In episode 69 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Jeanne Bell discuss:
Jeanne Bell is co-founder of JustOrg Design. She has consulted on nonprofit strategy and organizational change for over 20 years. Jeanne curates Nonprofit Quarterly's Leading Edge Program, recruiting and presenting nonprofit practitioners advancing more equitable nonprofit leadership practices. Previously, Jeanne led CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, one of the country's premier leadership and capacity-building organizations. While serving as CEO, Jeanne also chaired the board of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management, a national association of nonprofit capacity builders and academics. She currently serves on the boards of Community Works and Borealis Philanthropy. She has a Masters in Nonprofit Management from the University of San Francisco. Jeanne loves living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Jeanne Bell. 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.
Jeanne and I talk about how to integrate strategy and strategy implementation effectively into the structure of your organization. We explore how organizational systems, leadership, and structures can support or get in the way of implementing a strategy, why strategy isn’t just about what the organization does externally, and why having crisp and clear strategies help you be more agile, not less.
Welcome, Jeanne. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Jeanne Bell: Thank you. It's so great to be here.
Carol: I'd like to start out all my interviews with a question around what drew you to the work that you do. What would you say motivates you and what, what's your why?
Jeanne: My experience is that my why becomes clearer and clearer the older I get and the, and the early connections I can make to why that why was formed and how it was formed. I think I'm more conscious of them now in terms of the effect of my parents and the effect of growing up in San Francisco and the effect of doing a lot. Like class travel across class and different parts of my youth journey that I don't think I would've initially in my twenties or thirties associated with my why or my how, but now I do. But, I think the short answer is I, I grew up in a Jesuit tradition, my dad was in that. He obviously left, but was a teacher around a lot of teachers and, and around liberal arts. And by the time I got to Cal, I majored in ethnic studies and so there was something pulling me towards a justice lens and I immediately entered the nonprofit sector after college. And it just sort of organically unfolded from there. But I think the combination of growing up and growing up around. I don't wanna overstate it. I've had to unlearn a lot and learn a lot more, but, generally a justice orientation and a lot around education and teaching. And so I quickly found my way through nonprofits to capacity building and leadership development, which really feeds me. And now I do that pretty much exclusively in a justice framework.
Carol: Moving into that capacity building realm. if you then have the opportunity to combine that perspective of justice. And as you said, we're all having to unlearn a lot of things, a lot of unpack, a lot of assumptions that we might have come up with, but it enables you to combine that with that education perspective and helping people build their skills and their capacity to that ripple effect that that can have.
Jeanne: Exactly. I'm just, innately interested in organizational systems and processes and leadership and I'm committed to the end cause, but what feeds me in the day-to-day is helping the people who are working towards that.
Carol: That was for me an interesting thing that I had to realize that, cuz so many people are coming into the sector, it's because they're really passionate about a particular cause.. And what I started to learn over time was that a lot of what interested me was. What helps people be more effective as they try to work towards that? All the things that go into making an organization work well, making a group work well together. How they're creating their strategy, how they're creating, how they're making, doing decision making, all those kinds of things. And unfortunately, probably more from all the ways in which I saw it not working, , that spurred a curiosity around.
Jeanne: I think what's especially exciting and also challenging now is that I think there's much more recognition, or at least there's a school of thought of which I'm a part, that the what we practice inside organizations really matters and that it's, it's difficult to be credible or even necessarily effective if we can't practice what it is that we're advocating for externally. So I think that. Mandate to leadership, development and capacity building, I think has emerged more crisply in the last, say 10 years or so, changed our work as leaders and capacity builders because the wall between the inside and the outside came down and, and the organization as a laboratory for personal practice, for interpersonal practice, for exploring how we can do the work differently and more consistently with our quote unquote external values and strategies. I raised the bar for all of us.
Carol: That's exactly where that rub between the mission organizations that I worked for that had really ambitious and, and wonderful missions for what they wanted, the change they wanted to see out there. But then we were not at all practicing those things internally or even sometimes the exact opposite. And, the disconnect between those two is what led me down the path that I've been on for sure. I'm curious to hear from you how you're seeing those two, those two perspectives come together a little bit more.
