We can talk about how fast we can go and highlight impressive numbers. However, our speed might make our intended impact less. How might we better understand the needs of those we aspire to serve so we can calibrate our effort? A regional passenger train that stops for just three seconds at appointed stations is useless to any potential riders not prepared to board instantaneously. An arts organization that says it serves 1,000 students because it flashed a single image on a screen without context for five seconds during a school district-wide assembly is not doing the work that matters. Finding our cadence is essential, which is why detachable ski lifts have become so successful. We can load and unload at a slow pace. The journey between the bottom and top stations travels at a higher rate of speed, where the reduction in total ride time is more significant.
Being of Service
The movie Groundhog Day carries an undercurrent theme of service. In the repetition of the same day, the protagonist learns to position themselves throughout the community where they are uniquely positioned to serve. Be it catching a kid falling from a tree, changing a flat tire on a car, or purchasing life insurance from an eager associate.
We can all be of service. Some of our actions are actionable and measurable, and some of our work resides in the liminal or serving clients who cannot express their appreciation through social media. But we can all be of service.
Ranking and Mindsets
Does a ranking set the mindset of an organization? Does the staff at a two-star hotel take the same philosophical approach to customer service as a five-star auberge? When one joins the team of a high or lower-ranked establishment, what is the palpable impact on culture? When one is at the top of the ranking hierarchy, can they continue with a curious mindset focused on continual improvement, or does defending the status quo become the predominant fixation? For an up-and-coming enterprise with a lower ranking, does a nothing to lose and us versus the world mindset set a more ambitious tone?
How might we leverage rankings to bring out our best? How might rankings create dimension to our story but not define our future?
As social sector enterprises, many of us work on the frontier. We address problems so big, complex, under-represented, or unique that business has seen limited ways to monetize a return on investment. So, we work at the edges of the map, cobbling together resources, scouting the landscape, engaging those with news from different geographies and cultures. It is not an romantic endeavor but a commitment of community. We invest, partner, fail, endure, and succeed.
How might we learn from the leading practices of a frontier mindset? How might we correct course before we adopt a perspective that we are first to encounter the challenge and there is only one approach to move forward? How might we set other up for success and be of service?
Not your confidence. The confidence of those who believe in you. The people who believe you are worth their loyalty and support. Those that cheer for you and risk their social capitol to recommend your services to others.
What if confidence is broken? What if it falls apart? This is not about disappointment but a break in trust. If we are designing what is essential to our work, the confidence of those we intend to serve is at the very center.
If the airlines changes our departure or arrival gate, do we abort our travel plans? I like to believe we continue forward, committed to the journey. The same should be true for the cause we support. If the conditions change but the need still exists and we can be of service, why not embrace wayfinding? Let us not mistake a new route for a dead end.
The Risk of Unquestioned Utility
Measuring cups are essential resources for cooks, mixologists, and scientist. They are cornerstones of a kitchen, bar, and lab. Remarkable functionality and easy to use. Except when they are not.
Measuring cups have a lifespan. The uniform scale erodes from sight, they break, or get lost. Suddenly we are confronted with the reality that we must perform a skill that once was automatic.
The same is true with the individuals on our team. The highly reliable and omnipresent volunteer that filled a key position moves away. The Board Chair who served sensationally for years announces it is time for succession. A sustaining donor develops a new passion and shifts their considerable contributions towards a different enterprise.
We take for granted the utility of the reliable. How might it benefit our efforts if we think aloud, ‘I wonder what would happen if….?’ Perhaps the succession plan is obvious and the next individual is ready to ride. Or, we see challenging terrain ahead that we must navigate before reaching stability again. Celebrate the utility of the marvelously positioned individual but remember their tenure is not without limits. Be ready to adapt and adopt when needed.
The Bigger Conversation
SWOT analysis is a fundamental activity during many retreats. They are visually pleasing and quick to focus conversations. It is easy to understand why they endured. Today I read a new process for facilitating a SWOT. The mindset is compelling.
Performed in isolation, the SWOT offers a myopic view of the world. It is our self-evaluation. We may believe we are memorable conference presenters because of our witty narratives but do we really know? Unless people walk out of the room during our presentation, or there is a sudden rush of new audience members, it is hard to assess how we are trending.
SWOT is an instrument. An opportunity to facilitate conversations. The greatest gift is getting to the human element. What are the behaviors and interactions we are fostering? We may have the most beautiful facilities, the best thank you gifts and a polished social media presence, but if our values are misaligned with our actions, then it is hard for anyone to build trust or take action on our behalf.
If we use the SWOT to discuss the relationships we are building with those who need what we have to offer, there is an opportunity for a robust conversation. If we use the SWOT to establish an arbitrary ranking, it may miss the highest return on investment, a discussion about how we can be of service.
An inexpensive telescope sits in the corner of a room in our house. It rarely gets noticed. Last night during the Super Moon Lunar Eclipse the telescope was the best instrument we had to witness a celestial event of magnitude. The telescope rewarded us with real-time remarkable views as the events unfolded in the skies above. The value of the telescope increased multiple fold because of its deployment at a significant moment.
Sometimes the most remarkable thing we can do is be available at critical moments. To offer service and create value when there is a need. Our engagement is forever linked with service during moments when our super powers shine.