Episode 101

October 15, 2023


Episode 101 - 7 Lessons in 7 Years with Forrest Alton

Hosted by

Patrick Jinks, PhD, BCC
Episode 101 - 7 Lessons in 7 Years with Forrest Alton
The Leadership Window
Episode 101 - 7 Lessons in 7 Years with Forrest Alton

Oct 15 2023 | 01:02:52


Show Notes

Patrick catches up with colleague Forrest Alton from 1000 Feathers Consulting, as Forrest celebrates a 7-year business milestone by sharing some key lessons learned about the work of creating social impact.

After spending nearly ten years as the CEO of a highly successful nonprofit organization, Forrest stepped down in 2016 to launch 1000 Feathers and has since focused his energy on transforming the work of the social service sector to be better equipped to handle the ever-expanding needs of communities and the people who live in them: posing the difficult questions needed to prompt innovation and transformation, helping organizations think and act more strategically, and encouraging big, bold, courageous conversations at all levels of communities.

A dynamic and inspirational leader, Forrest has developed a contagious energy for disrupting the status quo. He has become a frequently sought-after speaker for conferences and events and is a respected voice on topics related to adolescent health, nonprofit leadership, and community engagement. During his tenure as the CEO of the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (now Fact Forward), the organization experienced unprecedented growth and success and became widely recognized as a national leader. That doesn’t happen via random chance – especially on such a contentious issue in a conservative, southern state. It happens because of strong vision, strategic thinking, bold leadership, and certainly a little luck.

The State newspaper has previously recognized him as one of South Carolina’s “20-under-40 emerging leaders” and by the Free Times as one of the “50 Most Influential People in Columbia.” Although he is no longer under 40 nor a resident of Columbia, Forrest is still a Riley Institute Leadership Fellow, a Liberty Fellow, and a member of the Aspen Institute’s Global Leadership Network—a worldwide community of high-integrity, entrepreneurial leaders from business, government and the nonprofit sector representing more than 50 countries.

Forrest currently serves in leadership roles on the boards of Power to Decide and Mainsail, a nonprofit formed to support the charitable mission of the Medical University of South Carolina. He is a past board chair of Together SC—South Carolina’s nonprofit membership organization, and also previously served on the board of the University of South Carolina’s Alumni Association.

He earned his Master of Public Health from the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, where he has been recognized with a Young Alumnus of the Year award (2011), and received his Bachelor of Science from Coastal Carolina University, where he has also been named a Distinguished Alumnus (2009).

Forrest and his wife, Dr. Heather Brandt, have recently relocated to Memphis, TN, and have added a puppy to the family, appropriately named Elvis.

