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What Would You Write?

By Carrie Fox

Simple messages can have a lasting impact.

In the summer of 2016, Carolyn and I attended the Social Innovation Summit in Washington, DC. It was, as it always is, a gathering of powerhouse social entrepreneurs, community leaders, and change agents all committed to developing and advancing impactful social partnerships. The two-day Summit was rich with inspiration and real, face-to-face, no-phone-required connections.

But, the most inspired moment for me came during the opening session. That’s when photographer Robert Fogarty introduced me to his powerful project, #DearWorld.

Since its inception, #DearWorld has traveled the globe, capturing stories of love and loss from Boston marathon bombing survivors to the people of South Sudan. They’ve visited Syrian refugees in the second largest refugee camp in the world. They’ve traveled to Joplin, Missouri, where 160  residents died in a tornado; and Brooklyn, New York, where a 6-alarm fire destroyed 111 homes during Hurricane Sandy. Their most recent series, covered 40 victims’ families, first responders and survivors of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando.

Fogarty, who started the project in 2010, originally as a project called Dear New Orleans, has a simple request for each of his photo subjects:

  1. Reflect on your personal story, whatever it may be
  2. Write a message on your skin that symbolizes your personal story
  3. Share your portrait with family, friends and colleagues

The one “rule” he says, is that whatever message or phrase you choose, there must be a real story behind it.  He asks people to share one message to someone, or something that they care about.

Through the project, Fogarty has collected thousands of photos: portraits of children living in refugee camps (“I want the life I had to come back”) to survivors of the Boston Marathon (“Still Standing, Still Beautiful”). He’s collected stories from first generation college students (“I’m going to college”), to first-time moms (“Precious Life”) to cancer survivors (“C is for Courage”) and formerly homeless individuals (“You believed in me”).

The compelling project is storytelling in a very real, raw and vulnerable form. It’s a challenge to capture your life, your philosophy, your story in 7 words — typically — or less, writing it on your hands, face or body in black Sharpie. As Fogarty said from the stage, “We all have stories to share, and they deserve to be heard.” This is his way of amplifying them.

The project made me think a lot about what my words would be. How would I define what matters most to me, and what message I’d want to share with the world? Maybe it should be a simple “Kindness Matters”, or a channeling of my favorite Keb Mo song, “There’s More Than One Way Home.” Maybe it should be about my daughters, or my approach to work, or my mom.

And then it hit me.

In communications, we often get wrapped up in getting every word right, so much that the power of the story can get lost in the process. Fogarty’s project is a good reminder that effective messages are often the ones that come from the heart. Overthink the message and you can lose it.  If you’re true to the process of storytelling, you’ll naturally know where to go in telling your story — what has impacted you, inspired you, saddened you, or angered you. That’s where you start.

So, without any more thought, I’d say:

Change Starts with Me.

Click here to watch Robert Fogarty describe #DearWorld in his own words, and see some of his most compelling portraits.

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Creating A Customer Experience That Goes The Extra Mile

There’s a yellow Post-it note that’s been anchored to my desk for many months now. It’s scribbled with a newish take on an old adage by Hall of Fame football player Robert Staubach, who said “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” 

It’s a mantra we all try to live at Mission Partners; a reminder that our brand is built in the moments when we go beyond the expected to deliver the extraordinary. When our clients realize we didn’t just hear what they said, but we were listening between the words for what they were really trying to say. Or, when colleagues realize we remembered their best days—or were thinking of them in their hardest moments. In either case, and in many examples beyond these two, we do our best to show up and act our part, as their partners, through those moments. I believe our success has been fueled in part because we believe in the people for whom we get to serve, just as much as we believe in their mission, and we allow that belief to inspire our work.

I’m in the midst of reading Howard Behar’s book, It’s Not About the Coffee: Lessons on Putting People First from a Life at Starbucks—a powerful read on how to build trusted, innovative, and strong organizations and leadersand the breakthroughs that can occur when when you put people over profits. In it, he recalls a short anecdote about how serious sprinters don’t see the finish line at 100 yardsthey visualize the end of their race at 110-yards. That way, when you’re in a race, no one will overtake you before you reach the finish line.

As Behar writes, “this concept applies to everything we do. It tells us to think beyond the whole, or we may always fall short and undermine our results. We need to think beyond our potential to achieve great things. If you shortchange your dreams, if you shortchange your sense of who you are, you’ll shortchange your life.”

