Managing ambitions with limited capacity by Carl Sylvestre

Many of us start the day with the expectations that everything that we set out to accomplish will go our way  – a major deal will be sealed, there will be a long line at the box office for returns for a sold-out performance, or that many donors will finally get the message that our organization is the one meriting their generosity. Of course within seconds or minutes, we realize that these ambitions are as distant as last night’s dreams.  As we leave nirvana, we reflect that if we only had this resource or that talent then the desired outcome would be achieved.  Welcome to the world where we have to manage major ambitions with limited resources. How do we go about achieving our ambitions with limited staff and financial resources to fulfill our mission? (to say nothing of our ability).

Managing ambitions is a process of refining the key objectives that we would like to accomplish. There are many competing matters requiring our attention and the process starts by prioritizing goals and mapping out how these major goals will be achieved.

To illustrate this point, here’s an example. An ambition is to double an organization’s membership within the 12 months. The targeted number is identified and there is a general plan. Then there is the cost factor of what it will take and the analysis on a return on investment. At that stage a wonderful vision is slowly dying when it comes to thinking about the work that will be involved and the lack of finance and staffing. Now what?  Do we give up or move ahead with an unrealistic plan. Eventually the answer is somewhere in between. We negotiate with our colleagues.  We try to see the macro and micro impact and conclude that the goal is within sight but not in the time frame originally imagined or that the price to get there is simply too high. Yet the ambition remains. The dream has to live on. What is often lost or forgotten is the value in the process of planning for this vision. 

The process of managing our ambitions include breaking down the tasks and keep adjusting the goals by always keeping the big picture in sight.  Managing ambitions starts with the simple step of planning to succeed, the breaking down of the task, writing it down and sharing it with others. 

The planning process aims to (1) identify the goals or objectives to be achieved, (2) formulate strategies to achieve them, (3) arrange or create the means required, and (4) implement, direct, and monitor all the steps in the proper sequence.  The ambition lives on and a critical step has been taken to bring it closer to reality.  In the journey resources are identified in varying degrees.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen.