In episode 75 of Mission: Impact, Carol Hamilton and Danielle Marshall discuss
Danielle is an inclusive leader focused on strengthening collaboration among teams, leaders, and stakeholders to foster problem-solving, create solutions, and improve culture. She finds her inspiration in leading systemic change work that promotes equity and inclusion.
Danielle founded Culture Principles in response to a persistent need to operationalize Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion metrics, centering REDI goals and creating accountability systems. She supports clients through her Mapping Equity Framework focused on Unearthing Knowledge, Elevating Strategy, and Transforming Sustainability. She centers her work around organizational assessment, racial equity learning intensives, and the development of racial equity action plans. Understanding that each organization arrives at this work from different perspectives, she utilizes assessment in building a customized strategy for each unique partner. Previously Danielle served as a non-profit leader for 20+ years and today works on strategy development that enables nonprofits to achieve equitable mission-driven results. Danielle holds a Master's degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Louisiana Tech University and draws on her background as an I/O psychologist in applying a racial equity lens to organizational policies, practices, and programs. She is a Certified Diversity Professional (CDP)/ Executive Coach (ACC).
During her playtime, you can find Danielle traveling, knitting, and kayaking in all 50 states.
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Erin Allgood: It, I think, can be really liberating for organizations to see that it's not incumbent upon them to fix everything. that they actually have partners who are gonna be doing similar work and in this, and in that are on a similar journey, but aren't necessarily that their work is complementary to, to theirs.
Carol Hamilton: What is a theory of change and why should you have one? Beyond the answer of well --- our funders require us to include it in our grant proposal, there are a lot of advantages to mapping out what your theory of change is for your organization. It can seem a little esoteric and a little wonky and a little academic. And what even is a theory of change? Simply put – it is a graphic or written description of how your organization’s work moves your mission and vision forward – it helps you map these pieces and show the logic of why you are doing what you are doing. With this, you can also build evaluation systems that demonstrate your impact. Like any other strategy process – the conversations you will have to get the theory of change on paper or on a virtual white board – help create a common understanding of what you are really trying to do. And the process can reveal some gaps in your program design and process. Through the process you might be aiming to do XYZ with your vision – this is the change you are trying to create in the world. And then this is what we are doing in terms of programs and services – and by talking it through as a group, you realize that your expected short term, medium term and long outcomes from your program don’t actually move you closer to your vision. Or what has to be true for those outcomes to happen – the assumptions built into your design are not realistic – there is too much of a leap in logic from one to another – and you need to build in some more steps to move people along the expected journey or pathway. And the map is not the territory! Theories of change or logic models or impact maps simplify what is rarely simple.. They are never meant to capture all the possible permutations. Each person participating in your offerings will have their own unique experience. And they live complex lives with multiple things impacting them, their behavior and decisions. The process generates insights into which program elements and intended outcomes to focus on, and can help you demonstrate how changes are unfolding for participants—beyond just reporting how many people participated.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit holistic strategy consultant. Mission: Impact is brought to you by Grace Social Sector Consulting. Grace Social Sector brings you whole-brain strategic planning, mapping, & audits for nonprofits and associations. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
My guest today on Mission Impact is Erin Allgood. Erin and I talk about what a theory of change is and the differences between theories of change and logic models, how a theory of change can help you make decisions between the many options and directions you might go – and your many good ideas, why each organization does not have to tackle everything – deciding what is the part of the problem that you will work on and what are you really suited to focus on – and who else is working in your space whose work complements yours is so important, and how it’s not all on your shoulders to fix – even if it can feel that way sometimes.
Welcome, Erin. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Erin: Oh, I'm so excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
Carol: So I like to start out each episode with just a question around what drew you to the work that you do. What would you describe as your motivation or your why?
Erin: I love this question and I of course like to listen to a couple of previous episodes, so I knew it was coming.
I have always been somebody who has cared deeply about. Writing the injustices in the world in a lot of ways. My mom will tell you that I came out of the womb of feminist and I just have carried that energy with me ever since. And I had a very circuitous path to becoming a non-profit consultant.
Mainly because I went to school for biochemistry. And hopefully this will be interesting for people to hear this, but I, and then I went and actually got a degree, a master's degree in nutritional biochemistry and was just like, this is not what I wanna do with my life. I was so interested. I realized what I was actually interested in was understanding systems.
I was not actually interested in either doing bench science or doing anything like that. And so I started on a journey after all of that too. One to like to figure out where I wanted to actually like, be like in the world. And I started taking some courses on food systems and I took some courses on sustainable business and so on and so forth.
And that was all while I was working for a pharmaceutical company. This was back in time like the 2009, 2010 timeframe because we were in a recession and there was no other work for me, and I had all these science degrees and I could go and do that. But what it really helped me to do is sharpen that focus on things like, I could not just have a job doing something I didn't care about.
So I really needed to create what I. Wanted for myself. And that's, that was really the beginning of my consulting practice. I started in food systems and then about five years ago I broadened out to really have a much broader focus on organizations that were doing, like usually have some aspect of social justice in their work.
And started doing things like strategic planning, organizational development and executive coaching . There's always little things here that come, come up here and there too, that I do a little bit of a long-winded answer.
Carol: Well, it's often a winding, a winding journey to get to where you are, and especially at that beginning stage of your career where you're figuring out where do I fit?
What am I really interested in? realizing, well, it's actually the systems that I'm interested in and how can I bring that systems perspective. I think that I had a similar point with my first job out of college. Working for people has heard this story before, but working for a magazine that got help helped people get on talk shows and, and coming to the point of realizing I don't wanna be promoting all comers.
Hmm. I wanna be aligned with the missions that I'm helping support and helping move forward. So definitely can, can relate to that. And As you said, you and I do similar work focusing on strategic planning and organization development. And. I'm, one of the things that we, we also do, both of us is help organizations map out their impact, or sometimes it's called creating a theory of change.
Sometimes it's called creating a logic model. There are a variety of different terms for that. And I'm wondering if you could just describe for our listeners what a theory of change is and, Why is it important for an organization to have one?
Erin: Yeah. I love developing theories of change, talking about theories of change.
So I'm so excited that this is the topic we're diving into today. I think of a theory of change as being the overarching way in which an organization creates change, or it could be an individual too. I've actually created a theory of change for myself as part of my business and we're. What I think about.
When I think about a theory of change, it's really starting to identify what that real big vision is for an organization and it's broader than just obviously like their specific work in the world. I like to go really, really big picture with that. And then understand as part of that, like developing the theory of change process, where the organization fits in that broader landscape of change that they, of, of whatever that is that they're trying to bring forth.
And so I think a lot of times when people develop a theory of change, it's just, it's, it's much more narrowly focused. And so I have a bit of a different take on that. And then you had mentioned logic models too. And anybody that knows me, knows me that I. Deeply, deeply hate logic models. I don't know how you feel about
Carol: So what do you see as the difference between a theory of change versus a logic model?
Erin: I think that, like a logic model gets really down into the weeds and it's, and it, presents things in a super linear way. And it, or it, presents how you create change in a linear way.
