Thursday, April 26, 2012

Visioning Your Work

THIS WEEK, THREE COLLEAGUES AND I HAD THE CHANCE TO PRESENT a session at the NYS Museums in Conversation Conference about how we are working together to shape the next steps in our careers.  We began by explaining how the four of us came together: we and one other were actually brought together by one person because 1) she knew that all of us are at career crossroads of one sort or another; 2) when she asked, none of us admitted to having a personal/career strategic plan (yet we're all rabid proponents of organizational planning!); and 3) we all knew one another to varying degrees and she thought we'd make a good group.  We've dubbed our group The Gang of Five.  

Since last summer, each member of "The Gang" has reflected on his/her career path and shared those thoughts with the others.  We spent time doing SWOTs on each other (very productive) and we've questioned each others' motives and decisions, offered advice and solutions, commiserated and supported each other.  Every one of us has had some sort of shift or refocus in thinking about our work because of our participation in The Gang.

Knowing that being able to change our perspectives on our work, even if ever so slightly, can open new ways of thinking about what we want to do or how we want to do it, we asked our audience to think about their visions for their work by creating collages of random images we had assembled.  What came next was astonishing for some.

One participant had clearly delineated work from his personal life in his arrangement of the images he chose.  He told us his family was just as important as his work, but these two elements of his life didn't intersect at all in his collage.

Another person exclaimed as she showed her collage, "I guess I'm an art educator!"  (She confided to me later that she had recently left her management job, because it lacked the creativity she had so beautifully captured in her collage.)

Many participants chose tranquil images of nature -- the antithesis of the often chaotic, short-handed work environments of today's cultural institutions.  Pictures of sharks and tigers made it into the collages of a couple of arts administrators signifying the realities of their work environments.

While not for everyone -- and clearly there were a number of people in our session for whom this exercise did not resonate -- being able to uncover a hidden desire for one's career (if even only to take a peek) -- can start a process of rethinking the relationship of work to the rest of one's life.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Authentic Strategic Planning

DESPITE TONS OF READILY AVAILABLE ADVICE ABOUT THE WHYS AND HOWS OF STRATEGIC PLANNING, many organizations still engage in planning because someone else told them to do it.  That someone could be a funder, a consultant, a staff leader, a program partner, a board member -- anyone, really, who has the audacity or ignorance to say "money/audience/visibility will come if you have a plan".   
Fact is, many of these folks don't particularly care if the plan functions or not, just so long as there's a piece of paper or swell looking PowerPoint to show for it. 

The bottom line is if planning doesn't well up from some deep, shared core organizational values, it will be a hollow effort that will ultimately be tossed aside for someone else's shiny, new imperative.  (Did you just hear the thud of the last plan hit the bottom of the trash can?  Or, as the illustration above suggests, it miraculously tumbles like a house of cards, never to be seen again.)

The lack of authenticity underpinning a planning process driven by fear will be palpable:  it's developed by one person or one small team, it will be devoid of broad and thoughtful input (and thus not be particularly critical), resulting in a lack of real strategy or insight.  These are fake plans.  They're meant to placate those wanting to see some organizational direction (any direction); some sense of control; some tidy package that exclaims "we know where we're going and how to get there!"

Fake plans last about a nanosecond.  Like fireworks, they burn brightly, but quickly fade.  They make little or no lasting impression, except for the bad taste they leave behind.  Even more concerning, an inauthentic planning process could actually take an organization way off course, squandering resources and alienating supporters.

So, before embarking on plan creation, spend some time examining the motives for doing it.  If the motives aren't coming from an authentic, internal, and shared desire to advance the mission in benefit for others then take a few steps back from the edge.

Here's a quick list, drawn from a variety of sources, that may help start an authentic conversation within your organization about planning.  Will a planning process and resulting plan allow your organization:

  • to recommit to an existing mission?
  • to enhance performance?
  • to impress funders?
  • to help save a sinking ship?
  • to redirect a basically healthy organization?  


Articulate your organizational needs and wants first.  And don't fake it.

Image:  house_of_cards from ZowieZ