The Most Effective Organization in the U.S.

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For many people, The Salvation Army is most visible between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That's when its officers, soldiers, and volunteers, in the ubiquitous Kettle Campaign, make music and collect money for good works. Few realize, however, that The Army is much, much more than this one effort and is in fact a powerhouse of an organization. None other than Peter Drucker called it "the most effective organization in the U.S." That's quite a compliment from the world's most preeminent management thinker, ...
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For many people, The Salvation Army is most visible between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That's when its officers, soldiers, and volunteers, in the ubiquitous Kettle Campaign, make music and collect money for good works. Few realize, however, that The Army is much, much more than this one effort and is in fact a powerhouse of an organization. None other than Peter Drucker called it "the most effective organization in the U.S." That's quite a compliment from the world's most preeminent management thinker, especially when you consider that he is comparing The Salvation Army to world-class corporations like General Electric, IBM, and Johnson & Johnson.

Now Robert A. Watson, The Army's recently retired national commander, is ready to share its secrets about organization, strategy, and working with a sense of mission. With 9,500 centers of operation, $2 billion in annual revenues, and over 30 million clients served in every zip code in America, The Salvation Army is the model for doing business with a purpose. As Peter Drucker has said, "No one even comes close to it with respect to clarity of mission, ability to innovate, measurable results, dedication, and putting money to maximum use."

By demonstrating the power of a sense of purpose combined with organizational effectiveness, this remarkable book has something essential to say to all executives, entrepreneurs, managers, and anyone with the ambition to bring people together to reach a goal.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Salvation Army is one of the most innovative, cohesive, and effective organizations in the United States. And in this book, Bob Watson, retired national commander of the Salvation Army, and his coauthor, Ben Brown, reveal the leadership secrets that allow the Salvation Army to unite 2.3 million workers in purposeful and meaningful activity.
J. W. Marriot
Every aspiring CEO should read this book. The Salvation Army demonstrates what leaders of other organizations, whether they are global corporations or community nonprofits, should understand: To achieve at the highest levels, you have to have a purpose that goes beyond being profitable, and that includes serving others.
Steven S Reinemund
The book captures the soul of The Salvation Army that I have come to love and respect. The principles and personal testimonies reveal the truly unique balance The Army has established between real life charging forth and the resulting committed personal discipline. It is this balance that distinguishes The Salvation Army from all the rest.
Publishers Weekly
A clear mission, innovative techniques, commitment, efficiency and visible outcomes are the name of the business game, and also happen to be exemplified by the Salvation Army. In "The Most Effective Organization in the U.S.": Leadership Secrets of the Salvation Army, Robert A. Watson, an officer in the Salvation Army for 44 years, and freelance writer Ben Brown mine the organizational riches of this familiar group and present them as a model for others in the nonprofit and for-profit worlds. Watson, who as a child was clothed, fed and kept busy by the Salvation Army, reveals the skills and principles he learned as an officer of a company that completes projects from top to bottom from conceiving an idea and building a site to designing the financial plan and hiring, training and inspiring employees. The organization famous for its big heart also has plenty of sense. Proceeds go to the Salvation Army. ( Nov. 13) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609608692
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/6/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 256

Meet the Author

Robert A. Watson has served as a commissioned officer in The Salvation Army for forty-four years, four of them as National Commander, the highest-ranking officer in the United States. In his role as national commander, Commissioner Watson oversaw a vast non-profit operation reaching into every community in the country, generating over $2billion in revenues and involving some 3.2 million officers, employees and volunteers. Commissioner Watson has served on over twenty national and international boards, including the Vice President's Coalition on Welfare to Work. He has represented The Salvation Army in sessions before Congress, at the White House and with other world leaders in the business and the non-profit community.

Ben Brown, a veteran reporter and editor for more than two decades, was a founding staff member of USA Today and founding executive editor of Time, Inc's. Coastal Living magazine. This is his third book.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


We want this to be one of the most important books you'll ever read. It's about the meaning of life.

