By Beth Tener, Principal of New Directions Collaborative

unnamed_3.jpgA few weeks ago, I attended my college reunion at Bates College. I co-hosted a conversation among around 60 alumni about leadership with my friend J.J. Cummings. Instead of a typical panel presentation, we invited everyone to consider this question:

Share a story from your experience of what you have learned about what it takes to be a successful leader (i.e., from your own experience or the leadership qualities you admire in others). What are common themes?

People were given several minutes to reflect on their own and then invited to share their story in pairs, followed by conversations in groups of four. (This 1-2-4-All process works well to get many meaningful conversations going throughout a room.) When themes were shared in the larger group, one mentioned several times was the importance of learning how to navigate failure.

Next, we asked them to discuss: How can Bates best prepare its students to be strong workforce leaders tomorrow? Here again, several people emphasized the importance of having experiences of trying and failing, and learning from them, e.g. that students should "take ownership of their failures and think of ways to resolve them." Others talked about this as "building grit."

An Experience in Navigating Failure

Several people mentioned one particular class that had the biggest impact on them. It was a Psychology class I took my senior year and I agreed it was my most frustrating, yet memorable class. The class was called Group Dynamics and had about 15 people. As I recall, it met once a week for three hours on a weeknight. Our first class, Professor Dick Wagner announced that it was up to us to organize how we wanted to run the class and learn about group dynamics. We had a text book. Then he stepped back and let us work it out.

One of my fellow students, Michelle Bennett, described it this way: “It was such a foreign concept, no format, no rules, no structure, just a group of students.  We had always had education and learning presented to us and with clear guidelines, a syllabus and expectations. This was uncharted territory. We literally had to create something from nothing. It was clear that we had never experienced anything like this before. I guess it is not a comfortable place to be and yet we were close to launching into the real world and the job market. Boy, did it feel uneasy and unsettling!"

Week after week, we had frustrating conversations, unable to work out a plan for how to cover the material. The group struggled to come to consensus on anything. We had no training in group process, facilitation, or in how to prioritize multiple options. No one seemed to want to compromise or let a few people decide.

We were learning first-hand how group dynamics work – or don’t work. The level of emotion and frustration ran high and was uncomfortable. The professor was fascinated to watch the process unfold. He said that he had never seen a class struggle as much as ours. Even so, he did not step in to teach or direct. Eventually, I think we landed on a plan of sub-teams teaching themes. The process of group dynamics not working was as much the learning as what was in the book.

Now at reunion 30 years later, people could recall so vividly what they experienced and learned in that class. I shared that I had gone on to become a facilitator, so perhaps the frustration of that class set the course of my career!

Discovering the Resources

The first year after college I worked in a consulting firm where I was trained in Total Quality Management, which included processes to help groups make decisions. We learned the multi-voting method, where each person gets 3 votes to pick the idea(s) they most like. It allows a group to quickly prioritize a list of ideas. I thought “Oh my God – if we had just had this method in Group Dynamics, it could have saved us hours of frustration!” It’s nice to recognize that now, years later, I have a tried-and-true tool box of resources for helping groups self-organize with no structure, e.g., strategic questions, the Art of HostingLiberating Structures, and our meeting design approach.

As I think about students today, the focus on standardized tests and competition to get into colleges and grad schools can drive a focus on perfection and avoiding mistakes at all costs. Reflecting on the experience in the class showed me the power of experiential learning and being put in positions where we had to struggle and experience frustration. What I also see, particularly as we think of the challenges ahead with a changing climate, is a need to train students in how to collaborate and self-organize when there isn’t a clear structure or road map of what to do.

Originally published on New Directions Collaborative


(Photo Credits: John Benford)

FEATURING:  John Benford, Founder and Owner of John Benford Photography

John Benford hadn't set out to be a photographer. A combination of factors: interests, experiences, and circumstances, however, set the pieces in motion and photography ultimately became his life's work. Like the composition of a picture itself, the contrasts and juxtapositions are what make the story rich and compelling.