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Episode Transcript

Patrick: All right, we are officially into our second century of episodes. We're past 100. This is episode 101, so we enter into a new era. The first podcast under our new company brand, the leaders perspective, the Jinx perspective has become the leader's perspective. And all I'm going to say is go back to episode 100 and you'll hear all about that. Today is not about me, though. This is a great episode because if you go all the way back to episode five, three years ago, we were, I guess, right in the heart of COVID still October of 2020, actually. My good friend and colleague Forest Alton from 1000 Feathers was on the show and he's back, only this time he's here in the studio, the home studio with us and just traveling all over the place and coming through here. I don't even know why he's here in Columbia. I don't think it's to come onto my podcast and headed to Charlote from here and all over the place, based in Memphis. Now we'll have him catch us up a little bit, but Forest is when I got to Columbia, South Carolina, in 2015, I was working my first sort of long term contract with my coaching company. And in 2016 is when I really took it full time. We had been six or seven years sort of as a side gig. And in 2016, we took it full time. And if I'm not mistaken, that's right around when 1000 Feathers was formed. [00:02:17] Forrest: It is almost exactly. We turned seven in July. [00:02:22] Patrick: Yeah, so kind of us, too. We're turning 15 this year because again, we were eight year the company has been around. But when we went full time in 2016, there were three or four of us in the state that just found ourselves operating in similar spaces. And because of that, I think we pushed each other and we learned from each other, and we all became good friends and remain so to this day. We've done some collective work, some collective blogging and videoing and stuff back in COVID, helping organizations and ourselves think through you, Forest. You were running the campaign to end teen pregnancy, which is now fact forward here in South Carolina. And just huge success. Made a name for certainly for the organization, because of the success the organization had, the measurable success you had, you made a name for yourself, too, which I think really gave you a great runway into the consulting world. And we came across this well, we came across it. We follow. So and I say we madeline McGee is the president of our state nonprofit association here together, SC and she and I both saw this blog that you put up recently on your website, some new things happening and some new direction for 1000 Feathers. And this blog post that you put was seven things you've learned in the seven years that you've been in the business. And Madeline and I both looked at it and said, this needs to get out in a lot of places because it's lessons learned as an entrepreneur starting out almost as a solopreneur, and now you've got a full team and what you've learned in helping organizations. I read it and it inspired me, and I'm thinking, well, okay, here's one I've learned too. Here's one I haven't learned yet. OOH, I need to learn this one. But anyway, Forrest, thanks for coming on the show and taking the time during your trip here to stop by and have a chat with us about this because I just thought this has to go out first. I wanted to help you celebrate seven years. And I wanted to remind our listeners of this amazing consultancy that you've built, 1000 Feathers. It's first class. It's just first rate, first, it's premium. If you want the real stuff, the good stuff, the sophisticated, these people know what they're doing stuff. Call 1000 feathers. Honestly, just fantastic, fantastic work from anyone I've ever heard. And you can see it if you just look them up, you'll just see it. But thanks for coming on and sharing this with us. I'm anxious to dig into it. But first, catch us. You Memphis. Now. Three years. So how's Memphis and how's the business? What's changed over the last three years since you left South Carolina to catch us up? [00:05:19] Forrest: Wow, it's a great question. First of, really, really glad to be with you in person. As you said, different, isn't it is different. It is different. And that, I suppose, is at the top of a list of things that are different from three years ago. [00:05:37] Patrick: Right. [00:05:38] Forrest: Episode five of this podcast that we recorded in October of 2020, my wife and I had just relocated to Memphis. We still had all of us as a society, lots of questions and uncertainty about a global pandemic and what that was going to mean, not just for our health and well being, but for work and life and all of those things and, boy, lots and lots to think about even in that three years. Right. Not to mention you've done 96 other episodes of this show between when I was on the last time and now. True. [00:06:16] Patrick: Wow. That's true. You got to tell everyone life had to have been different in your household during COVID because of the blonde scientist, for sure. Remind everybody who that is. [00:06:28] Forrest: I am married to the blonde scientist. My wife, Dr. Heather Brandt, was recruited to join the leadership team at St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis. That is the motivation for our move and relocation. You know, that has proven to be a great experience for her and for us. And we're learning to love our new city and still trying to find our way a little bit. Having moved right in the middle of COVID I realize it's a maybe position of privilege to say this, but if you ever have the choice to relocate in a global pandemic, I would advise against it. It's not something I would suggest that people do, but fortunately, we have a really strong base of relationships and partnerships and clients back here in South Carolina. I'm still back here on the East Coast quite a bit. This is one of those trips. I reached out to a few other folks, said, listen, I've got to come in town to be on Patrick's podcast. Are there other things I can do while I'm here? And filled out the week. So glad to make a busy trip. [00:07:38] Patrick: Yeah, very cool. I remember Forrest sitting in a restaurant or a bar downtown with you and your wife and a few other were they consultants or were they people from the was it the Together SC Summit, maybe, that we were at? [00:07:52] Forrest: Oh, wow, that's right. That would have been March of 2020. [00:07:55] Patrick: Yeah. Because I remember for our listeners, forrest's wife yes. Is a doctor and a scientist and happens to live and be an expert around this field of pandemics epidemiology vaccines. [00:08:09] Forrest: Vaccines in particular. [00:08:10] Patrick: Yeah, vaccines in particular. And so I remember we were talking, I was, like, picking her brain. I was going, Should I fly? So do wear a mask right now. And boy, I mean, March of 2020, nobody knew what we knew was the common sense stuff and what the science normally would tell us at a time like this. And then, of course, things changed and got confusing, and everybody knows what happened over a couple of years of what do we do? But I remember that conversation. [00:08:38] Forrest: Yeah, for sure. It's interesting. And I'll give you a full circle moment. Not shouting out the restaurant, no free promos here, but the bar where we had that conversation that you're mentioning, I had lunch there today. That is a true story. [00:08:56] Patrick: Okay, what's the name of the place? [00:08:58] Forrest: Hampton street vineyards downtown. Yeah, that's right. [00:09:01] Patrick: Yeah. [00:09:02] Forrest: The conference was at the Marriott, I think it's right across the street. And that's where we were then, and it's where I had lunch today. [00:09:08] Patrick: All right. It's a good place. Free plum. They just got a free plug. There you go. It was good. And it was good enough for you to go back. [00:09:13] Forrest: Exactly. [00:09:14] Patrick: Forrest, you tell us a little bit real quickly, remind our listeners the kind of work you do. What is 1000 Feathers all about? [00:09:23] Forrest: Yeah, good question. And seven years later, we're on a journey just like anyone else, trying to figure that out. And I think it's part of this sort of larger dialogue we'll have today around seven lessons for seven years sort of being more comfortable, becoming more comfortable in our own skin. We have really locked on to the statement or description transformation, not transaction as part of a descriptor of who we are. That is a sort of shorthand way of articulating our vision and mission which were just recently updated. Our vision is that all communities and the people who live in them have the strength, resiliency and ability to reach their full potential. The strength, resiliency and ability to reach their full potential. Our mission or our charge then as a consulting firm is to work solely in the transformation space with organizations, coalitions and systems. And I'll tell you that we do our best work and frankly do most of our work these days with coalitions, communities and systems. It's pretty rare that we are in a one to one consultancy to organization. [00:10:46] Patrick: Relationship and that's changed in seven years. [00:10:48] Forrest: That has changed a lot in seven years. And that's not to say we don't do any of it, but it is not the majority of our work by any means. [00:10:55] Patrick: Yeah, our last conversation in person was at also another together SC summit last year I think it was. And you were telling me about that move and that transition for 1000 feathers to more of a systems look at thing. You just said something I hadn't really thought about and I appreciate this. Your vision statement is a community vision statement that sounds like some nonprofit might have. Our vision at the leader's perspective is more of a sector vision for the businesses though. It's a faster, more agile nonprofit sector for the businesses. I really love that your vision is about the people in the communities. It's even beyond the, quote, clients that you're working with. That's true mission bent right there. I just want to acknowledge that. [00:11:45] Forrest: Well, I appreciate you lifting that up and excuse me, it took us a while to get there, right? And it took some courageous conversations within our own, you know, I'll tell you that a lot of this framing came from and even recently our team member who, you know, Casey Banks pushing us recently in a sort of internal training, right? We take a lot of our own medicine, capacity building and training for our own selves and she has really pushed us recently to think about this question and it might be one that we can banter about a little bit here. Patrick, the question was what do we want to be known for? And I have to tell you, it really stopped me in my you know, again if I unpack it a little bit and we can talk more about it. I didn't want to be known for being the best trainer or facilitating the best board retreat or having the best design strategic plan. Right. Those things are great and it's nice to have that skill set as part of your repertoire, but it is not what I wanted to be known for. What we wanted to be known for is that a community, a coalition, a system, an organization is better because we spent time with them. And once we started saying that out loud, a lot of these other things started to fall in place. [00:13:17] Patrick: Yeah, there's nothing and you'll relate to this. There's nothing like having an organization reach out two to three years beyond an engagement and say you just wouldn't believe exactly. You just wouldn't believe what we've done. And how you really unlocked exactly. My version of that is being known for helping people get unstuck and unlock potential. And that's what it is. And, you know, you've made it wasn't, you know, Forrest did our strategic plan three years ago. Let's get someone else this time and let's build another. [00:13:53] Forrest: But so so play that forward into what you picked up on, rightfully so, about the vision statement again, for us, it wasn't just about then making an organization better or a coalition of organizations better. It was, what impact are they going to have on communities and the people who live in them? [00:14:11] Patrick: The end game. [00:14:12] Forrest: And that was a natural extension for us then. I love it to declare that as our sort of shared vision almost now with many of our clients. Right. [00:14:20] Patrick: I love it. And I think that another word that both of us use a lot. And I know this is true and has become more deeply, so true for 1000 Feathers is the idea of partnership. And when you're partnering with your clients and their partners more than clients correct. That vision is shared. It's to the end game. Awesome stuff. Okay, let's get to it. You talked about seven things. I know there's more than seven, but you held up seven things that you felt like. Well, you and Heather together wrote this article about seven things you've learned in seven years. And I just want to walk us through it. We probably could spend an hour on each of them, but we don't have that, obviously. So just touch on these things and walk us through what you learned. [00:15:08] Forrest: Yeah. So the first one I mentioned just a few minutes ago is this concept of transformation, not transaction. Right. And when we started this firm seven years ago, I sort of mistakenly believed that part of being a consultant was finding as many clients as you could and producing as many things as you could and getting on to the next engagement and sort of churning out products, churning out things, churning out reports, or whatever it was. And boy, did we do a lot of that in the early days. A lot of it. And still get plenty of phone calls asking us to do those things. Yeah. And to be clear, we still do them occasionally, but as a means to a greater end. Right. So we need a new strategic plan okay, and then what? Right. Or we need help with a community assessment. Okay, and then what are we going to do with it? And changing our frame into this mode of playing the conversation forward, right? We're not here. We don't do our best work when we enter the room, complete a transaction, leave the room. We do our best work in transformational settings where there's a little bit of a long game here, right. And there's more of a journey where we're learning and growing and working together and frankly, producing change and centering that level of impact as opposed to the product, right. Thinking about a level of change and impact. And again, that line of sight and that change for us has altered how we view every interaction that we have. [00:16:59] Patrick: I have to say, this just all rings a bell. We're on the exact same journey. Forest and you think back and you go, man, I wish this had been the approach from the beginning. This makes so much sense. How did I miss this? But the reality is you have to kind of go through the building and the foundation setting and our own skill building of facilitating and synthesizing and coaching and consulting to the point where we realize we get into this work and we realize, oh, there's so much more that's right. That they need to be honest. [00:17:37] Forrest: That's right. [00:17:37] Patrick: Or that they could use to really because, man, they've got the there's so much more we could do. And I just got to say ours is exactly the same way. We've moved more toward we started out calling it sort of almost a retainer based kind of relationship, where now more of ours is in the leadership space and leadership coaching and executive coaching. And what happens is when you're a year or two into deep engagement with an organization and they come back and say, we are seeing the difference on the ground, right. Then you're like, Why wasn't I always. [00:18:14] Forrest: Doing yeah, well, so I'll say