SHPE’s Identity Crisis and the Need for Real Unity

For the last 5 years, SHPE has been suffering with an identity crisis.  Do we want to be a volunteer-run organization reliant on the heroics of a few, or do we want to be a staff-run organization reliant on stable processes and meaningful metrics?
In 2007 (if my memory serves me), we took a giant leap toward a staff run organization, by changing our organizational structure to rely on a CEO led staff.  The CEO position, and the structure associated with it, is intended to align the goals and objectives set in collaboration with the national board of directors (NBOD) and execute tactically to ensure the best outcome.  One of the benefits of this structure is to remove many of the logistic and tactical responsibilities from the NBOD and transfer them to a stable and well executing staff.
We’ve had a lot of trouble embracing this strategy, set out so many years ago for a variety of reasons.  It is difficult to give up control of actions that tie us together.  Developing programs, executing events, selling our organization, etc. are all actions that NBOD members took pride in, and in the past they got us to where we needed to be.  But for long term success we recognized that we could not rely on heroics of volunteers and instead needed to transfer responsibilities to a stable staff.

We have had some big successes like transferring full responsibility of the budget to the CEO, standardizing RLDCs to allow the staff to get sponsorship to a common representation of our organization and to give members a common experience as a SHPE value.  We’ve done a lot of great work to see the true financial health of the organization and took actions to ensure long term financial well being (many of these actions were painful but necessary). We’ve laid out a shared strategic plan between board, staff, sponsors and foundation and most importantly we’ve created a shared vision and mission statement for all aspects of the organization.

A maelstrom of circumstances (including the discovery of previously poorly audited financial statements, a big recession, a large turnover of volunteers and staff, etc. etc.) have made it very difficult to turn the corner and create the new staff run SHPE.  In fact, our inability to execute on that change, has brought a large risk that many stakeholders believe that original strategy was wrong headed in the first place.  They will tell you “when we were volunteer led and run, we didn’t have any of the problems we are having today”.  I’ve heard “the staff is incapable of taking us to the next level and we should reduce the headcount and pay of staff”.   I’ve even heard “we should be able to do all of this without any staff”.  I’m here to tell you, that these statements are not only wrong, they are contrary to the long term success and relevancy of SHPE.  And in the short term, a change in our strategy would likely alienate sponsors and create even more financial instability than what we’ve just come out of.
Since putting this structure into place, we have failed to make the change to exponential growth.  We have not failed to change because of the structure.  We have not failed to change because of incompetence of any one or group of individuals.  We simply have not embraced it and tried to learn how to make it work.  The instability we are experiencing is partially a result of everyone expecting everyone else to do someone else’s job.  We tell our RVP’s “you have to think strategically” but then we expect them to do all the tactical and logistic work a normal organization would leave to staff or committees.  We tell ourselves “That action should belong to the staff” but then we do not align ourselves with the CEO and staff to make it happen.  We are a divided organization on the brink of greatness but choosing every possible way to prevent it from happening.
We must work three times as hard to clearly lay out roles and responsibilities for committees and staff and develop management systems for each of these groups to do the work that needs to get done.  We must fully embrace our chosen strategy for long term success and give up the counter intuitive idea that stability comes from volunteer heroics. This will not be easy.  This will require side by side collaboration with the CEO, the committees, our sponsors, etc.  To stabilize and standardize our processes we must find a way for chapters to work together (not compete) for the success of their city’s and regions and nation.  We must move forward as a unified force focused on creating real, sustainable, social impact on our community.
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