In another life John, with his Master of Divinity degree, might have been a Unitarian Universalists Minister. He was always drawn to helping other and pursued a course of study that would allow him to do so. Yet, with a mind for science and math, he ended up working in corporate supply chain management as a data systems specialist. He pursued photography in his free time.

He took a leap of faith, though, when he decided that for two years he would commute to a photography school down in Boston. Always gravitating toward others who pursued the arts, he found his own calling in architectural and commercial portrait/lifestyle photography. This unusual combination of subjects, one very geometrical and technical and the other very organic and personal, mirrors John's own background. Good photography itself lends itself to this merging of the artistic and technical.

"I'm a visual storyteller and I want my images to convey the humanity of the people I am photographing in an authentic way. I strive to communicate a sense of place in the photographs I take. And, in a way" John expresses, "those two things are a foundation for anything we do around sustainability. When we connect with people and places, we see the need to respect, cherish, and protect them."

One of John's favorite projects to work on was for the NH Food Alliance. They asked him to photograph several farms and a match program for food stamps at a local farmers' market. "I get to use visual storytelling to help make the world a better place, to help people see the humanity in each other and in our communities, and to imagine how we can set up society to work for us all. These stories of our lives and stories of what could be are powerful and can change the world."

John will be photographing our Spring Conference on May 1, where sustainability leaders throughout the state will be sharing their own inspiring stories. Learn from and connect with the movers and shakers. Make sure you've registered at and be sure to connect with John and share your story.


View John Benford's Full Portfolio Here

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Throughout the year New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility collects "Just One Thing" stories of sustainability initiatives from across the state, in the areas of community, environment and workplace. These leading efforts are then showcased as part of NHBSR's Sustainability Slam in the fall. Last year Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs won NHBSR's 2018 Sustainability Slam for its invaluable contributions to not only New Hampshire communities, but communities across the US.

Pete and Gerry's in Monroe, NH is a 3rd generation, family-owned organic and free range egg producer. By partnering with over 120 small family farms, Pete and Gerry's is able to provide Certified Humane® eggs to households across the US, bucking a market dominated by conventional farming practices. And over the last five years, Pete and Gerry's has been bucking dominant players on another front, this time with the US Food and Drug Administration.

Pete and Gerry's winning Just One Thing presentation at NHBSR's Sustainability Slam centered on the company's campaign against the FDA's antiquated labelling restrictions on eggs. The administration's guidelines, which are based off of outdated and debunked research from the 1980s and 1990s, have shaped consumer perceptions of food over the past several decades. The FDA warns consumers about the cholesterol in eggs being a risk factor to cardiovascular disease and does not recommend eggs as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Meanwhile, other food items, such as Jell-o and canned soups can be labelled as healthy if the products are fortified with vitamins.

"Unprocessed, unadulterated and natural eggs are being regarded as unhealthy, while heavily processed foods loaded with sugar and salt are being labelled as healthy," says Paul Turbeville, Vice President of Marketing at Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs, "It's a little heartbreaking to hear the same story time and time again. Someone will come up to us and tell us how much they love our eggs. They will say how wonderful and delicious they think our eggs are and that they love what we do to support family farms and communities. But then they also say they have to reduce eggs in their diet because of the cholesterol."

In 2015 the US Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services worked collaboratively to update their nutritional guidelines based on current research. They changed their positon on dietary cholesterol and concluded that eggs can be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. The FDA did not follow suit and their healthy labeling requirements actually do not match the nutritional guidelines from the USDA and Health Department.

"We reached a point of frustration," says Paul, "Because research was telling us how eggs are not a risk, but our consumers were still confused and being given all this dated information. So we asked: what role can we play?"

The answer?

"Take on the FDA."


Pete and Gerry's developed a multipronged approach. They worked with a law firm to craft a petition to try and get the FDA to enact changes. Expert nutritionists were brought in as consultants to ensure the petition was scientifically backed. In addition to driving change at the federal level, the petition was a way for Pete and Gerry's to engage with and educate consumers. Media traction everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to Bloomberg's then served as a platform to catapult the issue into the public eye.

