In Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Switch, they discuss how to change when change is hard and use an analogy of an elephant and a person riding it. The rider represents our thinking and desire to change. The rider will try to direct the elephant to change a pattern or try a new way of doing something. The elephant is our passion or comfort zone. The rider can force or command the elephant to turn, stop or go, but ultimately the rider will get tired of working to direct the elephant and then the elephant will go back to old trails or old habits. So what’s the rider to do? Instead of forcing or blindly leading the elephant, he must motivate the elephant and show why the new trail or new method is better.
Currently, I am working with 30 United Ways that are engaged in the work of U.S. Performance Partnerships understand the use of that metaphor. Currently, these United Way have formed two primary partnerships: a Graduation Partnership and a Corporate Engagement Partnership. We have formally come together to work on key areas of United Way’s business model and impact strategies to resolve performance challenges that currently stall progress in our network. We understand that it is no longer just a nice idea, but a necessity that as a network we must improve our ability to collectively impact and raise resources for our local communities and the nation.
Like anything worth accomplishing it will take hard work and effort from the United Ways involved in the partnership to make it successful. I believe we are headed down the right path, but we must continue to be vigilant and not give up because the work is hard or we get tired.
The steps we have taken and are taking that will make this partnership successful are the same factors that will make any local partnerships successful as well.
Step 1. Identified the issue. We acknowledged the specific issues we wanted to address (graduation initiative and corporate engagement) and then clearly defined them. Our groups then got focused on what level we would address these issues and broke into smaller compact groups.
Step 2. Building it together. The development of the partnerships, compacts and issues were formulated by fellow United Ways. Working together we developed performance challenges and shared ownership of the entire process.
Step 3. We all have ‘skin in the game’. The United Ways that came together to form the Performance Partnerships each paid to participate. We are each paying a significant amount of time, money and resources. We are all less likely to walk away when the work gets hard, because we are vetted in the process.
Step 4. We are looking for win-win solutions. A true partnership helps both side. We believe our work will not only help the United Ways that are involved, but in additional will be beneficial to the entire network.
Step 5. Celebrate wins together. By sharing our victories we are not only reminded that our work is obtainable it encourages us to keep moving forward. We are planning on sharing our progress and some early wins at the Community Leaders Conference in Maryland, this May.
We must be more like the rider who is working to train the elephant and continue working on changing our old habits. It is important that we don’t give up on these partnerships and accept that we as independent United Ways and as a network must change. If we do not, our corporate partners will find someone who can work with them in multiple markets on multiple issues. As United Ways, we need to change our thinking of just our geographic area and start thinking differently about our performance and how to leverage the strength of our network. By working collectively we can learn how not to force the elephant but to train it in a new way of thinking.