The View from the Top

Back in February, I wrote my opening blog post about how the sense of anticipation I was feeling for this class mirrored the feelings I had a few weeks earlier on a ski lift in Colorado heading up into a cloud-covered peak. For my closing post, I’m going to keep the analogy going, and write about three things I can now see from the vantage point of having completed this course after finally “reaching the top of the peak.”

Before I get to those things, I want to recognize that this is one of the best classes I’ve taken in my entire career as a student. There is no singular reason behind this. I think a variety of factors unique to this semester created the “perfect storm” for this profound experience.

Professor Kane’s open forum class structure has been both motivating and fun to participate in, and has shifted my view on how my best learning can take place. The topical course material was exciting to cover on my own through the readings and as a class through both Twitter and in-person discussions, and made an immediate impact on my life by sharpening my perspective on the current events and what they mean to me as a leader in an organization. The willingness of my classmates to share their own views and perspectives on these topics candidly helped me broaden my perspective as well.

The biggest factor, however, behind what made this semester so special is something that cannot ever be replicated by Professor Kane: the point in time in which it took place.

The biggest factor, however, behind what made this semester so special is something that cannot ever be replicated by Professor Kane: the point in time in which it took place. I feel like this class came at the perfect time in my life, and helped me find an extra gear in my career at a time when I was beginning to become worn out by continuously adapting. I was hesitant to introduce a new dynamic such as this class into my life. The pandemic forced changes across the board, and I had finally settled into a new routine that I felt was allowing me to get back to getting things done the way that I had been.

I realize now that by settling back into this type of mindset, I was limiting the impact of everything the pandemic forced me to learn and all of the ways the pandemic forced me to grow. Taking this class in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic allowed me to stop this retreat back to simply getting a grip on what I could manage, and pushed me forward to embrace the changes happening in my job and in my life and more-fully harness the power of the unique growth opportunity that they presented. Rather than trying to shoehorn the same approach to work into the new workplace setting, I began rethinking my entire approach to see what new capabilities a remote work setting can unlock. Now, I have three takeaways that I’ve already been implementing on my day-to-day:

1. We’re a ____________ company

Something that stood out most to me in this class was all of the discussions we had about how digital disruption strips companies down to their core, or as we read in our Deloitte material, “reveals who is swimming naked.” For example, rather than thinking of itself as a rideshare company, Uber thought of itself more broadly as a company that provides transportation “like running water.” This important strategic decision led to Uber Eats, which proved to be a pivotal service that was bolstered during the pandemic as the rideshare branch of its business shrank.

This idea pushed me to go through the exercise of trying to put a finger on the core value of the service delivered by my organization, Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, to the public. Then, I brought this exercise into a session on strategy with my colleagues who are participating in Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston’s Leadership Institute with me this year. This group of colleagues spans across the entire organization, and includes staff members from our central office and Club locations. The resulting discussion that came from this exercise with the group was amazing, and it was powerful to hear each of my colleague’s take on this important question. The conclusions we made in this conversation are informing my work on a daily basis.

2. Streamlined internal communication = streamlined story telling

One of the key parts of my job is storytelling, and a challenge that my team faces is that Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston is currently well known but not known well. Many people are familiar with our brand name and have a vague idea of what we do, but not enough have an understanding of the comprehensive and nuanced approach to youth development and mentorship that this organization has established over its 130-year history.

Each day, there are incredible stories unfolding across our eleven locations about fortitude and persistence demonstrated by young people throughout Boston and Chelsea as they grow into their full potential, along with stories of creativity and innovation demonstrated by our staff as they forge powerful bonds as leaders and role models for these young people. You can see one example of these stories in an excellent video that my colleague produced below at Berkshire Partners Blue Hill Boys & Girls Club in Dorchester:

With a small team and limited resources, keeping up with all of these stories and sharing them with our base of donors requires a lot of work. While the pandemic has eliminated in-person meetings and prevented staff from visiting other sites and locations, it has provided an opportunity for us to streamline communication between sites. Now, when there is something exciting going on at a Club, rather than needing to travel onsite to cover the story, it is a matter of setting up a 15-minute Zoom call with colleagues to collaborate and cover the key details behind the story, and then we are off and running. As a result of this, we’ve been able to establish a much more aggressive and proactive approach to our editorial calendar, that is also supplying us with more digital content to promote broadly and expand our digital reach.

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

A third key idea I’ve taken from this class is the importance of planning as far into the future as possible while maintaining a flexible approach that will allow you to ditch those plans when necessary. The quote that is at the heading of the section is a quote from Dwight Eisenhower that I’ve regularly revisited in my own reading and reflection, and ever since learning about the concept of 10-year strategic plans in The Technology Fallacy, I’ve pushed myself to think about the next 10 years for my organization.

I’ve found having “landmarks” visible in the distance to be working toward at all times is a fantastic way to approach day-to-day work and decision making. Of course, as I continue approaching them, other landmarks may come into perspective, in which case it will be easy to recalibrate and re-orient myself, and I recognize the chances are very high that I’ll be grateful to have made the progress I’ve made to boot in the initial pursuit as well. And while I’ve titled this article “The View From the Top,” it is early days for me in the process of putting the information I’ve learned in this class to use. That is something I look forward to with lots of anticipation.

5 comments

  1. I think the point you made about needing to have a transformation mindset going forward is a great one. I often find myself looking for just the nice easy path that will cause the least amount of stress and challenge. But what gets lost when I do that is a lot of learning along the way. Pushing ourselves to always be growing and expanding our perspectives will be important after leaving this class.

  2. Great wrapup. I actually think timing impacted this class on more than one level. I think it gave us more interesting content to talk about during Twitter (ALOT happened), but also gave us more flexibility to engage and filled a relational vacuum. I will say this in class, but this is certainly one of the top 3-4 (but is definitely in the running for THE top one), class I’ve taught using this method. All of the others were also punctuated by some sort of crisis (snow, marathon bombing, financial crisis).

  3. alexcarey94 · ·

    Great wrap up post! It was great to read how you took a lot of the content we are learning in class and made changes to your overall organization. I echo what you say that this is the best class I have taken at BC- from both the structure and the people in the class that made each class, engaging, interesting and fun. I think that this class also came at a good time with many companies transitioning more quickly to digital solutions during COVID- this class really pulled together for me how industries are changing and the importance of keeping up.

  4. shaneriley88 · ·

    Excellent close-out post, Scott! Much like your class participation, this post was thoughtful, well digested, and very astute. Your final thoughts resonated with me powerfully. Many factors in life, work, and even combat fall outside our immediate control. Time is, however, one of them – and at times – the most critical planning factor we must account for. As General James Mattis once said, “No war is over until the enemy says it’s over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote.” Substitute war for digital transformation, personal finance planning, workplace strategy…anything. Time is our means of casting our vote in that process. Thanks for reaffirming my focus on my planning techniques and providing your insights to our (to paraphrase your statement) ‘academic watering hole’ that is ISYS8621. Bravo.

  5. Jie Zhao · ·

    As someone on a financial planning team, I appreciate the quote you’ve shared here. The plans we’ve created a few years or even last year are basically meaningless now with so much happening in the economy and worldwide. Still, we must adjust our plan in response to new information and continue thinking long-term to put us on a path to success >10 years from now. Thanks for the post, and it’s been great having you in class this semester!

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