Alignment from the Inside out

My goal was to start the day by centering the work around impact. From my pre-retreat survey of a community foundation board of directors and conversations with its leadership, I understood them to be facing a pileup of open program and policy issues with no clear path for making decisions. There was an underlying question about whether everyone agrees about the focus areas for grant making. And I wondered if their work was aligned with their intentions.IMG_0864

I could also see that individually and as a group, their interests, concerns about the community, and motivation all centered around economic opportunity, access, and connection. I wanted them to see that, too. When a team recognizes its fundamental purpose, it has a shared understanding of what’s important so that decision-making and choices on program and policy matters becomes easier.

To map this idea visually, I drew three concentric circles and used their own language from their mission statement. In the center is Why they do their work and the ultimate impact they seek to achieve. The next layer describes the quality or character of the direction and work. And the outer layer names the actual stuff that you make. It was an imperfect version of the Golden Circle model offered by Simon Sinek in his Ted Talk.

Sinek’s model goes Why, How, What, with the middle layer, How, focusing on differentiation. His point is that most of us communicate about our work backwards, never getting to why we’re in the business that we are in. And because people are motivated to give, volunteer, buy, or invest based on why, we lose them. He says, your business is to sell stuff to people who share your beliefs.

In this organization’s case, their Why is Build Community and Change Lives in Our Neighborhoods.

The second layer (which I call What) referred to conditions that would have to be present in order to achieve the ultimate impact. In their mission statement, they had articulated their intentions as empowering individuals, breaking down barriers, building connections, and creating community capacity. During the day, they worked on defining which individuals, barriers to what, connections among whom, and what they mean by “capacity.” The third and outer circle (which I called How) represents the activities, programs, products and/or services. In their case, it is grantmaking, raising money, participating in partnerships and collaborations, and producing community events.

I’m not sure how important mixing the How and the What are. For organizations, it’s important to realize that the driving Why is constant, the next layer (the qualities by which you do what you do or the conditions you are changing) are evergreen, but the actual program strategies or products can (and arguably should) change according to market or community needs.

If you are interested in using a model like this to frame strategic discussions, focusing on alignment and impact, in your own organization, perhaps you can play with these two slightly different concepts and determine which fits your situation better. I’ll be interested in how you use it and how it works. The key is in working from the soulful inside out.