Shared Wisdom for Successfully Leading Organizations

How a non-profit CEO can create a culture of innovation

Once you’ve set a strategic direction and put together the team, you’ll want to work on building a culture of innovation and constant self-improvement. As the CEO of a non-profit organization, you’ll have to set the tone and put processes in place that will encourage staff to be open to critical thinking about the everyday work, with an eye on creative problem-solving and positive changes.

As the CEO, you want to encourage new ideas but implement a disciplined approach to how they will be evaluated. Change should not be for its own sake. The need for the change must be there as well as a realistic approach on how it will be achieved.

Of course, you want to trust your employees to find and implement solutions. You can do so by setting big strategic goals, but then give staff the opportunity to come up with the tactics on how the goals will be achieved. For example, you can set the goal that you need to get 300 people to come hear about a rights-based approach to poverty reduction. Then step back and let staff create and execute the plan.

You want to avoid micromanaging. You will mostly have senior managers reporting to you. You must provide them the room they need to take full ownership of their areas. CEOs who rise within the ranks of the same organization should be particularly rigorous in letting go previous responsibilities. It may be difficult to stop doing the job you were doing, but it is necessary. Be careful that you are not undermining the senior manager who has succeeded you in the role.

You may also consider setting one to two meetings annually for an intensive brainstorming session on a specific issue, with the set-out expectation that most of the ideas will not be implemented but that you want people to think outside the box and ideally find a couple of gems.

As CEO, you are your team’s coach and you cannot take a back seat approach. It is ultimately your responsibility to ensure that you have the right people on the team, that you are nurturing the next generation of talent, that every person understands their contribution and the overall goals, and that you have the best possible support network for your staff to excel and give the organization their best. The objective is for the organization to thrive, and your job is to align everyone toward that end goal.

Hear from You’re It! co-author Alan Broadbent as he talks about an inspiring example of innovation at Evergreen CityWorks:

In October of 2015, Evergreen CityWorks conducted a “hackathon” called TrafficJam on the topic of traffic gridlock in the Toronto region. They issued a fairly simple invitation to participate, asking for ideas to make traffic flow more quickly without incurring huge costs or reducing safety. The City of Toronto traffic department made large data sets available for hackers to work with, and hackers were invited to form teams to bring multiple skill sets to bear on the problems. Many were skeptical that non-experts would have much to add to a field fully covered by traffic engineers, but a number of solutions resulted, some app-based, that the City thought could be implemented quickly. The three winners focused on identifying current traffic jams, on predicting them, and on facilitating pedestrian routes that would get people out of their cars. Even the engineers applauded.