Tuesday, July 30

Conspirare and Spirit

I have had the privilege over the last two years of working with Conspirare, a creative, cutting edge choral group based in Austin that is redefining choral music. One of the guiding principles of my work is that Order should always follow Spirit.  The purpose of strategic planning and implementation is to align organizational culture, structures, and processes (Order) with the organization’s Spirit, so its purpose can be realized.  Order should never inhibit Spirit; it should exist to allow Spirit to soar.
Conspirare had achieved musical and organizational success through organic growth that occurred over two decades. After maturing into a globally-acclaimed leader in choral music, its board and staff leaders decided to engage in a strategic planning initiative that defined where they want to go, how they want to get there, and what they’ll need to succeed.  They courageously redefined their mission, vision, and core beliefs as well as agreed upon their strategic goals.  This month, they hired a new Managing Director who shares their vision and adds his considerable experience to the endeavor of realizing it.  Because they had done their “homework” through their strategic planning initiative, they were clear about what they were looking for in a Managing Director that would help advance their artistic and organizational goals.
Conspirare’s recent transformation through strategic planning is a great reminder for all of us personally and in our work; we need to know what we want to achieve, and then be sure that the processes we create to realize it are actually the best to do so—and that they don’t instead replace the goal itself.  Congratulations to Conspirare’s board; its Artistic Director, Craig Hella Johnson; and the staff and volunteers who supported it while fundamental assumptions were questioned, principles were defined, and goals were mapped.

Tuesday, July 23

Dr. Abdi's Camp

Many of you know I am a great admirer of Dr. Abdi, and wrote about her as a model of connectivity in my recent book, HUM.

The camp run by Dr. Hawa Abdi and her daughters was attacked. Thousands of Somalis living in peace, with free access to education and medical care, are now threatened. Help Dr. Hawa rebuild and provide security in her community: http://www.vitalvoices.org/news/2013/07/emergency-appeal-dr-hawa-abdi-camp-attacked

Tuesday, July 16

ANNA's Strategic Planning Journey

I recently had the great fortune to guide the amazingly courageous board of the American Nephrology Nurses Association (ANNA) through a strategic planning initiative.  Their previous plan, although many pages long, was unclear, unspecific, and uninspiring.  From the beginning, they were willing to challenge old assumptions and engage members in the conversation about where they want to go.  They examined trends in health care, association membership, and other areas that could impact their future.  And they rigorously asked themselves the same question that evidence-based nursing care is based on: how will we measure success?  Although they knew they would need a detailed road map to guide them to their desired future, ANNA’s board wanted a one page summary that members could understand and appreciate.  The highlights of our work (yes, in one page!) can be seen on their website at: http://www.annanurse.org/download/reference/association/strategicPlan.pdf

ANNA has found that their strategic plan has changed how they conduct board meetings, now focusing on their strategic priorities up front and as the bulk of the content of their meetings.  They continue to listen to members and adjust their path based on what members are telling them.  For instance, members have expressed how work and life pressures have constrained their ability to offer volunteer leadership, so the board is shortening meeting times as well as finding ways for members to engage through social media and in smaller chunks of time.  They are better able to spot and seize strategic opportunities that might have been missed without their focus on advancing their priorities.  And because they are working with agreed-upon ground rules on shared goals, they are being more efficient (and having more fun) than in the past.

I founded the Schiller Center for Connective Change more than 25 years ago so I could work with people like the members of the ANNA board who are doing meaningful work and want help being more effective and efficient in doing so.  The members of the ANNA board had some tough issues to face, yet their commitment to serving their members motivated them to address these issues head on, with stellar results.  The iterative process I use goes through four stages, which, like the seasons, are cyclical:  Define (spring), Design (summer), Align (autumn), and Refine (winter).  ANNA has been in the alignment/ implementation phase for several months now, so its leaders can tangibly measure the fruits of their strategic planning labors and celebrate the benefits being accrued.  From my point of view, they have become beloved family members with whom I have shared an intense, intimate, and rewarding journey. 

Tuesday, July 9

A Local Resource for Small Businesses

This morning Sara and I attended a seminar on Developing Strategic Communications, hosted by the the Alexandria Small Business Development Center here in Old Town.  The informative and concise presentation by local communications firm Reingold underscored how small businesses can have a global reach with the right strategy and tools.  If you are local and would like more information about upcoming workshops sponsored by the ASBDC, check out: www.alexandriasbdc.org.    

Help Explore Rob's Observation about Teams

At the recent launch of my new book, HUM, I invited participants to raise questions they would like to see addressed by me and blog followers in the coming weeks.  One friend, Rob, wrote in a follow up email:

With the best team on which I ever had the privilege to serve, my biggest concern was that I would let my teammates down. There was an inherent understanding that everyone supported a common purpose, as well as each other. However, it seems that is becoming increasingly rare. It seems that over time we value organizations/teams/communities less and less.  The sense of common purpose, community, and mutual responsibility to each other seems to be eroding in favor of individual performance and accomplishment.  In our neighborhoods, we know our neighbors less than previous generations did.  In our professional careers, we move from company to company vs. established careers with a single company.  How do we instill that common purpose to make our organizations "hum" if some partners simply weren't raised in an environment that emphasized shared purpose (or at least not to the same extent as others)?

Boy, Rob, you identify a really deep issue. It does seem that our parents and grandparents lived in a world where relationships lasted a very long time, including those with employers.  My own grandfather was able to raise a family and retire comfortably after 50 years of service with Ford Motor Company. 

One of the reasons I felt driven to write HUM is because we no longer live in that world of long-term relationships in which loyalty and trust develop over time.  Although we still yearn for that feeling of connectivity, we find it missing in our work, social, and personal relationships.  Why should we be loyal to an employer who would let us go without a moment’s thought if they needed to, regardless of how well we had performed for them?  Why should we pick up the pile of mail from the steps of a vacationing neighbor when we don’t even know him?  The world around us discourages connectivity while we continue to naturally crave it. 

Look around your workplace and among those your business touches for “kindred spirits,” then find ways to build connections with and among these individuals.  We have to be intentional about building these connections, not counting on them to develop naturally over long periods of time.  In fact, isn't this why Friday happy hours were invented?

Ideally, trust and respect are modeled by the leaders of an organization or team, creating a connective culture. If that is not the case where you work, then build a support network of people with whom you can feel that sense of mutual trust and loyalty.  Not only will you feel better about your work, but your team’s performance will dramatically improve.

Let’s hear from others about Rob’s observation that organizations don’t inspire long-term loyalty.  What are your thoughts about how to increase connectivity in an increasingly disjunctive world?