Sustainability
Opinion Article
December 15, 2020

From survival to prosperity of social organizations in Portugal

As Albert Einstein said: “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity”.Many years have passed since then, but the truth of this statement crosses times, generations, people and contexts. We believe that it applies with the same truth to the times that we all live in today, without exception. Yes, the present is difficult, the future looks hazy but certainly better days will come if we work as a team, manage our resources well and keep an eye on the path we have taken.

To make the trip less insidious, we have identified some obstacles that social organizations will certainly encounter and we have put together some clues to support this journey. They are not the certified recipe for the solution to success, but they are certainly tips and food for thought that, in our view,will help on the path of survival and, therefore, prosperity that we wish for all Portuguese social organizations.

   

That being said, what assets are important to have up your sleeve?

 

1. A vision of strong leadership that guides the way

We are currently running a marathon. It is important to take into account three key moments of the race, which also symbolize the basic stages of the leadership processes: the starting line, the course and the finishing line.

 

a) The starting line

Before running a marathon, we have to assess our physical situation. In leadership processes,the logic is the same: before we take the first step, we need to be clearly aware of where we are. Before we start, we will naturally encounter obstacles for which solutions are needed.

  • 1st obstacle: "We areunable to focus on an internal analysis because every minute we are bombarded with new information"
  • Suggestion: Disconnect yourself from the world for brief moments. We cannot process at the same speed as we are receiving information. We first need to clear our mind and to look a tour situation to clarify where we are and where we want to go.

 

Once you have been able to breathe, go back to the basics. Make a realistic analysis of your strengths and weaknesses at the present moment. What's available? What has to be settled?

 

Now that you have a realistic and factual analysis of your situation today, it is important to decide which path you want your organization to take. Will you continue to follow the same polar star or do you intend to make a change? What strengths would you like your organization to have in the future?

  • 2nd Obstacle:  “I have more weak than strong points. There are many risks associated with change”
  • Suggestion: Don't just focus on the negative aspects. It is important that you are aware of them, but the focus should be on the vision you want to achieve for your organization. It is based on this vision that solutions will be built to overcome the obstacles you currently have. We will not stop running because we have never run or because we have little resistance and / or speed. We will train to improve these skills and to be able to reach the goal.

 

Once the decision is made, it is necessary to define a plan of action - how are we going to make it happen? Do I need to reallocate my resources? Find new ways of funding? Adjust the distribution channels of the services I offer or explore new paths / activities?

  • 3rd Obstacle: "How am I going to define an action plan if I don't know the future?"
  • Suggestion: If we cannot predict the future, we must build skills, teams and structures that allow us to deal with any reality. Only in this way can we build resilience to deal with what is coming, which will, of course, always be uncertain. We don't know if we will be able to cross the finishing line, but we will adapt our training plans to ensure that we are in the best shape possible for that to happen.

 

b) The course

Once the vision is defined, it is time to put it into practice, to start effectively running:

  • The leader assumes a fundamental role in the direction the organization is taking: it must keep the team on track and at the right pace, leading them into the future, towards the defined vision. As with everything in life, there will be obstacles. It is up to the leader to act as a“salesman of hope” - to motivate the team, to help them maintain focus and a balanced pace, with calm and serenity.
  • “One for all,all for one”: keep in mind that the path is not done alone, it is done as a team. We are all in the same boat and each one must do his best in favor of the common vision. It is this union that will make us more resilient in managing the uncertain future.
  • Reaching the goal consists of three key ingredients: individual work, collective support and the clear and objective vision of the leader.

 

 

c) The finishing line

When we finally reach it, we stop to breathe and continue. We continue to work. We reflect on what we have learned and identify the adaptations that we can and must make to survive future crises. Management does not end when the crisis is over. We implement processes that improve our speed, endurance and flexibility to deal with what is coming. "If leadership is to lead people into the future (...) we have a sovereign situation here to put this art into practice".

