BLOG: Pragmatism: A Corporate Gift to Not for Profits
18 September 2014 at 10:44 am
Whilst there are many positives and negatives to working in both the corporate and Not for Profit environments, the most significant difference is the level of pragmatism writes Mick Garnett from ReachOut.com by Inspire Foundation.
After more than a year in the Not for Profit environment, a question people regularly ask me is what’s the biggest difference between working in the corporate world and the NFP sector?
Whilst there are many positives and negatives to working in both environments, the most significant difference in my experience is the level of pragmatism.
The definition of pragmatism I’m using is ‘character or conduct emphasising practicality’.
It’s a trait that pervades the corporate sector, a direct result of allowing corporations to be separate legal entities and hence conduct themselves with an entirely empirical modus operandi, free from the condition of being human.
I don’t celebrate this aspect of corporate life; indeed it’s part of the reason I’m choosing to do some work in the Not for Profit sector. However, I am interested in how NFPs can learn from corporate pragmatism to the extent that it can be included in the toolkit for leaders in achieving social outcomes.
Whilst there are some fantastic NFP organisations doing great things in Australia, it’s worth describing a few examples of what a lack of pragmatism can look like in the NFP sector:
Organisational plans can lack focus: This can be a strange by-product of well-meaning compassion. An admirable desire not to leave anyone behind can create strategic plans that are too broad and lack clarity. A pragmatic approach would be to define a more targeted plan, capable of galvanising staff and funders around a clearer vision and increasing the likelihood of creating social change.
Collaboration can be clunky: The topic of collaboration within the NFP sector is worthy of a separate post. The behaviour of NFPs when the need to collaborate arises is often characterised by defensiveness and suspicion. This is sometimes blamed on a scarcity of funds and the need for organisations to compete, yet the more developed NFPs use their imagination to create multiple revenue streams and don’t perpetuate a mentality of entitlement.
In contrast to defensiveness, pragmatic collaboration uses others to help achieve goals, engaging in the process in a practical, emotionally mature way.
Recruitment can disproportionately prioritise mission: This needn’t be read as a criticism of attracting employees who believe in an organisation’s purpose; indeed that’s a very good thing. However, it shouldn’t be pursued at the expense of the skills and behaviours required to do the job. In the same way that sporting organisations needs to be watchful of recruiting ‘fans’, a pragmatic approach to recruitment in the NFP sector includes achieving both a connection to mission and the necessary competencies to be successful.
In summary, I’m not advocating transforming our NFPs into heartless machines. We need organisations with humanity and leaders who advocate for the vulnerable as much as ever.
But why don’t we borrow a dose of the pragmatism that helps produce remarkable corporate profits, and use it to help us create extraordinary social change?
About the Author: Mick Garnett is the Director of Marketing and Communications for ReachOut.com by Inspire Foundation,a leading online youth mental health service. Garnett is also the Founder of a brand consultancy called Authentic Marketing and his professional background includes marketing roles with The Coca-Cola Company, Sara Lee and Canon. He is part of the TEDxSydney organising team.
Follow Mick Garnett on Twitter: @mickgarnett