Meet people where they are

by  Jane Perdue  |  Leadership Development

I sit on the board of directors for a small nonprofit that’s in the process of fine-tuning its mission and strategy. Over the last few months, the organization has done its due diligence—conducting focus groups and surveys; studying program participation; reviewing revenue, expenses, and donor history; checking out its competitors and assessing its differentiators; doing a SWOT analysis; gauging available resources, etc. Not bad for a small organization working within the confines of a very limited budget.

So all board members could fully participate in the strategy working session, a meeting facilitator was hired. An orientation session with the facilitator, staff and board was scheduled to bring the facilitator up-to-speed on the research and desired deliverables so she could design the flow of the meeting.

After listening to the readout, the facilitator’s first response was to ask for a copy of the organization’s balanced scorecard for the last ten years. She also inquired if the organization had worked with an outside consultant firm to create a PESTEL* analysis.

Her questions were first greeted with silence and a few averted gazes, then a few audible sighs followed. Those from the corporate world understood her ask; those from smaller businesses or other nonprofits didn’t.

“In an ideal world, especially a for-profit one with deep pockets, having those data points in a highly organized way would be helpful,” responded a meeting participant. “Truth is, most of the needed information for the incremental changes being proposed is already here. We just have to dig a little.”

“But still, having all the information in a single, organized report would be much better,” countered the facilitator with some emphasis in her voice. “And besides, the six-month timeframe being discussed can’t be done. Strategy work should span three to five years to be done properly.”

More deafening silence.

Can you hear yourself asking similar questions? Are you a stickler for data, lots of it and all beautifully organized? Are you a genius at pointing out the reasons things can’t be done? Do you assume simplicity equates to stupidity? Do you like using words that people don’t understand?

If “yes,” has anyone ever called you a buzzkill?

Effort and ideas can be as fragile as grandma’s porcelain tea cup. Drink from them.

Sometimes you have to meet people where they are and start from there. That starting place may not be ideal according to your standards, but at least it’s a beginning.

Sometimes good enough is enough. Most work is beautiful alchemy—part art, part science. Go with it.

Securing every last piece of researchable information takes valuable time and may not yield a better solution. The days of working with three to five year time horizons for creating strategy are long gone, and so are the companies that embraced those notions.

Seize the moment, the momentum and make some leadership magic!

*an external analysis reflecting the political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal components of an organization’s macroeconomic environment
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About The Author

Articles By jane-perdue
Jane is a leadership futurist and well-mannered maverick who challenges stereotypes, sacred cows, gender bias & how we think about power. She loves chocolate, TED, writing, kindness, paradox and shoes.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Mary C Schaefer  |  11 Feb 2014  |  Reply

“Sometimes good enough is enough. Most work is beautiful alchemy—part art, part science. Go with it.”

Beautifully said, Jane. I’m sorry you and your colleagues had to go through that AND I giggled at your commentary. “…has anyone ever called you a buzzkill?” Love it :)

Have a great day.

Jane Perdue  |  11 Feb 2014  |  Reply

Mary — so love how your comments always make me smile…thank you for that! The after-the-meeting conversation with the consultant was pretty darn fascinating, too.

Anita  |  12 Feb 2014  |  Reply

Thanks Jane – This is a timely one I need to find away to share with a few folks.

Jane Perdue  |  14 Feb 2014  |  Reply

Anita — delighted to know you’ll be sharing…hope people take the message to heart!

Mike Henry  |  12 Feb 2014  |  Reply

This is classic in 3 ways. First, it’s a classic example of the issues you describe. All of us with experience in a number of varied environments have experienced this. Second, it’s classic because it happens so frequently, you’d almost think that facilitator had clones (or at least many close relatives). And finally, this story is told in classic Jane Perdue style. Effort and ideas are always as fragile as grandma’s porcelain teacup. I hope I never forget that one either. Thanks for a wonderful post. Best 2 minutes of my day! Mike…

Jane Perdue  |  14 Feb 2014  |  Reply

Mike – honored by your kind and generous words and always delighted that I hooked up with you and your Lead Change Group idea. It’s a great journey!

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