Episode 09: This week we’re talking to Carol Vernon.
We talked about:
Carol Vernon is a certified executive coach and principal of Communication Matters, an executive coaching firm that helps leaders and teams elevate their executive presence and communication skills in order to grow their impact. Carol was inspired to start Communication Matters after years of observing that doing your job well isn’t enough. Without executive presence and the ability to communicate effectively with diverse stakeholders, leaders can’t achieve their full potential or achieve the results they seek. Previously, Carol was the senior communications director at the National Cable and Television Association, as well as acting executive director of the cable industry’s education foundation, with both people management and budget responsibilities. Prior to that she worked on Capitol Hill and on more than a dozen political campaigns.
Welcome to Mission impact, 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 host, the nonprofit 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 for the purpose of creating greater mission impact. Carol Vernon is a certified executive coach and principal of Communication Matters. An executive coaching firm that helps leaders and teams elevate their executive presence and communication skills in order to grow their impact. Carol was inspired to start Communication Matters after years of observing that doing your job well isn't enough without executive presence and the ability to communicate effectively with diverse stakeholders, leaders cannot achieve their full potential or achieve the results they seek. Previously, Carol was the senior communications director at the National Cable and Television Association as well as acting executive director of the cable industry's Education Foundation, with both people management, and budget responsibilities. Prior to that, she worked on Capitol Hill and on more than a dozen political campaigns. Welcome to episode nine of the Mission Impact podcast.
Carol Vernon and I have a great conversation about communication, something so key to how organizations and teams operate. She explains four typical communication styles and why leaders need to be mindful of each when they communicate with others. We touch on what shows up in communications now that so many teams are working remotely, why it is so key to avoid assumptions as you work remotely and why having a conversation with your teammates, colleagues and volunteers about your communication norms is even more important now than it was in the past. We also consider how people can keep networking even while face to face events are canceled. So welcome, Carol.
Thank you, glad to be here.
So just to get started and to give people some context, what drew you to this work? How would you describe your journey?
I've worked in associations, nonprofits, and in the political world for quite some time, I always loved the work I did. I always felt very much focused on getting it done and eventually observed how you get it done matters oftentimes, just as much as getting it done. I started looking at how leaders were focusing on the how.
When did you start working with other leaders on that? And in that how, do you focus particularly on communication? Often when something isn't working in an organization, as an organization development consultant, I often hear people say, well, you know, communications just aren't working. What would you say makes communications challenging within an organization?
Yeah, absolutely. We are all different people. We as a society thrive on and could celebrate differences on many levels. But we forget the fact that communication is a big part of who we are. And we communicate differently. Each of us has preferences, and we have the ability to play with our preferences a bit if you will adapt them to other people's styles, but we often don't do it with teams. We have gender differences, cultural differences, all kinds of differences in terms of how we show up and it impacts the way we communicate with each other, which impacts our ability to work together.
Can you say a little bit more about those communication preferences? Are there some common things that you see show up in terms of the way people approach communications and they're probably not even thinking about it? It's not necessarily something that they're particularly aware of?
Absolutely. Again, communication preferences are something to some degree, they're hardwired, we're born with them just like we're born with a certain personality preference, right? We’re different. Some of us are more introverted, some of us are more extroverted. We have a communication preference, some of us tend to be very direct, very to the point and we don't need to meet face to face, we're fine right now and in the remote work world we're pretty comfortable with that. Sometimes we'll say that's more a masculine communication style, not that it's only for men, lots of us are very much a masculine, to the point, communication style. So there's some people who have a very direct to the point style, can they shift it? You bet they can. They can adapt it to talk to somebody who has a more traditional, when you use the word feminine again, does not mean that you know, speaking to you as a woman, but we tend to be more people focused, we're listening for how's that going to impact somebody, a real direct communication might not meet our needs, because we're going to listen more for how's that going to impact me or how that is going to impact my colleagues or my team or my organization. We're listening more for the people part. There's some of us who have more of a preference for the details. We're listening for the real detailed piece. So there is a communication style here, neither a feminine or masculine style, rather just a preference for more detailed, more systematic, more how kind of communication style. And then there's some of us who have more of that dialogue, I call it a why style. We're listening for the big picture. Why are we doing it this way? Not because we don't think it's a good way. We just want to hear different things. We communicate differently. And some of us are very much right to the point. Some of us are how, give me all the details systematic. Some of us are who, how does it impact me? Who's involved? Who's going to be impacted by what happens here? And some of us are, why, why are we doing it this way, not to derail it, but just want to step back, want to look at the big picture, give them time to process.
And it's interesting thinking about those as individual communication preferences and some are really more preferred in our culture, in the American culture than others. I think the direct communication style is definitely preferred. And getting to the point, just do it, all those kinds of things. And in other cultures, you know, it's the exact opposite where you know, it's people first. And if you haven't taken the time to do some small talk, ask me about my family, ask me about how my weekend went, that's considered rude.
Every organization has its own culture also, because obviously, every society has, all these pieces lay on top of the crucial part of communicating, which in the world we're living in today this is how we're collaborating. It's all about how we're, how are we communicating?
And as we're working now, remotely, what do you think is really important for leaders to consider as they consider their executive presence in a virtual world?
Well, we're using that term right now, the idea of sort of digital body language or digital communications, really being able to, to step back and it's not just about camera angles, hey, we're on zoom, and we got to make sure our camera angle looks good. It's really so much more than that. Digital communications in the remote world is just ripe for misunderstanding. There's so much here that we're not going to see, where if I were sitting across from you, I get a better sense of your mindset, I would know what you're thinking. I'd be able to pick up more on it. In fact, even, what could ultimately lead to conflict between individual leaders, between teams between whole organizations,
In the virtual world, or doing online meetings, working collaboratively, working remotely I think sometimes when we were face to face, people could assume that they knew kind of what the other person was thinking or they might pick up on a vibe from them. And they might be right about that, and they might be wrong. And so in some ways, now that we're forced to work remotely, one of the things that could invite people to do is to actually slow down, check their assumptions, ask more questions, check in with people more often so that they are getting a fuller picture of how folks are feeling, how's it going for them their work, etc?
Carol, that's a great point. There's a lot of opportunity right now, in terms of the world we're in, the world we're in in terms of digital communications, yes, the question around the idea of presence. And I think having a strong presence in the digital space is a lot about respect, a lot about trust, how do we show that in the digital space, it'll kind of have to do with the speed in which we respond to something. It could be everything from, you know, who do we see on that communication, there's so many pieces about having a strong presence offers a lot of opportunities for us to build more trust. To be more clear, in this case, some sort of short messages are not always the clearest messages, brevity could lead to a lot of confusion. Having a strong presence in the digital space is about, again, so much more than how we're showing up on camera. It's all the parts of communication, it's our words, it's our voice. And we have to think about those coming through in the different ways in which we are communicating right now.
Yeah. And it could be that people are paying even more attention to, you know, tone of voice, etc. Because that's what they're limited to, mid range up in terms of what they can see on video if people have video on and then and I do think that actually taking the time to think about some of those things you didn't have to think about before, which is, how is your computer positioned? How are you showing up on that video screen? What are people seeing, what's behind you, what messages do you want to convey in terms of that presence is something that we probably never had to consider in terms of our home offices or our home spaces before.
Absolutely, there's no question. Everything we do is communicating something and I go back to that idea of trust. And I almost want to say grace, Carol, this word in your company's name, Grace, Social, we need to give people a little bit of grace here, we need to assume good intent is there in the way we're communicating right now. There's a lot more opportunity for misunderstanding, somebody doesn't have their camera on, oh, they must not be engaged. Maybe they don't have their camera on because something's going on in their home or wherever they're working from. From that moment, we need to assume good intent, we need to create a little space for one another. I think the strongest leaders are communicating by showing we care. And I know with my coaching clients, right now, I'm noticing those who are taking the time, I don't want to say they're, you know, taking time to find out how the weekend went. But they're taking time just to slow down and to show that they care. They're really being very intentional in terms of their presence, how they're showing up, you know, they're getting to the point, but they're not, it doesn't mean that they're not taking the time, it doesn't mean that they're over relying on that very direct, very bottom line communication style, they're flexing, they're adapting their styles. They're creating space for others right now.
And you also focus in particular on women's leadership, what are some of the things that that women in particular can do to enhance their leadership?
Oh, terrific question. I think right now, women, just like men have, like many of our male colleagues have a lot of competing priorities. And I think, again, that opportunity to just to be a little bit vulnerable here, it'd be a little bit more authentic given I don't know if it'd be more authentic, but I believe women have that, women leaders have another opportunity to really think about how they're communicating authentically, to this point, this isn't the time to sugarcoat things, this isn't the time to be sort of stepping back, and I've got to protect my team, we need to really think about, and I know some terrific women leaders who are being very much focused on being direct and to the point.
What are you seeing in terms of hearing from your coaching clients of how they're seeing the current situation that we're in, remote working, the pandemic, the protests, all of the things that are going on? How are they seeing that show up on their teams?
I think the world we're living in is causing stress for many people, and we all experience stress in different ways. Again, we're all you know, we're all so different and we're experiencing it in very different ways. We experienced it as a whole society, but each of us is doing it differently. And what I'm seeing, again, from my leaders who are challenged right now is to look at how to communicate, how to shift and adapt their communications, to get the most out of their team. A coach and client said to me the other day, I'm walking a fine line between trying to motivate my team and help them move forward and not burn out my team. And I thought, how interesting to see, he said I'm just totally intrigued by all the opportunities that are in front of us, this sort of the opportunity to do things in different ways. And he said, but I'm finding that I'm having trouble getting other people to look at those. I'm finding some of that also that my clients are challenged by how to flex that and then we're also dealing with just the realities of there are some of us who are digital natives and some of us generationally have different levels of adaptation and a learning curve with technology. So we're seeing leaders need to really not just show up, so this presence is not like just let's fake it till we make it, they genuinely are looking for ways to be to be empathetic, to show up authentically, and to recognize we're different. We're all different. So communicating the goals, they're slowing down, they're probably spending more time communicating than if we were sitting across from each other in the office.
Yeah, because I think in the office, there's sometimes an assumption that word is getting around or communicated and once you're remote, and folks are not right there, you have to think a little more deliberately about it, rather than just kind of assuming that communication will flow through the organization. In terms of that burnout, I've seen some articles recently about how with more and more folks working from home, especially in the association world, certain types of nonprofits that folks are working longer hours since it's all one thing now work, home, everything together. It's all bleeding together and how are you seeing leaders manage that? And keeping work life balance?
I agree with everything you've said, Carol, and I'm observing the same thing. And in talking with some of my clients, in fact, just this morning, I had a coaching call with a terrific leader. As we were talking through the idea of boundaries, we were noting the fact that she's had to step back and create new quote unquote norms, new communication norms around her availability. So this idea, we're so used to you sending me a message, I'm gonna respond, oh, he texts, it's even more important, I'm going to get right back to you. We need to, we need to clarify those communication norms for the world we're in right now. The opportunities here are terrific for teams to be even more effective, more flexible, more adaptive, but without communication norms to help guide them again, right from misunderstanding. My coaching client was talking about the fact that it feels like 24/7, and in this case, this particular terrific leader has young children, and 24/7, she's always sort of split between one or the other, is it the family? Or am I at work? And she said, they're totally integrated. And I think a lot of us are experiencing that crossover. So creating communication norms for our teams is key for this world. And these are norms that may have a long term impact on the way organizations work and are going to work in the future.
Yeah, for sure. And one of the other things that you do is help people be more strategic about their career progression and network. What are some of the things that people can do now, without those more traditional networking events to move their career forward in this interesting time?
I'm hearing all kinds of exciting things that I wouldn't naturally have a thought of, I enjoy the whole process of going out and networking, I've watched some terrific leaders, you know, create really terrific sort of connections with people. And in this space now there's also terrific ways of doing it. But it means doing it differently, being very intentional about perhaps some of the networking groups and opportunities that are out there to meet people in the virtual space to do one on one follow up. So in terms of career progression, and continuing to build out, build out our networks in a very strategic way. We need to think about who are some of the people we do need in our worlds? I don't believe networking is ever a quantity, it really has to be very strategic, and thinking about what do we have to give others? What kind of expertise can we be sharing with others? What kind of info do I have that might be helpful to others? And we need to think about what kind of info would help me continue to build a new sort of community? Is that sort of a traditional way of what I have to give here? And then what is it I want to get? What do I want to learn, though? I mean, what do I have? What do I want to learn about how online is offering all kinds of opportunities to connect with other people? I'm watching my association clients create unbelievably powerful ways of networking online. And then I think it's the one on one, I think it's the individual follow up. Again, it's not about quantity, we need to be incredibly mindful of who we need in our world right now. And I dare I say, we also need to be careful about what we built, who right now we need to protect ourselves from, you know, the key piece here is we need to think about our own control, ourselves, that may be one of the only things right now we have 100% control over and think about who we need and protect, again, possibly who we need to protect ourselves from.
Yeah, it's been interesting, since all the events are now going online. One thing I'm actually seeing is, in some instances, some local associations that I had been involved in, you know, now we're seeing participation from people across the country, internationally. And then another very interesting thing that I didn't really think about, until I started doing this as I would be on a zoom call, or whatever networking thing, you know, because each little box, the person usually has someone's name written there, have written all the names down, look the people up in LinkedIn, you know, follow up afterwards, if I wanted to connect and have a conversation, and I know that I am following up with and you talked about quality versus quantity. But in this case, I'm actually following up with more people from a zoom event than I would have if it had been an in person event because I know that I wouldn't, I mean, yes, if you can get someone's business card, that's great. But you know, I'm not going to go around, peering at their name tag and trying to remember what their name was and write it down and then and then do the follow up. And so it's actually made it for me, it's made it easier to be consistent about that.
Carol, I love that example. We're also different, and some of us are thriving in the online world in terms of creating those relationships. And the truth is it is definitely more challenging for some others. For those of us who are more extroverted, we need to step back and allow other people in the online world more opportunity to step up. For those of us who are more introverted, we need to make the time to be able to come to something very prepared and ready to contribute, it's not the time to step back online. When we step back, I can't tell you how many times I've heard my coaching clients say things, the team seems disengaged. And you know, we've kind of talked to is it truly disengagement? Or perhaps are people taking time to think about what we're building in ways so this idea of something we're building, a network in the virtual space, you bet, there's going to be some people who are going to thrive in it. And I love to hear that you are Carol. And I think you have a terrific practice there of identifying who, for instance, is in a zoom or any kind of networking event, and then doing the individual follow up.
Right. That's all individual conversations. I mean, the event itself is a jumping off point, but then you know that I'm taking the time to reach out one on one. And the other thing that I've been doing with that is we'll set something up and is there a zoom link? I'm like, no, let's just talk on the phone. Because we're spending so much time on video these days. For those one on one, it's not necessary to get on video. I mean sometimes it's nice, but I feel like folks are also experiencing fatigue being on so many video calls. So those one on ones, I'm definitely just just having a phone conversation. And it works just fine.
Funny to think that the phone call is becoming sort of like what was old is new again. Pick it up, picking up the phone becomes a differentiator, it really allows us to say I care, it's really different. In this world, when we all have lots and lots of emails, it tends to instead pick up the phone. And you know, something that's also pretty obvious within here that the meetings that you would set up, a coffee meeting, for instance, was getting yourself to the place sitting down there, ordering the coffee, all of the pieces that took 90 minutes to do all that. And now we don't need to be on a zoom meeting for an hour, what was an hour might look like a 22 minute meeting. This is part of the idea of communicating respect and trust and having good intent is this idea that we may not need all this time that we put into it. What I keep going to is the idea of what's the opportunity here that we want to think about in terms of communicating. We may have a whole lot more opportunity to be more strategic with how we're communicating. This isn't about quantity. This is about quality.
We'll be back after this quick break. Mission Impact is sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting. Grace Social Sector Consulting helps nonprofits and associations become more strategic and innovative for greater mission impact. Download free resources on strategic planning, program, portfolio review, design, thinking and more at gracesocialsector.com/resources. We're back on Mission Impact. On each episode, I play a game asking one random icebreaker question. I have a couple here. So what is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
I think everyone at least once in their lifetime should go to a place that's on their bucket list. To make that happen in whatever way that is, to be able to experience how other people are living, that just can't be beat. So an opportunity to try some other place. See what it's like.
So what are some places on your bucket list?
I am absolutely fascinated right now by Vietnam. And what had been my hope this year to get to Vietnam at the end of the year, and we're going to postpone our trip probably another year. So that's what I've been reading a lot about, culture there and opportunities to travel through the country. I can't wait.
So what are you excited about? what's what's up next for you kind of what's emerging in your work?
Thanks so much for asking. And the biggest change for me is that with a lot of our executive coaching work I do with associations and organizations other than nonprofit and organizational leaders is going very virtual. So I miss the in person connection, but we're doing a lot more zoom. So trying to continue to, to build on that and find ways to work with teams in the virtual space. Again, I don't think that's going to be short term. I think when we move through this and of course we will, I think the way I'll work with teams will look different. And I'm really excited thinking about that. I've had a group of women leaders that gather over a four month training program focused on their executive presence as association, nonprofit leaders. And we're going to take that program virtually later this year. So I'm pretty excited about that as well. That's great.
Awesome. And how can people find more about you and get in touch?
Link in with me if we haven't LinkedIn, I'd love to connect with you. That way I post things there and check out my website, which is www.commmatters.com. I look forward to connecting with folks. All right.
Well, thank you so much, Carol.
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking with you.
Thank you for listening to this episode. You can find the links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/show-notes. We want to hear from you. Take a minute to give us some feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. Thanks and see you next time.
Sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting. http://www.gracesocialsector.com/
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This week we’re talking to Becca Bartholomew.
We talked about:
• Ensuring all voices are included in planning processes
• Why it is important for leaders to not only have intelligence but also have emotional intelligence and somatic intelligence
• What the buffering sign on your computer has to tell us about today’s work environment
Referred to in the episode:
Barry Oshrey’s Tops, Middles and Bottoms
The Ladder of Inference
Your Body is Your Brain by Amanda Blake
A facilitator and coach with expertise in organization development (OD), Becca has extensive experience working with groups and individuals to foster communication and effective collaboration among diverse stakeholders. Becca helps her clients implement strategies that increase their emotional intelligence and efficacy. She is known for her clear communication, innate ability to foster trust, and firm, yet gentle approach to helping others recognize their blind spots and engage specific tools to articulate and reach their goals. She gracefully supports her clients toward self-reflection, new learning and increased awareness of their impact on others. She works with leaders of all types and has a special passion for those newer to leadership as well as those who hold societal privilege and want to address their roles in upholding and then dismantling systems of oppression.
Carol Hamilton: Welcome Becca to the podcast. Great to have you on.
Becca Bartholmew: Thanks for having me.
Carol: Just to kind of give people some context and get us started. Could you just describe kind of what drew you to the work that you do and, and how describe your journey to where you are now?
Becca: Sure. I'll give you the abbreviated version. I really feel like what I'm doing now has brought together a whole bunch of threads of my life into one place. It's a really inspiring, invigorating place to be. I am the third generation in my family to be doing organizational development work.
That's what exposed me to that human systems piece of what I do. I also spent a long time working in public health and sustainable agriculture, mostly in the nonprofit and academic sector, which has given me a continued learning journey around social justice and issues that I was working on at a systems perspective there.
I've always, my whole life, had a really strong interest in dance and movement and yoga and that sort of thing. And so now I feel like in the work that I do, which is mostly around supporting human systems, to be better at whatever it is they're trying to do. Especially around the communication within that system and the functionality within that system, I take a whole person and whole system perspective on that. Not just working with the mind, but working with other aspects of the whole being. It was sort of all these different interests of mine coming together into one place. I would just add to that is it was being in human systems. And then again, seeing things that I had sort of heard growing up that happen often in human systems, like we're humans, we have human tendencies and just seeing those things has inspired me to make the jump from public health, into really working with the systems rather than within the systems.