two things about that, and we may prove you right here that we could spend an hour on this first point, which I'm okay with, by the way, but two comments in response to what you just said. The first is that often this level of transaction is what I refer to as the portal of entry. In other words, it doesn't matter how many times we've tried to reframe the conversation, how many times we've tried to say transformation, not transaction 75%. I'm sort of making up that number, but not really. Three quarters of the calls that we get are about somebody asking if we can help them complete a transaction. [00:18:57] Patrick: Yeah, that's right. Or maybe it's the 80 20 rule, something of that. But you're right. It's a gateway. [00:19:02] Forrest: It is a gateway. And we have to be strategic, no pun intended, in evaluating that opportunity to say, is this transaction, does this transaction have the potential to lead to something else, and some do and some don't. Right. And so, again, as a firm, that's a place in a space that's a little messy, and some of it is this highly scientific gut feeling. [00:19:31] Patrick: Sounds a lot like our fundraising days, doesn't it? Yeah, sure does. Volunteerism is a gateway to giving. [00:19:38] Forrest: Right. [00:19:39] Patrick: That first gift of $100 that someone gives in response to some letter you wrote them, if you cultivate it right. That can turn into a lifetime value of a donor. That turns into a planned gift one day that funds your stuff. [00:19:52] Forrest: That's right. [00:19:53] Patrick: The same thing applies. It's really understanding that. And it's amazing how long it's taken me to apply some of the things I learned in the sector to this work, because there's so many of them are the same. [00:20:04] Forrest: So that's the first point I would make. The second one just quickly, for any other consultants or, frankly, business owners that are listening, is we didn't just grab this approach out of the sky. Right. It took us seven years. I wish it didn't take that long, but it took us seven years to figure this out. And we utilized data in a way to make this decision. And when I say data in a way, I don't want to overstate the analytics here, but we took a look back at six years of engagements with clients and asked ourselves two questions. Which engagements did we perform the best on and which engagements made us feel the best? And those are two different questions, right. Because you could have a good outcome. Again, we produced a bang up strategic plan, but it just didn't feel right. We left the room knowing they weren't going to do anything with it. We did our job right. We succeeded. So how well did we perform and how did it make us feel? And we then started really looking for, are there common characteristics of the client and partner engagements that both allowed us to perform at the highest level and feel really good about it? And that's how we got here. [00:21:34] Patrick: How much was that overlap? [00:21:37] Forrest: Boy, it's a good question. Let me say this. By the time we went through that exercise, the common characteristics were very, very clear. Right. We didn't have to go dig too far. It was pretty clear that this collection of engagements had some really similar characteristics. And those wouldn't surprise you. Right? [00:21:59] Patrick: Right. [00:21:59] Forrest: Strong leadership, people who were willing to go on a journey with us. Right. So even if the engagement started in a transactional way, it didn't end that way. Right. Those sort of things, yeah. [00:22:14] Patrick: They weren't in a hurry. Exactly. They weren't focused on doing it on the cheap. [00:22:17] Forrest: Exactly. [00:22:18] Patrick: They weren't just fulfilling a grant requirement. Exactly. Yeah. That would be all right. Mental note. [00:22:26] Forrest: Yeah, it's a good analysis. It was an interesting exercise for us, for sure. [00:22:30] Patrick: So this falls under the relationships matter piece and talk a little bit more I want to hear you say a little bit more about how the relationship relates to what you just said because, okay, did we do a good job and produce a good product? And did we feel good about it? Tell me where relationship fits into that. [00:22:59] Forrest: Yeah, it's a good question. I maybe hadn't thought of it in exactly that context, but relationship and relationship building certainly has a connection to longevity. Right. Again, it's difficult to create a deep, meaningful relationship in a one day board retreat, for example. [00:23:22] Patrick: Right. [00:23:23] Forrest: As opposed to, we're going to be on a journey with this organization over the next 6912 months. And yeah, that might include a board retreat. It might even include a strategic plan, but there's more to it. And again, even in the I'm sort of using this as a microcosm, but even in the board retreat setting, when we have worked with that organization, even in the past, a year ago, we worked with them, and then we worked again with them two years prior to that. And we come into the room and we understand who you are, where you're coming from, what you believe in, what drives you, these sort of things. Now we're working with you, right. When I don't have that relationship, when I don't have that understanding, when I don't have any depth to our relationship, now I'm working for you. [00:24:12] Patrick: Yeah, I totally get it. Boy, we're really tracking on this. And I don't know, maybe this is the direction just everyone is more aware of how important this is. I wonder how much COVID had to do with that. I mean, we lost so much connection. I don't care about Zoom and any of this. That was all wonderful. We lost an immeasurable amount of human connection over the last three years. We have not recovered it. I don't know how we're going to recover it, if we'll ever recover it. But that connection, which I relate a lot to, relationship, to me, it's more important than ever now, I think. [00:24:59] Forrest: That's right. And again, to just sort of extend that thought. Right. From relationships comes trust, or from trust comes relationships. I suppose you could argue it either way, but if we build relationships, presumably we're building trust along the way. The other thing that allows us to do is to take a little risk, to be a little bit more courageous, to push just a little bit harder. Right. We just started a new engagement recently, and we were in the first meeting, and know won't go through the entire conversation, but this is true story. The client stopped me in the middle of the meeting, in the middle of something I was saying, and he said, Forrest, I hired you because I trust you and I need you to tell me the truth. And it stopped me in my tracks. And I thought, my God, am I just giving this guy consultant speak? I need to tell him the truth. And I said, okay, buckle up, here we go. We're going to dive in. But that was one of those moments that, again, is a reminder about relationships, right? Like we had a relationship, there was some trust, there were some hard conversations that needed to be had. And the sequence of relationship and trust and the ability to be courageous and take risk is why we were at the table. [00:26:27] Patrick: Well, trust is like compound interest. It is amazing because his comment to you, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it made your trust in him grow, for sure. So he's extending trust to you, which, by the way, one of Covey's behaviors to drive trust is to extend it. [00:26:50] Forrest: Right. [00:26:50] Patrick: He extended it to you. And I bet immediately you trusted him more in that the authenticity and the motive and the ability to go through that partnership. [00:27:01] Forrest: Great point. [00:27:02] Patrick: I love that. Your third one got me a little bit. I'm really looking forward to hearing more about this one because your third lesson was that proximity matters more. And when I hear the word proximity, I think