Archive for September, 2013

Institutional Change Through Quilting

By | September 27, 2013 | 0 Comments
Coalitions working for Institutional change have to hold a metaphoric quilting bee

Coalitions working for Institutional change have to hold a metaphoric quilting bee

I absolutely LOVE quilts.  I love them for their physical beauty as well as for everything they symbolize.  I love the idea of re-purposing fabric, bringing disparate pieces together and, creating a functional and aesthetic item that should last for generations.  Lately, I have been thinking about how coalitions can be like quilts. 


Over the past week I have worked with school reformers from local education advocacy groups when we gathered at Los Angeles Education Partnership offices to see and learn about their excellent work. I am also meeting with community members, educators and cultural resource professionals in North Carolina where I am giving a presentation on Coalitions working to change Institutions.

flag quilt


I am lucky to have a depth of experience in coalition work through my years working on environmental justice issues where I published, Righting the Wrong   which is about local government’s role in partnering with community stakeholders to address environmental justice issues. I have also worked in Dayton Ohio and Washington DC on a range of community issues.  Most recently, I am working with a coalition of education advocacy groups that are improving education outcomes in their communities.  Their roles can be difficult because they are both critics and defenders of public education in this period when there are so many paths called reform. 


Like my education partners, I believe in the power and purpose of institutions but also believe that they, like all of us, need to evolve over time.  Below are some of my thoughts about working with coalitions to effect institutional change.  These are based on a presentation that I gave at: NC Folklife Institute’s 2013 Statewide Folklife Summit, a gathering of cultural resource and community partners. 


Coalition work to effect institutional change, is like quilting in that you have elements that you need to bring together for a lasting outcome. The cover itself, the most visual aspect of the quilt, is comprised of disparate parts and pieces, woven from different fabrics, that have to be pieced together to create a whole.  Often times, the fabrics alone would not complement or align, however, when pieced from a community of fabrics, the diversity of colors and textures enriches the outcome. While the cover is the most visual aspect, the quality, function and durability of a quilt depend on piecing, quilting and binding the components together.  This metaphor is apt for successful coalition building where you have to assemble stakeholder interests into a shared picture and then use the tools and resources available to successfully join the disparate parts for a functional, durable outcome that reflects the culture from which it came.




Lighting a Candle for Someone Else, The Dividend of Being Nice

By | September 24, 2013 | 0 Comments
I chose these candles because the stones remind me of the ones on the Susquehanna River Bank in Lewisburg

I chose these candles because the stones remind me of the ones on the Susquehanna River Bank in Lewisburg

Recently, I received a gift certificate to Colonial Candlecrafters, in my wonderful home town, Lewisburg Pennsylvania.  I won the certificate helping to promote Colonial Candlecrafters through my social media which I did earnestly.  The owner of the shop, and online store, Pat Hess, has been widely recognized as a business leader in Pennsylvania and supporter of women’s enterprises.  Additionally, one of my strongest personal values is an appreciation of hand made items — so this good fortune represents alignment of many of my prioritie and reminded me that there is always a dividend to being nice.

Check out The Give and Take for More on the Power of Being Nice.   Also — please look to your right on this screen and be sure to subscribe for updates!

The flip side of being nice is being happy . . . watch this awesome YouTube Video about the science of happiness (done by Soul Pancake) how expressing gratitude makes you even happier! Let’s go people — thank you, thank me, thanks to everyone whom I don’t even know to thank!

Being nice is the best sort of recycling.  Being nice to people gives a buoyancy to the spirit and attracts niceness back.  On the other hand, being mean just sucks energy because you spread your meanness and then have to spend the time processing your angry feelings and they fester.

Paying It Forward ensures loyalty.  Evidence shows that time invested in individuals to cultivate and mentor talent has financial benefits for an organization.  It also keeps high performing individuals longer.  And, from a personal perspective, time invested in individuals results in terrific loyalty and potential down the road.  I have a meeting tonight with a former protégé whom I am considering a business opportunity with.