At Mission Partners, we realize that our purpose is to help others move their missions forward, often in times of great change or organizational transition. We realize that our role is to help organizations and their people communicate in a way that can build trust, belief, buy-in, or understanding.  And we realize that our role is to develop strategies that can help people get beyond whatever is broken, to a place that allows breakthroughs to happen.

This spring we’ll begin taking that role to a new level, when we open our new Design Thinking studio in our Bethesda office.  One of the first things we’ll offer for our clients—and the extended community are open Design Thinking Days…sessions for our community to bat around their big, exciting, unwieldy, or maybe not fully formed idea with someone who can listen, and then help to ideate on solutions. It’s one offering in a mini-series of new content we’ll soon roll out under our Mission Forward umbrella of services.

I often write in these posts about the importance of understanding your audience—and then calibrating to their needs. These new Design Thinking Days are just one example of how we listen to our own advice. It’s about going the extra mile, finding the added benefit, and creating the unique value, that can help our clients move their missions forward.

Learn more about our upcoming Design Thinking Days and consider attending our first session this spring.

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Building Trust: Tips for Becoming a Better Spokesperson

By Carrie Fox

Earlier this week, I facilitated a media training workshop for a group of senior leaders in sustainability, though I admit the session featured more far more than media training 101. With a mix of traditional media training, presentation training and message development, we had a busy but powerful day. And in just a few hours’ time, we saw each of our spokespersons improve their confidence and their ability to articulate their most powerful messages.

How did we do it?  Through teaching the art of improv.

The premise is simple. Improv performers don’t know what will happen onstage until they’re up there. They must know their lines, but they’re not reciting their lines from memory. They’re delivering a message, in the moment, and pivoting as needed to deliver their most compelling performance.

However, most spokespersons enter into media interviews or presentations with long winded talking points or a script that doesn’t easily allow for real-time pivoting, which reduces their ability to establish credibility. As we all know, conversations simply aren’t linear, and spokespersons—very similar to actors—must anticipate what might come next.

As I’ve shared in recent posts, to be an effective spokesperson or communicator of any kind, you must know with whom who you are speaking, and calibrate to their needs. What do they want to know? What do they expect to hear? And how can you serve as the best resource for them in that moment?

In his book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on my Face?, Alan Alda (yes, Alan Alda) and his 6-year-old grandson discover an unusual tree. His grandson asks, “how did it get like that?” and thrilled with his curiosity, Alda jumps at the moment to talk about evolution — for 45 minutes. The next day, Alda overhears his grandchildren talking, and when his granddaughter says “that sounds like a question for grandpa,” his grandson replied, “I’m not making that mistake again.”

As Alda shares in his book and as we taught in the training, understanding your audience is the most important step to building trust and credibility. The more we establish a connection with our audience, the better chance they’ll listen to what we have to say—and possibly even accept it.

Here are a few other tips we shared in this week’s training:

Keep your Key Message Points Close.  Think about your role of spokesperson as an actor on the set of a film. You must know your lines, but you’re not reading your lines…you’re reacting to what the other person just said. And to do that, you must be an excellent and active listener.  Getting comfortable in the active listening role means that you MUST know your content. Spend time committing your key messages to paper, and practicing them (out loud), which will allow you to act in confidence that you’ll be able to pivot wherever an interviewer goes.

Practice the Basics. Being an effective spokesperson means more than owning your lines.  It means being ready for the unexpected.  Think about who your audience is and what they might ask you.  Force yourself to think beyond the expected questions to uncover the tough questions. In our session, we used a bean bag to literally toss “hardballs” to one another as a way to practice active listening and to stay on our toes. Remember, preparation leads to increased confidence, which leads to your ability to achieve your goal: delivering a powerful and compelling message on behalf of your organization.

Step into their World. This phrase is a mainstay in improv. It’s a reminder that the scene isn’t about focusing on you. It’s about focusing on other people and the setting, rather than making yourself or your message the center of attention. In an interview, you’re also part of a scene that’s larger than yourself. Even if it feels like you’re the center of attention, remember you’re there to show how you fit into the whole picture. What role can you play? How can you best contribute to the development of this story?

