Overcoming Analysis Paralysis at Your Organization
You are a change-maker.
You work for a nonprofit organization, so you must want to change the world. To be part of the impact. To move the mission forward. To end disease. To end hunger. To end racism, inequality and injustice. To end cruelty against mankind or nature. To end the bad stuff, the complicated stuff in this world.
Then, why are you making it so complicated to make change?
Why is it that our ideas and programs, which are supposed to change the world, are often granted a death by committee? Why is it that nonprofit organizations are so often blocked and tackled by analysis paralysis?
And how do we change this in our sector, so that we can indeed see the full potential of our change maker intuition and initiative?
The Root of Analysis Paralysis
From my own experience and dozens of conversations with friends in the nonprofit industry, there’s one common issue that leads to analysis paralysis:
It’s the result of fear.
Fear is not easy to manage. It’s not easy to overcome. It’s not easy to confront. Even if you let go of your fear, it’s not easy to persuade others around you to let go of their fear.
But, here’s the thing.
You need to ship.
You need to ship your ideas and programs in order to end disease. You need to ship to end hunger. You need to ship to end racism and inequality and injustice against humankind and Mother Earth.
(I use the term ship, which is something more widely used in the for-profit world when discussing getting a new product launched, getting a new software feature released or making a new service available. At nonprofits, there are research programs, marketing programs, donor retention programs, patient services programs and the list goes on and on of what it is that we need to ship to change the world.)
You need to go (smarter, better, more efficiently), and you need to let go—of fear.
How to Overcome Analysis Paralysis at Your Organization
But how do you put this into motion at your organization? How can you be a change-maker within your organization?
There are three basic things you can do.
1. Trust those who you work with.
Yes, much of the ability to let go of fear requires trust. This is how you eliminate death by committee. Surround yourself with people you can trust, and then actually trust them to do their jobs.
Assign decision-making responsibilities to those who truly have the expertise around the decision that needs to be made. Don’t wait for buy-in from accounting on a marketing strategy just because you feel like you have to give everyone a seat at the table all. the. time. Instead, trust the small group of stakeholders to handle key decisions for the areas in which they are either the experts or their expertise has close ties. If you have consensus among those with the expertise and those nearby that expertise, you’ll be able to move faster and try new things so that you can optimize and ship more ideas and more programs more often.
2. Ship your decisions with a reason.
If the ultimate decision rests with you, then make a decision and have specific reasons. Tell your people why and make sure it is a meaningful explanation. Kids don’t like it when their parents give them the old “because-I-said-so” routine, so don’t do that to your tribe of change makers. Give an explanation. It seems so obvious, yet we’ve all probably encountered this many, many times in our careers. We witness decisions being made, the information about the decision is distributed, but in no way was the decision backed up with a reason as to “why we went this route.”
3. Stop worrying so much about being wrong or choosing the wrong path.
If some of our great heroes, true change-makers of the world, had let themselves become crippled with worry about being wrong, we may still have separate drinking fountains. Or we may still be searching for a way to the moon. Or we may not have our friends across the globe be available for conversation at the push of a button.
To end, I’ll close with a quote from Seth Godin’s Poke the Box: “The connected economy of ideas demands that we contribute initiative. And yet we resist, because our lizard brain, the one that lives in fear, relentlessly exaggerates the cost of being wrong.”
Don’t let your lizard brain stop you from shipping good to the world.
P.S. If you're looking for tools to help lead your organization to achieve greater results in 2018, I'd encourage you to check out Pursuant's ebook, “Breakthrough Fundraising: Achieve the Impossible With a New Way of Thinking.” The book outlines a framework we've seen transform the culture within numerous nonprofit organizations and help development teams shatter annual goals.
Taylor Shanklin is a TEDx speaker, podcast host and marketing innovator in the nonprofit sector. Taylor is the founder and CEO of Barlele, a brand and marketing strategy agency that helps mission-minded businesses and nonprofit organizations grow through clear storytelling, branding, digital marketing strategies and strategic growth coaching.
In her career, she has served 100-plus organizations on both national and local levels. Her areas of expertise are branding and digital storytelling, digital marketing for nonprofits, empowering one's authentic voice and helping nonprofit organizations realize their full potential through digital donor experiences that delight and surprise. Taylor lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children and dachshund named Lady.