More is Not Always Better

Like many firms, North Highland regularly hosts orientation sessions for new hires. Ours is action-packed, covering cool topics such as HBDI ‘whole-brain’ thinking, important topics like vision, values, and inclusion and diversity, and critical areas of differentiation stuff – how we serve our clients. That section often results in surprised reactions as new team-mates learn that despite the many industries we serve and capabilities we have, we go-to-market with only four service lines: customer experience, performance improvement, technology and digital, and transformation.

In one orientation session where our CEO Dan Reardon was presenting, he explained the rationale behind our service lines. “Our firm has been around for only 27 years. Early on, we thought more would be better, so we had many service lines to be all things to all clients. As we matured, we realized that becoming a leading consulting firm meant getting hyper-focused around a few core areas of expertise. That meant saying ‘no’ to services that weren’t in our sweet-spot – which resulted in turning away potential business. That took discipline, but it’s turned out to the smarter play for long-term success.”

So, what does any of this have to do with philanthropy? Everything. Years ago, our community efforts were scattered. Although well-intentioned, we weren’t as effective in making a difference to the myriad of causes we supported. So, in mid-2016, we aligned all philanthropic efforts including pro-bono support, volunteerism and charitable sponsorships around economic empowerment – a singular cause that’s relevant to every community in which we operate.

We’ve learned from experience that sustained growth and leadership demands focus and discipline. As such, we’re taking that mindset to our pro-bono engagements with non-profits, and sharing the following with them:

  • More is not better: know what you’re good at and avoid scope-creep, which will derail the effectiveness of your mission
  • You cannot achieve everything by yourself: consider partners with adjacency expertise who will accelerate your outcomes to drive greater impact
  • Don’t chase the money: straying into areas that aren’t central to the mission in pursuit of grants to prop up payroll will end badly. Funders want results for their donations.
  • Be prepared to evolve your strategy: what got you here won’t take you there. Results define success

We’re mindful of critics who question whether a business orientation works for non-profits dealing with challenging human service needs such as poverty. Like our new hires who learn the importance of whole brain thinking early on, our view is that a business mindset aligned with purpose-driven work is the ideal combination. And that’s an approach that will pay off to stop poverty in its tracks.