The Root Cause Blog
21 Jan

Rethink Your New Year’s Resolution

Written by Andrew Wolk, Founder & CEO, Root Cause

I’d like to offer a change to how we think about New Year’s Resolutions. Don’t focus on your goals (yet). Instead, start by declaring—and embracing—your baseline. Whether your New Year’s resolutions are personal (exercise, anyone?) or professional, appreciating and marking your starting point is a great place to begin. It's certainly more inspiring—and effective—than imagining what will just “be different” in 2016.

If there’s One Big Thing that can make your New Year’s resolution come true, I’m convinced that it’s Performance Measurement, a real system for understanding and monitoring success once your baseline is set.

Those of us in mission-driven fields—at nonprofits, at foundations, in government—always wish we could accomplish faster, more effective, and more durable impact. The people we serve need more, better, now. If we can give ourselves the systems and framework for tracking success, we’re more likely to stick to those resolutions… or at least uncover and be better positioned to explore what got in the way.

Conditions for Success

Here at Root Cause, we committed ourselves in 2015 to doing exactly this: reassessing and refocusing our structure and purpose. We devoted Board and staff time to understanding where we were and where we wanted to go. The results are two-fold as we begin 2016:

1.   Root Cause now focuses explicitly and directly on one North Star:  leveraging data, evidence, and high performance to improve lives. Over our 12 years, we have cultivated several efforts simultaneously, as a strategy and measurement consulting firm, as a nonprofit incubator, and as an implementer of programs.  However, compelled by the urgent needs of far too many people—we noted that progress across key life outcome indicators has stayed the same or gotten worse in 4th and 8th grade reading and math, high school graduation, post-secondary education, and employment and wages for too many, particularly for people of color in the United States—we are honing our focus. Going forward, we are dedicated solely to partnering across the sector to improve life outcomes, particularly in education employment, and health. (More about that here.)

2.   Our incubated nonprofits, while still very much part of the Root Cause DNA, now follow their own paths as independent organizations. Last summer, we spun off into its own 501c(3) the Social Innovation Forum (SIF), which cultivates the visibility, networks, and capacity of promising early-stage Massachusetts nonprofits and hybrid organizations; now we can each focus better on our core work. (More about that here.)

Year of Performance Measurement

For us at Root Cause, 2016 will be our year of establishing our new baselines. Putting our own practices into practice—we often help clients do this!—it will be a year of Performance Measurement (PM):

  • We are conducting a series of executive interviews with nonprofit and foundation leaders nationwide to assess and share back with the field the best practices and core challenges in PM;
  • We are hosting learning sessions (CEOs & EDs: meet us in D.C. on 2/2) and sharing insights about PM at conferences;
  • And we are reviewing and refining our own internal systems to get and see results: we want to wake up confident that each day’s work will improve the lives of those it is intended to support.

Purpose, Passion & Practicality

New Year’s resolutions can generate a renewed sense of purpose—and, even better, generate results. But they have to be both passionate and practical.

So call January 1 your data baseline. Identify your starting point, and then set goals for higher performance.  Set up systems for measurement. And make more progress toward your mission.

That’s my New Year’s resolution for Root Cause. I’ll let you know what we discover. Good luck on your own New Year’s resolutions; please let me know how they go!