Tag Archives: Transparency

What Lies Beneath

I’ve been reading an absorbing article in the June issue of National Geographic Magazine, entitled, “Why We Lie.”  I’m going to guess that it might be the most widely-read article that the magazine has ever published; as the article posits, we all lie, and  the title draws us to want to understand ourselves a little better, since most of us regard that characteristic as a negative.  (Why do I choose to do that, anyway?)

The article is fascinating and full of the reasons and motivations for our lies.  (Gosh, it even makes me feel bad to write that line.)  Some of our deceptions are protective, some are ego-driven, some are avoidance-based and some are even altruistic: lies intended to help someone or avoid their discomfort.  (Can I claim ownership to this category as my only source of lies?)  It turns out that we all have dishonesty built into our makeup.

“Lying, it turns out, is something that most of us are very adept at.  We lie with ease, in ways big and small, to strangers, co-workers, friends and loved ones.  Our capacity for dishonesty is as fundamental to us as our need to trust others, which ironically makes us terrible at detecting lies. Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human.”

Wow.  I never realized the extent of the dark deceit that surrounds each of us.  Certainly, I acknowledge the ubiquity of lies in everyday life: (does “fibs” make that sound less awful?).   Advertisements promise results that could never be true, tabloid magazines publish stories with no semblance to reality, political pundits dish out speculation and innuendo without any basis in fact, and social media simply multiplies the problem.  But, within our own circle of family and friends?  (I wonder now whether those kind words about my sweater were sincere or sinister?)

The reality of our lying makes working in Nicaragua even more difficult than it might otherwise be.  Already, I must navigate relationships and circumstances through translation and my North American eyes.  Now, in addition, I read that there are also untruths being spoken, even if for the very best and most reasonable of reasons: hunger, shelter, health, life itself.  I’m not naive; I am well aware of the frequency of exaggeration and overstatement by people in dire need of assistance, financial and otherwise.  But reading an entire article about it underscores what has been mostly an uncomfortable subtext.  (Truth be told, now, it feels more omnipresent and, somehow, more problematic than before.)  Should the possibility of half-truths suddenly feel more offensive insulting or more threatening?

I’ve thought about that and decided that the answer is likely “no.”  If the article in National Geographic is even close to being accurate, we’ve all been subject to speaking and hearing lies during our entire lives.  There is nothing new happening here, only some data to confirm it.  It’s a bit like enduring a destructive overnight storm and awakening in the morning to read details about what you have already personally experienced.   (I swear, the hail stones were the size of melons!)

But there’s another reality which mitigates any sense of wrong that I might feel after being lied to.   When someone utters an untruth, often he/she is the one who is most hurt by it.  Lies can be like items posted on the Internet, in that they never really go away.  (All lies should be marked as spam.)  They continue to exist, hiding in memory until the moment when they can cause the maximum in embarrassment  and loss.  Falsehoods diminish who we are by eroding our credibility, our connection to truth, and to our own self-worth.  And those erosions hurt.  A deliberate lie to someone else is also a lie to ourselves, made even worse because we know the truth.  The conflict is, ultimately, wrenching.  (Is this why on some days I don’t feel as well as on others?)

We each have little in this world that is truly ours.  (What about my guitars?)  Material items come into our lives, and then they go.    The people in our lives enter and exit.  Always.  We take nothing from this world but our own integrity and sense of honor, two matters about which we can attempt to lie to ourselves, but without success.  It’s true in politics, in business, in farming, philanthropy and any other endeavor we can imagine.

I doubt that reflections here will have much impact on people in their day-to-day correspondence with each other; as the article observes, it’s “in us.”  But like any nagging habit, we can work on it.  We can make it better.   Ultimately, our well-being is built upon what is real, and whoever we are, truth will out….

