Dislike saying “no” and reluctant to pass up any opportunity, your organization grew swiftly and steadily – until the recession hit. Much of that growth was reactive, opportunistic, and simply taking on more and more, without proactive planning and without any clear, coherent strategic framework. As a result, the organization is now moving in so many different directions that it’s hard to see what its core work is or how its projects connect or add up. Already overworked and overwhelmed, the staff dreads impending budget cuts that will stretch them even thinner. They know they have to set priorities and cut back but have divergent ideas about what the organization’s focus should be. Everyone agrees that some programs must be cut, as long as the programs aren’t theirs. Everyone knows the organization needs focus but they struggle with how to get there.
Sound familiar? This is one of the pivotal moments that are described in MAG’s co-founder, Susan Gross’, book, Seven Turning Points: Leading through Pivotal Transitions in Organizational Life. Gross defines turning points as critical junctures at which organizations must adjust their leadership, management, structure, governance, and operating style to fit their changed circumstances.
Based on Gross’ thirty years of real-life experience strengthening social justice advocacy organizations, the book says that organizations will know they’ve reached a turning point when the structure, management approach, leadership style, and organizational culture that once worked just fine begin to sow a host of new tensions and problems.
The book reassures executive directors, staffs, and boards that these problems are not their fault but are the inevitable consequences of internal or external change or growth. It also emphasizes that these are not separate, unrelated problems that can be addressed one by one. Rather, they are interconnected (often compounding or reinforcing one another to form an interlocking system) and signal that an organization requires broad, systemic adjustment if it’s to move to a greater level of effectiveness, impact, and sustainability.
Written in vivid portraits of organizational life, readers will easily find themselves in this book and gain new insights into how to address organizational issues. The book allows readers to recognize the characteristic pattern of problems that emerge at each turning point and flag the need for change, and it offers readers practical, usable advice on what to expect, what to do, and how to adapt. It enables and prepares leaders to start taking action before tensions intensify and escalate into full-blown crises. The book spells out the main adjustments that need to be made at each turning point and emphasizes that organizations can find themselves at more than one turning point at once. The book also warns about the counter-tensions that changes are likely to produce and suggests how to manage them.
Seven Turning Points offers a new analytical framework that goes beyond the life cycle model and recognizes that organizations do not always evolve in an orderly fashion, graduating from one life cycle to the next. The book provides a more fluid, dynamic, nuanced, and non-linear way of analyzing how organizations develop that resonates with the realities and vagaries of nonprofit life.
Executives, boards, and nonprofit consultants and coaches will find a new way of looking at organizational development and gain new tools to manage change. Funders will better understand the challenges their grantees face and will gain ideas about the types of grants that will help grantees successfully navigate these turning points. It is an accessible, readable teaching text for nonprofit management programs, leadership development programs, and executive management programs that move students from the abstract to the down-to-earth stories of what really happens in organizations dealing with change.