Creative Coalitions: A Handbook for Change

Component 6: A Culture That's Hungry for Impact

You are, we’re guessing, a human being. We’ve made the second radical assumption that you’re likely to work with other human beings. Connecting brilliant humans together is the culture of your organisation. Who you are, who you hire, how you inspire and what you reward – all of this can create a team that’s not just organised for impact, but hungry for it.

Here are some of the key elements to bear in mind when thinking how you build that culture for impact.


You’re looking for someone with first-class strategic sense, with audacious ambition in what they want to see changed in the world – and willingness to work behind the scenes at the service of the cause. You will not find that combination of attitude and aptitude everywhere. Such ‘servant leaders’ who put impact before ego are rare – but you shouldn’t compromise on it. Hiring the right people is essential for bringing organising for impact to life.

Giving and Receiving Feedback

If you hire a team, your shared guiding star is what impact you’re seeking to have in the world. But sometimes you aren’t sure if you’re getting any nearer that guiding star, or drifting off course. Is the work you’re doing contributing as much as it could to securing the change you need to see in the world?

You can’t always answer that question yourself – you need people’s feedback. Other people’s reflections on how you can be even more effective are something to seek out and to cherish, even if, in the moment, the feedback can be hard to hear.

Not giving colleagues feedback is robbing them of guidance on how they can have more impact. Not taking on board feedback you’re given is doing yourself, and the cause you serve, a disservice. So set an example by seeking out feedback and by giving it, and make sure it’s part of everyone’s responsibility to give feedback to everyone at all levels.

Organise your teams around impact

Crisis Action has offices in eight countries. Everyone in those offices has office-related responsibilities, like building the network (see The Power of Exceptional Networks). You could call those our functional responsibilities. Each of us also has campaigning responsibilities as member of a team working on a specific conflict, say on South Sudan, or Yemen, or Syria.

We have multiple identities, therefore: in part we identify with our functions within the organisation, and in part we identify with external change we’re seeking. That change is our guiding star, our organising principle. By organising teams around impact not just function, you will build people’s loyalty to securing that goal above. You will inspire action towards that goal.

Celebrate impact – and failure in pursuit of impact

Celebrate impact! Ok, so some of the goals we’re seeking are pretty massive. And you can’t just wait for those to be achieved before celebrating impact. “What, you mean you haven’t fixed South Sudan yet? Not good enough.”

But the big changes can build up from a series of smaller wins, so take time and give space to celebrate each of them. Create a feel-good reward for the team every time they make progress towards the goal. The crucial thing here is celebrating progress, not celebrating work. Attending meetings, writing letters, they all create the impression of doing something, but if they’re not changing anything then what are we celebrating?

Sometimes a well-thought through effort will fail. There’s reason to celebrate that, too. It’s a harmful illusion that organisations only have success. If a team sets audacious goals, makes a series of well-informed bets with how they allocate their time and energies and resources to achieve those goals, they may still fail. If you criticise that behaviour, the team will lower their ambition, and achieve less. Reward it, and they’ll continue to aim high – and they will crack how to reach those ambitious goals.

Impact. Impact. Impact: Measuring progress

In a culture that’s hungry for impact, everyone will want to know how they can have more impact in the future. This means everyone seeking out feedback, but also knowing what has and hasn’t worked in the past. That learning process will make your team more effective.

That’s why it’s so important to measure your impact: recording change, spotting correlations, and pursuing evidence for attribution. Crisis Action uses an ‘evidence of change’ database. In this we record any small shift in policy, the subtle concessions in private meetings, the tweets suggesting a new direction. In short, everything that gives an indication that change is happening. The big changes often come about from the accumulation of incremental changes, so track them all.

Measuring change and correlation with your activities isn’t enough: you also need to know how the change came about and what your role was in it. Go to source: use your connections with decision-makers (see The Power of Exceptional Networks) to ask what is driving the impact, what influenced the decisions being made – to what can you attribute the change. And log this in your own Evidence of Change database.

It’s by using this database that we can tell the stories like those dotted through this Handbook of how we contributed to life-saving changes.

More importantly, it guides us towards how we can continually be more effective.

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