In episode 54 of Mission: Impact, Carol celebrates the podcast’s two year anniversary by doing a best of episode about executive leadership transitions. We talk about:
Guests and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: Today’s episode of Mission Impact is a little different. To celebrate my two year Pod-iversary, I am doing another “best of episode.” Today’s podiversary episode focuses on leadership transitions - a topic that has been the focus of several interviews. We will be hearing from Elizabeth Woolfe, Carlyn Madden, Don Tebbe and Andy Robinson. We talk about the types of transitions that organizations experience and how different leaders approach those transitions, why it is so important for leaders to make space and groom the next generation of leaders, whether or not having an interim executive director is a good idea, and how those exiting the leadership role and those entering as new leaders can prepare themselves for their new chapter.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Leadership transitions come in all shapes and sizes. A lot of factors will go into what type of transition the organization is facing. One of those is the attitude of the leader, others include the lifestage of the nonprofit – is it a start up? In a growth spurt? Is this the first transition from the organization’s founder? Has there been ongoing transition on the board side, not just the staff side of the organization?
Don Tebbe is a leading expert in nonprofit leadership transitions and with Tom Adams in many ways founded the field of executive transition management. He has written several books on the subject and we will link to those in the show notes. He talks about what inspired him to focus on this aspect of nonprofit management.
Don Tebbe: In fact, I did some research for one of my books on callings and I was trying to figure out why I was attracted to this, to this nonprofit sector work. But it just seemed like a great place. To really, to do work that's meaningful. And that's one of the things I discovered in doing the research on callings is that everybody has this innate desire for a meaningful life.
Tom and I put together this program two day retreat called next steps. Particularly targeting founders and long term executive directors, cuz those, those are some of the. Can be some of the most problematic transitions out there and, I think it's just, it's a space where governance, executive leadership, and strategy all come together in, in one moment. And so I think it's a great opportunity really, to address all three of those, those prongs also the organizational capacity. When we realized that we needed to be working with organizations earlier, before they. That moment of transition. So that led us into the succession planning work. What are the characteristics of these high ity organizations? those organizations where you walk in the front door and you can just feel it. You can feel the energy, the excitement, the commitment and the impact. And what's going on in those organizations came up with these three tiers, that base level there's organizational stability, the, the vital signs that are okay. It's not at risk, it's not in the intensive care ward. The next level up was what I would call Sustainability. And then, layering on top of that was vitality. And so you really have to, I think you have to address both the executive and board leadership that the board hires the executive, the board, is responsible for, shepherding the mission and shepherding impact.
Carol: Leadership transitions really do impact all aspects of the organization and are an opportunity to take stock of how leadership is being shared – or not- across the organization – between the board and executive director – between the executive director and staff.
I appreciated Andy Robinson’s challenge to organizations and their leaders. His question goes to the heart of thinking about, planning for and preparing for transitions. And normalizing this process, instead of thinking of it as an anomaly.
Andy Robinson: One of the things I ask people is how long will it take to win? And they're like, what? And I say, how long will it take for you to change the world so effectively that the work of your organization is no longer necessary? Like, what's your exit strategy right now? We should acknowledge that many organizations are perpetual organizations. Hospitals, universities, some of these institutions should be around forever. I totally get that. A lot of groups are trying to solve a problem and go out of business. So my first question is how long will it take for you to win? Then I say, are you gonna be here for the victory party? And of course everybody laughs and says, no, I'm not gonna be around that long. And then I say to them, if you are not Actively grooming the next generation of leadership for your organization right now, by definition, you are failing at your mission by definition.
Carol: If you are not actively grooming the next generation of leadership for your organization right now, by definition, you are failing at your mission by definition. This is a real call to action for leaders – because very few are really putting this front and center as they lead their organization – or their movement. To dig deeper into how different people approach their leaving, Don Tebbe has reflections on the different common styles people take.
Don: The hero's farewell, and he outlined four different characters, four different profiles.
ambassadors, people that could leave the organization gracefully, or even have a continuing role with the organization. And, everything was gonna be just fine. Governors who went on to other big jobs and left the organization behind so forth. Monarchs, they are gonna be carried out feet first. Stewards, what I see most of in the nonprofit world. People that can leave gracefully, but not necessarily have a continuing role with the organization. So I encouraged department executives to think of themselves as stewards, and they're gonna hand off the organization to the next steward.
Carol: For those starting to think about their exit from leadership, which of these avatars will you embody? Will you be a monarch, an ambassador, a governor or a steward? And how ready is the organization as a whole for change? How are you cultivating shared and new leadership on your staff and board? Without this, the board – who is charged with finding the new leader can be ill equipped for the responsibility as Elizabeth Woolfe explains.
Elizabeth Woolfe: If the board is still firmly entrenched in what used to be, they're not going to be as effective. And it really, that can be a real recipe for disaster because then you have someone coming in new and fresh as a leader who wants to take the organization to the next level or in a different direction, and the board is stuck. When I do board coaching and board development, it's really to view boards on an ever-expanding continuum where they go from this working board as they commonly are in the very beginning, like sheep following the leader, to something that becomes what's more appropriate for a later or iteration of the organization where they're, they become a governing board and it's a completely different set of skills.
Carol: Andy Robinson echoes Elizabeth’s points.
Andy: You and I have both worked with boards where there's been board members on the board for 20 or 30 years. Term limits is a whole nother thing here that we can be thinking about in terms of a succession plan, is that even if the staff leadership turns over, you still have the same people on the board with the same set of assumptions and the same story that goes back to 1993, about why we should be doing this.
Carol: Don advocates for the staff leader to take the reigns in planning their exit.
Don: You need to take responsibility for your departure and your exit plan. And then I go to try to clarify that doesn't mean you suring the board's authority and trying to force in your handpick success or on the one hand, nor does it mean dumping everything in the board's lap. getting the board to engage in conversations about what governance relationship they want with this new executive, paying attention to how that handoff and making sure that the critical relationships get handed off that there's briefing materials for the new executive.
Carol: Carlyn Madden explains some of the work her search firm does to prepare the groundwork for the needed changes.
Carlyn Madden: On the front end, we are not just reviewing key documents. To get a sense of the lay of the land or does the last audit say and all of those sorts of things. But also we are surveying board members, see staff members for membership association, the actual members of the association, key volunteers, possibly even program participants. We're talking to funders, we're doing a survey, we're doing one on one phone calls. We're doing listening sessions. It's just, it's gonna depend on what the organizations are, how recently they've done similar things. And we're trying to learn what. What was really stellar about the LA person in this position?
What were some of the key achievements? What do you think is on the horizon? What hasn't been paid attention to that often needs too often, staff culture is a big east. I think we're really going through a virtuous time. Rightly so. In my opinion, where staff are much more vocal about what they're going to need from their next leader.
Carol: She also comments on what has often been missing from how boards approach executive searches.
Carlyn: What hasn't been happening, particularly in the equity piece, the racial equity or gender justice, or whatever, these different, different elements that affect individual organization. And this is their time to be able to lift and surface that. And for the board to be able to hear that in an objective way, that's not the The thesis banged on the front door that says, we're demanding change or we are unionizing because our rights are being infringed upon.
Carol: Andy Robinson pointed out the mission critical aspect of grooming the next generation and preparing a leadership pipeline. We talked about some specific actions that leaders can do to start that process.
Andy: one thing you should do is look at your task list and try to hand it off. I don't know, one task a week, two tasks a week. And I don't mean, pardon me, Carol. I don't mean the medical stuff. I mean, substantive stuff. I mean, if you're doing all the data entry and you hand that off to somebody else. Sure. That's lovely, but that's not building their skillset. So that's one thing they could do is actually look at what you do and say, is there stuff that I can delegate reasonably appropriately without burdening other people, but also takes me out of the center
when I'm building an agenda and I'm figuring out who's gonna lead. What section of the agenda. I want multiple people leading different parts of the agenda. Cuz the ability to, to run a meeting, facilitate a conversation is a leadership skill. Don't be a perfectionist. And there's the classic thing you see is that you have a leader who wants it done their way. And often somebody else has a different way of doing it. That is different, but could be just as effective or differently, effective or weaker in some ways, but stronger in ways that your way isn't. I think that's a succession planning strategy too. If you're a leader, how do you take up less space so that other people can occupy that space?