Jeanne: I've been thinking a lot in my work with clients, which includes a lot of work on strategy development. That kind of, the distinction between internal practice and external strategy is, is less and less sharp. And what I've been, honestly, I, what I've been encouraging my clients to do is not worry about that distinction and actually embrace that again, our internal practices should at least be in a through line to our external strategies, if not pretty much part and parcel of the same. I've been integrating different schools or different practices. I think people in our sector, particularly in the social justice space, really emphasize personal practice, the way in. I, I, I borrow from that and I agree with that, and I think it's important to have very crisp and clear-eyed, quote unquote, external strategies that understand the larger ecosystem and the financial resources and all those pieces. I, I pretty much call it all strategy and I think it's okay to have a list of organizational strategies, core strategies, whatever, 4, 6, 8 of 'em, where some of them may appear a little bit more internal or more about how we work. Internally, but to me, the likelihood that you're gonna be able to execute one of those bold external strategies without that internal practice is very low. So I'm not that interested anymore in sorting them out, but in looking at them as a set of strategies that, are interconnected and that make or interdependent, and make each other possible,
Carol: I'm thinking about all the processes that I've supported over the last couple years and The goals, strategies, initiative, whatever you wanna call them that emerged as the big areas to pay attention to and put focus or put energy into for the organization. They were a combination of something that moved the mission forward in a specific way. depending on where the organization was or what was happening and maybe it's lifecycle stage or whatnot. There might be more on the internal that they needed to really take care of To be able to be effective externally and sometimes, other way or an, even balance. But definitely it's interesting that you're saying traditionally there's, there's been a, and I, and I did get a question recently around that from a client. I guess I didn't realize where it came from, of this notion that strategy has to be all for the outside and well, no. to me at least, it's what are you paying attention to? What are you putting energy into? I mean, there's been a lot of shift towards the notion of emergent strategy. And, and, and sometimes I feel like that ends up being an excuse to just throw all strategy discussions out the window and say, well, we just can't do that. Mm-hmm. and I feel like there's some middle ground between. This is the document that we created. We can never change it once. It's, once we vote on it and, and, and agree that this is where we're going, this is the map. And, and there's no, I mean, even when you use a G P s it, and you take a wrong turn, it tells you to, it's recalculating like that should be built in or no framework at all. And I'm curious about what you've been experiencing.
Jeanne: I appreciate that a lot. And I think there is a little bit of recognition in the sector. Again, I tend to work more with organizations, even if they're service organizations who have some sort of change orientation. So I don't wanna blanket the whole sector. But I think there is some recognition that we do need to be crisp. I think the external environment, I mean, we, we can no longer keep talking about, Oh, this is particularly complex or particularly challenging, whether it's the loss of the Supreme Court or whatever. It just keeps happening, ? And so I, I think we, we recognize, or I'm seeing people recognize that actually strategy. is extremely important and, and understanding what we're trying to do to quote unquote win again, even if that's in service, ? Because service is also political. I think. I mean, taking care of people that have been structurally marginalized is, in my view, a political act, ? We can do that in a way that is quite neutral, or we can do that in a way. Cognizant of how it's connected to all the systems and structures. So I'm, I don't mean to only be talking about advocacy organizations, but I, I think in this context, we have to be clear-eyed that certain kinds of strategies have not worked. To me that means being clear on what you're attempting to do. I love your language around what we're paying attention to. That might sound soft to some people. I don't hear it as soft. I hear that as, This is the combination of ecosystem issues, cultural issues, whatever, whatever we're working on that we have to be so on top of in order to choose our four or five working strategies, they're adaptable. Of course they're agile, of course, they turn up and down. But I think the crispness is very important. And, and really what's there to be agile about if you're not crisp, ? I mean, there's nothing to even know that you're changing or testing if you don't define something. .
Carol: Can you give me an example? So cuz we're, we're talking a bit, . High level here. I'm curious if you could, give an example or a story that might bring that to life.
Jeanne: I’m thinking about and I don't wanna disclose, individual clients, but, but what I'm thinking about is, actually the Supreme Court is a great example, if you were in an organization that was thinking of the, classic legal approach to social change, You have had to think differently about that. if the Supreme Court was, was part of the solution, if getting things up to that level and changed that way was part of your solution. And I do have a client in that space. We're in a different environment, for quite some time now, potentially. And so that's what I mean about, that strategy has to now be unpacked and, and reconceived of in a very crisp way, it can't just be, we'll wait and see what happens here.
