Building a Culture of Organizational Resilience

Building a Culture of Organizational Resilience

Every day, I marvel at the resilience of the individuals we serve. I see veterans wounded both physically and psychologically with the scars of battle; I see men and women who have lost their homes, their jobs, and their families; I see young people who have moved from foster home to foster home—and I see those who have suffered from substance use, and those who have been incarcerated only to re-enter society burned by the stigma of their past. Yet in so many, I see above all, extraordinary resilience. I am inspired by their ability to not only recover—but to bounce back from unimaginable trials. They have been through a great deal—and still they have the stamina to walk through our doors and find hope, meaning and, most importantly, possibilities for a new future.
While the issues are clearly very different, organizations, too, are also susceptible to the impact of the environment. In our organization, like many nonprofits, the only constant is change. Contracts shift. Foundation awards run their course. Federal guidelines change. The political climate shifts with new leaders. Staff move into new roles. These forces create stress. But also like people, organizations can build their resilience muscles so that change is less a cause for stress, and more viewed as an opportunity.
What are the catalysts for resilience? There is much research out there about what makes resilience in human beings. To sum it up, resilience is found when an individual feels: competent—well-built skills to meet whatever challenges arise; confident—in their various abilities; connection—to a mentor, a teacher, a leader, a family member who has faith in their success; contribution—to something greater than him or herself; and control—over the basic and most foundational aspects of their lives.
These characteristics can be applied to organizations as well. These “c’s” of resilience are essential to creating a positive and growing organizational culture.
For an organization to feel competent, there needs to be a common understanding of mission and the skills required to accomplish agency goals. From hiring, throughout the lifecycle of an employee, it is essential that every employee understands the work, how to do it and where to get information to enhance skills.
Organizational confidence comes from leaders who are clear and focused on the right things at the right times.
Organizational connection is essential—to each other, to our Board, our funders, our stakeholders, and of course, to those we serve. These connections help us feel a part of something greater than ourselves.
Contribution, is an easy “muscle” to fall back on as every day we are able to see the fruits of our hard work in the successes of those we serve. This “doing” makes us feels good, makes us resilient.
And finally, control…while we really have little control over the future, we do have the ability to prepare for it by carefully attending to the environment and the trends.
How resilient is your organization?
As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Why Together is Better

Why Together is Better

If we are not growing we are shrinking. My staff have heard me say that many times. Every year it costs more to do our work—more in salaries, health care benefits—so if you are not growing, you are shrinking.
One of the strategies for growth we have employed is to join with reputable, like-missioned organizations. People often ask me exactly why this strategy for growth? My response: because together, we are better.
The driver behind all of our work is comprised of three key concepts: we must be relevant, we must be sustainable, and we must have impact.
In order to be relevant, we must continually look at ways to solve the problems that challenge economic well-being. Needs evolve, policies change, government and foundation budgets grow and shrink, and innovations are happening every day. Part of our strategy is to not only keep up with all of those changes, but also to lead the way in guiding policy and thinking. By joining with organizations that are also focused on solving the problem we have a much better chance at creating relevant solutions.
For our work to be sustainable, we look to long-term outcomes, not just quick solutions. For example, twenty years ago, sheltered workshops were seen as cutting-edge solutions to integrating individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) into employment. As a result of our learnings about sheltered workshops, it is clear that not only can people with I/DD work and work well, but most are able to work in the community, contributing great work in a variety of settings. And so the next generation of understanding support of those with I/DD includes closing sheltered workshops, working alongside businesses and families to inspire not only the possibility that an individual with I/DD can work, but that he will make a huge contribution to his family, the workplace, and his community. Combining with organizations that are forward thinking helps us to maintain long-term sustainability.
And, for us to have impact, our work must be about both changing the life of an individual, but ultimately changing the system itself—we aim to change hearts, minds, systems, and processes so that even those who do not come through our doors are impacted by the work we do. By leveraging our work and the efforts of our family of agencies—we have a tremendous opportunity to make real impact.
And so we seek to partner with other organizations whose work adds to ours—so that together we are not just 1+1=2, but more like 20 or 30…better together.
And when we find ways to leverage the brands within our family of agencies—like Easter Seals, ReServe, Wildcat, Community Work Services and most recently, Single Stop USA—we are really leveraging the value of each.
On February 1, we combined with Single Stop USA. This combination is a perfect example of combining strength, talent, and ensuring our commitment to relevant, sustainable impact. Single Stop enjoys a strong reputation as a one-stop shop for individuals seeking to access resources to help break the cycle of poverty through access to education, training, counseling, and employment. Single Stop USA is a perfect addition to our “family,” –and as a result, each of us will be able to offer a new portfolio of services to those we serve.
Together, we will use our strength to leverage equity for those with barriers to economic well-being. And together, we will continue to strive for relevant, sustainable impact.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Leaders as Storytellers: A Catalyst for Growth and Change

