Leading through disruption in the social sector

Australia’s Not-for-Profit (NFP) sector is facing unprecedented change and disruption from multiple sources. An already competitive sector is increasing in complexity and uncertainty, placing greater demands and expectations on the leaders at the helm of these important organisations. To succeed in today’s environment, NFPs will need dynamic leaders who have the courage, resilience, and capability to address these challenges and ‘future-proof’ their organisations in these volatile times.

What can your organisation do to address this leadership challenge?

Foster greater inclusion

Organisations need leaders, teams, and advisors to provide their best thinking to address complex operational and social challenges. High levels of organisational inclusion enables leaders to access greater levels of accountability, collaboration, and innovation to achieve improved performance. Fostering greater inclusion involves building diverse teams (demographic, skills, experience, and profession), harnessing diversity of thought, and seeking out different advisors to address Australia’s most complex social challenges. Supporting strategies include adopting ‘Inclusive Leadership practices’, changing HR practices (e.g. recruitment), and revamping governance and decision-making processes to incorporate greater diversity.

Encourage lifelong learning and nurture curiosity

Work, workplaces, and workers are also undergoing significant change. As a result, it is critical for NFP leaders to continually challenge existing ways of doing work in their organisations. This means nurturing a perpetual sense of curiosity, creating a personal and collective desire for learning, and developing a learning environment that shares knowledge across the organisation, industry, and across industries. NFP leaders should also involve learning from other sectors, such as ‘start-ups’, technology firms and the social enterprise sector.

Build strategic business perspective

It is important that leaders continue to develop and maintain a future-focused strategic perspective of their own organisation, industry, as well as market trends. NFPs need to support their leaders to ‘carve out’ the time and head space to understand market trends, explore adjacent market issues, understand customers and their changing needs, as well as research governmental and other macro trends. A deeper understanding of these elements enables leaders to identify and predict strategic opportunities and threats, and plan how best to respond to them.

Align your culture with your strategy

Peter Drucker famously said “culture eats strategy for breakfast…”. What’s equally true is that if not aligned, culture will ‘trump’ strategy execution efforts. NFP leaders need to continually adjust organisational strategy to ensure the strategic direction remains current. Equally, the behaviours required to execute strategy (embedded in the organisation’s culture) must also be adjusted to ensure it is achieved effectively and efficiently. If key attributes of culture (e.g. KPIs, leader role modelling, customer service behaviours) are not aligned with a change in strategy, it is highly likely the prevailing ‘cultural settings’ will delay or prevent effective/efficient strategy execution.

Embrace digital and data

Digital technology is rapidly transforming organisations (e.g. robotics, artificial intelligence, mobility) and redefining markets (e.g. the rise of platform businesses like Uber and HireUp). To thrive in this rapidly changing context, NFPs must infuse a greater level of understanding of “digital” amongst their leaders. Stronger emphasis must be placed on the use of ‘the right’ data to improve decision-making. Organisations should consider hiring people who are “born digital’, as well as embedding digital content and data interpretation techniques into the ongoing development of its leaders. Leveraging both digital and data to disrupt the way things have traditionally been done should be a critical work practice for all NFP leaders.

Liberate your intraprenuers to drive growth

As the rate of change accelerates, NFPs will increasingly need to liberate their leaders to experiment, innovate, and embrace failure. Organisations should create environments where employees are encouraged to pursue innovative offerings that address business and societal challenges. Now is the time to identify and liberate your ‘intraprenuers’ (internal entrepreneurs) to generate new ideas, disrupt from within and persevere until their idea becomes a reality. These initiatives will support NFPs in their ambition to reduce their reliance on government funding and diversify their revenue streams.

Investing in the development of your leadership team, and in the right leadership behaviours, is the best investment you can make to ‘future-proofing’ your organisation.  Deloitte’s Social Impact Consulting practice brings together Australia’s leaders in human capital solutions who work specifically with NFP organisations to address their most complex workforce challenges. We can work with you to become a more resilient organisation, capable of handling sector disruption and most importantly, ensuring that you continue to make a major difference in the lives of people you support.

NFP leaders with the skills, capabilities and confidence to navigate uncertainty in today’s environment will be in a better position to provide strong leadership for their organisation and deliver greater social impact into the future.

What are you doing today to build your leaders for the future?

If you are interested in learning more about how we can support you to lead through disruption, please contact Tharani Jegatheeswaran (Partner – Social Impact Consulting) or Phillip Mottram (Principal – Social Impact Consulting).


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