Carol: One thing that I would say to every leader – you can start creating more space for others to lead by one really simple yet challenging act. Do NOT be the first to speak in a discussion. Wait a beat. Wait two beats. Even when it feels awkward to be in silence. Let others step in and share their perspective before you. If you always go first – most likely everyone around you will be sharing in reaction to and in light of your contribution. I observe so many leaders dominating conversations and not realizing the impact they are having. By doing this, they are leaving a lot of good thinking on the table from those around them. If it feels super awkward – tell people you are going to do this – and have them hold you accountable.
If you do try this, I would love to hear some results of your experiments.
As Elizabeth points out, your leadership pipeline doesn’t have to only be inside your organization. You can be looking to cultivate leadership with those in your wider ecosystem.
Elizabeth: If it's that organization that has a leadership pipeline, it could be that but most often in larger organizations, yes, that is more typical, but in smaller organizations, there's not.
Enough people working there for it to really be an appropriate way of organizing succession, but it is always nice. And, I encourage organizations to do this, to have sort of a. A running list of people that they have in their orbit. That could be either someone that they consider in, in a search or someone who would, they, they would consider to be part of a search committee who knows the organization well enough and who's connected enough.
Carol:. Carlyn also talks about how those wider networks and ecosystems are so important for effective searches. As well as tapping into a variety of networks.
Carlyn: Hire by hire and talk about some of the survey data on executive leadership in the nonprofit sector has not changed in the last 20 years, right. The demographic has not actually changed. And so what is required are that the conditions of executive search have to change.
we're very firm in that color transparency for all of our clients. I'm really thinking about building, not actually building out networks, multiracial networks, leveraging affinity groups, having open exchange with clients, recognizing that often leaders of color don't have those sponsors or, when we are reaching out to folks saying, who do you know in this space. That would be a good executive director because there's so many white people in the sector in top leadership roles. Our networks are very homogenous. If a transition committee is hiring an executive director and says only executive directors can apply for it. Well, what we know to be true about the field is that there are fewer executive directors of color than white executive directors.
And so we're already starting to limit the pool.
Carol: Carlyn also talks about the differentiation process of what is essential for the executive director role and what is there because of the current person in the role.
Carlyn: What's his pet project, right? The organization has been shaped around his identity and in many ways it's been really successful. His vision has helped propel this organization to really incredible heights in a very small period of time, short period of time. But there are also things, their pet project. And the board recognizes it to some extent but not necessarily the full extent. So that was the focus of our conversation yesterday, but it was really helpful just to identify, like there are some things that only he can do and only he wants to do. And so the next executive director might even bring their own pet projects and that's okay.
Carol: Interim executive directors is something that organizations going through a transition should consider as an option. There are consultants who do nothing but interim work and can bring their experience to your organization. But our experts were not totally in agreement about interims and their value.
Elizabeth: The transition period in an organization, especially when they're losing a position like a founder, it's crucial to, to build in some space where everyone can experience what that feels like before embarking on the next. I almost always recommend that they consider hiring an interim for that reason. And, and especially with a founder, and a founder that might have been with the organization for a very long time, it's a big change. It's like when you bake cookies and or, and when you make pancakes and, and the first pancake just doesn't turn out well, It's like that. If you hire someone too quickly, that first pancake just might not turn out that well, and that's unfortunate because then the organization is once again plunged into a period of transition, which is not really healthy or something I'd recommend. The statistics about, especially following a founder for new leaders coming in and not being successful is really shocking.
So the interim can really be that bridge very successfully. For all of the reasons that you just outlined, it's like a palate cleanser. It's a good thing to try. The most formative of those relationships, but when you have relationships with funders, when those people have those relationships that are very closely held, there's a lot of insecurity and instability that can affect the organization adversely if it's not handled correctly. And oftentimes that's the best reason to have an interim. Because that person can focus on those relationships. Otherwise it's a board member or maybe a secondary staff person that might not be as comfortable relationship building and relationship cultivating as the leader was. And it could be really debilitating for the organization.
Don: I've been listening to your interview with Liz Wolf and I take a little bit different tack about the idea of interim executive. Being the standard approach for an organization now, that was the, that is the experience in, in many religious denominations. For a lot of organizations that just doesn't work, you've got fundraising relationships that you need to hand off, or you've got key government contract relationships that you need to hand off and, you know, having an interim in there and doing that hand off twice, just, just, just doesn't seem to work.
Carol: Carlyn and I talked about the danger of a new executive director becoming an accidental interim – especially if they are following a founder or a long term ED.
Carlyn: Is that executive director going to be the person that hands over the keys? Or is that person going to need to use an interim executive director in order to facilitate that transition? And we're dealing with people. So every person is different. Every organization is different because of that person. I can't say there's one right way to do it, but often an interim executive director after the founder is a good idea because this person can help steward and.
Steer the organization's operation and help clean up. it's not like there's a mess necessarily, but, but be able to implement some new systems, be able to identify if there are staff members that need to be promoted. If there are staff members that have outgrown their position they can do some of that quote unquote dirty work before the next executive director comes in. We commonly say there's sort of. Accidental interim that often follows a founder, somebody that is in that role for about 18 months. And you don't want that. You want the next person to follow the founder to be there for a much longer term. Maybe not another 30 years, but five, 10 years be able to take the organization through its next cycle of opportunity.
Carol: The glass cliff, not the, just the glass ceiling, but the glass cliff of being offered, you women, women of color, especially being offered the, the impossible job. Yeah, exactly. And then people wondered why they couldn't.
Carlyn: Where women are called in to clean out a. And then have an impossible job out of them. And then our, their performance is managed in a way that is not commensurate with the, with the opportunity ahead, or the challenge ahead.
Carol: As Don points out it is never too early to start thinking about transition and succession. It is not just a process to follow or a set of steps. In William Bridges work on transition, he describes three phases that people go through - the ending, the neutral zone and the new beginning. In our action oriented culture, we often think we can jump directly from the ending to the new beginning. The liminal - in between spaces of the neutral zone can catch us off guard. It is messy and confusing. And all through the transition, you can feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster. Don describes how this impacts leaders.
Don: the executive really should initiate the succession. Process and rather than the board initiating it on their behalf. They were shocked and surprised by how emotional the process was for them. That was something that really caught them off guard. You probably can't start too early. We were focusing on primarily trying to get to people four, three to four to five years ahead of their departure. A lot of times, executives are confused about their role in, in the transition process and the succession process to me, there's no ambiguity. You got three jobs. Job number one: lead the organization through the transition, of course, but understand that that role is going to evolve as your departure date draws closer. Number two is to prepare yourself for that next chapter of life. Like if you're gonna retire, have something magnetic that's drawing you forward rather than a job that you're leaving. And job number three is to prepare the organization for the succession and transition process.
Carol: Don talks about how many leaders are caught by surprise by the emotional element of the transition – and I would add - everyone in the organization is going through their own emotional roller coaster too. Don tells a story that illustrates just this point.
Don: He was rethinking his departure date and his long time, well seasoned deputy just up and.
Said, look, I'm done with this, you're, you're never gonna leave this organization. I'm gonna go do something else. I think I gave some notice, but you know what I mean? It really upset the apple cart. And I think it also makes people feel whipsawed. It can be a real stew for the staff and ripe for people, some of your best people, to look elsewhere because they're questioning their career. The future with the organization and, and there's always questions anyway will we like the new executive? Can we trust the board to pick the right person for a job?
Carol: I appreciate Don’s comment about the leader preparing themselves for the next step. In our conversation, Andy described his own process of succession and transition into retirement.
