RIIA’s Volunteer Organization and the Staff Structure

Francois Gadenne has graciously agreed to cover for me until my return on May 16. He will be contributing a variety of essays addressing contemporary and future retirement income opportunities and challenges.

Like a marble in a bowl, closed systems reach equilibrium when they find their lowest energy level at the bottom of the bowl. This means that the ball comes to a complete stop. But life does not let us rest in peace. It takes a continuous inflow of energy for life and for economic patterns to emerge. It takes an open system.

Open systems create new patterns of organization by consuming energy. In business, this energy comes from the markets we serve. New businesses emerge when capital and budgets are allocated to new markets.

An organization is well adapted to its markets if it accomplishes its mission effectively while providing efficient use of capital. Profit is a good proxy measure for efficient use of capital. Since RIIA is a not-for-profit organization we will leave that part of the discussion for another day. For now, let’s focus on what makes RIIA an effective organization in a fast changing environment.

As discussed in an earlier post, RIIA is organized as a scale-free directed network. You can refer to this earlier post for the definition of “nodes”, “links”, and “hubs”. Networked organizations are an evolutionary adaptation to unsettled circumstances when it is important to explore the edges of a situation to see where the middle is likely to go.

Such networks contrast with hierarchical forms of organization. When the direction of the “middle” is well understood, hierarchical organizations are an efficient way to exploit opportunities. But then, things change, adaptation appears anew, and effectiveness, temporarily, becomes more critical to survival than efficiency.

Hierarchical organizations have a staff specialized in administrative tasks. Networked organizations have the same need for administrative specialists. Given their flexible structure of nodes and links, how can networked organizations build such a staff?

A key difference between the hierarchical and the networked model may be seen in the hiring expectations placed on these administrative specialists.

For instance, RIIA uses a cash-flow definition to identify organizational assets vs. liabilities.

  • An asset puts cash in your pocket
  • A liability takes cash out of your pocket

We seek to create organizational assets. RIIA’s organizational structure is built, as much as possible, on contracts where both parties, RIIA and the Staff, benefit from the cash-flow created by the expected tasks. Staff members become “hubs” in the network. Each network “hub” aggregates nodes and links to function as the equivalent of a small company. The aggregation of all the hubs, nodes and links creates RIIA.

This form of organization is extremely responsive to change. It is an efficient form or organization for unsettled times because RIIA’s activities reflect the viable direction of the market. Members’ budgets act as a proxy for the energy of the markets. In addition to telling us what is important and perhaps even urgent to them, members speak most clearly when their budget priorities create cash flow for the association.

To learn more about RIIA’s value to your business, check www.riia-usa.org .