 

 

 

 

The Patient Is Ill

As one who has tended to be drawn to the Fair Trade (FT) label on a wide range of products, I have always been pleased that some of our cooperative partners in Nicaragua are part of that movement. Their participation has simply felt right, and just, as they have sought to connect with a consumer base around the world which has been eager to support the small producer effort. It has seemed a “win-win” circumstance about which both the end user and the producer could feel good. But there is a growing cause for doubt about both the fairness and the trade in FT, and reasons for all of us to take a closer look at the evolution this once- (and future?) empowering concept.

In a very well-researched and analytical article authored by researcher(and consultant to WPF) Dr. Rene Mendoza, he has undertaken a close look at cooperatives in Nicaragua and other  Latin American countries , to assess the effectiveness of the FT movement.  After studying the symptoms and complaints of the cooperative “patients,” he has also offered a detailed diagnosis of the ailments, including contextual  analysis of the pathology which is draining the energies from cooperatives and their members.  His conclusions should provide all parties interested in the FT ideals with both understanding of the disease and hope for its cures.

Dr. Mendoza attributes no blame for the spread of the unhealthiness, but does identify the complicity shared by all of the actors within the FT chain, from producer to consumer.  He identifies both the malady and its contagion points and has created a clinical treatise on where it leads if the disorder isn’t treated.

The best news is that Dr. Mendoza’s article includes several prescriptions for healing and recovery.  He does not offer a magic pill for immediate wellness.  And restoration of confidence  in a system that initially hoped to marry producers with well-intentioned consumers, in a win-win undertaking, will require serious treatment. Like any well-considered rehabilitation, the restoration to full health is likely to be slow and demanding.  It will require patience, discipline, a collaborative mindset and re-focus on values.  But full remission is possible.

For anyone who has ever purchased a product under the FT label, or sought to be supportive of small farmers in a small way by purchasing their goods, I encourage the reading of Dr. Mendoza’s work.  WPF has provided a link to this groundbreaking research on our website homepage, under the column with Dr. Mendoza’s photograph, and entitled, “Toward the Reinvention of Fair Trade.”

Read it.  It may change your thinking about that next cup of coffee, or that recent chocolate bar and the truth about how it may have reached your home….

Of Vision and Purpose

While we’re busy preparing for the second Certificate Program for rural cooperative members and managers, technicians, second-tier coop representatives and others, the focus is on methodologies.  After all, we’ve spent portions of the past ten years describing organizational strengthening techniques used successfully in the U.S. in hopes that it might spark interest in the Nica countrysides.  Now that rural producers have asked for greater detail about initiatives like open book management, Lean continuous improvement and organizational transparency, the workshop facilitators are eager to deliver such particulars.

As mentioned here previously, Winds of Peace will have the great good fortune to present Brian Kopas and Alex Moss,  gentlemen whose organizational experiences in the fields of organizational Lean and open book management are extraordinary, and therefore of great potential application to this Nica workshop.  They  possess enormous knowledge and practical experiences, they have already provided materials for the introduction of their topics, they are counseling us in our respective workshop presentations and they will be huge resources for the inevitable questions and challenges that are encountered during the workshop.  (Where people are intent upon learning, their questions and challenges are essential.)

But as I consider the wealth of knowledge that will be available to our audience in September, I am cognizant of another critical piece to the process of teaching and growing an audience: the vision.

Underlying all the operational processes and applications, there must be a vision, a mission, a purpose, a theme for the hard work that the attendees will encounter if they seek to bring an entirely new basket of ideas to their farms and coops.  There must be a core principle that can re-direct and drive the improvements consistently, even when the newly-acquired skills might occasionally seem to become stale or seemingly inapplicable for some  reason.  In moments of frustration or temporary setback, that motivator can keep an organization together, to persevere and regain solid footing for the next advance in their collaborative strength-building.

Some organizations employ a vision, a stated “picture” of what the future might be like.  Others prefer the idea of a mission, an intrinsically important undertaking whose outcome has the capability of delivering fundamental, positive changes.  Still other groups elect to use the language of values, citing social or moral tenets that shape their beliefs and actions.   But whatever words are used, the reality is the same: in order for human beings to change, to adapt, to move from their comfort zones, they universally crave a “cause,” a fundamental, personal reason to do that which is difficult to do.

