At last month’s closing retreat for the Change Incubator, participants reflected on their own learning journeys, and we lifted up some common themes across the teams. While we learned a lot about grantee inclusion, we learned perhaps even more about change management and leadership. Here are five key lessons learned from our pilot program, along with examples from our participating foundations.
Many organizational challenges are not technical at their core; they are cultural. There are times when we must not only change the things we do and the way we do them, but also how we think and feel about our roles and our organization.
When GEO launched the Change Incubator last year, we were making three big bets. Six months into the first cohort, we have plenty to feel good about, but we are very much in the “messy middle” and many questions remain.
Organizational leaders frequently apply technical solutions to adaptive challenges, which makes their efforts at change all but impossible, wastes times and dispirits teams. Foundations are in a unique position to drive significant change by leveraging adaptive leadership skills – stretching beyond technical grantmaking activities to help communities identify the problems they seek to solve.
The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation is one of four Change Incubator participants, and six months into the program, Brad Cameron lost his job. But he got a new one! Brad transitioned to a "mirror holder" role, managing the foundation’s data and holding it up as a reflection, sharing what WRF is learning and trying out with its grantee partners and communities, as well as gathering feedback from them.
Change is fun. Change is hard. Between those truths yawns a large gap that poses a challenge for would-be change makers. Yet by integrating two widely influential practices—design thinking and adaptive leadership—social innovators can manage transformative projects in a way that’s both creatively confident and relentlessly realistic.
A critical insight is the importance of understanding the difference between adaptive and technical challenges. While technical work happens in the head, adaptive work takes place in the heart and in the gut, and understanding this difference is especially important in the context of strengthening relationships with grantees.
The Beginning of Change, a report from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, chronicles the first two years of this funder’s 10-year investment in some of North Carolina’s poorest rural counties. The Trust’s Healthy Places NC initiative aims to support residents of these communities as they determine their own paths to better health outcomes.