Listen Fully, and Keep your Eyes on the Audience.  The best place for your eyes is on your audience—not in your notes, or on your PowerPoint presentation. Practice holding your gaze just long enough to make a connection with your interviewer or audience. And when you must reference your notes, do not read from them. Use your notes as a reminder, but nothing should ever come out of your mouth when you’re looking at down at those notes.

When building trust, it all comes down to preparation. You must start by knowing your messages, but you’ll find success once you’ve built a routine of preparation and practice.  And by keeping your audience at the center of the story, you’ll be ready for prime time, in no time.

Interested in improving your skills as a spokesperson or presenter?  Email me to learn more about our upcoming media, message and presentation training workshops.

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The Women We Admire Most

By Carrie Fox

“We all move forward when we recognize how resilient and striking the women around us are.”
Rupi Kaur

Every day, I enter a workplace surrounded by women I admire; women who press for progress on issues that matter to them—not for them, but for the greater good of communities around them. It’s a remarkable community to be part of, and to watch in action. It’s a community that allows me to live out ideals that I find important as Brian and I raise two young girls—girls we want to be courageous, caring, and confident in their voices and actions.

And, every day, as I get to know my colleagues more, I see that this group of women with whom I work each possess just the ideals I wish for my own daughters; and that the people and experiences that shaped each one of them have in turn made them some of the most special role models for me and for my girls.

For that reason that I knew I would get remarkable answers when I asked each of them this week, as part of International Women’s Day, who they each admire most. Here’s what some of us shared:

Carol Tyson is the reason I feel so compelled to do this work every day. She represents everything good in this world. It was hard to understand just how much she was sacrificing for me and my siblings when we were little, but it became abundantly clear as I matured, and then became a mother myself. My mom has a deep sense of purpose, a drive to learn something new every day, an ability to connect with everyone she meets in a meaningful way and a commitment to leave this world better than she found it. I learn something important from my mom every day, but perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned (though I can’t say it’s always easy in practice) is that anything is possible when you enter every day with an open mind, and an open heart. (Carrie Fox)

• I’m lucky to be surrounded by so many admirable women, but today I’m going to go with my mom, Margaret Pooley. She’s brilliant, funny, inspiring, beautiful, and strong. Most importantly, though, she is always 100% her confident self. (Bridget Pooley)

• The woman I admire the most is my mom, Bernita Marshall. I can’t quite put my thoughts into words afraid that I will get emotional, but I admire her strength and the love she shares for her children. (Bayonia Marshall)

• Lisa Schmidt is the woman I admire most. And while there are tons of things I admire about her, one of them that stands out the most is her heart – she’s the most caring and genuinely selfless person I know. (Sarah Schmidt)

• Without question, my grandmother, Rose Silvan. Grandma Rosie was the last of 3 children and the only one of her siblings to be born in America. Her family immigrated from a town called Brody in Austria-Hungary (now the Ukraine) to flee Russian pograms in the about 1902. The town, once home to thousands of working class Jews, was essentially wiped out 40 years later in the Holocaust. She was born in Brooklyn, shortly after the family arrived through Ellis Island…Grandma lived in Greenwich Village, and never worked full time. She volunteered constantly, both in formal and informal ways. When my mother was sick for many years as a child, Grandma essentially raised me – the youngest of my 2 siblings. We would walk and walk and talk and talk in NYC (she never bothered with bus or subway unless it was more than 60 blocks), and she stopped to help every homeless or needy person on the street asking for money. Except she didn’t give them money – we’d take them to lunch, or coffee, or the grocery store. Sometimes she’d bring them home with us for a shower and a meal, dress them in my grandfather’s clothes, and send them on their way. From my grandmother I learned that people are people – and that trappings make no one person “better” than another. She taught me about mutuality – both by her example and with her words. She died in 1994 – about a month before Josh was born. His middle name is Ross – for her. (Carolyn Berkowitz)

• When you ask who I most admire, it is hard to narrow down the list. From my childhood best friend to my current roommate, from my first intern coordinator to my current bosses, from the women I have met in places from rural West Virginia to Ethiopia, I admire so many women. The two that I most, most admire are my mom, Becky Lee and younger sister Grace Lee. They both inspire me every day when I chat with them on the phone. I could go on and on about their character, courage, and brilliance. (Hannah Lee)

As I embrace the theme of this 2018 International Women’s Day, and carry it with me for the year forward, to #PressforPress to accelerate gender parity, I want to honor and personally thank each of the women that we at Mission Partners most admire. Margaret, Bernita, Lisa, Becky, Grace, Grandma Rose, and my mom, Carol, for it was their courageous and caring actions, their sacrifice, and their sense of purpose that fostered this remarkable group of women for whom I call colleagues, friends, and role models.