In the case of the very successful Panamanian cooperative La Esperanza de los Campesinos (the Hope of the Peasants), that bedrock upon which their success has been built is in the historical presence of Fr.  Hector Gallegos, whose spiritual and liberation theological teachings centered the coop members.  (See “A Cooperative That Regulates Markets” by Rene Mendoza.)  For a company like SRC Holdings in Springfield, Missouri, the birthplace of open book management, the bedrock was the liberation of employee thinking and intelligence through information sharing and involvement.  For Winds of Peace Foundation, the bedrock has been the  liberation of financial assets to address the dangerous gulf between the poor and the wealthy.  Initiatives come and go, but the calling for the each of these organizations survives because of the depth of its existence.  These organizations must do what they do.  It is in their organizational DNA.

The coops represented in the Certificate Program will need to identify and embrace their own “calls to being. ”  For some, the cause is already deeply engrained and sustaining the direction of the members.  But for others, the identification might be less certain and less steadying.  Maybe it has never been articulated in terms of a vision.  Perhaps there are several purposes that have been embraced by the members, with no single mission emerging as the great unifier.  In some cases, maybe the issue has never even come up; coop membership was simply a way to access funds for the next planting cycle.  Whatever the case, every coop will require  something to hold onto when the vagaries of weather and middlemen and coyotes of the marketplace interject their disruptions into plans for prosperity.  What will the coops bedrock prove to be?

When Brian and Alex bring their skills to the Certificate Program, it will not be due to monetary gain (they receive none) or for notoriety (the program will take place in the deep countryside, away from media notice).  They will present no political cause, no self-service nor personal advantage.  They will spend more than an entire week out of their professional and personal lives because of deep-seated values that inform their senses of servant leadership and responsible stewardship.  The lessons and know-how they teach may change between September and the next time they are invited to work with such an audience, but the reasons for accepting such an invitation will not.  It is, after all, who they are.

Sometime during that first week of September, we’ll be interacting with some very eager Nicaraguans who know precisely who they are….

 

Dear Jack

 

Jack Stack, Author of The Great Game of Business
Jack Stack, Author of The Great Game of Business

Dear Jack:

It’s been a long time now since you authored the book, The Great Game of Business, back in 1992.  I remember reading it entirely in one afternoon, I was so excited about what it described!  You folks at SRC were actively doing what we at my company had only dreamed about: creating a business of owners.  Your impact on our company made a tremendous difference in the worklives and outside lives of lots of people.  And I’m writing now to tell you that I’m seeing the possibilities once again.  This time, it’s in the rural communities of the second-poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, Nicaragua.

If I was excited to come across your book in ’92, then I felt positively ecstatic a few years ago to discover that it had been translated into Spanish.  We immediately acquired copies and began the advocacy for open books as a means to cultivate long-term, sustainable development.  We shared the idea with established coops, with development agencies, a national association of cooperatives and anyone else who would listen.

But the reaction tended to be the same as that which you originally experienced when first sharing the notion with companies here in the U.S.: leaders saw it as a threat, managers could not accept the possibility of broad-thinking peasants, and in our case, there may have even been some nationalism at work as Nicaraguans may have doubted the applicability of a North American business invention.  So we simply continued to reference the concept with groups as we interacted with them, we continued to tell the story of the transformational potential of open books, and hoped that the seeds which were planted might take root.

Then, last month, I think we may have achieved a breakthrough of sorts.  Winds of Peace Foundation provided the major underwriting of a “certificate program” for cooperatives.  The participants were mostly rural producers and members of cooperatives, with some development people, as well.  Some of them had heard us talk about open books previously, but only in a generic way.  This time, they were exposed to more detail and actually performed some exercises to illustrate the process.  By going slowly and with care, many of them seemed to warm to the belief that they could and should “know their numbers” and the processes behind them.  (Their excursion into open books has even been written up by researcher and certificate program developer Rene Mendoza, in the magazine, “Confidencial.”)

