, and the ultimate impact desired at the program and organizational levels. We work forwards from inputs or backwards from the ultimate impact depending on what the client has already begun to define as core to its work ahead, or areas they wish to experiment with or expand upon. Ultimately, we shape goals with our clients that are attainable and align specific activities to achieve specific outcomes. We craft strategic plans to be dynamic, working documents that are relevant to staff’s everyday work and prevent the plan from becoming an unutilized document that gathers dust on a shelf.

Part and parcel with this, setting a goal will only take you so far: you have to be positioned to track progress toward reaching a goal and determine where improvements need to be made as you go. We work with our clients to develop key performance indicators to measure success in implementing the plan. We’ve learned the importance of making indicators that work concretely within the client’s organizational context, and can be connected to program or client data that’s already readily and regularly accessible for analysis. We also use this to setup a framework for our client to manage the implementation process through data-driven tracking.

III. Developing the Implementation Plan
Finally, we create an implementation plan that lays out the steps and decisions necessary to reach the activities and objectives set forth in the strategic plan. We empower clients to take immediate action on quick wins and early priorities, and phase efforts that require greater coordination or extended preparation over the longer term. We address budget and resource considerations, develop fundraising strategies, explore partnership opportunities, and make recommendations for organizational structure and board governance. We track these implementation steps to the established goals, and set timelines and activities that will allow for the successful implementation of the plan, while taking into account the organization’s ongoing demands and potential constraints. Without a clearly set path to implementation, and an approach to managing the various moving parts, we’ve seen many strategic plans become merely a coffee table book in the lobby rather than being executed to their full potential.

Developing a plan that’s relevant to staff in their everyday roles, incorporates iterative feedback from multiple levels of stakeholders, and helps executive staff measure progress will ensure that the plan is well implemented and that it helps the organization effectively work toward its mission. For a young organization, a strong strategic plan can be a concrete way to engage the board and to help define their roles. For mature organizations that have the benefit of experience, successes, and perhaps some failures, a clear process can help the staff and board prioritize and refocus energy and resources toward fulfilling the mission in a more efficient or innovative new way. Our focus on customization and collaboration allows us to design strategic plans that fit the unique needs and operations of our clients, and allow organizations to seamlessly transition from planning to action, and ultimately increasing impact.

Factoring Client Experience into Service Delivery: How Journey Mapping Enhances Service Design

As a firm, we aim to continuously identify and integrate new ways of thinking that will enhance our services. Most recently, we are exploring human-centered design and how we can apply this problem-solving process to the core of our client work. Pioneered in the 90’s by the global design firm IDEO, human-centered design analyzes human behavior to transform difficult challenges into sustainable solutions. It is a versatile approach – applicable across sectors, industries, products, space, services, or systems – that helps ensure the result of your work is of, by, and for people.

We see big impacts on social service organizations.
A key tool of human-centered design we’re now working with is journey mapping. Journey maps are end-to-end diagrams that illustrate the steps users – people – go through when interacting with a product or service. However, unlike other process diagrams, journey maps factor human behavior – motivations, interests, and pain points – into the process to convey not just what people do, but how they feel while doing it. The objective of journey mapping is to ensure clients or customers have a consistently high level of satisfaction when interacting with a product or service. We used the journey mapping method recently during a workforce development engagement to better understand challenges with job retention and advancement. Layering participant emotions and behaviors allowed us to identify ways to redesign services that would address job seeker barriers. Through this exercise, for example, one of our clients identified weekly case conferencing as a valuable tool for managing participants’ expectations as they transition to their job placements. Journey mapping is a very powerful tool, indeed, for helping create positive experiences and improve outcomes for program participants and staff at social service organizations.

Here’s a look at how journey maps work:

journey-map-flow-final

 

 

 

 

Words for the wise.
If you’re as excited about this new strategy as we are, below are a few tips on running an effective journey mapping session:

  • Don’t skimp on customer research. The best way to get into your customer’s psyche is to do the research necessary to fully gauge their motivations, interests, and pain points. You can accomplish this through a combination of interviews, surveys, observations of customer behaviors, and review of available data. We find one-on-one interviews to be effective for probing into challenges and interests, and understanding the nuance behind behaviors.
  • Let your customer profile be your guide. There’s a reason why we’re pushing for robust user research. Research findings directly affect the intricacy of your customer profile, or “user persona” – the representation of your target audience, based on their needs, behavior and pain points. The personas serve as the guide for plotting and assessing your process. It is the foundation that allows you to focus on what matters most to the customer as you design a service strategy aimed at addressing customer needs. For instance, “quick view” features on websites or mobile apps are based on robust user research since quick and easy ways to purchase an item or making a booking are frequent user motivations.
  • Keep it collaborative and creative. Journey mapping sessions are a great tool for bringing people together to problem-solve any challenge or to design a new service strategy. It can be an exciting and engaging opportunity to bounce around new ideas between colleagues. The user persona provides a common base of understanding for all session participants so that problem-solving suggestions can be developed regardless of familiarity or seniority related to the process or service at hand. Encouraging mappers to think outside the box and be creative is sure to yield new innovations for your service design!

Want more tips on customer journey mapping? Stay tuned for our human-centered design workshops in partnership with the Workforce Professionals Training Institute targeted for mid-2017.

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