Throughout the year, our blog series “Pearls: 30 Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey” will be featuring lessons we’ve learned as an organization throughout the past three decades. These “pearls,” as we call them, illuminate how we’ve survived and thrived for 30 years.
Start with the End in Mind
We need to tell our own story
In my tenure as leader of the Bean Project I have learned more things than I can count. One thing I’ve learned and reference nearly every day is this lesson: Start with the end in mind.
When I became CEO of Women’s Bean Project, the organization had an interesting challenge. Several funders had been asking for quite some time how the Bean Project defined success. How did the organization know that the work it did was making a difference? Unfortunately, it seemed that there was a gap in this regard and WBP was not clearly articulating what constituted success for someone who went through the program. Well, nature abhors a vacuum and so, lacking the Bean Project’s own definition of what success looked like, others defined it for us.
What does success look like?
Here was the problem: No one was starting with the end in mind. And so, when I became the CEO, funders were were telling us what the end should look like, what defined success for the women we served. As a result, these were often outcomes that didn’t make sense for the women we set out to serve; for example, graduates going on to high wage, self-sufficient jobs after decades of chronic unemployment, low educational achievement and histories of incarceration. But because we were not telling our own story, defining our own success, communicating what end we were seeking to achieve, our community had no choice but to tell us what they expected.
The start of this process required that we convene and determine what success does look like for the women the Bean Project seeks to serve. We had to start by creating a vision, determining what it looks like when a woman graduates from the Bean Project and is deemed a success? What qualities, skills and talents does she display? As we developed a clear picture for what success looked like, we could then develop our program services to achieve this vision.
Create a vision for today & tomorrow
Developing a clear picture of what success looked like; i.e., starting with the end in mind, meant we had to get clear on what we want like the world to look like if we are wildly successful and able to serve every woman who needs us. To me it meant not only that we get clear on what each woman has accomplished, but also included an even longer term goal. I wanted to ensure (and still do!) that the services we provide are so effective and far-reaching that each woman we serve is the last in her family to need us. That vision, to be unnecessary in the future to the daughters of the women we serve today is the “end” I have in mind every day when I go to work at the Bean Project.
With these this end in mind, daily decisions are informed. The path forward can be imagined. It’s easier to enlist others in the vision for what we are trying to accomplish and paint the picture for how much better the world will be when we get there.
Help women paint their own picture
I believe this same idea is helpful for the women we serve. Every eight weeks, when we onboard a new group of program participants, I have the opportunity to sit with them. In that meeting, on their first day at the Bean Project, after telling them a bit about myself, I give them a homework assignment. I ask each woman to start dreaming and creating a picture of what her life is going to look like when she graduates from the Bean Project. It’s the first day, so in all likelihood she is probably pretty overwhelmed by the experience and likely uncertain about what I really mean. But I persist and encourage each woman to think about what kind of job she dreams of having, what it will feel like to wake up every day and get ready to go to that job. What will she wear? How will she feel when she looks in the mirror as she’s getting ready? How will she get to work? What kind of job is it? What kind of people will she be working with?
The vision informs day to day decisions
Though I’ve never said it this way, I like how Steven Covey talks about envisioning in our minds what we can’t currently see with our eyes.* He says that everything is created twice, once in our imaginations and then in the real world. Instead, I talk about my belief that we should start everything with the end in mind. I say that I believe the vision they each create for their own futures will help them come to work every day, even when it gets hard. This vision will inform their day to day decisions, help them know what is important to them and what actions will help them get closer to the job they imagine. My hope is that bit-by-bit, each woman will begin to make the connection between what she does each day and what she wants her life to become. Though she doesn’t realize it, done enough, making decisions with the end in mind will become a habit that she will take with her for a lifetime.
“My hope is that bit-by-bit, each woman will begin to make the connection between what she does each day and what she wants her life to become. “
And so the lesson: We must be clear from the get-go what we are trying to accomplish. Starting with the end in mind forces you to focus on the possibility, rather than the limitations. It seems to me it’s the only way to go.
Written by Tamra Ryan, CEO
Find the entire series of “Pearls: Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey” here.