Andy: I feel like if I step back, there's more room for others to step up and jobs than I am not accepting. And I am referring to other people or jobs. I don't get anymore, cuz it's okay. I have enough, I've had enough work. I don't need to do it much longer, but I'm also supporting and training and helping other people who wanna enter this space. And that feels good to me. So this is my personal succession plan and I can't say I wrote it down, but it's something I've thought about for years and I've been implementing it step by step. And the latest step is for me to work less and be more assertive about pushing jobs out to other people, especially folks who are new to consulting. I'm sending a lot more work to BIPOC consultants. Black indigenous people of color as a way of supporting social justice and equity.
Carol: Carlyn and I explored what emerging leaders can do to get ready for an executive director role and what the board needs to do to set the new leader up for success.
Carlyn: if you're an aspiring ED, this is your time to shine. But if you're a board know that, that it's gonna be very additive to get the right person. So you might walk away with the perfect person, but you might be offering it to a couple different people. We've had a couple scenarios just in the last few months where someone's accepted a job offer, been in this situation where they're negotiating a parallel job offer. You have to be willing to make some, some adjustments to your timeline, to the amount of money that you have on the table, all sorts of things. If somebody is looking to ascend into an executive director role, the board is paying very close attention to how much fundraising experience they have, or what is their external facing. What are the technology needs that they're going to have? What are the key people that they need to meet in the first week? How are they let's go ahead and set up meetings with the board members so that that's all done for them. They like to walk in, they open their calendar and they're like, great. I will meet Jim for lunch next Tuesday. And Jill and Joanie are going to be a happy hour,
We also do 30, 60, 90 day check-ins with both the incoming executive director, and the board chair.
Carol: The topic of transitions seemed super relevant as we slowly emerge from the pandemic. As the going impacts of the Great resignation, great reshuffle keep reverberating through the economy. And the nonprofit sector as a subset of that – feeling all those transitions too. We are also I think – finally in the much anticipated generational transition as boomers retire and new leaders step into the limelight.
If these clips intrigued you and you want to go back and listen to the full episodes from each of the people featured in today’s best of – Elizabeth Woolfe’s is episode 12, Carlyn Madden is 27, Andy Robinson is 21 and Don Tebbe is 32.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find the full transcript, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed it, please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything that you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 51 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Thomas Anderson discuss:
Dr. Thomas E. Anderson, II is the founder of Teaiiano Leadership Solutions. He has over 20 years of experience leading high-performance teams in faith-based non-profits. As a coach, consultant, and workshop facilitator, Thomas helps founders, leaders, and managers to navigate the multi-loop (…and often elusive) process of vision development and realization. In fact, he measures results by how much he helps clients to move forward with their vision for the future. Thomas is a recurring presenter at Regent University's Annual Research Roundtables and has published academic articles in the Journal of Practical Consulting and Coaching (JPCC). Above all, Thomas enjoys being a devoted husband to his wife, Jamie, and dedicated father to his daughters, Arianna and Azalia.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Thomas Anderson. Thomas and I talk about how organizations can learn to see and listen, why more and more people are working with founders, and what foresight is and why it is important to organizations.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome Thomas. Welcome to mission impact.
Thomas Anderson: Thank you, Carol. It's nice to be here today, talking with you.
Carol: I like to start each conversation with what drew you to the work that you do? What would you describe as your why?
Thomas: That's a great question. I started this work just to basically help visionaries to, I used to say, to change the world, but it's really to help visionaries to impact the world or to improve the condition of the world that we live in.
Carol: And. As you just said, you're a coach and consultant that really works with folks too, you focus on vision development. Why would you say that vision is so important for whether it's an organization, a team, an individual.
Thomas: that's a good question. And I have to caveat it by telling you a little bit about the backstory of how I got into this work. So I had every intention of graduating from undergrad and just going right into it. Nine to five corporate jobs staying there retiring, but the more and more I talk to people who are around me and the more opportunities that were coming my way, they were really related to people would come to me with their ideas or they would come to me with some type of creative, something that they wanted to do. Made everyone else who gave them feedback on it say, okay, I don't know about this. You might be crazy. Those kinds of responses kept coming to them. And so when I was just open to just the fact that, okay, you want to do something new at the time? I graduated right after the dot com bust. I was in a sense , either forced to go back to school or to try something new. And I was at the time trying something new. And so I saw, I say all that to say, I saw how it motivated vision has a very motivating it's a very motivating phenomenon within itself.
Carol: I work a lot with folks in the nonprofit sector and it's usually someone. Has a vision of, of how the world might be better or how they could have impact or how they could serve people or a gap that they perceive. They step into that. Sometimes the vision is very clear for the founder and not necessarily for everyone that they pull along with them. So you recently did some research into vision development and then its realization. Can you tell me a little bit about that research and what were the, what were the questions that you were trying to answer?
Thomas: Yes. Yes. I'd be happy to. And you just brought up something that I thought about earlier. There's a trend going on and I can, I can break it down like this. And this is what my research has shown just on a cursory level. More new businesses are popping up and even more so since the pandemic has happened. The number of new business applications doubled between 2007 and 2022, and they actually spiked between 2020 and the end of 2021. They have level back off to that doubling, but when you couple that with the fact that corporate longevity has decreased from 67 years , companies used to last on average on the S and P 67 years in 1920 to 15 years. And in 2012 you had this trend that businesses are getting younger. And the chances of working with a founder are higher. And so I started to think, what does that say? Or a visionary leadership vision and visionary leadership. And so what I started to do was to reconceptualize there was a call in the research from a couple of scholars to reconceptualize visionary leadership. And I started to think about the trend of businesses actually getting younger. And I said, okay I need to jump in here. And so I started to ask two questions. The first one was, can an organization learn. And then the second is if so, how do organizations practice? Seeing together now I've had a couple of discussions around my book topic, or I should call it a manuscript at this point because we're still in the process of the proposals and so forth and so on. But I'm even revising that question to look at a topic that came up in one of the sessions: can an organization learn to hear or learn to use the senses. And so what that looks like, going back to my original question, is how organizations learn how to detect and anticipate the future in such a way that they can choose which future they want to pursue. And also on the same token, be nimble enough to make changes along the way.
Carol: Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by an organization seeing or an organization hearing.
Thomas: Still, when it comes to seeing, basically when we talk about vision, we all know that it's future oriented and so. A term for that is the preferred future. And so which future the organization prefers, but visioning itself, starts with the ability to see. And you mentioned the founder earlier in, and that really comes into play here because founders take a journey through what they can see to be the preferred. But there's a lot of information there. That lies outside of the realm of visioning. It lies in the foresight realm of future-thinking, just picking up on trends that are happening or doing some type of horizon scanning or thinking about scenarios that could play out. And so all of that comes into play when talking about organizations. Learn to see together, not just the founder learning to see, but everyone, at some point being invited into the process through their feedback or through a whole group collaborative session, just in bringing all of that wisdom into one room and saying, okay, based on that, what do we want our company to be in this.
Carol: Yeah. And you talked about foresight also. Can you say a little bit about what you mean by that? Sure.
Thomas: So foresight it's not really pie in the sky. Like sometimes vision enforced that can be treated that way, but foresight is basically seeing or detecting what's coming up in the next. So just to, I guess, make a juxtaposition between foresight and strategic foresight and strategic planning, right? Strategic planning looks, and you're an expert at strategic planning. So I need to get this right. Strategic planning looks in the near future, right up to maybe three or five years of foresight. Beyond that it can, it usually starts at five years, but can look up to 50 to a hundred years not to say that people can predict the future. But, you're just picking up on all of these trends that are going on emerging trends, things that could turn into something later, we just don't know. But there are things that would impact or could possibly derail that perfect picture of the future that many organizations and the founders do hold.
Carol: it's so interesting when you're talking about the near term and the longer term for nonprofits with the, with there being so much oftentimes just. Way more to do than can possibly get done. The visions tend to be huge, even when the resources and the organization are, are really small. And so I find even getting organizations to think about the next three years or the next five years can be challenging for them to just take the time. To step back, what are some ways that smaller organizations can tap into what other people are doing around foresight? So they don't have to start from scratch when thinking about those trends.