"We did a lot on our own digital channels," says Paul, "We went about educating consumers about nutritional food choices and tried to make it fun. Interestingly, younger consumers who didn't grow up with all of the negative publicity see our campaign as a bit of a no brainer. They can't believe eggs would be regarded as unhealthy. Now, we're just eagerly awaiting the FDA's release of new healthy labeling requirements and we hope they will make the right move."

You can learn more about Pete and Gerry's winning Just One Thing story by attending NHBSR's Sustainability Slam on November 7 at LaBelle Winery in Amherst, NH. "The Slam is full of great stories that, like ours, can inspire businesses big and small to take on really important issues. We can be a force for change."

Connect with Paul at our Sustainability Slam on Nov 7 at Labelle Winery in Amherst, NH! Any company or nonprofit in New Hampshire is welcomed to attend the Sustainability Slam and submit a Just One Thing story at Top submissions will be featured in the NH Business Review and presented at the Slam. This year's Sustainability Slam presenting sponsor is Velcro.

**Stories submitted by August 21 get entered into a drawing for free Sustainability Slam tickets and those submitted by August 14 get entered in twice!



Watch Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs' 's winning Just One Thing story video here.


Submit your Just One Thing story here.

Throughout the year New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility collects "Just One Thing" stories of sustainability initiatives from across the state, in the areas of community, environment and workplace. These leading efforts are then showcased as part of NHBSR's Sustainability Slam in the fall. Last year the Hanover Co-op Food Stores won NHBSR's 2018 Sustainability Slam for its invaluable contributions to New Hampshire communities.


(Photo Credits: Allan Reetz)

Founded in 1936, the Hanover Co-op Food Stores is the second largest food cooperative in the nation and among the oldest. By the nature of being a cooperative, the Hanover Co-op is deeply rooted and invested in its community, the Upper Valley Region of Vermont and New Hampshire.

Walk down the aisles of the Hanover Co-op and you'll see herbs from Putney, mixed salad greens from Concord, carrots from Plainfield and mushrooms from Danville among some of its all natural and organic local offerings. The Co-op is proud of its partnerships with local farmers and investments in local economies.

"We have very close relationships with our farmers and are committed to supporting them," remarks Allan Reetz, Director of Public Relations at the Hanover Co-op Food Stores, . "We understand that running a farm is a very expensive operation with lots of risks. Our concern for our farmers' struggles, along with our focus on sustainability and community issues, means that we are constantly seeking ways to do things better."

Allan considers the Co-op's winning Just One Thing story at NHBSR's Sustainability Slam last fall "a classic triple bottom line story." In 90-seconds, the event's presentation format, Allan described how the Co-op partnered with local farmers to revamp containers used to transport farm produce to the stores of the Hanover Co-op.

The Co-op subsidizes 75% of farmers' costs to purchase durable plastic crates. Unlike the cardboard and wax alternatives that are thrown in the dumpster after just a few uses (cardboard coated in wax cannot be recycled), reusable plastic crates have a lifespan beyond 10 years. By choosing this more sustainable form of packaging, the Co-op's farmers have not only saved over $15,000, but have also diverted 8,000 cardboard boxes from the landfill. Not to mention, the produce itself is better protected from the elements and there's no risk that the bottom of the plastic crates will drop out.

You can learn more about this initiative and other sustainability efforts throughout the state by attending NHBSR's Sustainability Slam in the fall. "We, as business people," says Allan, "have so little time to do our work, but the Slam is one of those things that is well worth making time for. It's an incredibly fun way to get inspired by what's happening in the state and to learn from the most successful sustainability programs in New England.


Connect with Allan at our Sustainability Slam on Nov 7 at Labelle Winery in Amherst, NH! Any company or nonprofit in New Hampshire is welcomed to attend the Sustainability Slam and submit a Just One Thing story at Top submissions will be featured in the NH Business Review and presented at the Slam. This year's Sustainability Slam presenting sponsor is Velcro.