This is a different environment and, and what does our legal work, what does our advocacy work mean in this context? And what I find is that, Not just that example, but what I find is that what's happening is that we're in a larger context of systems and structures not delivering the way we historically thought they would or were. . And so that's an example to me of a macro issue that should be affecting the way nonprofits craft strategy. That's an example of something that to continue on as if that's not the macro context would be an example to me of weak strategy..
Carol: You've used the word crisp several times. Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by that.
Jeanne: Is it specific, ? I think a lot of times, again, strategy is written in very sort of neutral, ? Positive terms. And I think what, what I'm suggesting is that strategy actually has to be responsive and specific to the operating context, ? It has to be specific to the political reality, to our internal capacity, reality, to the financial realities, ? So I get excited more about strategies that are very specific to our environment, our capacities, our resources, ? Rather than just sort of global statements of. . Aspiration.
Carol: I think there's, there's room for both, ? But labeling, which, normally I don't try to get caught up on, on what we're labeling each thing, but, but just working with a, a client recently where, for each of their strategic pillars we, we had them do a, a vision statement, which was that, what, what do we, if we succeeded, what would the world look like? Sure. And, acknowledging we. you may never get there.. But then that, that at least says where we're aiming towards and then being able to get specific and more in the here and now of what we need to do, over the next couple years to, to get closer to what we've envisioned.
Jeanne: There are some things that, that, people who. in the more sort of radical part of social change are starting to open their minds to I would use abolition as an example,? Even if you are not an abolitionist organization, the work that's happened over the last 10 years and the continued violence perpetrated by police, even if you're not in the criminal justice reform space, I would argue that something like. That widening out and that that questioning of systems, that that's affecting you if you're in domestic violence, if you're in housing, if you're in, it's gotta be starting to sort of seep in that are working assumptions about these systems and structures may not be where we're gonna be as a culture or as a society in 10, 15, 20 years. So that's an example of something. You might say, well, our board's not ready to talk about abolition, and that's not even what we do. But there's a pressure coming about challenging those systems and structures that actually potentially affects, certainly NextGen thinkers,? People coming up. Young people have a very different set of assumptions. Your next program assistant or program director, may be coming in with. many different assumptions about how change is gonna happen,? And that's what I mean about are our strategies sensitive to these more, to these shifts, these seismic underlying shifts to systems and structures and policies, that all of our nonprofits really sit on top of.
Carol: I'm just thinking I definitely have. experienced and witnessed and then started myself that, that sense of really questioning all those underpinnings that's up for discussion and out in the open and, anything that starts in the margins and then it eventually moves more to the center. That's, it's more centered in conversations now, than any time in my career. I was going to college during the Reagan era and so it was all from the progressive point of view, like, How, how do we survive and what's possible? Now there's just a whole different kind of, why are we taking all, all of those things as givens. what's underneath that and, and how do we start questioning that? And, and so one of the things that I, that you're working on is also just looking at different ways to work internally with organizations around decision making, around structure, around strategy and. To really create, to try to build more equity and inclusion in how the organization operates. And I'm, if you could just say a little bit about that model and what you're learning as you're working with I, I think you're in the stage of working with some different pilots around that.
Jeanne: Well, thanks for asking. The process and, and, and software is called just org design and really it's responding to, to what we've just been talking about in many ways, which is that the strategy that I think is necessary, again, even for service organizations who are gonna be. honest about what's going on in the ecosystem that makes those services necessary. I'm not only talking about advocacy organizations, but I think it's, that's all of it. Strategy is inherently interdisciplinary, ? And, organizational strategy is inherently interdisciplinary. I, I think, and we are still working in very siloed departmental structures that assume that individual senior managers are taking those strategies, the real meaning and nuance and soul of those strategies in some consistent way into their silos, ? I think what we all experience is that that's not the. , that management teams actually spend a ton of time talking about HR challenges. At least the ones I've been on. They're not actually talking about how we stitch strategy together across multiple departments and silos. It's, it's very rare that that's what the, the driving And when you say, what are we paying attention to? Most management teams are paying attention to budget and hr, in my experience, they're not actually paying attention to how. Get a strategy to seep into everything we do, ? we need a different structural response to that rather than just saying, management teams are always putting out fires.