Thomas: Hmm, that's a good question. I was talking to the president of a smaller organization. It wasn't a nonprofit, but I think the lesson for me in this was that there are certain organizations that are mission driven or are concerned with their teams as wellbeing. And I think that's good. The point of commonality, but what she told me is that she gets together with our team monthly and each team member gets a chance to be the CEO. And so in that meeting she selects someone or they volunteer. And what the first task that they have is to tell, in their own words, what the vision is. And so that's a good way for the leader to not have to always take center stage in communicating it, but also for someone to come forth through someone else's boys and for the leader to also see where that person is and what they see and see the organization from their vantage point.
Carol: That's a great point. I often, when I'm doing strategic planning with organizations and in that initial phase where I'm talking to everybody, one of the questions I often ask. Why does your organization exist? What's the purpose to get everyone to, to describe that mission? They're probably not going to be able to recite the mission statement, but do they at core, have a common understanding of what the purpose of the organization is and, and have that be a checkpoint in the process so that if there, if it's like really all over the place, then that's something that the organization needs to deal with. Yeah. So in your research you were looking at how organizations can see and now maybe how organizations can hear or, or use the other sentences that we have. What were some of the findings that you, that came out of? The work that you did?
Thomas: Great question. So I, going through the process, came up with 11 operating principles that were the focus for each chapter. Around organizational vision development and realization. And so I talked a little bit about this earlier, but vision is more than what meets the eye it's using your senses. It's really detecting and, and I came up with a lot of synonyms that I placed in, in the book. But one phenomenon really stuck out to me was picking up on weak signals on the horizon. And these are signals. Can often be missed, but they can inform the direction of the vision, the, what I call the iteration of the vision. That brings me to a second concept where I think Brenda Zimmerman, who was a consultant and a futurist, and she worked in chaos and complexity theory. She recommended it. Good enough vision, not necessarily wordsmithing it to the point of beyond recognition. She's had to get a vision to the point where it's good enough and then use it to be tested and, over the course of its life cycle, it'll change.
Carol: I love that idea of a good enough. Again, when I'm working with organizations, I'm also trying to get them to what's a good enough strategic plan and to remind them that, yeah, you're not trying to predict the future and These aren't w once it's done, it's also not a tablet that came from on high, right. It’s something that you all created. And so when you need to, you can also update it. So just reminding people that there's flexibility, even when you want to set some intentions and some direction, but yeah, what's good enough.
Thomas: Yeah. And it changes from a wallflower vision and to a working document.
Carol: Absolutely. What were some of the other findings that came out? Yeah,
Thomas: Sure. So there are two trends that in my opinion are upending the traditional idea of visionary leadership and even vision development. And one of those we talked about just now is good enough vision or emergency. The other is shared vision. And in founder-led companies, I'm finding that shared visioning doesn't happen as much with employees at the start as, and I was surprised. I did one quick survey and the customers. So founders would actually. Go through the process of shared visioning with customers using design thinking. I know you're very familiar with that process more than they would with their employees. Once the company had grown. And I found that to be fascinating.
Carol: Well, yeah, I guess there is the focus there on going to the customer, but then if only a few people are involved in that conversation, then there's a big gap of folks who are in the day-to-day and yeah. For nonprofits. Oftentimes, the founder, the CEO, and the board get involved in those conversations and staff get left out of it. And I really encourage groups to include, as many people as is, really practically possible to get involved in those strategic conversations, because everyone has something to share and a perspective and that frontline, actually, implementing a program, actually making things happen is so important. When you bring it back up to that bigger picture vision,
Thomas: And I think we're at a point and I think we're at a pivotal moment in just organizational life. And considering visionary leadership and what it was contextualized for in the late eighties and nineties and where we were as a country at that time. I think we're at a moment where the call even on a generational level is for more people to be involved and that's, I'm picking up on corporations and nonprofits. I work with faith-based nonprofits and I don't really see a difference. People are lacking time and the budget to do certain things, but there is something that I did come across in the literature. It was a book on visionary leadership by Burton. And he actually when I was reading. And also looking through the work of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner the leadership challenge. And I had a conversation with Jim Kouzes also. And what I found was there's a backstory, even to leaders coming up with a vision because they spend time talking. To people walking through the halls and Jim Kouzes just put it like this, leaders pick up on the vision. That's latent in the hearts of the people. Those are the visions that really end up working on when you start to generalize them for the entire organization.
Carol: that shared leadership is so important because in a nonprofit organization there isn't just one person making the decision, right. It's always a group effort. Whether it's all volunteer all everyone on the board needing to come together and, and have a common shared, shared vision , between board and staff and I think that's one of the things that always can trip people up if they've come from the for-profit side and especially with smaller organizations where they've been in charge and been able to do things the way they wanted to, whether that was best practice or not, they had that ability.
And so to step into the nonprofit sector, whether it's faith-based or. Where it's much more of a matrix it's much more of a collective so that building that sense of shared leadership and shared vision is, is just so important. What would you say are some of the challenges that leaders face when trying to implement their vision and implement, and then build a shared collective vision?
Thomas: Yeah, there are two challenges that immediately come to mind. One is the adoption, like having the vision to be adopted by a critical mass of stakeholders, whether they be employees managers donors just getting that vision adopted. And what, Carol, there is an example of that. I've been unpacking some of these examples and reading through them several times. And so with the March of dimes, I actually read through their history and included it in the manuscript. And so over a period of more than 80 years, their vision. And their mission has evolved several times. And so on its website, its structures, its history, for instance, around the four areas of an evolving vision. So the first iteration, what I call it, the first iteration was curing polio and the era was 1938 to 1955. When the VI, the vaccine for polio became available in 55, they entered into another iteration and they called it. Eradicating birth defects. You could also call it eradicating congenital disabilities that ran until about the mid seventies. And then they entered another one healthy pregnancies and they were ensuring at this time that babies were strong and that moms were healthy. This is random too. And it overlapped into the current era that they're in, where they're tackling a crisis of premature birds. And, and I think that I, as far as I can tell, that's where their focus has landed. And so we, we see things like that with the division becoming , moving in cycles instead of straight.
Carol: each of those are certainly related and they've stayed in the same realm. But the particular challenges or particular eras have been different. Yeah, I mean, oftentimes we'll ask Organizations for some organizations, their mission is going to be perpetual, like healthcare institutions, a hospital. Others would love to see themselves out of business. , a homeless shelter, a food bank if we didn't have needs for that, we'd be a better society, right? Like folks don't want to have to have. The services available. But they see the need and so they build organizations to fit those needs. But yeah. So, so visions can, can iterate in, in a variety of different fashions.
Thomas: And that's a great point. It reminded me of the challenge that the March of Dimes faced in that first shifting from that first iteration to the second, whether the loss of sponsorship and they had to. Find creative ways to tell their donors who had pretty much devoted themselves to the mission. And that shared mission of eradicating polio. Tell them there are other problems that we need to address here. And to your point about they would have gone out of business. Had they not iterated that.
Carol: Which could, which would have been a in, in some ways a valid choice, right. Except that they were, they looked around and there were other related things that they could, that they had the infrastructure to tackle.
Thomas: Jim Henslin, he wrote a textbook on sociology. He put it this way. He said they could have gone out of business, but the bureaucracy. Made them continue. And so they said, okay, we have to come up with something else because there are jobs that stayed there we built so much Goodwill in this brand. And so they had to continue.
Carol: Yeah. And sometimes I think we'll, we'll actually , caution organizations against that, that, that they're not. Certainly they want to be in the nonprofit sector. You want to have a well-run organization. You want it to be well-managed, be effective, all of those things. But if it becomes only about. Perpetuating the organization versus really staying on mission. That's where there can be a little bit of a gap, but certainly there's a multitude of challenges that they could have tackled and then what they chose to tackle. It made sense in terms of where they were and how they were set up.
Thomas: For sure
Carol: I'm curious, what are the phases of iteration or other examples of that vision iteration that you see?