What is Nice?  In case you are not sure how to be nice without acting like a wimp:

  1. Ask someone how they are and listen to their answer compassionately
  2. How can I help?  When you see someone anywhere / any time who seems to be struggling, ask to help.
  3. Zip the Lip:  when you are interacting with someone who is not being nice – don’t engage with them.  Listen, resolve whatever issue is at hand and move on.  To engage a person or issue that is not with the best intentions is to validate it.  Even if you are arguing against it – you are choosing to invest your time in addressing it, meaning that it is taking your energy.
  4. Don’t stir the manure.  If someone is mean to you – leave it at that, don’t propagate the meanness by re-counting that act to others.  When you stir the manure, you spread the stink.
  5. Random Acts of Kindness – be known for a certain type of nice.  For  me, I send letters and cards to people.  I love to write them and people like to receive them.  Others always have a compliment, or are great at expressing their gratitude.  I aspire to do those things, but I do know that I am really good at note writing and people appreciate that.  (you should see my stationary box, it’s awesome!)

How to Be Nice Even When You Can’t Be Nice:  Sometimes we have to tell people they are under-performing, or deliver other bad news.   Here are three thoughts to consider:

  1. I am sorry to have to tell you this:  Here is the bad news.  However, I sincerely hope that there is good news or opportunity based on this bad news.  Understand and help others understand that the bad news may be a step towards good news.
  2. Address the future:  When addressing an issue or person that is unpleasant  — try to do so through the lens of what do I want this to be like in the future? This means tying feedback or discussion to a future possibility.  I think we should collaborate in the future to have a more competitive product.  To do that, I would like to ensure that we are respecting each other.  And from here you let the person know whatever not nice information you need to.
  3. Pick Your Battles:  You can choose to not let people who are not nice not bother you.  You can choose to not emotionally engage with a person altogether.   Keep a pleasant demeanor, but do not acknowledge, respond or react to their negativity.  Remember any engagement on your part requires an investment of your energy – save energy.

Find a Nice Person and Emulate: Teresa Hess is my living model of niceness.  In many ways in my days, I try to say WWTD – What Would Teresa Do?  And the answer is usually to listen to music and choose not to engage with negativity.   Even to seek out positivity as an antidote to negativity. The think about Teresa is that it is not like she is Suzy Sunshine all day long, but she always acts from a space of integrity with the goal of contributing positivity to the world.   I advise you all to find your own Teresa Hess!   So, Teresa Hess . . . even though I was scared of you in high school . . . now I am really grateful for you – thank you!

Playing and Working with an Open Hand

By | September 17, 2013 | 0 Comments

open handOpen Hands


Ten Ways to Improve Transparency

When I am learning a new card game, I like to play an “open hand” or two, meaning that I can see everyone’s cards and understand the game better.  Of course, this is not great for the competition, but it helps me understand the workings of the game, so I can play better.  I think the same principle should be applied to a work setting; everyone should play with an open hand to their co-workers.  After all, we are not competing with ourselves, so we might as well have all the advantages of transparency.  Below are ten ways to improve transparency . . .  a follow up to last week’s blog about WHY transparency is so important.  For links to articles and websites see The Give and Take.

10.   Understand communications methods:  Communicating the way that you are comfortable and skilled does not necessarily mean that you will be heard or understood.  It is vital to communicate in ways that others want to receive information.  This means trying a variety of approaches across media. If millennial prefer text messages, then set up group texts to communicate informal updates.

9.  Relate-ability // Know staff members personally:  Individuals will be more receptive and interested in hearing and interacting with you if they know you and know that you respect them.  Invest the time in getting to know staff members and building a rapport with them.  In general, we spend more waking hours at work than anywhere else, for that reason alone, I think it is important to know about staff and team members’ lives, families, skills and hobbies; these are what make us human.

8. Open door to committee or task forces:  Create a company-wide policy that any staff member can participate in any committee or task force (where liability issues are not involved).  This creates opportunities for staff members themselves to articulate their priorities and increases the perspectives included.