I think we have to recognize that we need to configure people around strategy. And so what just org designed does, is say, departments are fine. Project teams are fine, but they're insufficient and we need to have not committees, not task forces. Not every five year strategic planning, but recurring existing places that are cross-functional and interdisciplinary. To really explore and advance what we mean by these organizational strategies, what we're learning, how they're seeping into the work or not, how we're developing people to accelerate those strategies to really take that seriously. So in a nutshell, it, it. It calls for and supports configuring people around compelling strategies and empowering those people to make choices. Not the little ch, not the day-to-day choices that are people's individual jobs, but the kinds of choices that get deferred because we don't have strategy tables. The kinds of, the choices that get deferred until strategic planning. if even then to move those and accelerate those with this, these cross-functional groups that are really tending to strategy and who are
Carol: Some of the people that would be around those tables? Because I think one of the orthodoxies that is certainly being questioned is the idea that, Boards are the ones who have the strategic lens or leadership teams and or the executive director, that somehow by having ascended to that position or being appointed on that group, you suddenly are anointed with, with strategic talent and You can tell by the way I just said that, that I don't believe hasn't been your experience. Are you noticing different patterns? I actually, I actually find that, I find, it seems to me that people. at all levels struggle with being strategic. Mm-hmm. and, and, there's always, there's a lot of rhetoric about being strategic. But when it comes down to it actually staying at that out of the day-to-day is really hard for folks.
Jeanne: It's incredibly hard and there's some debate going on about whether structure really matters. is it more about personal practice that that makes us, and I, I think structure. Is extremely important. And I, and I think leadership's job actually, is to use structure as a lever to help people become more strategic together. I saw a blog recently called Strategy is a Conversation by a guy named Andrew Blum, and I really agree with that. The words are just words. They're our best current articulation of what we're trying to do. as you've said, and what we're paying attention to. The only way they really matter is if people are in constant conversation about them. And, and the reality is, really almost ubiquitously, they're not.
They're really not, strategies are not used as decision screens, as agenda drivers, as they're not, people are using job descriptions to evaluate people. . I mean, I, I feel like there's so much emphasis on job descriptions and titles and as if that is going to get us to, as you say, as if that's a proxy four. Strategic, activity or thinking or alignment, and I, that just is not my experience. The reality is that we need to be in daily, weekly, ongoing conversation about what these strategies actually mean and how they're playing out and are they making our work better. So I feel strongly that you are correct, that everybody who works at the organization should be able to understand these words. The reason that they don't is cuz there's no space to discuss them. . So who's at the table? My current pilot client, who's a smaller organization, only has about 25 staff. What they're doing is they've put everybody at one of their key tables, ? So, they wanna have, if they're gonna have a table around one of their core strategies, They are gonna have a cross section of people there, not only the people who are quote unquote, responsible for the delivery of that strategy, but somebody from communications, somebody from develop, from development, somebody from finance even who's helping to reimagine the budget to reflect those core strategies, not just these. Old departments. .
We've been saying all this for a long time, Carol? That strategy needs to be agile. It needs to live and breathe. It has to come off the shelf. But we haven't done anything structurally to enable that.
Carol: Can you, can you say a little bit more about how those tables work and how that does, how to, how they do or how you're seeing them enable people to, to really. I don't know. Work, work the strategy, if you will.
Jeanne: . . And we're early, actually just yesterday. Sure. I facilitated a, a, a table meet. We call them tables. Because they're not departments and they're not even teams. . I mean, again, we, those are other tools. . This is a place. To explore and advance strategy. ? And so what I'm seeing in the, in the buildup to these, and I'm just using yesterday's meeting as an example that lives in my mind is people feeling a sense of relief. A sense of relief. In fact, we had a one word checkout and multiple people said, I feel relieved. I feel relieved that this space now exists where I can come and say, Wait a second. We're talking about centering a certain leadership, but I don't know how to make that happen over here. ? I don't, I keep hearing everyone say that, but we're not doing that here or, and the development person saying, I, I don't know how to position that in the marketplace for resources. I'm sure it is fundable, but people have a space. It's not just with their direct supervisor, ? Who may or may not know, but with the group of people committed to advancing that work, how do we advance this work? How do we take it off the page and make it central to all of our work? ?
