We still see Organisational Transformation Programmes made up of “higgledy piggledy” collections of projects each seeking its own funds, its own access and demands for participation from those people who are impacted, fighting for attention and effort from sponsors. As well as each project seeking to isolate its benefits and measures of success from every other project.

The same phenomenon occurs in social change amongst NGOs and government bodies e.g. hundreds of organisations all trying to help prepare children for adult working life. Each seeking its own funds, working separately on granular aspects – nutrition and health projects, early school reading projects, ‘social skills for young adults in the work place’ projects.

In some countries and states in the US a “collective impact” approach has corralled the leaders of many such organisations under the banner of the “big or greater goal” they are all aiming to support – such as the “young adults ready for work” banner mentioned above. A common goal, unified collective measurement system, freedom to act in your theme area, responsibility to share and learn from other theme areas and a separate backbone organisation to facilitate, project manage and provide data support to the effort. These features characterise the “collective impact” approaches to solving bigger more complex problems.

This phenomenon is exactly like organisational transformation efforts just on a bigger scale.

In organisational life very few organisations set up transformation programmes effectively. They tolerate or, at worst, encourage a project competition and isolationist mindset. Critically they pay way more for the overall splintered effort than is required and, even more damning, they fail to learn and grow a collective capability to change.

Collective impact social efforts are rare – mainly due to the limited number of efforts to attempt to pool effort together for the greater good. It is the same with organisational transformation – true cohesion is rare due to attempts to establish it being few and far between. Getting organised up front feels too slow, its too complex, it makes boxing people into accountability sets difficult, it requires real effort and direction from the most senior leaders etc etc. It is however more economic, less competitive, more adaptive and holistic. Even after years of studies and reporting about the low return from ‘change projects’ and the massive spend on this, organisations are not changing their game. Real collective organisational impact through coordinated unified change still falls into the “too hard” category. Short tenure CEOs and the disconnect between their lives and the lives of their organisations customers and employees is also playing a role.

I suspect that big social change success will in this instance show the way to private organisations and big business. It may rely more on shareholders than executive officers to force the issue. It is ultimately shareholders who pay for fragmented wasted change effort caused by isolated impact change and who would be key beneficiaries of collective impact change approaches.

The collective impact approach for society and organisations requires an up front change in behaviour from organisational leaders to frame and address their ever more complex problems. They must start to open up to common areas of concern and goals beyond discrete sub optimised targets. Then they must behave in a truly collaborative way that fosters and maintains trust. These are the leaders we need today. If you have any influence look out for and find them and get them in place for our greater good and for reforming the bottle that accidentally fell.