The Circle of L– (no, not Life!)


A small faith-based non-profit in Yonkers, New York—part of a nationwide organization–was struggling with change management and culture issues. Add to this: its constituent community had seen its core constituency decline by about 50% over about ten years.With the arrival of a new leader this community gained a percentage of new members from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds but was finding it difficult to create a common culture. As an inwardly focused organization, it had no infrastructure in place to push messages out on a regular basis that would reach all constituents.

My solution was to adapt a “Care Circles” strategy that I had observed at a different faith-based organization. The idea is that each leader within the organization is assigned a set of members to converse with on a regular basis. We were greatly helped by a coaching session, conducted by someone with experience in active listening. He helped us see that, initially, it’s all about listening to members’ impressions and concerns, and only later beginning to convey news and exchange ideas. In this way you are gradually but effectively building or rebuilding relationships throughout the whole constituency.

So we created and sent out literature to everyone who would be contacted, and set the initiative in motion.

The organization is already making use of the feedback it has received during these listening sessions to improve its services and its relationships.

  • We turned this project around in less than six weeks, from concept to the first constituent phone call. That’s because we were able to make the case that it would support not only the culture, but also a number of major projects that needed community backing.
  • When a team member pointed out that we were going to need training in active listening, we located and booked a local expert within a few short hours. He also helped us redesign some of the elements of the plan to tailor it specifically to our culture.
  • The initiative showed up some of our weak spots in record keeping and data collection that we are now addressing.

Even before the results of the effectiveness of the initiative are in, its concept has received recognition at the local, regional, and national levels.

If you are going to build trust through a exercise like this one, your listening needs to be active in three ways:

  • Learn to listen effectively not only so that people feel heard, but also so that you genuinely understand their points of view.
  • Take steps to actively address their concerns.
  • Circle back to them to tell them what you did because of what they shared with you.
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