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The Eisenhower Principle applied to Nonprofit Management

Posted April 21, 2008 2:30 PM by Ted Jackson

I was skimming Newt Gingrich's new book, REAL CHANGE, and was reminded about General Eisenhower's amazing success in executing strategy. In World War II, Eisenhower coordinated the largest military undertaking ever, the invasion of Normandy. He not only managed huge sea, air, and land forces, but also managed unpredictable weather as well as the political forces of Roosevelt, Churchill and de Gaulle. When asked about his success, Eisenhower said "Whenever I run into a problem I can't solve, I always make it bigger.

I can never solve it by trying to make it smaller, but if I make it big enough, I can begin to see the outlines of a solution." Gingrich is speaking at the upcoming Council on Foundations meeting in Washington, and I think this "Principle" that he outlines applies directly to nonprofits and strategy management.

Organizations sometimes take an approach towards strategy management that is too detailed or too narrowly focused. Management By Objective (MBO) can give you a random set of objectives that do not link together in any coherent fashion. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) also can get an organization focused on something small, and not necessarily strategic. While both approaches have some great benefits, sometimes they come up short in holistically managing the strategy.

With the Balanced Scorecard, a Strategy Map allows an organization to see the entire strategy on one page. This one page view allows an organization to see how their objectives link together and how their measures align to the entire strategy. "Themes" or groups of objectives can really help an organization focus on its strategy. Themes can be created by looking for common areas across a set of strategic objectives, or they can be devised by using the Eisenhower Principle. In this approach, think about the areas where you are really struggling with your strategy, and take a step back. Are there some underlying causes or issues that need to be addressed? Is there a bigger problem that needs to be addressed? Can you take a step back and see the issue in a different way that allows you to take a different approach towards solving the crisis?

I think that many times, stepping back from the frenetic activity or crisis, will allow an organization to see a new approach, underlying theme, or broader set of issues that need to be addressed in order to better achieve the mission.

Filed Under Capacity

Funny you should mention this. I was thinking about this, but didn't know that it had a name--Eisenhower Principal--when I read an article in the NYT Magazine back in March.

The article was by Freakonomics authors Duber and Levitt about SmileTrain. Let me briefly summarize. Operation Smile sent doctors to poor parts of the world for cleft-repair surgery. One of the members of Operation Smile realized that they would never repair all cleft palates with this approach. The doctors always left without helping all the children. By stepping back and seeing the problem differently, SmileTrain was born.

SmileTrain took a different approach. They trained local doctors on doing the surgery affordably. This greatly sped the number of surguries and is allowing a host of other benefits, like employment and income for local doctors (at a fraction of the cost of sending in teams of doctors from developed countries).

Anyway, maybe this should be called the Eisenhower approach to strategy execution.
# Posted By Jim Braintree | 4/22/08 11:14 AM
too bad you don't know the difference between a principal and a principle
# Posted By anonymoua | 4/28/08 4:21 PM
Thanks for the correction. I have gone ahead and posted the correction in the original entry. Unfortunately, this won't be my last grammar error.

Ted Jackson
# Posted By Ted Jackson | 4/28/08 4:33 PM
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