The Power of Intention: Elevating Your Association Decision Making

Association Decision Making
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Intentional Choices in Association Decision Making

Intentional choices can be hard in the best of times. What’s a necessary choice as opposed to one that would be nice to make? How do we choose between things that are all necessary when we can’t have them all? How can we be confident about the decisions we make? How can we explain our choices to other people? These things are infinitely harder in the face of fear and uncertainty. 

I spoke with Rich Harwood, a Public Innovator and Founder of the Harwood Institute. It is the go-to place for people and organizations looking to fight against the conditions stifling societal progress. They coach people from all walks of life on moving society forward by building stronger communities, bridging divides, and creating a culture of shared responsibility.

Rich shared three fundamental things we must do to make better choices in association decision-making.

The First is Basic: Breathe

When we get scared, we literally, physically, stop breathing. We have to remind ourselves to breathe because it calms us. It centers and grounds us and helps us manage the anxiety we feel.

Sometimes, we have to stop to get started. Slowing down and taking a breath will allow you the clarity you need to orient your organization to its new surroundings. The old ways of operating may not fit in this new context. To figure this out, you first have to take a step back and assess the situation.

The Second: Become More Wakeful

We have to open our eyes and become more attuned to our surroundings. Leaning into discomfort instead of leaning away from it. Like children that hide under the covers from monsters, we have to pull the covers back and look around. We make good choices when we turn outward, but when faced with pressure, we instinctively hunker down and turn inward.

Catalyzing change begins with broadly recognizing our position within our organizations and communities. Where do we sit in relation to those around us? How have our working relationships changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic? How have your organization’s shared values and goals changed along with this?

After reflecting on this, you’ll probably be surprised to find that while the way we relate to one another is different after the pandemic, the values guiding you as an organization are not. So, despite how much things appear to have changed, you can still unearth this common ground to unite upon. From there, small steps towards catalytic change emerge. 

Orienting yourself to your new surroundings and setting smaller goals in support of your shared mission can unleash a series of chain reactions, catapulting your organization towards a more connected and defined future.

Finally: Be More Intentional

This means making discernments. This is to say, we need to make thoughtful judgments about our priorities and possibilities. The more discernments we can make, the more explicit our choices become. As a result, we become more confident that we are taking our best shot. 

Telling someone to be more confident is like telling someone in a panic to calm down. It only makes them panic more. So we can say that the first step to growing your confidence is becoming more intentional and making better discernments.

You can’t accomplish anything while trying to accomplish everything. Discerning the capabilities, you possess at this moment and being intentional about the benchmarks you are working towards in response to that will allow you to focus your energy where it will be best served.

To learn more about better association decision-making, watch my interview with Rich Harwood here:

To read more about decision-making in associations, see Nonprofit Strategy: 3 Signs Your NonprofitNeeds to Start Stopping.

Breaking Ground: United Way’s Simplified Approach to Association Innovation

Innovation In Associations
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Make Innovation in Associations Easy

Socrates called himself the “midwife of ideas.” Since he knew nothing, his work was to help bring out the truths locked up in others. This learning method is fine for philosophy, but what about for business? Does this attitude work to bring out good ideas and drive innovation in the context of an organization?

I spoke with Edwin Goutier, Vice President of Innovation for United Way Worldwide about that. United Way is a far-flung organization with a network of more than 1,800 independent United Ways worldwide. They work to improve people’s lives by mobilizing the catalytic power of communities. It is not a single-issue organization or even a single organization at all. 

Innovation poses challenges for United Way, which any large, highly distributed organization can relate to.

Equipping Innovation

Edwin’s team does not focus on being the most creative themselves to drive innovation. Instead, they focus on equipping innovators across the network with the tools they need to succeed and spread the wealth of their knowledge across their communities. They give them the necessary tools, space, and resources to create relevant innovation for their communities. 

They are constantly exploring new technology and ensuring United Way is aware of what could come next—keeping a keen eye on the value we can create in our communities and having a foot in the future. He is rarely the person who’s coming up with the idea. He says he is “constantly just stealing great ideas from others and trying my best to give them credit.”

Their “Moon Shot” project is a prime example of this idea in action. This project is helping local United Ways share data with their nonprofit partners. It seeks to build a 360-degree view of donors’ interests and those of the people United Way serves. It’s creating a comprehensive picture of the resources that they need in the community to produce the results the community itself wants to see. 

United Way can use this knowledge to highlight the needs they haven’t met yet and to begin to understand what their jumping-off point for further innovation may be. Edwin’s team facilitated the funding and infrastructure for the United Ways bringing this framework to their communities.

Innovation As Facilitation

He sees his innovation team as facilitators. He points out that the root of “facilitate” is facile, which means easy. His team makes it easier for people to be innovative. They break down cultural barriers where the risk of being wrong appears detrimental to someone’s career. They provide platforms where people can launch their ideas into a public space. They ask how innovators in the United Way world could do things differently. 