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This Question Will Make You a Better Problem Solver

Think about the last big problem you needed to solve.

If you’re like most, you likely laid out the facts in front of you, asked yourself a series of questions tied to the problem, and used your analytical skills to determine the best solution.

But, what if you weren’t asking yourself the right set of questions before you decided on an answer?

In recent months, the Mission Partners’ team has been advising a university, a hospital system, and a nonprofit training institute through some of their most pressing problems. In each situation, the organization had set out to build service offerings that would further benefit the community. But, we quickly found that each group’s approach to solving the problem was out of sync with its mission. Instead of thinking about what their communities needed most—and then exploring how they could best fill that need—they were looking at their problems solely through the lens of what they, as organizations, needed most.

When it comes to solving big problems, if we start with what we need and then look for someone else to help us get there, we’ve got a much slimmer chance of making meaningful progress than when we start with what others need and then create a solution that works for all sides.

Albert Einstein said, “if I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” In fact, defining the problem by asking why you are addressing it is far more important than the actual solution. And, to effectively define any problem, you must spend time thinking about it from perspectives other than your own.

Think about it: How many times have you had the “perfect solution” to a problem, until you put it to practice and realized the solution either couldn’t be implemented or addressed the wrong problem? I suspect if you went back and analyzed why any solution failed, it was because you hadn’t adequately thought about the problem through the lens of your end user.

At Mission Partners, we go through exercises of problem solving with our clients every day. Here is one question we attempted to answer in 2013, when working with the Annie E. Casey Foundation:

Question: Why do we need a better path for young people aging out of foster care?

Answer: Because every day, young people are aging out of care on their 18th birthday without the skills, support systems, or sense of self that is required for them to be successful in life.

Question: Why don’t we focus on providing those skills before they age out of care?

Answer: Because most young people—in foster care or otherwise—aren’t ready to be self-sufficient adults by their 18th birthday. They need to get beyond their 18th birthday to be fully equipped with the skills needed for success.

This last answer raised a deeper question: Were we solving for re-imagining the foster care system as it was, or re-imagining how the foster care system should work—with far more supports beyond a young person’s 18th birthday than previously expected?

By asking ourselves why until we reached the root cause of the problem, we were able to build the Success Beyond 18 campaign strategy with much deeper staying power. (The campaign is now heralded in child welfare circles as a key driver in the passage of Public Law 113-183 – The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act.)  And far beyond  this one campaign, it’s a process we know works. Our beloved “But Why” exercise is drawn from the famous Five Whys problem-solving technique developed at Toyota and employed in Six Sigma.

“Design in Everything We Do”

Spending time defining the problem, with the end user’s needs in mind before your own, and with focus on the longer-term issues rather than the near-term issues, is also the basis for the design thinking process.

Design thinking is grounded in the idea that there is design in everything we do, and in everything we touch. We love design thinking because it leads with empathy. Through a series of exploratory steps, it allows groups to challenge assumptions and examine root problems through the lens of the end user. While the process is often a multi-month exploration, the basics of design thinking can also be applied to every day problem solving.

Here are three tips to put you into a design thinking mindset.

Interested in learning more about the design thinking process? Click here to attend one of our upcoming Design Thinking Days at Mission Partners.

  1. Step 1. Clear your mind. Start with a blank sheet of white paper. Think about one person who represents your ideal end user. The kind of person for whom you or your organization exists to serve. Draw them. Then, challenge yourself to think about what matters most to them: their life priorities, their biggest challenges, their road blocks, and their aspirations. Where are they trying to go? Why are they unable to get there? Document all you can on that piece of paper.
  1. Step 2. Explore your problem from a new perspective. Reflect on your drawing, share it with your team, and compare what you uncovered against the problem you believe needs solving. How does that sheet of paper change how you think about the problem? And if you were to put that person at the center of your strategy, what else might change?

 

  1. Step 3. Ask why. And then ask it again. To get to the heart of the problem that really needs solving, don’t just ask yourself “why?”once. As we outlined above, ask yourself “why?” multiple times, and with each answer you write down, you’ll get closer to the root of the problem.