Whereas I think of a theory of change as being It's, it's not, it's never quite that linear, right? Like we know that, like we know that change doesn't happen in a super linear fashion. We know that it's iterative. We know that like things cer, like certain things build upon one another. We know that like there's oftentimes this like squiggle, of a journey to get from point A to point B with a lot of different detours off of it as well.
And so the way that I look at e Theory of change is like, it's a broader framework in which an organization is. Is what, that's helping to guide an organization versus the rigidity of a logic model where it's like, oh, here's like, here's our goal, here's our, the tactic that we're gonna take, and then here's the outcome we predict, and so on and so forth.
It's, and that, that's not that that's anything. There's nothing wrong with that per se. But it leaves a lot of it. I think that what it does is it forces organizations into a bit of a, into a bit of a box in which they can't, they can't allow things to develop more organically or to emerge as they go through.
And so it, and it doesn't allow them to necessarily grow as they're going through, through a process. And of course, we need to be able to like, have things and outcomes that we care about and want to map to an extent. But the way that I develop like a, when I work with organizations is I usually develop an idea of what it looks like to be successful, and that's not necessarily tied to.
Like a metric, like increased participation by 27% or something like that nature. So it's a lot, the theory of change that I'll create oftentimes is a bit broader in focus. It of course has different strategies associated with it. So say an organization, one of those main strategies is gonna be education. So like, I'll often help organizations identify the big vision that will obviously go through and I, and talk about the mission and the core identity, like their values and beliefs and things like that, that underpin the work that they do.
And then it will start to boil down to like what are those broad strategies that they're trying to do in order to be able to get to that vision. So for instance, one of the organizations I'm working with right now, we have identified that there's two main strategies. One is Like a focus on the individuals that they are trying to help through the work that they do.
And then the other way is addressing systems level harm. So it's like really doing the on the ground work versus like, how do we fix this so that this systemic, these systemic issues aren't a problem as we, five years from now. And so underneath those, there's a couple of different programs that nestle underneath those.
And then, and part of the addressing systems, Level harm. Those programs are like education and advocacy as you can imagine. And then there's the more specific programmatic work towards dealing with the individual piece of that. So that gives 'em a lot of space, in order to be able to say where they want to go from here in order to.
To be able to create these kinds of change and they can use that theory of change as they move forward. It's, that's not necessarily tied to, a like three to five year strategic plan that could actually be like a much longer standing a , a tool for them to be able to use moving forward.
And. It's and then it's also paired with obviously much more specific kinds of goals and objectives and priorities that I would bring into, into the actual written plan itself. But it's that broader framework that allows them to really play within those bounds and to be able to have that flexibility moving forward.
So they're not, they're not super. Yeah, like backed into a corner when they have this like a super rigid plan in front of them or something like that. As you can tell, I don't write super rigid plans, probably.
Carol: Yeah. And I appreciate the distinction between those different, those different things and I mean, even if you get into the nitty gritty with something like a logic model, I always want to.
Tell people or help, help them bring some context that the map is not the territory. A model does not, is just a model. It doesn't define reality. It can be helpful as a tool to help you have a conversation, to come to agreement around what are the assumptions that we're, we're embedding in this, what do we think is gonna happen?
How can we test that? But. Yeah, there's always a danger once it gets mapped out or in a plan that people get afraid to change it. And for me that's never the, the ultimate purpose of any of these kinds of processes, but it's more, I. Can we get stuff out of people's heads onto a page so that we can all look at it together?
Yeah, I'm thinking, I'm, I'm starting to work with an organization right now and it's exactly that. It's a relatively new organization. They've got, the founder has some great ideas about what they wanna do. They're doing stuff already, but they haven't had a chance to expand things.
And this. By doing one of these processes, theory of change, logic model, impact map, whatever you wanna call it. I think one of the biggest benefits will be to get a lot of the stuff that's in his head in other staff, staff, people's heads, maybe in board, if the board ends up being involved and get it out so that everybody can look at it and say, do we actually agree?
On this picture of what we're, what we're trying to do together.
Erin: Yeah. And I think it's, I mean that's like so powerful to be able to do that and just to make sure that everybody's on the same page and it's like the cornerstone of doing strategic planning cuz you never wanna get super far into a process and then be like, oh, we're not all on the same page at all.
But it's also probably hard. And you, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this like, To get people sometimes to commit, especially especially a founder or especially organizations that are just super energized about things, to picking a path. Because a lot of the time, They wanna do everything.
And I'm like, we create a theory of change so that they understand that they, they got, they start to see like the, the through line between like the work that they're doing and the outcome and, and the the vision that they're trying to achieve and outcomes. But it also helps them to see things like, oh, we can't, if we do like a thousand different things, we can't actually be super effective at any of them.
Carol: Yeah, I literally said this yesterday. I was like, I have yet to meet a nonprofit staff, person, leader, board member, executive director, who did not have enough ideas. Yeah. Yep. There is always an abundance of ideas, different directions, different tactics, different strategies, all to move towards the same vision.
But what are the ones that you are gonna choose? What are the ones that you are really gonna deepen and get good at? What's within your core competencies and it's, it's hard to make those decisions, especially as a group, but I think that's, that's a part of what these, these kinds of processes can help with as well to, to set some priorities and refine that.
And I, I appreciated what you said about the theory of change. Also being also mapping the wider context that the organization is in, because the ones that I have seen have been a little bit in a vacuum. So I'd love for you to say a little bit more about what that looks like and the benefits of doing that.
Erin: Yeah. I am so grateful that you asked that question too, cuz I love talking about it. It's, I look at , I think that when. Again, that helps them to narrow some of their focus when we start to look at the broader picture and be like, well, what are, what is the lane that you're playing in this?
And what is, what is also the lane that your partners are playing in? Because it should likely be a little bit different than what they're playing in. And so I think I love the tagline for this podcast, like how not to become a martyr to the cause. Because I think that a lot of people look at it like, oh, we have to do everything.
We have to do everything under the sun in order to be able to like tackle X, Y, z, whatever, whatever their, their cause actually is. And it's, I think, can be really liberating for organizations to see that it's, it's not incumbent upon them to fix everything. that they actually have partners who are gonna be doing similar work and in this, and in that are on a similar journey, but aren't necessarily that their work is complementary to, to theirs.
What I also think is super important about that part of things too, is I like to help organizations really understand that they're start to break up with this idea around, White supremacy culture and like how that gets like enacted within organizations, which is so much rooted in, oftentimes you see that kinda individualism, which can play out like within the internal culture of an organization or for the organization themselves too.
like, oh, we're on it, on our own. We're just doing it, we're just charging forth and we're by ourselves in this. And I help them to start to break up with that idea that they have to do it all by themselves. And that they are like the center of all of that. So it's, there's a couple of different reasons why I, why I help them see that bigger picture.
But a lot of it is, starting to shift this narrative around like any one organization is, is. Going to create the change that they actually do need collaboration in order to be able to bring about these things. And we're talking about wicked problems, right? Like we're these, or like, these are like things that nobody solves on their own.
And to be able to even try to say that they could, develops that hero complex that I think is, so detrimental within our sector because we don't want people out there just being like, like pomp, his assholes like thinking that, that like, they're the only reason why change create, like happens.