I wonder if you knew back in 1992 that the idea of open books contained as much transformational power as it has proven to hold.  You wrote about empowering people and changing their lives at work through open books, you wrote about companies harnessing resources that were previously dormant, you even wrote about the intrinsic impacts that this kind of participation engenders.  But could you have foreseen entire cultural shifts that could result?  Did you contemplate what it might mean in changing the dynamics between the “gatekeepers” of knowledge and the producers who often naively relied upon them?  Having the book translated into other languages constituted a step of faith in that direction, but did you actually anticipate that rural cooperative members- often uneducated and inexperienced- could take control of their organizations that had long been under the influence of other voices?

In Nicaragua, some of our partners are beginning to rethink the cultural norm of autonomous leadership that has existed for generations.  They have begun to experience a confidence in both their need and ability to know the critical equations of their businesses.  I know that you might identify with the feelings I had when visiting one cooperative, exploring with them the reasons for their success when so many of their neighbors were struggling.  The reasons were many, but when they reported having read your book (which we had earlier placed with them) and having implemented some of its lessons, I knew that the magic of the game was as real in Nicaragua as it has been in the U.S.  More importantly, they did, too. If you really did anticipate the universality of open books, then you are, indeed, prescient.

As with any methodology that shakes up the status quo of authority, knowledge and position, this process will take time, repetition and success in order for it to take hold as a new way of life.  You have preached that reality continually from your own experiences.  Winds of Peace will need to stand with the early adopters of open books and provide the necessary resources for continued training and access to experienced voices.  But if the commitment is there, we will be, too.

I can only hope that the cooperatives who show interest in embracing open book management can create the kind of network among themselves that you were able to create with open book organizations in the U.S.  That opportunity for organizations to come together and share their experiences, their difficulties and their solutions have really helped to expand the open book reality.  Those networks have made it easier to deal with problems and false starts before they become too big to handle.  Being available to one another is not only a help to those who are struggling, but also to those who are succeeding, still wanting to achieve more.

So thanks again.  Your idea worked for my former company over the years and now stands the chance to work transformations once again, this time in a more difficult context.  But great ideas have a way of surviving even the most challenging circumstances, and my belief is that one of your many future site visits just might include a stop in Central America, to see the Nicaraguan version of Le Gran Juego de los Negocios…. 

Best Regards,

Steve

Steve Sheppard
Steve Sheppard

 

 

 

 

 

I Wonder

I really do.

I wonder whether this could be the year wherein the Synergy Center notion crystalizes in the strategic thinking of an educational institution and we find a partner to take on the asset.

I wonder if the Indigenous communities with whom we have worked will discover during 2015 that their patrimony continues to be slowly eroded away by some of their elected leaders, and that true community must be transparent in order to be strong.

I wonder if this is the year in which I finally become facile enough with the Spanish language to converse with more than simply, “buenas dias.”  I wonder if working on development issues in a Spanish-speaking country  without an ability to speak directly with partners conveys a sign of disrespect.

I wonder if there is an effective way to help cooperatives embrace the very essence of cooperativism; that is, collective, collaborative, participative, informed engagement.  Are cultural, social and historical factors too much to allow for such embrace?

I wonder if the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere can really undertake the largest, most expensive engineering and construction project in history, and what the ramifications of that will be, whether it’s ever completed or not.

I wonder if the relations between the United States and Nicaragua will ever be friendly, or whether friendships will only exist among individuals of those two countries.  And if the latter is true, I wonder what that says about the institutions of government.

I wonder how I would survive on $2.00 per day.

I wonder why greater progress hasn’t happened in Nicaragua, given the amount and form of economic aid that has been made available there.  Where does it go?

I wonder if it’s possible any longer to actually know the truth about nearly anything, or whether institutional “spin” determines that.  I wonder if there really is truth about anything.

