How to re-focus the future of a well-established organization
EDITOR’S NOTE: This project comes from partner Pierre LaPlante, known for his ability to take multi-faceted situations and see them in the pattern of new, workable systems.
Dialogue New Brunswick, a non-governmental agency working to promote and celebrate understanding, respect, appreciation and inclusion among the Francophone and Anglophone cultures of New Brunswick, was coming up to a major milestone.
Their 25th anniversary celebration loomed and they wanted to create a special impact and focus public attention on their work.
The issue was how were they to accomplish that? What could they do to draw attention to themselves in a lasting way?
As an organization, they had always had a clear vision of what they wanted to accomplish. They had a mission statement, a strategy, a team assembled, and a series of actions determined as essential.
Their momentum helped them move steadily along, securing one major accomplishment after another.
But how could they really up the stakes on this upcoming anniversary year?
When NuFocus Strategic Group consultant Pierre LaPlante first met Carole Fournier, executive director of Dialogue New Brunswick, it was clear to him that she and her staff as well as the volunteer board of directors were all passionate about the cause their organization represented.
They knew the promotion of harmony between the province’s Anglophone and Francophone cultures was crucial to the continuing prosperity of the Province of New Brunswick. They were convinced this enhanced the lives of all its residents.
The group had been very active over the first quarter century of its existence. They had developed programs within the school system, within the cultural communities and within business.
They were a primary force in getting a crucial discussion started, and they steered the conversation to a good place.
The First Step
But when you have that kind of successful record, where do you go to take the next step? The volunteer board of directors and the staff were on all the same page: the issue was just how to go to the next level for maximum impact?
One way to chart the next course was to gather data from fellow New Brunswickers.
As experts in the art of World Café hosting, NuFocus Strategic Group was retained to assist Dialogue NB to reach out to New Brunswickers. Pierre, with his partner Charline Poirier, teamed up for this mandate.
To do that, a series of four World Cafés were staged in all geographic areas of the province.
For those unfamiliar with World Café methodology, it uses seven design principles and a simple method to serve as a powerful social technology for engaging people in conversations that matter.
Pierre said he finds it a really effective antidote to the fast-paced fragmentation of idea collection that results from a general free-for-all. This process builds thoughtful connections, which is what was needed.
Quoting the World Café Foundation website, their process is based on the understanding that conversation is the core process that drives personal, business and organizational life.
Through this process replicated throughout the province, NuFocus and the Dialogue NB officials discovered these things:
- Dialogue New Brunswick’s cause was not questioned by New Brunswickers. The harmonious climate they stood for had a wealth of support.
- Despite their support for the cause, some residents of the province still did not know of the workings of Dialogue New Brunswick.
When the board and staff considered the findings, they had to admit they were not unexpected. Their strategy from the start had been to lay a solid foundation for programs that promoted harmony and they had focused their efforts on publicizing the programs, not themselves as an organization.
Perhaps it was time to reconsider that, they thought.
The World Cafés told them that there was an opportunity for change, but to find out what that change would be and where it would take them, they needed to engage in a more comprehensive strategy development process.
A Request for Proposals was prepared and NuFocus Strategic Group won the tender.
The second phase of the exercise, a strategic planning exercise, was taken on by consultants Pierre LaPlante, a leader in the process of strategy development, Marc LeBlanc, a leader in the field of community development as well as an experienced researcher, and Charline Poirier, a human resource strategist.
The Second Step
Before a clear direction could be set, still more information was needed. The consulting team, along with Dialogue NB’s Executive Director Carole Fournier, decided on an approach to the problem that would include interviews with every member of the volunteer board of directors along with about 20 specially selected New Brunswickers representing different interest groups, businesses, health care professions, educators and others.
In the extensive process of the interviews, the consultants started to paint a clear picture of Dialogue New Brunswick’s current reality and ideas on how many key stakeholders perceived the future unfolding.
The opinions and information they gathered then became the basis for a strategic planning exercise.
This was a crucial part of the exercise, Pierre recalled.
