Improving Waste Management

By Larry Johnston

There are a lot of things that separate the pros in management from the amateurs. And the amount of time they’ve been managing has little to do with whether they’re one or the other. I’ve met people who are pros the first day they got started, and amateurs who’ve been at the task for 20 years.

But for this blog, I want to focus on just two differentiators. Both can be either adaptational (i.e., it’s something you adapt to rather than deeply believe) or orientational (i.e., a deep internal compass that reflects core values, beliefs and inclinations), but they quickly find their expression in behavior and methodology. More simply, what we value gets fleshed out in what we do.

One is the notion of stewardship. The other is the nasty “D” word: Discipline. Let’s start with stewardship.

I’m not talking here about stewardship in the sense of encouraging people to give. I’m speaking more to what stewardship is really all about, the use (management) of God-given resources to accomplish God-given tasks. Here we should be mindful of the etymology of the word “steward.” It comes from the old English “styward,” where the sty was the warehouse of personal or communal goods, and the ward or warden (manager) was responsible for the judicious care of its contents. Translating this concept to modern management, especially of nonprofits, is the obligation of managers (stewards) to maximize the impact (results) of every gift entrusted to their care. That entails, among other things, the elimination of waste.

That’s where discipline comes in, and more specifically the disciplines of Total Quality Management (TQM) and Total Quality Service (TQS). Students and practitioners of these disciplines know from research as well as personal experience that in the typical organization an alarming percentage of the activities and processes of the organization cannot demonstrably be linked to value creation or mission- and vision-related outcomes or results. In other words, they’re waste. That assertion is unbelievable to many, offensive to some, but a wake-up call to others.

But whether you’re incredulous, offended, or awakened, the challenge remains: How do we, with greater effectiveness and efficiency each day, gain increasing understanding and mastery of process design and process management at every level of our organizations so that more and more of donors’ hard-earned dollars translate to life-changing and world-changing impact, rather than being frittered away through process deficiencies and managerial negligence?

It’s clear to anyone who hasn’t been comatose that there’s a new game afoot in terms of the level and sophistication of philanthropic competition. A new game means new rules, and new rules mean new tools.

Some of these tools relate critically to how we design and manage key organizational processes. And to become more effective at mission management, we’ve simply got to get better at waste management.