Change Incubator Story — How I Lost My Job

  • Brad Cameron, January 25, 2016

Let me start by introducing myself: my name is Brad Cameron, and I’m a program associate at the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in Little Rock, Ark. Along with a number of my colleagues, I’m proud to be a part of GEO’s inaugural Change Incubator cohort. I wanted to take a moment to share a little bit about what we’re learning through the program — and the change we’re making.

The mission of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation is to improve the lives of all Arkansans in three inter-related areas: education, economic development, and economic, racial, and social justice. We had a challenge: How do we leverage what we’re learning by listening to grantee voices to achieve our mission? We knew we had strong relationships with our grantees and the communities we serve, but we needed to transition from feeling like our strategies get the job done to knowing. We needed to be able to sit down with grantees and partners, reflect on our shared knowledge, and adjust or pivot our game plan based on what our data was telling us. We also needed a system that would inform how we bring grantees and partners together to learn.

Building on more than 40 years supporting communities throughout our state, cultivating deeply rooted cross-sector relationships, and refining a laser-like focus on the pressure points that will ultimately transform our home from a state of poverty to prosperity, we were ready to work smarter and sync our actions up with a shared strategy for winning. We also knew our grantee partners had a hunger to learn and wanted a platform for sharing how they are improving the lives of all Arkansans.

It was at this point that we joined the GEO’s Change Incubator program. Our goal was to take our Grantee Outcomes Assessment Learning System (GOALS) – which we have been developing and refining for more than eight years as a result of staff turnover and the perpetual pull of competing demands – and implement it as our impact assessment system.

We knew we had strong relationships with our grantees and the communities we serve, but we needed to transition from feeling like our strategies get the job done to knowing.

Even before we started Change Incubator, GEO helped us realize that our adaptive challenge was that colleagues had different visions for what effectively implementing GOALS would look like. One staff member viewed GOALS as the engine for strategic communications. Someone else viewed it as a tool for increasing efficiency and clarity within our grantmaking. Personally, I saw it as an assessment tool that we could use to frame internal planning conversations and discussions with grantees and partners.

Each of us believed implementing GOALS would be a catalyst for broader organizational changes. Our organization’s early Change Incubator challenge was to distill everyone’s vision, clarify what stood between us and realizing that vision, and identify cultural shifts that would have to happen to become the grantmaking institution that we collectively envisioned.

We’ve since defined a two-part challenge with a needed shift in organizational culture at the core: Challenge A: How do we build data-driven decision making into our everyday practice? Challenge B: How do we slow ourselves down long enough to reflect on what we’ve learned from our grantee partners, communities, and colleagues?

GOALS is the tool we are using to solve for A and B, but it became clear we needed a person on staff to set in motion and keep us on track toward becoming a more reflective, data-driven organization.

After several critical conversations within our office, I lost my job.

We created a new one. I transitioned from my position as a program associate for education and community change into this new role. We gathered input from the staff to design the new role and have now taken one more step toward becoming the grantmaking institution we want to be.

In my new role, I’ll be our “mirror holder.” I’ll manage our data and hold it up as a reflection of our organization so we can form hypotheses based on what we’re seeing and hearing, and we will experiment with different strategies for achieving our Foundation’s mission and goals. I will also be responsible for sharing what we’re learning and trying out with our grantee partners and communities as well as gathering feedback from them. We know solving for A and B will be an iterative and adaptive process, but we’re excited to be getting our hands dirty, baking collaboration into our organizational culture by looking to each other and our networks for solutions, and we’re making sure to assess our progress along the way.

I’m excited for the opportunity to continue this work.