Elephants in the Room


In every organization four impediments to success lurk. These are;

  1. Weak processes
  2. Lack of Capacity
  3. Poor communication
  4. Sustainability of projects

Unless addressed, there will be an risk of missed opportunities and an increased threat to sustainability of the organization.

How does one tackle and provide sustainable solutions around each of these organizational pet peeves? I will indulge you on some thoughts I would apply during my volunteer assignment.

Weak processes

I would first establish if are there are processes? If none, I would start by just identifying a few (say 3 – 5 processes) critical to the mission and achieving the organization’s goals and prioritize e.g. programme development, Financial effectiveness, projects, proposal writing, monitoring and evaluation, communication, advocacy, etc.

For each of these processes, I will streamline to show

  1. Approval flow
  2. Determinants
  3. Key input players
  4. Results
  5. KPIs and measures

Lack of Capacity

It would be important to initially conduct a needs assessment via survey or interviews. If a prior assessment had been done, I would compare the two to pick out strong similarities. This would provide a good baseline to establish what the problem is. Some of the questions begging answers would be – Aren’t there enough skilled people? Or isn’t there enough investment in time and money hence preventing the team from being sufficiently equipped/ trained?

If so, perhaps it would be the time to identify a few training programs that are essential and at best, finding that sweet spot balance between soft skills and core skills. Soft skills are important for people to grow in an organization while core skills give them more confidence to deliver in their jobs.

Next would be, how to deliver the training.

  • Can it be done internally by using existing manuals or in-house subject matter experts?
  • Are there opportunities to personally deliver soft skills training to members of my team in an areas I am strong in?
  • In addition, there are a couple of donor bodies or organizations that are happy to pay training companies that use online platforms to build capacity in developing countries e.g. Accenture, World Bank, Africa Management Institute and MasterCard, etc.,  hence one would need to identify a few of these bodies and approach them to partner in capacity building for a year or two?

Poor communication

Communication – Always easier said than done. Is it happening in my organization?

An easy way to score this is by working out the total number of potential communication channels required which would be n (n – 1) /2, where n represents the number of stakeholders. For example, a project or role with 10 stakeholders has 10 (10 – 1) /2 = 45 potential communication channels

The other approach would be to assess the perception round communication. If it is perceived as not happening, what has caused this? Are there frequent staff or leadership changes? Are the teams not clear on the organization’s objectives, achievements and/ or results?

A quick way to resolve would be to;

  • First do a quick online survey (could also be questionnaire, focus group, some interviews with some of the team members) – At this stage, one would need to avoid town halls as they could easily turn into mass complaints forums.
  • One can identify the top 10 issues then importantly to create a leadership response (which would be issued out by the leadership). While working on the management response;
    1. Identify quick wins especially on the areas causing dissatisfaction and then sharing those with all (be genuine in the sharing as people see through smoke screens very quickly)
    2. The focus should be, being as open and as honest as possible.
    3. Preferably take the approach of a win–win for all – Organization, leadership and community if possible.
    4. Any areas where the any party does not seem to support an all in win-win mode – challenge for review.
  • Set up regular communication channels such as;
    • Monthly bulletin, newsletter
    • Social media presence
    • Weekly or fortnightly team meetings
    • Stand-up meetings
    • Quarterly Regional and National stakeholder meetings
    • Quarterly town hall address by Regional or National leadership?
  • Give regular updates and seek feedback.

Project Sustainability

Sustainability is so important for any project. Better to spend time trying to figure out how to make the project sustainable than plunging in with no tangible plan.

First establish the existence of a PMO (Project Management Office) either locally or above country. If a PMO exists, investigate to what extent PMO practices are applied and how to address any gaps thereof. If no PMO exists, what are opportunities are there to put one in place?

What is a PMO? A PMO is a group or department within an organization that defines and maintains standards for project management. The PMO strives to standardize and introduce economies of repetition in the execution of projects and is the source of guidance, documentation and KPIs on the practice of project management and execution.

Beautiful Elephants

Once embedded, efficient strong processes, optimized capacity, effective communications and project governance greatly enhance an organization’s operational capability to achieve its mandate and guarantees repeatable impactful successes. I am painting my PULSE partner’s elephants and everyday discovering new colors on my palette.

Have a colorful day.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.”



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