Is Your Organization Still Relevant?

by Molly Penn

Once upon a time, someone saw a need in the world, had a vision of how to address it and created your organization to help. Once upon a time, an artist had a vision and created your organization to express that creative idea.

The Effect of Change on Vision

Organizations that stand the test of time are those that grow beyond the original idea – that original idea becomes a collective, shared purpose. Meanwhile, the world around us changes exponentially with the passage of time. The original vision can’t possibly be as relevant to today’s world as it was in the beginning because the world itself has evolved. Most organizations that last, refresh or renew their vision – their purpose – their why. But too often, they do that as a small group of board and staff members, working together, in a closed room (literally and metaphorically). Over time, visions become self-justified – we are important because we exist. We are important because we are passionate about this organization. We are important because funders still fund us. It is a given that we are important.

What is Relevance?

rel·e·vance | \ ˈre-lə-vən(t)s \ Definition of relevance: (a): relation to the matter at hand; (b): practical and socially applicable.

So here’s the irony: your vision can’t possibly be in relation to “the matter at hand” (today’s society and needs) if you come up with it based on your internal idea of the change you seek to create (even if that is shared internally by multiple people). Visions need to be co-created with and by your stakeholders. Determining why your organization should exist is not routine. It is scary and unpredictable and it involves deep listening, collaboration with your stakeholders and the humility and willingness to make changes to stay relevant to the needs at hand today.

Imagine a dancer moving around a person who is standing still, not making eye contact. That could be intellectually interesting, but it likely would not evoke much feeling. Now imagine a pair of dancers moving together through space, whirling and changing in physical dialogue with one another. The emotional energy exists in the space between them – the energy of possibility, creativity and innovation.

How to Ensure Your Vision is Relevant

We are increasingly drawn to David Cooperrider’s Appreciative Inquiry model. This framework leads to a shared sense of inspiration about what is important for your organization. It involves co-creating the ideal organization, with your stakeholders. It starts from a place of deep appreciation of what works well now, and uses that to envision what could be in the future. In the process, your stakeholders are giving you their most heartfelt desires for your organization. Of necessity, this process will create a shared vision that is powered by the needs and desires of those you serve, those who have a stake in your outcomes. Organizations must be willing to be vulnerable to truly uncover why their organization is important – not to them but to the world.

If you are interested in learning how to apply an Appreciative Inquiry lens to your organization, reach out. We would love to collaborate with you on how to apply that model to your next change process. Come dance with us!

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