Track: Organizational Excellence
Format: Project-Based

In the The Bridgespan Group’s extensive work helping social sector organizations achieve impact at scale, we’ve observed the importance of organizations having an operating model that is fit-for-purpose to strategy. This session will introduce participants to the concept of organizational operating models, help them complete an initial diagnosis of the performance of their own operating model against their strategic requirements, and equip them with a framework and techniques they can use to pinpoint improvement opportunities to enable stronger execution.

Organizations get from “strategy” to “execution” via their operating models—the aggregate of high-level choices about structure, accountabilities, management bodies and practices, decision behaviors, and underlying performance enablers. These components heavily determine the day-to-day decision effectiveness, discipline of focus and productivity of an organization—in short, determine whether good strategies are actually executed over time. 

When an operating model is not quite right for the strategy or circumstances, it can be challenging to deliver impact, and frustrating for those inside the organization who find it difficult to pinpoint why. In a Bridgespan survey of staff from 25 nonprofit networks, 80 percent of respondents reported that their network has a clear strategy, yet barely half feel that they are set up to operate in a way that supports that strategy. However, investment to improve operating models can pay off: Bridgespan’s research has found that organizations with top effectiveness scores assess themselves as stronger than most on critical operating model components.

In this session, presenters will provide an overview of operating models, using a framework developed specifically for social sector organizations by Bridgespan in collaboration with Bain & Company, who collectively have guided hundreds of organizations through operating model redesign. They will briefly share research on operating models in the social sector, highlighting common challenges for which leaders can be on guard. They’ll guide leaders live through exercises to brainstorm some of the strategic requirements for their own operating model and assess their current operating model’s readiness to execute. They’ll conclude with tips for how leaders can more thoroughly assess and align their operating models, including both quick wins and more significant investments.

Learning Objectives:

What an organizational operating model is: Key components, that every organization has one, how it should organize resources optimally against strategy to enable execution
Reflect on own organization’s operating model: Current readiness to execute in the ways required by your strategy and circumstances, initial priorities for attention
Approaches to bring operating model into closer alignment with strategy


  • Leslie MacKrell, partner, The Bridgespan Group

Leslie MacKrell 
The Bridgespan Group

Leslie MacKrell is a partner in the New York office, and joined The Bridgespan Group in 2011. She is a leader in Bridgespan’s consulting services and knowledge development on operating model design and organizational effectiveness and is also an advisor in Bridgespan’s consulting and capacity building program for nonprofit executive teams, Leading for Impact. MacKrell has managed engagements for clients in public health, human services, education, global networks, philanthropy, advocacy and systems change. She is co-author of “Cutting Costs to Increase Impact,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2017, and co-author of a forthcoming article on organizational operating models in the social sector.