Carol: Can you give me an example of what one of those things were that you were like, “I remember them talking about that and now I'm seeing it.”
Becca: So, there's a lot of talk about people working either on or in their business or their organization. Sometimes we're so much in it that we forget to work on it.
We talk about process and we talk about content and sometimes people are so engrossed in the content that they forget to pay attention to the process and process can be relationships. It can be the processes for how information flows for the timeline, for projects, whatever it might be, the structures and processes, both interpersonal and organizational, that support what's going on.
I remember working in an organization and there was this person who came in and she went through this whole workshop with us about how to create work plans, start with activities and things that we wanted to do, and make these big plans. And then my boss said, “make a draft plan for our organization.”
I remember this so specifically because I went away with my family that week, but it was really important that it be done. So, I agreed to do it while I was away. I worked on it a lot while my family was down swimming in the lake and then I came back and I gave it to my boss and never heard anything.
Oh, it was just crickets. It was just an example to me of even when we're trying, we don't always follow through; those things sit on the shelf or in the email inbox and just never really get enacted within the organization.
Carol: From what you've learned looking back on that, what might you have said to the leader, how you might have done it, approached it differently considering your perspective now.
Becca: Great question. What I'm working on now in my life, and I think it relates to this, is getting really clear on my own boundaries and also exploring other people's expectations as much as possible. I think I would have had more of an upfront conversation with my boss: “What does this look like?”; “How do you want it to be”; “what's really important about this” and then, “what will be done with this once I finish it?” and can we put the meetings on our calendar now for the time we're going to talk about this and this and this.
I was younger then, and less experienced. I didn't really have the same initiative to make sure that this happens because, after all, it's my time and the organization's time, and I don't want to waste either.
Carol: Yeah. I also remember being on a board one time where I had raised the issue of the organization doing strategic planning and the Executive Director said, “well, why don't you go write a strategic plan?”
And I was kind of like, wait a second, that's not how it works. I could go do that but it wouldn't be at all useful because it wouldn't be informed by everyone in the group. How they're thinking about it. And, really sometimes the plan itself is a useful product, but the process is also such an important part of having all those conversations, thinking about what is our direction and what are our goals of having all those conversations. In a lot of ways, to me, it is even more important than what ends up on the page. Although that also is important, people want to see that it's actually used so that they don't feel like it was just a lot of hot air and a waste of time.
Becca: Yeah, it makes me also think about why I know a lot about design thinking and it makes me think about even within that process, not only is it important for buy-in and engagement, but there are things, especially that we don't always know about depending on where we are in the organization. Unless we're pulling from all angles, back to the organization through that process, we might miss something and in design thinking, there's that concept of bringing in sort of the smart but naive other person who doesn't have all the information about whatever's being talked about and really having that person there to ask questions and get clarification and guidance.
Pulling from that, I was just doing a leadership training the other day, and we were talking about Barry Oshrey's concept of Tops, Middles, and Bottoms within an organization, and how Tops feel really lonely and isolated and burdened because they have to make all the decisions about everything, and Middles in an organization feel kind of pulled between the Tops and Bottom. So, they're managing people below them, but then they're responding to the people above them. And then often the people at the bottom, I don't necessarily love the terms Top, Middle, Bottoms, but it's your hand and gives you kind of a visceral, real example of feeling of what this is, and the Bottoms, often feel like they have no idea what's going on, that they're at the whim of the manager of the Middle or the Top, and just kind of there without knowing. Really bringing all three of those levels into a strategic planning process or any planning process is really important. Well, also being clear - who are the Tops that have the decision-making power; I've seen in some nonprofits who are really trying to have a flat structure where everybody's important. Yes, that's true, but there needs to be clear leadership so you can have a clear process for gathering information, then it needs to be clear how the decision is going to be made: Who's going to be making the decision and the timeline for that upfront.
Carol: I totally agree. I think sometimes, with the notion that boards should drive the strategy for an organization, there's this tendency to, and kind of also a sense of, let's make it more manageable, so we'll have less people involved and then you miss all of those perspectives, but then as you said, so important for folks who are leading the process to also say, “We're gathering input from all these different groups, the board and senior staff, or whatever group it is, is ultimately tasked with finalizing the plan, approving the plan.
They are the ultimate decision makers. So getting clear and being clear about that decision making process is really key, too, as you can have lots of involvement, but if you don't that piece, you can actually demoralize people because they thought that they had equal say in this and then something that they were very passionate about doesn't emerge in the final plan and they wonder, “well, what was that for? “What was the point about, we're taking input from lots of people, but not everything's got to get in there for one, it's not going to be Christmas tree ornaments for everybody but also who's actually making the final decision.
Becca: Yeah, absolutely.
Carol: And, one of the areas that you focus on is somatics and leadership. Can you define what somatics is first? And then we'll talk a little bit about how that shows up in leadership.
Becca: Somatics comes from the word Soma, which is body. It's about the body within leadership. I really love ,there's a great book called Your Body is Your Brain by Amanda Blake. She talks about three concepts. I have it here because I always mix them up. So, Xterra exception, proprioception and interception.
Xterra, if you think about X, like external, that's our, our five senses. So, seeing and touching and hearing and smelling and tasting all of that is our Xterra reception. We're gathering information in three different ways and responding to information in three different ways. Then there's our appropriate section, which is our awareness of where we are in space. You might also tie that to sort of leadership presence, how are you using your body in space? Are you standing firm? Are your shoulders standing broad and relaxed? Exactly, are you clear in your stance? And then interception is the part where I think it gets the most exciting and juicy, but it's all important. That's sort of the internal, physiological, gut feeling or my heart. Some people think it's kind of woo, woo but it's not because there's a real physiology going on and your body often knows things before your brain knows them. Literally your Vagus nerve. Connects right from your gut to your brain, bypasses the cognitive part of your brain and goes right to the instinctual part of your brain and often you're taking in information and making a decision about it at a sub cognitive level, it's sort of your flight fight, flight freeze, animalistic instinct level before your cognition is even aware of it. The more we can become aware of our internal feeling sense, the more powerful we can be as leaders because we're using both levels of our intelligence, our emotional intelligence, as well as what I call our somatic intelligence, our bodies data gathering and processing.
Carol: As you know, science learns more and more about this, the whole notion that we're mind, body and spirit, that there are three separate things. It's really all one. Right. The body, your brain is part of your body, so it seems kind of obvious, but at the same time we experience it ourselves as a different thing. So, it's really interesting. So much of our culture has a kind of demonized feeling - like set your feelings at the door. We're professional beings with this professional meaning, and what's this leader mean? All of those things, I think sometimes what people think about, disconnects a lot of those pieces.
Becca: Absolutely. If you think about it, think about when you're in a really energetic mood or in a really tired or depressed or sad. Just a run-down mood and how much work you can get done or not get done, or have responsive in a way that takes care of relationships in a positive way you are, or you aren't depending on how your internal state is. And we're not taught in this culture to pay attention to those things. I mean, I have a six-and-a-half-year-old and I try to remember to engage with my kid about, “Oh, are you feeling this?” “I see that you're angry” or, “I see that you're frustrated” and kind of name emotions so that he can start to work with those things and at the same time, it's just not talked about. There's a line, not necessarily an advocate for bringing everything in the door and to the table at work. While I want the whole person to be there, but not necessarily all of the person. It's like the integrated wholeness of the person is able to show up and that person is able to manage what needs to be in the room and what doesn't need to be in the room. I used to joke that the definition for me of maturity is knowing when to be immature and when not. So, it's not being mature all the time. It's knowing when to bring it in when not to. And I think it's the same thing about emotional intelligence, somatic intelligence, any of this, we need our emotions and we need our gut instinct. Yet we haven't been taught to cultivate and manage them.
Carol: Yeah. And then that brings it up to mind kind of what you were talking about before in terms of setting boundaries and having appropriate boundaries. When our culture was kind of first exploring all this in the sixties and seventies, it was this let it all hang out, whatever, and learning over time that actually doesn't work at all, and it can be very detrimental to relationships. Being able to not only recognize, but manage emotions and manage your response as an adult, is a lot of what that's about.
Becca: Yeah. I think this bridges sort of into the diversity, equity, inclusion conversation because when I think about the whole person it's mind, body, spirit, emotions, and identity. So those five aspects: we need our mind, we need our body, we need our emotions, our spirit, or our values. However you want to define that for yourself. And then our identity is really important. All of the social identity aspects of who we are, whether that's race or gender or gender identity or sexual orientation or religion. There's a whole plethora of them. That's another piece we need to be able to bring our whole identity to work and we need leaders who are creating systems and environments where the diversity of those identities is able to thrive and be included and engaged with and valued. Often there's a leave that part of your identity at the door and I do think that bringing whole identity to work is important, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're talking all about various aspects of it if it's not relevant to the work at hand.
Carol: I wonder whether people in a dominant position or a leadership position and in a white dominant culture or whether people even realize that they're asking. They're assuming that people will leave those identities at the door and show up in a way that fits what's perceived in the dominant culture as kind of the right way to be at work.
Becca: Absolutely. And I think there are shifts happening in some spaces. Obviously we have a greater awareness around this as a country with the Black Lives Matter movement and other aspects but I think there's a long way to go. To me, this is what ties into the somatic intelligence work. I really think that leaders need to get good at noticing what's coming up for them when they start to engage in these spaces because a lot of times it can be scary. You don't want to get into legal trouble and you don't want to offend someone. So often people end up not even stepping into this space and not even having the conversation. It's really about doing as people who have what we call dominant identities, which is this white Christian male who’s heterosexual. There are a range of dominant identities in our American culture. Those of us with them need to do some work to realize that we have them and what it means.
It's not necessarily a problem that we have them. It is what it is. We need to realize that it is what it is, and then begin to work with it and ask ourselves, what are our values? What do I want to be seeing? What do I want my organization to be like? And, how can I play a role in creating that?
Carol: What kind of steps do you think if people, if leaders want to start stepping into this work, that they can start taking?
Becca: The first step might just be mapping your own identities. Identity maps - put yourself in the middle, draw a circle, and a bunch of lines coming off of that. Think about all of those aspects that make you who you are.
Whether it's where you are in your sibling order. If you have siblings, the economic situation that you have, grew up in, and are in now; your education level, your race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, a range of all those. Once you write that map of who you are, then look through them and try to label, which are done, I'm in it and which aren't. Then take some time with each of those and think, okay, what makes this dominant? How is the world set up such that things are easier for me because I have this identity? What are the systems allowing for me? Because I just happened to have this identity and then get in conversation with other people who have similar identities to you who are also trying to work on this.
One of the things that's really important, and I imagine folks have heard a lot about, is not putting the emotional labor on to people who have what we call the marginalized or subordinated identities. It's not their job to educate us. There's a lot of information out there already, some really great books and we could even include a list of some of those, especially around race, as part of this. To be doing your own learning and engaging with others who are similar identity to you, doing their learning as well.
Carol: And that I think is important to have those spaces of, similar identities so that people can have all the emotions they're having without putting emotional labor on other people. This whole notion of white fragility, people are going to have their emotions. They're either going to get triggered, and shaming them and bullying them to stop doing that is not helpful; at the same time, a person of color, a person with another marginalized identity, or intersection of those doesn't need to hear that same conversation over and over and over again. How can we create spaces so that white people can start their baby steps in this, and have the full experience of it all, and work through it?
Becca: Absolutely, Carol. I totally agree with what you say. I think you're hitting on a key point. I believe it's necessary to feel the emotions that are associated with this. I know a lot of white women who I've interacted with, especially have felt guilt or shame or sadness as they become more and more aware of what the white dominant culture and their role in that has created in this country. I've heard experiences from colleagues of color of mine who have had white men end up really angry in their sessions when they hear about things. These are generalizations I've mentioned, it's sad and women can get angry, but I believe we need to feel those emotions and become aware of them and let them move through us because as we talked about a little while ago, feelings are literally physiological. There are biological things happening in your body when you feel something and if you just try to suppress it, it doesn't really actually go away. Where are the spaces where that can be released, where it can be acknowledged, process looked at, digested and then do that in a safe space with support and then step into the other spaces of leadership of mixed identity interaction. I want to say clean, where none of us are super clean when it comes to it, but it's about having to
Carol: Sort of through a little bit of a muck, at least.
Becca: Exactly - cleaned up your boots or like simmered down your sauce.
I think that's really important that too often the message, especially to white people is, “Oh, don't bring your white fragility.” I see that and it's not to say, don't have your emotions. It's be aware of where, where you are displaying them and the kind of help you are seeking for them.
I say, do have those emotions. Become very aware of them and don't get stuck in them. Brene Brown also talks a lot about the difference between guilt and shame. Some of them are part of this learning, some of the learning I've been doing is through WWARA about White Women's Anti-Racism Alliance and they take Brene Brown's work and talk about the difference between guilt, and shame and guilt.
Well, shame says something is wrong with me. I am bad. And then guilt says I did something bad. If we say, “Oh, I did something bad,” then we have agency. “Oh, I did something bad. I can do something different.” If we stay in our shame as whatever dominant identity we might be working with in that shame, if we stay there, we're never going to be able to step into action and make the world a better place.
On the other hand, there's also often people who want to jump to action right away, “Oh, this is a problem. Let me fix it.” A lot of advocates of color, who I've been interacting with have said, “Please, don't jump to action right away. Please slow down, please do your learning. Please do your emotional work. Please get clear about why you want to do this work. Let's not do this work because it's all the rage right now. What's in it for you? Why is it important for you to make some shifts around racism in this country or around bias toward people with different sexual identities, whatever sexual orientation, whatever it might be?”
Carol: Yeah. That action orientation brings me back to one of the pieces that you work with as well, wanting leaders to bring more mindfulness to what they do. I'm wondering if you can define mindfulness in this context and why you think it is so important.
Becca: Yeah. I think when it comes to leadership, mindfulness is a key tool for engaging our emotional intelligence.
Actually, one of my favorite quotes that I came across recently is by Daniel Goldman. He’s a journalist who did a lot of work around emotional intelligence and has published a lot of books about it. He says the best thing a leader can offer is a well-managed nervous system. I have worked with various client systems where the leader can get triggered really quick and easily and make a lot of assumptions about things.
We talk in this work about the ladder of inference. How quickly we can sort of climb up this ladder of assumptions and then, “well this person said this for this reason, and this means that, and that means that.” And then all of a sudden, we're at the top of this ladder without even thinking.
Carol: Yeah, without even being conscious of jumping up the ladder, “I'm looking at you now,” and “Oh, she gave me kind of a funny look. She must think I'm a terrible interviewer.” I mean, and that's all going on in my head. I may not even be conscious ….
Becca: That I had something in my eye.
Carol: Right, right. 've made meaning of it. Just like that. Because we're meaning making machines.
Becca: Exactly. Mindfulness allows us literally to start to see our mind so we notice, ‘Oh look at that thought,’ ‘Oh look, I just had a thought about that’ and we become more aware of the chatter in our minds. To use the word agency, we have more agency in how we're using our voice and our body and our mind because we become more aware of the automatic parts of it. It can also allow just practice. Mindfulness can bring more pause and space into interactions. I think those are more and more necessary. These days everything is so fast. If we just take a breath before we respond, we might actually be able to be in a place of actually responding rather than reacting and the response to me is, where there's the choice and the agency, the reaction is where it's just automatically coming. Maybe even from that interception, that automatic physiological reaction, which sometimes serves us and sometimes does it. What we need is to become more and more aware of it.
That’s what I'd say about that. Go ahead. I was just going to tie it into the virtual world. I think it's, again, even more important in a virtual space to both engage mindfulness and engage the whole person. We can become, as we are in zoom, I gesture here with this rectangle that we forget that we have the rest of our body and we forget that, it might be, or even in a normal interaction, we might, if I were talking to you in a cafe, I might turn and look out the window while I'm talking to you and think, and that might shift how my brain is working, but because we're so used to the norms in our culture and are just looking at that rectangle and look at each other on the screen that we're literally not being mindful in the same ways that we might have otherwise.
Carol: So how do you say since people are just, you know, the reality of us working this way of working online, working remotely is probably going to be going on for quite a while.
What are some things that people can do to bring in more of themselves to online meetings?
Becca: I’m smiling because one of the things that's come I've been working on lately and telling clients and colleagues is to think about that spinning thing on your screen that says buffering. We hate it when that happens, but how are you creating buffers in your day?
It's not just the onscreen, but the, between meetings or between being at the meeting and being with whoever or whatever is in your household. How are you creating spaces? Cause literally we used to walk down a hallway to a meeting or get up and switch offices or pick up the phone, something shifted and took our eyes from the screen.
And one of the things is just to give yourself those buffer zones. Another is to literally take some time, whether it's a chime on your calendar or in your watch or note to take three breaths at various points in the middle of the day and then you can engage a full mind, body, spirit aspect with those three breaths.
On the first breath, what am I feeling; on the second breath what am I thinking; and on the third breath, what's important to me? That can really bring you back. What's important in this moment, to me? What brings you back to what you’re being present with, whatever it is that you really want to be present with rather than reactionary? What you just happened to be being present with?
I also have a whole set of questions that I go through when either designing a virtual meeting or working with others on it about how can we bring in. All of those parts of a person. What are the kinds of questions you can ask your colleagues, “What do you feel about this?” “What's your gut reaction?” What's your heart telling you? What’s your instinct on this? And then you can say, what's your mind thinking on this? What new ideas have you noticed? What are you thinking about now? How does this connect to the other things? You start to engage the brain in that, that's the body brain piece, and then there's just rain.
We just need to get creative. Like how does this tie to your values? Our values as a company that start to get to the spirit and values aspect of things, and then there can be questions, like look around the virtual room. Who's not in the room. When it comes to virtual meetings, there's a lot of inclusion. So not necessarily identity, but inclusion when it comes to are you remembering to try to engage the people who don't have their cameras on in the virtual meeting? Is there a norm that people have to have their cameras on, but maybe they can't. Maybe their bandwidth is low. Maybe their house is a mess. Maybe somebody else's in the room with them. So, what are the aspects of inclusion that we need to think about to make this a virtual space, a psychologically safe space?
Carol: Yeah. Thinking about the buffering, I was, working with some folks who were talking about, facilitating in a virtual setting and just saying that it just takes a little bit longer for people to kind of absorb, and instruction.
If you're wanting them to go do a next thing, let's say, put them in breakout rooms, to have them work on a separate document that you've sent a link to, and to create those pauses in the meeting as well, and almost imagining that buffer, things spinning, and their technique was to, when you've asked a question, assume that it's going to take everyone a little bit longer to answer because they're kind of waiting to see if anyone else is going to say something and actually take a drink of water while you wait to force yourself to wait a little bit.
Becca: I like that. Somebody once told me that children's brains, as they're learning, take longer to process. So, wait 17 seconds after you ask your child a question, which feels so long. I don't do that long online, but I do sometimes count to seven or 10, just to see and I think that's very true.
I've had a lot of experiences lately where I've given an instruction, we've gone to the next thing and then the person, or in the group, two or three people in the group of seven, have no idea what to do. It's had me realize, and again, if you think about it, we're not giving our nervous system any time to decompress or get in a place of being able to really absorb information again, when we're constantly looking at the screen.
I sometimes also give instructions to folks, you know, get up, stand up for a minute or stretch, or literally please look away from your screen while you think about this. So sometimes you have to be more overt and in the instruction, then slowdown, as you said, and repeat yourself, and then also provide the information in multiple formats.
I'll often put instructions in chat as well as verbally say them and that sort of thing. So absolutely, many things to pay attention to.
Carol: Probably all things that would be good to bring back when we're in person, working with groups that take that pause and make sure that everyone's understood the instructions of what's next or where you are on the agenda in a meeting or anything.