**Stories submitted by August 21 get entered into a drawing for free Sustainability Slam tickets and those submitted by August 14 get entered in twice!


Watch Hanover Co-op's winning Just One Thing story video here.


Submit your Just One Thing story here.

By Trinnie Houghton, Executive & Organizational Coach at Sojourn Partners


dxdbbgawoaezyul.jpg-large.jpegAbout 17 years ago, I vowed never again.  Never again to be on the verge of burnout.  To be holding the remaining wicks of the proverbial candle between my fingertips.  To experience wrenching body pains that kept me awake at night.  To have things take twice as long as they should take because I was simply exhausted. But the thing was, I didn’t see it.  I was 29 years old, and on my way up.  Blazing a path, you might say, without being aware that it was burning me up on the inside. 

Until I woke up. 

I found myself on a fallow field in Maine.  No electricity.  No phones.  I had nothing to do but go on walks.  Talk.  Let the sun do its thing with my freckles.  Dream.  Listen to the wind through the ocean bell buoys.  Feel the heat of the dark gray boulders underneath my DIY pedicured feet.  And feel that all was well in the world. I returned to me and was able to think differently.  See trends, patterns I couldn’t see before.  Create without fear.   I didn’t take things so personally and was just more likeable to be around.

That’s the thing.  I had to decide to stop.  I had to value recalibration over the satisfaction of accomplishment.  I had to see that a commitment to rest and play was the key to insight into those complexities that dogged me. 

So when this Spring showed up with its demands of fabulous work, fun travel and time with family, I was surprised to find myself nearing a more “positive” burnout.  What is this, I thought.  Again?  Recommitted, I’ve found another fallow field here in New Hampshire.  One with mountain hikes and biking.  And reading and tending my gardens.  Listening into summer life – its layers of purposeful melodies and unapologetic splashes – and giving a shout out to my 8-year old self because she blooms here.  

Finding fallow fields, I realize, is as much a commitment and a practice over time to maintaining conscious leadership.  Our brains recalibrate to lead more sustainably.   And somewhere along the way, we have a little fun.

To develop your practice of recalibration over the year or find out more about how to create one, join us this fall at NHBSR’s Conscious Business Leadership Program.

Conscious Leadership: It’s about Sustaining People, Planet and Profit

Throughout the year New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility collects "Just One Thing" stories of sustainability initiatives from across the state, in the areas of community, environment and workplace. These leading efforts are then showcased as part of NHBSR's Sustainability Slam in the fall. Last year Genuine Local won NHBSR's 2018 Sustainability Slam for its invaluable contributions to New Hampshire communities.


(Photo Credits: Genuine Local)

Mary Macdonald, Co-owner and Co-founder of Genuine Local in Meredith, NH, candidly describes the company as a "hobby gone wrong." What started in 2006 as a family-based barbeque competition team quickly took on a life of its own. Mary and her husband Gavin were soon venturing into catering and then began selling their popular barbeque sauces. To meet increasing demand, the Macdonalds turned to a kitchen in Keene to commercially 0-1_0.jpegproduce and sell their sauces. In August 2015, however, the Macdonalds were given five-weeks' notice that the kitchen was going to close. So, in October of that year, they leased an empty warehouse and started building their own kitchen, which they opened just a few months later. This space became home to Genuine Local, NH's only specialty food production accelerator.

As a food production accelerator, Genuine Local provides access to the space, equipment, labeling, packaging, production assistance, and business development services to help small food businesses grow. In fact, with the vast array of services and equipment Genuine Local offers, anyone can come to their makerspace with a food product they want to create and sell or even just ingredients to turn into a marketable product. Genuine Local's central tenant is that making and selling good, clean food should be easy and accessible to anyone. By aggregating purchases, printing labels in-house and packaging products, and advising businesses on everything from recipe development to effective pricing to food processing regulations, Genuine Local makes producing small batch specialty foods a viable option for local businesses.