Once you’ve uncovered the why, you have a much better chance of defining how to solve a problem–and that’s where so much of the magic happens.

Learn more and try design thinking for yourself at one of our upcoming Design Thinking Days, to be hosted in our soon-to-be-unveiled Innovation Lab.  Click here to receive an invitation, including an exclusive discount offer to our 2018 workshops.

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The Trouble With Like-Mindedness

By Carrie Fox

I used to think that one of the key pillars to success was to surround myself with like-minded people. Surely, those who thought similarly to me and who had taken similar education or career paths would be my best sources of insight and information, right?  Well, I thought I was right, until I knew it was wrong.

It started with a class I took, hosted by CommonHealth ACTION in which I was forced to examine a list of 10 people whom I trust the most. No relatives; just peers, mentors and friends could be on the list.  And what I found shocked me.  Nearly all 10 people on my identified list looked like me. They held similar levels of education. They had similar political beliefs. They were from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.  The lack of diversity floored me.  And once I saw it, I vowed to do something about it.

That experiment with CommonHealth ACTION has all resurfaced for me as I’ve started reading Bill Bishop and Robert Kushing’s book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing is Apart. Using groundbreaking research, the book explores how Americans have sorted themselves into increasingly homogeneous neighborhoods, choosing to live near those who share similar beliefs, backgrounds, and socioeconomic status, somewhat unintentionally. It’s to be expected—people naturally congregate with those like them. But, as they state in the book, “we are living with the consequences of this segregation by way of life: pockets of like-minded citizens that have become so ideologically inbred that we don’t know ‘those people’ on the other side of the political divide who often live just a few miles away.”

But, if we know better, we must do better, especially when it comes to the dangers of group think. When we’re surrounded by people who tell us what we want, and believe what we do, it’s very easy to accept that something is true because enough of the people around us say it’s true. So, instead of wrestling with hard questions, or challenging norms, we simply settle for answers without ever questioning them.

What would happen if, instead of shying away from the difficult, we vowed to get comfortable with the uncomfortable? Could big change happen with little adjustments to our habits?

 In the spirit of breaking the habit of like-mindedness, here are a couple questions that helped me challenge my way of thinking and doing business, and may help you, too:

  1. Examine your peer group – Take on the trust experiment yourself. Are your personal and professional circles similar to you in their thinking and lifestyles? Do you challenge one another?  And how would someone in your peer group or work group react if you challenged their thinking?  If those challenging conversations aren’t happening often, perhaps it is time to widen your circle.
  2. Vary your listening habits– Instead of listening to the same morning news program every day, consider trying something completely different. See what you can learn when you simply listen to a different perspective.
  3. Go one level deeper– Take one topic that you hear about today on the news or in your peer group and go deeper. Force yourself to look at both sides of the issue and try to understand what might be going on with those who think differently than you. You don’t have to agree with what you learn. The point is simply to be open to learning about how people are thinking about an issue from a different perspective.
  4. Examine how you use social media– Examine the list of people and organizations that you’re following. Do they all generally think like you? Consider expanding who you’re following to get a wider range of coverage, and intentionally follow individuals and groups who think differently to be aware of the conversation from another point of view.

Breaking the group think mentality won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen without some uncomfortable experiences.  But, as Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”  And with the problems in our world today, there’s no better time than right now to start thinking different.

 

 

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Finding Harmony Through Tragedy

By Carrie Fox

Fifty years ago, on December 24, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his Christmas Sermon on Peace and Nonviolence from Ebenezer Baptist Church at Atlanta, Georgia. As I reflect on the tragic events of this week, there no words that I can imagine more powerful or prophetic than these:

“All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.”

He continued later in that speech with these words:

“I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself…and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow, we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponent and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force.”

Sometimes—and maybe especially after the most tragic of events, we need to know that people can come together in harmony.  Even when it feels no such thing is possible in our world. Sometimes, we need to see that love and kindness and pure joy can happen without interruption, or fear of hate.  For when we find ourselves working in harmony, kindness—just like the most beautiful of melodies—can reverberate throughout the world.

This week I preempt my regular blog post to share a short video sent to me by my great friend and mentor Bill Milliken.  Please watch it in a place where you’ll be able to hear it.  And sink into the music.

Then, do something about it.

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How to Become Fierce in Your Focus

by Carrie Fox

“Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.”

