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The case compiled by Sharen (2013) features Roberto Ubertino as the prime decision-maker put to face a dilemma of succession planning and change management before his retirement. Ubertino is the founder and executive director of St. John the Compassionate Mission (Toronto, Ontario), a social service establishment based on the teachings of St. John the Compassionate. Ubertino’s position is not solely confined to his duties as an executive. On the contrary, he is what might be called a servant leader, performing both the executive and pastoral functions and generally multitasking. The responsibility for vision and mission communication is also Ubertino’s.
Implicitly, the result of his multifunctioning is that the organization relies too heavily on his performance, which is one of the key issues the Mission faces. Another challenge occupying the mind of the executive is the transition of the leadership. From what he knows about the similar organizations’ situations just after their leaders retired or left, acquiring stability after his retirement can be complicated.
When other similar organizations’ leaders have retired, the establishments were in crisis. Ubertino realizes that the problem of his retirement has a primary structural significance for the organization. His successor or successors should resolve numerous strategic issues and at the same time comply with the goals, mission, and vision of the organization to preserve its unicity and serve its high purpose. He also understands the necessity to develop a thorough plan since the Mission would not be able to achieve its goals without it.
Ubertino is currently put to face the problem because he has been serving for almost three decades and considers it an appropriate time to retire. However, the Mission cannot survive if he just leaves because numerous other issues have been gathering up during the lengthy period of his service. For one, the Mission lacks consistent growth policies because the establishment is organized in a “just do it” fashion. The volunteers propose some changes and are given opportunities to implement them.
But as a result of volunteer turnabout, the initiatives are randomly taken up by assorted personnel who have no real knowledge of how to tackle this or that problem and sometimes disagree with the Mission’s values. Apart from the necessity to educate the volunteers on the purpose and manner of their conduct, there is the problem of non-alignment of the human resources with the programs proposed. The lack of space (quite literally) and the irregularity of funding is another problem to add up, which makes the whole situation quite complicated considering that the Mission rests so firmly on Ubertino’s performance both as a pastor and a CEO.
The strategic issues Ubertino has to solve include, namely:
- the Bakery taking up too much room and the question of providing it with some separate accommodation or closing it entirely;
- organizational issues including the volunteer disorder and irregular funding with little subsidiary help from the government;
- expansion issues: considering the Mission’s goal to serve a wider community, expansion to Scarborough would be appropriate. However, the expansion requires funding and better organization, which in turn call for
- formalization, which would contradict Ubertino’s vision of the Mission and damage its unique culture.
The problems faced by Ubertino as the founding father of the Mission and the person on whom the functioning of the organization depends have to be tackled by considering possible options, coming to a solution, and communicating this solution to the board before his retirement. His hypothetical successor or successors have to acknowledge the will of the leader and start developing a plan to either restructure the organization or proceed as is, depending on the risks they are willing to take.
The data provided in the case reflects the poor funding from the government (just over 7%) and reliance on the supporters and small-scale sponsors from the outside. Additionally, the numbers indicate that the South Riverdale neighborhood is becoming poorer and richer at the same time. The gentrification of the neighborhood and the simultaneous settlement of lower-income families dislodged the middle class and divided the neighborhood.
In addition to the numbers, the case reviews the history, vision, and goals of the establishment: the St. John the Compassionate Mission is a non-profit organization formed by Ubertino and his followers when he was serving as a nurse. The Mission helps the marginalized and vulnerable cope with their issues using the resources and power that they already have and gives them a chance to feel they belong to the society.
The case also concerns the demographic structure of the neighborhood, as stated above, and the programs the Mission initiates following its values, namely, providing the poor with meals, praying, and working. The outcomes of the initiatives are also overviewed, indicating the success of the Mission’s unusual staffing and organizational policies, at least as long as it does not expand. Additionally, the case recognizes the problem sprouting from the Mission’s growth pattern, which is as irregular as its internal alignment.
As one can see, the issues faced by the organization are multiple, and the leader’s uncertainty is quite understandable. The need to retire makes it all the more stressful to decide where to start implementing the change for the successors to follow. In some consideration, lack of formality in the organization and a servant leader can be defined as primary issues. These problems affect the functioning of the Mission as follows:
- the volunteers and, more importantly, the managerial personnel rely too heavily on the leader and are incapable not only of sound decision-making but also of bearing responsibility;
- the lack of formality creates disorder and chaos among the volunteers, who are unsure about their duties – including the duty to fundraise, which results in poor and sporadic funding.