Leaders as Storytellers: A Catalyst for Growth and Change

The success of our organization lies in changing the narrative of the thousands of lives we serve each year. For every individual whom we serve directly or indirectly through our influence, there is a story behind them—a story that changes as a result of the work we do. These stories are what inspire people to join our staff, become part of our family of brands, donate money, and to enter our programs seeking help.
The stories of those we serve are just part of the power of stories. Research proves that storytelling is also an essential skill for leaders to inspire and motivate. And, ultimately, they are a catalyst for growth and for success because, among other things, storytelling is a tool of persuasion—a key driver in a leader’s toolkit to win hearts and minds and to inspire action.
There are many ways to approach storytelling as a leader, but for me, the first and most important approach is to use storytelling as a means to show others who you are as a leader. Most often, this means telling the story of a time when we learned something—when we were vulnerable, perhaps believing we had the right answer and being humbled by an authentic truth that may have jolted our perceptions and inspired a new way of thinking. This type of story—told absolutely authentically and humbly—breeds trust. It helps those we lead identify with us and understand that as leaders we don’t have all the answers. The story scenario might unfold as, “I believed something, I made a mistake, I learned, and now I see things differently and what a difference it makes.”
Storytelling also motivates others to take action. Telling a specific story of something that has already happened and its success shows an audience what is possible. In my role as CEO of Fedcap, I have no shortage of true stories about how the work we do has impacted others. Telling my story of what it was like to work with someone and the rewards of witnessing their progress inspires others.
In every good story, something must happen and someone must change. Storytelling for its own sake is of course, entertaining. However, as a leader, the stories we tell must also be accompanied by some analysis of what happened and what its impact was as well as to reflect what changed as a result. If I tell a story about my own leadership, I must lay out the narrative and then reflect on how I changed. If I am telling a story about an individual we serve, then I must tell precisely what happened, what changed, and how that person is different as a result of the story. Stories can be not just about individuals, but also about the journey of a program or about an entire organization.
And not all stories are happy all of the time. Rarely do people ‘s lives stay on a single trajectory…they have ebbs and flows, it is what makes us human.
For us at Fedcap, all of our stories—the stories of those we serve, of our agency, of our growth and change over time and my own story as a leader—all follow a narrative that reflects the power of possible. People have entered our agency without hope and because of what happens between individuals, or a system that works, or an inspired story of someone else who has succeeded, things that seemed impossible morph into the possible. Stories are what touch us and inspire us and cause us to remember why we do the work we do. I am inspired daily by the stories I hear from staff and from those we serve about what can happen when we share our vulnerabilities, look to each other for support, and keep telling the stories of what is possible.
I am always eager to hear your stories. As always, feel free to share your thoughts.

Are We Serving or Solving a Problem?

Are We Serving or Solving a Problem?

We’re always on the lookout for candidates who have a “learner” mindset rather than an “expert” one. Learners are interested in new ways to solve problems. Experts can’t wait to tell you the answers.”
Tim Jones, Director of Strategy, 72andSunny
Each year, between $3.6 and $3.9 billion dollars are spent in the child welfare system specifically for foster care. These monies are distributed in three ways—as maintenance payments that cover the cost of shelter, food and clothing for eligible foster children; as foster care placement services and administrative costs; and for staff training and some training for parents. These billions of dollars serve those in the foster care system. The money is used to maintain and implement the system. It is essential to the running of the programs.
In the meantime, 74% of youth leaving foster care end up homeless, in prison or pregnant as opposed to 36% of their peers who are not in foster care. By all measures, these 74% are not succeeding.
Every day I think about ways to solve the problems that challenge the populations that we serve as they strive to achieve equity. Sixty-three percent of individuals leaving the prison system are re-arrested within three years. Ninety-five percent of individuals of working age with disabilities are unemployed. Like the foster care systems, billions of dollars are spent each year serving these populations.
What if we were to rethink the way we serve populations, and instead focus on finding the interventions that can significantly shift the track for many of these individual, ultimately, making a huge inroad in solving the problem?
For example, we took at close look at the issues facing youth aging out of foster care. We asked: what if we could find a way to help foster children aspiring to go to college? Attending college could significantly impact that 74% cited above. Then we asked: Why don’t more youth in care attend college? The research shows that youth are most apt to attend college if there is someone at home encouraging them to help with applications and the often complex system of financial aid and testing and admissions guidelines. And so we worked on a solution which ultimately became our PrepNow! program, designed specifically for foster parents to help them navigate the college admission process so that they can help their college-age youth apply and attend college. And we are finding that those who participate are indeed attending college and while we are tracking the precise statistics on long-term success, we know that youth who attend and graduate from college have more choices about the type of work they do, get jobs that have a career ladder, earn more money over their lifetime, and ultimately achieve equity and are more apt to contribute significantly to their communities.
Sometimes, all it takes to solve a problem is not a huge overhaul of a well-established system, but a precise and powerful intervention. It means asking the questions that get to the heart of the matter—what is in the way? Often the answer lies not with the individuals, but with the environment or the system or the process or the structure that is intended to support them. And once we solve one problem, we can move on the next and the next and the next. Each small step can ultimately lead to huge changes that are relevant, that are sustainable, and that ultimately have a huge impact on removing the barriers that caused the problem in the first place.
Are you serving the problems that you are working on, or are you solving them?
As always, I welcome your thoughts.