Friday, 28 September 2012


I was called recently by a school head to see if I would be interested in helping him and a few others look at their most recent strategic plan and explore ways that it might be renewed, revitalized and given some new life and energy.  At least that is what I heard in his question.   The next step was that he and I were joined by a trustee who chairs that committee and we talked through the objectives and possible outcomes.  Some of the previous action steps had been taken, others were still a work in progress and a few had become dormant.    
Many of the 22 strategies in the old strategic plan were still valid and useful and the "sustainable 10-year financial model", contains essential information for responsible management.  These documents, along with a current self-study for accreditation, have most of the background information and details necessary for the future of the school.  However, in order to jump-start and accelerate any forward movement, a few top priorities that merit attention and action may help realize some desirable results in a timely manner.
There seemed to be at least three big issues the school was facing in the immediate and short-term future, thus the need to address the challenges and figure out what options might be viable.
The three most important priorities, not necessarily in order, were financial sustainability which was related to enrollment and marketing; appropriate staffing and infrastructure; and current support of the internal and external communities.   In order to assemble a group of people who might understand and appreciate these issues, and be willing to commit to working on them, the head and his trustee hand-picked a group of 12 people who came to be known as the Strategic Design Task Force.  We met for a day-long session to identify and analyze these issues, create some design and direction for the road ahead and to assign specific tasks to each of the people present to be joined by a few others not in attendance.

The Strategic Design Task Force considered the six constituent groups that composed the school and in the end came up with actions that could begin immediately with people assigned to manage and direct the activities required for each group.  There was an agreement to meet again in two months to review the progress in each area based on what emerged from the day-long discussions and deliberations.  It was clear that each constituent group has an important role to play and it would be the mission of the task force to direct and manage the activity in each of the groups.
The six sub-groups, together with the actions required can connect the pieces and parts into one unified vision of a newly revised and updated plan for the school.  It is also important that this activity itself be communicated to the entire school community following these precepts. This is what we are doing, this is why we are doing it, this is how we are doing it and this is what we need from each part of this school community.  
There is no magic formula or recipe that will guarantee the results but being  specific and concrete in each of the areas for action will have a greater likelihood of success.  Each member of the task force needs to understand the objectives of the mission and what is needed in each case for the desired result and then work toward that end keeping in mind how critical it is to communicate clearly in each instance.  There is no room nor time for ambiguity, vagueness or maybe.  The people on the Strategic Design Task Force are making a commitment, both individually and collectively, to get this work done in the year ahead with a timeline that includes updates and revisions as the work gets done.  It seems time to not merely survive but find the ways and means to breathe new life into the community, thus revise and revive! Stay tuned for the outcomes! 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Seasonal Transitions

It seems like we are often in some kind of transition or shift from one state to another, from one status to another, from one activity to another, from one stage of life to another or even from one time to another.  Does that all make sense in your own observations and experience?  Maybe it's just my own projection but in the past 12 months, I sense these transitions both externally and internally and I don't think it's just my imagination.  Nothing brings it home to me more clearly than the change in the season, the most recent one being from Summer to Fall, the prologue to Winter.  We just returned from northern Colorado where the Aspens were exquisitely golden, especially at the higher altitudes.  And for the past several days, the pinon burning in the fireplace has elicited one of my favorite aromas of the season. 
One of my own transitions of the year just past is a shift from working full time professionally to working only part time and thus having more time for other things such as travel, writing and other so-called leisure activities.  Previously postponed projects can now receive more attention and energy but I would not call these leisurely pursuits as they require a fair amount of planning, thought and resources including my own involvement.  However, there is certainly more latitude for choosing when and how I wish to work on these things.
I recall times past when Fall was harvest time and "putting up" all kinds of things including food for both animals and families.  Corn and hay were stored in the barn, the shelves in the fruit cellar were filled with jars from orchard and garden and the bounty was celebrated with the cornucopia spilling out prosperity in fruits, flowers and grain.  The Thanksgiving feast and table laden with home-grown goodies of all kinds - meats, vegetables, pastries - was a visual and tasty treat for a family gathering around hearth and home.
Several conversations lately have indicated Fall to be a number of people's favorite season.   I wonder why.  For me it's certainly a time of seeing brilliant colors, the clear light toward the end of the day seeming to light up the stage for nature's show.  It's also a time to review the past and plan for the future and I am not sure why that's any more focused now than at other times but it might be that academic calendar kicking in, the end of the previous year and the beginning of a new one.  I will be involved this coming weekend in exactly that kind of activity with a small group of thoughtful people, reviewing the past, planning for the future.  And in my own case, the same is true personally.  It's a big shift for me and it's taking some time to sink in, all that's implied in this life change and different rhythm of work and play.  It's an exciting time to look ahead, to set a course and to follow the internal compass and where it will lead.  The GPS may well be a handy tool but we will supply the directions, the content and the ultimate destinations.  Onward!  Prorsum et sursum!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


I remember a 1940's radio program called "The Life of Riley" starring William Bendix who played Chester A. Riley, and he used to say, "What a revoltin' development this has turned out to be!"  Bugs Bunny may have picked it up as well.  The phrase came to me this morning as I was thinking about how "revolting" so much seems to be in several arenas including the latest political morass.  The meaning of revolting is two fold - one meaning is that which is disgusting and abhorrent and the other is to rise up in rebellion.   If something is utterly unacceptable then maybe there is a peaceful alternative that transcends mere resistance and rebellion.  Are we not now capable, as human beings, of finding ways to settle differences beyond "killing" the opposition? 