One thing I like to do on each episode is I play a little game. I have a box of random icebreaker questions. I've got one for you here, “How did you meet your best friend?”
Becca: Oh, how did I meet my best friend? Well, there's a childhood one, but here's my adult best friend. It's a kind of a fun story. She was the babysitter the summer after I went to college for my younger siblings. I had been in college; my parents were divorced and I went to see my father. I heard about this babysitter who was great with my younger siblings at my mother's house. I remember thinking, who is this person taking over the older sibling role?
I came home, eventually met her, and within half an hour, she was my best friend. We've been really good friends ever since then. I think it's been about 20 years.
Carol: That's awesome. So, what are you excited about now? What's up next for you? What's emerging in your work?
Becca: There are a few different things that I'm excited about.
One, as you know we've talked in other times about this, is about peer coaching, peer learning, and people being able to really connect and learn from and with each other in small groups. I'm really excited about engaging with that in a virtual space. I feel like the peer coaching really involves the whole person. It's not just sort of sitting back in a lecture on a webinar or listening to somebody, but it really engages people and it engages people around. What's important to them in the moment and it allows them to be helpful and of service to other people.
I think that's so important for us as humans, for mental health to just feel a value. I'm going to be setting up some opportunities for people within similar industries, but not in the same organization to come together in peer learning groups and connect with each other. I'm really excited about that possibility and really what's possible with that globally right now, because we don't have to get together in person for it and we can't get together in person for it. So, who can come together? I'm working with some of the groups that I do consulting with. They focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. and some of them have been around one of them for 30 years, another for 50 years. And they really know their stuff and their stuff has been in the room like physically together.
I'm really excited about helping them think about how to take it all virtually and keep it really effective and yeah, engaging. And then finally, I'm contemplating, and I might want to rope Carol into this, listeners. So maybe by the time you listen to this, she will have said yes. I want to develop a virtual workshop about engaging the whole person. Go more in depth into some of those example questions and examples scenarios that we touched on around engaging those five aspects of the of a person. Mind, body, spirit, emotions, and identity.
Carol: So, it sounds like a lot of fun.
Becca: Yes. Excited about all those.
Carol: How can people find out more about you and be in touch?
Becca: They could email me or I'm also on LinkedIn. My email is: Becca.b.Consulting@gmail.com
Carol: We'll put the links in the show notes as well.
Becca: Okay. That makes it easier. I'm also on LinkedIn as Becca Bartholomew. I'd love to hear people's reactions. What did you agree with, disagree with, what questions do you have? Let's keep the conversation going.
Carol: That will be awesome. All right. Well, thank you so much. And thank you for being on the podcast.
Becca: Thanks for the opportunity. Take care.
Becca on LinkedIn
Becca on Twitter
Episode 06: This week we’re talking to Arielle Goodman, Jenny Hegland and Jessica Srikantia.
We talked about:
Otto Schwarmer and the MIT Presencing Institute
Arielle, Jenny and Jessica are a team of colleagues that has been working together for the past six months to discover how they might be of service as a collective. Their work exists in cultivating the spaces between, such as in-between people during times of transition and not knowing, spaces within our own selves, or the connective tissue of complex systems. Together, they explore what is possible in and from wholeness. They are committed to transforming themselves into alignment with life, so that they can support this work in the broader world inclusive of and beyond their individual selves. Their areas of expertise include navigating uncharted terrain in times of uncertainty, helping systems see and sense themselves, and practicing sacred relationships with team and stakeholder groups.
Carol: Welcome. Arielle, Jessica and Jenny to the podcast. I'm very excited for today's conversation. I'm really curious just to get started and to give people some context. What brought each of you to this work? How did you guys come to start working together in the way that you are?
Arielle: I'd be happy to speak a little bit of our origin story, and then I'm going to invite Jenny and Jessica to kind of feed forward with me. I had started taking, U lab course through the presencing Institute MIT. And one of the questions that they ask is who are your partners in the work? A lot of theory, U is based in awareness based systems change, and thinking centering relationships in everything we do. And I had met Jessica synchronistically through an organization that I was employed for. And I had met Jenny, at a social justice event. And for some reason, in sitting with this question of what is my work aligned to life, who are my partners in this work, I kept on thinking of these two humans and it was kind of like the universe was asking me to pay attention. So I invited them to come together and start kind of sensing into what is our relationship and what is our shared work.
Jessica: And as Arielle mentioned, she was the connector for me to meet Jenny and vice versa. And, just one other piece I'll add is the synchronicity of, Arielle and I actually emailed each other at exactly the same moment about working together that Arielle initially thought her email had bounced back to her.
Jenny: That's awesome. I don't remember if I've heard that part of the story. That's great. And the one thing I would add is that I feel like when we first came together, I think one of the things I'm learning to do is to trust the intelligence in my body and everything in my body said, okay. These are people that I can learn from. These are people that I can deal with. These are people that are already bringing out like my most authentic self and like noticing that experience in myself and thinking like, absolutely, yes, this is what I want more of.
Carol: Awesome. Thank you. So you guys say that a part of your expertise includes navigating uncharted terrain in times of uncertainty. And the truth is of course we never know what the future will hold and we're always in the midst of uncertainty. Yet I think we often are kind of lulled into the idea that we kind of live in this illusion that we have control and we can plan and predict. And as a country and even the world, we certainly are in the midst of a time when uncertainty is just impossible to ignore. How are you seeing this particular moment and what do you see may be emerging in it?
Jessica: I can start with a few words on this moment. I think what you said about uncertainty being hard to ignore is very, very true, and it's even felt to me that we're almost living in a moment with no future in the sense that everything feels like it can change immediately. And so from this place, if it actually is forcing all of us to be living in this here and now, and one of the things that Otto Scharmer talks about is that, and this comes from the yogis, enlightened people talk about this, that the present moment is, actually a point that then it has both the past and the future in it and you can respond in two ways. You can respond by opening into the past and bringing the past into the present and the future. Or you can respond by, by integrating oneself and integrating into this present moment and opening into this future that is actually also here now and wanting to emerge.
Carol: And what do you see may be emerging?
Jenny: So the first thing I want to say is that the willingness to navigate this uncharted terrain is more of a commitment to practice than it is an area of expertise. None of us have been here before. And so I don't know that any of us can claim a traditional definition of expertise, meaning we sort of know what we need to do or how to do it. However, what I think that may be emerging in this moment and that we are embracing is an invitation to be in relationship with each other and ask ourselves different kinds of questions. So we've all heard that, you know, we move in the direction of our questions, energy follows attention and all that good stuff. And I think we really believe that. And so the moment, or what's emerging in this moment, this invitation to ask ourselves different kinds of questions for us, really centers a lot in drawing our attention to the source, the place from which we are doing our work and the place from which we are seeing the landscape around us. Right. So we can no longer rely on the map, but we can rely on what I think is our collective ability to see and sense. What is the landscape that we are in, in a given moment, then from that place of awareness together, to sense into how we can move, how we can collectively move and live within that landscape and within the reality of what it is.
Arielle: I'll just add. I think that there's a level of intimacy around the experience of navigating the unknown right now that is intelligent. That the habituated responses and patterns that are fundamental to us being humans in what we do with uncertainty, bringing awareness and seeing what comes up in us and then from a place of consciousness and choice, choosing to move in a different direction. And what's wild is that intimate experience of something that's just so innate or so normal actually allows us as human beings to sense and see the systems that we exist in today. And ask questions. How do those systems serve us? How are they harming us? Are they aligned to all of life and how we are deeply interconnected? And I think that there is so much exceptional learning. That brings our personal intimate experience to, to something that can can't always be felt and experienced or sometimes invisible. So it feels like a very, very important time in this moment in history and the present really.
Carol: Can you give me an example to, to ground that and just a little more specificity and concreteness?
Arielle: So whether that's income employment, looking at the rates of unemployment right now, whether that's people having access to, okay. I want to challenge myself to bring in my personal experience, rather than talking about an experience that's outside of myself. So tomorrow morning, I'm about to drive 12 hours to pick up my mom and grandma who have lived in Chicago their whole lives. And they're about to relocate to Texas. To be closer to my sister. Who's about to have her first baby. My grandma's in her eighties. Look at what's happening with the pandemic right now. We are seeing a surge of COVID cases in Houston, where she's about to relocate. What do I notice in myself? What do I notice in my family? In navigating something that I don't have control over, wanting to know answers, wanting to know that I'm making the right decision, wanting to be able to control this journey that is about to happen. And then inviting myself to sit with the discomfort of not knowing and that I don't have control over these things. And what that experience is like. And the pain or fear or sadness, and also love and passion and like fight or resilience, all of those things, holding all of that complexity and sitting with that and not knowing and feeling that in my body.
Carol: You, you talked about the habituated patterns and so six months ago you would've packed up for that trip. It probably would have been about logistics, you know, do I have, did I remember my charger to make sure that I can access the GPS to get me to Chicago and you know, did I bring enough clothes? Where are we going to stay along the way? And then a simple, it seems like something relatively simple then in this time it amplifies in terms of all of the things that, you know, our concerns. And I was thinking just a simple thing, like watching a movie where a ton of people are walking down the street together suddenly is an uncommon thing. And, you know, all of those things that we took for granted, four months ago, and then, with the protest going on, I guess my hope is that there's a waking up and more people, more white people are stepping into educating themselves. And looking at how systems have been, benefiting them and hurting them also. And ways that how can, how can we live into something different? How can we start dismantling those systems?
Jenny: It is all there. And I just want to acknowledge that in this circle right now, the four of us are women who walk in the skin of white bodies. And so just to acknowledge that that is the voice from which I am speaking in this moment. But something you said is really the hope that we will continue to educate ourselves and acknowledge the ways in which we have benefited from the systems of oppression and I want to bring in here that one of my commitments and one of my invitations to all of us is that we would also be together in both individually and collectively actually, commit to healing ourselves and the work of healing because, systems of oppression have had the traumatizing impacts on all of us in very different ways. However, the ways in which we've all been born into a collectively traumatized culture, are being illuminated, in a deep way. And so I want to invite all of us for a moment, maybe to think what this might mean for us. because I'm, I'm really seeing also that what is emerging in this moment is an opportunity for us to start to integrate and work at the intersection of feeling individual collective healing and social justice and social change. Right. Because I am not sure that these things can actually be pulled apart. And that's a very different way of understanding the ecosystem than it was for me in the past. So I'm curious also to you, Carol, like what do you, what comes up for you when you hear this? Like, what is our, what are we learning about this? I think we're really just starting. To understand, especially this piece on collective trauma.
Arielle: Jenny mentioned earlier in the conversation that a lot of our work is talking about the source from which we operate from one of the phrases that comes that is used a lot by Otto Sharma and the presencing Institute team in theory you is the quality of an intervention is dependent on the interior condition of the intervener. So the notion that the blind spots are the shadows that I hold within myself. We then I will see in the work that I do externally out into the world in my relationships in organizations and the systems, so the question I'm holding you know, as if we are individually in collecting collectively birthing something new, where do we want that place to come from, what are those nutrients, what are those seeds but really I'm thinking about wholeness is aligned to light, and if there isn't an integration of these different pieces that we've lacked back in the past or harm that we've stuck in a corner we're going to see that reproducing itself in the future. So thinking about where do we want to operate from, what do we want to hold in ourselves to then birth and midwife, this new system that is in service to life.
Jessica: And this connection of our own interconnectedness that we are actually, we're not separate, is I think also becoming ever more apparent in this moment. And on the one hand, than the need to do our own healing to get to the place where we can engage in ways that are, that are actually contributing positively, and at the same time, they need to. From that place, to hear all the different voices, especially the voices that have been marginalized because this racism and white supremacy are fueled by attentional blindness. And so this is a moment where the system is actually through video and all kinds of other means that we are all, we are, we are the realities of marginalized peoples in this society are being brought in to the reality of everyone's everyday life, and that is an incredible opportunity and those, and the people who are experiencing the structural violence of the system are the experts on it and they're the ones who really carry wisdom of alternatives in my family and genealogy, through so much, the totality of the colonization in identifying with the system that I have, I have lost in need and have been in a process of rebuilding, so the alternatives, and the possibilities, we need to really hear, and transform the relationships of power from power over to power with and transform the attentional blind spots into truly inclusive honoring and listening and the dignity and sacredness of all, all life and using those opportunities to rebuild the relationships in how we exist so our food systems the sanitation systems all these systems that materially support our existence on the planet that those need to be re woven, on the basis of sacred relationship, not exploitative relationship.
Carol: I want to give you an amen. Something that you said Jenny struck me that the notion of bringing together, working towards justice and healing. One of the things that I've appreciated from the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement and the movement for black lives, and even before the hashtag that folks, organizing within that movement, we're prioritizing healing, we're prioritizing self care, in a way that I don't think was at the forefront in past activists movements probably a part of that's kept me away from the notion of activism, is that in some ways it has felt dehumanizing, because it has an incorporated any space for person to be a person, and to end the hill, and so much that that folks are learning about all the things you're talking about the structural violence generational trauma, and and yes, as you said, Jessica, for white people, those things are some are coming into awareness that have been there for forever. Well for a long time, and get hidden.
Jenny: And just to speak into that as well. That, one of the things, one of the dimensions of this connecting back to organizations is that our normal quote unquote, normal organizational culture is actually set up on this colonial domination logic and so everything from, the power over, to the emphasis on, people like using people as, Yeah.
Carol: all the things, the ways that we name these things.
Jessica: And so this, this, what we born into a culture and a society that is actually on a domination logic, already in trauma as Thomas who will talks about. And, and so, so, so much of the work is also in waking up to these things that we have just assumed and imbibed and embodied and finding the ways to heal and transform collectively,
Jenny: I think that related to our the illusion of there being a separate self. There is a dominant cultural narrative around what individual healing is and looks like and we tend to think of it as we tend to think of trauma in an individual context and related to situational things. So for example, attachment trauma shock trauma, but what is starting to reinforce the intuitive I think feminine wisdom perhaps that has maybe known this for a bit longer but that we cannot parcel apart, the trauma from the society and the culture and the relational structures, which created. And in fact, to inflict that narrative upon an individual isn't in itself a form of violence. And so we have been perpetuating in those medical model. In some ways, in the ways that we conduct therapy etc so I, I just want to name that the thing that differentiates healing individual trauma versus healing collective trauma is that we understand it, relationally, and contextually and there is never a separation so it's the relationship between us as, as people is the relationship of us who are our ancestors and everything that we carry with us, from, from that actually in our physical bodies, the relationship, the logic and the ways of being and seeing that we're taught are right and wrong in the binary and the choices we're forced to make like, so if we understand that relationally, which means that in order to work in that healing space, we have to go into something much different than an individual, just going off to do self care. And so what, what is communal care, and how does that get done in relationship because it's the relationships in the first place that created the harm and the relationships that fell out of alignment with life.
Jessica: One thing that the narrative that individualizes racism to racist individuals is actually a narrative that faces the structural realities of how power is articulated into institutions and laws and societies and economic systems etc etc, and we need to change systems and power relationships, and the structural dimensions of all of that as major part of the work and so I was just, that's what I was resonating to as I was listening to you.
Carol: And I think it's easy to see that in for profit systems, it's easy to see how those are set up for dominance for a particular end and it's I think a little perhaps for some a little more hidden in the nonprofit sector, but it seems to me that it's all of those logics are kind of are definitely embedded in how sector has been built, and you know the assumptions that even go into, you know, what's taught, that is good governance, or you know how a board should work. And I'm just curious what you might see within that. It looks like Arielle was trying to jump in.
Arielle: I kind of want to bring this back to the initial question that you were asking around navigating uncertainty and kind of the personal example that I gave you know, around this move, like, what comes up in me. In embarking in something that potentially elicits a fear response that I can't control that I want to control how does that impact the way I relate to my mother, or to my grandmother, what am I able to hear or not hear. What am I, how am I able to feel my whole body and connect from my heart place to their heart place what happens to empathy or creativity or higher level of brain functioning. So, these things that are really intimate and real and just part of everyday life as being a human being in a really complex world, like, these are some of the elements that build up these systems that aren't serving us, and a part of that is our story around collective trauma and a way of eating that's not serving. And it's also learning like, how can we step into and figure out new ways, from a place of choice, to relate to these things. And there's a conditioning, and a curiosity that comes in that experience a lot of our work is mentioned in the bio and also what Tony was talking about communal healing is the practice of being in relationship, and it's hard. It is hard. It's hard. It's not easy, we are not conditioned or socialized, it's not a need, so it's a seeing a learning to sitting with and discovering Okay, what does it mean for me to pause sense into my body, bringing awareness and notice to whoa I'm feeling really escalated right now start to settle. Sit with, and start to feel like, what is my mother sensing into right now she's about to go on this journey, And that takes time. That takes patience, that takes training and it's not just me doing it in my own mind it's bringing it out into reality. So what does it look like for organizations to organize themselves in a practice such as this.
Jessica: And I also want to pick up the thread of this dynamic on with the nonprofit sector. One of the things that we, we see is that the, the, the resources, again the set, you know, the same replication of who controls the resources is disproportionately white and, and yet the populations being served, are often times minority and, and so there's also so there's a couple dimensions, there's the there's power there's resources and then there's also sort of a channeling into the same kind of bureaucratic organizational structures that are the same as the way you know that those were originally created as colonial structures, the bureaucracy, and so when that intersects with real communities and real needs and real, you know, human creativity and human potential, there's, there can, There can be a gap a disconnect, even, even a taking of space from other possibilities. Other, other ways of creating as just as human beings in community, and sometimes service can mask actually looking at the root cause of what created the need in the first place, what's the structural violence that created the need, if that gets removed, then people are actually their energy and their creativity and all of that their resources are freed up to create beauty themselves and so I think that's, that's part of the dynamic I see.
Arielle: I mean a question that I'm holding is in the social sector specifically the nonprofit terrain, what are the blind spots, what are the attachments, what is being held on to so tightly and in service to what, What are people afraid of and where did where were these systems born from, again, how the interior condition and the intervention. So, so those are some of the questions that I'm holding.
Jenny: and related to those, some of the questions I'm holding is, what is it for us to create the kinds of holding spaces and containers so that we can even start to go there, from a place of openness, how do we actually help each other, how bring that out of each other because if we need each other to do that work, Because we're so conditioned and this is this going back to this habitual ways of protection, you know, putting up the armor, going back to fear to the kinds of narratives that justify, like for example I need to look out for my own interest in this because I need to take care of my family, yada yada yada. And so, what is the invitation. What is the access point, what are the what are the doorways to invite people into these kinds of spaces, even once we call them, you know, because even calling them feeling spaces, or even calling them even, you know, even inviting people in this circle practice feels like, somehow, it's not supposed to be in organizations in these traditional kinds of spaces right and like why, because we have hold apart, the professional and the human, the natural human ways you know these ways of organizing ourselves and being together and circle that has existed for so many generations before us. So, what are the access points, what are the relationships that make those access points possible,
Jessica: And what are the conversations? Are you saying? What are the conversations?
Yeah, Carol. I'm, I'm curious. you've been, cause you've been working in this space so long and you've seen so much and I'm wondering, what are, what is it that you see that you'd like to share in.
Carol: Well, I think, one, one thing that you said where you know it's like service can come sometimes hide the root cause I think that's true. And I think people get caught up in an argument about which is more important. And I think the people who are being served to have needs at that very moment, need that, and people need to be working on the system to, you know, to change it. And I think what's even more exciting in this time, I think there's been a lot of work on tinkering with the system, what I feel like there's, there could be, there's like an opening to is imagining something new and different, I don't know what that's going to be, but it feels like that's more possible now than it was even six months ago.
Jessica: Beautiful. Absolutely. The freeing of our imaginations as a really important invitation and act in this time. Yeah. Thank you, Carol.