The pillars of the future emerged from the present exercise
By the time the interviews were completed, the issues that needed to be addressed became clear and unanimous. These were the things that needed to be tackled:
- Overcome the organization’s lack of visibility in some areas.
- Obtain partnerships to shore up the organization’s limited resources and find ways to leverage these partnerships.
- Set up education and awareness as the pillars of a new strategy. (By education we meant more than just school programs. We wanted to expand to general education of the public about the cause itself and get the facts out in the public realm.)
- Encourage engagement with the cause. (Dialogue NB realized they couldn’t do it all alone; they needed to engage the population.)
- Create effective collaborations.
Emergence of a clear agenda
From an assessment of what needed to be done, an action plan was drafted. It named specific tasks to be completed, with timelines between one to three years attached.
The actions included:
- Develop a complete communication strategy.
- Enhance the benefits of harmony.
- Develop a government outreach program.
- Develop tailored education kits for influential stakeholders.
- Build a network of advocates to implement Dialogue NB’s mission.
In the long term, they identified further engagement, collaboration and the development of a detailed five-year implementation plan as goals. In the area of engagement, they identified focus groups, use of social media, marketing and tracking tools to measure partnerships.
In collaborations, they looked at exploring existing partnerships and developing new one. They looked at the means of approaching community leaders.
The impact of the consultancy and how it changed the organization
The problems faced by Dialogue New Brunswick were not unlike those that impact many long-established organizations. Even highly dedicated boards and staff sometimes need to step back from their day-to-day activities and consider where their efforts will be best spent in the future. Only then can a definitive agenda emerge.
The process of change is tough but invigorating. There are good debates and lots of issues put on the table that have to be worked through. But this is vital if a realistic action plan is to be approved and put in place in any organization.
Already Dialogue New Brunswick has achieved many of their strategic plan’s activities, including the completion of a communication plan (spearheaded by NuFocus Strategic Group consultant Françoise Roy with Pierre’s assistance). An information kit for key stakeholders has also been completed, a full slate of 25th anniversary activities planned, and the whole climate of the organization has changed.
Just recently they had a two-year review process to look at the impact of what has happened.
The wow moment
That was when the fruit of all their labor suddenly became crystal clear.
The review showed that the organization has accomplished a tremendous amount since their strategic planning exercise. Their renewed focus has infused board and staff alike with energy and direction to get new initiatives going.
In any organization, being able to control an agenda and advance confidently towards common goals is the secret of success. Dialogue NB has accomplished that.
Carole Fournier, executive director of Dialogue New Brunswick, said their team is a very cohesive unit in the sense that both the board of directors and staff have set their sights on a common strategic direction and have actively pursued their goals.
“The strategic planning process lead by Pierre LaPlante at NuFocus Strategic Group has definitely influenced the board and staff since both have set their sights on transforming Dialogue New Brunswick into a high performance organization which is focused on achieving results,” she said.
“Our philosophy is the same but our processes are quite different. Thanks to the strategic planning exercise, Dialogue New Brunswick has found its focus as an organization dedicated to fostering harmony among New Brunswick’s Anglophone and Francophone cultures,” she added.
Carol described working with Pierre LaPlante as “an eye-opening experience in that he is skilled at asking the right question at the right time. His infamous ‘curve balls’ have served us well and have influenced our path forward.”
Lessons to be learned and applied from this case
- For change to happen effectively in an organization, everybody needs to be heard. In this instance, Pierre LaPlante and the NuFocus team found a way to include everybody from the board to the staff to the public and gather a substantial body of data from which plans could be formulated.
- Hearing alone isn’t enough; it must be clear that people’s thoughts have been respected. When the final plan was released, it was very clear that the views of the stakeholders were well represented. Each board member could recognize something of themself in the final recommendations. This gave everyone a sense of ownership.
- A good measure of success of a strategic planning process is how well it continues to serve the organization and stands the test of time, how well its core continues to guide the organization’s decision making, how easily the organization can adjust its course along the way and how many more results can be achieved. In Dialogue NB’s case, it can certainly be termed a success.