What I want to offer are several ways to grow and change and evolve in our humanity rather than revolve, regurgitate and resuscitate.  "The old has passed away, the new has come"....and we are restless until we find our place in sacred creation.    In other words, until we can become part of the creative and re-creative process, it looks like we may continue to destroy and self-destruct.  On the other hand, there are many opportunities to choose to care about.who we are and what we do such that we must shift the paradigm or be left behind.

So, where to begin and how?  This assumes you already know why.  You begin right where you are with whatever it is that you are doing, right now, today, in this place with those who you know, with whom you live, with whom you work.  You might start first with those whom you love and who love you as they are the closest in so many ways.  Share something of value than has such deep meaning for you that you want those closest to you to be part of that feeling and part of the experience.  Shared values, shared vision, shared purpose become stronger, more visible, more powerful when the collective consciousness is at work.  Likewise, with those whom you work.  We invest a lot of time, energy and thought with others in the workplace.  Make it count by making it more visible and more accessible to others.

Some techniques?  Plan the change you want to see and become the change you want to be.  Do not be held back by convention or convenience.  Discover the obstacles, define the challenges, and then invent, innovate and implement the plan. Invite others to participate. One of the first lessons in scuba diving is to plan the dive and dive the plan.  It's the same for flying an airplane and filing a flight plan.  There are very good reasons for those kinds of plans and you should already know what they are and why they exist and how they work.  Suffice to say that here on terra firma, it's a little easier sometimes to tweak the plans and not lose your way.  Certain adjustments and changes along the way because of prevailing conditions may be necessary!

Perseverance pays off, eventually.  There are times when patience and perseverance are helpful, even necessary but perhaps not sufficient ingredients in the process of change.  There are times when intervention may be indicated. There may come that moment when the sense is that we cannot wait any longer and some kind of action is needed. One easily available illustration is in the world of medicine.  A doctor may say, try this and let's see what happens.  Or the diagnosis may reveal that in fact, surgery is necessary in order to eliminate something that is causing the problem.  There's a question worth pursuing.  What can we eliminate that is impeding progress and what can we do that will increase good health and more effective functioning?

Dan Pink in his FLIP manifesto has this to offer:  "The key insight of both Peters and Collins is that we spend too much time on addition and not nearly enough on subtraction. Yet it's only by taking away what doesn't matter that allows us to reveal what does matter.  That's why a couple of years ago I began using a hybrid of the Peters and Collins techniques—a combo of a to don't and stop-doing list. I revisit the list more than once a year, but I don't craft a new one every day. Instead,
I post it on the wall next to my desk where it's always in view and revise it when circumstances demand."   When we eliminate that which is counterproductive we can make space for that which is more productive, more satisfying and more rewarding.

Finally, try to figure out ways in which you are evolving and with the help of others, how you might help another person or organization evolve, grow and change.  It's not always easy but it is very worthwhile, good work.  Having been a professional change agent for most of my 50 year career, I can say unequivocally, there has been a tremendous amount of satisfaction in hanging around to see the results. 

An Opening in the Clouds Above the Mountain

This morning when I woke up, I looked out the window (at 3 AM) and there was a strange narrow band of light above the mountain, Sierra Negra, which is across the river from where I live.  I wondered what it was, why it was there, what conditions caused it to be and then, upon musing further and looking more intensely, I could see that there was an opening in the clouds above the mountain and it must have surely been moonlight.  In checking, to be sure it was moonlight, I discovered that the moon is in a waning phase, 24% of a full moon, against a stunning backdrop of stars.  However, the clouds were covering all but this light display and there was sufficient concentration of light coming from the northeast to give me this morning gift of light upon waking.

Thinking of the possible connections, I recalled several conversations of the past few days with people who were struggling with their own mountains, challenges that they were facing in one way or another.  One had to do with a relationship that had soured, temporarily I'm sure, not nonetheless a painful experience.  Another person was dealing with financial issues and a job he doesn't like.  A third was experiencing physical pain and limitations, probably stress induced but nonetheless real and debilitating.   These challenges must seem like mountains that look and feel daunting. And what about the clouds that prevent us from seeing the whole picture?

What these friends need are what I saw this morning - an opening in the clouds above the mountain.
That is both reassuring and gives hope to those who look beyond the current prevailing conditions.
These conditions will change and the conditions of these three lovely human beings will change also.  They can be the active participants, architects of their own change for this too shall pass.  What they need is what I saw, an opening in the clouds above the mountain.   To find it, they must keep their eyes open to all that is around them and I am confident they will find what they need.

Monday, 3 September 2012


There are numerous workers who have made my life easier, better or more productive this past year and I want to list them by category and thank a number of them personally for their good work.  Here are my top ten:

1.  Medical personnel including doctors, nurses, technicians and administrators

2.  Police, fire, safety and sanitation workers

3.  Farmers, food producers and purveyors

4.  Teachers, colleagues, clients and educators

5.  Utility engineers and technicians including plumbers and electricians

6.  Highway construction engineers, workers and builders

7.  Hotel and hospitality employees including table attendants

8.  Pilots, reservation agents, flight attendants and baggage handlers

9.  Sales representatives, concomitant technical support and mechanics

10. Domestic help and support both inside and outside of our home

This group is extensive but certainly far from exhaustive.  I am grateful to many individuals in each of these groups and I have interacted personally with numbers of them repeatedly.  For their service and support, their good work and for their helping to sustain me in one way or another, I remember them this day, Labor Day, 2012.