Friday, September 26

Working with What Exists

My favorite meals are those in which we create a nutritious, yummy meal from ingredients already in the fridge and pantry.  With Halloween in the air, I realize that same principle applies to my favorite Halloween costumes over the years—working with what I already have to create something clever and fun.  I recently did a garden renovation which left my next-door neighbors Ann and L. with a very long, monotonous span of gray wood fencing between us.  Guess what Ann did?  She took some roof flashing that she had lying around and a pair of shears and created a sculpture that runs the length of the fence—making her side even more interesting than mine!  As the light changes throughout the day, the sculpture takes on different looks—sometimes subtly blending in, other times reflecting light and creating shadows for a 3-dimensional contrast to the fence.
My friend Ann and her sculpture.
What does this have to do with organizational performance?  Healthy connective organizations don’t blame others, make excuses, or wish for what they don’t have—all stances my neighbors could have taken.  They accept--even embrace--what is, and move from there.  They use what they have and develop creative solutions.  If they don’t like their boring view, they invent a new one with materials and skills they already possess.  Thanks, Ann, for modeling what resilient organizations around the world need to do to adjust to the fences built by others.  I am so fortunate to have you and L. as friends, neighbors, and an inspiration!
My dad always liked to paraphrase a Bible quote, “What did you make of it?”  As a child and today, I always think of that:  not what I don’t have, but what am I doing with what I’ve been given?  Ask yourself if you’re using all of your talents and gifts as fully as possible, and if not, what you might do to turn a bland wall into a work of art.

Thursday, September 18

Americorps Turns 20!

It seems impossible that it’s been 20 years since the founding of AmeriCorps.  When Shirley Sagawa, its first Executive Director, selected me as their organizational consultant, I never imagined the development of the Corporation for National Service would be more than a full-time commitment for the next two years—nor that it would be one of the greatest experiences of my life.  Twenty years later, I remain close with Shirley and both her personal and professional families, continuing to enjoy the bonds we forged in those early days of what was both a bold start-up and a merger of existing service programs.  
This past week, there were celebrations throughout our country of what began as our “domestic Peace Corps” and turned into a movement.  As you can imagine, it was a challenge to forge a connective culture between and among those who joined the effort with the robust enthusiasm of an exciting new venture and those who came from existing programs.  Yet, we embraced the crusader spirit and forged ahead with the very worthwhile adventure.   Since 1994, when President Clinton swore in the first class of 20,000 Americorps members, the Americorp group of volunteers has grown to include over 900,000 Americans who have served more than 1 billion hours.     
Clinton’s video address:

Thanks to Shirley for her leadership in creating AmeriCorps and her continued vision of how national service is transformative for both the volunteers and the lives of those they touch. 

Monday, September 8

The Wisdom Is In the Group

On my website, I have a summary of lessons learned from over 30 years of working with thousands of organizations.  Yet every once in a while, I have the opportunity to relearn one of these lessons.  Such an opportunity presented itself recently—and the experience took my breath away.

A few weeks ago, I facilitated a strategic planning retreat for the board, staff, and key stakeholders of the ABNN (the certification organization, American Board of Neuroscience Nurses).  This diverse group was able to assess where they’ve been successful and build on that while also pinpointing where they need to explore alternatives to activities that have not yielded the desired results.  They demonstrated all the behaviors of a “Learning Organization.”  Even the form that their strategic planning documents took emerged organically from our work together to meet their specific needs as they continue to promote the advancement of neuroscience nursing.

What was so amazing about this is that when I interviewed them by phone before the retreat, they each provided answers to my questions, but didn’t get too imaginative or enthusiastic in their ideas about where the organization needed to go and what factors might have the greatest impact on its success.  Yet, when they gathered and could feed off of one another, I found myself inspired by their enthusiasm, openness, and anticipatory mindset.  Experts have called this, “generative thinking,” and perhaps the greatest contribution a board can make.

Several participants told me that the time we invested initially in getting to know one another paid off in rich dividends when we turned to focus on their vision of where they want ABNN to go and in setting priority goals to achieve that vision. What they were referring to was an exercise I have never tried with a client group before, and it was a calculated risk on my part.  In conjunction with self-introductions, I asked those who were comfortable doing so to share “a vulnerability.” This is a subject I have been reading and thinking about personally and I thought it might help them to bond.  Every participant did so, and the result was a shift to a fully-engaged, connected group.  Their evaluations of the retreat weekend noted that this exercise caused them to better understand other participants on a personal level and feel more connected in the work they tackled together.

The valuable lesson that I re-learned from this experience was a basic tenet of the Japanese continuous improvement work of 30 years ago:  upfront investment of building the team pays off later.  The wisdom is always in the group and, if the group is unable to find the elegant solution, it needs to expand either its own circle or its definition of the problem it’s tackling.  Thanks to all who made our ABNN weekend in Tahoe so productive and fun!

Tuesday, September 2

Compact Impact

Those of you who have worked with me or read my book HUM know how I like to help organizations distill their timeless essence into as few words as possible.  I’ve had clients from years ago refer to my “contemporary cottage” example as having helped them repeatedly over the years boil down their vision or their dna into a phrase that rings true for them under all circumstances and over time.  For AMSN, it’s: Compassion. Commitment. Connection.  Dining for Women’s culture is Collaboration, Education, Inspiration, and Transformation.  For ANNA, it’s: Learning, leading, connecting, and playing at the intersection of Nephrology and Nursing.  Members of each of these organizations confirm that their every interaction with and through the organization communicates this identity.
This week, a friend pointed out that I do this with everything.  For instance, I try to capture in as few words as possible someone’s personal style.  A Flamboyant Natural can save time and money by sticking to that style which is her authentic personal expression.  No matter how good a bargain she gets on the purchase of a new sweater that screams Nautical Classic, she won’t feel comfortable wearing it and it will sit in her closet or be donned for occasions that are not so special.  
My friend went so far as to point out that I have applied the same desire for succinctness in my love of one-line scenes from movies.  Now, even if I live, breathe, and sleep connectivity, I didn’t see this as linked to my other passions to purify down to the core essence.  Many people can’t think of a single one-word scene from a movie, while others come up with, “Plastic!”  So, here’s a challenge.  I will give prizes to respondents who submit the best one-word movie scenes.  To get you started, do you know what movie contains an incredibly powerful scene in which the only word is “Sanctuary!”?