I wonder whether my curiosities are well-founded or simply the product of narrow, North American hubris.

I wonder….

 

 

 

 

An Ownership Advantage

I attended a party last week.

The gathering was in recognition of  The Minnesota Chapter of the ESOP Association.  The chapter is one of 22 chapters nationally, in the association which represents the 15,000 employee-owned companies across the country.    Minnesota has been a particularly strong chapter in the network and over its 25 years has been a strong contributor to the employee ownership movement.

Parties are normally fun and friendly occasions, I suppose, but this event contained a special air of zealotry.  The 75-80 folks who attended are among the most enthusiastic supporters of the shared capitalism idea, and they are never bashful about displaying such passion.  These were the people who have either led the chapter or been especially active in its work; they are champions of the cause and the effects of employee-ownership.  I had not seen many of these people for nearly ten years, since I retired from the employee-owned Foldcraft Co. in 2005, so the gathering had the feel of a grand reunion.

All of that context provided more than enough reason for a stellar evening, and indeed, the laughter and the hugs were genuine all through our time together.  But there was something else in the air.  There was a tangible feeling that this group of ownership advocates exuded an intensity of knowledge, some sort of awareness that other organizations don’t necessarily experience among their members.   That perception, merely felt by some but outwardly acknowledged by others, recognized the immense power of their shared sense of ownership .

Let me be clear on one major point: not every member of every employee-owned entity demonstrates a deeply-felt sense of commitment, empowerment and liberation.  But those who are able to envision their own development within an ownership mindset have often defied the odds in creating opportunities and experiences for themselves and their enterprises.

In fact, organizationally it’s true whether there is an actual ESOP component in place or not.  Entities that are managed under the terms of transparency, broad participation, engagement and a sense of shared outcomes perform better, feel better, last longer and ultimately have a more positive impact upon the societies in which they serve.   That requires the right people, the ones who share in a vision and who possess the energy to want to go there.  In the words of author Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great:

But I know this much: if we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.”

On Thursday evening, the ballroom was filled with the right people.  They have been and continue to be consistent champions of encouragement and commitment for everyday workers to access equity ownership.  They know that such an opportunity is actually a component of our holistic health.

It’s a universal need.  We want to claim a deep and rich ownership of our lives, and the places where we work constitute a major portion of our time.  We long to be integral parts of our labors rather than simply renting out our time and skills.  We need to know what is happening in our vocational lives, what is impacting us, what we can do about it, how we can do better.  Where we have come together in our work organizations, we sense that it could be possible to truly belong to an endeavor bigger than ourselves, in some cases maybe even more important than ourselves.

Some of the best-managed companies around the world have recognized this truth.  The most stable and productive governments have operated under principles of democratization, which are still the envy of people in non-democratic societies.   Employee-owned enterprises often “get it,” as reflected in annual workplace survey data.  And in addition to data, I suspect that we recognize intuitively that fully collaborative efforts will almost always outperform individual ones; “none of us is as smart as all of us.”

It’s a truth that Winds of Peace is working very hard to teach this reality to rural cooperatives in Nicaragua, as well.  It may run counter to the model the government uses.  It may fly in the face of the big company executives there who have copied the traditional corporate models from the U.S.  It even challenges the cultural and historical patterns that shape societal behaviors.  But it’s a lesson worth teaching, and one definitely worth learning.

It’s an advantage that we celebrated last week.  It doesn’t represent the easiest manner in which to organize and operate.  But it’s certainly the best….

 

 

The Emperor’s New Clothes

You recall the story.  A vain emperor who cares about nothing except wearing and displaying the finest clothes unknowingly hires two swindlers who promise him the finest, best suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or “hopelessly stupid.”  The emperor’s ministers cannot see the clothing themselves, but pretend that they can for fear of appearing unfit for their positions and the emperor does the same.  Finally the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him and the emperor marches in procession before his subjects.  The townsfolk play along with the pretense, not wanting to appear unfit for their positions or stupid. Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but continues the procession, unwilling to acknowledge the truth that everyone can see.

