Do you make a difference?

Earlier this year, thanks to a Harvard Social Enterprise Scholarship and Sport Australia Women Leaders Grant, I had the pleasure of completing the Harvard Kennedy School of Government/Harvard Business School Performance Management in Non-Profits program. Similar to the AICD Company Directors Course a decade prior, I relished the opportunity to undertake some serious relevant study and to network with inspiring leaders.

Similar to the AICD Course, the pre-reading materials were substantial. Although challenging, given the Harvard case study method I knew I would find the information stimulating and an appropriate ‘taster’ of the course delights to come. The cases and articles were a fascinating mix from education to healthcare, cultural affairs to environment, mass transit to foreign aid. The materials incorporated theoretical frameworks, academic articles and applied case studies.

The Harvard experience is fantastic. As a marketer, it’s evident Harvard have mapped the user journey. The positive experience began with the easy online exploration of the interesting different program options followed by a straightforward and personalised application process with well timed communication updates from initial application to acceptance to attendance preparation.

As the Harvard program start date got closer, the pre-reading materials and mechanics of the program attendance were provided. The welcoming and information rich emails and online portal links offered appropriate clarity as well as easy access to the required documents.

Immersing myself several weeks before my departure into the materials heightened my sense of anticipation, provided some meaty information to reflect on and allowed me to adjust to an upcoming period of full-time study.

From the moment I arrived, the impressive grounds and buildings gave a sense of Harvard’s rich educational history. They reminded me of my University of Chicago experience in terms of the physical space and built environment reflecting the respect for education, and I valued the realisation that others were studying here at Harvard in the 1630s.

Participants had travelled from across the world to attend this valuable and highly valued initiative. The learning experience was well tuned, representing the expertise developed over many years of an institution like Harvard. The program included participation in interactive presentation style sessions with a range of highly credentialled and engaging Harvard faculty, along with allocation to two cohort groups with different remits and processes. Networking events were also organised as well as catered meals offering the opportunity to continue to discuss program themes in a relaxed environment.

We were introduced to the theory of change, the importance of vision/mission/purpose/values and the principles of social impact. I particularly appreciated the in-depth cases bringing the principles to life and the commitment to mission being fundamental. The detail presented in the case studies allowed a perspective on the human dynamics involved in decision making around resource allocation and performance, dynamics that my decade long Board journey has confirmed are important to appreciate.

As a Director I have experienced a variety of Board reports and approaches to performance measurement, some more helpful than others to support effective Board practice. My metrics experience from my strategy, digital, marketing and accounting roles has been particularly valuable at the Board table and supported my grasp of the Harvard program materials. It’s easy as a Director to accept the presentation of activity and appreciate the team’s hard work; the Harvard program brought home the importance of impact via effective resource allocation, a concept fundamental to my marketing background of awareness/reach and engagement/impact.

I stay abreast of sector trends by reading association materials, staying connected with my Board and Executive colleagues and regularly attending Australian seminars and conferences. The Harvard Performance Management in Non-Profits course reinforced to me the benefit of periodically undertaking a more rigorous program. In addition to the deep learning, I found the program stimulated and challenged me. We were fortunate with the calibre of faculty. And the opportunity to hear the perspectives of sector colleagues from around the world enriched the educational experience. I will continue to take an outcomes focused approach to considering organisation effectiveness, a natural extension of my executive roles. And the reminder that all Board decisions should come back to mission and values will stay with me.

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