Carol: And at the same time to say you know to talk about what Aereo was talking about of how when you're gripped by fear, and so much, you know people most people's first reaction to uncertainty is fear, you know, lots of talk about anxiety and how all of that's raised and how we know you know in our brain that just kind of shuts down our creative processes so it's, you know, both are there. So in, in working within organizations and within the sector, as much as we know that it needs to shift and change, you know, one of the things that that has been kind of a driver for me is looking at, if we give, if we give organizations the benefit of the doubt we say okay, they were they were built to, to, you know, move some mission forward that's going to have a positive impact in the world, and yet, why is it so hard for those organizations to have that mission have that great aspirational thing that they want to see out there. And yet, aren't really living that internally and certainly this is really coming home. And, you know, Getting stuck and kind of doing the same thing over and over again and you know I think that's very much being brought home right now with the, with the Black Lives Matter protests where, you know, many organizations have made statements about support of the movement, report after report has come out about the leadership of the nonprofit sector being so decidedly white, and those organizations also making statements and yet being dominated by by white people and certainly, you know, the larger the budget, the larger the salaries, more, more likely to be white men at the top, so I'm curious, any thoughts about kind of that stuckness that seems to be, not just at the organizational level but at the at the sector level and then of course at the societal level.
Arielle: Noticing that I keep in bringing it back to the personal today which I think is really fascinating. I think it is easy and safe to be able to point the finger to the world outside of myself. It is easier. It is safer. I get to preserve a degree of separation, reinforcing the same systems we are swimming in, I get to make something an object, and not feel connected to it to separate myself from it. And then there's this sense of righteousness or like reinforcing, like, what is right, what is wrong, again all the ingredients that we've been talking about in these systems that are not serving us and so like, look one inside oneself, to reflect, to see wholly and fully takes courage. It takes an openness and awareness and a vulnerability, and there's real reasons why I've seen in myself or organizations, resist doing that and it to me it always starts with home, right, it starts with my home, my body my home and then the relationships, what does it take to do that. And then, and then aligning ideology or what I'm saying into practice and behavior. What does it take.
Carol: Yeah. And I appreciate what you say, what you're saying about how easy it is to get into that kind of systemic analysis and have it be an other out there that has nothing to do with me,
Jenny: and what's coming up for me also is. This is why tending to growing different kinds of skill sets in ourselves together is so important, because we can't just say these things and expect ourselves and others to step into this work together. Practice takes a lot of practice and we don't have the practice grounds. You know I'm a golfer and you don't just go out on the course and play you go to the driving range and you go to the putting green and you hit, hundreds and 1000s of shots, you know, and then you get on the course and every single shot is different because you have a different line you have a different angle of attack and you have different you know a different plane, you're trying to hit the ball from and a different piece of grass and I believe we need to and this is part of the work that we're doing together is create the practice fields that are safe enough not comfortable if this work is not comfortable but safe enough, like the reality of safety is there for us to challenge each other in these ways and really like start to use embodied practices that we can access the wisdom in ourselves and the wisdom of the collective social anxiety because it is there but it is frozen, and that's what that's what trauma does is it keeps it keeps intelligence, frozen in our system. And so, you know, that's part of why the healing is so important, but I think that's also part of why the practice, the focus on practice and what we practice. So some of the things we practice you know a lot of it has to do with practices that allow us to be in structures of sharing power, even just in one room for one hour, even to practice that is hard, right, because we're so used to somebody facilitating the meeting, and somebody just deciding the agenda and somebody's telling us what's important to talk about and these are all conditioned ways of thinking that systems of oppression rely on in order to feed themselves in order to sustain themselves. So, what are the practice Spaces, we're building together where we practice being encouraged where we practice, accessing the courage on community building power accessing it and building it. Where are the communities and the spaces or the Sacred Spaces, we're creating, even within our own organizations, even if they're even if it's more a momentary right where we can practice doing that and what we practice we become, eventually, but it takes a long time but we have to start with the practice, and it feels like that's something that, because of our because we were so conditioned to focus on the outcome. It's hard to prioritize being in the practice for practice sake,
Jessica: so I also very much resonate with what both Arielle and Jenny shared and that, and the integration through practice of individual and collective work and I have noticed also how, in many groups that I have been in, I teach some in the classroom, especially I've noticed this, that we have collectively lost the ability to shift from hierarchical to these these participatory, collaborative relationships that Jenny was talking about and so the practicing those in those little component parts is, is where the big, you do that, the little pieces and the big change happens, and also noticing the ways in which, like Arielle was saying about the individual, we are part of these systems and so these systems are in us and we are in the systems and so we can then that, that provides an access point also for doing the work, because as we do the work inside it's also doing the work on these, on these ways of being and seeing and doing and creating, and especially as we open that up to doing that collectively.
Carol: I would love to ask 16 follow up questions but I'm going to shift gears for a minute, and there's one thing I like to do at the end of each episode and just ask a couple fun questions. I've got one for each of you, Jessica. What is a mistake that people often make about you.
Jessica: I think, sometimes people think I'm sweet and I'm not so sweet. There's a lot in there.
Carol: And Jenny, what are you most looking forward to in the next 10 years,
Jenny: So noticing my resistance to the question let me just give myself a second and see what might come up here. I think what I'm looking forward to is seeing and being in what unfolds in my life and in my relationships and in the life all around me, the more I choose to let go of trying to control it. Like I'm very looking for, I'm looking forward to that process as uncomfortable as it is to being what life has in store.
Carol: and Arielle, what chance encounter changed your life forever?
Arielle: You're looking at it right here. That was an easy one. Truly meeting these special humans and sensing into what we are co creating together.
Carol: So what is next for you guys? What are you stepping into, what's emerging?
Jessica: I think that that opens up this fascinating question of this interplay of emergence shading into planning and like so far we have been way more on the emergent end, and things have shown up in our field, as the work we're meant to do and we've responded to that, we are also starting to craft intentions around how we invite collaboration and connection, and the serendipity of the emergence is really how life shows up knocking on our door as you know, telling us where we're meant to step in.
Carol: So if someone did want to invite you into something, how would they get in touch with you? How could they find you?
Jenny: You can find all of us on LinkedIn, and in addition to that, we're in the process of building a website that we are envisioning as an invitation to discover our shared work with other others wherever they may be and so we are putting our hearts into sort of the process of how can that website, you know, not just be really a reflection of the very things that we're trying not to reproduce, but instead a real invitation, a real invitation to be in relationship to blur the lines between partners and clients and to words and how we, how we are in relationship with one another in traditional business context, we're in a lot of inquiry around this together and so we're, we're using our website as a way to challenge ourselves to find language is not perfect but at least a starting point for how we can offer that invitation sort of a channel through which we can engage with others in more broad ways.
Carol: All right. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate all your wisdom that you bring and the work that you guys are doing. And, we'll be excited to see how this practice continues to emerge and, good luck with everything as you move forward.
Arielle: Thank you, Carol. It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.
This week we’re talking to Rebecca Murphy.
We talked about:
Rebecca has been a consultant for over 20 years. She considers herself an “interpreter,” as she has worked in multiple sectors including government, nonprofit, business, and philanthropy. She is adept at explaining/translating one to another. She is a generalist with a broad knowledge base – including workforce development, affordable housing, parks and place making. She has expertise in capacity building, organizational and program development, strategic planning, with particular expertise in public-private partnerships, community engagement, and strategic collaborations. Hers is a mission-focused practice. She is passionate about mission fidelity, and avoiding mission creep.
Sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting.
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Carol Hamilton: Today I want to welcome Rebecca Murphy to the podcast. Rebecca Murphy has been a consultant for over 20 years. She considers herself an interpreter as she has worked in multiple sectors including government, nonprofit business and philanthropy. She is adept at explaining and translating one sector to another. She's a generalist with a broad knowledge base, including workforce development, affordable housing, parks and placemaking. She has expertise in capacity building, organizational and program development, strategic planning, with a particular emphasis in public private partnerships, community engagement. and strategic collaboration. Hers is a mission focused practice. She is passionate about mission fidelity and avoiding mission creep. She is an optimistic activist with a passionate lived commitment to diversity. Join me in welcoming Rebecca Murphy!
Well welcome, Rebecca. I'm glad to have you on the mission impact podcast. I want to start out by just having you share with listeners your path? How did you get drawn to this work? How did you end up where you are now?
Rebecca Murphy: Well, Carol, thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it. How I got drawn to this work is really very simple. It's something that I always seen myself doing from my early 20s I think I always saw myself as having some business that allowed me to help groups and organizations whose missions I believed in, do the work they did better, do the work they did differently and achieve the objectives that they were setting out to achieve.
Carol: Coming into this a little bit later than you, I'm impressed that you had that vision for yourself so early on. What was the background to that?
Rebecca: Well, I think it's a couple of things. I think the first is I have always been somebody who appreciated and was engaged in community development work. I came at it through a political lens primarily because that's what my parents did. My mother did community development work and they were both very involved socially and civically. so there were always groups and organizations in our kitchen, and we were very engaged. so I knew a lot about the universe of nonprofits and the universe of mission-driven work from a really young age. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, so I never really saw a full time job for a company as my path. so that's really that's really how I came at it. I also feel like I was a little bit ahead of my time. I really wanted to be able to work from home so that I could raise my kids. Even when I was young, I knew that that was what I wanted.
Carol: Yeah that's awesome, just the image of growing up around that. My dad worked for the government for the Foreign Service. so he went to work, it was a very traditional job and it was very mysterious to me as a child. All I really understood about it was that there was a big desk involved, and a big building, and some legal pads and government pens, but beyond that, I really didn't understand it. so it's really cool that you were able to absorb that from an early age.
Well, one of the things that you focus on is partnerships, including public-private partnerships, and I certainly believe that partnerships are so key to many nonprofits and how they do their work and at least my belief is that more should consider them with so many small organizations all going at the same issue. What would you say are the key things that nonprofits really need to think about when they're getting started with partnerships?
Rebecca: I think that's a great question, and it's one that I get asked a lot in my practice. I think that the most important thing that a nonprofit needs to do when they're thinking about a partnership is: what is their why? Why are you engaging in a partnership? Second to that, but equally as important: what do you bring to the partnership? It can't be about only what it is that you think you'll get out of it? It has to be about what you bring to that, what are your assets? What are your strengths? I think partnering from a place where you don't know that is a recipe for disaster.
Carol: Can you give an example of some disaster stories?
Rebecca: Yeah, I think I’ve had a couple of clients who thought that partnering was a good idea because it was going to get them out of a bad situation, and I think that's so common. I think that too often organizations are scrambling when they're really struggling, and then they think, “Oh well, we'll partner or we'll merge," and it seems like there's rarely a good time to try to step into those kinds of relationships. Partnering for weakness or desperation is a terrible time because you don't have clarity, and when you partner with an organization, you have to have clarity. You have to have clarity of mission, you have to have clarity of your goals, and you have to have clarity about the risk. I think that's the other thing a lot of nonprofits don't think about is what could go bad. They think about, “oh, this is gonna be great. it'll help us build our capacity. It'll help us raise money, it'll help us," whatever it is that they think it's going to do. They don't ever think about what's going to happen if it goes sideways, and whether there are different types of going sideways. There's recoverable going sideways, and then there's sort of the epic, this is the kick back sideways. I think that that's an equally important thing to be thinking about when you're thinking about a partnership is, what are we going to do if it goes south? How do we extricate ourselves? What are we going to do [if it goes sideways]?
Carol: So I usually like to focus on the more of a strengths-based approach and when things go well, so describe a partnership that you've seen when they really did things right, they did the due diligence and it really benefited both organizations in a way that you were even surprised by maybe.
Rebecca: Okay.… The stories I can tell best really relate to collaboration, which are - I think - partnerships with more than two players. and I think that they've worked, the ones that I have seen or been a part of that have worked really well. Were those where there was a common goal, whether it was a common problem that needed solving or a common issue that needed to be addressed. and everybody who was there brought different strengths to the table. They were partnering not from weakness, but in a manner that compensated for each other's sort of skill gaps, because I don't think that anybody in that particular industry killer scenario was weak. I think they just have different skill gaps. and I think that's almost the best way to think about a partner. Is this partner somebody who's going to fill my skills gaps? and can I do the same for that?
Carol: so what are those complementary pieces where you, you don't all have to bring the same strengths to the table.
Rebecca: I mean, it could be something from something as simple as “these people understand organizational development. I don't understand organizational development, but I want to work with somebody who does.” Two organizations that are focusing on one issue, one organization has real strength in advocacy and organizing it, while one organization has real strength in writing and policy work, those are two sets of skills that it's really rare to find in one organization. some organizations are good at service providing and other organizations are better at management. I think that a lot of times organizations can partner to build capacity or to test something you could market through a partnership. I particularly found this true in the community development space. There are lots of nonprofits that want to get into community development, whether that is they want to build themselves a facility, whether they're in the housing business, there could be a church or some other big nonprofit that doesn't provide a service that they want to provide in the community development realm. Partnering with somebody who has that skill can be very successful because for everybody Think because the organization that needs the partner that wants to develop the housing or the community center or whatever, they have clarity of mission, they have built in constituency, they can fill the rooms, they can, run the programs, and they partner with somebody who understands how to actually get a building built, or how to get houses built, or, how do you raise money for that? How do you think about that? How do you budget? How do you plan? Those kinds of things.
I think that those are very successful partnerships generally, I think partnerships and community development work, especially where there's potential for a cut to reach economies of scale, for example, especially this gets really to what you talked about from the very beginning, if there's a space where there are lots of actors - in Baltimore, this was true in the out-of-school space, there was a period in I think the 90s, late 90s, early 2000s, where everybody it seemed, was an out-of-school time after-school program business, and some people were operating out of their homes or they were operating out of a church basement. some people had more robust programs or they had bigger space, so they had outdoor space, but the marketplace was so crowded at that point, and the small guys were really in danger of not being able to survive, not because they weren't doing really good work, but because they didn't have the capacity or the need for a nonprofit organization, but they didn't know about Fiscal Sponsorship. They didn't have all this sort of back-office stuff, but they were providing an extraordinarily high-quality service, so I facilitated a collaboration amongst six small providers in a neighborhood in Baltimore City that all had different types of service. There was an arts group, there was a tutoring group, there was a sports group, I think there might have been two of each one. I said to them, “okay, you don't all need a lawyer. You don't all need an accountant, but you've got to have a structure.," so they pulled together a collaboration and they identified a single fiscal sponsor, and somebody who was able to manage all the admin for all six of them. In the course of a year, they were each able to raise enough money to operate both independently, but also, for the first time, to do collaborative programming.
Carol: That's awesome. Yeah, it seems to me that it's too easy for many organizations to really get caught up in their own work and not really take the time to think about who else might be in their ecosystem., and as you're saying, even in their neighborhood, their community of who they might be working with for greater impact in that back office stuff. I mean, I'm not sure what the statistic is, and I should probably look it up, but it's like 70 to 80% of nonprofits with less than $750,000 budgets. If every single one of them is replicating that back office, It's a huge amount of resources that could be put to program could be put to program if they were to partner up with some other organizations and share those resources.
We're recording this in the midst of the quarantining for the Coronavirus, so I'm guessing that that this is going to have some impacts on people where they start looking at those things and start doing what solo entrepreneurs have been doing for years, hiring virtual assistants and virtual back office, virtual accounting, all of those things; and I think there's a difference between a partnership, just a one to one and then that that multi-party partnership and then even to the next level, and you’ve talked about how why you're getting together is so important, and I've seen in larger collaborations where it may seem obvious why everyone's together, and yet without having a deliberate conversation about how are we defining what our goal is really specific Basically, everyone can have their own definition of what that goal is.
Rebecca: I think that's right. I think too, that you can end up in the space of too many cooks in the kitchen, not enough sous chefs; whatever the metaphor is. It's really about leadership, and about who's going to be in charge - for lack of a better term. It's like if you had a room full of first children, do you know I mean?
Carol: I'm a middle child. I don't want to be in that room.
Rebecca: Yeah, I think it's that phenomenon. It's everybody thinking that they are in charge and not knowing - not only who's going to do what, but who's accountable for what, who's responsible for what, because those are the tough conversations that you need to have, and that's the stuff that if you don't do it, it can really kill you, not just the partnership, but it has implications for your individual organizations. If nobody talks about who's going to sign on the dotted line, who's going to be the fiduciary, whose insurance are you going to carry? Do you need to get insurance as a group? All of those things are hugely important, and I think when you're engaged in a partnership around an issue, it's easier to put those things aside or if you are engaged in a partnership that is time limited around a legislative issue or a crisis or some one-off challenge. It's very easy to let that stuff go, and then when you finish, and you’ve got to clean it all up, and you have a big old stew of stuff you can't figure out, it's a giant problem. I think the other thing about that, and about partnerships in general is you're talking about relationships. You're talking about people that - presumably - you like and respect and trust. If you don't, you're not doing enough, you're doing a disservice to the relationships if you don't take the time to think about that stuff and really figure it out.
Carol: I mean, in some instances, you can't have that assumption that everyone likes and respects each other and it may be that a funder is saying all of you guys are in this space, and I want you all to work together. When you've seen those kinds of situations,
Rebecca: The arranged marriage.
Carol: there's a whole bunch of steps that you have to take to start building that trust and you probably have to step way back before you can get to action to just ask “why are we all here? What do we think we can get out of this? How are we going to work together?”
Rebecca: You may be competitors, I mean, that's the other thing. I had a client last year who had been repeatedly asked by a prospective funder to partner with what they viewed as a complimentary organization. My clients saw that group as having a very different strategy, a very different objective; they were competitors so they did not want to partner with that group. The mistake they made, however, was not explaining that to the funder. They didn't explain to the funder that, while they respected the work, that group did their mission, and they had a very similar, I guess, 20,000 foot mission and how they got there in my clients view was incompatible. Their strategies were incompatible, and as a result, they really affected their relationship with the funder because they didn't communicate; and then when we were finally able to get that relationship back on track, the funder was like, “well, you should have just said something. I was looking at it from a very narrow perspective, you're doing this, they're doing this, you should all do it together. If you had said to me, ‘meh’ or ‘we could only partner in this one little area.’ rather than just not doing it.”
Carol: That's a really good point about the 20,000 foot mission versus the theory of change. How are you seeing the strategies you use, and how that's getting you to an end goal; and you say that you're really passionate about mission fidelity and avoiding mission creep, and I think this is just a huge challenge in the nonprofit sector for lots of lots of reasons. What do you see that really drives mission creep, in your experience?
Carol: Can you say more about that?
Rebecca: The number one thing in my experience that causes mission creep, is fundraising success. I think very often organizations use the availability of funds as a “we'll try this," you know what I mean? It's not very well thought through if you have - actually, let me be more specific: it's less about economics broadly, than it is about covering your operating expense, which I think is one of the single biggest challenges and one of the things I think that the philanthropic community should be doing more of is covering the appropriate percentage, covering operating expenses at the appropriate level, because often what I have seen happen is an organization - let’s say they're a S.T.E.M. organization, they provide S.T.E.M. services, they teach kids S.T.E.M. in the after school space. They raise X number of their $50,000 budget, or $100,000 budget, of which $20,000 is general operating or 30,000 was general operating. They are applying for program grants. There is not an organization that I have seen - and I worked for a philanthropy and our general operating number, I think was 11%, and we were very high at the time. General operating isn't sexy. It's not new, it's not the bright shiny thing, so it can be very hard to raise money for. So this particular organization saw a grant opportunity to provide counseling or to provide family counseling or something, something that was utterly unrelated to but could have been tangentially and their way in was we will counsel the families of the kids we serve, because they were like “we need the money." It was a disaster because it was so far outside of their mission.
