Achieving Breakthrough Performance

by Mark Gottfredson, Steve Schaubert, and Elisabeth Babcock, Stanford Social Innovation Review; Summer 2008.

How might social sector leaders position themselves to weather economic storms and ultimately flourish? Drawing on extensive consulting experience and not-for-profit management, authors Gottfredson, Schaubert, and Babcock outline a path to ‘breakthrough performance’. The authors define this as: “the kind that positions nonprofits to create high levels of social impact and lasting change.” To achieve such status, they identify four principles:

1. Costs of serving should always decline 2. Market position determines your options 3. Clients and funding pools don’t stand still 4. Simplicity gets results

Interestingly, these are the same four principles they view as essential to breakthrough performance in the for-profit sector. Despite the dual focus that non-profit managers face – catering to both clients and funders – the authors suggest that their ‘breakthrough performance principles’ apply equally to non-profit and for-profit ventures.

Just how exact these parallels are could be argued, but the authors go on to provide solid examples of how managers in the not-for-profit sector have utilised these principles successfully. A crib sheet is also provided that could be helpful for social sector leaders to take an inventory of their organisations current performance on each of the four elements.

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