Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Appreciative Inquiry

By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Appreciative Inquiry, while not a new concept, certainly has a very important place in today’s world.  Broadly summarized, it’s a way of developing a discipline for positive change. It's the act of transformation anchored in positivism that seeks to explore the best in people, their organizations and the world around them. It breathes life into a being, process or movement and activates the deep study of a moment when things are working and fully alive. Approaching advancement through an appreciative and curious way is not only spirit lifting, it also ensures we build on opportunities and assets.

I have experienced how quickly this approach can turn negativism on its head. Some may wonder if this is just a superficial strategy to "weed out the complainers." It certainly could disorient the person who rehashes everything that has not worked or who prefers to list reasons why it won't work. After all, the further we push potential solutions from our point of influence, the less responsibility we take for unmet outcomes. It's a classic leadership trap of the modern age.

Dare to be different. Confront the tough stuff. Ask about exceptionally positive moments and share stories that give life to a cause. Allow others to dream with you about the future then innovate and improvise in a way that shapes that future. Learning and inviting others to take part in appreciative inquiry is a discipline. In a world that bends toward negativism, it is counterculture. Critics suggest it ignores reality, and to them I say it isn't about ignoring reality, it’s about surrounding it, embracing it and shaping it!

We all need help day-to-day to stay in a positive frame of mind. I appreciate having a team that supports and influences my thoughts more positively. A team that can remind me that growing from what's working well is more productive than belaboring what's not.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The true meaning of accountability

By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

I find myself having a keen awareness of the number of times I hear someone placing blame in the name of accountability.  Not only are they two very different things, placing blame is actually counterproductive to strengthening accountability and improving results -- and blaming often diminishes motivation and  performance.  This misguided strategy is pervasive in our personal and  professional lives and can creep in at a very young age. 

Recently, while watching a basketball game, I couldn’t help but notice the coach yelling at the players on the court and throughout each time out.  The coach rehashed all they hadn’t done or had done “wrong” with clear frustration.  I have sadly become used to the sight of coaches yelling but when I heard another proudly proclaim that “he’s good at holding them accountable,” it made me think.  Accountable to what I wondered? 

Accountable by definition is “subject to the obligation to report, explain, justify.”  Simply stated, others should be encouraged to provide account or explanation for the outcome.  When we are too busy blaming, judging or rehashing the result, we don’t even ask questions, let alone offer others the opportunity to explain.

Now let’s take this a bit deeper. Besides listening for an explanation, are we willing to learn in order to influence future opportunity? Let’s keep going with the basketball experience.  What is usually the first thing you hear a coach or crowd yell once someone misses a rebound?  "Get that rebound!” Or maybe “Box out!”  Well rest assured that’ll do it. Next time they’ll surely remember your directive and get the rebound.  I’m being sarcastic of course. We say those things and react that way because in that moment it feels good to us. It likely has no positive impact on shaping the next event.  The players know they are supposed to rebound the basketball and they are highly motivated to successfully grab the basketball, so why don’t they?  Ask them!  What pulls their attention in the heat of a game?  Knowing how to rebound is only the first step. Knowing how to execute the rebound in every complex scenario that you face in a competitive game is another.  What interferes with each player's ability to call on that knowledge and execute the rebound?  Timing of the jump, balance on one foot versus the other, position of their other teammates?  Lastly, what other competing priorities are they managing in the thick of trying to secure that rebound?  Are they avoiding a push or over the back penalty, ensuring their feet aren’t swept out from under them while they're in the air, positioning themselves down court for the pass following the rebound?  You never know until you ask but I guarantee a better outcome the next time if you coach them proactively from the perspective of their game time reality.  Helping them learn from their own perspective of the game will help them build strategies they can use to navigate the next experience.

Accountability isn’t about placing blame, it’s about supporting one another in delivering on a commitment along with the outcome and the tasks necessary to achieve it.  It comes through clear expectations, measurement against expectation, timely  communication and a review of results.   When done right, it also makes for a better leader, coach and teammate!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Recommending 'The Four Elements of Success'

By Marisa Geitner, President and C.E.O.

Leadership development is important for all of us as we grow within our work and gain alignment with what fuels us. One of my favorite leadership reads is The Four Elements of Success written in 2005 by Laurie Beth Jones. Despite its age, it remains a relevant resource. It is grounded in the realization that throughout our worldly existence we have an innate need to form teams and bond with others, while acknowledging the good, bad and ugly that comes through the human dynamic of relationships. 

The book groups behavioral tendencies into understandable terms we can remember by using the elements of nature: Earth, Wind, Water and Fire. The definitions, matched with the elements as we know them, makes the tendencies more understandable and easy to discuss. For example, we can easily think of the qualities of fire -- hot, unpredictable, smoldering, fast moving, brilliant, colorful, mesmerizing, forging, etc. Perhaps we can also easily draw association to those whose behavioral tendencies lean toward that element. We can then draw correlations related to the interaction between elements -- fire is fed by wind, cooled by water, etc. We can understand the strengths and challenges among elements just as we see the dynamics among human tendencies. 