Carol: and probably [out of] their core competence
Rebecca: Exactly. I think often - and that's a very extreme example - often it's, “we'll do the same thing in a different issue” or “we’ll do the same thing with a slightly different program area," but the result is the same. I see a lot of medium-sized nonprofits, or nonprofits that want to go from small to midsize. If there is a trend in philanthropy, if there's a new bright, shiny thing that funders are funding, then the temptation is very great to try the new, bright, shiny thing as a means to keep your doors open rather than doing what you do really, really well and working harder to find the funders that support that. That's a hard thing to do, I think that avoiding mission creep is a function of capacity.
Carol: If you've seen - and I am not a fundraising consultant, so this is just from observations - so especially with newer organizations, you're talking about moving from small to midsize, maybe there's a lack of understanding of what really [is] the impact that grants can have on an organization from the board's perspective. It just seems like “oh, wow, it's free money.” I mean, it's not free money because you got to do work for it - but the sense of
never thinking about what that grant might actually cost the organization.
Carol: Is the piece that people miss.
Rebecca: I think that's right. I think there's a lot of well-intentioned grant making that isn't necessarily well thought through, and I also think that there's a temptation I think that works counter to that in a mission creep space is empire building.
Carol: Can you say a little bit more about that?
Rebecca: There are often three or four big dogs [in a city] that started out doing whatever they did, [and] because their organization is really good at whatever it is that they started out doing, they're the ones that get offered the new bright, shiny thing, and because they have the capacity to do it, and even if [they don’t,] they have the capacity to hurry up and figure out how to do it, and somebody asked them to do it. Somebody with money said, “why don't you try this?” I mean, there's an organization in Baltimore, [and] they do great work, but they are the object lesson for empire building. They did one thing exceptionally well, [and] because they did that one thing exceptionally well and ED was out and about, a lot of people knew him. He's a smart guy, he was easy to like, the program was a very feel-good program. Then somebody asked him to go into the housing renovation business or some absurd ancillary thing, and because somebody asked him to do it, he did exactly what you said: he hurried up and figured it out, because he had the bandwidth within his staff and he had the resources to train. He figured out how to do that,
Carol: Or hire some experts doing that.
Rebecca: Exactly. So even though he went and did it and did a serviceable job at it. He put out of business the two organizations across town that were doing that work successfully, but that were really, really tiny so nobody knew they were there. So the unintended consequences of the intended consequences of not really understanding capacity building and choosing expansion for the known over [just] training somebody who is smaller and maybe less well known. so this organization just to wrap it up in a bow ended up being the go-to organization, they ended up with fiscal sponsorships and blah, blah, blah in 15 different issue areas, and they had a very high opinion of themselves, and they had one of those heavy duty blockbuster boards with all the bold faces and everybody. They were *the* group, and it got to a point where the people who ran it took themselves way too seriously.
Carol: It’s flattering to be asked to do all those things.
Rebecca: It is, and if you're able to figure out how to do them even marginally well, you also have the ability to cover your own failures, you can paper over the fact that you're not as good at it as you were at your core service, but you're passively good at it, and people love you. So they're going to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I was putting together a program - I was working inside government and I was putting together a program and we needed to get a big application, and we were looking for nonprofits to work with who would be the lead for this particular grant. These guys were not the right ones, but they really thought they were, and they couldn't figure out why they hadn't been asked to dance. We went with somebody else because it was an opportunity to elevate that group, they were very, very good and ready to do the next step and it was really interesting having to explain to this very successful organization that they were not the ones [and] I think that happens too. I think that, in every single city there are three or four big dogs, then there's two or three medium dogs, and then there are 35 small dogs who can't get out of the dog run because they can't raise any money.
Carol: Yeah. Well I want to shift gears a little bit and play a game.
Carol: I’ve been a facilitator of many, many meetings and designing lots of retreats and planning sessions etc. I have many things like boxes of icebreakers because other people are better - that's one of those skill gaps -- other people are better at thinking of fun questions than I am, so I'm just going to use theirs…. So the question is: if you could live in a sitcom, which one would it be and why?
Rebecca: [I have] a couple of answers to that. I don't know which way to go. Is this “if my life were a sitcom” or can I pick a sitcom? Am I picking a sitcom to inhabit?
Carol: You're living in it. You're being dropped in, you are now a character in the sitcom.
Rebecca: Okay, all right.
Carol: It doesn't have to be for the rest of your life.
Rebecca: Ok… off the top of my head, [my] answer is Friends because it's impossible to believe that they could all be in New York and not have a black friend.
Carol: Well, there you go.
Rebecca: That was [something] I never understood.
Carol: Well it's funny, when I pulled this card out of the box this morning, I actually thought of Friends also, but then I started thinking “um... well, let's see, I'd be the nerdy friend that certainly wouldn't be hanging out with those folks if I were in college.”
Rebecca: I'd be the black snarky friend, but guess what, that's my thing.
Carol: All right, excellent [I think] mostly because I was a single mom in my 20s and so I didn't get to have that time of hanging out with your friends and that being your family, so I would take a vacation there with those folks as well.
So what are you excited about what's coming up for you that's emerging in terms of your practice and the work you're doing?
Rebecca: I'm really excited about partnerships and collaborations right now, and I was excited about it before all of this craziness, but I am weirdly more excited about it now because I think that what is happening in our country, and in our world is both exposing some real fissures that need to be fundamentally addressed, and - secondarily - I think every crisis is an opportunity, right? I think that the nonprofit sector has a real opportunity to examine their work, to be very creative in terms of service-providing because we are in a period where lots of people need lots of things. I think that both big and small, established and less established organizations of different competencies have real opportunities to come together and increase capacity and develop broader programming and change and think about the ways in which they serve their constituents, and I think that there is a lot of opportunity for people like me who understand and can help you figure that out, so that.
The other way I'm thinking about it is, you know, one of the ways I describe myself in my practice is that I'm an interpreter because I have experience, not just across sectors but across subject matters. I am able to be the fulcrum, be the center of the wheel, and help the spokes communicate to each other for a moment. What that has given me is a certain agility and nimbleness to be able to explain and interpret and facilitate collaborations because I understand how each sector works with the other from their particular vantage point. I always joke that I can translate, I can speak philanthropy to government, I can speak nonprofit to philanthropy. I can be in all of those spaces and create meaningful collaboration and I think that's going to be a very useful skill going forward.
Carol: Yeah, I think people are having to - there are some who jumped on the bandwagon in terms of working from a distance and obviously, not everything can be done from a distance. A lot of places are having to rethink how they do their work and maybe suddenly, things that people doubted, I know [that] in the work that my daughter does, they do virtual advising of college students for financial aid, and suddenly virtual advising is the one thing that they can do right now. So you talked about things emerging for you, so how can people get in touch with you?
Rebecca: People can get in touch with me via my website, which is rcmstrategicconsulting.com . I can be reached via email at RCMstrategicconsulting@gmail.com. I have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. My Twitter account is RCMStratConsult.
Carol: All right, you can get in touch with Rebecca there and thank you so much for coming on. This was a really interesting conversation.
Rebecca: Thank you very much for having me Carol. It was a lot of fun.
Episode 03: Today we’re talking to Moira Edwards.
We talked about:
• how technology supports the work of nonprofits and associations.
• Moira explains the three levels of IT infrastructure that leaders need to consider and how an organization typically would apportion the budget to support those three levels
• the concept of the peace time and the war time CEOs come into play as organizations manage the quick shifts forced onto them by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moira Edwards is the President of Ellipsis Partners and focuses on the impact of technology on organizational strategy. As head of Ellipsis Partners, she helps associations and nonprofits make smart technology decisions to create member value and support critical business operations.
Peace time vs War time CEO: https://hbr.org/2011/04/peacetime-ceos-vs-wartime-ceos
Mission: Impact is sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting
Carol: Welcome Moira. It's great to have you on the podcast
Carol: Just to get us started, tell folks a little bit about what drew you into the work that you do, and how you got to where you are now.
Moira: You know what gets scary as you get older? How much this spans decades rather than years; but I’ve always been an analyst of some sort, right out of college my first jobs were about finding problems and digging into them to find sometimes a software solution, sometimes a statistical model as a solution. Actually, the first job I had in the U.S. after I came here from Ireland, I was at the Federal Aviation Administration and I worked on the Land and Hold Short Operations Program. So what's fascinating about that is if you imagine any air course that has multiple runways, some of them intersect and the Land and Hold Short Program was that the larger aircraft would use the entire length of one runway and the middle of smaller complex Sesnas and things would land on a different runway and hold short of the intersecting runway. So what I did was I gathered all of the stopping distances for the little tiny aircraft and calculated what length of runway they would need in order to stop and safely land and hold short.
After that, I went to work for my first association and that was providing help-desk support to people who are using members who are using software that the association has actually developed. During that time is when it became really clear to me that technology is about people really, and truly. For our members to get value from the technology that we offered, it had to not just work for them, but it had to work for everyone involved in delivering it. So the developers have to say, ‘yeah, that software works’ and the people who offered support and the people who did the training and the people who mocked this, everybody all have to say; ‘yeah, that works well.’ We have this concept of an elegant solution that, when we were developing a new iteration of the software, we didn't want it to be like this old Victorian house with staircases to nowhere and lots of additions cobbled on that. We want it to be this really elegant, seamless solution that people could use. So I think I still do that.
I still try to help associations and nonprofits make really good decisions about technology and understanding what everybody wants to do. The members of staff, understanding the systems, fitting it with the organizations and their strategies and their capabilities, and making sure that the technology would work for the future and bringing it all together into a decision and a solution that everybody goes: ‘yes.’ You can almost hear the CyberKnife. Everybody goes, yeah, that works. So that's what I do. It's been an evolution along that path for 30 years and I get to do what I love. I consider myself so fortunate.
Carol: Well, I love your analogy of the old Victorian house versus the modern house with the essential elements really there, because I find that not just in technology and the technology infrastructure that organizations need to do their work well, but also in so many things that nonprofits do, they end up adding. It's like this Victorian house that's had lots of different additions built to it and no one ever stopped to say, ‘what are we actually going to get rid of and stop doing, before we add something new on,’ and I've gone over this, she's talked to me about those staircases to know where they’re forgetting to take it into a dead end in the software or in the process. It's very choppy and I think that sense of bringing it all together and understanding how the technology supports the overall goal, and also keeping up with technology because it changes, and if you don't change with it, to some extent you do that cost and stagnate and are kind-of trapped by it. So it's about recognizing all these cool new things coming out and figuring out how to use them. For many organizations, I would guess that some kind of technology investment is going to be one of their biggest investments in terms of infrastructure, some of their bigger projects, when you're helping leaders think about and move through one of those projects, what are some of the key things that they need to keep in mind?
Moira: When we think about how leaders use technology or work with technology. Sometimes I think it's really scary for many of those in a leadership position. I mean, in many ways, technology is as essential to achieving their vision as people as money. Right. It's just one of the things you've got to factor in. I think that for many leaders, they're thinking ‘I have this vision, I need to take a risk and I should, but I don't know how to use technology to do that.’ So one of the things we do is try and make this a little easier to understand.
We divide technology into three levels and the foundation, the basic level is technology is operations. So this is all about, ‘do things work? Can I send an email? Can I open a document and work on this? Do I have a laptop? Do I have a secure connection? Do I have the basic skills to run the organization and to do my work.’ that technology is operations, it’s foundational. It's about keeping the lights on and that's where your managed services provider is an absolute godsend, because this is very much a foundational operational support that you get from your managed services provider. There are certainly things you can outsource and, as a leader, you don't have to pay as much attention to it. Apart from the security aspects, you just need to make sure your managed service provider, the people who provide your desktop support, who would be your call center? They would probably provide your email solutions, they're probably the people who have put your servers out into the cloud. They're the people who crawl under desks and figure out what's going on under there. These days, most organizations do not have a server in a closet in the office anymore. They have a managed services provider who's taken over all of that for them, and it's great. As Reggie Henry says, no association or nonprofit should have a server on premise anymore. It should all be out in the cloud and managed by people who do this for a living. You can outsource a lot of technology operations these days.
The next level, if you're a leader and you're trying to think about the next level up is technology as service. At this level, you're serving your staff. Do they have the software they need to do their jobs in terms of running membership and offering events and doing learning. These would be where your enterprise-level systems come in, your AMS, your LMS, and you're also serving your members. Can they come to your website and do what they need to do easily and efficiently or is everybody doing a work-around, do you remember having to call in to get something done? Do your staff keep having to export things to Excel in order to get things done? If that's the case, then your technology as a service is maybe not working so well, but you can conceptualize that. Okay, I'm serving people and again, this is important to do, and you need to invest money in us because this is what makes you different to your members. This is why they come to you rather than any other organization, this is how they know they experience it as good service.
Carol: You used a couple acronyms and I just want to make sure people know what they are. AMS and LMS.
Moira: AMS is an “Association Management System.” So that's going to be a membership database, and it's also going to be the place where you run your e-commerce, maybe you run your login for your website. It's a pretty central ERP - enterprise, relationship, platform.
Carol: If an organization isn't an association, what would that typically be called for a non-association, nonprofit, that'd be IT customer-relation management or CRM, or some kind of donor relation management system something like that, and who you're serving as well, so that central database that holds all your essential information about the people you serve, the people you work with.
Moira: Exactly, that core operational database. You want to get that right, the elements of your learning management system. If you're offering any learning to your members, to your constituents, you might have a learning management system (LMS). Again, how do they experience your organization? Whether your LMS is smooth, easy to log into, easy to access, easy to see where you are in their learning progress, then they're going to have a positive experience with your organization.
So when we think about leadership having a vision moving forward, that really comes into that top level, which is [that] technology is innovation. So if you think about [it], we've got a foundational level of technologies [and] operations, making things work with a middle level of technology, a service really making things smooth and work[ing] well.
Technology is innovation where we sometimes think about taking risks, because here's where you might develop your own software to offer to members. Here's where you might really use design thinking to figure out what they need and how you can solve their problems. So at this technology's innovation level, you're really thinking about how you could serve your members or your constituents, your donors, your grantees in ways that they have not taught you that serves them before. That's where maybe there's some risk, but it's a smaller investment that perhaps might be 10% of your IT budget and it's also where you experiment, where you use the agile methodology or fail fast to go out. You try out something new, you get some feedback and you do a more interwoven approach to technology development so that each individual experiment is not a huge risk. That's how, as a leader, you can think about technology in different ways and decide where to devote your attention, where to devote your budget. Does that make sense?
Carol: Makes a lot of sense. When I did some research a couple years ago, just looking at how associations were approaching innovation, I saw when at most it was interesting and that most organizations really saw the field as not very innovative, but saw their own organization as very innovative and one of the three top projects that folks mentioned, that when [asked] what innovative thing are you doing now? Most often it had to do with technology, and then the other one that was kind of related, was doing some type of learning online. We're recording this in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a lot of organizations are having to make a quick shift in terms of how they're working, how they're delivering services. Technology is undergirding everything that's able to move forward, but all those assumptions that you talked about in terms of those three tiers are coming into play in terms of, if an organization has never had a culture around remote work or any of those things, or not had the the technology to support it makes that shift particularly hard. I'm observing lots of steep learning curves with people in terms of different technologies that some of us have been using for a long time, but for others are brand new. So what would you say can help organizations as they're kind of confronted with this sudden shift that's happening right now?
Moira: Well, one of the things that you and I have talked about is how do you stay strategic? How do you keep yourself focused on the long-term when you're surrounded by short-term chaos and stress? I think that's a useful lens through which to see this because we are so frantic and I know [that] at times I'm panicked by it, everything that we're trying to deal with.
I'm going to point back to a blog post that was written by a guy called Ben Horowitz in 2014 but HBR, Harvard Business Review had picked it up and talked a bit about it around then. It's this concept of there being a war-time CEO and a peace-time CEO, and I know separate to whatever has ever been done. That's been used in the media right now at the time.
What's really useful about this concept is that a peacetime CEO is the transformation leader that we've all come to admire and established as the norm in leadership thinking. We are developing goals, we are creating strategic plans, and we're moving the organization forward in a very thoughtful, collaborative way with lots of emotional intelligence. That's your peace-time, transformational CEO. In contrast, the war time CEO is autocratic, decisive, commanding, and makes decisions. In fact, it can also be just the person we need in a time of crisis. The idea though, in this post is that we actually as leaders, need to be able to move between the two styles. So those of us that are running organizations and having to make that transition to a different way of working extremely quickly, we're out there being decisive right in the face of all of this movement, our events being canceled, having to change our revenue projections, having to readjust our budgets.
So we're being wartime CEOs and managing and responding and getting things done. I think what I would say to anyone in this position is that we need to craft ourselves a little piece of peacetime in the middle of all of that. So for me, that means just spending the time that I used to spend commuting sitting with some coffee, watching the morning sunrise, and letting some of this busyness subside and reading, maybe some interesting books, or just journaling out some thoughts about new directions, new ways to take advantage of what's happening and capitalize on what's changing rather than being overwhelmed by us.
So I think putting that little bit of peace in the morning has been very helpful, and turning off the news for that hour as well so that I'm not tracking the numbers of cases and infections as we are every morning. Another thing that I'm doing and I'm seeing others doing is carving out some time for learning for me and for my staff, because there's travel that I'm not doing, there are meetings I'm not going to because of the stay-at-home orders. So there are gaps of time in my schedule that I didn’t know were going to be there and using that time for some learning is a way to crack my brain open and keep us open.
When a part of me is just responding, and somebody can be reactive during a time of rapid change. Another thing I'm doing, or I'm starting to do, I would say is so I'm having a lot more check-ins with people like I'm at home and people I haven't talked to in months, we're suddenly having zoom calls and phone calls and people say, ‘how are you and what are you doing, and how are you coping?’ So in some ways we're having the same conversations over and over, but these are great opportunities to ask interesting questions of all these people. So sometimes I'll say to them, ‘so what has surprised you about the past few weeks that you didn't think would happen,’ or I might say ‘what has changed in your life that you think will not change back when this is all over’ or I might say, ‘what do you think the new normal would be like for you, for your organization, for the world?’ Having those conversations is also another way to keep my brain from just getting stuck in a reactive mode and thinking, keeping a vision of the future, and that could be a very different future coming up and thinking about how then we can, how are we going to act in that new chair, right?
Carol: Yeah, for me, it's been when I'm noticing myself getting hyped up where I used to be able to sit and read a book for hours. I haven't been able to do that in the last month. So it's much more, tapping into [a] meditative movement, so yoga and walking outside and talking to people while I'm walking outside and taking bike rides and all the things we're still allowed to do to just keep all of that energy moving through my body, to stay grounded.
I love those questions that you're asking. So I'm curious for you, what have you been surprised by in the last couple of weeks and what do you see as the new normal?
Moira: I think the thing that has surprised me is that this feels different to my normal way of working from home, and I think the element here is one around choice, and I think that's going to be an interesting conversation for us, in the coming weeks and months is around choice. First of all, when I work from home, I choose to, [and] now I'm somewhat forced. So that's got a different feel to us, but also what I notice is that when I'm in an office and I have my door open and people come and talk with me, I have very little choice in that matter. I mean, I can maybe close my door if I want no disruptions, I can keep it closed all the time when I'm onsite with organizations and I'm part of the office environment.
At first, I love it. I love the chance to chat to everyone, then after awhile, I realized that I don't have as much control over my schedule as they do. [Now] I'm working from home, and I think in this environment where we're all working remotely, people are going to have a lot more control over their workday because you're going to have to book time on their calendars and maybe you're going to use a tool like Slack or even a text to send them a quick question. They can answer that from anywhere.
I think we are going to come to expect more and more control and choice about when we work and how we work. I don't think that's a bad thing because I think one of the things that we find problematic about the workplace is the distraction where there's the distraction from the open offices and the noise around you, or the distraction of people dropping by, or whatever it is. I think having more control over when I focus on when I'm just available to be disrupted, it's actually great. I think people are going to push back against going into an environment where they can be so easily disrupted.