No, it actually does. It requires many, many different people working towards the same goal, coming at a, from a bunch of different angles and and we just, yeah, we don't want that to be. We wanna start to shift towards more collaboration and less of this individualism, is one of the things that I try to help organizations do.
Carol: Yeah. Helping them see how they can be complementary to the other organizations that are in the same space as them. Not competing for the same ground but, but working together to, to solve the problem. As you say, they're, they're. Most of these problems that organizations are working on are huge and complex.
And, and yeah, the hero is probably the positive version of Martyr. And both of them, I, I, I mean, from my point of view or, or from my experience, it's rare. and their exceptions, but it's rarely out of a sense of it's gotta be all mine. But there is this like, it's all on my shoulders feeling.
And it's like, no, it's not. I. You're one person, you're one organization. You're at one time in a whole movement of people, sector, what, whatever, term you want to use, that you're part of this larger ecosystem that's working towards that vision with you. And if you can see that, you can take a deep breath, relax a little bit, and focus on what you do best.
Erin: Yeah, when I've done this work, cuz I've done theory of change obviously as part of like strategic planning processes and things like that when I've done this also with , like I've gone in and into like teach younger, students and like college students talking about things like how do we do, how do we start to shift our practices so that we can.
What did I call it before? It was like conscientious consulting, I think is how I talked about it. Like how do we shift our business practices, to be more, I don't know, probably inclusive jest, et cetera, like something of that nature. But , I think what I've, what I've heard from a lot of folks when they reach out to me, they're like, oh, I just wanna do what you do in the world, and how do we, how do I do this?
, and I'm like, okay, one. It's taken me a decade to get to this place. there's no, there's no quick fix, there's no silver bullet here to just kinda like do this work. And so much of what I've, how I've done this work is just so, like, it's just developed organically in a, in a way that's really unique to who I am, but it's, I think a lot of people are so, they have such an appetite to go out and, and be those kinds of change makers and they don't necessarily have.
They don't have the grounding yet to understand a lot of the things we just said, like that we don't do this, that, that it's, that we do, they don't realize that they can't do it on their own. They don't realize that they can't like that it's all focused on them.
So like, for instance, I've seen I've done a bunch of, I also judged a bunch of pitch competitions before. I don't know if you've done that before. It's super fun. But I just hear like these, these students who are just like coming at these things from a place where which they're so amazing, I should say that before I dive into this, but, but they're coming at it from such a narrow perspective of like, I'm gonna solve this problem, I'm gonna do it this way.
And they haven't necessarily thought about it from this broader perspective of like, you're going perhaps into like a community to try to solve this problem. Does that community even exist? Want you to solve this problem? Like, or is that really the solution? That's,
Carol: Is that the problem that they want you to solve?
Right. Have you talked to them? Yeah. What are their perspectives? What are their priorities? Yeah.
Erin: Yep. Exactly. So like part of like the theory of change for me too is just like helping them to, for like. Especially if we're, they're doing it on an individual level to kinda like to interrogate that a bit.
Like where, what are your motivations for trying to, to be quite unquote like a changemaker in the world? Like what is your motivation for trying to do this work and how do you get, and if it's really like once you've like tested it a little bit for yourself and like put it through the ringer and you come back to it and you're like, yep, this is still what I want to do.
, then how do you start to build around that so that it actually, so that it has some more teeth to it, so that it actually has so that it makes sense in the broader context of what you're trying to do. And is that, and have you really taken a closer look at what the community wants too?
That's, so those are some of the, the conversations I have with, I mean, with organizations, but also with individuals too, who are trying to go out there and figure out what their place is in the world.
Carol: Yeah, and it could be, I've heard career advice framed in the, in the point of view of saying, don't think about what you wanna do, but think about what problem you wanna solve in the world.
And so that could be a starting point, but at the same time, it's, what does the community want? What does the community need? What, what are their priorities? And then who's already doing work that you. Want to do and how can you get on their bandwagon first before you create your own bandwagon?
Erin: Right, right. Because a lot of people come at something without really a depth of understanding. And I, I mean, and I'll say that, like for myself too, when I first started doing food systems consulting, I remember, I'd had training in that and I had been so excited to go out and like, Do something.
And I worked with food pantries and things like that, and I was like, okay, well I'm gonna help. Like of course I sound like such a douche bag in younger me, what I mean?
Carol: We'll forgive your younger self
Erin: Okay. Yeah. We'll forgive the younger me, but I was just like I was, I did my master's degree at a time when obesity was like the big thing and I was like, oh, well we've got to like help.
I have to help people who are food insecure eat better. And like nowadays I'm just like, they have to eat healthier. I'm gonna help them, access local food and things like that. And now I look back and I'm like, Oh, I just didn't understand the systems level issues that were at play here.
Like, it's not that people can't access good food or, or I mean, well, yes, they can't access good food for a lot of different reasons, but it's not because they can't do it for whatever X, Y, Z. It's not because they're making that choices or they don't choices don't want to
Carol: do it, which I think is somehow at times how it's framed.
Erin: Exactly. It's like, oh, we actually have really. Bad policies in our, in, that are preventing people from being able to actually access food. We don't, people pay people living wages. We don't do X, Y, Z. And so it took me like a really long time to start to understand that like whenever I saw a problem on the surface, I.
What do I mean? That there was a whole like iceberg below that of like reasons why that problem was presenting the way that it was, and that like, if I didn't start to understand the depth of it, I was not going to be able to like even start to make a, an impact like even the smallest impact or difference on that.
And I think, and so that's why I, I, I always. I've, I've started to really understand the complexity of those kinds of things much more in depth. And I help my clients do that, and I help young people start to do that too, because I'm like, we can solve like a surface level problem, but if we start solve that surface level problem, who's to say that that's not going to give rise to a bunch of other problems down the road because we're not actually getting at the root cause of anything.
Carol: Yeah. And I think that's where processes like mapping out a theory of change can, it basically helps you start mapping out that iceberg. Yeah. What are all the factors that aren't as obvious? And what are all the assumptions built in? What are the things that we're not, not seeing on the surface that could help really make a different or more impactful Strategy to, to address, to address those wider concerns.
And I, I mean, I feel like there's sometimes in the sector a little bit of a false dichotomy between, we're gonna help the person in their, their, their immediate need versus the longer term policy, systemic thing. And to me, we need to do both. It doesn't have to be an either or. Some people will be drawn to one, some people will be drawn to the other.
And, and both. move, move things forward. Yeah. And make, make things more positive for people.
Erin: Yeah. Oh, I love those kinds of conversations we have with organizations though, like that depth of just starting to dive into it and starting to understand what is really like the thing here.
Like what are we trying to do? And I'm trying to think of a good example to share that wouldn't violate confidentiality at the moment, but like cuz I really, cuz I would love to be able to illustrate some of this, but.
Carol: Yeah, cuz it can be, I think that's what keeps people away from these kinds of processes cuz it sounds so esoteric and it's like, wow, we've got, we've got immediate, urgent work to do.