Innovation in associations should be easy. It should work alongside the resources and networks you already have to produce results that will expand on the value already delivered by your organizational capital.

Prioritizing Innovation In Associations

Prioritization is key. Edwin’s approach to innovation in associations starts with the customer and focuses on the user experience as a prioritizing lens. Experience is concrete and a focal point for all stakeholders. Even when it is hard. Change happens from the inside out. To facilitate change that will speak to the customer, you must first understand where the customer is coming from and how they define value in their relationship with your organization.

United Way is unique in its ability to collaborate and navigate competing interests to serve the greater good. There is a lot to learn from how innovation happens in that environment.

To learn more, listen to our conversation here:

For more on Innovation in Assocations see:  The Two Best Practices for Innovation in Times of Crisis

Connecting in the Time of COVID-19. An Interview with Public Innovator Rich Harwood (Part 1)

Innovation For Nonprofits
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Connecting In The Time Of COVID-19. An Interview With Public Innovator Rich Harwood (Part 1)

Social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us apart. We have never been so physically distant. Does that mean disconnection is inevitable? Or does it mean we need to change the norms about how we relate to stay connected? I talked about that with Rich Harwood, founder of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. He has dedicated his career to supporting individuals and organizations in creating change. Rich’s work is about helping public organizations “turn outward”. He guides them on their path to connect with their communities in a more meaningful way. He sees the virtual communications we have turned to as an opportunity for a new kind of connection. Rich shared a touching story about a funeral service in a Jewish home, held by necessity over video. 200 people attended, all in different locations, including the family. Even though he wasn’t physically there, he could support the rabbi and the people grieving. He was able to witness their heartfelt sentiments much more closely than if he’d been there in person. When they spoke, he felt he was right there with them in an intimate way. This is one of the ways in which we have begun to pivot in how we connect with each other as a result of social distancing. He also talked about a large meeting he attended by video, with 70 some people in different locations. The digital setting completely changed the norms of the meeting. People were more focused. There was more participation, less phone checking, and closeness to whoever was speaking. In a live meeting today, there is physical proximity but social distancing. In a virtual meeting, this flips 180 degrees. People feel more attuned to each other and the work they are doing. Most of us now have shared similar experiences. They highlight new possibilities for communication in our interpersonal relationships. We have the opportunity to be more intimate and focused, and to change the norms for how we engage with one another. On a larger scale, the nonprofit organization Rich works with will have to reframe their methods of engagement. Organizations are facing new challenges and financial pressure. This will force them to take a “shared responsibility” approach in their communities. They pivot to an orientation more about these communities and less about themselves. Moving forward, we will need each other. Most importantly, we will have to support one another, and work together to be effective. See excerpts from my conversation with Rich here.

Stay Ahead: Mastering Innovation During Challenging Times

Innovation In Crisis
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Two Best Practices For Innovation In Times Of Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has led some organizations to pivot in their operations. They’re doing this in ways and at a speed, they never thought possible. How are such quantum leaps possible in times of crisis, and what can we learn from that?

An Expert in Innovation in Nonprofit Organizations

I spoke with Dr. Peter Temes, Founder and President of The Institute for Innovation in Large Organizations (ILO). He launched the Institute in 2005 to bring together senior executives leading innovation worldwide. The current ILO membership includes AT&T, Kaiser Permanente, NASA, Pfizer, and the University of Alabama, among many others. So how are innovation leaders attacking this crisis?

Peter says the pent-up demand for innovation in some organizations is finally getting unleashed. As a result, the “thumb on the scale” to preserve old ways and hold back change is gone.

Yet the focus is shifting to innovating systems over point solutions. Most notably, the ability to match resources to needs across complex networks. Ventilators are a prime example of this in the age of COVID-19. Resource matching is an underdeveloped capacity in many organizations. This is true on the people’s side of things, too. For example, some nurses could operate ventilation equipment in a public health crisis but have not yet been trained. Systems to address and anticipate those needs are now top of mind.

So how does innovation at a systems level happen? Peter points to two enduring best practices.

Lower the cost of failure

Associations can incentivize people to experiment more at lower costs in time and money, but also reputation and brand. A crisis environment, one might suggest, changes those equations dramatically.

Focus more on discovery than prediction

Try something and expect that it might fail. Treat it as an opportunity to pivot to a different way or even a new concept altogether if it does. In times of overwhelming change like these, it is impossible to predict what will happen. There is no time to work through the gap between what we predicted and what happened. Organizations need to work more like lean startups than they ever could have to keep up with the pace of change.

Want more of Peter’s insights on innovation in extraordinary times? Listen to excerpts from our conversation here.