Carol: At the same time, one thing that I think people miss from when you're working remotely all the time is that sense of the serendipitous bumping into somebody, having a conversation at the water cooler, walking down the stairs that the fact that some companies have now built common stairs to force people to actually walk up and down and interact with each other. So I'm curious what you're seeing in terms of how people are building in some of that as they do remote work and how they might think about it if they haven't yet.
Moira: So I did a section for ASC, the technology conference many years ago, actually at this stage maybe six years ago, and it was about managing virtual workers and the remote workforce. When we did a survey of nonprofit folx and we found that the thing that mitigated a drop in creativity was relationships. If the organization found a way to foster relationships, then people found a way to be creative and have casual conversations. So maybe it doesn't work. Like when I think about Melissa Meyer and bringing everybody back into Yahoo, it's a huge organization. So maybe it's harder than larger organizations, but certainly in smaller organizations. There are ways to foster those relationships.
Yesterday, I was doing an online session and afterwards we had a virtual happy hour. So these are very common during the pandemic. Now people are gathering on zoom and having some sort of virtual coffee hour, a happier, conversational time. It was so powerful. I think it depends how many people are on screen. We have six or seven people at one time and it was. As good a conversation as I have ever had sitting around a table, chatting with people. I felt connected. Some of these people I knew relatively well, others not so well. I felt like I knew everyone in that conversation better afterwards. I would feel much more comfortable now whether it's picking up a phone, shooting a quick email, or using something like a sign to send them a good question because I feel like I know them better and I know how they would respond. So I think that's the thing to focus on in the long-term is building relationships and that comfort with each other so we can have those casual interactions with whatever means there is. Does that make sense?
Carol: Totally makes sense. I'm thinking of a parallel situation. I'm a member of a congregation and of course our services have gone online and we've had virtual or - I actually don't like the word virtual cause it's real, it's just online. Online coffee hours through Zoom, and what I've loved about it is that after everyone's in there and you've got the 50 people or even more on screen, they've randomly assigned us into small groups. So I've talked to people that I would never talk to in Coffee Hour. If it's a new person, great, it's easy to go say hello to them; but if that person's been a member for a long time, and you've never gotten around to actually saying hello. This is the easy way to actually get to know [them].
So it's been a great thing and a wonderful equalizer and community builder. It's been amazing.
Moira: Absolutely, and my meditation class has gone online now. That is so lovely to see a screen full of like 40 people on video with their eyes closed. That is supremely vulnerable,
it really is, it's lovely. What's so interesting, I was talking with the teacher and I was telling her what a great job she's doing. She's like, ‘yeah, I didn't know I would enjoy it so much.’ She is absolutely able to be present and really talk personally with us, whether it's a group or one on one with individual people during the session in a way that I didn't think was possible using an online medium. So I agree with you completely. Relationships and connection are very possible using technology today.
Carol: Yeah. I have had to immediately move to facilitating a number of long, multi-hour sessions from an in-person that were going to be an in-person and now moving them online, and for the one that was going to be a day long, I cut it in half. Because I just don't believe that you should inflict an eight-hour Zoom meeting on anybody. We had a really, really productive conversation and then the first group, they were a lot of people who didn't really know each other well, and just taking the time to - [and] we would have done this in person regardless, but taking the time to check in and then being able to use the small groups to move them around and you're really able to do so much with today's technology.
So wanting to shift into, again in this environment, a lot of organizations, their first reaction was to cancel all their events. How can, as they think a little longer term, like you're saying, keep that, while you're reacting, taking a moment to pause and taking that longer view, how might they approach actually moving some of those events online, especially if this goes on longer than initially anticipated.
Moira: I think it's a combination of being intentional and experimental. The intentional part is stopping and thinking a bit about what is important about your online event. So we worked with one organization where the most important thing, funnily enough, were the coffee breaks, because their attendees did not get a chance typically to meet, they kind-of came from two different fields. So the sessions were great. They would talk about the meat of the science that they were talking about, but the coffee breaks is where they would have the conversations. It's like these relationships we'll be talking about. So when they go online, what's really important to them is a way for people to chat. So breakout rooms and Zooms are our ideal for that. So understanding what are the critical things that make your event unique? Why do people come to your events? Having some focus groups, taking some time to gather requirements from your attendees, your members, your constituents from your staff, and can understand at least five high-level things about what you want to do, but you can then go and look at different platforms. Whether it's Zoom or video, you use your Learning Management System, cause they have a lot of interesting features, or maybe you go to one of the conference-capturing platforms with lots of different ways that you can do this, and you make sure that what you're choosing will support those critical needs. Then the experimental side is to really be open with your members and maybe you do an actual experiment, if you can, to try it out.
Maybe you think of it as a practice run, but the people will really accept what you're doing. If you're upfront, I've got the fact that this is an experiment rather than delivering value. So maybe there might be, either a no-fee or a reduced-fee, if you can swing it, because if you charge the full amount, he was going to expect the sole value. So how can you make this experimental, can you try a plea event with one of your committees? It's a real event, but we are planning to learn from it and by calling it an experiment you set expectations lower, people give you buy-in because they're willing to contribute to the success of this experiment. I’ve found that some sort of pilot or experimental SES really helps before you do the full offering, because don't forget you've gotten really good at doing your in-person events. You've had so many chances to perfect that, you have to go back and approach this with a fresh mind.
Carol: Yeah, and I think you might actually find that through those experiments, you learn some interesting things that you want to keep doing, even in the future or that there might be all sorts of unexpected benefits from going online. Not to say that face-to-face events won't happen again in the future, they certainly will, but I think the impact might be that things have to meet a much higher threshold to warrant a face-to-face event than they did before this, because people will realize that it is possible to do a lot of what we've traditionally done in face-to-face events online, and in some ways there's the pet peeve I've always had with conferences is the coffee hour, if you can figure out how you can reiterate that,
but I've often questioned, why did I bother getting on a plane to go and sit and listen to panels where there was no interaction, if you're not doing anything to facilitate, any kind of experiential learning and not to say that that's not possible online, it is also with planning, but if you're not doing that in your conferences, there's never been a reason for anyone to fly, except for all the extra things that happen in between all the things that you plan. It'll be interesting to see the longer-term impact.
Moira: That's so interesting because the great thing about a conference is [that] you meet people you would not have met. Otherwise you form relationships with people or you strengthen relationships because you're sitting, you're eating, you're drinking, you're having experiences together and you're sharing knowledge and experiences and time with people.
When we do surveys for our clients and they talk about ‘why do you join,’ the top reasons are often the information, the resources, the education. So people are definitely there for the topic and the speakers, but what makes them come back is the experience. And that experience is from how they felt and who they chatted with on the coffee hour and what that led to when they came back. I think you're absolutely right.
Carol: And so, with those experiments of trying to do some of this online, I think being really intentional, as you said, about what those main things that people are looking for are and how might we, not necessarily replicate, I mean, it's not going to be replicating, it's going to be different, but how do we foster those same or similar experiences, as people come together.
Moira: Right, because your online event is not just about putting a speaker or a panel in front of you, it's the interaction afterwards. So the educational session that we had yesterday, for AWTC - the Association for Women Technology Champions - which is this nonprofit that I'm on the board of. We had a speaker, she gave an amazing presentation sharing slides, then when the slides were over, but we stopped the screen share.
So the screen was full of the videos of the participants. We had a conversation, which was amazing, like a really good question-and-answer, give-and-take, back-and-forth. Then you went into a happy hour for anybody who was left, which is even more connective and informative. So we can share [and] we can make this technology support that, which is important within our virtual events.
Carol: Yeah, and same as before, it's always a tool, right. It's a tool to get other objectives done. So what I heard you saying before was [that] it's so key to figure out what those objectives are, what those requirements are. And maybe it provides an opportunity if you're going to be doing this differently, to have a different kind of engagement beforehand with members that you might not have had in a long time, if you've been doing a similar event year after year, to dig into what it is that they really need and what they’re looking for. What do they need now that's different?
Moira: This provides a huge opportunity and many of our constituents would have been resistant to some of the online technology, but now they're sitting at home, they're using zoom for their work calls, they are using zoom to have birthday celebrations with their kids and grandkids. So suddenly they've realized that this isn't that hard, or maybe the tools have actually come a long way towards not making it hard anymore. So there's less resistance. I think that we will experience our constituents going online because they now know what it's like.
Carol: So many people are familiar with the term early adopter and it's from - and I'm forgetting the guy's name, but I'll put it in the show notes - the innovation curve and part of the innovation curve. There’s a big gap between the early adopters and the early majority and something like this just pushes a lot of people over that chasm suddenly. It goes back to your original thing of choice of, in this instance, there's no choice around working from home. If you have the kind of job that's possible to do working from home, so then to use all these technologies that they may have said, ‘oh, I don't want to learn that.’ Or ‘that would never work,’ or ‘I could never facilitate that way.’ Or, ‘I could never have a meeting that way, it would never be the same.’ Suddenly it's like, ‘okay, well, are you just not going to ever talk to anyone again?’ Probably not.
So, seeing as we're coming to the end here, I like to play a little bit of a game at the end. I have a box of icebreaker questions, so I've chosen three and I'm going to ask you one of them. So, if you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why?
Moira: Oh, wow. I’ll tell you that sometimes these icebreaker questions, I find them difficult ‘cause I need about a second or two to think about them. Because a number of images of people have come to mind. I would have to say that it would be the Buddha. That would be the historical seeker I would love to meet because, of all of the different people in history who have changed history, given us great insights, I think the Buddha is probably going to be the calmest one. I would just like to experience that. I'd just like to be close to that and see what that felt like. I don't even know that I would necessarily talk to him, I would just like to see what radiates from that.
Carol: Just bathe in that calm, open presence as the enlightenment. Yeah, I’ve been doing more meditations recently and did one recently that talked about imagining that very calming presence, whether it's a relative, or an ancestor, or a spiritual figure. Then at the end being reminded, well you imagined that, so you have it within you. I thought that was a really interesting way to think about it.
Moira: That is, yeah, that's really nice.
Carol: So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you, what's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Moira: Absolutely. I was sitting here today and I'm looking out my window. So from the little world that I'm occupying right now, which is my home, one of the things I'm excited about others are the leaves coming on the trees. And the days are getting longer because, in this world, in some ways we're stuck in place. It's lovely to look out the window and see spring and growth and life continue. So that makes me very happy and excited for the rest of the year.
From a work perspective, there are some experiments we want to try within Ellipse’s partners. As we look at the world and we're trying to keep ourselves open about how to do things differently in this changed environment. We're looking to try some experiments to connect people together, to share knowledge, because I really see that working. So that's a little exciting. We're figuring out what that will look like and creating new ideas is always fun.
I mentioned the AWTC - the Association for Women Technology Champions. I am so excited by that group. It's a group that formed, some of us had just met on a regular basis to talk about technology and life. So I'm one of the founders, but now we have expanded that and we want to bring the knowledge, the connection, the insights to the greater group of women who are working to promote and advance technology in their nonprofit organization.
We just became officially incorporated. We're going to file now for our 501C3 status.
Moira: We will now have the foundation too, the paperwork, the credentials to actually offer more education, more connection, more ability to advance women in the technology community and that's very exciting.
Carol: Awesome. Well, how can people find out more about you and get in touch?
Moira: Sure, the nonprofit that I talked about, AWTC, our website is awtc.tech. We use a cool ending, so I'd love you to check that out for us, for Ellipsis partners, our website is ellipsispartners.com E-L-L-I-P-S-I-S Partners dot com. Since I'm Moira Edwards, my email is email@example.com, and would welcome a connection with any of your listeners, it would be lovely to chat further, about anything we talked about today.
Carol: All right, well thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming on. I enjoyed our conversation.
Moira: I did too. Thanks, Carol.
Episode 02: Today we’re talking to Kathy Patrick.
We talked about:
• what it takes to influence decision makers.
• the concrete steps leaders can take to create a plan, identify who is key to your organization and how to start building a relationship with them before you need their help.
• Why it is so important to remember that key decision makers are human first and not fixate on their title and role.
Kathy Patrick, of Strategic Sense, LLC, helps progressive non-profit leaders build influence and create powerful relationships with all types of decision makers, so they can increase the impact and reach of their organizations, attract more resources to their work, and free up time to do the creative, visionary work they were meant to do.
Mission: Impact is sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting
Carol: welcome, Kathy. It’s great to have you on the podcast.
Kathy: It’s great to be here, thanks.
Carol: I just want to start out by asking you what drew you to the work that you do? How did you kind of get where you are? What was your journey?
Kathy: Hmm journey…. Well, I started out in advocacy work and my first big leadership role was running a statewide women's rights organization in Wisconsin. I had two main jobs. They were basically “make good policies happen” and “keep harmful policies from happening”. Then I came to Washington to work at a national women's employment organization, which is where you and I met. Part of my job there was the same thing only at the federal level, but the other part was to help the 1200 or so direct service programs in our national network. They would call with what seemed like policy problems, but in fact they were about something much deeper and they were struggling with all sorts of decisions that were getting made, funding decisions, policy decisions, you name it, but they were all getting made without their input. They were finding out about potential threats and opportunities at the last minute, or sometimes too late to even do anything about it. The result was that they were just constantly in reactive mode, they were feeling powerless, frustrated, exhausted, and demoralized. That's when I realized that what all these problems had in common was that folks just didn't have enough influence with the decision-makers, and until they changed that they weren't going to get different results.
So we started creating training programs to help leaders improve their access and influence, and it worked. They started getting a seat at some of the key tables and helping to guide the thinking there; and that meant more and better opportunities, and fewer disasters started coming their way. When I started my consulting business, I moved out of the employment universe and started working with all different kinds of nonprofits on healthcare, and nutrition, and housing, and a bunch of other issues. I also found that in fact, no matter what you're working on, there is a uniform truth for all nonprofit leaders which is: when you have strong influential relationships with the key decision-makers in your world, you consistently get more opportunities coming your way and have fewer instances of having to deal with the impact of harmful decisions. That means that leaders get to spend more time doing that creative visionary work they were meant to do, which is why we all got into this in the first place right? We want to solve big problems and make a big impact, and that's pretty hard to do when you're being yanked around by decisions that you don't have a lot of control over. So at this point, what I’m all about is helping non-profit leaders create that influence so that they can do what they were really put here to do.
Carol: So in terms of creating that influence and building those relationships, and getting out of that reactive mode, what are some of the key steps that organizations can start taking to start building that influence with decision-makers that you're, that you talk about?
Kathy: Well you know, the good news is it's actually pretty simple. It's not necessarily easy, but it's pretty simple. There's about five and a half steps to getting that done, but the other thing that I would say is that this is perhaps counter-intuitively maybe one of the best possible times to be thinking about either starting that work or doing more of it because, it's really all about figuring out how you can help those decision-makers solve the problems they're working on. I've got some steps that I'll walk us through on how to do that, but the reality is that a lot of times, one of the first steps in figuring out how you're going to build a relationship with a decision-maker is to figure out, well, what are what's important to them?
What problems are they working on? What keeps them up at night? So right now, while we're all in pandemic mode - and we'll probably be there for the foreseeable future, some interesting things are happening, routines are blown out of the water, no decision making processes routine right now, and all of the usual plodding, bureaucratic approaches to things are not really happening. Instead what's happening is that everybody is totally focused on the immediate problems at hand that are coming out of all of the disruption that's occurring. So it's actually pretty easy to figure out what problems people are working on, ‘cause we're all kind of working on the same things. So that actually makes everybody's job a little bit easier if a bit more chaotic.
So basic steps to this are to first of all, just pick a decision-maker or two, and not 20 decision-makers, but like one or two that are really good.
Carol: What would be an example of who might that be like for an organization that you've worked with before, what, who are the key, some of the key people that they might need to be reaching out to?
Kathy: Sure. So you know, the first thing that people always think about with that are like elected officials and that's great. You know, you could, you could think in terms of your city council or your County board, or your state legislature, or members of your state legislature, maybe a key committee chair, somebody who might be in charge of a policy or funding that you would care about, something like that. It would also be administrative bodies. So again, I'm just thinking pandemic terms and all of the problems that are rolling out of that. So it might be a County health department or a city employment agency, or a city housing department, those kinds of administrative creatures. It can also be funders, it could be grantmakers, foundations, corporate partners you have, or corporate partners you wish you had, there are a lot of interesting corporate nonprofit partnerships that are happening right now to tackle some of these problems. So really the way I always put it to two new clients is any decision-maker who has the ability to make a decision that will impact your organization's wellbeing or the wellbeing of the people you serve is potentially a legitimate relationship building target, but those are the kinds of categories that they typically fall into.
Carol: Yeah. and it's interesting. Cause you know, so often people, when they think about this work, they think primarily about government related folks, and I was working in a network that was trying to make change in a large watershed, and one of the things that they were trying to do is employ influence, you know, they were working at the municipal level, so pretty local, but then also with individual landowners and, you know, some of those landowners have large tracts of land, they might be corporate related or whatnot, and, you know everyone's going to the legislative folks trying to get their bit in and I said: well, what if you were to, cause this was about like how you do things, right? How you do things on the ground and changing practice, changing how people do their work. So I was like, there are so many associations for every single one of these fields and there are probably three people who make decisions about what that entire field gets trained on. If you could get to those people, and get them to get trained on sustainable practices for whatever you're trying to do, you can influence huge amounts of people, but it's not on people's radar that there are all these other groups they could influence beyond government folks.
Kathy: Exactly, and I used to use the word advocacy and I stopped using that word because people's brains immediately go to elected officials and they shut out all the other possibilities. So I decided I could either explain 150 times that no, advocacy is much bigger than that, or I could just talk about it differently. I went with talking about it in a different way. ‘Cause when I thought about it more, I realized that it really is all about influencing people's thinking and their decision making process, whatever that that is, but that ultimately what you want to do is be engaged in a collaborative problem-solving relationship with them, and when you get to that point, you've kind of hit the Holy Grail of influence, right? Who do you listen to more in life, as a human being than somebody who's helping you solve a problem?
Carol: Yeah, and I think that's often the challenge again, going back to that word advocacy. It's so - and I'm not an expert in this, but when I've seen it, when I've seen what I perceive as it being done badly, it's all about a one way conversation. “We have these talking points, we're going to tell you what to do.” and you know, if you've ever tried to tell your cat or your child or anybody, what to do, you know how well that works. So I'd love to know more about how you move it towards that collaborative problem-solving.
Kathy: Right. Well, the front, yeah. I mean, I just have to pick up on what you just said ‘cause it's so true, and it drives me crazy and unfortunately there's a bunch of advocacy experts out there that are not helping with this. You know, how many nonprofit leaders who are part of a larger organization of some sort, whether it's a national association or a network or whatever, and you come to Washington for your Hill day, every year, and what do they tell you? You have to have an ass, don't go into your meeting with your elected official without an answer, and there's a certain amount of legitimacy to that in that you don't want to just go in there and blabber, but the worst possible way to initiate a relationship is “Hi, nice to meet you. I want something from you.” No, that doesn't work too well either.
It would be a really bad dating strategy and it's a pretty bad relationship building strategy with decision-makers. So the thing is that relationship building takes an investment over time, and so the idea that you're going to walk into a meeting and start telling somebody what you do, and therefore they should help you with something is almost guaranteed to fail, and so the best time to be developing a relationship is long before you actually need them to do something for you, and also to approach it again with that collaborative problem-solving mindset, that we're peers, we each have an angle on a particular problem. We can help each other solve it. and if you can be a collaborative partner in that way, you're going to go a long way toward having them know who you are, trust you, appreciate your abilities and expertise, and appreciate the contributions the organization can make.
