Why Leadership and the Organization Matter

Some time back, I wrote an article for the Federation of Community Social Services’ (FCSS) Research to Practice Network titled “Why The Organization Matters”. Those of you who know me are aware that it’s a topic near and dear to my heart. In fact, it’s the topic that pulled me into doing a PhD! I know – I really need a life. Anyways, that article explored some of the research on how organizational level variables (like culture, climate, structure, and leadership) had both direct and indirect impacts on client outcomes.

In fact, these variables can account for as much as 50% of the variance in outcomes for human service programs. Think about that for a minute. It means that two different organizations delivering exactly the same intervention with similarly qualified and trained staff to a similar client group can have vastly different outcomes. Any leader or manager reading this is likely not surprised. You already know that the way in which we organize, manage and lead programs is crucial. But as I stated in the original article, much of the sector (including the funders) views investments in organizational infrastructure as unnecessary and even wasteful. At best, it is considered a luxury we can’t afford in the current fiscal climate. I personally believe it’s critical if we’re going to truly make the programs and services we offer effective.

You might be wondering why I appear to be recycling a topic that I have already written about. And the answer is because little has changed. The Federation recently sent out a weekly news brief that included a link to a review of yet another research article documenting the impact of organizational variables on client outcomes. In this case, the article looks at organizational climate. It’s written by some authors that have been prolific in this area. It reminded me that I really want to keep this topic on the front burner.

So what does it mean for you as a leader or manager in the human services sector? First, I think it underlines just how critical your role is. Second, I hope the information sits in the back of your mind the next time you consider whether or not to make investments in organizational leadership or in culture/climate building efforts. They can and do add value and we need to be able to make the case for these investments. Feel free to use the links above to help make that case. And in relation to that, we need to make sure that funders understand just how important investments in these areas are.

Rather than talk about how we can continue to shave percentage points off the ‘admin’ portion of budgets in funding proposals, we should be setting clear expectations that organizations invest in these areas and that they measure how they’re doing by using tools such as the Organizational Social Context survey. The bottom line is that positive results on tools like these will translate into better outcomes for those we serve.


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