We’ve all experienced similar circumstances in our lives, where the plain truth is clouded by distorted words and intentions meant to distract us from reality.  For instance, political advertisements which have little regard for accuracy bash the truth every day during this current political season.  Corporations are famous for speaking in euphemisms which are meant to justify the unjustifiable.   Some attorneys make their careers on the basis of clever turns of phrase which are designed to deflect light and reality.

I don’t know why I expect anything different in the non-profit world, but I do.  I somehow became possessed of the notion that amidst all of the self-serving and self-interest in society at-large, the philanthropic community and its service providers might have carved out a niche wherein the desire to do some good would outweigh any other motivations, that here is where conscience would finally catch up with career.  But not really.

I received a marketing piece in the mail this week that caught my attention, not due to its intended message, but because the content so blatantly refuted reality.  The glossy, multi-page brochure was sent by a large, well-known firm which invests funds for foundations. The materials include a 10-page essay by the CEO of the company, whose fundamental message is that the growing income disparity in this country is not really conclusive and that, even if its is really that bad, hopefully the voices in pain won’t be loud enough to bring about any meaningful policy reform.   He goes on to hope that the voices “agitating for much of the change” will go away or prove to be “immaterial.”

The second item in this truth and enlightenment package is a slick, four-page analysis by the firm’s director of investment strategy.  His message is shorter, but no less obfuscating of the truth than that of his boss.  He cites five telltale signs that a bull investment market might be coming to an end and then, one by one, explains why no such evidence exists today.  Among those telltale signs, he cites the risk of monetary tightening, and explains away our current monetary reality with these words: “It may not feel like it, but the economy has been normalizing.”  I found this characterization of our economic status boldly self-contradictory.  If the economy is normalizing, I would expect that the one true litmus test would be that people are, in fact,  beginning to feel less discomfort, fewer threats to their economic well-being, less inequality.  That is not how the majority feels about their current, personal, economic standing.  A normalizing economy ought to bring relief.  But this executive brushes over the reality of what most people are experiencing and says it isn’t true, that things really are getting back to normal.

Both pieces are replete with the obligatory graphs, charts and statistics to back up their claims.  They describe the finery of the garments, the elegance of the fit and an implication that anyone who cannot see the wisdom in their words must be “unusually stupid,” in the words of the fable.  I find the materials even more evocative of the emperor story as I look at the photographs of these two leaders in their crossed-arms, regal poses of trustworthiness.

It is true that this firm (and its master tailors) is only a peripheral provider to the philanthropic community.  Perhaps it is overreaching for this reflection to condemn an entire industry on the basis of a representation of one firm, regardless of how large and influential it may be.  But if the philanthropic community truly cares about its works, its impacts and its reputations, then perhaps integrity warrants a closer examination of its bedfellows.  After all, we are known by the company(ies) we keep.

Saying something does not make it so.  Like the emperor, we may not want to recognize the truth of having been fooled.  But it’s better than fooling ourselves….

“It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”                                                                                                                     –Macbeth

 

Culture, With Three C’s

I referenced here last week in my entry, “It’s All In the Game,” that The Gathering of Games Conference is one that is full of energy and, frankly, full of joy.  It sounds strange to refer to a business conference in those terms, but I think they’re appropriate descriptions.  First-time attendees like my Nicaraguan colleague Rene Mendoza recognize it immediately and cannot help but comment upon it.   In fact, I overheard one participant ask, “Where does all that energy come from?”

The answers to that question could take many forms, because there are many ingredients that constitute such a sense of excitement, including the personalities of the attendees themselves.  But one of the conference break-out sessions provided one perspective that I thought stated the organizational reality pretty well.  It’s not a formula, but wisdom seldom presents itself that way.  In this case, the insight comes in the form of three C’s:

CHARACTER

However one might try to define it, character is the glue that holds organizations together.  Even if an organization is temporarily performing acceptably, that performance will be negated in the presence of motives that are personal to its leaders.  Leadership lack of character cripples organizations.