They're also going to start to trust you, and the thing that we forget to talk about a lot of times is that relationships are built on trust. So if they don't have some reason to know, like, and trust that you're going to have an uphill battle if you want to influence them in any way. So how do you do that? Well, basically you make a plan and so, like I said, start by picking one or two, because one of the mistakes people make is they start to think about this and they go, Oh my goodness. Well, if I think about all the decision-makers who could have an impact on my organization and the people I serve, that's a lot of people. Then they make a list of 20 or 50 or a hundred people, and then they get overwhelmed and freak out and don't do anything. So that does not generally work as a strategy.
So what makes sense is, pick a couple, and particularly right now, I'm pretty sure that every nonprofit leader out there has a couple of decision-makers who are kind of on their radar right now that they really like to be engaging with more effectively and take a little minute to write down a few bullet points here and there to just sort of keep your thinking focused, make a few notes to yourself about why they're important. Why did I pick them? How can they affect my organization? How can they affect the people we serve? and also take a minute to take some notes on what your ideal collaborative relationship with them would look like? ‘cause if you don't have some idea of where you're trying to go, it's going to be much harder to get there, and similarly, It requires a little bit of brutal honesty. and this is kind of step two, which is to assess where you are now in your relationship with that person and compared to the ideal that you described.
So if my ideal relationship with a County commissioner is that, you know, there are five things that come across in their jurisdiction and decision making realm that I know on an annual basis are going to have a big impact on my organization, and I need them to ultimately do two things. I need them to give me a heads up, if something new is going to come along, that could either help me or hurt me, and I want to be able to be in on the conversations early enough that I cannot just be coming in at the end, saying, I want you to vote yes or no, but to be saying, I want to help shape the plan that you create, because the work that we do directly intersects with that, and we could help each other out here. So if that's kind of my ideal and what I want that to be looking like, and where I am now in my relationship is they kind of know who I am and they've sort of heard of my organization and they sorta know what we do, but a lot of times when they describe it, they get it wrong.
Well, you know, I've got a ways to go to get to my ideal, but at least I know where I am. You know, and if I'm further along, if we do have a more solid relationship and they maybe come to my events, they know who we are. They've maybe volunteered at our organization. A couple of times they've met our clients, they have a pretty solid idea of who we are and what we do, but they don't necessarily see us as central too the problem they're working on. Well, that's a much shorter trip for me to get to my ideal, and it also gives me some idea of what my main tasks are. So once you have that sense, you can start to build that roadmap between where you are now and what your ideal is, and the biggest question to ask yourself at that point is how can I add value or help solve a problem they're working on right now?
Now, before people get worked up here, this does not mean that you should go out and start a whole new initiative, unless that makes sense for you for some reason, but instead look at what you're already doing. How have you been adapting your operations and services for greater impact in this country, politically chaotic and upheaval time, and how does that help the problem? Obviously, always look at how you can continue to adapt and improve, but basically start with what you're already doing. It's really a matter of how does understanding, how does this intersect with what that decision-makers are working on and what they're focused on. Once you've made some notes to yourself, lay that out. What you've done is you've begun to go down the road of thinking about the world from the decision-maker’s perspective. One of the biggest mistakes that almost everybody makes when trying to engage a decision-maker is they'll go in and it's, you know, a chorus of Me, me, Me me me me! This is what we do, this is what we're about, this is how many people we serve, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. and that's all great. There will be a time and a place to share that information, but it's one of those where you mentioned kids and cats, right? I sometimes think that when we're talking, what they're thinking to themselves is your lips are moving, but all I hear is “blah, blah, blah”. and that's kinda how the decision-makers are going to react, If you're not framing what you do in terms of something they really care about and getting to know them as a person. Cause I think that's the thing that people forget too. They hear it, they see the word decision-maker or that big title of senator, county commissioner, municipal councilperson, whatever, and they forget that there's a person in there. They're people first, and so you know, don’t forget everything you know already about relating to people, verses relating to that title.
I had a client in Connecticut who had an elected official that they needed to, to get on board with something they were trying to make happen and they just couldn't figure out how to connect with her. She was not responding to them, and they had reason to believe that she would be, generally an ally given her political leanings and so they thought, well, if we could just engage with her, we think we could probably get her to play, but we can't figure out how to get her to talk to us. So finally they did some research and found out that well, in addition to whatever else she did for a living, she raised goats as a hobby and she had a little dairy goat farm. So my client went out and visited the dairy goat farm and hung out for a day and just chatted with her about her goats, and it broke everything wide open. All of a sudden, now she was taking his phone calls, she was sending him pictures of the goats and he was a completely different interaction because he approached her as a human being and expressed interest in something she cared about. Now, in that case, it wasn't at all about the thing they were working on. It was like, hey, I took the time to come up here and hang with you and your goats, and that really made a difference to her.
So, you know, it was a, that's a really good point, Carol. and I think that people often will forget that. and related to that, I think is something that, is, is part of the inner game thing that can be such a struggle for folks, particularly if they're leading a smaller organization or one that has had some tough times engaging with decision-makers and have not felt like they've come out too well in that process. There's a tendency to kind of go to decision-makers as a supplicant now and kind of saying, “Oh great Poobah decision-maker person, we hope that you will smile upon us and not kill us and be nice to us and maybe do something for us” and that does not play well. It’s actually incredibly counterproductive, and what they're much more likely to respond to is if you approach them as a peer and someone who has value to bring, who has problem solving abilities, who is going to be able to be a partner in something that matters, and-
Carol: How do you help people step into that? feeling like they're their peer and that they can engage in the conversation in that way?
Kathy: Well, that's an interesting question, it kind of depends on what's in the way in the first place.
Carol: What are some of the things that are typical that get in the way?
Kathy: Well, lived experience, as I mentioned with smaller nonprofits in particular, if their experience has been, for example with funders that they've been kind of yanked around by the funders and felt like no matter what we do, you know, they only pick their friends and they never pick us and the whole system's rigged and then they have unreasonable expectations and they have bad deadlines and they begin to work up a whole story about how this is the enemy and this decision-maker is not my friend and they are going to be mean to me, I just know it, and so if you start with that story, you're pretty much doomed from the beginning, and so one of the things that is really helpful, and this is why I always say to folks at the very beginning, describe what your ideal collaborative relationship with that decision-maker would look like and start part of the inner game transformation is to start to tell yourself a new story about, okay, well then if my ideal collaborative relationship is, like the example I was using earlier with a County board member that, you know, this is what they're doing for me, well why are they doing that? Well, how am I showing up so that they want to treat me that way? Well, I'm coming in as a problem solving partner who has good ideas and who can work together with them to fix this. and I envisioned myself literally sitting at a table with them where we are, well, maybe this is a bad visual, right.
At the moment, since nobody's sitting across the table from anybody, but you know, maybe we're sitting across the zoom table from one another, or we're on the phone together or whatever, and we're talking together about, well, what about this idea? Well, have you tried this? What if we wait a minute, I see this problem over here and this problem over there, and I think this is how they intersect, and maybe there's a way that we could do X to solve both of those at once, whatever it is. If you start imagining yourself in that kind of a role where you're relating to them as a peer that you imagine actually having the conversation, and I had encouraged folks to even - I know people hate role-plays when they're formal, but you know, like talk to your dog and pretend it's the decision-maker, you know, whatever your roleplay version is, but to actually practice those conversations until you get comfortable talking to them that way.
Carol: Thinking about that, you know, cause I could imagine, you know, a situation you're describing where there are certainly power differentials there and, you know, lived experience, but what does that, the person who is looking to build that relationship with the decision-maker. What do they have that the decision-maker doesn't have, they may have perspective about a community, connections to community that the decision-maker would be valuable. There's all sorts of things, all sorts of assets that that person has, if they just start to think about it, and certainly in what you were describing. I mean, I could imagine that, you know, some of that anger and frustration and disappointment could be really valid and it gets in the way of building that relationship. So, you know, so it's both, right.
Kathy: Yeah, and you actually made me think of about half a dozen things there, but I'm going to tackle the last one first, cause it's a little bit of an elephant sitting on the table here that we didn't raise, which is that, you know, when we talk, whenever you start talking about power and influence, you can't really talk about power and influence without acknowledging, systemic racism, sexism, all kinds of economic inequalities of all kinds, you know, cultural biases, there's all kinds of stuff that, you know, there are, there are reasons that entire communities of people have been systematically disenfranchised. So I don't want to pretend that those aren't real and those aren't there. You can’t just wave a magic wand and say, aha, I shall just, you know, make the decision-maker, not the product of all of those realities and systems. It definitely doesn't work that way, or we would have all just done that, and that would be a really awesome magic wand.
The lived experience is incredibly important, but it's also critical not to let that be the determinant of how you operate moving forward, and it may be that there will be some decision-makers who are so fatally biased in one way or another against some aspect of what you or your organization represents that they will not be a good target for relationship building,
Not everyone is. I actually had to have a conversation with a client recently where he was just beating his head against the wall with a particular decision-maker, and I finally had to say to him, you know what, she just doesn't like you, and we don't know why somewhere along the way she decided she didn't like you, and I don't think that's going to change. We need somebody else to build that relationship, who else can we get? So we actually picked somebody else who was part of that coalition, who didn't have baggage with her, and they were able to very quickly establish a decent connection and go forward. So, you know, there also is the reality that sometimes somebody just doesn't like you and there's not always something you can do about it.
Carol: So what are some of the ways that you would have people kind of, you talked about. You know, they start out, they list a huge number of people, it gets overwhelming and they get stuck. I was with a group recently, it was around, you know, what partnerships could they get involved in, and within about 15 minutes of brainstorming, we had a list of about a hundred organizations. When clearly this tiny little volunteer led organization was not going to be establishing partnerships with a hundred organizations, so I had them kind of do a matrix of what's easy and what's impactful, and try to have them focus on those. How do you have people prioritize those, you know, and narrow it down so that it is manageable.
Kathy: Yeah, any of those kinds of tricks work pretty well, I'll sometimes have folks pick like a low, medium high rating for two different axes, and one will be, you know, how much, and in the case of partnership, actually, the thing that you suggest is probably what I would use in the case of a decision-maker role. It's more of- and you might even have three categories. You might have an immediacy category where you know, that in the next six to twelve months, this decision-maker is going to be making a decision that has a dramatic impact on us. So it's both high impact and immediacy, so that would move them to the top of the priority list. The other factor that is relevant is that everybody's got relationships with some decision-makers, they might not be really well developed relationships, but for the most part, if you're functioning, if your organization is still in existence, you as a leader have managed to build some productive relationships with decision-makers or you'd probably be gone by now. So a lot of times when things are feeling kind of overwhelming and you maybe don't have necessarily that immediacy or obvious high impact. Sometimes the best thing to do is say, well, where have we got a pretty good relationship already? but we feel like it could be so much better, and that may be a good one to tackle particularly right now, because again, everybody's bandwidth is a little limited right now. So, depending on the situation that you're in, you might want to say, you know, we've had this decision maker who likes us well enough. They don't totally get what we do, but we're pretty well aligned with what they're working on. Let's see! and so alignment is another piece. If your work is really well aligned with a problem they're working on, that's a really good priority selector as well. So all of those really go back to what's important and what's easy, which is pretty much what you flagged to begin with. Those are just different ways of talking about it.
Carol: Sure, sure, It's interesting. You worked a lot with direct service providers and I feel like oftentimes in our sector there's been kind of a false dichotomy where direct service and influencing have kind of been pit pitted against each other that, you know, where folks who do direct service are often told, well, you know, move further up, you know, you're just throwing the fish back into the sea, go back and see why they're coming out. But to me, it's, you know, there are people in need and there are systems that need to be addressed, so it's both. So I'm curious that you specialize really in working with direct service providers. How do you see how they can bring actually particular value to influencing decision-makers and systems?
Kathy: Well, one, this goes back to something you mentioned earlier, when I said you named like six things that I wanted to tackle in this. One of the huge, huge assets that direct service providers have, that other groups don't have, that classic advocacy organizations and associations and so on really don't have, is they- the direct service nonprofits have a direct connection to the members of the community that they are serving. They have a clarity of understanding what the actual problems on the ground look like and how they're impacting real people's lives, and they're also actively engaged in addressing those needs. So for the most part, they can fill in with a clarity that few other organizations can do, the actual human face of the problem, and for most decision-makers, that's a critical piece of the puzzle. If it's just, you know, chess pieces on a board that they're moving around or other abstract concepts that they're making decisions on data and graphs. You know, and that's all important, we need those too, because data driven decision making is a thing for a reason. So you want to be able to come with data and information like that as well, but to be able to talk about the people who are actually being served and the things that they're struggling with is not only valuable in putting a human face on the problem. It helps the decision-maker understand the problem in a new and different way. The other thing that tends to also happens is that talk about finding personal connections with decision-makers, as human beings for most direct service organizations, whatever they're working on, whether they're serving people with cancer or they're helping people with complicated housing issues as renters or whatever it is or employment services, whatever they're working on.
Chances are someone in that decision-maker’s family has dealt with something connected to that problem. and they will often volunteer that information, you know, I've been in meetings with decision-makers and clients where the client would be talking about, well, you know, here's an example of someone we help and they would describe the person's situation and the decision-maker will pipe up and say, Oh, my aunt had that problem, my cousin had that problem. You know, I have a friend who dealt with that and all of a sudden, first of all, they've handed you information that is absolute gold because now you know how to connect to them on a personal level, but also they're busy making that connection on their own. and so that's a huge value add that the direct service nonprofits can bring. The other thing is that in my experience for the most part, direct service nonprofit leaders are fully well aware that this is the systemic problems and issues and the policy failures that caused the need for their services in the first place. They've chosen because that's where their passion and purpose is to address those problems directly through direct service but that doesn't mean they're not aware of the systems issues and the policy issues that are part of the reason why we have to have those services at all, but what they are able to do is make that bridge between policy and reality on the ground in a way that many others are not. So I would say it's actually an asset; the thing that can sometimes be challenging for direct service nonprofit leaders, is that even more than other 501C3 leaders, they may have to help their boards understand why they are engaging, especially elected officials. That it is not only okay, but important and necessary work, and that can sometimes take a little education, but it helps a lot if you don't call it advocacy, actually because C3 boards, especially direct service C3 boards tend to have a bit of a knee jerk anti- advocacy reaction simply because they don't understand, really what it is and how it works and what the rules are and that not only is it not a problem to do that, but it really should be an essential part of every nonprofit’s mission and part of their strategic plan.
Carol: So I want to shift gears a little bit. You hold a fourth level black belt, and I didn't know that there were levels of black belt. So I now know something new and now, let me make sure I'm pronouncing it right. Jujitsu, Is that right?
Carol: So how has learning that martial art helped you with the work that you do with organizations?
Kathy: Well, what it does is it makes me a way better teacher and coach. I taught Jujitsu and practical self-defense for about 15 years and we would get lots and lots of people who had never practiced a martial art in their life, and it was brand new to them, and you know, it's a constant reminder to me that you don't need to know a lot to be able to be effective. So that was what I really took from that teaching process is that, you know, it takes many, many years to reach even the first level of black belt and then many more years to progress beyond that, and by the time you get there, you know a lot about a lot of different things, but if somebody just wants to know how to defend themselves from a common attack, you know, I can teach somebody in a day what they need to know and give them enough practice at it, to be able to feel like, okay, if something sketchy happens, I might actually be okay. At least I have better tools now than I did when I started, when I walked in the door and so it helps me stay focused on making sure that not everybody needs to become a black belt in anything to be effective at it. They just need to have a decent toolkit that they can access readily, and that feels comfortable to them and that if they've got that, they're good to go and that's true with the kind of work with influencing decision-makers too. You don't need to know a hundred thousand skills, you just need to know a handful and practice them regularly.
Carol: So one thing I do at the end of each episode is play a little game where I ask one semi-random icebreaker question. So given what we just were talking about, I've got one for you. If you could arm wrestle any historical figure, who would you choose and why?
Kathy: Oh my goodness, I wish I'd had time to prepare. That's such a fun question. Wow. Any historical figure. Gee, let's see… do they have to be alive or no?
Carol: No, it doesn't matter.
Kathy: Doesn't matter. Oh dear. You've stumped me completely. I hope-
Kathy: No. Well, the first, the first one that came to mind was RBG but that wouldn't be a fair fight cause I'd flatten her, but on the other hand, if we could arm wrestle our brains, then you know, she'd flatten me.
Carol: All right. Well, there you go. That's your answer.
Kathy: Okay, fun.
Carol: So, how can people find out more about the work that you do and get in touch?
Kathy: Well, I've got a couple of things here that I'd like to share with folks. I've got a - since we didn't get through all the steps, cause we were busy talking about a lot of things. I've got a free worksheet with all the steps listed out for your listeners to help them build their influence with a few key decision-makers that they can start on right now and if they just go to https://strategykeys.com/engagenow they can get their free copy of that worksheet and I hope folks will download that. The other thing that I'm excited about is I'll be launching a new masterclass on building your team of super allies sometime early summer exact date. Not yet known, but if you go to collect your worksheet, there'll also be an opportunity to get on the waitlist for that master class, and that will also be a free masterclass. So I want to just give folks a chance to get their feet wet with that a little bit and learn some more of the techniques and have a chance to get their questions answered as well.
Carol: All right, that sounds awesome. Thank you so much, it was great having you on the podcast and good luck with all your clients and influencing.
Kathy: All right. Well, yes, influencing not advocacy, there we go. Thanks for having me. It's great talking with you always, and I hope we get to do this often.
Episode 01: This week we’re talking to Tip Fallon.
We talked about:
• the masks many people feel forced to wear or personas they assume in the workplace.
• Why we need to do some preventative work to make things easier for people with targeted identities.
• How we are the product of the history that has created systems of oppression, as well as creating history ourselves
Tip Fallon is a coach and consultant who is passionate about working with people to reach their potential. He integrates both a strategic and analytical approach to solving problems with a human-centered focus, tending to people's motivations, group dynamics, and organizational culture. He brings over 15 years of change leadership experience and a background in business and engineering, nonprofit management, and a decade of coaching and consulting to clients in US-based and global organizations. He has served projects with organizations such as Annie E. Casey Foundation, American Institutes for Research, and the Nature Conservancy.
The project that Tip was talking about at the end of the episode is now launched. Learn more about All In Consulting here.
Mission: Impact is sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting
Carol Hamilton: I’m very excited to welcome our guest today, Tip Fallon! Tip is a coach and consultant who is passionate about working with people to reach their potential. He integrates both a strategic, and an analytical approach to solving problems with a human centered focus, tending to people's motivations, group dynamics and organizational culture. He brings over 15 years of change leadership experience and a background in business and engineering, nonprofit management, and a decade of coaching and consulting clients in the US and abroad. Tip is also a passionate advocate for improving the organization development (OD) and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) fields. He teaches in OD and DEI programs at American University and Georgetown University. He convenes nationwide groups of practitioners in both fields to collaborate and advance their practitioner skills. He also serves as an executive committee member on the board of the NTL Institute, a global network of organization development consultants and coaches committed to social justice. He holds a bachelor's in mechanical engineering and a master's in organization development and is also a certified professional diversity coach.
Welcome Tip, thank you for being a guest on the Mission: Impact podcast. We're excited to have a conversation today. Just so people have a little more sense of how you're coming to this work, what drew you to do the work that you do?
Tip Fallon: Oh, that's a great question. I'd say a few threads that come to mind. But one is just my personal experience of growing up in a community in a neighborhood where we observed those with more privilege and access and resources in the community versus those with less, both at the very local level but also at a global level. My mom and family on her side, the family lives in a more rural part of Thailand, so just at that global level, from a very early age I was really noticing the inequality that exists and how communities and people are really impacted by that. Not only that individual lack of access, but the loss to the greater society when such great talent and passion, those people don't have access to bring their fullest gifts to the rest of the world. So I'd say that's probably the underlying driving draw for me to be doing this work.