Thomas: They are pretty much four phases. That first phase deals with foresight. Just really detecting what's going on in, in and around an existing organization. Or if it's a startup around the startup, in the external environment. The second is the one we know just sitting down, writing the vision, creating it or co-creating it. And there's a micro phase in between there where the vision is emerging. It's just organically in different quote-unquote containers. It could be through values. , it could be through culture. It can, it can emerge through several different things. The third phase is where stakeholders have a choice and this choice is often taken for granted for founders. They can accept them, its division or stakeholders can reject it. And we're seeing a lot of rejection of organizational vision right now in the great reshuffling. The great. What is it? What is the other name for it? Great. Resignation resignation. I think I've gravitated to reshuffling more, but yeah, the great shoveling, the great resignation where people are voting with their feet, they're rejecting the vision by leaving. And if organizations don't get to the point of the end of founders, especially in leaders, don't get to the point where they accept, okay. People can accept the vision or they can reject it. Then sometimes it becomes impossible. And if folks reject it, it's always impossible to get to this fourth phase where they, and I didn't come up with this term, but it's called vision integration. Dr. Jeffrey Coles, he came up with the term and he did a lot of the research where people do two things. They use the vision to make decisions in their everyday work life and they use it. The vision to guide their behaviors and their actions during the.
Carol: it's so interesting with the whole great reshuffle or whatnot. I think it comes down to, for certainly in the nonprofit sector. What I've observed is often there's been a real gap between the vision that the organization has for the change that they want to make in the world, but then a real misalignment with how they actually act internally, how they treat each other, the culture that they've built and I think it's especially acute when it is a mission-driven organization and people they essentially have higher standards for a group. And so they, when they, when they see that gap, they're much more likely , to, to walk away. And I, I think certainly in the nonprofit sector folks just have gotten to the point and, and then I think with. I don't know, it's pandemic, you, you reminded me that we're, that our, all of our time is finite. That things become more urgent than they might've been. You might've put up with it in the past where folks just aren't willing to as much now.
Thomas: that's a great point. While you were sharing that, I thought about when you, you talked about sometimes there's a disconnect people can vision mission. And I don't know if I said this previously, but it's often something that can be taken for granted with when it's in place, but if it's not in place you feel, or, or employees can feel that disconnection between Where the organization, what the organization does and where their job fits in. And that vision often gives everyone a common direction. And then it's a good launching pad just for even those team meetings weekly to say, this is where we're going. This is everybody's part in it. And , the check-ins, it gives focus and direction to a lot of the work.
Carol: I think that's a piece that people forget to do on a regular basis. And, and one of the values that I see in, in going through a strategic planning process, I mean, sometimes what will come out. The other end won't necessarily be super different than what folks saw going into it. But it's like a rechecking and a confirmation that folks are on the same page. I often get a lot of feedback, wow. That's really helpful to know that other people are feeling the same way I am or seeing it the same way I am that validation. So, I'll often say if you come up with a whole bunch of goals in your plan that are brand new, I actually will be curious about that. Like, why is there such a departure from what was before? And oftentimes it's much more of a through line and it's about conforming or reconfirming or reintegrating that.
Thomas: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Carol: So at the end of each podcast episode, I played a game or I asked you one random icebreaker question. So I'm curious, what's your favorite family tradition?
Thomas: Oh, goodness. That is random. Wow. I love that question. Let's see my favorite family. I wouldn't have to say there are several, but if I have to pick one, it would be going to Hershey park. Yeah.
Carol: And how's that tradition originating and the same way.
Thomas: What am I, that's a good question too. I think we are just random, and that's why I say yeah, I'm going to stay with the randomness because I think we were random at times and we like to just experiment, try new things, go places. And I think we just looked it up and we saw that they had a chill child-friendly rides and attractions, and we said, okay, let's go.
Carol: And you love chocolate. Well, I am, I'm always in agreement with that one, for sure. So that's something you do on a regular basis or when we can, at least once a year.
Carol: Well, I'm not, I'm not a rollercoaster person, so I stay away from us at the museum at the park, but I was lucky that my daughter loved them and my younger sister also loved them. So it was a big treat that my younger sister, auntie, would take my daughter to the amusement park. And they got, they had a great time, left me, left me behind, best stay out of the way.
Thomas: I discovered, and this is funny now, but I discovered that. I had vertigo on one of the rides at Hershey park. So my wife is the roller coaster person
Carol: Yeah. There you go. I definitely have vertigo. Vertigo is a real thing. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you? What's emerging in your work? You talked about a manuscript.
Thomas: Yeah, I'm totally excited about that. So I'm working with beta readers right now to figure out what's missing what's resonating with them. And, and they're mostly scholars in visioning and organizational change so forth and so on. And so I'm hoping to have that type of yes, by the end of the year.
Carol: All right. Well, we'll look forward to it and let us know so we can let folks know when it moves to that next step. That'll be exciting. All right. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on.
Thomas: Thank you for having me.
Carol: I was struck by Thomas’ example of the CEO who has each of her staff be CEO for their monthly meeting and to articulate to the team what the organizational vision is. It is a great way to check in and find out whether folks are in alignment and really understand where you are trying to go. I also appreciated Thomas’ description of the ‘good enough vision.’ So many organizations can get caught up in trying to get it perfect. Whether it is their vision statement, their mission statement, their strategic plan. Having the attitude of we need to get it ‘good enough’ and then get moving can really help keep the momentum going. And the importance of visions being a shared vision. If you are a founder and you are the only person who really gets your vision, it will be a lot harder to realize it. You will be more effective if you create the vision with the people you are working with – whether everyone is a volunteer or you have a staff. It needs to be the vision of the group, not just the founder.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Thomas, his full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes.
I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. Keep making an impact!
In episode 40 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guests, Monique Meadows and Terrill Thompson, discuss:
Monique and Terrill are long-time friends and co-owners of Banyan Coaching and Consulting, where they partner with clients to create healthy, vibrant, and sustainable cultures through holistic coaching and facilitation. Our love for the natural world is integrated into all that we do. We invite you to tap into your inner knowing as we together transform and expand in ways that are electrifying, unpredictable and imperative. Monique is a lifelong student of energy healing, channeling and a Reiki Master. Terrill lives in a community on a permaculture farm where they draw energy and joy from producing food, nurturing healthy ecosystems, and offering respite to activists, artists, and organizational leaders. Both earned Master’s degrees in Organization Development from American University, where they were awarded Segal-Seashore Fellowships for their commitment to social justice.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guests today on Mission Impact Are Terrill Thompson and Monique Meadows. Terrill, Monique and I talk about what organizational culture is and why it so often trumps any policies and procedures that you may write, what it really takes to shift organizational culture, and what are some signs that an organization is really ready to engage in culture change? Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning 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 this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Welcome. Welcome Terrell. Welcome Monique. It's great to have you on the podcast.
Terrill Thompson: Thank you.
Carol: So I'd like to start out with a question of what drew you to this work? What motivates you and what would you describe as your, why Terrell, why don't you tackle that one first?
Terrill: My story of how I got into this work was I started as an executive director of a nonprofit and I was one of those EDS that really never should have been an idea right out of college. I got hired as an administrative assistant and then the ed quit. And so the board promoted me to be the ed. And in that experience, I learned a lot on the job and really loved the nonprofit sector. But what I was really passionate about was figuring out how to create and shift the culture within the organization. And so that landed me in graduate school, getting a degree in organization development, which is where. Monique. And then we have been, even though our degree and organization development is much more of a for-profit oriented degree. Most of our colleagues work in the for-profit world. Both of us have always been in the nonprofit sector and passionate about social change. And so we have just applied all of that learning, translated it into non-profit language and have been applying it in a nonprofit.
Monique Meadows: Yeah. So, so similarly, I come to this, having worked for social justice organizations for about 25 years now. And initially I was a development director, so I was responsible for raising the money and all that, which is so not what I'm oriented for. And we, I was part of a management team that was really. Struggling. And we brought in a consultant to help us and figure out what was going on and why everything was breaking down. And there was a moment where I thought, I wonder what he's doing. I was like, that's what I'm wired for. Right? Like how do we heal relationships? And how do we make sure that we're working together in ways that really foster collaboration and so, went to graduate school, met Terrell and yeah, I've been really loving it ever since.
Carol: Yeah. And, full disclosure: I went to the same graduate program, not in the, in the same cohort as the both of you, but and, and it, it somewhat of a similar thing that instigated B two. Moving into organization development was, yeah, working at a number of different nonprofits where they had incredible missions, incredible work that they were doing in the world. And, and yet there was this gap between. How, what the change that they wanted to see outside themselves, but then how they were treating, how we were treating each other, how, how the culture of the organization was. And so I didn't actually, I don't know when I finally, just started getting intrigued with. Why, why is there that gap and how could we work more effectively together and finally stumbled upon, oh, there's a field where people do things about this and I can learn more too. So yeah, so similar and. Your work really focuses a lot on that organizational culture change. Just to begin, how would you, I mean, and we've talked, I've talked a lot about organizational culture on this podcast, but I'm curious how the two of you define organizational culture. What are, what are the kinds of things that you're talking about and thinking about when you're, you're looking at an organization's culture.
Terrill: We define culture really broadly. Right? It's really, I mean, the essence of it is what does it feel like to work there? Right. Every organization has a different call. And the people who can most clearly see the culture are often the new folks, because once we're in it, we're just, it's like the fish in water that doesn't know they're in water. It's, it's all around us all the time. And so, newer people who are coming into organizations can often tell you a little bit more about the culture. The other thing is that oftentimes our practices and policies are really down that should define a cartoon culture, often contradict the culture. So for example, we'll see policies that say things like everybody takes an hour for lunch, but then when we look around the office, everyone's sitting at their desks, cramming food in their face while they're typing emails, right. And culture often Trump. Everything else. And so when we're looking at culture, we're really looking holistically, how are people behaving in the organization? How do they treat each other? What are the relationships like the level of trust? What is the culture around, what do we do about birthdays or holidays, all of that. Even how we dress is part of. Okay. And so we're really taking a broad approach. And when we enter organizations to learn about the culture, our processes, predominantly observation and talking with people, because while we do read all the policies and procedures, that's not going to tell us that culture, right. It's really about the people. The people make up the culture. Do you want to add anything to that money? Yeah.
Monique: Yeah. And so once we've done some of that observation, like we reflect back to the organization, like here's what we see. Right. Here's how you're relating to each other. How here's, how you're sharing information. Here's how collaboration is or is not happening. And it's fascinating to see how just the reflecting back, what we see, how that in of itself. The culture, right? Because as Tim said, there's the ideal that they hold and then there's what's actually happening. And so we're coming in and assessing that and reflecting back, really. So we start talking about energy, right? Really shifts the energy in the group and. Work with they're like, oh yeah, okay. This, this looks like us. And this isn't quite where we want to go. And so they're, they're ready to make some of those changes in some of the groups that we work with. Aren't right. And so our work is to, to meet them where they're at, so that we can help guide them through a process that turns their culture into the one that reflects their values and who they say they want to be.
Carol: Yeah, I think that's, that's where, I don't know there was, there was a point at which there are these cynical posters that came out when we, with the values thing and, and, and just the, the, the worst of what it could be. And, that's all a joke because so many organizations have gone through that process of, or maybe articulating values, but then, there can be that gap between what we think we are, but what's, what's really happening day-to-day.
Monique: And part of the thing that we've seen, that's such a challenge is that group say they want to do the organizational culture work. Right. And so they bring in folks and. When they realize that the depths of time, like the amount of time, like the commitment and the vulnerability that is really present, they shut down. Right. And so groups also don't always have the resources to really invest the time. Right. Folks are pulled in a thousand different directions. And so we found that to be one of the challenges. Are you really able to commit the time and the resources, the people power to be able to dig in and do this. And so some groups are like, yes, and some aren't able to, but, but that's where I think some of that cynicism comes, right, because there's so many starts and stops to this type of work, but it really does require just like really diving in deeply.
Carol: What are some things that can help? Yeah, I mean, I think realizing how long a process like that takes and how, how challenging it can be to shift culture, even when you want to, what are some things that help that process move forward and go more smoothly?
Monique: Well, the first piece of television mentioned a minute ago was that, we do the data collection, right? So we go in, we talk to folks, have focus groups, interviews, and really pull together what summarizes who they are. Right. And then we reflect back to them. What our work is, is to introduce concepts and models that resonate with them. Right. And use language, because we know when we're talking about culture, like there's some groups we can go in and work with. And they automatically, when we start talking about how our organizations reflect the natural world and they're like, yes, Instant resonance and we're able to do the work. Other groups were like, what the heck are they talking about? These hippies are crazy. Right? So, so we have that. Right? So, part of it is finding. Specific activities that resonate with the group and help them to connect in new ways and create a safe enough container where people are willing to take some risks with each other, because they're often we find there's a lot of injured feelings, right. A lot of hurt feelings, right. And a lot of old narratives. Become concretized and some of the systems. Right? So, what we do is let's surface this and find where the opening is, right? That's the piece like where the opening is so that we can go in and help shift. So it's really about making sure that we have exercises and activities that they're willing to engage in, right. That matches their culture and, and just moves them through the process. And I think part of it too, is at the beginning, like making it really clear. This is a process that is particularly long sometimes. Right. And so, are you already, and cause so gauging organizational readiness is a big piece of that.
Terrill: I'd love to jump in with a little bit about dating the readiness because a lot of our work is in racial equity and equity more broadly. And we often get organized. Well, we get a lot of organizations reaching out to us. So we're in a really fortunate position of being able to be really selective about who we work with, which is nice. But a big piece of that is really figuring out is the client ready to do the work that they say they want to do? Because oftentimes there's a belief that, well, we can bring in someone and do a few training sessions and that's going to shift our culture. And training is great as educational tools. They do not change culture on their own. They have to be embedded in a whole culture change process. And so we do a whole assessment process in our interview process to decide if we want to work with a client. And some of the things that we're looking for is do they have leadership who's really invested in an equity change process and are they willing to learn? And both of those things. And that means that they're going to make mistakes. And so are they able to handle making a mistake and learning publicly in front of their staff and are they willing to invest time and resources into this? And that includes staff time. And so most of our clients we've been able to work with set aside a portion of their time each week for every staff member to do equity-based. Right. And that ranges and the clients who our clients are doing 10%. So if you're 40 hours, four hours a week is going into really learning and engaging in an equity way that gets self-defined on what their learning curve is. We also know that we need to have access to the full organization. So any organization that says yes, but you can't work with us. That's a flag for us, because if you want to create culture change, it has to be organization wide or else. The default is to pull back to where you've been. So if you have any group that's not moving, it can pull the whole organization back. That's not to say that we can't do work with staff and board, just oftentimes we have to do it separately at first, because they're in two really different places, but we've gotta be moving. And the whole organization, and that can include volunteers depending on how engaged volunteers are in the organization. So those are a couple of the things that we look for. We also talk very directly about clients, about the need for transparency with us. So we need to know that clients are going to tell us for real what's going on when it's happening, not a month later, right? Because we, by definition of the work we do, we come in and stir the pot. Right. Which means that things are going to come up and if we're not informed, because we're not there day to day, we're not going to hear it at the water cooler, which I realize is different in zoom world, but we're not going to pick it up in that same way. And we need to know that information is coming to us so that we can address things in the moment. It's really important to us, to not be the consultant that comes in, stirs everything up and then leaves. We have seen that happen so many times and it's really, really damaging to organizations. So we take a slow and steady long-term approach with our clients. We would much rather have you move like an organization, move an inch and stay there. Then move three inches and go back to where you were. It's really about that slow and steady progress. Always moving in the direction of equity.
Carol: Yeah. A couple of points are built there. I, I thank you for going to the point of readiness, because that's exactly what I was going to ask you about. Like, what are those signals or what are the things that you're looking for to know that an organization is ready to, to engage in the type of work and type of culture change that you're talking about? And one of the things I really appreciated is when I think when. We're talking about culture, people, it can feel very amorphous for folks, but the fact that you get as concrete as we're going to need, X percentage of staff, time to be dedicated to this over a period of time is it. I think that that's what makes it, that makes it real for folks we're not going to, it's not just an add on, it's not an extra, it's not a special thing. And, and your point around, training obviously is important and education is important. And yet it's not sufficient to change culture. Can you say more about what you've seen in terms of stirring the pot? And then I think it's, sometimes it's even just opening things up and not having enough time for some closure that can also give people just. Either hurt or confused, or just like, what was that all about? So lots of different things that some negative impacts that consultants can have, if they're not careful or haven't haven't to really help the client understand, help the organization, understand what partnership is needed to really make the change that they're looking for.
