This series looks at what skills future business leaders need to have to tackle the challenges of an ever-shifting marketplace.
Andrew Mosker, president and chief executive officer of the National Music Centre (NMC), considers himself a marketplace disruptor – a term normally reserved for innovation-driven growth in the business sector.
His organization is a cultural charitable organization in Calgary, a stark contrast in a city branded worldwide as Canada's epicentre of oil and gas.
"Our very existence is a disruption," he remarks.
Mr. Mosker's use of disruptive innovation highlights a shift occurring in Canada's non-profit and public organizations as those sectors' executives have begun to look to their private sector counterparts for management inspiration to help drive not only innovation, but efficiency and hiring practices.
As a trained jazz musician raised in Montreal, Mr. Mosker has deep roots in the arts community, but after 18 years in Calgary the entrepreneurial spirit of his adopted home has taken hold and he says he has become "enamoured with the possibilities of business from [a] musical and creative context."
Since becoming executive director in 2006, Mr. Mosker's operating budget has grown from about $1-million to almost $9-million and construction will be completed this summer on Studio Bell, NMC's new $191-million building.
Innovation is something that he sees as an innate characteristic of the arts community, but something his predecessors have struggled to do as well as their equals in private business. Despite his admiration for business, he points out a substantial caveat that public and non-profit organizations cannot function exactly as private businesses due to the nature of their mandates – their outcomes are not profit-driven and there are public interests to consider.
But there are still lessons that can be borrowed from private enterprise.
The workspace at NMC is open concept, which Mr. Mosker says he pulled from traditional newsrooms and architecture firms to create a collaborative space. He also switched out his team's technology from PC to Mac, which he acknowledges is not earth shattering, but says it has made a difference to the work culture.
"I think making moves away from how we operate as a typical non-profit organization into business can be slight adjustments," he describes. "Like the technology you choose to use to the way in which we've designed our office as an open environment."
David Telka, Canada federal digital lead at Accenture, says his clients in the public sector are starting to acknowledge a serious challenge in their ability to access the right talent – an issue he's seen for years in the private sector.
"I'm seeing this increasing trend of public sector leaders asking what it means to engage their work force differently, obviously with the onset millennials, but it's not just about millennials," explains Mr. Telka. "It's about creating a work force and creating leadership styles to address multiple demographic cohorts."
For him, it's more than just learning from the private sector, it's about keeping up with them. In order to make that shift to the new work force, public organizations need to stay on top of digital technology and make sure that they have the right tools to enable the latest hires to operate in this age.
"They're competing for that same talent when it comes to innovation," he adds, "and they need to address different hiring practices and attraction practices to tap that talent pool."
When David Miller, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada and former mayor of Toronto, walks into his office every morning he is armed with "absolute clarity of purpose" – he even has it in writing.
It is his main strategic tool for running a non-profit organization, and it is something he borrowed from his background as a lawyer in the private sector.
"Where I think public organizations can learn from private is about what I would call efficacy … being very clear about your goals and holding people to account to achieve them," says Mr. Miller. "So in my case, my reports are very clear about what the goals are in order to achieve our mission and holding them to account and achieving those goals."
While he adopts lessons learned in his old life in the private sector, Mr. Miller echoes Mr. Mosker's warning about mixing up the roles of public and private businesses. Private business is profit based, while in the public and non-profit sectors, it is often a social impact that motivates. Public and non-profit organizations are also subject to allocation of resources by government and CEOs often have to answer to multiple stakeholders.
"I think it's often easier to run a private business because your purpose is simpler: It's about achieving financial results," Mr. Miller says. "But the public and non-profit environment is far more complex, and I don't think it's always appreciated how complex those environments are."
He acknowledges the challenges of so-called red tape, but says it's often necessary to navigate the complex internal and external ecosystems at work, and he reiterates why adopting a single-minded purpose can help achieve the desired social impact efficiently and with the allotted funds.
"In a not-for-profit or public organization, because you don't have a huge amount of resources, you have to be extremely careful about what you choose to take on and then commit to doing it with excellence," says Mr. Miller.
But being cash-strapped can also inspire innovation, according to Arden Krystal, executive vice-president, patient and employee experience, at the Provincial Health Services Authority in British Columbia.
She has been in healthcare for more than three decades and in that time the demand on the government-funded system has increased exponentially thanks to an aging population and costly technology and therapies.
"It's harder now and that's primarily because the demand is so high you couldn't possibly just throw money at it," says Ms. Krystal. "You have to change the way that you're doing your work in order to really make a difference."
And she's heard the argument countless times about running the health-care system like a business, but she disagrees because health is so personal and there is a person's well being to consider.
"It's very difficult for us to take things away from the system because it makes some constituents unhappy," she says, "even if we believe that that money could be better spent and in a different area and for better outcomes."
Tips for non-profit leaders
Join business organizations in your community
"Immerse yourself in business practices and surround yourself with people who have been very successful in business – small community-sized businesses as well as large businesses. I've learned a lot from them in terms of how they run their operations and I've brought many of those lessons to the charitable sector," says the National Music Centre's Mr. Mosker.
Be specific about your motivations
Don't apply to work at a non-profit such as the World Wildlife Fund, for example, because you want to help lead an environmental organization, says the Canadian organization's head, Mr. Miller. Do it because you really value the work the organization is doing in, let's say, the Arctic, and the impact of climate change on species and people in the Arctic matters to you and you want to do something about it, he adds. "You need to be that specific. That's extremely important."
Trust your team
"When you're in charge, you have the privilege of picking your team," says Mr. Miller. "If you find people who are extremely strong, you stand on their shoulders and your work is far easier."