My work is about helping businesses and non-profits be sustainable. Many organizations begin with a strong vision and structure in place but over time these calcify and it becomes less able to seize opportunities and dodge curve balls. External factors, such as changes in the economic environment or new government policies and internal factors, such as interpersonal conflicts or burn-out, are constants. Effective organizations not only learn to address fluctuations, but develop internal structures in order to anticipate and adapt to them as part of their normal business practice.
The overall goal is to improve the organization’s ability to serve the needs of the customers or clients on an ongoing basis. That requires the full participation of everyone involved. Work begins with a series of conversations with stakeholders to generate a better understanding of the current state of affairs. It often includes strengthening the mission and guiding principals, deepening communication channels, and initiating peer-based accountability practices.
My work has evolved to to focus on sustainability over the course of many years. After receiving my MA in Organization Development in 1991, I practiced primarily in the area of evaluation. I helped organizations understand what was working and what was not so that they could create a program or acquire another business to improve profits or growth. This led me to become increasingly interested in conflict and it’s role in precipitating change. In 2007, I turned my attention onto mediation and became certified by the state to mediate Superior Court Settlement Conferences and then as a Family Mediator. I became Director of Mediation Services at the Mediation Center in Asheville and mediated separating couples and community disputes, conducted trainings in mediation, and oversaw the youth programs.
I learned several important lessons from this work which I bring to my current practice in organization development:
1) People need to be in charge of decisions that impact their lives. When people create their own solutions, they are tailored to their needs and ultimately more durable. By facilitating group discussions and interviews, I help people impacted by changes voice their ideas, concerns and interests ahead of time.
2) People should be most accountable to themselves and the people directly around them. Top-down rule enforcement sucks the life out of everyone. Peer-based accountability practices, such as personal goal-setting and 360 reviews fosters enhanced buy-in and participation.
3) The best decisions come from a full understanding of various perspectives. This requires transparency, honesty, and casting a wide net when seeking input. I work with organizations to find ways to provide more useful information to stakeholders.
4) Communication is the life-blood of a healthy system. Some people communicate well until conflict presents itself. The trick is to expect the conflicts and to build in structures for handling them when they arise.