Over the past few weeks I have had a number of powerful conversations with CEOs of former client organizations, all of whom have echoed the same sentiment: our environment has been forever changed as a result of the economic downturn. This changed world has huge implications for our clients and their ability to garner resources, to engage critical stakeholders, and to create the change they want to see in the world.
The CEO of one nonprofit told me, for example, how increasingly hard it has been over the last couple of years to get the same mindshare from her board members. Her hypothesis is that they are all overwhelmed and being asked to do more with less in their own jobs.
So what does this mean? She has to think more creatively about how to engage and inspire them.
But engaging and inspiring proves to be hard in a world in which simply grabbing attention is a momentous challenge. Email, cell phones, instant messaging, Twitter, texting, and Facebook all serve as powerful agents of communication and valuable tools for organizations, but they can also keep us all in a constant state of distraction. The increasing hoards of free-flowing information we receive every day have the power to overwhelm, as was so well articulated by Eli Pariser, founder of MoveOn.Org, at our client The Communications Network’s conference last month. Eli pointed out that if you recorded all human communication from the dawn of time to 2003 it would take up about 5 billion gigabytes. Now, we’re creating that much data every two days.
The overwhelming abundance of information and the proliferation of distractables have decreased our ability to have the crucial conversations that truly matter with our boards, our staff, our partners and ourselves: those conversations that can help an organization get out of a rut, that can generate innovate solutions, that can re-imagine a business model are the most difficult to make happen.
At Community Wealth Partners, our clients so often hire us seeking our research and analysis, strategy development and business planning skills. But what we hear time and time again from our clients is that “you helped us have conversations that we otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t have. And those conversations made all the difference.” We’ve come to understand that real and honest conversations are at the core of better outcomes.
At the conclusion of a recent board meeting that Isabelle Moses and I facilitated, one of the board members asked whether they were one of the most difficult groups we have had to corral. I candidly answered “yes!”. But as I explained to her, while they kept us on our toes as facilitators, it was exactly the way it should be. There were board members with lots of differing points of view. They were willing to share their viewpoints, challenge each other, disagree, and wrestle with the difficult questions. And, in the end, the meeting outcome was phenomenal. There was tremendous energy and all who were around the table were thrilled with where they landed.
We can’t underestimate the power of conversations that truly interrogate reality to help us have better relationships with each other, and reach better outcomes for our clients and ultimately, humanity. As Peter Block explains:
“If we have any desire to create an alternative future, it is only going to happen through a shift in our language. If we want a change … the work is to change the conversation—or, more precisely, to have a conversation that we have not had before, one that has the power to create something new in the world.” (Community: The Structure of Belonging)
In the current environment of economic stagnation and abundant distraction, Community Wealth Partners is more committed than ever to helping nonprofit and foundation leaders focus on having the real, honest conversations that will transform individuals, organizations and the world.