At the end of this month, StriveTogether will celebrate its first year of independence — and what a year it has been! StriveTogether experienced not one but two major transitions over the past year. First the organizational transition: spinning out from our parent organization to become independent. Second was the leadership transition: the departure of our founding managing director, followed by the search for and appointment of a new leader.
Many organizations would have floundered facing this much change, but not StriveTogether. I have said this many times before, but it is worth repeating: My StriveTogether colleagues are the most resilient, passionate and committed group of people in the world and I’m privileged to work with them. StriveTogether as an intermediary and a national network clearly seems to thrive under pressure. Over the past year, with the Cradle to Career Network, we have built a new strategic plan, secured a significant multi-year investment, had our Theory of Action validated by a national evaluation and achieved our three-year goal of five proof point communities by 2018 — seven months early.
None of this was easy and there have been many bumps along the way. When I learned I was going to need to lead StriveTogether through these transitions, I decided to re-read parts of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges to help me think about how to navigate this change. Bridges’ transition theory is a helpful way to frame the experience over the past year.
- Acknowledge transitions begin with endings. Endings can be difficult. People experience endings in very different ways. Some move very quickly to the next phase and others grieve and cling to the past. I learned a lot about how I experience endings and process loss (a lot of tears, wine and otherwise burying myself in work), and how my colleagues and some of our Network members manage through transition as well. One of my key reflections is how important it is to treat the past with respect. We brought many best practices with us from our time with our parent organization, and on a daily basis I have a greater understanding and appreciation for how our founding managing director led the team. We use the metaphor of “old shore, new shore” to acknowledge the influences of the past that stick with us.
- Hold in the neutral zone. As an organization, we operated in the neutral zone for what felt like forever. Bridges’ theory states that the neutral phase of transition can be a very creative time, and that certainly showed up in the work over the past year. We operated with temporary systems as we built new systems and structures, and it inspired creativity and connectedness in terms of how we got the work done. From building out new policies and processes for core operational functions such as human resources, finance, expense reporting and grant writing, to finding new ways to communicate and stay connected with staff such as through slack (an instant messaging platform), we embraced the opportunity to try new things and fail multiple times while we moved through this phase of uncertainty and promise.
- Embrace new beginnings. As we approach our first year as an independent organization, and after three months with a new (but not so new) leader, we are still experiencing a new beginning for the organization and the network. As an organization, we are clarifying our core values and our operating model. We have doubled our team size and our continued growth brings new ideas, new ways of working and new transitions. While processing the loss of a small, family-like team, we also are embracing the opportunities of a larger enterprise. And as a network, we are also in a building phase as we work through “year 0” of our new strategic plan, refine our Theory of Action and get ready to launch our next phase of work together.
As we approach our one-year anniversary as an independent organization — and my three-month anniversary as its privileged leader — I can say with great certainty what does not kill you makes you stronger. StriveTogether as an organization and as a network has never been stronger. We have learned and grown through change and transition. More growth and change is ahead and it will only make us better.
Happy birthday, StriveTogether, Inc.! I’m looking forward to celebrating many more.
Congratulations Jennifer. This is your destiny. I am proud of you!