The Organizer #11 | Impact

How do I make sure my work has an impact? Performance measurement is key to knowing where you are, where you are going, and the good that can result.

Why performance measurement matters

The fable of the tortoise and the hare isn’t a story about running races or animals. It’s a story about the importance of performance measurement.

We all know the fable. Hare and Tortoise decide to race each other. Hare is obviously the faster animal, but Tortoise wins the race. The moral of the story is “slow and steady wins the race.”

Or is it?

The real story is a bit different from the popular summary. The tortoise doesn’t win because he plods along slowly and steadily.

The hare forgets he is racing. In the beginning, the hare sees that he is faster. He sees the finish line and is so confident that he will win that he just goes off and does other things. Hare even stops and takes a nap.

The hare doesn’t lose the race — he never even finishes it. Tortoise, meanwhile, wins because he remembers what he is doing. The story is not about speed at all. It’s a story about paying attention and keeping our eyes on the goal.

The lesson to learn is this:

When you think you’ve got it all sorted out and the finish line looms large, don’t fuss around. Finish this race, then take your nap or launch your next program or whatever.

Impact happens on the other side of the finish line

The fable ends before we know the consequences of Hare’s misadventures and the tortoise’s glory. The whole story focuses on the time between the start of the race and Tortoise’s victory.

Nonprofit land is different. In nonprofit land, the real, good, meaningful story is what happens on the other side of the finish line. The stories that we want to tell focus on what happens after our work is done, in the place that we call “impact”.

In nonprofit land, impact is the real story. The race is just the prologue.

Performance measurement keeps you in the race

We need to pay attention during a race so we can predict how things are likely to turn out. We see ourselves leading or falling behind, and we use that information to make sure we cross the finish line.

Paying attention during the race is what nerds call “performance measurement.”

The basics of performance measurement

Performance measurement starts with listing the things you plan to do. What are you doing to get to that finish line? Are you running? Breathing? Slurping weird energy gels? In nonprofit land, your activities are usually things like managing a program, forging partnerships, alerting the media, and raising money.

Once you know what you plan on doing, you do it.

This is when you shift focus from the future to the present. Plans and intentions have become reality, so you look at what’s happening. How fast are you running? How deep are you breathing? Do you have enough energy to continue? Has the environment around you changed? Did you get distracted and start doing something completely different?

Next, you analyze what you are seeing. You compare your observations to your original plan to see if you are still on course. You check to see if the finish line is still there. Has it moved? Is the hill steeper than it was before? Is there a new twist in the course?

Then, you adjust your plan. Shift your bearing if you need to. Slow down if you have to maintain your pace. Look at the crowd if you need energy to spur you on.

Plan. Act. Observe.

Learn. Adapt. Act.

Observe some more, and learn some more. Adapt again.

Repeat, all the way to the finish line.

The moral of the story

Hare lost the race because he didn’t do performance measurement. It wasn’t because he was slow, or because he got distracted. He lost because he forgot about the finish line entirely.

Hare’s unwillingness to evaluate his own performance meant he never made it to the finish line. Had he measured, learned, and adapted, Hare would have beaten that tortoise. For sure.

Don’t get caught napping

Think ahead to the work you’ll spend the most time on this week …

Do you know what the “finish line” looks like?

Don’t worry about deliverables like writing a report, meeting clients, securing a partner, and other things on your to-do list. Focus on what comes after the work. How will your community will be different when this work is “done”? What impact stories will people be able to tell? What can they do now that they couldn’t do before? Are there new opportunities or adventures ahead? That after is impact, and impact is why you’re here.

Most of us don’t really identify with Hare. (The cockiness? The inborn talent? Sheesh.)

Tortoise shows us we don’t have to be born a certain way, have the most resources, or be the fan favourite.

The key is to remember that we are here to run a race, to keep checking in on our progress, and to always move towards the finish line.

We will get there.

How to find your finish line (aka, impact)

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