nearness. And so most of the time proximity is used, it's used geographically. I could think about proximity in terms of, again, are we having a zoom meeting or are we in the room with you? But you framed it differently than I think maybe I've heard proximity framed before and it piqued my interest. So say more about this one. [00:27:37] Forrest: Well, first of all, it ties directly back to what you picked up on about our vision. Right. That ultimately our vision is that communities and the people who live in them have the strength, resiliency, and ability to reach their full potential. And so in context here, when we're using the word proximity, it's also about making sure that our organizational partners are getting out of their office and out of their boardroom, right. Making sure that we are engaging those who are most proximate, as it were, to the issue. And in fairness and disclosure, this is a term that we borrowed from Bryden Stevenson. And the Brian Stevenson quote is, if you are willing to get proximate to those who are suffering, you will find the power to change the world. [00:28:27] Patrick: Yeah. And this is where you use the word lived experience. [00:28:31] Forrest: Right? [00:28:31] Patrick: And are we listening to that and do we even know anything about that? Or are we just a bunch of bureaucrats in a room who know how to frame a SWOT analysis 100%? [00:28:42] Forrest: And again, this has become one of our core beliefs. Core promises, as it were, to those that we work with, is that we are going to push people to get proximate and make sure that in the process of learning and understanding about issues and about community, that we are listening to lifting up elevating a wide variety of voices and making sure that we are honoring the voices and opinions of those who are again most proximate to the issues of interest. [00:29:16] Patrick: Yeah. And let me say another thing that inspires me about this, Forrest, is the words we promise. We've talked charles Weathers is a mutual friend and colleague of ours and talks about his VIP organizations, the values in practice, and we spend a lot of time on this, too. I was with a team yesterday working, building a culture map inside an organizational culture map and figuring out not what are the words like honesty and transparency and integrity and customer centric and all. Not a bullet listing of all those givens. [00:29:51] Forrest: Right. [00:29:52] Patrick: But a real rulebook. I like the way you frame this because it doesn't just say most value statements, even the good ones, will say, we always listen. We value, elevate and engage a wide variety. You said, we promise to do that. That's a trust building phrase right there. And it also puts it out there and puts a lot of accountability on you to fulfill that. I love the phrase we promise. [00:30:21] Forrest: I appreciate that. And again, when we went through this, it wasn't a rebrand for us necessarily. Congratulations on your rebrand, by the way. Thank you. It was not a rebrand, but more of a sort of reintroduction or restatement of who we are. And part of that was the updated vision statement, the updated mission statement. And then again, if we were following the traditional sort of nonprofit trendline here, it would have been creation of a vision, then a mission, then our values. And as we were going through the values exercise internally, it didn't feel right. And we went from values or is it core beliefs or is it what is it? And we landed on this framing of promises. And on our website, it says something to the effect of if you choose 1000 Feathers as your consultant of choice, we promise to be I love it. Right. And then articulate those further. [00:31:19] Patrick: I love it. We always talk to our organizations about making sure everything they're doing is aligned with the mission. [00:31:26] Forrest: Right. [00:31:26] Patrick: In this case, it's make sure that you're aligning your behaviors with your promises. You have to remind yourself of those. [00:31:33] Forrest: We sure do. [00:31:34] Patrick: Because they'll remind you if you don't. [00:31:35] Forrest: That's right. [00:31:37] Patrick: Number four, data. [00:31:40] Forrest: Plenty we could talk about here. [00:31:42] Patrick: For sure. [00:31:44] Forrest: We chose the frame here in our seven lessons that data are necessary but also insufficient. Right. And this comes from lessons we've all collectively learned that many organizations aren't going to fight you on the you should collect data or information, but many of them are stuck to use the word you used earlier right. And have no idea what to do with it. We were working with an organization not too long ago on sort of reframing their organizational culture. And one of the things that came up as a suggestion from staff as we were going. Through the process of staff interviews and a staff survey and all the things you might do. Somebody said sort of in passing, hey, why don't you check out the exit interviews? I said, that's a great idea. We went to the HR department and said, how about the exit interviews? Could we take a look at those? Oh, yeah, I'm sure they're somewhere. And I said, well, do you do them? And she said, oh yeah, every time somebody leaves. And I said, well, has anybody ever read one? And she said, I'm actually not sure. [00:33:04] Patrick: Right. [00:33:06] Forrest: So this idea that having data or collecting data is critically important, but if we're not actually using it, right. Our team talks a lot about sort of the muscle memory and equipping people to have the skills to make data driven decisions. That's a level up. [00:33:32] Patrick: A buz phrase, by the way. [00:33:33] Forrest: It is indeed, but it's also a level up. But it's real from just saying, you should collect more data. Right. You should do another focus group, please know. Right. You should really dive in and see if you can understand and make sense of the data you already have. And what sort of skills do we need within an organization to really use data and research and connect that information to meaningful change? Right. And again, building the muscle memory that that becomes part of who we are. [00:34:09] Patrick: Yeah. I was working with a national organization in Salt Lake, and one of their value statements that they came up with when we were going through a pretty deep dive was, we will make our decisions informed by credible data, not by assumptions and emotions. [00:34:29] Forrest: I like that a lot. [00:34:31] Patrick: But that takes us to the second half of this, which is also insufficient. [00:34:38] Forrest: Yeah. [00:34:39] Patrick: So, yeah, sure, we make our decisions based on informed, credible data rather than assumptions and emotions, but at least quantitative data or something that's so concrete is just not always there. [00:34:55] Forrest: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. And so often we are engaged with organizations and coalitions and systems that are connected to social service issues. [00:35:09] Patrick: Right. [00:35:10] Forrest: And they may be looking at quantitative data that's two, three years old or declaring or coming up with outcomes that they're not going to know if they reached for another ten years. Right. So what else do we have at our disposal? And again, that might be more qualitative information, more storytelling, more datability? Of course it is. [00:35:31] Patrick: That's all data. [00:35:32] Forrest: Of course it is. Yeah, it's all data. It's all necessary. But again, this idea that simply having access to it is only one step in the journey, as it were, you. [00:35:44] Patrick: Have probably found this. All the organizations that you and I are both working with have diversity, equity, and inclusion on their radar, and some of them very deeply in their DNA, and some of them were supposed to have it. Right. I'm not a dei expert, but I found myself having to help organizations come up with some framework