That's a presumptuous thing to say. But given the mission of The Salvation Army and the needs we sense in the business community, we'd be wasting time if we pretended to be interested in anything less.

What are those needs?

We believe the most important one is for connection with a purpose that's bigger than one person's -- or one organization's -- material ambitions. It's the need for a set of guiding principles, an anchor when everything is in flux.

It's the only way the world makes sense. People cannot be truly happy or productive over the long haul without acknowledging an overarching purpose for their existence and without working to harmonize their lives' efforts toward realizing it.

People often talk about their work lives, their family lives, and their spiritual lives as if they are distinct sectors they must somehow keep in balance. But that way of looking at things doesn't match up with human experience. We cannot be one person at work, another with friends and family, yet another in our relationship with God.

We are, each of us, one person. We live in one world. We are happiest and most productive when we feel the fragments of our lives moving together toward some meaningful, transcendent purpose.

You don't have to think of yourself as a religious person to believe that. You know it intuitively. And the idea is confirmed by social science research and by clinical psychology, where the aims have long been to encourage a healthy reintegration of those fragments and to support reconnections with principles and with people that give meaning to our lives.

You can pretend this fundamental need for spiritual integration is somehow suspended when you go to work. But your heart tells you otherwise. Boundaries between "the business world" and other worlds in which humans strive are as artificial as the distinctions between our separate private selves.

All organizations are composed of people-people who are managers, partners, investors, workers, and clients-who don't abandon their individual needs and hopes when they come together in a group. You can have the fanciest title, the best salary, the most lavish perquisites. You can enjoy the highest esteem from colleagues and the respect of competitors. But if you don't feel as if your efforts are pointed at something bigger and more important than quarterly earnings or year-end bonuses, if you don't feel you're building a legacy beyond the money you've made or the possessions you've piled up, you're going to be haunted by what's missing in your life.

In our work with clients in Salvation Army programs, we see the pathological dimensions of this gap between what humans need and what they too frequently settle for. Many of those who come to us are lost, desperate. They've tried everything to fill the holes in their lives. And while we're committed to helping them face and overcome their problems with alcohol and drugs or with broken relationships, the real secret of our success is getting them to accept responsibility for integrating their hearts, their minds, their souls with transcendent purpose. We help them reconnect.

It's not just those who come to us from the streets, from lives of poverty and deprivation, who need to work through this process. Here, for instance, is how one of our former clients begins his story of re-integration:

At 3:30 on a Saturday afternoon, Marine One, the military helicopter which carries the President of the United States, lifted off the White House south lawn and headed west over the congested Virginia sprawl. Following Route 236, the chopper passed over The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center, a dormitory for men who could not, or would not, deal with their addiction to alcohol or drugs.

At that precise moment, I was crossing the highway to reach the ARC, where I was a resident. When I heard the familiar sound above, I stopped to absorb the sight and immediately felt deeply ashamed of what I had allowed alcohol to do to my life. After all, I had been an occasional passenger on that very chopper and its larger cousin Air Force One. That heady life of official White House travel and all the perks that went with it rushed to my mind. "How the mighty have fallen," I thought.

This is Bill Rhatican, a former White House official in the Nixon and Ford administrations. After 15 years in and out of various alcohol treatment centers, Rhatican ended up at our residence center in Annandale, Virginia, in 1996.

"When my counselor told me I needed long-term help," he says, "I did not expect the facility to be run by The Salvation Army. That organization, I knew, was for the homeless and the helpless, the roadside wreckage I had passed so many times on my way to some important meeting. And I still wasn't that sick, or so I thought."

From the other beneficiaries' viewpoints, Rhatican had everything-the high-profile job, the money, the house, the adoring family. They had nothing. Yet there they were, together, going through the same program, suffering the same pains of transition and coming to the same conclusions about what was missing in their lives.

