Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Endangered Wolf Center Crisis Journey

In January of 2010 I embarked on a journey.  And I really didn't want to do it.  I had been asked to serve on a board before and, at at least one occurrence, was ineffective in  my ability to help (other than funding a thing or two).  My skills didn't match up with what was needed, other than them needing some cash or an ongoing supply of in-kind donations, so I resigned after a couple years. It wasn't working for me.  I was bored and could not use my skills in a way that would optimize things--that which would provide the organization value and keep my attention deficit minded methods engaged.  I have learned a thing or two in regard to stewardship, non-profit management and organizational development within non-profit management.  Thanks to a host of resources and collaborative minded folks whom I stay very close.  I have learned that matching the available resources of prospective board members with the needs of any particular organization, charitable or not,  is critical.  That said, if there is no need for a particular skill-set or a need for a skill without the resource, things go flat. 

So I embarked on this latest journey, unknowing at the time, that a skill that I knew that I had would be just what the organization needed.  I also know that I have to be careful with this skill.  I realize now that sometimes, at the end of the day, in the midst of an organization finding themselves in total crisis, there is nobody sitting at the table who can deal with that which the organization needs most.  Many people shy away from dealing with a crisis situations, possessing incredible skills best suited for situations out-of-crisis.  Crisis ssituations cause enormous discomfort and tough decision making that people have to stand behind, often at the scrutiny of others, often at the expense of a dose of reality.

I ask myself, why do I do better than others in a crisis?  It has something to do with adrenalin and competition, coaching and perseverance, challenge and strategy.  My aptitude for managing during crisis has evolved through the development of an intuitive memory--a hunch--a sense and a feeling, all bundled in to one.  Frankly there is nothing more satisfying than rallying a bunch of folks and guiding them through uncertainty and uncharted territory, those situations that some people think impossible.  The funny thing is, at the end of the day, after a series of achievements, most people identify with the fact that they knew they could do it, but it takes the right leader.  I get chosen a lot for stuff like that for a few reasons.

Making tough decisions and standing by them requires good intuition, a knee jerk type of file recall from a similar situation, or a pattern that, sadly, comparable to another crisis of which I experienced. I have immersed myself in crisis many times and I am not sure that it is all that healthy in the long term.  Wisdom yes, pain in the ass, yes.  Being an entrepreneur, is perpetual crisis.  I am just sayin.   
Of course all this crap sounds self centered, egotistical and narcissistic.  To me it is simply logic when seeking remedy.  I look at the role of a crisis manager as just another team member with a unique skill needed to achieve a result as a group.  The crisis manager is merely one of many needed to resolve issues as a team and relating to the crisis. 

In a crisis there is almost always leadership change, an important thing to consider when seeking solutions; the need for a board to embrace the fact that organizational erosion has occurred and that a crisis manager is needed to help visualize the outcome. This person does not work alone.  I need what I call a "Spotlighter".  It is needed on every board, often times an executive position, the treasurer, the secretary, whomever is in charge of the things that make sure best practices occur during the turn-around.  This person has to buy in, and most importantly, be prepared to keep discipline in reference to ongoing compliance.  The Spotlighter keeps it real, calls out that which is not transparent.  During times of crisis, the first thing we do is make sure the line is drawn from the past and the present.  Moving forward requires impeccable broadcast of transparency.  The Spotlighter keeps those things well lit. 

If crisis managers are to be able to identify and fend off that which fits a developing pattern of decline, they must work in tandem with the Spotlighter. With the help of a Spotlighter, a good crisis manager uses the gift, practicum from the past that is necessary to see the indicators of decline; the hints of occurrence of failure that need rapid response.

In business, broad shoulders are needed to deal with issues that sometimes others shy away from. It is about focus on the core, the root of the issue with a declaration of change, the drawing a line between the past and what is to come. And don't forget to celebrate the past, regardless. Finding an organization in crisis is not all that uncommon.  There was prosperity in the past, do not cut those ties.

I have come to know that in a time of crisis, I am at my best. I see a little more clarity and stand a little more prepared for the battle than others, especially when things get a sideways.  I am at my best when things are the worst. Some folks simply have a little more game during these times than others. That is about it. Being a crisis manager is but a small role in any organization.  There are far greater complexities than managing crisis on-going in every institution out there.  I don't put the crisis manager too high on the totem pole, especially when talking about on-going sustainability strategies and board building.  Just don't forget to balance the board with a crisis manager, you got to have that seat filled.
So when the Endangered Wolf Center folks looked to me to get involved, while reluctant to commit, I took a seat on the board and I had no idea what was coming.  On Monday we received our continued accreditation from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.  This was a culminating endeavor that, should we not have retained it, we might not have had much of a future.  On September 28th we close on the land that we purchased years ago in order to move the center to a new location.  A perfect storm left us without the funds to continue to pay and the move never occurred.  By selling this piece of land, our organization will be left un-encumbered--a situation that was most certainly a crisis.  We were actually able to preserve that land by doing so, by gettin the right people involved.  Becoming transparent about our crisis time, an special donar stepped up and saved the center from closing.  Just like that we are stable and out of crisis.  What great fodder to write about. 

I want to thank my team.  They know who they are.  It is everyone really.  Everyone who never gave up hope and helped create the plan.  This is how we get through crisis, a combination of hope, planning, transparency and perspective.  What a journey this has been.  Tonight we celebrate conservation at The Wolf Public House to identify a few people responsible for stabilizing a 40 year institution.  Cheers!

No comments: