7. Continual improvement

NGOs should create organisational cultures of continual improvement.

In order to contribute most effectively to other people’s efforts, NGOs need to continually assess their performance and how they can improve, at all levels.

NGOs have to constantly reinforce core values, particularly around helping people help themselves – recognising that they do not hold the answers to other people’s problems – and being responsive to dynamic social situations.

Continual improvement needs a readiness to consider that activities may have to be adapted and that mistakes may originate with the NGO as well as collaborators. Such self-criticism can be uncomfortable and counterintuitive. It has to be balanced with creating confidence and purpose within the organisation.

Senior commitment to acting on performance data and to personal values can help strengthen a culture of continual improvement.

Managers should demonstrate a burning commitment to making the best possible contribution to other people’s efforts and that they take feedback and other performance data seriously. They should use it to encourage reflection and improvement among staff, adapting plans and activities as necessary. Performance data can be used as part of staff assessment.

Managers should model relevant personal values to inspire staff to adopt them. This is likely to involve managers using a collaborative style, responsive to their staff, and welcoming feedback and comments. Managers may need their own support to achieve this.

Other approaches may help strengthen a culture of continual improvement, such as making time for reflection and learning, public recognition for high-performing staff and continual reinforcement of values, for instance at team events or in newsletters.

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