because every single one of them are going, what about dei? What about dei? So I came up with molly Metz helped me with this at the Mary Black Foundation. I know you've worked with them, and you know them well. Molly helped me come up with this because they're doing incredible work on equity and health equity. And I ended up coming up with a 5D framework. I do simple stuff for us. [00:36:36] Forrest: No, I listen. What would we be as consultants without four P's and three C's and five DS? [00:36:42] Patrick: Yeah, well, mine's always five, but the first D for me, so I'll have organizations go, well, we really want to make sure dei is a part of this plan. Okay. Tell me what that means. So the first D is define it. What is diversity? Do you know what equity actually is? Has your organization had a conversation about what inclusion is? Have you defined it? The second D is and people look at me funny when I ask them this question. Okay, good. You've got the defined terms. What does your data tell you? What do you mean? Is your data telling you that you need to do more dei work? [00:37:22] Forrest: Right. [00:37:23] Patrick: Probably. Where your board matrix, your third grade reading gap in your community? What does the data say about dei work for you? Because everybody might have a different focal point for applying dei. Of course it's a thread. It should be everywhere. But what does the data tell you? And they don't get to the other three DS until they get to what are we even working on that we can move a needle on? [00:37:54] Forrest: Yeah. And to that point, so often the data that are collected either haven't been or we aren't able to disaggregate, we aren't able to look at in any sort of sophisticated way and make some conclusions in this space that you're talking about specifically and whether that's community outcomes, whether that's internal, whether that's right. I mean, go back to this example I gave about the exit interviews, right? This isn't a dei disaggregation, necessarily, but you'll love this. So we get access to the exit interviews. There are 50 some of them. This is an organization that had had three different executives over the last ten or twelve years, and it was obvious to us, but apparently to nobody else. Well, we should disaggregate these data based on when the exit interview occurred and sort of who was the leader at that time. Right. They had been doing exit interviews for ten years and had all of these questions on the exit interview, every question except the date, so we couldn't make any connection at all. Right. So again, this is what gets into this insufficient piece. Right. What are we doing with these data once we have them? And far too often the answer is very little, if anything at all. [00:39:24] Patrick: I walked into my first United way executive directorship, a small, united way, about a million dollar budget and very traditional old school Federated fundraiser, right. 25 member agencies that got the money every year, right? And I'm learning my way around the office, and I said, what's this four drawer filing cabinet right here? What's in this? And she said, oh, those are the financial with the monthly financial reports from the agencies. I said, really? They send us monthly financial reports? Yeah, that's part of the requirement. For them to get funding, they have to send us every month, they have to send us their financial statements. I said, what happens to them? And she looked at me, and she looked back at the drawer, and she looked back at me, and she goes they go in there. [00:40:11] Forrest: Yeah, I just told you what happens. They go in the drawer, and I'm. [00:40:15] Patrick: Like, let's get rid of that requirement. What are we doing here? So, yeah, it's this idea that we need to collect data so that we can say we collected it. [00:40:25] Forrest: Yeah. Melissa Strompolis, another just outstanding member of our team, says all the time, don't collect these data if you're not going to do anything with them. [00:40:38] Patrick: Exactly. [00:40:38] Forrest: Scrap this question, scrap this instrument, scrap survey, scrap this whatever. What do you think is going to happen? Or what are you going to do differently based on the information we will get from this thing, this question, this entire instrument, this entire effort, and that is, again, much like as you were walking through your model earlier, when people get stuck on that question, we know they're not ready to proceed with the rest of the conversation. [00:41:08] Patrick: You can't go to the next step, right. By the way, if you want the other three DS, go back to episode four when Molly was on the show. [00:41:14] Forrest: Perfect. [00:41:16] Patrick: Okay, number five. I love this one. Yeah. We've all learned this one disruption is part of the journey, for sure. I have a wild guess as to what brought that one about. [00:41:29] Forrest: Right. For a consultancy and a small business, as it were, that has just recently turned seven years old. We recognize that there was a global pandemic smack in the middle of you know what is interesting, Patrick, in so much of our work and I'm sure so much of yours, that we've realized is that obviously was a significant, major disruption. But the truth about disruption is that organizations experience it more as a sort of small drip, drip, drip, drip, right? This year's, 5% budget cut, that's a disruption. Maybe we maybe don't categorize it as such, but then next year is 3%, and then the year after that, it's 2%, and then the next year it's 5%. [00:42:23] Patrick: Drip, drip, drip. [00:42:26] Forrest: We've had two or three staff who have left recently. That's a disruption, right? Every time we have turnover on our teams, all of these sorts of things. [00:42:37] Patrick: The printer went down exactly. On the day we're doing a direct mailing. [00:42:41] Forrest: Exactly. [00:42:42] Patrick: Someone asked me yesterday we were doing some culture work, and one of the questions was, how do we handle crisis? And one of the staff looked at me and said, okay, so on this question, just for clarity, are we talking about pandemic crisis or are we talking about someone didn't come to work today crisis? And I said, what's the difference? How does this organization approach crisis? [00:43:08] Forrest: And I think as we were putting this blog together initially, there may be not perfect synonyms, but crisis and disruption could probably be used interchangeably here. And part of our point in putting this in, one of our lessons was, it doesn't matter how hard you try to avoid disruptions, they are a natural part of life and work. Subsequently, don't put all of your energy in trying to avoid the disruption. Put some more energy into the question you just asked, are we prepared to and or how will we handle the disruption when it comes? [00:43:48] Patrick: Right. [00:43:49] Forrest: Because the question is not if it comes, the question is when it comes. [00:43:53] Patrick: All day, every day. [00:43:54] Forrest: Exactly. [00:43:56] Patrick: Here's what I've learned along the way, and I've thought of this, actually, in this framework for a long time. We talk about change and adapting to change. We all have to adapt to change, which is this disruption. We also have to create disruption, for sure. We have to get intentional and proactive about there are times it's not about responding to change, it's about being the ones creating it. And change is scary enough for people. When you say disruption, that's even scarier, for sure. But we have to disrupt. I mean, look, we won't go into it, but there's all the stories, right? All the big global brands, and there's so many stories of disruption. We could talk Elon Musk, we could talk Henry Ford, but disruption changes the game, and sometimes it's got to get changed. Simon Sinek's, one of his latest books I don't know if it's his latest one, but The Infinite Game, you read that? I have, yeah. The existential flex that we got to