Carol: And it may be that, they don't know, but they'll find a way . ? I mean, the notion that someone knows someone there knows how to do all of this.
Jeanne: No, exactly. And, and I mean, I think this is where, honestly, this is where the collective wisdom really is valuable. It's not just performative. It's not just to get buy-in, all that. . Where we actually need a cross-functional group of people who are seeing the work relating to different stakeholders, and, and are able to come together and say, and get a 360 on this issue. how this strategy is actually playing out,
Carol: Frequently what I've seen in organizations where they bring those cross-functional groups together. The meetings, all they are, are updates and they, and somehow they think that by everybody knowing what I'm doing, that somehow somebody will figure out a through line on all of it. , . No, this is, instead really, if I understand what you're saying. The issue, the strategy, the, whatever it is, in the, in the center. And then having lots of people to have a conversation about how we do, how do we make this real together? .
Jeanne: That's . And I found myself as a facilitator, and this takes good facilitation and, and this is a skillset, , that we need to build inside organizations that shouldn't only be consultants every two years or three years. And, and what I'm realizing, another thing I'm realizing as we roll this out, Carol, is that that's part of what we're doing is teaching people how to host good meetings, how to have strategic conversations, ? How not to. Fall back into project updates and departmental updates, ? We have staff meetings and other devices for that. This is a space not so, I mean, it is for information sharing, but to the extent that it's in service of an ambitious prompt. Like where are the gaps now between this language on the page and what we're doing in presenting to the world, ? That's an important prompt. it's not an indictment of anybody. These strategies are supposed to be pulling us towards our best work. Where are we? ? And people having the space, the safe or brave space to talk about that.
The other thing I wanna say about it is I think that in the move to share power more to distribute decision making, more to focus on race equity more. I think a lot of executives and senior leaders are giving spaces away rather than showing up to those spaces differently. And what just org design is saying is, I want you in the room. in a 25 person organization, the executive director often is the person. with the most, at least, certain kinds of visibility into the larger market, the ecosystem, the partnerships, ? So instead of that executive director saying, what, I, I know everyone hates the management team, and I, I've been hoarding power and blah, blah, blah. So here, create a pod called, strategic vision or something. No, I, what I want you to do is show up to that table differently. I want you to show up to that table. as a strategic collaborator and hopefully a mentor and as someone who can share information, but also hear feedback from other roles and have discussions. . So I, I say all that to say that I think this is also about how we hold power in organizations. As you say, it is about creating more equity and giving more people proximity to strategy, which is really giving people proximity to. ? And it's creating accountability for those leaders. So rather than sending a bunch of junior people off and hoping they come up with a valid recommendation, which is what we see so much, ? No. You create a different space. You invite them to the table and educate, edify, engage, and create that strategic capacity beyond your management team
Carol: When you're coaching leaders to help them show up differently as you're describing. What are some of the behaviors that they need to unleash?
Jeanne: Well, I think there's, we can frame these as caretaking or we can frame these as more nefarious. . But I, I think, and it's, it's a mixture of both, as . . But I think that executive directors, even in social justice spaces, even people who profess to be on the journey do struggle with not being the expert all the time and not quickly. and definitively correcting things that aren't . , there's a, there's a, a 10 a tendency, I think in executives to be, and I was this too, to be activators to be No, no, no. It's not that it's this, ? No, no, no. I just met with them yesterday. It's not this, it's that . To try to constantly correct the record. And, and, and I think that's part of it is, let the conversation happen. But again, bring your knowledge. but I think there's a difference between bringing your knowledge and trying to get everything in line with how it should go. .
Carol: I would say the difference from groups that I've observed one of the simplest things would be for the leader at, whether they're executive director, co-director, or head of the department, or whatever it is, or, yep. Chair of the board or whatever. Just to not be the first person who talks
Jeanne: some real simple tactics there. Wait.
Carol: . Wait and listen. Wait. Because as soon as you've put your thing in, well, everyone's gonna glom onto it and I don't think, I don't. I think especially if you've been in a leadership role for a long time, you may forget what that position brings and the impact it has on the people around you. That's . And, and you've gotten so used to them behaving that way. You think that you're acting as a peer when No, you're. That's , that's .
