How to put yourself out of business

How to put yourself out of business

The more successful for-profit companies become, the longer they stay in business. The more successful for-purpose organizations become, the closer they should be to shutting their doors for good. 

Celebrations are about success

In the for-profit sector, there are standard measures of success—stock prices, revenues, jobs created, patents filed. In our work with for-purpose organizations, a perennial refrain is: “Our impact isn’t measurable.” As your milestone anniversaries approach, can you quantify your success beyond a tally of the years in business, the people served, and the dollars spent? Have you ever considered gauging your impact is how close you are to putting yourself out of business?

When was the last time you asked yourself: what can we do to reduce demand for our organization?

Doing good without meaningful progress means working hard to maintain the status quo.

– Oil spilled, we clean it up.

– Diseases spread, we respond.

– People suffer, we care for them.

Imagine a woman behind a deli counter. She whips together a sandwich, hits the bell and yells, “Now serving number one hundred!”—all without ever looking up from the pickles and Italian rolls, oblivious to the people coming and going. If you’re living day-to-day, task-to-task, funders’ report-to-funders’ report, you might never look up to see how exactly you’re affecting change. When was the last time you asked yourself: what can we do to reduce demand for our organization?

What’s more, you might need this “going out of business” approach to stay in business. This assembly-line approach to getting your good work done means you’re not in charge. When grants are issued based on a headcount or the size of your programs instead of who is moving the needle, it’s all too easy to let the political climate dictate your funding anxiety.

It’s time to move from the turnstile to turning the dial. Every for-purpose organization should dream of the day when its doors close, and everyone goes home. Mission accomplished. To do that, you’ll need a plan.

Set your mission in motion

Step 1: Define your vision
Your vision should be simple. In five words or less, how will the world look when your work is done?

Step 2: Reverse-engineer your vision into an actionable pathway
Next, figure out what’s keeping you from achieving your vision. How are you going to change that? That’s your mission. What’s your approach to keeping that mission in motion, i.e. your formula for progress that assures you one day you will go out of business? That’s your theory of change.

Step 3: Identify and align players
Now that you know what you’re doing, you need the right people on board and they need to row in unison. When someone from your team represents your organization, the rallying cry should be the same from intern to chairman of the board.

Step 4: Position yourself (and never fear for funding streams again)
Hundreds of organizations are focusing on the same issue, but when you strategically position yourself and fulfill your unique role, everyone will know where you fit in the grand scheme.

Step 5: Success.
You know what this looks like. Get ready to hang up your hat.

So the next time you are planning a big event marking “x” years of service—think about why that’s a good thing. Let’s celebrate when you’re out of a job (leaving a legacy of impact)—and we’ve changed the world.

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