Bad Results Aren’t Always Bad

In the fourth blog of our Conquering Data series, we’d like to ask you to consider this question: can we truly adopt a mindset of continuous improvement without identifying areas for growth, refinement and action? Over the past decade, Knowledge Advisory Group has encountered many organizations that avoid evaluation out of fear that it might illuminate unflattering results. While we can appreciate this can be daunting for nonprofits and small businesses, if problems are not identified and addressed, they will fester into larger obstacles for growth and performance. In fact, you can probably think of examples when you’ve seen this happen in your own experience, personally or professionally.

No organization is perfect and we all have room for improvement, as along as we’re open to it. It is a common misconception that if a funder or grantor receives data and reporting that shares “bad” news, they will withdraw funding. We’ve actually found that funders do not expect evaluation findings to be overwhelmingly positive. If evaluation reports appear too good to be true, this can be a major red flag and a hint that an organization is not doing a thorough and comprehensive program evaluation.  In short, being honest and transparent is much more important than always presenting a rosy picture.

Furthermore, funders want to help solve problems and if they don’t know where you need help, they can’t identify where to apply support. Sharing less-than-ideal results in real time allows for corrective action and growth. If these negative outcomes are not revealed until the end of a relationship, there is no time for improvement.

Imagine you’re training with a coach to run your first half-marathon. You work together every week for six-months and after every training run, your coach pats you on the back and says, “Looking great! Keep up the good work! You’re going to crush this race!” but never offers any critiques or advice. She doesn’t teach you how to pace yourself, how to breathe during the race, or what you should eat or drink before you start. The day of the big race finally arrives, and your coach meets you at the starting line. Right before you’re about to begin, she tells you to change your posture from what you’ve been doing for six months, that your pace is far below what it should be to achieve your goal time, and that you should have hydrated for the past 18 hours. The gun fires and you’re off… to what is most likely going to be a poor performance.

We give this example to highlight that you can’t solve problems that are not acknowledged. Awareness is the first step. If this coach had alerted you to the adjustments you needed to make as you were training in real time, you could have corrected them and been set up for success. The same goes for reporting outcomes to funders. Let them know what issues are coming up so you can work together to solve them.

Having conversations that reveal challenges or negative outcomes is not always easy, but they can lead to enriched trust and improved processes. The only way to continually improve is by asking hard questions and reflecting on the resulting answers.

To learn more about how to react to “bad news” read our other blog on the topic: