Case Study: Learning Resources and Supports Operates with Differing Levels of Maturity
Consider how organizations define and understand their level of maturity. It is critical for early stage organizations to understand that their maturation may be uneven, and to recognize the implications of this.
In this case we’ll consider the (fictional) organization Learning Resources and Supports, which provides specialized learning support for students with special needs. LRS started as a program of a large education organization ten years ago, and in the last few years spun off to be an independent entity, so it could focus intensively on its unique services and growth potential. It hired an operations leader to speed its development and readiness for growth.
As essentially a new organization with a tested program, it generally “felt” like an early stage organization. The CEO was involved in day-to-day details, most knowledge was stored in individual people’s heads and shared on an ad hoc basis, and the strategy was changing in real time; it was an entrepreneurial organization fueled by the dedication of its staff, led by a visionary CEO. After becoming an independent nonprofit, one of the first priorities was to set up finance and related compliance systems, so these systems were fairly mature despite being brand new. Its program management was fairly developed, having been tested over the full history of the program, and LRS was quick to proceduralize these systems further. Its fundraising operations were much more “early stage,” since functions like tracking and reporting on donations were previously handled fully by the large organization.
A handful of staff operated the organization with these uneven levels of maturity, which is not uncommon. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with uneven maturity across an organization - it is a natural organizational development process, in fact. In most cases, it was not complicated for LRS. But at times, there were complications. The reports to the board on fundraising didn’t “square” with finance reports, since the latter were guided by standardized procedures and the former were created ad hoc, based on the realities of the moment. Neither the finance nor the fundraising reports were “wrong” - it’s just that they were guided by different models; for example, the finance reports followed GAAP rules while the fundraising reports sometimes reported multi-year funding all at once. Since LRS had substantially developed finance and program systems, including robust technology, the staff designed robust procedures for fundraising using the same technology. But it was “too much, too soon:”
A great deal of time was wasted on duplicating efforts using spreadsheets which were more trusted, and on discussing how to record donations on a case-by-case basis.
There were tensions among staff about who was more “right” about tracking money (of course, everyone was “right” as it turns out).
Members of the board began to question and even distrust the financial information they received, which led to leadership and staff fears and tensions.
At Deep Why, we use quantitative and qualitative assessment to identify how different organizational functions operate at different levels of maturity. We can then prioritize areas where increased maturity, alignment, and capacity will have the most impact. Moreover, simply bringing to light and legitimizing uneven levels of maturity can address common challenges such as those LRS experienced.
Learn more about the concepts and theory behind this case study in the post “Organization Lifecycle: Early Stage”