Carol: One of the things that you've written about is the sense that when you're working in a system - I have to stop myself and qualify some organization development jargon along the way - systems are, any human system when you're working in an organization, a network, a group of people coming together. You see effects, and one of the things that we've talked about before and you've talked about is the sense of people not being able to show up as their whole selves and what gets lost in organizations when people have to put on masks and and that's at so many different levels, but certainly when folks have targeted identities, identities that aren't accepted in the in the dominant culture, and I'm curious, how have you seen that show up?
Tip: One way it shows up in a pretty pervasive way - and by that I mean that so much of it is internalized in us - so just for example, even in nonprofit organizations who may be providing social services or direct support in the community in in one sense, but they sit within a larger society right? So in this larger society, if we talk about whether it's patriarchy, or racism, or xenophobia, or any of those things, but even sometimes just the capitalist mindset and the individualistic mindset that promotes a belief of scarcity, that there's only so many grants, only so many dollars, only so many resources to go around. Then when you layer that to the structural beliefs that there is one ‘white and right’ way to be successful, or smart, or have the best ideas, or whatever it is; it just gets very competitive. So I think a lot of times we default to 'let me wear the mask because, as I know, at least I may be able to survive in this space, and maybe be able to foster some relationships with that and get my agenda across,' and what I find is sometimes, that mask, there's a permeable boundary between the mask and us, sometimes it seeps into us at an unconscious level, and we end up - myself and others - sometimes perpetuating some of the mask wearing in our organizations. So for me, a big piece of work is in some of our training, we use the term use-of-self but just [asking], how am I showing up? Not just what are my intentions, but what are the impacts that I'm having on my peers, my colleagues, those who might come to my nonprofit for services, on funders, on the community at large?
Carol: Can you give me an example of when - you talked about how we internalize all of those beliefs, the cultural assumptions in how we're supposed to show up, you know, what the word professional means, all of those things. Can you give me an example of that?
Tip: I'll try to think of a very concise yet relatable example. so this one organization that I worked for, there was a black woman, and she just felt like she wanted more out of her role. She said, ‘I started in this position, but I've got these ideas about programming, about strategy,’ and she was in more of an admin or executive assistant role, and through some of the team development work there was, just a sense of, ‘well, she doesn't have the degrees,’ or just culturally and visually, how she showed up wearing her hair, with more natural styles. Even using age, there was still a little bit of othering that happened. So even in that culture - and this is just my assessment and analysis, some of the people in positions of decision-making power were people of color, or black women there as well - but there's a generational divide as well. So even there, there's a little bit of tension, just generationally.
This is a big generalization but sometimes those who are younger coming into the workforce now, have a little bit more latitude and say, ‘hey, I want to wear my hair or keep my skin, or even my clothing and appearance, or even my language in a style that seems authentic and natural to me.’ and it's 2020, like, we shouldn't be afraid to talk about this. So, ‘hey, supervisor, can you call some of this stuff out? Because I don't really feel included.’ Then in this example, but also I see this broadly, a supervisor - and sometimes they are the older generation - might say, ‘hey, I've gotta negotiate my boundaries with these funders or these community partners are XYZ and I'm trying to toe that line. And, we're going to get more bees with honey, if you will, so let's not rock the boat’ or whatever the addages are. So in that example there was some of that language of saying, ‘hey, that's that a little bit much for the appetite and the culture of that organization.’ so what we see in that situation is, is someone who says, ‘hey, this is what being authentic means to me, and because I don't feel I can be authentic, you the organization are not getting my best thinking, you're not getting my ideas about what's happening within this organization that I only have a purview about.’ and the system is losing out, the clients and beneficiaries are losing out as well.
Then you have others in the organization who are essentially, trying to survive in a way, are like, ‘these masks are also a survival tool.’ We need them to survive. So my sense is that if I were to go to the next question, my mind is: ‘what do we do with that?’ So another thing that draws me to the work is finding space of connection, of asking ‘what are our shared goals?’ and helping us to get out of either-or thinking. So for me, it's how do we soften for a second and talk about: what would an ideal look like with some of the best of both worlds in there?
Carol: I think one of the things that we bring as consultants - which is so hard for organizations to do in our ‘always urgent, hurry up, gotta be busy. Never enough time.’ culture is just that sense of slowing down and taking a step back and thinking about ‘where's that common ground,’ or ‘where's that middle ground?’ between, ‘you've got to totally code switch, and blend in with the white dominant culture’ or you're completely showing up in that authentic way. Is there a middle ground, or is it one or the other we need to do? Even having a chance to have that conversation and think about it differently can be so challenging, that time factor. How have you seen that show up in your work?
Tip: One thing that I'll share for the listeners - and I want to caveat that these are thoughts that sometimes I practice when I'm being my best self - but the inquiry that I offer to leaders, and to myself, is that we say we don't have time to to find a middle ground, we don't have time to do some deeper coaching, I don't have time to do one-on-ones, I don't have time to think about ‘how am I perpetuating a high quantity but low quality culture,’ we don't have time for all those things; but we have time to spend about 30, 40, 50, 60% of our week solving the problems that were created by our lack of thinking about those things. So, if that's how we're spending a lot of our time, then at least to me, I think the logical solution is to muster up some of that internal discipline and say, ‘I'm tired of this cycle,’ because it's not like this is a cycle. This is a process, or a pattern at this point. These are often not isolated incidents.
So I'd offer a couple things: first and foremost is compassion, and understanding the system, and I think admitting to ourselves that we live in a very oppressive hierarchical system where we have to do a lot of things to survive and keep some of our basic needs met. So A is just offering compassion to ourselves that we don't have an ideal choice set in front of us. Holding that compassion, but then also just thinking: where can we make a little bit of time to deepen the inquiry into what you and I sometimes call the double-loop learning. So not just solving the thing in front of us but trying to get to the root. Let's solve the pattern right after the fourth, I don't know, 20-something black woman leaves this position after 17, 18 months in a row. I'm like, ‘Okay, now it's clearly a pattern.’ Let's not just throw this position description back out there on the web, but let's look at the system. How did this happen, how did we get here? Then try to work upstream. How do we do the preventative work so we can actually reduce turnover, reduce burnout a little bit, and do better work and feel - like you said - more whole in the work.
Carol: The nonprofit sector certainly mirrors the rest of the culture in terms of who shows up in what levels of leadership and on boards and there have been calls from major institutions in the sector for years to work on the issue, and yet the needle hasn't really moved much in terms of diversifying and I think a lot of it has to do with this notion, especially in predominantly white organizations [that] it's just about diversity, it's about numbers, [the attitude is] let's get at least one person, one person of color, one person with some diversity factor beyond white and men and women, but then that underlying factor of how is the culture supporting that person to be able to be successful and really contribute in a meaningful way? Have you seen how organizations, any places where organizations have taken steps and been able to do some meaningful work in changing that dynamic?
Tip: Short answer, yes. So some pockets of that and, in short, they seem more like the exception than the norm when I think about the nonprofit sector in aggregate, so much of it is is down to the individual level, right, so much a bit of what I see is frontline managers, mid level managers, or EDIs/CEOs who, it's just in their blood, if you will, they just have a drive and they show up to work and say ‘I'm going to look out for my people, especially those with marginalized identities no matter what, and often that means a lot more labor for them, But that's where I see a lot of it. One of the trends, for example, of trying to challenge even the underlying ideologies of our current nonprofit sector is when we see foundations, they may have different terms for it, but doing the spin down strategies, so if we have a cycle where the very rich set up our endowments, foundations and give whatever it is 4% or something that a year out, where we're still perpetuating a very highly dependent relationship. So when we say, ‘hey, let's interrupt this entire cycle, and take ourselves out of that.’ What would that look like to me? That's a great model or symbol of just starting where you are, if you're adding a foundation, what structures and ideologies are you perpetuating? I think the bottom line question is just: what are you willing to give? What are you willing to commit to with respect to how you use your privilege in the system to interrupt the system?
Carol: Trying to do those things, any either organizational culture change, or - and we're talking organizations embedded in systems that have been built, not for millennia, just for the last couple hundred years - in terms of the nonprofit sector - certainly in terms of race, structural racism, etc. it goes way further back than that, but one thing that you wrote recently that I thought was such an interesting perspective is, ‘if you've ever thought an organization or culture is dysfunctional, I invite you to consider that it is functioning perfectly as it's designed.’ Can you talk a little bit more about what you mean by that and how you’ve seen that show up?
Tip: My sense is when most folks hear that, even if they're hearing it for the first time - and I don't credit myself for that, I've heard that from a few different angles, from our OD training and so forth - but I think a lot of people, especially marginalized identities, just see more of a nod of acknowledgement, like ‘yes, that's good verbiage to describe what we're living in and existing in,’ and for people who can see the systems yet, I don't know what to say to elaborate on that, except I think for me, what's helpful is just a framing - not only of responsibility, but of opportunity, and in one of the posts I wrote a little bit later, [I said] that organizations and cultures are not things that fell from the sky, so we need to remember that people - maybe not us, but to your point, people maybe generations ago, made some decisions, and many of them very oppressive decisions towards entire groups of races of people that created a lot of these structures and organizations and hierarchies that we're living in. So then for today, what are our decisions? What are the ramifications, not just today, but to borrow from indigenous, mindsets and ideology, multiple generations down the line? Because we're creating cultures today that will last well beyond the 5, 6, 10pm that a lot of people work. So it's both I think, a comeback to compassion for ourselves that we didn't make a lot of choices like we are products of history in a way of what we're living in, but we are also the creators of history. We're creating the history that those people will live in in the future if that makes sense. So it's an invitation to be intentional about the cultures we're creating both actively, but also passively, when we show up. So where were those choice points, and I think at the end of the day, we’re just hoping to find peace, [at least] for me and I know for others who have to make a lot of compromises in terms of their values and how they'd like to show up. It's just what's in our locus of control that we can change, [and] sometimes we talk about culture or systems, and it's big, it's complex. [You think] ‘how could we ever change this stuff?’ For me, the micro stuff matters a lot to write those moments where we feel seen and heard and validated by a colleague, by a partner. I think those things really fill the tank. I think they give people hope in humanity, that no matter what happens during the day, if you've got a really good connection with someone, that can keep our tank full as well. So just being intentional from the very micro, how are we listening to one another, to the macro ‘what policies are we putting in place,’ ‘what are we not challenging,’ and what are the ramifications of those decisions?
Carol: What's one of those micro moments for you recently?
Tip: Good question. One micro moment for me that I try to practice when I'm being more intentional is this concept of ‘to whom do we give our time’ and as a consultant, and as somebody who - basically just go down the column of privileged identities - I hear sometimes from clients like, ‘oh, you must be so busy, I know your time is very valuable,’ all these things, and after I get my ego tickled, then there's this question of, ‘hey, so I don't want to take up a lot of your time.’ and I hear a lot of that, and not so many words. So for me, I was just chatting with a client and an ED about just being a thought partner and how to go about something on a piece of work that I may not even be bidding on or even be providing for them. So for me systematically, I know [that] as a woman of color, trying to navigate that space - how time is just such a luxury for me having a lot of privilege, like I know, that's one small thing. [I know that] I can give whatever it is two, three hours to to just make space for her really just to air out her thoughts and be heard and get some clarity. The feedback that I got was just like, ‘hey, I really appreciated that.’
Then working with her, I see that that’s a behavior that she manifests with her team - and just in a work-life balance or, for example, really holding to 40 hours. I know I’m elaborating a little bit on this, but as in how do I practice it, I think about ‘who do I give my time to?’ and trying to be more intentional with that, but then at the organizational level, how do we treat people's time as well. So this ED, who I'm thinking of, has a younger staff working for her and I think some of the mindset there is when you work for an organization like this doing a lot of direct support with their clientele. It can be really, really long, strenuous hours and sometimes there's an unspoken expectation that work is almost non-stop, and so for this ED having the courage and insight to say ‘Hey, no, if you're not being paid these times, I do not expect you to work. I expect you to have work life balance.’ They even structure things that are just team-building things. I forget how they bill or codify those hours, but they're structured as “non-productive” tasks to just tend to the human needs that we have. So I think that's also a great micro-way to show people that, hey, you can show up and yes, we have a lot of work to do. It's very, very important, and its deeply impacting people's lives and your life. Right, how are we treating each other in this journey? Like, can we slow down, listen, connect with one another, at least some of the time if we're going to be this busy and this hyper productive?
Carol: I think there's so much in the sector that you talked about, the scarcity mentality earlier, and that time scarcity, or it's such a huge cause. We have to martyr ourselves to the cause, or just give all and, the folks who were serving have it so much harder than us. But that sense of I think it's, as self care as a real thing, not self care, as going get a pedicure where people can, can start to put in those boundaries.
And what's so important is, as you said, is to make it explicit, and not have it be implied, and then, of course - [and this part] is even harder for many executive directors - to not only say it, but do it themselves and model it so that their staff knows that's really allowed. Those micro-moments, it just made me think about a conversation I had earlier today where I was doing, what in our work as a pretty simple thing of talking to a number of people getting ready to do a facilitation around a leadership transition; and the woman at the end of the call said, ‘oh, I feel better after talking to you.’ It wasn't like I did anything special, I asked her a couple questions that probably were out of her day-to-day and made her think about things in a different way. Just having the time to talk through them having the time, that full attention just makes a difference. It was interesting to hear her say that.
So, making changes in any of these things, and when you talked about where you've seen it being done well, it's embodied in an enlightened leader, which unfortunately isn't very replicable. It can be really overwhelming to think, how do we even start to make our cultures or organizational cultures healthier? You know, does it have to start at the top? Are there things that individual staff, and volunteer board members can do to start walking the organization towards a healthier, more inclusive culture?
Tip: I just see so many many examples of that. One of the caveats, if you will, is that even when I talk about nonprofits, that’s no monolith, right? There are so many sizes, types, cultures within nonprofits, large, small, based on the geographic region, and the demographics within the organization. So yeah, I've seen so many things. What excites me about the work is, to use some of your example, sometimes there's so much power in just asking different questions. Whether that comes from an external, or somebody who's internal. What if we did explore this? I think so much of why cultures feel stuck, like there's so much inertia in them, and sometimes it's just a function of time. Like, ‘well, it's always been this way, this is the way it is.’ all it takes is just a small thing like, ‘well, what if we tried this?’ some of my questions are, when someone has an idea like that, what's the best case scenario? What's the worst case scenario? What's a more likely middle ground that may emerge, and taking that small risk? So yeah, whether it's a small staff-level implementation of a leader who says, ‘hey, I want to spend an hour every other week just connecting,’ or [if it’s] more organic, if you will.
I've seen a lot of groups - organically or more fluidly - connect with one another based on shared interests. Sometimes those things get formalized, sometimes they don't. I think just talking about policy, for example, if you're on a board, if you're an ED, I really recommend a policy audit once in a while and looking - starting with your bylaws - to HR and employee manuals, and just looking at it from that lens of equity, like, who gets privileged in these processes? How do we make all of our decision-making processes more accessible?
So one example on a board I was working with around pay and they said, we want to hire this position. It's not going to be full time, but we wanted to negotiate the pay in this range. So we think about well, who are we excluding from that by default? I mean, even for volunteer-type boards and organizations, right? It's You know, we're usually talking about people who have some disposable or discretionary time or financial stability to step into these roles and different organizations, so if we have the assets, how can we use that to pay people for their labor, whether it's on a board or leading an internal initiative or an ERG (employee resource group) like that. So how do we make those structures and policies as equitable and accessible as possible? Look at those policies, look at who gets a privileged look at who gets implicitly excluded when you're searching for positions and things like that.
Carol: I think it can be challenging when you're in that dominant privileged position to even see how those things are impacting others because it works for you. Right, the system was built for you. And so then, that comment you made at the beginning or through that, that the cultures are all created by human decisions. When you're someone who benefits from that, and the culture is built for your person, it's hard to see that it’s just the way it is. So I think sometimes that's where the value of bringing an external person to help you walk through and point out how some of those policies might impact folks where you might have a blind spot.
Tip: it's a great example. One thing I see organizations doing, especially those that are working around racial justice or community organizing, if it's a white led organization, they'll find a black, indigenous, and POC-led organization as a source for accountability. So getting that feedback, seeing more of that in organizations, that puts a litmus test on some of our areas where we don't have that awareness. We're just not seeing the water that we're in. I heard a quote at a conference the other day that was, ‘organizations often talk about adding color to the water, [about] diversifying, but few people want to talk about the water itself.’ So well, why don't we actually talk about this toxic water that we're already in.
Carol: That we are all in and is toxic to all of us. I think it's what's important with that accountability and I think too often has been taken for granted as ‘let's have a partnership and let's do community engagement.’ and to not acknowledge that sometimes if folks aren't intentional or careful about it, those can really become extractive relationships. So how is that organization community-based, Organizations led by people of color indigenous people being adequately compensated for the labor, the emotional labor that they're doing to help that predominantly white organization be mindful of those blind spots. So I think that’s a huge growing edge for the field.
Tip: There's the saying that racism is white people's problem right? Like that's where it should be solved, sexism is actually a men's issue that men actually need to work on, so yeah, it's the privileged groups’ [problem].
Carol: I'm sure people have been saying that for years, but I feel like it's only beginning to become acknowledged. Just barely breaking through, people realizing that.
Tip: That's a very, very complex piece of work, it's like - and I've met black people who say, ‘I choose to work with white people because they need it.’ [I’ve met] a black person that says ‘I don't trust white people to do their own work.’ ‘I want to be in there,’ and vice versa. Some people of color, black people, indigenous [people] are like, ‘nope, no way.’ There is no adequate compensation that can be provided for that level of labor. Even equity seems like a word that we can toss around, but what would it take for real equity and justice? Yeah, I think just a much bigger question. I think those are really great points of ‘yeah, how do we really be mindful, really be intentional?’ and what are the external structures and what's the internal work we need to do when our egos get in our way, when we get defensive, when we get fragile in those times, that's where the hard work is.
Carol: We've been talking about some heavy topics but I want to change up the pace of things a little bit. I have a box of icebreaker questions, and I've got one for you. I'm gonna play this at the end of each episode, just to ask one of these questions somewhat randomly and not necessarily related to everything we've been talking about, but maybe it is, we'll see. So if you could create one holiday, what would you create?
Tip: Hmm, wow, if I could create one holiday off the top of my head, I'd say mindfulness day.
Carol: How would we celebrate mindfulness day?
Tip: It'd be a day to not be “productive,” spending a little bit of time and self reflection and connecting with others. Just surfacing what's inside of us, all the stuff we carry around and giving that some space to breathe. People's practices will be different of course, but for me, some of the hope is ‘how can we dream the type of life and communities and systems we want to live in.’ Whether that's in a group or individually. I think just a day to be mindful, not only embracing the current moment, but really envisioning the best type of future that we could live in.
Carol: With that in mind, what are you excited about what's coming up for you that you're working?
Tip: One of one of the big, bigger things I'm working on is A collective is what we're calling it now of practitioners, consultants, I guess generally people who are passionate about creating more inclusive cultures and organizations. So right now there's a group of about 10 folks from across the country soon to be international and we are exploring, like, why aren't cultures actually changing? Why isn't a representative token DEI enough? What does it really take to generate buy-in and to provide effective strategies and interventions across those levels of organizations to shift not only numbers, but also the tenor, the deeper culture in an organization. I'm very excited about bringing together people who are passionate about this, who see the issue and who recognize that we need a deeper approach to doing this work. So I'm excited about moving forward.
Carol: All right, awesome. How can people get in touch with you or find out about the work that you do?
Tip: Sure, [my] Linkedin is Tip Fallon, that’s one place to find and follow me. [My] Twitter is @TipFallon, and my website where you can contact me is fallonconsulting.net.
Carol: Thank you so much. I appreciate having you on and I really enjoyed our conversation.
Tip: Likewise. Thank you.
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.