Jeanne: And really the truth is you don't know everything. you don't know everything about, you might know everything about, who's gonna be the next board chair. , there's things that no one else knows about the organization perhaps. But these conversations are about strategy. And if your strategies are truly compelling, if they are truly pulling the organization forward, there is a lot you don't know about how to get there. ? And if you're telling me that there's nobody on your team who can participate in a conversation about that gap, about that, unknown, about that, what's next? Well then you have a hiring problem. I mean, then, then you haven't recruited people to where the work is going. And that may very well, sometimes be the case. Part of what happens when we, when we are willing to organize conversations around strategy, is we may realize that we haven't even recruited to those strategies or those strategies are evolving. And again, our departments are stuck in sort of functional definitions of success. Did we get the donor mailing out? Did we retain 30 per, what did that mailer say ? . Or does it reflect where the work is going? . That is not always, there isn't a place always to create that accountability. And that's the accountability I'm looking for is are we all moving towards where the work needs to be going? .
Carol: And I think that could be a recruiting issue, but I also think it can be, a, just a willingness. Develop folks. That's it. And I also think at least what I've observed is, and, and well, one, I wish I knew as much as I knew when I was 18 and 22, ? Because I knew everything then. and you were gonna forever, which I learned no less . But, but I, I also, but I've also heard a lot of folks and I've experienced this myself, of, they've been in a leadership role for X amount of time. They look out and they're like, no one's ready to be where I am forgetting. When they stepped into that role, whatever number of years ago that was, did they feel ready? That's . Were they quote unquote ready and no, they've, they've, they're now benefiting from all that experience, all the mistakes they've made, all the wins they've had, and then somehow expecting the people that they're, that are not in those roles to somehow have that same experience. And if not, then they're not ready. That's it. That's .
Jeanne: Well, and I, I, I said a few minutes ago that I think structure matters a lot. I mean, I, I actually believe that organizational design is now a leader, I think should be an explicit executive responsibility. Our traditional structures, they don't serve. Young people, very well. They are not promoting enough people of color. They are not inherently strategic. So to me, this is a leadership problem, ? And we can't just say, oh, I'm just gonna, tweak around the edges or create some task forces now. And then I think we have a structural problem, ? So obviously that's why, that's why I'm addressing this. And I think we have to get serious about what structure we should be accomplishing. And there's a few things I think it should accomplish. I think it should literally be accomplished, getting people proximate to.
So, you don't necessarily have to use my process of tables, but if your structure has 70 or 80% or more of your people not proximate to strategy, then it's not a sufficient structure in my view. . It should be accomplishing leadership development. If you are not able to promote from within and promote diversity from within, then people are not getting, as you just said, what they need. Which is proximate to strategy, proximate to expertise, proximate to key relationships, internally and externally. And if your structure is not delivering that to people, then it's not working . And certainly race equity and d e i in general, if your structure is not working for people of color, ? If it's not working for young people, if it's not working for trans people, that's on you . there's something not working.
And so to me, we wanna sit down and say, okay, well here's this org chart. What is it accomplishing in terms of the goals I just said, ? Is it designed just because that's what I inherited? Is it designed for efficiency? Is it designed for functional expertise, as you said a few minutes ago? Just because I'm a good marketing officer, does that mean I should be. Respect, what is on the management team? Like what does that get us? ? What is it delivering for us? So I, that's what I want to see people do is say, what is this structure delivering for us and what feedback are we getting at? Do people like this? Is this invigorating ? ? Do our younger people like it? Do our people of color like it? Do we feel strategically aligned and is our structure helping us get there?