Genuine Local's winning Just One Thing story at NHBSR's Sustainability Slam centered on the company's Value Added Program. This program 0.pngunderwrites 5% of the cost for local farmers to use Genuine Local's facility and services. These farmers have crop surpluses that, without the facilities and knowledge Genuine Local provides, might otherwise go to the landfill. By partnering with Genuine Local, these farmers are able to not only divert food waste form the landfill, but to also extend the lifespan of their crops into preserved or frozen foods, adding another source of diversified income. Last year over 20 farms were involved in the Value Added Program and as of this past fall Genuine Local processed over 15 ton of fruits and vegetables. "We believe in paying it forward," Mary states, "In our name, Genuine speaks to authenticity, the natural and the clean, while Local reflects our desire to support local businesses and have an impact on our community."

At NHBSR's Sustainably Slam, you can learn more about Genuine Local's Value Added Program and other inspiring sustainability initiatives throughout the state. "I would describe the Slam as a very dynamic glimpse into the good unknown." Mary enthuses, "It's all good. So many people are doing so many things that nobody knows about. It runs the gamut in terms of so many different stories and presentations, that it's hard to even begin to categorize!"


Connect with Mary at our Sustainability Slam on Nov 7 at Labelle Winery in Amherst, NH! Any company or nonprofit in New Hampshire is welcomed to attend the Sustainability Slam and submit a Just One Thing story at Top submissions will be featured in the NH Business Review and presented at the Slam. This year's Sustainability Slam presenting sponsor is Velcro.

**Stories submitted by August 21 get entered into a drawing for free Sustainability Slam tickets and those submitted by August 14 get entered in twice!


Watch Genuine Local's winning Just One Thing story video here.


Submit your Just One Thing story here.

But that’s not the case for so many individuals and families in New Hampshire

By Ryan Hvizda, Co-Founder and Owner of The Hvizda Team at Keller Williams Metro

ryan-hvizda.jpgIn the past decade, New Hampshire’s population growth has outpaced our housing growth and the effects are being felt across all sectors of the economy and our communities. Almost daily in my work as a real estate professional, I connect with people that are in the process of transitioning between housing and I experience the same conversation over and over. The lack of housing causes home prices to soar and puts more pressure on an already competitive rental market. Our statewide vacancy rate is 2% and even lower in the metro areas in southern NH. This is one of the major issues for young people looking to settle down in the Granite State. They simply can’t afford to!

The competition for more reasonably-priced housing crosses all age groups - recent college grads, young families and retirees. The story is the same, there is a lack of housing that meets their needs and budget. These are people seeking “affordable housing” and most are part of the “workforce.” But in many cities and towns, these hot topic words that cause an instant case of NIMBY (“Not in my back yard”, a.k.a. I don’t want that type of housing in my neighborhood).

The thing is, the majority of people in New Hampshire that own a home technically own an affordable home! In 2018 the median sales price for a home in NH was $282,500, skyrocketing from two years ago when the median sales price was $249,800. That 13.1% change is just two years is directly related to the inventory issue. For those that rent, the median rent in 2018 for a two bedroom in southern NH was $1,396.

The rental market pressure is not limited to quantity, but also a lack of quality apartments. The low vacancy rate means that landlords are not pressured to improve their buildings. You would be horrified to see what I have seen in the multi-family market - deplorable living conditions that still yield high rental rates because there are no other options. As soon as one tenant moves out, there are 15 more banging on the door because there simply are not enough places for people to live.

We need “affordable” housing because we need a place for people of all ages to live, affordably, in order to call NH home. The business community is an echo chamber when it comes to the challenge of finding and retaining talent. So how can we bridge this gap?

We need to support developers that are willing to build housing that is affordable. When they enter our communities with plans, instead of denying them access, cities and towns should engage with them in a thoughtful dialogue about how they can bring their vision to your community while also meeting the housing need and maintaining the integrity of the community. This can be done in a plethora of ways from thoughtful cluster development, to integrating sustainability measures into all aspects of the design process. 

Let’s create projects and housing solutions that present young people with housing options that realistically match their budgets and allow them to plant roots in our great state.


