I’ve spent the last few weeks focused on ‘transformation’: sitting in on a national workshop called Advanced Leadership for Organizational Transformation and joining an international live webinar training for Mindfulness at Work: Transforming Stress into Well Being. The first was useful; the second was amazing. But the big question for me throughout was – what’s relevant now as our public policies, programs and financing systems teeter and perhaps totter?
Here are my current takeaways:
Strategic planning still makes sense, but with some twists and tweaks. Yes, thinking three or five years down the road is really hard – but absolutely needed. We owe it to our organization and stakeholders to prepare for whatever the future holds, both good and bad. I suggest scenario planning with at least 3 alternatives:
- Survival. What are the limited capacities that you must preserve intact through the coming era of slash-and-burn so that your organization will be ready to fly once the politics again shift course?
- Mid size. What will your organization look like with some funding cuts and policy shifts – but not the wholesale revolution promised?
- For transformation – What will your organization look like based on a new business model, altered organizational vision and revamped structure?
Example – at the Organizational Transformation workshop I sat next to an Executive Director of a 200+employee, 3-county agency focused on providing essential services for families to leave and stay out of poverty. He sees the handwriting on the wall – shrinking federal funds for his key programs. Rather than waiting, he has an immediate plan:
- Raise public awareness about the economic impacts of these program cuts. This organization injects more than $15 million a year into the local economy through its 180 employees and food, energy, housing, childcare, training and lending programs. Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!
- Tighten relationships with federal electeds and their staff – particularly those up for re-election in 2018.
- Consider moving from mostly serving people in poverty to focusing on the working poor – who make up 40% of the area’s population. This reflects a probable change in funding strategies.
- Revamp the development office with a powerful database of donors, focus on planning giving and events and discover federal programs that might not be cut.
- Create an Operations Director so that the ED can concentrate on this external work.
- Focus the board and senior management on this new reality.
So — strategic planning for today is about clearly acknowledging the threats, adapting to uncertainty with scenario planning (“futures” not “future”), embracing the organization’s undisputed value added and making financial viability the core of the planning work.
But times are hard and we need more than clear-sightedness and good planning tools. This is where the Transforming Stress into Well Being webinars comes in for me. Based on ancient Tibetan Buddhist teachings, this Skillful Means course rekindled my core conviction that by nature, most of us (regardless of who you voted for) are positive, collaborative and caring and that wholehearted participation is our response to being alive. Tension is normal – stress is not. Stress shuts down our energy and creativity and particularly in these times, we must be wide open to the beauty around us and the answers that lie within us. Can you quiet the noise and distractions of the current ‘external theater’ of change and create space where you can allow deeper knowing to emerge? Then, have the strength and courage to act from this place?
We can’t control what happens in the external environment but we can control completely how we respond and react to it. That’s true for ourselves and for our organizations. This is where the potential for transformation truly lies.