Case Study

Case Study: International Industry Association

Adapted from the case study in The Empathy Factor - Your Competitive Advantage for Personal, Team, and Business Success, pages 124-127

In the 1990s and continuing into 2005, an international industry association experienced stagnation of growth in membership. Its members were also experiencing high turnover in their institutions. The president of the association, for the first time, included task committee chairs in a board of directors' retreat, inviting the group to clarify its vision and mission in a newly participative way that focused on organizational needs.

Since 2005, Elucity had worked periodically with this group and its new president in 2010 to define and meet their six organizational needs. The Integrated Clarity ® (IC) process is built on an adaptable whole-system change framework that integrates the work of Jim Collins, Kimball Fisher, William Bridges, and current organizational thinking from other leaders in the field.

The IC process involves a series of strategic conversations, the results of which are implemented over a timeframe that averages about four years. The strategies are first developed in a series of discussions; they are then implemented and tested; and finally, they're refined over time. This group began with a discussion of Identity and Life-Affirming Purpose and later addressed Direction. Their clarity about Structure, Energy, and Expression needs grew organically out of these conversations, as elements of Elucity's IC model were determined.

The strategic process began with the executive planning team participating in the 10 Minutes to Clarity Organizational Needs Assessment, an online assessment tool that measures sixteen individual and organizational qualities known to contribute to higher levels of productivity and profit. The assessment revealed the levels at which both organizational needs and people needs were being met and helped to focus our strategic conversations for increased impact, efficiency, and meaning. Results showed that the association was meeting people needs such as Respect, Trust, Acknowledgment, Meaning, and Learning. Organizational needs such as Direction, Structure, and Energy were not as strongly met. This demonstrated that the group had made progress with two of its key components, Identity and Life-Affirming Purpose, since our first strategic conversation about these needs. Group members were now ready to determine strategies and turn those strategies into action in a unified Direction with Structure and Energy and means of Expression behind it. After discussing the association's Identity and using the Gradients of Agreement tool for decision-making, the group arrived at a unified statement of Identity. From this, the association's Expression would organically grow. The leaders then determined their statement of Life-Affirming Purpose. This single purpose upon which the group exists and every decision is based changed the structure and manner in which it operates to do what it's Best at: "Providing forums and services to meet the professional development and networking needs of their members and their administrative teams."

The group's Passion of "Coming together in the spirit of collegiality and camaraderie to share, renew, inspire, and collaborate in service of advancing their industry," took two-and-a-half days to determine. The robust, highly dynamic, and highly sophisticated dialogue was intended to bring out the wisdom of each person, which collectively creates a result greater than any one person could come to on his or her own.

The insight of "coming together"(as a crystallization of their Life-Affirming Purpose) sounds simple; but up to that time, they were modeling themselves on fairly traditional organizations, and that was about to change.

They immediately applied their new insights to the annual conference coming up in a few months. Intention drove the structure of the conference rather than the other way around. For example, instead of focusing on a structure such as five sessions of seventy-five minutes each, they asked, "What format would be most conducive to 'coming together'?" They found that the most exciting part of the conference wasn't the sessions but getting together in between sessions and for lunch or for social connections after formal sessions. Hence, they conducted more casual professional development by having a speaker over lunch, for example. They flip-flopped their conference schedule, and as a result, they received the most positive feedback they'd ever had on the post-conference survey. The conference appeared more like their unifying statement in action and conference participants found value and power in coming together to enhance their collective identity, exchange ideas, and provide practical problem solving.

The association used "coming together" as the litmus test to keep, develop, or stop its various programs or activities. For example, the group eliminated the telephone mentoring program because of its one-on-one structure. This mentoring didn't have the camaraderie of "coming together" that the whole group had—which was confirmed by the fact that people hadn't shown as much interest in this program as other events that had the "coming together" component. The group began to track "coming together" time as a quantifiable measurement.

The group had its highest annual conference attendance ever that year. Within two years of determining its purpose and changing the structure and manner in which it operated, membership increased by 27 percent and continued to grow through 2010. The group dramatically improved its ability to serve its members. Numerous strategic opportunities are now being determined for future services, conferences, and benefits for its members.

The leaders became clear on how the board, committees, staff, and members could work together and how the organization could become a mechanism for members to provide input into national policy issues. They also determined how to describe this Structure and its implementation at the Fall 2010 conference and in so doing, engaged more leaders in the effort to elevate their strategic goals.

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