FEATURING:  Patricia McLaughlin, Director of Communications and Marketing, NH Public Radio

We were delighted to have the chance to connect with Tricia McLaughlin, Director of Communications & Marketing at New Hampshire Public Radio – one of our longtime member organizations. NHBSR and NHPR have worked together for a number of years, so it was fun to have a chance to both reflect back, as well as look forward.

I expect that we all tune into NHPR often—if not daily—for our local and national news. NHPR first came on the air in 1981, which meant listeners heard the station through a physical radio (remember what that is?) at home, in the office or in the car. If we flash-forward to 2019, we have more options than ever to access news and information. With NHPR, it’s no different. While over-the-air radio remains the foundation, NHPR has grown to include other forms of media which include its website -; social media properties; the ability to stream news over the internet; as well as podcast properties. From a single entity, NHPR has grown to have many tentacles, which allow listeners to access news and information whenever and however they want to.  As they say on the radio program Marketplace, “Let’s do the numbers.” NHPR’s listening audience is 175k weekly, the website has more than 250k monthly visitors, and the NHPR audience for podcasts continues to grow – more than four million listeners downloaded their recent podcast series, Bear Brook. In addition, NHPR’s newsroom has three times been cited for “Overall Excellence” in the national Edward R. Murrow Awards journalism competition.

Tricia has been with NHPR for almost two years. Like many New Hampshire natives, she lived and worked away from her home state for a few years, but wanted to stay connected.  For her, Twitter was where she first came into contact with NHPR—following the station online as a way to stay up to date on what was going on in New Hampshire. When asked what she loves about NHPR, Tricia was quick to reply that for her working for a mission-based organization with such a terrific product is really gratifying. “As a former journalist myself and life-long news junkie, I love hearing every day about the trusted, thoughtful news gathering that is coming out of our newsroom,” she said. In addition to local news shows like The Exchange and in-depth podcasts, she says NHPR is also about airing wonderful programs that are staples of public media and that inspire and feed the soul. She cites The Daily, The Moth Radio Hour, and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! as three of her favorite programs that also are popular with listeners. Tricia believes this combination of local, national and international news and storytelling allows NHPR to connect on a local level while bringing the wider world closer.

NHPR has been a member of NHBSR for eight years. NHBSR feels very fortunate to have been able to work with NHPR in a collaborative fashion over the years. Sam Evans-Brown, host of NHPR’s Outside/In podcast about the natural world, has been a long standing judge at the Sustainability Slam, helping to select the finalists with the most impactful, creative approaches to sustainability opportunities. Laura Knoy of NHPR’s live talk show The Exchange, hosted a Sustainability Roundtable at LaBelle Winery in June 2016. Panelists for the roundtable included NHBSR member companies, along with Sam Evans-Brown talking about how sustainability can support our communities while positively impacting the bottom line.

When asked where she sees the organizations connecting, Tricia shared that she sees both NHPR and NHBSR as public-serving organizations, which makes for a certain synergy.

“Through our daily news gathering and storytelling, we hold a mirror up to the issues, opportunities and challenges that impact communities and individuals around the state. Being a part of that conversation and also working on other fronts in collaboration with community groups around the state who are making a difference is really gratifying,” she said.

NHBSR and NHPR are expanding our partnership in the coming year, exploring more ways to engage our common audiences through new opportunities and valuable exploration. Stay tuned for ways that you can connect.

NHPR’s newsroom regularly covers issues regarding the environment: Seacoast Reporter Annie Ropeik is devoted to the energy and environment beat; the Outside/In podcast continues to share stories about the natural world and how we use it; and the weekly feature Something Wild explores the natural resources, wildlife and landscapes of New Hampshire.

With technology evolving as quickly as it does, the ongoing challenge is anticipating how and where audiences will want to access their information. NHPR hopes that their programming is seen as a conversation catalyst, inspiring us all to explore, inspire and grow.