Terrill: To clarify a little bit about what we regularly see coming into organizations is that oftentimes we very often are the second, third, fourth consultant group that a client has worked with. And the pattern that we see is consultants coming in, asking a lot of questions, getting folks to bare their souls about what's really going on there. And then. Moving out without real change happening. And so we're finding people are really discouraged, particularly folks of color who have just put themselves out on the line to say, this is how racism is impacting me in our organization. And then it falls on like it just falls. It doesn't get held. And so part of what our approaches is that the trust building has to happen. At, in par with the level of racial equity work that we're doing, if that makes sense. So we can't, we can't go in and do a race like racism 400 when trust is not present. Right. We've got to have the trust to hold what comes up so that when the group is ready to actually hold the experience, then we can bring that in and start to make those shifts. But it's really, really damaged. To open it all up, bring people's hope up and then nothing changes. Right.
Monique: And it's really, I mean, just the level of hurt that we encounter and some of these organizations post multiple groups of consultants, and this is not to, in any way, like denigrating the consultants. Right. Because, they may have only been able to come in and there was only a certain amount of time that they were given right there constraints that they're working with. Right. But it's. Remarkable. Like how. Just how much, how many tears there are, that's present right. In the, in these groups and for both the folks of color. And then of course the white folks have a lot of fear right around, am I going to say the wrong thing? It's just okay. Like, what, what are the, what are the lines. They do feel like they're constantly changing. Right. And so, so our work is, like I said earlier, it's like, we really do see it in a lot of ways as healing work and, and really creating a space for folks where they are willing to take the risks with each other. But first it means acknowledging that there's been injury. And whether that injury. Intentional or unintentional it's there. Right. And, and we've worked with some groups where they're, they're ready to acknowledge that and release it. Like we even sometimes have done work activities that are like released rituals, right. For people to really name it and let it go. And as long as it works, What the heck are these people talking about, but again, where we're exploring and experimenting too. And then we have those groups where it's like, they hold on so tightly to the injury. And so we move even more slowly. Right. But, but as we're doing. We're naming, like, here's what we're seeing. And here's what, so we're constantly reflecting back to them so that they first don't feel like they're crazy, right? Like this is actually happening. And what agency do you have? What power do you have within the system to make the changes? That's also a part of our work is to see at all levels within the hierarchy that there's some power there. And so how. With the role that you have, how can you move this along so that you can move closer to fulfilling your mission? And I think the other piece is around talking about culture in general, because it's so invisible. Often we find that folks can dismiss its significance, right? Like how much it really impacts, how far you're getting along in your work and how you're able to. Really fulfill your mission. And so naming it and, and really identifying this is why it's so important, and there are moments where you see the light bulbs go off and you're like, oh, okay. This is why we do this work. Right. But yeah.
Carol: And I can imagine coming in after multiple attempts with different consultants to, to move the needle and having things, not, move forward. I can imagine that For some organizations, and clearly as you're, as you're describing, it really ends up creating harm in the organization. And at the same time, I'm guessing that it's also part of what unfortunately helps organizations be ready to receive. Commit in a way that they perhaps weren't in the first or second or third try. Yeah, I just, I mean, that's the story I'm making up, but
Monique: They're like, okay, we gotta do it, the stack,
Carol: Or they thought, well, if we just have these three trades, then we'll be good. And well, no, that wasn't, that isn't quite it.
Monique: Yeah, we're very clear with organizations that we don't come in and only do training, but that's just not our style. We really want to go in and build the relationships and, and help folks see how the training applies to their work. Because sometimes there's this disconnect, like, why are, why am I getting this training, on equity? When we're doing something that's completely separate. So we work to really show how it's integrated in.
Carol: And you talked about the process of building trust and going slow. I'm curious, especially with organizations that have gone through a couple of these processes, probably, multiple people have already asked them many questions, had those focus groups and had those interviews talk to people. They're like, oh my goodness, are we doing this again? Do I have to tell that story again? I'm curious how you approach that in terms of helping people open up again. Or to, to really build that trust.
Monique: Well one of the things we do is just first put it out there. Like, we know you have been asked these questions multiple times. And so sometimes depending, particularly on the length of time, that's it? This is between when the last group of consultants came and when we were coming in. Sometimes we take the reports to the other consultants. And really put that upfront. Like here's what we already know about you. Right. And we want to build on that. Sometimes there's been a good chunk of time. And so we do have to ask those questions over, but again, it's just putting it out there and being really transparent about it. And one of the things that Terrell and I do Is that we're working with the groups so that the groups are willing and able to make mistakes, like we demonstrate that like, we, we are very in the moment with our groups and particularly, oh yeah. I was going to say virtually, but just across the board, we're very. Present. And so in the moment, there are times when we're making mistakes with each other or stepping on each other and we just put it out there, right. Just show, Hey folks, we are going to make mistakes together. Right. You've done this before. You'll keep doing it. And, and we, we can do that and move forward. Right. So it shows them that we're not coming in assuming that they're all wrong and we have all the answers. Right. We're making sure that they don't have that perspective. Cause we, cause we demonstrate it. But, but we really. We, we, we, I think I keep going back to things and things, but we just, we can, we name like here's what's happened already. Here's where we're going to go. And here's where we'd like to go with y'all. So I feel like I might've been repeating yourself.
Terrill: No, I'm going to repeat what you said too. Because it was too. Then, to not say again, it's like a big chunk of our work is showing up and being really present with people and being really transparent. And that alone builds a lot of trust. So when we come in and say, we've heard all of this, we know we're the fourth consulting group to come in. We know the other ones haven't been successful and we don't want to leave you in that place. So help us figure out how we can be successful here. People. They shift their tone. And when we show up as full human beings who make mistakes, who are learning along with the client, people trust us more because we're not robots and neither are they. Right. And so we need to be all in it together. I think another important thing is that we move because we move slowly. I think that helps build trust. And that includes in the interview process. So we have had, multiple months before we've ever signed a contract where we're meeting with different groups of staff to make sure that they're comfortable with the decision to work with us because that's, especially if staff have been really burned in the past, that's an important process because we want them to be. Comfortable with the decision to hire us. And if they're more comfortable with another group, then they should go with another group. We know we are not the best consultants for every organization out there. No consultant is right. It's about finding the right fit. And so we encourage organizations. In fact, we push really hard. If people reach out and say, someone referred you, we'd like to hire you. I didn't say you should really talk to a couple of groups and make sure that we're right. We have the right approach for your organization and where you are, and we can help with that assessment. But ultimately clients got to make the decision when more staff are involved in that, I think the better.
Carol: Yeah. And so you're, you're almost starting the process by, by having that Len lengthy kind of, pre discovery, if you will. As, as you're working through, should we even be working together? Right.
Monique: I remember in our program, one of the classes said that. Every point of contact with the organization as an intervention. Right. And so like, I keep that in mind, when we're doing the interviews and when we're doing the interviews to be hired in the interviews with the staff and look at each step, I remember that, right. So that we know that we're impacting the system right. Each time, each time.
Carol: Yeah. And I think just the, the part that I think for any consulting project that thinks, oftentimes at least in my experience, organizations think, well, I'm just gonna hire a facilitator and you're going to come in and help us have a good conversation. And don't realize there's that whole process of talking to a lot of people getting a sense of where you are. And then, being able to reflect back to them, This is what I'm hearing. This is the snapshot of your organization now, so that, so that there is a common ground of that naming that you're talking about of and, and being able to just that act of being able to describe the organization to itself, to be so that it can say, or the folks in it can say, Yeah, that resonates or that piece doesn't, but I could see, just to be able to start that conversation.
