In the late noughties I was watching the box set of West Wing. It took quite a while. I was impressed by the dynamic of the way the White House team worked for and with President ‘Jed’ Bartlett.
Having viewed quite a few episodes one weekend I came up with an alliteration I quite liked: how the team from CJ to Josh, from Leo to Sam was fast and focused, with some fun at times as well. There was lots of feedback to each other (even if it wasn’t wanted!), yet this forthright way of working was quite forgiving too (at least to those in the team).
I called this the features of the Front Foot Organisation (FFO). Over the coming months we developed the initial ideas into a set of actions to help achieve these characteristics – actions to achieve greater direction, momentum, co-ordination and balance within a team or organisation. We provided an assessment and even applied the FF idea to the family as part of a talk for fathers and sons at a school I was working with.
The FFO idea has proved to be one of the most popular and enduring of idenk ideas since first outlining it in 2008. Despite the fact that the genesis of the ‘front foot’ idea is unclear (though it is rooted in sports and even politics) it has a broad face validity and is widely used. You regularly hear how people want to put their ‘best foot’ forward, not be on the ‘back foot’, avoid being ‘wrong footed’. Our feet are in our mouths, literally!
I truly believe that each and every Noble Purpose enterprise should be a FFO. People who join them certainly expect them to be. The standard we assume is high – very high. However, often Noble Purpose Organisations are far from beacons of front footedness.. And when that happens, as we have noted, expectations are dashed and cynicism grows.
The CEO or Director of an NPO is actually their ‘chief culture officer’. The ideas on the FFO provide a handy checklist for that senior person to start working on the awareness, alignment, attitudes needed. They provide pointers about what to tolerate and what to hold firm on.
Social workers use a simple acronym to think about what to do ‘upstream’ to achieve the results that are needed when working with a young person. For example, when supporting a child in care they try to consider any Antecedents to observed challenging Behaviour and the negative Consequences that can result for a child and those helping them.
The Front Foot ideas offer some pointers to Antecedent Actions that leaders can use to get the outcomes they want. Results that achieve the purpose of the NPO.