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Do We Need A Community Exit Strategy?

November 6, 2012 - Ernest Hohmeyer
We don’t like to talk about anything coming to an end.

When we start a community group or initiative, we are often driven by the need of the moment.

Filled with brimstone and emotion we charge forth like the Light Brigade to provide a needed service, bring jobs into the community, or market it.

I often wondered if at that very first meeting, we should discuss when our - last meeting will be.

Why Are We Here?

Would that not help to clarify why we were here in the first place? Would it not force the issue to clarify the steps to resolve this need and ultimately specific benchmarks to measure success? It may also create this image of a clock ticking, a sense of urgency.

But the biggest thing is that the culture may change: it is not about the organization but about solving a need and when you are done, you go home – or tackle the next issue.

Perhaps this is why there seems to be a declining interest in civic organizations and more on informal structures.

Times Not Necessarily Needs Change?

And two other important considerations may come to light: 1. What if those needs change? 2. What if your organization is no longer the appropriate vehicle to solve that need?

Is this not the root of some of our community issues? Villages and towns were created over 100 years ago when there was a need for these entities. Transportation, communication and technology have changed our lives dramatically. Do we still need all of these municipal units and their departments? This is at the heart of municipal consolidation and dissolution discussions.

In many cases the needs are still the same as they were 100 years ago: emergency services, transportation, utilities etc. However, the way you can go about addressing these needs has changed dramatically.

Perhaps each meeting should start with this question: What are today’s needs, what is today’s best way to accomplish these needs and are we the best to continue to tackle them?

Community non-profits may be in the same boat. They were created to address certain needs. Perhaps those needs have disappeared or they have changed.

“Organizational Term Limits”

Perhaps local government and community organizations need to have “organizational term limits.” In this concept, public or membership referendums are held every so often to determine if the organization should continue.

Okay, a wacky idea. But, I wonder if this would help to put the onus on solving needs and generating results and less on organizational life.

I wonder if we could create a community culture, where the end of an organization in its present form is celebrated: that it has successfully achieved its mission.

Technology in our information age is changing our lives. Look at how much of our lives have changed in just 10 years that in our history would have taken centuries.

As a business you need to constantly evaluate today how to deliver your product or service – and is it to the same customer with the same message?

And while it may scare us, is our product or service still needed?

Look at our downtown today. Is it same as 100 years ago, even 50?

Function like an Amoeba?

It is almost as if our businesses today need to operate as an “organizational amoeba.”

Come again?

Sometimes, just like a municipality or community organization, we get worried about maintaining our “infrastructure.” We are concerned about keeping our employees, modernizing our equipment and purchasing at the same inventory levels to get the best deal.

There is also a public perception that they may worry us: “We are known for this and that in the community, if we change, will they think we are failing?”

We too are bound sometimes by an organizational monolith that may stand in the way of really looking at our business.

There is also a pride thing going on here as well.

But perhaps to be successful today, we need to soften the shell of our organizational structure whether it is as a business or a community organization.

Making a Bigger Pie

For example, let’s say it has been determined to bring more visitors into our area during the shoulder seasons.

To do this, studies have indicated that visitors are looking for a diverse experience in terms of activity, shopping, lodging and meals. Typically, each of our businesses attempts to reach this market. Sometimes it is very difficult for competing businesses to work together because well, we each have our own organizational mandates and slice of the pie.

But the idea here is to make a bigger pie for larger slices. If we keep making the same size pie, how will we grow?

If our first thought was, not of our own business, for example our retail store, but to make our area a shopping destination, how we might go about this may change. Could each of us think not in terms of our own retail marketing budget but for example an “Adirondack shopping capital” marketing initiative?

Yes, we are doing some of this already. In many cases however, there is still an attitude of “this won’t help my business. Nothing gets done.”

There is some truth to this.

However, if the meeting begins: “First on the agenda is to schedule our last meeting…” I wonder if that would change the culture.

Do we have to change too?

Are there ways to organizationally bend, twist and expand like an amoeba, based on needs or new opportunities?

In today’s rapidly changing world, will those needs and how you approach them stay the same?

Do we need to be flexible in our approach for tomorrow’s next opportunity?

This is not to suggest we change our restaurants to bio-tech labs or retail stores to manufacturing plants but the way we go about our business becomes flexible and mobile. That we may need to end certain practices to allow our 1-2 person shops to entertain new approaches?

A Tool vs. Need?

What is a legal business entity or community structure anyway? Is it just a tool – albeit an important one?

It is not the real reason for our organization to satisfy a need? To satisfy some of these needs, do we need to think differently? Could in fact competing businesses purchase together, share marketing staff or even downplay the importance of their business name?

In Albany New York, a large network of restaurants, more than exists in our entire Tri-lakes area, have come together to form a cooperative. In some cases, they market together, purchase goods together and buy insurance.

For all of us to survive, we need to satisfy a need. We also need to think about that this need may change or at least how you will go about it. We may need to think about an end-point.

An Exit not an End?

An exit strategy does not necessarily mean the end of your organization but recognition that nothing stays the same. If we can include in our thought pattern, that the way we operate today has a shelf life to it, that we will need to re-invent ourselves, perhaps this will enable us to develop a culture to be more flexible and responsive to today’s needs.

We may first need to look at ourselves. We are also part of this changing environment.

We change too.

Besides looking at our businesses and community changes we may want to assess our own “motivation matrix.” We will talk about this next.


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