I spent two hours on January 10, 2020, morning with 80 plus bright eyed leaders and staff of nonprofits in Manatee County, Florida. Our subject was Milestone Management. Simply put, what do you look at that tells you that your participants are making progress that forecasts they will get to a result—whether a job, a house, grade level reading, or anything else important. I was again reminded of how good groups can be of getting to milestones once they pry fee of the mind-set of managing to a work plan and put themselves in the shoes of those they help. Management guru Peter Drucker once noted that a social program is never defined in the same way by its recipient as by its nonprofit creator. How true!
It is also true that when participants co-own a result and the milestones they must achieve to get there that they will outperform a group without shared intentionality. One milestone that participants readily get (often quicker than program staff) is how critical it is to move from having information to using it. The fact that a participant can tell you what they learned may just measure short term memory retention. By using what they remember they gain confidence and sense of progress.
I also find good news in how open and confident nonprofits are that they can pin down warm but fuzzy words. I asked workshop participants, for example, if they could see and hear engagement or its lack. They said yes. For engagement, they saw energy, eye contact, smiles more than frowns, and connection. I was also taken with great examples from my group yesterday about readily verified behaviors that reflected engagement. One was simply coming back for more sessions. Another noted was telling friends about it who then came. Nonprofit staff can be equally adept at pinning down other attractive but abstract terms that were mentioned in the workshop, including commitment, leadership, and empowerment.
We also discussed the need to look at timing in terms of participants rather than the arbitrary periods of a contract. The first task I put before groups attending was to respond to this question: What’s the first thing you look for that tells you a participant is or is not on track to achieve results? No one said that they had to wait until the end of the first quarter when a report was due. The power of milestones is their fit to program participant progression, which often begins with engagement. It is a huge predictor of success and when you can discover it is not present early-on you have trouble to change things to get to engagement.
I am constantly reminded that such data points are simple, readily verified, and highly predictive of participant involvement.
Speaking of simple, I end with a quick way to get from work plan step to a milestone. Ask this question: So What? So you will write a resource directory. So What? So people who get it discover resources they did not know about. So What? So at least 50 persons report connecting with a new resource and getting significant value from that connection. The journey from doing something to achieving something is greatly aided by this question.