It wasn't any easier an experience for Rhatican than it is for clients who come to us from prisons or homeless shelters. He slipped once, violating the rules of total sobriety while he was in the program, and had to wait for the chance to be readmitted. Yet he stuck it out and was ultimately able to achieve what had been impossible for him in all the other programs he'd tried. He stayed clean and sober.

What he found among the other men in the program, the men who were ahead of him in recognizing and developing their spiritual connection, "was serenity and inner peace," says Rhatican. "What they had, I wanted."

You don't have to be at the end of your rope to want that feeling or to recognize when it's missing in your life. Even if you're living out your dreams of professional achievement and material success, even if you've avoided the most dangerous distractions that threaten health and wreck families, you know when you're not paying enough attention to your spiritual needs. Those needs don't wait on the sidelines while you attend to other business. They demand attention.

The Salvation Army is fueled with the energy generated by this fundamental human drive for spiritual connection. Not only do we get our "customers" that way, we also get our officers, our lay people, our employees, our investors, and our volunteers because of the pull of this need to align ourselves with divine purpose and because of the intrinsic rewards that come with that alignment. We all seek serenity and inner peace.

In the coming pages, we're going to explain how we run a $2 billion-a-year, transcontinental organization that serves 30 million customers with a workforce that, by material standards, is vastly underpaid and overworked. The rewards we offer are spiritual ones. Our "pay" is weighted by opportunities for meaningful engagement in challenging arenas and for soul-satisfying service of people in need. And, as we'll demonstrate, that kind of compensation package turns out to be one of the most important ingredients-if not the most important ingredient-in building an effective organization.

Can a charity really teach leaders who have to operate in the "real world" of business?

If we truly believe that we all aspire to achieve our best selves beyond mere material concerns and that the organizations we build are simply extensions of our aspirations, then the difference between for-profit organizations and nonprofit ones is about accounting policies, not about proficiency and effectiveness. The bottom line is this: An organization is an organization is an organization.

The Salvation Army assumes principle-centered, people-serving approaches as natural extensions of our faith. We believe that's the way God wants us to live our lives and to relate to others. So that's the way we organize ourselves. But you don't have to take just our word that it will work for any organization. Business consultants and professors who write the most popular books and lead the most influential leadership seminars have come to some of the same conclusions from another direction-by studying what the most successful executives and companies have in common and then converting those commonalities into principles of effectiveness. Prominent among the findings in all those analyses is a correlation between high levels of success and company-wide commitments to purposes that transcend the mere material.

Among the "shattered myths" exposed by their study, write James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, is that "the most successful companies exist first and foremost to maximize profits.

"Contrary to business school doctrine, 'maximizing shareholder wealth' or 'profit maximization' has not been the dominant driving force or primary objective through the history of visionary companies. . . . Yes, they seek profits, but they're equally guided by a core ideology-core values and sense of purpose beyond just making money."

This is why Collins and Porras say they see "little difference between for-profit visionary companies and nonprofit visionary organizations. . . . [The] essence of what it takes to build an enduring, great institution does not vary."

Why should anyone be surprised when the principles of high-achieving people and organizations turn out to be so similar regardless of how they measure their profits? In the one world in which we all live connected to God and other humans by our common spiritual aspirations, why would we think we'd have to sacrifice our spiritual needs in order to live and work effectively? Isn't it more likely that the opposite is true, that the only way we can live and work effectively is to stop ignoring those needs and to begin honoring them?

Peter F. Drucker, perhaps the world's most famous management authority, calls The Salvation Army "by far the most effective organization in the U.S." He didn't say the Army was the most effective religious organization or the most effective nonprofit. He left it unqualified. He said we were the most effective organization.

The size, complexity, and diversity of Salvation Army operations mean that many of the challenges we face daily are not all that different from those that any business deals with. And our long-term successes at doing all those things at high levels of efficiency suggest we're onto something. Let's look at our approaches in light of Peter Drucker's five criteria of effectiveness. "No one," he says, "even comes close to [The Salvation Army] in respect to clarity of mission, ability to innovate, measurable results, dedication, and putting money to maximum use."