French novelist and author of Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert wrote this line[1] in an 1825 correspondence to Gertrude Tennant. Flaubert was known for his style and aesthetics—and his attention to the fine detail shows up often in his life’s work.

This notion of orderly focus has been on my mind in recent weeks as we’ve been guiding several clients through a range of organizational transitions. In each project I’m reminded that focus is hard for many organizations to achieve—especially when everything feels to be changing around them.

Whether shifting directions in a strategic plan, or revisiting the words used to define your organization’s core beliefs, no greatness can come from a shaky or unorderly process. But with a little muscle memory, focusing your organization’s words, actions, and future can be much more manageable.

So, this week’s blog is devoted to some of my favorite tips for keeping order, even in times of transition:

  • On focusing your words: The words we use to define our mission, vision and everyday value have a major impact in getting someone to understand what we’re saying. Spend less time talking around an issue or peppering your language with too much technical-speak and force yourself to get to the heart of what really matters. Then, ask a handful of people one step removed from your daily work how they would describe your product, service, or issue. You’ll likely find those answers contain some of the most authentic elements of your mission: the kinds of words that have been right in front of you, but got buried in complexity somewhere along the way. Also, pay attention to the vehicles you’re using to distribute your messages. By simplifying or reducing the number of communications tools you’re using, you can focus more intently on how well you’re using them and your messages will have a better chance of sticking.
  • On focusing your actions:  If you’re in the camp of always wondering “Why are we doing this?” and the answer isn’t easily produced, it’s probably time for a good assessment of your organizational priorities.  Are organizational goals clear, and does each team have sub-goals and objectives that line up with the big picture?  Do individuals, especially in more junior positions, understand how their daily activities connect back to the bigger picture? If you—or they— can’t answer those questions, your organization is likely losing a lot of time and efficiency. Focus first on ensuring that the entire team understands this year’s priorities (before you dive right into this week’s priorities) and you’ll see your organizational focus skyrocket.
  • On focusing on the future: The assumption most of us make is that if we have well-ordered and organized days, we’re likely to be productive. But we’ve found that in routine, the power of originality can be lost in the mundane.  Try introducing short, unexpected and creative activities into your work week that intentionally change the routine—a lunchtime walk through a new part of town, a mid-day drawing or coloring session, an afternoon exercise class— anything that can clear your mind and give you a fresh perspective on the day’s work.  We’ve found that it works every time to restore a sense of focus that translates well into fresh thinking.

Achieving the kind of steadiness that Flaubert referenced is not easy, but creating a path to fierce originality is well worth it. While strategic direction will likely be guided from the top, everyone can play a role in advancing an organization’s future.  And with a renewed sense of focus, you’ll feel confident knowing that each task you take on today is getting you closer to that ultimate goal.

[1] Other translations of Flaubert’s quote include: “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
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Three Ways to Make Your Message Stick

By Carrie Fox

Think about the last request you made of someone that went unanswered. Maybe it was to a colleague, a potential funder, or a journalist.

Why do you think they didn’t respond?

Maybe the request came in at a bad time. Maybe it was communicated on the wrong platform, buried in an inbox, left on a voicemail that’s rarely checked, or lost in LinkedIn messaging. Or, maybe the message itself was just plain off. Not relevant. Not interesting. Not understood.

According to a recent survey of nonprofit communicators, more than 7 out of 10 nonprofits describe their messaging as feeling “off target,” but those same communicators are at a loss for how to adjust their messages for increased “stickiness.”

The good news is that those who are getting regular (and positive) responses from their requests all have three little things in common with their messaging: they are real, they’re relatable, and they’re repeatable.  Great communicators can articulate their requests in such a way that others embrace them freely and actually feel compelled to provide support.

So, where do most communicators go wrong? They bury their own headlines. They bury their why – the reason that this message matters to the reader, and the reason it matters now.  Instead of articulating that ask right up front, they bury it in paragraph after paragraph of conversation and copy, rather than simply inverting that conversation and leading with their most important point. By the time the ask is made, the reader is almost always long gone.

What we’ve learned in the last several years of watching how people communicate is that there are three kinds of messages that spur action. And when used in tandem, the power of this message trifecta truly comes to life:

1. Make it Real

If you want someone to do something for you, you’ve got to give it to them straight. That means in plain language. Put the technical speak aside, and speak to your audience as you would speak to a friend. Some individuals believe that the more complex their message, the more impressive. But just the opposite is true. The simpler you can make your messages, the more compelling it will be.