Carol: . one thing with structures, I can't think of an organization that hasn't had somebody say, oh, we're so siloed. . And the fix for that has to. Has been to reshuffle everyone into new teams, but my experience is usually they just end up in new silos. So how, what, with this idea of bringing multidisciplinary groups together around focused on a strategy, how often are you then thinking about, do we have the tables? Do we continue with these tables as you're calling them? These, these groups, . Or. Do we need a new set? Given our circumstances now, and this I can
Jeanne: only predict and hope. Okay. Because I don't have enough . I'm only a year in, but my, the way we're setting them up is with an assumption of evolution. . Okay. That this is our best understanding of the strategic conversations we need to be having now. , just as we've been talking about, we want strategies that are clear and, and discerning. We also want them to be agile, ? And we also may realize that certain people have come to a table and they've participated and it's been productive, but maybe their time is better used. , somewhere else. Again, it's not a job to be on the table, ? You're bringing your work and your perspective to a cross-functional conversation. It's possible that people will wanna step out of that at certain periods because something else is consuming them or, so we want the table space. We want tables to be permanent. There are always tables, but not the specific tables themselves, ? There should always be. cross-functional spaces that are dedicated to understanding and advancing strategy, but what they are and who's on them, I think will be more, more agile, more dynamic. And
Carol: how are, how are the groups finding the time and space to, to even dedicate to those? Because I think so. The unfortunate situation that too many organizations are in is that they feel like they're over, they're overwhelmed by what they're trying to do now. That's so then to, to, to be doing something like this or doing it differently, really feels impossible.
Jeanne: You've hit on one of our, one of our major resistance sort of threads. And of course what we're trying to do here is prove a negative, ? We cannot quantify the amount of conflict and waste of time. Mm-hmm. that exists because people are not strategically aligned. . In fact, probably, a great deal of what people are doing when they're not doing the work is trying to clear a path for the work or figure out if they're doing the work or figure out why that. Project is happening when they thought they were doing this, and, and we can't even quantify it. It's so much the water we're swimming in. But the hypothesis of course is that investing a few hours, every two weeks or three weeks in resetting on what we are doing? Why are we doing it? How it manifests in our key bodies of work is going to pay. exponentially in that being smoother work between meetings. .
Again, I think we put so much emphasis on one-on-one supervision and sort of traditional HR structures that and I don't care how great your supervisor is, they cannot approximate hearing. 10 people unpack, explore, advance strategy. I mean that, that's like a masterclass every couple of weeks. That's what we're looking for, ? It has to be pr, it has to save time. How we end up measuring that is something that I'm very interested in. ? And it'll initially be qualitative, ? Asking the table participants has this. provided more clarity, more smoothness. Has it facilitated better collaboration? have you gotten in front of things that used to blow up a lot, that's the stuff we wanna see, ?
Carol: . I, I, I imagine that as, and soon this analogy won't work anymore because people won't remember having to actually turn a dial on a radio to get the signal to come in. Mm-hmm. But if you're just all static, if there's so much static in the organization, you're wasting a huge amount of time and effort just trying to. get a clear signal through all of that static. And, and I feel like when I'm, I'm typically working with groups that are a little bit more traditional, once every couple years. Big process. Mm-hmm. But the thing that they talk about as being energizing and exciting is how much they learn from other people. That's it. The kinds of conversations that they get to have in that, that they don't typically have, the connections that they see. By being in, in, in, in cross-functional groups and different groups through the whole process. So, to be able to build that into more of a regular pattern instead of just every three years for a, for a big momentous thing. I mean, there's probably a need for a little bit of both, but um, oh, certainly. Mm-hmm. , that, to, to be able to bring some of that in. to me. . I can, I can intuitively see the benefit and then it's mm-hmm. , as you're saying, like, how, how do we help people? How do we start measuring it in a way that is compelling? , that's . And
Jeanne: I, I mean, one other thing I would add, there's a beautiful free resource actually that you can find online. Came out last year called Turning Towards Each Other, a Conflict Workbook or and I, I think we are at a time where there is heightened conflict inside organizations, and one of the points that. Workbook makes it that some of that is actually conflict about strategy. It's not named that. Hmm. But it's actually people in conflict about what we're doing, why we're doing it, whether it's credible, whether it's consistent with what we're, if we're walking our talk. That's a lot of the conflict that's going on in organizations now, and there isn't, again, one-on-one supervision is not gonna solve that. . We need a space to say, Hey, there's a gap. or I'm not feeling, this communication strategy is consistent with what we're saying over here. Like there needs to be a place that's cross-functional where we can explore that. And so another thing that we hope is, is, that this is not preventing conflict, but creating a productive space for people to debate how these strategies get expressed.