change before change is needed. Otherwise we're going to be reacting to some change and we're going to be behind, we're going to be kodak, blockbuster, whatever, name your analogy. Right. So sometimes we have to create the disruption, which is a part of the journey, just like dealing with it and facing it. [00:45:14] Forrest: I think that's exactly right, Patrick. It's really well said. And again, recognizing that that disruption is a part of the natural evolution then prepares you or sets you in the right mindset of whether it's I need to handle one that I didn't predict, or whether it's I've created one of my own and I didn't even know it. Yeah, maybe. Right. But if we're in a mode of avoiding disruption, the sort of things that happen are we keep problematic employees around too long. We keep partners in the community that aren't holding up their end of the bargain. [00:45:58] Patrick: Mute your speakers, friends. Mute your speakers. [00:46:00] Forrest: Yeah, right. [00:46:01] Patrick: Truth coming. [00:46:02] Forrest: Yeah, truth incoming. But that part of that, at least, is a mental model of avoiding disruption. [00:46:10] Patrick: That's right. [00:46:11] Forrest: Or avoiding discomfort. Right. And so this sort of mental model that disruption is part of the business, I think does matter in all directions. [00:46:20] Patrick: Yeah. Good stuff. Collaboration and partnership are keys to our success. So before you dive into this one, let me just tell you, and I don't mean to insult you on this everybody says that, right? [00:46:35] Forrest: For sure. [00:46:36] Patrick: All right, everybody, 100%. Collaboration and partnership are the keys. But I'm really looking forward to hear you say how you've learned. This is a lesson learned for you in seven years. So how did you learn that lesson? [00:46:49] Forrest: Yeah, first of all, good observation. This is maybe, on its face, the least provocative of the seven lessons we put out. [00:47:02] Patrick: No, it's just the most familiar. [00:47:03] Forrest: Well, in terms of its yeah, that could also be. But I'll tell you, the construct here or the frame that we used to elevate this as one of our lessons is thinking about our relationship, quite frankly, with people like you and like Charles Weathers and like other consultants. Not just in South Carolina, but around the country. And our comfort and confidence in our own skin to say we are better when we collaborate and partner with others in this space. My guess is, and again, I realize you have a broader audience here than South Carolina, but if there's a South Carolina nonprofit listening, their first inclination is probably to think, oh, Forrest and Patrick are competitors at some level. And it really for us was removing that layer of doubt and saying, you don't even need to think about that question anymore because I'm going to lift the good folks around us up as our partners and our collaborators. Not only are we going to lift up those partnerships and collaborations, but we are going to say they are key to our success and we are going to be comfortable enough to admit the things we don't know or don't do well and use those folks as part of a referral network, part of a better system, part of a belief that there is a lot of work to be done and we can go further together. We can have more of an impact together. Right. Again, is not just something we say. It's something we believe. And it does occasionally freak people out, I'll tell you. Right. I mean, again, when you don't just say it and you mean it, that. [00:48:52] Patrick: Does people look people raise an eyebrow. [00:48:56] Forrest: People raise an eyebrow like, oh, you mean that? [00:48:59] Patrick: Yeah. [00:49:01] Forrest: And again, it's not uncommon for our phone to ring or for somebody to send an inquiry through our website and we say we're not the right firm for that. But let me tell you who absolutely. [00:49:17] Patrick: Rewind four minutes and listen to that whole sequence again, that was really rich because we feel threatened by hilde Gottlieb was a nonprofit consultant based out of Tucson when I was at, again, my small United Way. And she now leads an organization called Creating the Future. And she's actually helping now that I'm thinking about it. You should be a part of that. I need to get you in that because it's somewhat a family of consultants in our space about how we're creating your vision, actually. How have I never hooked you into this? But anyway, Hilde came to Danville, Virginia one year. We were working with we had a little funders forum, the United Way, the community foundation there, and a hospital conversion foundation, a regional foundation that had really big money. And she came to do some consulting work with us around how we can work as a funders forum. And she said, do you ask your nonprofits to collaborate? Do you ever do that? We're like, yeah, all the time. Do you do collaborative grants? A couple of us were like, yeah, we encourage them to. And she goes, okay, so why is it we ask we as funders keep telling our fundees, collaborate, collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. You're not in competition. And yet as funders, we compete with each other because we don't want to share data with each other. We want credit for the workshop we sponsored and funded. We want to say we funded this great initiative because we want credit. Why? Because we want donors too. And even if we don't need donors like the regional foundation that just doesn't live off of donations. They still need community credibility and all of that. So that collaboration piece, like you said, when they raise an eyebrow, this nonprofit calls me up and wants to, I don't know, sure they got some game going on. [00:51:33] Forrest: Yeah, no, that's exactly right. That's exactly right. Excuse me. Again, in this sort of on the ground view, again, we spend so much of our time entrenched in social service issues. Think homelessness, early childhood education, teen pregnancy prevention, the cradle to career pipeline. Right. And sort of walk into a community and recognize right away that certainly no single agency, but also, to your point, probably no single funder has the bandwidth, resources, capability to take on these issues. And so if we are not genuine about our willingness and ability to partner and collaborate, we're just going to continue to fall flat. [00:52:24] Patrick: Yeah. Good stuff. Last lesson. And I love this one. This might be my favorite. Okay. All right. Less is more. [00:52:33] Forrest: Yeah. [00:52:34] Patrick: What's the learning behind that for you? [00:52:36] Forrest: Well, again, for us, and I gave a little insight to this several minutes ago when I said we went through and really did a sort of evaluation of our past engagements. We wanted to try to figure out if we could come up with a set of sort variables, as it were. Right. That when a request comes in, how do we sort through it and know if it's something we're going to say yes to or not? What are the sort of criteria, what are the things we're talking about that are going to allow us to make a decision? Yes or no? Are we going to be involved? And do we have the comfort and the confidence to be able to say no to some things so that we can focus on the opportunity? [00:53:27] Patrick: But for us, there's a grant for it. [00:53:29] Forrest: I know, but again, it was a real sort of freeing moment, right, to even start saying this to our team, like, focus on the place where we can work at our optimal level, where do we work the best, where do we feel the best? Go do more of that and let everything else go. And it's the second part of that statement that we so often forget. [00:53:58] Patrick: Horrible in the sector, right? [00:53:59] Forrest: Horrible. [00:54:00] Patrick: We can't let anything go. [00:54:01] Forrest: We can't. We can't let anything go. We can't let the four drawer filing cabinet you mentioned earlier go sacred. We can't let the program