Why would we wanna buy that? We're going through a process
Erin: like this. Right, exactly. Like and kind. It's heady and it's just very, it can feel really abstract for people who like things to be a little bit more concrete. But I'll, like, I did a retreat with an organization and who works on it. Who does harm reduction work?
So, helping folks literally by, handing out clean syringes and things like that and does a whole lot of other things as well. But what it boiled down to as we were doing the retreat was that, One, we had to tackle stigma, in order to be able to like, to help, like the big picture is to reduce overdose deaths, right?
Like, and to give people everything that they need in order to live full, happy, meaningful lives ? And as we drill down more and more and more into that, it was like, oh, radical love. Is actually at the core of this. Mm-hmm. What do I mean? Like we actually have to figure out how to amplify radical love for everyone?
And like, and I give myself goosebumps thinking about that. Like it's when you start to delve into that and it's, and of course there's like, there's like a gazillion more layers of which, that, that come as part of that framework, but , it's. Or how do I do it ? Part of it is like, how do we infuse that radical love into, into the work itself?
Because that's such, that is like a key to being able to actually move forward with things. And to create and to actually transform our society and to one where we really like, where people who do use drugs are actually, they are treated as whole human beings worthy of respect and deserving of love.
And so, for me, like I wanna get down to that level with my, with my organizations and like, so that we can start to say, now how do we operationalize that? How do we operationalize radical love? Because if we can start to figure out how to do that and to put that into place, then we will really be able to, to do unbelievable, amazing things.
And I don't think that there's a lot of them. Like you were saying before, like for a lot of people to try to get to that place, they're just like, what is she talking about? What do I mean? Like what, what are you even talking about Erin? And some people just do not come along that journey with me always.
But once if they can, and if they do, if they can stick with it long enough, they'll be able to see something really, really powerful reflected in the final product. And they will have, just by having asked those questions of themselves, they are going to be a stronger organization for that.
Carol: Yeah, I mean, I can imagine how that. Could show up in so many different aspects of the organization, their culture, how they're treating each other day to day, all of that. If they're centering that, that, radical love and, and really putting that at the, at the center, then it ripples out in a, in lots of, lots of different ways.
Yeah. That's powerful. Yeah, for sure. Aspirational, definitely. So in previous episodes, I've asked a random icebreaker question at the end, and I am, I'm changing things up a little bit. Going forward and just one gonna ask each guest what permission slip would they give to nonprofit leaders, or what would they invite them to consider as they work to cultivate a healthy organizational culture?
So what would yours be? Either a permission slip or an invitation towards, I guess, that radical love that we're talking about. Yeah.
Erin: I mean,
I would want them to have a permission slip, I guess, to take the time out to really do that work, especially with their staff, with their stakeholders, to really ask themselves those kinds of questions because I think that a lot of leaders. And, their staff for sure too, like to lose sight of the mission work in the day-to-day.
They go from task to task. They never pick their head up and get to look at the bigger picture, the, the, the real, the big vision that they're working towards. And so giving themselves an opportunity just to reconnect to that periodically, I think would be transformative. In so many different ways, and then figuring out how to infuse some of that magic, like into, into more of the day-to-day too.
So like how do you keep that, how do you continue to keep that the reason why everybody got into this work in the first place, like alive and front and center for people. I mean, if they can do that, that'll be amazing.
Carol: Yeah, so they can keep that high from the retreat, the enthusiasm and bring it and figure out ways.
It can't, it can't just be a wish. You have to think about what are the different ways that you're actually going to keep bringing us back to our why.
Erin: Yeah, exactly.
Carol: So how can people find you and be
Erin: in touch? Yeah, people can find firstname.lastname@example.org and I also have my own podcast that you're gonna be on, Carol, I'm so excited, called Rise and Ruse Conversations for those who give a damn.
And folks can, probably the easiest way to find that is to just go to Instagram and type in at Rise and Ruse. And so just follow me. I would love to be able to Yeah, connect with anybody and if you go to my website, you can find my contact information and all that jazz too.
Carol: All right. Well, thank you so much.
Thank you, Erin. I really appreciated the conversation.
Erin: Thank you so much too. This was a really fun opportunity and yeah, and I hope that it'll be interesting for folks.
Carol: Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Erin, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Cindy Rivera Grazer of 100 Ninjas for her production support.
Mission: Impact is brought to you by Grace Social Sector Consulting. Grace Social Sector brings you whole-brain strategic planning, mapping, & audits for nonprofits and associations. We combine left-brain strategy and analysis + right-brain wisdom about human complexities for a proven, whole-brain, whole-organization process through which every stakeholder thrives. Reach out to us for support and facilitation of strategic planning, mapping your impact, auditing your services and getting an organizational assessment. We especially love working with staffed nonprofits and associations with human centered missions.
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In episode 74 of Mission: Impact, Carol Hamilton and her guest, Veronica LaFemina discuss
Veronica LaFemina is Founder and CEO of LaFemina & Co., an advisory firm supporting nonprofits and social impact businesses at the intersection of strategy, culture, communications, and change management. Veronica partners with organizations and their leaders to go beyond what “looks good on paper” to focus on what works well in real life. She is a leader, strategist, facilitator, trusted advisor, and certified change management professional with nearly two decades of experience as a senior executive at national U.S. nonprofit organizations and a high-impact consultant. Her work has been featured by Inc. Magazine, the Today Show, NPR, CNN, Capterra, and in news outlets nationwide.
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Carol: My guest today on Mission Impact is Veronica LaFemina. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit holistic strategy consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact. Veronica and I talk about why big change initiatives often fail. We explore why a map of how to get from A to B may not be sufficient, why the role of a key leader visibly supporting the change is so key and why radio silence is a bad sign.
In this conversation I really appreciated Veronica’s point that with a large change initiative the “launch day” is really the middle of a roll out – not an ending. And I appreciated what she said about preparing middle managers to answer questions from their staff. As a former middle manager, I can only think of a few times when leadership took the time to do that – to make sure we were as fully informed as we could be so that we could answer our staff’s questions. When you do not have answers – or your answer is I don’t know – it can undermine trust. And it really provides the opportunity for our brains as storytelling machines to go to town. Nature abhors a vacuum – and an information vacuum will be filled by speculation, rumor and other stories – then can become perceived as fact very easily. This is rarely malicious – it is just how we are wired – and in absence of information we will likely fill in the gaps with our story of what is going on to allay our anxieties about the unknown and to feel more of a sense of control and agency. And then we will likely believe our own stories – often not even realizing that it is just our thoughts and speculation about the situation.
The example that Veronica uses through most of our conversation is a technology project – which on the surface can seem like a technical not an adaptive change. Yet even with a change in tools we have to change our habits and some of our ways of being. And while this example may seem more simple than the very complex changes to culture that many organizations are attempting in becoming more equitable and anti-racist, there are many parallels to the common challenges and things that get in the way.
These include sustained leadership support, working to cultivate the conditions for success, recognizing what you are asking of people in what they will need to do to shift from one way of being to another, celebrating the bright spots and small wins.
Welcome, Veronica. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Veronica: Thanks, Carol I'm so happy to be here with you today.