 

2. A careful monitorization of stakeholders

By stakeholders we mean all those who, directly or indirectly, have an impact on the pursuit of the organization's mission. To ensure close monitoring of them all, it is important to:

a) Draw a list of new stakeholders: with the pandemic outbreak, there were new entities that became relevant in the context of any social organization and that must be considered - this is the case of WHO and DGS, for example. In addition to these entities, there are also others that should be taken into consideration, such as the ones that provide new funds and supportive opportunities that may also be relevant. Add to your map of your usual stakeholders the new stakeholders to consider.

b) Design a map of(new) needs: after having identified the stakeholder group in its completeness, it is imperative to update the needs of each one - customers, dependent organizations, partners, beneficiaries and employees.

c) Make a match between the (new) needs and the responsiveness of the organization: after identifying the needs, it is essential to define an action plan, considering the responsiveness of the organization to those needs based on the resources it has available or on new means that it can take advantage of.

d) Build solutions and test their applicability: after the steps mentioned above, the most suitable solution will appear naturally. Conditioned to the emerging needs, the solution that will be proposed to the business should have an agile application, based on a “trial and error” posture and pilot tests on small samples of the client population- an iterative process. In this way, resources and their scarcity are managed, adapting them to empirical results in a good entrepreneurial manner.

It is important that you build it step-by-step: create a close feedback loop to understand the needs and get the right information, and design shorter and more interactive innovation / adaptation cycles to find the solutions that work best for all parties involved. From here, you will be able to understand, more effectively,what adaptations are necessary to the business model, ensuring careful monitoring of all stakeholders.

 

3. An effective communication

In a one-way flow, communication is expected to be:

  • Transparent. The more transparent you are, the more your employees will trust you and the better your expectations will be managed.
  • Positive and motivating. Despite the adverse situation, there is always a perspective of a “half full glass”. We do not encourage the “flowery”, but we do encourage empowerment. By raising the mood of the team, we increase motivation and unity.
  • (Re) Organized. Take advantage of this time to re-organize and clearly define a database that covers the various stakeholders, as previously mentioned. Creating a good relationship with all of them will always be fortuitous for the company. Add as a focal point to this network of stakeholders the branch of “informing about hygiene measures”, because it will add greater relevance and confidence, to the client/ stakeholder who will benefit from it.

 

In a bidirectional perspective, it is important to bear in mind that communicating efficiently is not just about informing. A bipartisan environment must be created. For this, it is important to:

  • Create mechanisms to listen to stakeholders. “Click here to share your concerns with us in the face of the current pandemic crisis (or another theme)”
  • Choose a spokesperson to ensure assertive and reliable answers to the questions raised. It is essential to have a person aware of the appropriate responses, in content and form.
  • Always ensure response. If you encourage people to share their opinions, concerns and suggestions, make sure you respond.

 

Based on this system, the social organization can aggregate messages and identify the main concerns by stakeholder and / or by theme, for example. This analysis can lead to the discovery of valuable information that may be integrated in the adaptation of the organization's services, as well as in the communication strategy itself,ensuring an efficient response to the needs of stakeholders.

 

4. An efficient financial management

Financial management in times of crisis can be a decisive factor in the sustainability of organizations. To promote your financial health it is important that:

  • All stakeholders (mainly members of the organization) understand the real financial state of the organization's operation - the objective is not to scare, but to promote a constructive and positive logic.
  • The leader sets an example that he is committed to the organization - showing sacrifices at the level of leadership with cutting superfluous expenses / perks.
  • Prioritize costs that must be reduced or eliminated and communicate,in an assertive way, the rationale behind these cuts, to the entire organization.
  • Have a more strategic point of view - focus on the most important activities that are the core of the company's activity,reducing the resources used in secondary initiatives.

That being said, we advise you to do a sensitivity analysis, in an attempt to estimate the impact of different scenarios in the short, medium and long term, on the company's revenues and expenses. Based on this analysis, different responses must be drawn for each of the scenarios on the table. This prior work will contribute to a more efficient management of your organization's resources in the future.

 

So, all in all,the path is made by walking and we all have a role to play in ensuring that we are going in the right direction. It is up to each social organization to build its own path, maintaining a clear and objective leadership vision, a careful monitorization of its stakeholders,an effective communication and an efficient financial management. These are essential assets to move from the survival mode, in direction to prosperity.

 

And this is exactly the goal that our team aims to achieve: to facilitate the journey so that prosperity can be reached quickly.

Ana Raquel Bilro, Inês Lopes and Inês Rebelo, with the collaboration of Joana Castro e Costa, Inês Rola Pereira and Professors Carmen Lages, Filipe Alfaiate and Gonçalo Luz

Ana Raquel Bilro, Inês Lopes and Inês Rebelo, with the collaboration of Joana Castro e Costa, Inês Rola Pereira and Professors Carmen Lages, Filipe Alfaiate and Gonçalo Luz

Students Ana Raquel Bilro and Inês Lopes, with Alumna Inês Rebelo participating in Economic 1st respondents

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