Terrill: So we try to engage staff at every step of the entire. Process it, depending on the size of the staff that has to look different, right? A four-person organization of 400% organization looks really different when we're talking about staff engagement, but that's also part of it. It's leadership does not have the answers, right? The answers need to come from the entire organization. And so we try to engage staff as much as possible, along the way to get a lot of feedback. What is their vision? What do they want to see? How do they want to shift themselves? And what, what training and education work do they most feel like they need? Right. So we can build all of that. And we really deeply trust that the folks in the organization are the ones who know best what's needed. And our work is really to help synthesize that and open the door for them to be able to do that work.
Carol: And how does that show up in terms of equity work? Because sometimes I feel like there's a stance in that work that doesn't necessarily have that trust that the organization knows what it needs.
Monique: Well, in terms of how we approach equity work to kinda, to, to build the trust that we've been talking about and to really open the minds and hearts of the folks that we're working with, we generally have the philosophy that well, one. Equity work w we don't only focus it on race. Right. We look at the multiple aspects of identities. And so as we do that, we invite people to look at the places where they have identities that are privileged identities and the places where they have identities. Oppressed. Right. And so in terms of the modeling and the transparency and that Terrell, and I do, like, we share like our full selves with folks. Right. And acknowledging that, I have certain identities that are very privileged. I'm U.S. born, English speaking. I live a middle-class life. Right. And I have identities that are oppressed, right. I'm black, I'm a woman. I. I have a disability. So, what we do is we invite people to look at their whole cells, not just through a single, a single lens. And that really shifts how the conversation happens for groups. Right? So you've got, white folks who are used to being in the conversation where they are the oppressor, right. I mean, that's, that's what we're working with here. And we're saying, well, actually, you're more than that. Right. like you have many identities that you're holding where you're impacted by systems that. Take power away from you too. So, we bring that conversation into a group when we're talking about equity and we find that for the folks of color, for the trans folks, for the LGBT folks, It's a, it's a new way of looking at ourselves. Right. And that is, I mean, it's, it's really powerful to be part of those moments where the group's like, oh right. Because there's so much fear going into conversations around equity. And so we've found that that type of approach that's what causes the fear goes away, but it definitely just creates Compassion for each other. Right. That's one of our values that we really work with, but like, how do we create more compassion within these systems so that folks can see each other as whole beings and not just, you are the oppressor. I am the oppressed, like, that we're more than that.
Terrill: That's great money. I would, I also would add that to your question, Carol, about like, Do we trust that the organizations have the knowledge internally? Right. And, and what we have found is that yes, because they know enough to know what they don't know, or to know that they don't know at all, if that makes sense. Like, no, I mean, none of us, none of us have that knowledge that we need to. Right. Right. But we hear a number of our clients are predominantly white organizations that are really early in their learning journey. And we can absolutely work with them to help equitable culture when they come to us and say, we're early in our life, when they have a knowledge that they're early in their learning and they have a lot to learn and they can help us figure out what is it that they need to learn to be able to create this culture. Right. That is, that is actually a lot easier to work with in the organizations that come to us and sort of say, well, we already know everything
Carol: Might be one of your red flags.
Terrill: Right. Cause we're all learning. There is no end point to an absolute journey, right? We are all on the journey. The organizations, individuals, teams, all of us consultants as well are on a learning journey. And so I think when we really open up and tap in, we do know what we need to learn and where we need to.
Carol: Yeah. I love that that compassion piece is key in the work, ultimately it's about being a better human being and that's certainly a lifelong should be, hopefully it's a lifelong, if you're like check I'm good. I'm a good person. I'm missing out on what you might be learning. Right. So at the end of each episode, just to very much shift the focus here a little bit, I do ask an icebreaker question as a facilitator. Everyone looks to you and says, well, what are your icebreakers? And, and I say, well, they're in a box. I have, I have a box of cards that I use. So to, to, to go pretty opposite of where our conversation has been, I'm going to ask you this one. If you could arm wrestle any historical figure, who would you choose and why
Monique: I'm like, who am I willing to lose?
Terrill: Okay. I have a response. Also, you can keep these deals to give you some time, Monique. So my answer would be Bayard Rustin, and because I would love to be able to be in his presence so that I could do anything arm, restfully shake his hand, whatever, but he has, he has been a role model for me forever. I mean, I think I was first exposed to his work when I was probably 18 or 19. I actually worked at a summer program for kids from LGBT families and one of our tent circles where the kids lived was the Baird rest. Circle. And so just to know, like he was such, he was the brain behind so much of what Martin Luther king was able to do, but yet he wasn't recognized for it because he was gay. And the fact that at one point Martin Luther king basically kicked him out of the movement and then said to him, nevermind, come back. I can't do this without you. I just think that the amount of adversity he experienced that kept fighting for the rights of his folks, of people, of color, of black people in this country, even as he was facing homophobia within his group is really. So much of what we're dealing with today as well, and that we have to bring that stick to it. of even though. We are not perfect in any of our movements there isms all over the place in our movements. We have to both be addressing those and continuing to move the work forward. It's not an, it's not an either or, and I feel like he held that and balanced that so well, thanks.
Monique: I would say Harriet Tubman. Yeah. I mean, there's so many reasons why I would be more than happy to lose to her, but the main thing is that I found out maybe about five years ago that she had seizures and I have epilepsy. Right. And so whenever I start to feel afraid of. Facilitating in front of a group. Am I going to have a seizure? I've got like those tapes start going. I remember her. And I'm like she, 17, 18, 19 times went back and forth and freed people, right. Led them to freedom with the, without meds, without comfort, without all the things that I have. And so I'm like Monique. Get over yourself like you, that the blood that she has, you have to, like, you're made of the same thing. And so like, I would love to just be in her presence and just soak up some of that power. Cause she was just, I mean,
Carol: Awesome. Awesome breaths, two very powerful people that yes, we're willing to, willing to lose our arm wrestling match with. So for the two of you, what, what are you excited about? What's coming up> What's emerging in your work these days?
Monique: Well, we were just starting in the second phase with an organization that is a very nature based organization. And we have the privilege of being able to work with them for like a year and a half. So we're really able to dive in deep with them and we can integrate all of our. Things like when we talk about the natural world and how that reflects what's happening within the organization, it's like we can do this in a really direct and explicit way with this group in a way that we can't with some others. So I'm so excited about where we get to go with them and, and how we'll get to go out and hug trees together.
Terrill: I'm also excited for the ability to have in-person retreats again, like I, I thought it was here and then it wasn't. And so I'm holding onto the hope that it will be here. Again. One of the things that we've learned over the last year and a half is that we can do really deep work remotely. And it really surprised me. I will completely acknowledge, I didn't think we could do it. And we have, and. It doesn't feed me as the facilitator in the same way, because we put people into breakout rooms on zoom and they just disappear and we have no idea what's happening. Right. And then they come back. And so to be in the room where we can feel the energy of the group in a completely different way and be fed by that, I'm really looking forward to being able to do that and cross my fingers. It will be relatively soon. Yeah.
Carol: Yeah. Although I do, I do love being able to hit a button and have everyone come back. Well, thank you so much. It was great talking to both of you. I really appreciate the time you spent with me and my wireless.
Terrill: Thank you. Thank you, Carol. It's been really, really fun and I'm really appreciative of the work you're doing and this podcast. Yes. Yes.
Monique: Yep. Fantastic. Thank you so much. Awesome.
Carol: I appreciated the unique perspective that Terrill and Monique brought to our conversation about organizational culture change. Especially that so often they are coming in after 2 or 3 or 4 attempts have already been made to shift culture. Those may have started with doing a few training sessions, perhaps a few facilitated conversations. And then wondering – why haven’t things changed yet. They underscore what it really takes – the full investment that is needed to change your culture and create a healthier, more intentional, more equitable culture. And why so often after several rounds of attempts, slowing down and attending to relationships – building in time for healing is so important. And showing up as full human beings who also have made and will continue to make mistakes is so key.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Terrill and Monique as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Izzy Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. Until next time!
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.