"Clarity of Mission"

The Salvation Army landed in America on March 10, 1880, fifteen years after it was founded in England by William Booth. The American expeditionary force consisted of eight people, one man and seven women. Their principal assets: Two Salvation Army flags and a conviction they shared with General Booth that the ministry they were called to serve required as much attention to the physical and social conditions of needy people as to their habits of worship-which, as it turns out, was all the founding capital the Army needed.

Three years later, the American branch of The Salvation Army had expanded from New York to New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and California. In 1886, Grover Cleveland became the first U.S. president to receive a Salvation Army delegation in the White House. And by the end of World War I, The Salvation Army was a familiar national voice on behalf of the poor and the suffering, with supporters ranging from CEOs of some of the most powerful corporations to volunteers whose worldly goods amounted to not much more than those of the people they served.

As we write this, The Salvation Army is approaching its 121st anniversary in America. We still operate under the same name and offer our "customers" the same dual "product" of salvation and service as we did more than a century ago. Our mission is still "to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination." Think of all the famous enterprises that have faded into oblivion over that same period. Of the firms listed among the original Dow Jones industrials in 1896, only one-General Electric-is still in business.

From near-zero financial resources and a staff of eight in 1880, the Army in the United States has grown into an enterprise with an annual budget exceeding $2 billion and a work force of officers, employees, and volunteers approaching 3.4 million people. That $2 billion figure, says Forbes magazine, "understates the value of what it contributes." If you put a number on the extra time contributed by Army staffers and volunteers, said the magazine, "you would get a business that would rank up with the biggest companies in [the] Forbes 500."

The Salvation Army hasn't grown and prospered for more than a century, eclipsing the life spans of most other enterprises, by ignoring practical business considerations. On the contrary. From our beginnings in Victorian England, we have been obligated to develop and refine our business methods so we can make the most of what we have to meet clients' needs and contributors' expectations.

In strictly business terms, our service recipients are our customers and our supporters are investors. Like any other company, the Army has employees to recruit, train, and retain. It has property to manage. It has revenue streams to monitor and costs to control. It has a brand to protect. And it is as determined as any business to generate more money than it spends in order to expand its programs and reach an ever-wider "market" of needy people.

If we and other successful nonprofits have any advantage over many commercial firms, it's that we're not nearly as vulnerable to the distraction so many of the top management gurus warn against-the distraction of short-range earnings demands. It's not that money is not a consideration with us. The fact is, there's never enough money to do what we need to do. We worry constantly about how to raise more and how to spend what we have more efficiently. That will always be an issue. But it's not the issue.

We plan strategies, launch and refine programs, recruit people, and evaluate everything we do according to how it relates to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and meeting human needs in His name without discrimination. It's really that simple. If a proposal doesn't advance our twofold mission, we're not interested in it. And if something we're involved in begins to compromise either the evangelical or the service aspect of our purpose, we'll bow out.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1. The "Business" of the Salvation Army 10
2. Engace the Spirit 35
3. Put People in Your Purpose 58
4. Embody the Brand 85
5. Lead by Listening 106
6. Spread the Responsibility, Share the Profits 136
7. Organize to Improvise 159
8. Act with Audacity 182
9. Make Joy Count 205
Notes 225
Sources 235
Index 237
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2008

    Rock Solid Business Foundation

    This book is an absolute home run! It helps business owners, managers, employees and civic volunteers understand how to design, build and operate any business on Rock solid principles that will ensure success 'assuming there is a good product or service'. Owners, managers, employees and customers will all benefit from this type of organization. This is the best business management book I've read 'which is over 25 years of reading'.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2001


    This book truely showed the great works of the salvation Army! Too many people think of them as the Christmas kettle people who stand in front of stores, but they do SO MUCH MORE!!!! It is the greatest org in the world!!! God Bless! Absolutely read this!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2011

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