7.   Evaluate Communications and Transparency:  Figure out what outcomes you want from increased transparency (e.g. greater staff understanding of organizational goals, increase buy-in and loyalty, improved collaboration across departments, etc) and measure towards those outcomes.  When you identify a method or mode that is working well, identify the specifics of why it is working and seek to replicate.  If a method is not working, identify the reason why and tweak, or eliminate.  Part of the evaluation should be an accountability – is everyone using the systems and sharing information as agreed to? If not, individuals should be held accountable.

6.  Construct communications and transparency methods that are routine and predictable.  Create a system of how shared computer drives work, what types of information is communicated in what ways, etc.  Also, create a timeliness of transparency and communications.  Transparency and open communications should be a work habit followed by everyone, which can only happen with practice and repetition.

5.  Leverage Social Media:  There are some excellent social media platforms which are informal, simple to use and foster quick interactions.  Yammer is one that I am familiar with and it works well.  It is very similar to Facebook, but is private for your organization.  Also, create folders for communications and use convenient communication methods such as messaging through Twitter, text messages and others.  Imagine the credibility that you gain by sending a friendly text message reminder of the all staff meeting, or sending a link to an article for all staff.

4.  Make Information actionable:  If you give me information and tell me why it matters and what you expect me to do with it, you have me hooked.  When sharing information, explain (briefly) what you are sharing, why it matters, and what the reader can do with it. (e.g. integrate into your work plans, share with staff, seek volunteers to participate).  Also, as appropriate, establish a deadline for response so that staff members can know how to incorporate the information into their own priorities.  A let me know what you think is different than, please provide feedback by Friday noon.

 3.  Seek collaboration and buy in:  Ask for participation and feedback that draws on the expertise of particular departments and staff members.  Given your background in training, can you please provide some ideas for how we could design a training that . . .?  Likewise, seek input from specific sectors of staff whose perspective may be different from your own (e.g. those who work off site, those who are a different generation, etc).

2.  Discuss mistakes:  The best way to build loyalty and buy-in is to discuss your mistakes and your organization’s mistakes.  Discuss mistakes in terms of what went wrong, why and what the organization has learned from it.  As a part of this, be sure to demonstrate your accountability for the mistake. Likewise, seek feedback about mistakes or ways to improve.

1.     Share information openly:  Create and use systems–physical, virtual and human–that are organized, logical and accessible.  Instruct team members about how to use the systems and then use the systems as they are designed.  System workarounds are contrary to transparency and openness.  If a system needs to be re-designed, then re-design it (see #7 above), but in light of that, a key to transparency is working with the system to communication and share ideas.

Feedback  Yes, Please — below?

Read more in The Give and Take.


Categories: Communications, Management

Transparency Builds Stronger Organizations

By | September 11, 2013 | 0 Comments
This man is working on transparency in his office

This man is working on transparency in his office

Communications in a Disaster:  Hurricane Katrina project officers were working in remote offices and many did not have the training or information they needed to successfully complete the project work  forms for Katrina victims to receive funds to rebuild.  At the same time, given the enormity of the disaster, some policies and decisions were being made on a week -to-week basis that needed to be conveyed to disaster personnel.

As you can imagine — this was a very stressful time for everyone, so patience was short and stress levels were high.

The header and Ask Eggbert column of the Zine

The header and Ask Eggbert column of the Zine

Oftentimes, new policies and procedures were not conveyed in a way that personnel understood, so compliance with them was low.  Also complicating this was the very dispersed staff (over 600) so there was a bit of a game of telephone ofpassing along new procedures and information which caused confusion.  At the same time, staff members did not have an effective or coherent way to share questions, ideas or suggestions with  leadership. I was tasked with addressing this problem.

Less is More; Comics are Fun:  My solution to this transparency and communications break down in the midst of Hurricane Katrina recovery was a weekly two-page comic Zine, with short informative articles presented in non-technical language. 

