Saturday, May 27, 2017

Open for Change, for Real

This week I was excited to dive into the KaBOOM! case, as I just applied for a job there. The case leaves us wondering if KaBOOM! is making the right strategic shifts and caused me to reflect on a section from Building Your Company’s Vision: “Truly great companies understand the difference between what should never change and what should be open for change.”

This brings me back to 2013 when I was working as the Teen, Young Adult, and Social Media Coordinator for JFilm: The Pittsburgh Jewish Film Forum. Among my tasks was creating and implementing a teen engagement strategy. We had a teen program in place called Reel to Real where high school students watched films with nursing home residents and participated in post-film discussions. The program was struggling, with only four teen participants. I worked hard to revitalize it—making new nursing home partnerships, going to area high schools to solicit students, and revamping the talkback materials.  When I left JFilm a year later, there were eight student participants in the program. It was not the thriving success that the Executive Director and I envisioned. I realize now that I failed to ask two critical questions before making my teen engagement strategy: Does JFilm need to engage with teenagers? If so, does it need to be via nursing home volunteering?

I did not think outside of the box. I assumed I had to fix what was already there instead of tearing it down and building something new. The Reel to Real program was similar to a program at a rival organization. However, even if we were operating the program effectively, simply doing so, Porter tells us in What Is Strategy?, would not have been enough for prolonged success. Competitive strategy is, “deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value.” We would have had to make the program our own to achieve sustained superiority. Reel to Real had been a part of the organization for so long that none of us had even thought to change or get rid of it. We were purely focused on trying to make it operate effectively—more nursing homes, more students, better content.

This program is an instance where our organization needed to be open to change, no matter how attached we felt to the program. Being able to look at the big picture to discern what can be changed and destroyed versus what must remain is critical to an organization’s success. HBR’s article Stop Thinking Outside of the Box[i], has some interesting stories about how thinking outside of the box resulted in success for non-profit organizations. The author realizes the walls he put up that were preventing him from having a winning campaign slogan and how he tore them down and achieved success. Reel to Real was just one professional instance where I put walls up that I could not figure out how to tear down to create a winning strategy.

[i] Pallotta, Dan. "Stop Thinking Outside the Box." Harvard Business Review. N.p., 23 July 2014.
       Web. 26 May 2017. <>.

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