Carol: So I'd like to start out each podcast conversation with what drew you to the work that you do, what motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Veronica: It's a great question. I like to joke that service has been in my DNA. I sort of was born into it. A family where service and being involved in the community was always a really important part of our lives. And so whether that was through volunteering, whether that was through scouts or church or community projects. I have many fond memories of being involved in figuring out how we can help our neighbors' lives be better, what we can each do to make our community a better place.
So how that's carried over in my professional life is I am very passionate about finding better ways of working so that we can ensure that folks in the nonprofit sector and the social impact world have the tools and support they need. And that we're really focused on getting to our goals, like on, on meeting the mission that we're here for. So, really mine is. A strong family basis and just some good reinforcement from the universe along the way that this is the right track to be on. I love that.
Carol: When I talk to guests so often, there's something early on that, that set them on their, this, this path and for me it was probably being the younger sister of a, a person with a disability and just watching them having to navigate the world and, and how, Systems are not necessarily set up for everybody, and how can we make that better?
How can we smooth the path for folks and make life more accessible, easier and and then, the same in, in the workplace. Like how, how can we get out of our own way to get further and closer to our mission?
Veronica: I love that and I resonate with that a lot too. Just the idea that there's so much potential, right? There's so much opportunity. I feel like I really see the world in our sector as a place where so much is possible, and if we can remove barriers, if we can take away unnecessary restrictions, unnecessary boxes that we're putting ourselves in, there's just so.
Much that is available to us in the form of human creativity, innovation, and the opportunity to solve some of the really big problems we have in our country and in our communities, in our world. So I love hearing your story too, Carol. That's really empowering and exciting. I
Carol: Removing barriers and smoothing the way is top of mind because I was just listening to a Hidden Brain podcast interview where they were talking about how Rather than pushing actually removing barriers makes it easier for people to, to do behavior change whether that's at the individual level or or at the organizational level.
And one of the things that you've worked a lot on is helping organizations. initiate those big change processes, which unfortunately too often don't go as planned. Don't end up with the results that people expected. I think the statistics are. I looked them up. They're pretty bad.
That the, the, the guesstimate, I guess, or maybe it's based on research that 70% of change efforts fail. What do you think are some of the things that, that, that do get in the way of organizations being able to move forward, change that they're really, that they really want and yet somehow it's not sticking.
Veronica: I am so passionate about this topic because I think in the social impact sector in particular, We get really excited about all of the ideas we have about a new program, a new way of working in our community that we can sort of dream and envision the impact of, but we don't always remember that in order to get there, we have to go through the process of going from where we're we are right now to that destination.
So we sometimes think it's as simple as, well, if I just draw a map, we'll know how to get there. But that's not true. And so I have worked in communications and change management and strategy work for almost 20 years both as a consultant and in-house and executive leadership roles. And I remember that feeling of frustration, like, why isn't this working?
We've, we've been thoughtful, we've planned well, we've done all these things, and I'm using air quotes here like that. Best practices tell you to do. Nothing was really working. Or when something was working, we couldn't always replicate it, right? The situation would change, the environment would change.
And so it was tough to understand what is most effective about this. So several years ago I went and got a change management certification because I was like, well, I've been doing change work my whole life. Now I wanna know what these guys, they, these large training companies or research companies are saying.
And it turns out that Prosci, which is where I got my certification, has been doing longitudinal research and why change fails for the past 25, 26 years. So it was interesting to me as a practitioner to see so much of my experience echoed in that research. One of the main reasons that change fails in organizations is the lack of a visible and engaged executive sponsor.
And if people aren't familiar with that term, an executive sponsor is usually someone who's on the senior most leadership team of an organization who is charged with being like the face, the voice, the person who's gonna make it happen, right? They've got the authority and ideally the budget to make the change happen.
And they may get really excited and come into the first couple meetings, kick off the project team, get everyone amped and ready to go. And then they disappear. And that lack of commitment and stamina at the executive level to stick with a change through its whole process is a leading reason why change doesn't work in organizations.
So, a lot of times a board or. An executive director might think, oh, okay, we've got these five big initiatives we're gonna launch this year. we're gonna have one quarter. We'll each take about three months. We'll just brush our hands, get it done, and everyone will be working differently.
And wouldn't it be nice if humans worked that way? But we just don't. So, so I often talk to leaders about the fact that if you are going to undertake a change, that could be something like, Implementing a new CRM or other technology that your team use needs to use, or something really big, like a cultural initiative where you're trying to put inclusion, diversity, equity, and access, like top of mind and as a part of how your organization works, how long are you willing to stick with that?
Is it three months? Is it six months? What if that change takes 18 months? What if it takes, what if it takes three years? That is a really important question. Executive sponsors and the people who are stuck influencing executive sponsors need to be asking themselves, what stamina do I have to be present to be engaged, to be vocal?
Because as soon as that person starts to disappear, staff automatically deprioritize. That change, they automatically say, well, if it's not that important and this leader is onto something new, then I need to shift my focus. I have to change my priorities to just follow them. So leaders, I sometimes call these leaders like hit and run change leaders where they may have great intentions, but they're not being honest with themselves about their capacity to stick with it, for the change, for the length of the change.
Carol: What you said at the very, very beginning where you said, five in one year that just made me go, ugh. Right. Maybe not so much. When I'm first talking to potential folks to work with, asking them what else is going on. Because if they're gonna do something, around the work that I do, whether it's strategic planning or mapping out their impact or some other project, but they.
Also are in the midst of doing a rebranding, or they're also in the midst of changing that CRM, which can be a big, actually a culture change. Huge. It's not gonna work to have it all going on at the same time. And Right. The leader doesn't have that same focus on what's most important.
And then that signals to staff, again, to follow the leader. What are they prioritizing today?
Veronica: And I, I think too it is normal and human to believe that we have the capacity to do way more than we can. And that's because when we think about our own lives even, right?
We think about everything that we get done in a day, or everything that we get done in a year, and we are like, well, surely as a group of humans, we could do more. But actually it is the opposite, right? When we're crafting change in our own lives, we know the audience pretty well, right? We know how to make adjustments so that we're increasing our motivation or increasing our ability, making things easier for ourselves to do so that we'll actually do the behavior we're aiming for.
But when we're working at an organizational level, even if your organization, if it's three people or if it's 30,000 people, We have to be aware of the needs that humans have when it comes to change and how we're probably not meeting them a lot of the time. When I talk to leaders, there are these concerns about, well, that takes so much longer.
I have all this pressure to deliver and perform and my. My response to that is if you have a PR pressure to deliver and perform, right, whether, again, whether it's from your board, whether it's from a key donor or someone in, a community funder, things like that, then they should want you to be able to get it right.
So the change sticks, right? So that we're not ticking a box Yes. Acquired new CRM. Like the, the aim of that is not that you turn the switch on for your new system. It's that the human beings who need to use it are using it effectively in making that a way of working for the organization. And I would say that's another big reason why change fails, is that organizations leaders are not clearly defining what success looks like, or they're picking the wrong measure, right?
So launch day is the success check instead of, six months after launch. X percent of employees are effectively using this technology every day or every week in their lives, right? They're not really accounting for the fact that this isn't just something we bought that is gonna sit on the shelf.
Like this is something that needs to be a way of working, and that takes time because as humans, we need practice. We're really great at understanding something intellectually and then never practicing it. Therefore, we're not sure if we're capable of doing that.
Carol:, I mean, I, I'm thinking back to a, a project that I was on when I was inside an organization and the amount of time and energy and resources that were put into the, to the planning, the deciding what, and it was a technology project, deciding what features we were gonna have, working all of that through getting to launch date.
But there was almost no thought or energy from the folks who were leading the project in. How are we gonna train people? There was a one day training, but then how are we gonna follow up a week later to say, have you actually gotten into the new CRM and have you tried this? Have you entered any data?
Have you tried to run a report? Any of that thing to actually do exactly what you're talking about, or change in behavior. Because the behavior that we saw beforehand was that people would run reports and then manage everything through spreadsheets. So the information always was lost and disconnected, which is obviously the exact opposite of what having a system like that is supposed to do.
But as you say, just having it doesn't create the end result unless you build the conditions for that.
Veronica: Right. And presumably, so here's what I'll say. Like presumably we have a good reason for this change, right? Well, let's give ourselves the benefit of the doubt that it has been a really thoughtful conversation about introducing a new piece of technology.
Or we do wanna be more inclusive and equitable as an organization. Like let's assume our hearts and our brains are relatively in the right place. Sometimes what happens is we treat these just as the projects that take us from Genesis to, okay, we did the launch day. We even did training. Check we did that and we didn't actually think about the fact that change management is the act of moving people, right?
Moving people from one way of being to another, which by the way is something we all could be really great at in the social impact sector, cuz that's so much of our work outside of our orgs too. And so, again, it's really common to not have solid communication strategies and training strategies in place.
Right? We. Sort of expect that we say it once or we announce to everybody at the same time, and that that will be enough and it isn't, right. There are reasons that we know we have to repeat things to supporters or donors seven or more times, right? For them to actually hear what we're saying. We know in the world of social media, like if we wanna get our organization seen, we have to keep getting out there and sharing the message and connecting and engaging in a real conversation with folks.
But especially, I mean, it's always been true, but I would say especially in remote workplaces, we forget how early we need to start engaging the other humans who we are working with to ensure we're not missing something. Because when you're deep in the weeds, it's really easy to believe that you've designed this perfect solution.
But you could get great intel by talking to people who are on the ground working with that system, or who are going to be really involved in carrying out that change. We don't always have that luxury, sometimes there are changes that are confidential in nature or, have to have some embargo date on them.
But that doesn't mean that we can't then plan to have a, like we can't have an appropriate strategy for how we'll communicate and train in that situation. so often, right? Again, it's like, hey, we're doing this thing and then there's blow back, and executive leaders or board members are flummoxed.
They don't know where that's coming from because they've just been thinking about and planning for whatever this is for six or nine months, and they're forgetting that this is brand new. To everyone else. And so we can't expect people to be open to a completely new way of doing things if we've spent very little time helping them understand why this change is needed, what we hope they'll do to help us make this happen.
Getting ready to teach them what they need, creating the knowledge that's there, giving them time to practice, right? We practiced again, practice. Is something we're so good at as kids, and then we just like to leave it by the wayside in our grownup years. Some knowledge and time to practice, like you're not gonna get it perfect a week after training.
None of us are that adept at a completely new system for the most part. And then also reinforcing it, right? The announcement isn't the end. It's actually a middle point milestone. Because, hey, we're flipping the switch on that thing, but it's all of the communication and conversation and, and really setting our managers, our people, managers up for success and to be the leaders we need them to be as we're having these conversations.
I mean, nothing sets a change back more than a manager saying to their team, well, I don't know. This is the first I'm hearing of it too. And when that's the thing you're hearing around your org, you can bet that you're going to be doing some repair work, right? Really doing some work to recover, trust and recover enthusiasm or momentum toward whatever change you're looking to move forward.
Carol: You're, what you're describing brings to mind a process that I was part of where in a volunteer organization we were going through a leadership change and I was on the committee that was looking for the next leader. And we had to keep reminding ourselves that we were in all of this.
It was, there was strict confidentiality around a lot of it. Who were you talking to and all of that? But we were in all the details. We were starting to be able to see the next phase, but the rest of the group was not part of that conversation. And so they were gonna be in a totally different spot when we made the big announcement.
Carol: And so what were things that we could do then? And I'm wondering if you talked about it being a middle phase. What are some of those things that organizations really need to think about if they really think about the whole arc? If the, if the launch is just the middle, then what, what's the second half?
Veronica: Sure. So what I'll, what I'll first say, right? So if the first part is really thinking through how we want this change to go in the first place, getting clear about what the priorities are and what success looks like, right? So that we can then use that to lay groundwork or start having conversations.
In the example you're talking about, Carol, we may not be able to say, who we're talking to or how many folks we've interviewed even, but we certainly can reinforce that the board is having conversations or hear, enough information to help folks come along and understand that this isn't something we've forgotten about.
When we look at, after Flip the Switch day, right? And not every change has that launch moment. Some of them are, are, gradual and, and build and become more robust over time. But in situations where we do have a, the new tech is live today or that thing, there are a couple of really key things to prepare for.
So one is that training your managers, right, your people managers, to be able to speak about the change with their teams really matters. We know from Prosci research and from other research out there that. Staff want to hear from the senior most level executive at the organization about why we're doing this change and what it means for the future of the organization.
So, from the vision holder of the organization, that's who they wanna hear the big picture from. What they wanna hear from their boss is, how's this gonna change my job? What's gonna be different for me? And most managers? Have not been put through formal training programs about how to communicate effectively about change, right?
Or how to just manage change on their teams. So thinking about what tools, right? And by tools I'm saying like what talking points? What emails, what kinds of Q and A documents can you provide to those managers? And then train them on, right? Have conversations with them, ideally in advance of the change so that when it's announced to the whole staff or when there's a big switch flip, they're able to immediately start having conversations with their team members about what's happening, what's expected of us, what this means Those tools can also include timelines, right?
So things like for the next month there will be opportunities for training and here are the training our team needs to take. My expectation is that everyone on our team will complete their training by X date and we'll come together and share and ask questions so that way I can communicate back to whoever's developed our training about things we're still not sure about.
It should include regular check-in communications. I think we have this perfectionistic mindset sometimes when we think about it as a launch and then we put out the big announcement that everything's gotta go perfectly. And again, that's an unrealistic expectation, right? What we want often is feedback or questions or concerns that people may have so we can then understand how to continue providing information or support.
That will help address those needs. The worst thing that can happen when you announce a change is that you get no feedback or commentary. Because what that means is people aren't talking to you as the leader, but they sure are talking to each other on Slack channels or teams, channels or texting each other and saying, can you believe this?
I can't believe they're adding one more thing to our plate. So really thinking through, not just that month after the new thing gets launched, but. What do you want to communicate six months from now? What do you hope it looks like and how can you continue to ensure that you as the leader, are showing up and talking about the continued importance of this, sharing some signs of success, showcasing folks on the team who've made great progress or doing great work with this change.
So not just like the project team that launched it, but hey Carol, like came up with this fantastic new report that we're using in our. Area of the business because that was made possible by this new system, right? It unlocked opportunity and information. And so using all of that as a way to continue that forward momentum, get people engaged and motivated because even if they're motivated on day one, it's a lot harder to be motivated two months later when you haven't done your training requirements yet.
So making it as easy as possible and providing those motivating factors is really important.
Carol: And I love that point about engaging with the managers beforehand to help them prepare. It gives them a chance to ask their questions, have their visceral reaction to the plan if they, if they weren't aware of it before so that they can work through their emotions before they're then having to answer questions from their team.
I think there's a lot that is really just taking that step, which, There, there's some steps there, right? That you lined out, but in, in a lot of ways, it's not that complicated. And could really make such a difference in people being ready. thinking about what are the waves of folks as you, as you ripple this out, I think of the The innovation there's a graph, I'll have to look it up on what it is when, when you go from the early adopters to the, to the, the laggard, the laggards are over here, but the people in the middle and there's this big gap.
And oftentimes, to be able to, in an organization, bridge that gap would be to do exactly the, some of the things that you're talking about.
Veronica: And I, I think too, one of the great benefits of the time we're in now is that we have seen that our organizations can change, right? There's been some extreme external pressure for that in some cases, but, organizations that were struggling for a decade prior to considering how they would make telework or work from homework figured it out in an emergency situation.
And that doesn't mean you should keep working under emergency protocols, right? You have to figure out a way to make it part of your. Work going forward, but we have the capacity to change. And so giving ourselves, setting ourselves up for success by not, like purposely doing these things that make change fail is really important.
I think this happens sometimes with executive leaders who, they're not ready themselves. Right. They might get pressure from the board. They might not believe in it. They might prefer their Excel spreadsheets to using a CRM that feels complicated. And so when leaders are not ready and are not willing to hold themselves accountable to doing the things that they ask everyone in the organization to do, they're like, your staff aren't missing that.
People see what's happening. So being. Honest with yourself about, are you ready to do this right now? And if not, what would it take to get ready? What, what does it mean for you to be willing to learn something new? Honestly, a lot of the time now, that might mean that, that doesn't mean that, every single person is doing things the exact same way in the organization, but nothing like we're, the.
The words I'm looking for, I guess, are like, nothing moves more like wildfire through an organization than like when someone is doing a workaround or someone is like, flouting the system and no one's, no one cares, right? Because then they're like, well, why am I spending all this time. Entering data this way or trying to be, trying to follow things.
When, leadership, like clearly it's not a priority for them, right? So it's very, like I talk to, with leaders, I work with about the importance of our, of having a high say, do ratio, right? So if we're saying we're gonna do these things, then we actually need to follow through. Otherwise we're just like having the feel good moment of having addressed it verbally instead of it becoming a real way of life.
And, Change management takes trade offs. It does, and I, a lot of leaders don't like to hear that. They wanna think, well, we can say yes to all these things and get it done. But really great change management requires that we say no to certain things, or we say not yet, or we say that comes next after this part gets done.
It's now that we can't have multiple changes going on at once. But if we overcommit, if we say yes to everything, then none of it sticks. And that means a legacy for you as a leader of someone who had a lot of great ideas, but not a lot of true impact. And I believe we want a sector full of leaders who have great ideas that have great impact too.
Carol: I just, it makes me think of the need to just integrate that and have it become normal. Right. No longer the thing you have to think of or the checkout list you have to look through and read to remind you how to do the thing. It just becomes the new, new normal and. And going back to that, the senior leader's sponsorship, but also commitment to a change.
I mean, a lot of organizations over the last several years have spent a lot of time and energy focused on trying to build and reshape their cultures to be more inclusive. And I'm part of a collective that works on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Work and, and a couple of my colleagues were working with an organization and there were a lot of and mostly we, we were still at the leader level trying to move forward with them.
And it just became clear. Not that they weren't committed, they had the, the say they had that, but there were some ways in which the organization worked and overworked chronically. That was never gonna really allow them to focus on it and do the things that they needed to do to make the changes.
And so we ended up actually exiting out of the project and, and not working further with staff because we didn't want to be in the position where we'd raised expectations from staff without that leader's commitment. To really take the time, energy and, and fundamentally shift how the organization was working to make it possible to do things differently.
Veronica: Well, and there's something really important what you said there, Carol, which is we have to be pretty self-aware as leaders in this space. It's hard, right? Because for many of us who've been working in social impact for a long time, there is a culture around. Well, we have to, we like to use the phrase we have to all the time, and I, as a facilitator, hate the phrase we have to, because if we're saying we have to, it means we actually don't have any idea how we're gonna do it.
But we just think it's important to keep on our strategic plan list or peg board or things like that have to, is not a priority. That's a check box. And so many of these initiatives deserve. More time, more attention, more thoughtfulness. And if we can't give them that time and space, it doesn't mean that they aren't important, but it means we need to rectify some stuff to really be honest with ourselves about what we're capable of, right?
Like we have a constant drive, like a constant productivity culture, right? Like, well, if I. Just do this one more thing for a client that we serve, or if I, I just push a little harder and launch this new program. Like us, we get so spun up in the busyness of it that we fail to recognize that we're actually preventing the change that we're wanting to make happen, happen.
Like we're, we're working against human nature, we're working against how organizations work and that. Sets us up for some heartbreak, right? Like we, when our heart is so big that our hands cannot keep up with that, the appetite that our heart has created. We have to be, we have to be honest with ourselves about capacity.
And that's, talking to leaders right now, I'm really heartened to hear more leaders, more executive directors and CEOs really thinking through, How am I gonna have this conversation with my board? How am I gonna have the conversation with them about how we are trying to do so much that none of it's gonna stick, right?
Or that we're, attempting to like, grab some duct tape and rub a few pennies together and, and make something happen. But like, if your staff aren't well informed, if you aren't an organization that is practiced and changing the way you work. Everything else becomes harder, right? Your staff are the face of your organization to the community, to the folks you serve.
And so like when they're not well informed, when they're not on board, when they're feeling insecure or stuck or out of the loop, that all really flows out into the work you do on the mission side. So, if you're, if you're a leader who's like, well, but we're like the mission and we've just gotta keep going.
Well, right. Okay. But to do that effectively, we have to make sure that the people who power this organization know what's needed, know why we're doing it, and have the tools and information and support to do it effectively. Otherwise, it's just like a bunch of stats we throw in an annual report that don't really mean what we are, what we are hoping to accomplish with our impact.
Carol: You mentioned the have to, we have to do it being a red flag for you that, that it's probably not actually gonna happen. Are there other things that you hear or people say that make you step back and say, oh, wait a second. Let's dig into that a little bit more. Oh,
Veronica: One of my, I mean, again, another big reason. Change fails because we designate the wrong executive sponsor. Mm-hmm. And what it normally sounds like is something like, we really like diversity, equity and inclusion are part of our values. We strongly believe this is important. We wanna be an equity led or equity centered organization.