Carol: . So they can engage in it. I was listening to something recently about, different levels of conflict and, and when it gets to what the person termed high conflict, then people are just dug in and they're, they're in those polarizing my way or your way. I'm . you're not . But when you can. so then it's, it's probably the conflict that most people think of, and the one that they shy away from. And that feels very unproductive cuz it is unproductive. . But there is, there are, if you can create spaces for people to be able to. Not necessarily be in positions yet around one way or the other. Exactly. And explore it together. I think that's exactly, that's
Jeanne: the difference. I, when I was an executive director, I, it, it was a time at the organization where we were intentionally going through a lot of change. But, what happens in change management is what you just said, is that unless there are spaces for people to debate and, and vent a little bit about the strategic dissonance they're feeling people get put into camp. ? In people's minds. There's the people who get it. There's the people who don't get it. Oh, don't even go to her. She doesn't get it. she doesn't, well, get it. There's no space to get it, and then it be, as you say, then people get labeled as either old guard, new guard, get it, don't get it. And then there's, there's so little that's possible in terms of collaborative change work.
Carol: . Well, none of this is easy but inviting people in is just, just think about it and experiment with it a little bit. So I end each conversation with a random icebreaker question that I pull from a box. So one I'm gonna ask you is if you were stranded on a desert island and you could choose one person to keep you company, who would it be? The, so
Jeanne: This is supposed to be like a famous person. Doesn't matter. It could be anyone. I mean, obviously I would choose my partner . And I'm not just saying that in case they listen to this. But if you want a more sort of global answer that's not a personal relationship. I would pick A poet, and I was just thinking about the poet who I always bring up, it seems like in the last few months Natalie Diaz. . I would pick somebody who could keep the world magical through their language.
Carol: Mm. Okay. All . Thank you. Well, what's coming up? We've been talking about what's emerging in your work, but what, what are you seeing over the next year or so? What, in terms of all this new work that you're, that you're doing and the, the . Projects you're working with. , I'm, you
Jeanne: Now, what I'm really excited about is different. Organizational profiles, ? So it's called just org design. So it's clearly designed with organizations who think of their work as in some way in service of justice. And so, that's the large catchment that we're in. But what I'm really interested in, Carol, is different profiles of that. and we also think that tables may in fact work across organizations and, and really support coalitions and collaboration across organizations because this is a software that can track who's at that table, what choices are we making, what are the agendas for future meetings, which is such a lot of work. Keeps people from doing collaboration externally well too. So, I'm, we've got a pilot client who's more of an organizing group who I think may go in that direction where it's internal, but then can also create a bridge to some of their key partnerships. So, looking for different client profiles that are under the large umbrella of justice work but have different. Existing configurations and different kinds of strategies that will benefit from really well structured and, and software supported consistency around really centering strategy.
Carol: . Cuz I, there's only so much any one organization can do in any of these fields, . So that's supporting those larger collaborative initiatives coalitions. It's where so much of the work is now happening, so that makes a lot of sense. . All . Well thank you so much. It was great. Just enjoyed the conversation. I definitely could talk to you about this stuff all day, so we won't do that.
Jeanne: Thank you so much for this. I really appreciate it.
Carol: I appreciated Jeanne’s emphasis on the interconnection between your organization’s strategy for the external environment that supports your mission and the internal – that in fact – also supports your mission. That it is all interwoven and once amplifies the other and both sides and intentions are needed. I also appreciated her description of crisp strategy. There is a lot of emphasis on being emergent and agile in today’s environment – and ly so. Yet by clearly defining and crisply setting your intentions, you know what you are pivoting from if you need to pivot. That the strategy is specific and clear – not vaguely neutral, not trying to offend anyone. And that they are specific within the capacity and financial realities of your situation – not just about wishful thinking. Without it you are not really pivoting and being agile – you are just spinning in circles.
Another point that I really appreciated was her description of the work she is doing to help organizations integrate their strategy into their day to day work through an interdisciplinary approach. When I am working with clients and in the process of discovery, when I interview and listen to staff, board and other key stakeholders – so often the issue of silos between departments comes up. And by creating spaces for cross-functional teams to discuss specific strategies and how to show up in their daily work, it can also become more real for everyone – instead of strategy just being something we do at a retreat every couple years. That departments or project teams are fine but insufficient. And creating spaces – or tables as she calls them – to talk about how day to day choices that are constantly being made reflect and integrate the larger strategy of the organization.
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 Jeanne Bell, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Natasha Devoise of 100 Ninjas for her production support.
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