that somebody started ten years ago and we're not even sure if anybody still participates or not, but my goodness, we've got to. [00:54:17] Patrick: We can't let the staff person go. We can't let the board member go. [00:54:21] Forrest: Yeah, there is a lot here, right? And again, this sort of comfort, though, that we fall into, and I think that part of not letting go and not saying no is just sort of we've let comfort become complacency, right? And it's always been that way and that's the way it's going to be. And we wanted, again, think of these seven lessons as sort of concentric circles. This less is more. Part of that is also disruption, right? Like, it is a disruption to say, we're going to let that go. [00:55:03] Patrick: Oh, absolutely. [00:55:04] Forrest: Right. Or we're going to say no to that opportunity that doesn't fit, or we're not the right person for that, but we have partners who are, right? All of these thoughts are connected, but again, it's a reminder to us and to our partners and colleagues and friends in the field and otherwise, it does take courage and discipline to say no to opportunities. [00:55:30] Patrick: One of my mentors years ago said this, and I've used it a billion times in board meetings. Strategy is as much about deciding what not to do as it is what to do for sure. And everything comes with a trade off. That's economics 101. I think it's the first line in any textbook you get, right? Everything comes with a trade off, and we don't want to make those trade offs. How many board meetings have you been in? Board retreats where the strategic intentions are, we want to expand our footprint. We want to add a mental health service or this service or that service. We want to update our technology. We want to sophisticate our marketing efforts. And I go, okay, so what's going to give here? Because everybody I've talked to in your organization talks about how stretched you are. You can't take on one more thing. So what, are you going to let go? Right. Well, we can't let go of any of it. [00:56:23] Forrest: Yeah. Or we hadn't even thought about that. [00:56:25] Patrick: All right, well, then where's the windfall coming from? To exactly fund all of this and to support all of this from a structure standpoint? And here's the other thing about less is more. You've seen our brand construct, clarity, simplicity, alignment. There's nothing harder than the work these organizations are doing. [00:56:44] Forrest: That's right. [00:56:45] Patrick: There's nothing more complicated, more complex. Rocket science literally is not as complicated. It's not because it's not as layered. [00:56:52] Forrest: Yeah. [00:56:53] Patrick: And I could go back real quickly. I'll just say years ago, there was an NPR show, Morning Edition or Fresh Air or one of those, I forget which one it was, where they were talking about the hardest job in the world. And they literally had on the program a neurosurgeon from Johns Hopkins and a nuclear engineer at McDonald Douglas, talking about brain surgery and rocket science, because those are the things we say. It's not brain surgery. [00:57:22] Forrest: Surgery. Right. [00:57:22] Patrick: So they asked the brain surgeon and the rocket scientist, what do you say when you and your colleagues are working on the difficult situation and you think, well, we ought to be able to solve this after all? And I think it was the rocket scientist who said it was the nuclear engineer who said, oh, I think, Mike, I don't know about my colleagues, but I'm usually thankful every day that I'm not charged with solving the social ills of the world. [00:57:46] Forrest: Fair enough. [00:57:47] Patrick: So think about that next time you say it's not rocket science and brain surgery. No, it's harder, for sure. So simplicity is absolutely essential in our world because we can't get our head around those layers and those complexities. It's too much to say grace over in a day or a month or a year or a five year strategic planning framework. So how do we at least break it down in a way we could walk out of the room and talk about it and understand it and know that the work we're doing is doing three things, not 300,000 things. [00:58:22] Forrest: Exactly. And more specifically, being excellent at three things as opposed to being mediocre at 300. [00:58:32] Patrick: There you go. That's us, isn't it? It's not just the organizations. We have to remind ourselves of that. [00:58:39] Forrest: It's all of us, personally, professionally, all that so true. [00:58:43] Patrick: Man, these are good. Forest. I really do think we've been on the air for about an hour. Boy, we could have gone, there's so much more. Next time you come back, we'll have to do a part two. [00:58:59] Forrest: Happy to do it. Happy to do it. [00:59:00] Patrick: The next seven lessons you learned in seven months. [00:59:03] Forrest: That's right, exactly. [00:59:04] Patrick: Sure. Yeah, I'm learning a lot. I will say this. When I started this, particularly when we took it full time, around the time that you did, I couldn't wait, Forrest. I was so jazzed about doing my own strategic plan. I was like, I'm doing this for I know how to do this. Can't wait. And man, I built a Jinx perspective. Was going to do. Man, I had it. It was gorgeous. 30 days in, I went, oh, no, wait, I wasn't thinking about that. [00:59:38] Forrest: Right? [00:59:40] Patrick: 90 days in. Oh, no. [00:59:43] Forrest: Okay. No, this is it. [00:59:45] Patrick: A year in. I mean, that has happened so many times for me, and it's now further and further apart when that happens. But boy, the learning of oh, no. And so here's maybe the thing that I've I don't know, I kind of thinking out loud here. This might be the thing I've learned the most. We have to be okay with lots of adapting and fluidity, for sure, and flexibility and agility. We have to be able to do that. [01:00:19] Forrest: And I think that's, again, true, not just of us as consultants, but also all those that we work with. Absolutely right. And there is nothing static, nothing consistent about the communities and the lives that are being impacted by the work. So why would we think that the work itself would then be consistent? So I'll keep track if my math is correct. Episode five and now 101. So that brings me back at 197. No, let's not make it that far away. But we can add lesson 8910 to this and keep talking. That'd be fun to do. [01:01:01] Patrick: Well, this is really good. And you and I were at a diner somewhere in Memphis. [01:01:07] Forrest: Yeah, that's right. [01:01:07] Patrick: Some time ago. Some months ago. And we were talking about how lucky we are to do, you know, just wake up and just I was talking with a colleague this morning and we were having this conversation about glass half full and glass half empty. And I said, you know, most days I wake up and feel like my glass is actually overflowing. It just really feels that way because of just I mean, gosh, yeah. What a blessed life and an honor to get to work in the sector. Not just for the people that are in there doing what they're doing that we're working with, but the people like you who are making me stronger, each other stronger and helping us feel like we're not alone in doing this stuff. [01:01:56] Forrest: No, that's exactly right. And that feeling is mutual. And speaking of glasses and empty and full, mine's about empty here. So I think it's time to wrap up. [01:02:04] Patrick: Yeah, probably is. [01:02:05] Forrest: Thanks again for having me, man. [01:02:06] Patrick: Thank you. This was awesome. Hey, folks, go to one thousandfeathers.com. Don't have to spell out 1000, by the way. Write 1000 as a number and then write feathers.com. And by the way, when you're there, go to the our story link in the menu and learn about how the name 1000 Feathers came about. There's a teaser for you. That's your homework. Forrest thanks, folks. Thanks for listening. Lead on.

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