Tricia welcomes the chance to connect. She can be reached at 603-223-2444 or

By Deb LeClair, Psy. D, Sojourn Partners

debra_leclair_headshot_2017-1.png“What’s this mindfulness stuff?” is not a question I hear often in the business sector anymore. Thanks to decades of research and mainstream media attention, in 2019 most professionals have some sense of what mindfulness is and its value. This is why so many high-profile companies as well as local organizations have already brought the practice into their workplaces. Simple things, such as the mindful practice of beginning a meeting with a moment of observing the breath, works well to attune everyone’s nervous systems to focus on the task at hand.

Learning to pay full attention to what is happening in the present moment can translate into more accurately reading the room, setting the stage for more effective communication in meetings, on projects and for understanding your client’s needs. Other benefits include calming your nervous system so inevitable stressors don’t bowl you over, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and scattered. Instead, you can meet challenges with a clear and grounded perspective. This is because mindfulness helps you to access more parts of the brain, particularly the areas that help you prioritize, think through desirable outcomes and creatively problem solve.

At this year’s Spring Conference, join us for your own taste of mindfulness to start the day off on a fully present, clear and calm note. Our Mindfulness Essentials starts at 7:45 am and runs until 8:15 am. No prior experience needed. All are welcome.

Register for the conference today to join Deb in an early morning mindfullness session and connect with her in person!!

By Beth Tener, Principal of New Directions Collaborative


PG&E, California’s largest electric utility, recently filed for bankruptcy, in what many in the business press were calling “the first major corporate casualty of climate change.”  As we think about how organizations and communities adapt to change, particularly a changing climate, this story has some potent lessons.

California’s forests are more combustible, in part arising from changes in weather patterns from climate change. A failure of equipment or hanging wire that may not have been a problem a few years ago, now can cause massive damage in a short time. “Five of the 10 most destructive fires in California since 2015 have been linked to PG&E’s electrical network,” according to a New York Times article.  PG&E missed the wake-up call and the opportunity to respond to changing conditions before them.

Climate is just one of many issues that is and will be, sparking wake up calls in the years to come. How do we strengthen our organization and community’s ability to respond proactively to wake up calls rather than go back to sleep? A core capacity needed now is the ability to be sensitive to the changing landscape – to recognize the changes, understand the implications, imagine and be ready for futures quite different than the past (i.e., collective sensemaking). Then, it is key to respond – to be innovative, adapt, change, and be willing to let go of the status quo and change.   

The challenge is that organizations and institutions themselves can get in the way of this ability to respond to change. Institutions have a tendency to protect turf and sustain themselves, even if it is to the detriment of the community or their own members (e.g., the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.) Hierarchical top-down organizations often don’t capture and connect the best thinking and innovative ideas of all their members. They can produce fragmented work, a focus on narrow metrics while losing sight of negative consequences, and create power dynamics that mean some voices are listened to while others aren’t and some departments talk to others, while others don’t.  

Recognizing the shortcomings of hierarchical organizations, innovations are underway to organize work based in a paradigm of “living systems,” with self-organizing teams and an adaptive innovative focus. One of the leading thinkers and practitioners of this way of working is Carol Sanford, who wrote The Regenerative Business. As a management consultant, for over 40 years, she has guided organizations to adopt a regenerative way of working. She defines as “the process by which people, institutions, and materials evolve the capacity to fulfill their inherent potential in a world that is constantly changing around them.” 

She will be the keynote speaker at the NHBSR’s conference this year.  Her latest book focuses on how we design work to intentionally develop people’s talents, while growing the ability of all people in a company to focus on the needs of customers and the changing environment. Sanford offers is a comprehensive way to build individual critical thinking skills and an organizational design to allow people and teams to create and contribute, aligned to the needs of the customer and larger community/environment. Her stories of how companies evolved and innovated in the face of change have helped me appreciate how crucial the design of how we work, and how we think, is to our collective ability to adapt and innovate in response to wake up calls.

Don’t miss your wake-up call!  Register for the conference today to learn how your company can dynamically innovate for changing conditions.