Grow With the Flow
Some of the consultancy work done by the Management Centre involves “knowledge management,” which often refers to programs that teach managers to deal with situations that aren’t mentioned in any rule books.
For example, Ross says his company helped devise board games with personnel at Doctors Without Borders, USA/Médecins Sans Frontières, a nonprofit that provides medical treatment for people in distressed areas around the world.
In one game, the question for trainees was, “Who should get the vaccine to if we only have enough for half a camp?” In another, they had to decide, “Should we stay or should we go now that the rebel troops are coming over the hill?”
“Sometimes you end up in a spot where there isn’t a standard manual operating procedure,” Ross says with quiet irony. “You have to be ready to deal with messy situations.”
Knowledge management also is a useful concept in nonprofit fundraising, where managers sometimes face messy situations of a different sort.
“What do you do if you know that a donor is doing something unethical?” Ross asks. “How do you handle a donor who expresses racist views?”
You handle some of those problems in advance, he reiterates, by creating a framework that allows your managers to deal with unforeseen developments. You teach them the importance of curiosity, belief, flexibility, creativity and innovation. And you remind them that organizations with rigid mindsets are likely to be “blindsided.”
Ross made the latter point with an anecdote about how the Pony Express spent time and money in the mid-19th century developing a network of horsemen who could deliver messages from Missouri to California in a matter of days.
“For a while, it was the hottest prospect — the Google of its time,” Ross says. “What the people at Pony Express didn’t notice were these very boring guys with the big wooden poles and the wires moving along behind them. Then the New York City-to-San Francisco telegraph went live, and Pony Express went bust. They were completely blindsided.”