Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Most Effective Organization in the U.S. by Robert A. Watson & Ben Brown

Watson, Robert A., & Ben BrownThe Most Effective Organization in the U.S.: Leadership Secrets of the Salvation ArmyNew York: Crown Business, 2001.

What is The Salvation Army?  Is it a service organization or a church?  Yes.  That is, it is both.  In The Most Effective Organization in the United States, former National Commander Robert A. Watson, with Ben Brown, writes much about the organization’s dual mission of preaching the good news of Jesus Christ and helping needy people.  The Salvation Army would say this is a single mission because they so closely relate saving people with serving them.

The title of the book is taken for Peter Drucker’s praise for the Army.  The authors do not for a moment shy away from the Christian history, motivation and mission of the organization.  Even so, this book is aimed at business and organizational leaders who want their companies to be more effective.

It’s good to start with this focus on mission.  The Army is extremely mission focused.  Everything they do and the way they do it, including how they organize, manage and lead, is done to achieve the mission.  The first lesson in effectiveness is that an organization needs a transcendent mission, something greater than making money that can bring purpose to people’s lives.

Clear mission allows the Army to attract great people.  People need meaning and purpose in life, and finding people with personal missions that align with the organization’s leads to passionate employees.  They’re not just employees, they’re partners.  They also see their clients, often people in very bad situations, as potential partners.  People who have been transformed by Christ and who know the value of the help they received from the Army, when they are on their feet again, are potentially very committed and motivated volunteers, employees and officers.

As one would hope from a Christian organization, the Army places a high value on integrity.  Integrity is closely linked to accountability.  They are very careful to assure that all they do advances their mission.  Likewise, they want their people, especially officers, to live their values.  They also want their constituents to trust that they will deliver on their promises.  The Army careful about accountability.  Their local leaders have extraordinary latitude, but they also have great responsibility and are answerable for themselves and their programs.  They are open and transparent so clients and donors know that the resources entrusted to them are used well.

One of the things that impressed me about the Army is that their commitment to mission and accountability makes it easier for them to say no.  If it doesn’t fit, or if it isn’t sustainable, they let it go.  Even existing programs are not sacred.  If it’s not working, if it begins to distract from the mission, it is dropped even if a lot as already been invested in it.

I enjoyed this book much more that most business books.  I admit it appealed to my own sensibilities.  It’s also a glimpse inside an organization that most people know relatively little about.  The authors explain how the Army accomplishes so much with its resources with so little management structure.  They’re way is adaptable to business, but probably requires a lot more discipline than many top business managers may have.

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