A snap shot of the Zine, simple, friendly, informative.

A snap shot of the Zine, simple, friendly, informative.

Of course you would not expect an informal light-hearted approach, to be the answer to technical questions and addressing serious issues in a  stressful climate.  But, because it was so different from the day-to-day activities and protocol, this was the reason that it was so well read and ultimately so successful. 

This Zine gave timely information and, included disaster-wide personnel information like birthdays, and had Dear Eggbert column in which staff could submit questions.

 The Zine was at the coffee pots in all of the field offices by noon on Wednesdays, just in time for the lunch break.

Outcomes:  This publication allowed us to address emerging issues in a timely fashion and pay attention to morale, provide humor and support.   It also created a vehicle for feedback.  The results were  fewer mistakes on the application forms and fewer rejected applications, more timely submissions, more light-hearted emergency responders whose birthdays were recognized.  


Nine Reasons Why Your Success Depends on Transparency

At work, one factor in improving performance is to improve communications and increase transparency.  Increasing transparency is good for any businesses bottom line.  Below are my top nine reasons to improve transparency at work.   In the meanwhile, please share your stories of work transparency with me in the comment box below.

9.   Set expectations for all staff to see the big picture:  Open transparency provides staff with information and access to data across organizational functions.   This sets the expectation that staff should understand work across the organization and not just within their particular unit.  This works to improve how staff can collaborate and leverage resources.  This also helps all staff think and from the executive perspective.  If staff and managers are not thinking broadly, discuss as a performance issue.

8.  Improve how individuals and teams see their work aligning with the organizational goals:  Staff and work teams must understand how their particular function fits into the larger organizational priorities.  Staff should seek clarification if they do not see their roles in the big picture, and/or should be aligning their own work with the organizational priorities.

7.  Increases loyalty and commitment:  By sharing internal information and priorities, you are building trust and buy-in among staff.  Information is a gift that staff will appreciate and use appropriately.  Transparency also increases empathy among staff because they have a context for what decisions were made and why.  Conversely, if you have staff and managers who cannot use organizational information with discretion, this is a personnel issue.

 6.  Aids in compliance and growth for staff:  Staff that are privy to information and processes across the organization benefit in two ways.  First, by understanding organization-wide processes, they will be able to comply with them more easily (hello, why reimbursement forms matter!).  Second, staff are exposed to a range of types of positions and may find a growth opportunity by working in a different department or role.

5.  It honors and acknowledges mistakes:  Transparency means acknowledging mistakes and short-comings, which fosters an environment for others to do the same.  This means we are encouraging people to take calculated risks and try new things, which may not work, but we can always learn from them.

4. Articulates priorities and forecasts behaviors / decisions:  Transparency articulates organizational priorities and explains the context around them.  By engaging staff in ongoing dialogues, they should be aware and anticipating where the organization is headed, what organizational threats exist, and other knowns and unknowns.  In this way, staff can decide for themselves and their own work priorities whether changes on the horizon are best for themselves.  Such ongoing conversations can/should make any organizational alignments easier to integrate.

3. Transparency begets transparency:  A culture of transparency means that communications will be flowing in all directions. Team members, each of whom has his/her own professional network, should be hearing and filtering valuable information back into the organization.  Information about competitors, funders, investors or general market climate should be sharedby and with  all staff.

2. Refined solution to the process:  Transparency around organizational challenges, new initiatives or growth can ensure more perspectives and greater opportunity that the arrived-at solution can work across your organization.

1. Helps clarify leadership thinking and actions.  If you are communicating something this month, it needs to be congruent with what you said last month and what you are going to say next month.  So leaders need to think carefully about their own priorities and actions and make sure that they are part of a larger plan and are working to complement the mission and goals of the organization.  Your communication should not be a reflection of the article you just read, or the meeting you just had, but an articulation of the big picture.  Such transparency also ensures accountability of leaders, because any set of communications implies a set of actions for the organization.

Categories: Communications, Management