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Regeneration

It seems like a good time to think about regeneration. By regeneration, I mean a conscious effort to re-imagine, re-design, re-structure or re-orient yourself or your organization so as to achieve greater alignment between work and desired outcomes. It is a journey, for sure, not a destination; the pursuit of it is its own reward. In fact, our entire field is regenerating in many ways, as my colleagues note in their respective blogs.

As consultants, we are constantly seeking renewal in the quest to solve old problems in new ways, generate deeper insights, and bring more diverse voices and contexts to the table. We regenerate when we are challenged to think beyond our frame of reference, and when old ideas take on new meanings.

People regenerate, and organizations regenerate. But organizations can’t regenerate without visionary people with diverging viewpoints about what the future looks like.

The boardroom drive to quickly reach consensus and have cocktails is strong. Exceptional leadership at both the board and staff levels is required to create the space for real dialogue about alternative pathways – a space where diverging views are not just tolerated but welcomed. I’d go out on a limb and say that a strategic planning process that doesn’t allow for discussion of alternative pathways to mission fulfillment isn’t really strategic at all, but rather a tactical exercise in organizational maintenance. Are we mistaking certainty for leadership?

So long as everything is going well, there is little impetus to reimagine all or part of a nonprofit arts organization. Yet, this is precisely the time to ask uncomfortable questions about strategy. I realize that regeneration at the organizational level is extremely difficult to engineer. It requires simultaneously squeezing harder on the current business model while thinking about new ways of doing business. Yet, it is somehow still shocking to me how many boards allow CEOs to operate on structural deficits year after year without honest talk of downsizing if not wholesale regeneration. If we ever expect our audiences to regenerate, our organizations must lead the way.

Then there is regeneration on a personal level.

We are an industry in need of regeneration – plagued by high turnover and debilitated by loss of institutional memory. Productivity standards are so high that day after day I observe that nonprofit managers are just plain tapped out, routinely working beyond their capacity, particularly people working in mid-level positions.

People sign up for things and then opt out. On important conference calls, people are answering private text messages. It seems that we’ve been running on fumes for a long time now, in a sort of shadow economy of volunteerism.

The next big push in our field really needs to be a holistic focus on nurturing our human capital. Without thoughtful, dedicated, motivated people who are appropriately compensated and not chronically overworked, our field is unsustainable.

The biggest leaps I’ve made as a professional came when someone I admired bothered to challenge me in a way that was both direct and constructive. Those pivotal moments in our lives – and we all have them – may arise from hardship or confrontation, but they may also spring from an instinct to nurture – to take a chance on someone whose talents are not yet in full view.

Organizational regeneration is a long and arduous course, but the resolve to ask hard questions is a precious human trait that springs forth in a moment.

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One Response to Regeneration

  1. Thank you. I needed this article.

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