And our employee resource group, right? Our culture committee. Our diversity committee, they're gonna lead that effort. Well, you. That employee resource group is often staffed by super enthusiastic, really smart, really incredible staff members who probably don't have positional or budget authority to do anything in the organization without the executive team being heavily involved.
And so when we delegate responsibility for leading an initiative, that group can be such an essential part of helping us move forward with change. But it is. Super unfair to put that on the shoulders of staff who already are giving extra time already out of their like willingness and commitment and desire and their values.
Like they wanna make this organization better. They're already doing that. And then you're saying, but we're not gonna give you any of the executive support or the budget or the authority to make any of this happen. So, when I talk to leaders and they're looking to delegate who that executive sponsorship will be like, it's someone without who may not be on the executive team.
I could even be a board member. We have to have a really serious conversation about how well that board member understands the workings of the organization. Are staff willing to speak up to this person to tell them what they think won't work? Because if you can't have honest conversations, As you're crafting these changes, what you end up with is a bunch of people saying yes to things that won't work, and then you don't find it out for six plus months because they're so terrified to talk to the board about it because of how the power structures that exist between board members and staff.
So I would say that's another big one I hear quite a lot. And, and the other one would be more, as we're. It's getting through it right as we've done our, our latch and, and things like that. It'll be people on the training end saying, well, we, we did the training. We gave the training on this particular topic.
We put it together. It worked, but not like verifying. Not having those check-ins about, okay, but what are we testing for Exactly right. What is it that we were training to do? Are we just training someone how to generically use this platform? Or are we training them? How do we use it here? What that means for all our policies and processes, right?
So when different members of the team get very pigeonholed, And while we, we did the training or I made a communications plan, instead of really thinking about it holistically, like we're working together to move this group of humans to a new way of working they are not being like, what I need right now as training or I could really use this piece of communication.
It's all gotta work in an immigrated way. And so, when I hear leadership teams or teams being pretty fragmented right? Or pretty siloed from one another. That's another moment I take to say, like this is an all in thing. We've all gotta be on the same page. If we are expecting the whole organization, like if we can't be on the same page, it's super unlikely that the rest of the organization is all gonna be able to come together around this.
So let's spend that time and energy now figuring out what's needed, but then also how we cross over, how we communicate, how we're gonna bring feedback back to the group. So that we can have the result we're looking for. Right. Which is a new way of working with this
Carol: organization. And you bring up a whole other topic, which is The, the leadership team that is a team in name only, but I don't think we're coming to the end here, so I don't think we could open up that whole can of worms.
But. Any, any, any other you've told us the main things. Let me see if I can name them out. The executive sponsor, you need one. They need commitment. Whoever you're working with needs, resources, and launch is just the middle. How are you continuing to support people as they change their behavior?
What I'm thinking of would be like, how can you create it so it's more of just in time versus a one-time training? Yes, job aids are different, resources, the way that people go now they Google something and they look something up on YouTube for a three to three minute how to do whatever the thing they're looking for.
So, What, what did I miss? Anything or is there one other important one that we need to name? I
Veronica: would just say, a lot of it is do we have all the right resources, right? The right resources for a change include budget. So not just the budget we spent on the new CRM, but like the time, the train, additional training, the additional resources we may need to pull in to help us prepare and be ready to implement this change.
And also the resources include. Really well informed managers, right? Like we, if we think about the kinds of leaders, we need those managers to be and recognize that very often they're not supported in that endeavor, then we can really think about like, how can we ensure that that is our primary thing, the thing we start with, instead of being an afterthought that comes at the end, like these people are the front line.
Of ensuring this change happens. How can we surround, protect, and support them with the right tools and materials? And so, the switching from a project mindset of change to how humans change mindset of change is a really important way of considering change management in our organizations.
And why change fails, like, Humans are not, waterfall Gantt charts. They just, they don't work that way. So how can, how, come on, why not, right? Like, how can we apply the right methodology, the right approach, the right tool to the right situation so that we're not left confused at the end of why things didn't work.
Carol: You were talking, I also had the, what came to mind was the last part of a yoga class where you do Shavasana and you lie down so that you can integrate the practice that you've had from that previous 45 minutes or half hour. Mm-hmm. So make sure that you have that in your not project project.
So at the end of every episode, I ask a, a, a random icebreaker question, so I've got one here for you. Who would you most like to sit next to on a 10 hour flight and why?
Veronica: Oh, gosh, that is so, that's a really good one and so tricky, Carol. Okay, so I. I've been thinking a lot lately about Juliet Gordon Lowe, who founded the Girl Scouts and what she would think about the world we live in now and the position and like, and just space that girls and women take up and what leadership looks like today.
So I think I would probably choose her because when you think about the movements that have truly grown and blossomed and continued to evolve over time, I really think the Girl Scouts are like a huge inspiration. An example of what it looks like to do the modern expression of your mission.
So I would be curious, like to get her perspective on what, what it looks like, what does it look like to her now? Is this what she envisioned? How has it changed? And what, what change was she hoping to make in the world? Because I think. She didn't get to see all of this and what exists today.
So the opportunity to talk with the founder of the movement that has become such an integral part of our society would be really fascinating for me.
Carol: I'm sure that would be, that would be a fascinating, fascinating conversation. So what are you excited about? What's coming up for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Veronica: I am really enjoying doing a lot more one-on-one work with executive leaders these days. So, as someone with a communications background and then moved into strategy work, I find myself continually moving upstream to say, how can we remove barriers?, what is it that's needed? And I'm finding that so many of the executive leaders I talk to are incredibly exhausted.
They know that. Everyone's looking to them for their vision and direction, and they know it's in there, but they're struggling to get it out and to make time with the day-to-day chaos that goes into running a nonprofit a lot of times. So I'm really enjoying that one-on-one work. One-on-one work with strategic leaders, both, as a strategic advisor capacity and in coaching.
And then I'm also really enjoying spending more time talking to folks like you Carol, on, on podcasts. And I've had a couple of speaking engagements coming up lately and, and some coming later in the year. So the opportunity to write and speak about these ways of improving the ways that we think and plan and work so that we're.
Letting go of the stuff that's not working. We're letting go of the expectations of how things should be and instead being willing to embrace different ways, being willing to say, maybe we did that way, that way for 30 years, but I'm, I'm ready and willing to try something new. So that has been great for me and obviously I really enjoy connecting with folks on LinkedIn as well.
Lots of great conversations over there that you are always such a great contributor to as well. So I love getting to exchange ideas and perspectives with folks who connect with me there.
Carol: All right. Well thank you so much. I really appreciate the conversation and might have to have you back for another one about one of the other juicy topics that comes up through our LinkedIn conversations.
Veronica: I'm here for it, Carol.
Carol: Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Veronica, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Cindy Rivera Grazer of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
I am Carol Hamilton, nonprofit consultant and podcast host. My passion is helping organizations cultivate healthy, inclusive cultures that live their values, fostering learning, creativity and results. Find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting and download free resources.
Grace Social Sector Consulting, LLC, owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of the Mission: Impact podcast, with all rights reserved, including right of publicity.