I have been reading Trust Agents by Julien Smith and Chris Brogan and as often happens for me when reading a new work, I take something away that feels slightly askew of what the book is about. One example of this in Trust Agents, is where the authors talk about the tools that the interwebs have for listening to what people are saying about you or your organization. They point us to all the nifty gadgets that are available for us to pull this information together with.
My mind immediately went to my own organization, but not in the same way. I need to pull information together internally. I need a better collection of the moments in time data of many moving parts of our organization.
It used to be easier
A few years ago within our previously small non-profit there were a few programs and listening and sharing were easier. Getting information about the performance of our programs was often as simple as having a conversation with a teacher, therapist or director and asking for it. It was softer, it was simpler, it was more personal and a couple of objectives could be achieved simultaneously: connecting with staff and understanding how we were doing in each program.
Having experienced some rather rapid growth (doubling the number of employees in 18 months through growth, not acquisition), I have noticed that the information I am needing and the speed at which I need it about our organization internally has changed. We have over 20 financial departments that require reporting internally and externally. We have dozens of revenue streams that must be managed, many of which are grants, all of which need reports. Our customers/clients have grown and changed each one requires services that are as unique as each of them.
What I will be changing
With Chris and Julien’s suggestion to create a dashboard of external listening, I came to the realization that my internal methods of listening were too scattered, inefficient and not as clearly rooted in the data to drive decision making as they should be.
Again, the advice in Trust Agents is to delegate because your community needs you. While I have enjoyed the collection of information process through connecting individually with staff, I have redirected the reporting responsibilities of programs (and adding/fine tuning a few), to my Executive Assistant to aggregate the important data. She already receives and reports much of it externally to state agencies, foundations and the like, it just needed to be pulled together internally in order to listen to what it might be telling us.
All of this aggregation of data is being reported on an internal Dashboard. The use of a dashboard is not a new concept, but I have used it as a reporting tool for our board and not necessarily as a listening tool for me. It is my internal RSS feed albeit not as easily or neatly pulled together. It will be one way in which I listen to some key indicators of our performance within the organization.
All of this would be useless if I didn’t have a plan for it or a reason why I am doing it. None of this is entirely novel, and I have been doing it in some form and fashion for the last five years. The difference is the size and scope and amount of information. The difference is the time it takes to gather the information via my old means. The difference is that I have to listen differently in order to understand my community and be present for them. Now that I am gathering this information in one place. Now that I have changed the way I listen to that aspect of our organization, I have time for all of the other things. I have time to hear the stories and visit with programs and listen for the meaning behind the data. It gives me time and purpose with which to participate in my internal and external communities. So thanks Chris and Julien for sparking an actionable idea. Now, back to the book.