Some leaders simply love the power or their position and the ability to manipulate others with it.  Some seek their own self-promotion.  Others might recognize the chance to leverage their authority for the sake of a few.  And within these instances, the seeds of mistrust, doubt, fear and indecision take root to destroy organizational hope.  It may be assumed that leaders will deeply respect the responsibility entrusted to them, but character is not always sound or automatic.

The character of an organization- its sustainability and chances for positive impacts- is shaped by the character of its leaders and followers alike.  Where members seek to serve as good stewards of their authority and resources, their organizations have a much better chance of surviving and thriving into the future.  And good stewardship simply means the motivation to nurture and protect the the interests of all members and the community-at-large.  It’s the care exercised when members have entrusted to their leaders their economic, social, cultural and community futures for safe-keeping.  Character is the measure of how any of us cares for such precious matters.  “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”

COMPETENCE

Of course, organizations must possess the intellectual and energy resources to accomplish their objectives.  But before anyone dismisses this need as too obvious, consider the kind of competence needed.

First, there is the need for the personal competence of the organization’s members.  In a corporation or non-profit entity, members are hired according to the specific knowledge or experience they can contribute to the institution’s success.  In a cooperative or non-profit, members are added according to the specific knowledge or experience they can contribute to the organization’s success; the members must be added on the basis of their common objectives with the other members, and their willingness to contribute personally to the strength of the group.  Too often, organizations are weighed down by the tonnage of unwilling and therefore incompetent members, people who have joined only for the benefits and none of the work.

Secondly, the organization itself has to demonstrate competence.  Throughout its ranks of members, the organization has to ensure that every player is is clear about what is expected.  In successful enterprises, organizations are specific in emphasizing the needs for everyone’s contributions, that without each member supplying his or her piece of the puzzle, the picture can never be completed.

Competence also builds upon the need for the right character.  Character, and all of the expectations of it, can be a learned attribute like any other.  When individuals and their organizations become clear about the need for certain competencies, a high level of ethical behaviors rises to the top of the list.  Such actions only become the norm when the organizational culture expects it.

Finally, if the organization has acquired or developed essential competencies, it can begin to work on business competence.  In short, the members must know, truly understand, how the organization will succeed.  Members have to know the “business equation,” what actions will drive success, what each of them must contribute.   If each player in the game does not have such insight, they might well be playing a different game altogether.  And when members are playing by different rules, seeking different outcomes, the organization loses.

CONSISTENCY

As if the first two matters of character and competence weren’t demanding enough, it turns out that when our organizations have finally experienced success, it’s not enough.  Exercise of stewardship character and personal/organizational competence have to become the habits of a successful organization, practiced, repeated and refined consistently by its members.  Habits are no more than repeated patterns of behavior, and every act by every individual every day has the potential to become habit, good or bad.  Strong organizational consistency is the ability to reinforce the strengthening habits and eliminate the weakening ones.  The best organizations have discovered the importance of teaching its members the differences between the two.

Like competence, consistency builds upon the issue of character.  The strongest organizations maintain a reliably consistent posture with regard to issues of integrity; there are no “situational ethics” which permit decisions that are not in keeping with the organization’s character.  And the greater the consistency of character, the easier it becomes to demand the same of every member.  There are no exceptions to what is right.

The three C’s described above constitute a big part of the high energy experienced at The Gathering.  People become naturally enthusiastic in environments where there is trust, where members can be confident that their teammates have accepted their responsibilities, and that such behaviors can be counted upon day after day.

It’s true for organizations in the U.S. and ones in Nicaragua.  It’s true for businesses and non-profits.  It’s true for secular and church.  It’s true everywhere because it resonates with the human soul.  Organizational environments like these free people to become more than they may have thought possible.  That awakening creates energy, and makes the hallways at The Gathering alive with dreams….