As the data from the case indicates, without formalization and staff competency alignment, the Mission will not be able to expand and serve a wider community. Without formalization, the financial base will continue to be insecure, which, again, will put an obstacle to the desired expansion within the vision of the establishment. The deformalized structure is what leads the organization to ruin because, without the leader the organization so heavily relies on, both the morale and the culture will be shattered, resulting in work stoppages and chaos.
With these issues in mind, the Mission has several options.
One alternative the Mission has is to formalize the organization, which would supposedly provide a firmer financial base and enable growth to serve a wider community following the goal. Formalization would also give the employees a sense of duty and make them more organized. Assigned roles performed by executives would alleviate the dependency on Ubertino and preserve the Mission upon his retirement.
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Another alternative would be to leave the organization informal. An informal structure facilitates organizational flexibility and corresponds with Ubertino’s vision for the homely and compassionate atmosphere of the Mission. This would mean, inevitably, the end to all the hopes for expansion. On the other hand, an informal system led by the executives’ board would encourage the flow of new volunteers.
- Ease of implementation;
- Ease of modification/scalability/flexibility;
- Employee morale;
- Risk levels;
- Cost savings;
- Return on investment;
- The similarity to existing organization products;
- Compliance with the mission and vision of the establishment.
The evaluation of the options that the Mission has should be with a view of the leader’s vision, which is critical for a spiritual establishment. In this respect, the values of homeliness and compassion are densely intertwined with the biblical legacy of the Mission’s patron saint. Besides, the leader does not want his creation to be managed by professionals as he feels such an approach lacks the humane touch. With that in mind, the Mission has two options to be sketched out before the leader’s retirement.
Option 1. Formalize the organization by making a checklist of standard procedures, developing a standardized routine, creating a set of control tools to measure the quality of the performance within the routine, and assigning the monitoring tasks to individual executives. This option will require all personnel’s understanding of their duties and tasks – including the volunteers, which will have an opportunity to serve with a clear-cut purpose.
- Ease of implementation – moderate, as it will require strategic planning sessions, staff training, etc.
- Cost – costly but effective for future growth and expansion.
- Ease of modification/scalability/flexibility – a formalized structure is static: when every employee has their fixed tasks, people can be hard to replace.
- Employee morale – enhanced, as the clear-cut role will give the volunteers and the employees a sense of responsibility and purpose and will make them less reliant on the servant leader. With tasks and functions succinctly distributed, the sense of security is present. On the other hand, the formal system equates the person with the role they perform, which is contradictory to the leader’s vision.
- Risk levels – operational risks affecting individual departments can be effectively dealt with within these respective departments. On the other hand, decentralized risks can be hard to calculate and manage.
- Cost levels and returns – the returns from the growth will outweigh the costs.
- The similarity to existing organizations – the organization can be quite similar to other social services based on faith, which would be contrary to the vision.
- Vision and mission compliance – the service scope would be expanded following the mission starting with Scarborough. On the other hand, as stated above, the humanity and unicity of the Mission will be lost.
Option 2: Leave the establishment deformalized and replace a single leader with a board of trusted executives to make decisions collectively.
- Ease of implementation – easy, as the board of executives already exists.
- Cost – little, as no extra staff recruitment or training is required.
- Ease of modification/scalability/flexibility – flexible, dynamic, and responsive.
- Employee morale – the employees and volunteers will be closely bonded as they were but at the same level of disorganization and insecurity.
- Risk levels – decentralized risks will be managed collectively but on-the-spot troubleshooting can be difficult.
- Cost level and returns – without the regulation of funding, the funds will be uneven and untimely.
- The similarity to existing organizations – different, offering humane warmth and support, as per the vision.
- Vision and mission compliance – the irregularity will not let the expansion happen, no service can be available; the vision, however, will be followed.
Selection and Action Plan
Considering the multiplicity of the issues the Mission has to deal with, the informal structure is more preferable at this stage. The rationale for such a choice is that the preservation of the leader’s vision is critical to upholding the employees’ and volunteers’ morale that can be shattered after his retirement. Ubertino’s successors represented by the board of executives can run the Mission unchanged, with each of them performing a distinct function, for some time after he leaves and restructures the organization for more efficiency later.
The action plan for the board meeting to develop can be sketched as follows:
- Needs assessment: a review of the present and emerging needs.
- Setting the organizational goals and time frame.
- The identification of key positions for the Mission (the CEO, the senior management, etc.).
- Alignment of the key actors with the respective goals of their department.
The plan is simple yet effective in that it can preserve the informal structure and the vision. The leadership distributed between Ubertino’s followers will prevent a single servant leader and facilitate consensus-driven decision-making.
Sharen, C. (2013). St. John the Compassionate Mission: Organizational Culture and Leadership.