Our team at Heritage Christian studied this book in early 2006. It allowed us a safe and comfortable way to discuss our dynamics as a team. We learned so much about one another and how to better work alongside each other. I even remember some of my colleagues who lean toward predictability, stability and planning (Earth) would post signs on their doors during busier times of the month that said "No Wind Zone." It was a fun and safe way to suggest to their somewhat relentless, unpredictable, more impulsive coworkers that this wasn't a good time to pop in and brainstorm. Our experience was so successful through the book study that we welcomed Laurie Beth Jones in for a deeper dive into the concepts. To this day many of us still identify with the elements when digesting team dynamic and working to appreciate the needs of those around us. 

It is a quick, enjoyable read for teams, and it's just over 250 pages. If you give it a try, I don't think that you'll be disappointed. This leadership resource stands the test of time.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Son of HCS founding family remembered

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." 
-- 2 Timothy 4:7

Robert "Bob" Pieters -- a man who influenced thousands of lives by inspiring his parents to help create one of the largest nonprofits in Rochester -- died Tuesday. He was 54.

Bob and his sister Karen were born with developmental disabilities and medical challenges that prompted their parents, Robert and Marie Pieters, to join two other families in founding what is now known as Heritage Christian Services. Today, the agency serves people with disabilities, children and older adults in 13 counties. Its state-of-the-art health and wellness center, the Pieters Family Life Center, is also named in honor of the family's contributions to HCS.

Throughout his life, Bob loved traveling and being near the water.  He went twice to Disney World and once to Dollywood, the theme park of his favorite country singer.  He also enjoyed simply being outside, fishing and cooking s'mores on the fire pit outside his home. He never turned down the chance to have a hotdog or garbage plate, especially on his birthday -- which he shared with his dad. He loved being an uncle, riding around and exploring the Rochester community and hosting driveway parties for the neighborhood, family and friends.

"Bob leaves behind an incredible legacy and his life serves as a powerful reminder that we all have a purpose, that we all matter," said Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O. of Heritage Christian Services.  "We are thankful for the important role he played in our founding and for the honor of having known him."

Bob is survived by his parents, former president and C.E.O. Robert and Marie Pieters; brothers Dan (Raynae) Pieters and John (Gaye) Pieters; sisters Karen Pieters and Kim (Tim) Clark; and nieces and nephews.

Calling hours will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday at Anthony Funeral Chapels, 2305 Monroe Ave. in Brighton. A celebration of life service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Pieters Family Life Center, 1025 Commons Way in Henrietta. A reception will follow. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Listening for the truth

Written by Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

"But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light..." John 3:21

Sometimes the truth is hard to find -- and hard to hear -- but it is always worth seeking. Anything less means narrow perspective and guaranteed misalignment.  You're building on an unstable foundation, one that will crumble when changes and difficult times come.

Right now we are facing steep challenges as an agency and as an industry and the only way to succeed is to listen to one another share our truth and that means listening with an active ear, seeking to understand all perspectives. Some of our truths are pleasant. They are things that we celebrate, like reaching more people in need of support through our community support programs and the opening of a new Expressive Beginnings Child Care. We celebrate those we have been able to welcome into our residential and day programs and all those we are supporting in seeking employment.  How blessed we are to partner with over 100 different employers!  We are also sharing education and best practices across the country through the Center for Human Service Education.  Certainly much to be thankful for, but some of our truths are tough because they threaten our ability to serve, like securing the resources to pay our support professionals a higher wage.  In addition, the demand for our support continues to grow and the funding necessary to offer equal access for those with more complex needs, remains insufficient.

If we listen, we can work together to figure out how to live out our mission. Some of the key places we're starting:
  • ·         We are advocating for a liveable wage for support staff so we can attract and retain high quality employees. New York state is increasing the minimum wage in the Rochester and Buffalo areas to $12.50 an hour by 2021 with the goal of reaching $15 an hour shortly thereafter. Today, if we were to pay people a minimum wage of $15 an hour, it would impact almost 80 percent of our current employees. We project it would cost our organization – including our child care and  community services businesses – $8.3 million a year. 
  • ·         We are expanding our emerging services such as community habilitation, brokerage, employment and fiscal intermediary services in both the Rochester  and Buffalo areas.  We will also continue to work toward offering a variety of housing options including certified settings, customized settings and other affordable housing options.
  • ·         We will continue to differentiate our employee  recruitment and engagement strategies in order to introduce dedicated, diverse support professionals  to those who choose our supports.
  • ·         We are working to offer the people closest to us the chance to recognize support staff with a note of thanks or encouragement electronically, and we are again offering educational opportunities for managers and directors. For example, we'll use a $100,000 award from the New York State Department of Labor for managers and emerging leaders to participate in leadership training during 2017.

Truth be told, we need your help. We need your commitment of time and talent and treasure. We need to listen to one another so that together we can be guided by the Truth and prioritize our efforts and ensure a powerful impact -- to ensure that the service experience people expect can be met.
We move forward into 2017 with grateful hearts for  the richness of our blessings while working together to fulfill our mission.

May you have a blessed 2017.