Building a culture of organizational change to better serve the homeless

Posted on December 11, 2014 by Robert Marbut

When Debra Jacobs approached me about engaging the agencies involved in various aspects of the homelessness effort in Sarasota, Fla., I was intrigued. She emphasized that The Patterson Foundation's interest would be in helping this group understand and manage the change that would be required to implement the new work being done. I hadn't thought too much about the change management process, but she was right. While the groups were beginning to work more closely together and to leverage their work with other funders, there was not much consideration to the organizational change (staff, donors, volunteers, clients, funders) required and how to manage that change. I eagerly signed on and am glad I did. We have now passed the half way point in the Recoding Organizational DNA Labs, which are designed to help the participating agencies strengthen organizational impact. The evolution of the groups (and the discussions) has been fascinating to observe. I have the opportunity to speak to most of the agencies each month, and a common theme has emerged about DNA. The participating agencies have told us very clearly that the “networking and connecting” part of these labs have been the most valuable to their agencies.  Agency staffs have shared that it has been very meaningful and productive to have direct interaction with other agency staffs within the Recoding Organizational DNA process and open forums. This has been verified by the fact that representatives of most agencies have been arriving 20-30 minutes early to the labs and have been staying over an hour after the labs for optional open-forum lunches. This time was set up to allow for unstructured discussion, and it has worked better than expected There has also been much discussion about moving from an outputs-based approach to homelessness (e.g. how many meals do we serve, how many sleeping bags do we give out, how many patients do we serve) to an outcomes-focus (are we moving people along a process to self sufficiency?). This evolution is not easy, nor is it easy to explain to staff, volunteers and donors who want to fill an immediate need and who feel good doing so. The monthly meetings and discussions in between have helped with this necessary transition. The result has been arguably the most effective homelessness system in the country for homeless families. Examples, both successful and those which struggled, have been cited as helpful by the DNA group. Bringing in Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne to discuss his experiences in his city was well-received because he was very direct: what you are doing isn't easy, takes longer than expected, and requires "outside the box thinking"....but it can be done! Looking to the future, most of the agencies involved in our effort also provide services in Manatee and/or DeSoto counties. All of these agencies expressed interest in doing a similar effort within these other counties. 


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