2. Make it Relevant

After 20 years of pitching stories to the media, I’ve gotten pretty used to hearing, “but tell me why THIS story matters.”  What’s different about this ask, and why should your audience care? Relevant messages are those that people hold on to; they’re the kind of messages that tap into people’s heads and hearts simultaneously. Relevance is also a vital door opener to any ask, so be sure to show that you’re in sync with what’s happening in the world of your audience, and that you understand where you fit in to their agenda. Do this well, and you’ll find your audience turning into your best advocates and allies.

3. Make it Repeatable

Feed your audience a good story that proves why they should care. Stories help people who are less familiar with your work understand its impact, but they also provide a ready-made vehicle to get others talking. Tell a story that can help to bring the importance of your ask to life, and you’re much more likely to make someone remember it and then repeat it to someone else.

So, to get your next big ask to stick, ask yourself the following before you hit send:

  • Is it real? Are my words simple and understandable?
  • Is it relevant? Have I made it clear why I’m asking now, and what kind of impact this support could make?
  • Is it repeatable? Have I done a good enough job proving myself? Have I included a story or anecdote that reinforces my point in a compelling way?

Nail this messaging trifecta and know that your chances of a positive reply are surely improved.

Looking for more communications tips? Sign up here to receive our next monthly newsletter where I’ll share the power of communicating with empathy—and the top ten ways you can do it better at work and in life.

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From Here to There (READ THIS Before your Next Strategic Planning Session)

strategic-planning

By Carrie Fox

It’s strategic planning season.

This month, tens of thousands of organizations will start their strategic planning process for the year(s) to come.  And according to Inc. Magazine, more than 50% of those organizations will find the entire process futile. (Ouch.)

Some of the questions that lead to this strategy-on-a-shelf syndrome: “We built a plan that was too big for us”, “We didn’t take into account the true capacity of our team” or “We didn’t spend enough time thinking about why we do this work or for whom we’re doing it.”  

Here at Mission Partners, we’re currently counseling a number of organizations through the process, all from their own unique positions. There are some organizations planning for the launch of new products,  some experiencing leadership transitions, and others working to redefining who they are, in order to better get at how they deliver on their promise. The request in all cases is nearly identical: “Help us get from here to there.”

As we guide each organization through the strategic planning process over the coming months, making sure they ultimately have a strategy that sticks (our promise), we’ll ask a whole series of probing questions, some of which we share here in case you’re entering the season of strategic planning, too:

  • What Are We Solving For? Can you answer this one in a way that would compel your customers to act?  Don’t shortchange the process of understanding and articulating why your organization matters, and what it’s working to achieve. As much as you think someone will support your cause, join your group, or sign up for your new course because you’ve got a great idea, you must be prepared with proof that your idea is a real and relevant one. (And that means wrestling with how you’re measuring your impact on the issue too.)
  • What Do We Stand For? Surprisingly, most people have a much easier time answering “what are you against?” even though the answer to the first question is at the heart of your organization’s purpose and values. Once the answer is identified, and consensus among the team is reached, other business decisions start to fall more naturally into place.
  • Who’s Our Most Important Customer? One of Peter Drucker’s signature questions. As Drucker saw it, you’ve got primary customers (those whose life is changed because of your work) and secondary customers (those who must be satisfied for your organization to achieve results.) If you want your plan to stick, take the time to understand your customer base, and build a plan from their point of view. And never, never underestimate the importance of engaging your end user in the planning process before you even think about plotting strategy.
  • Where Do Others See Our Value? Do you know what your primary customer would say if you asked them to define your value? Strategic planning can’t happen in a vacuum, regardless of how well you think you know answers to the questions above. Talk with enough people at least one step removed from your organization to find out how they describe your organization and its impact, and to uncover possible weaknesses or threats in your model. You’ll likely find that their answers contain some of the most crisp and compelling elements of your work, in a way that only an outside perspective can see.

As my great friend Cristin Dorgelo likes to say, “if you don’t have a target, you’ll miss it every time.”  Strategic planning requires a fierce commitment to focus, and a collective understanding and commitment to the end goal.  Start there–at the end of the process–and  figuring out where you go from here will become much easier.

Looking for help with your strategic planning process?  Email me at carrie@mission.partners to learn more about our strategic planning and facilitation services.