Kevin Fong - Organizational Design

 ThrTThThriving in Toucgh TImeSSsTALWARStalwarts and Safety Nets

I recently got together with Tessie Guillermo, a longtime friend and colleague who gave me my first big break as a consultant, and has since been one of my biggest supporters, mentors, and guiding forces in my life and career.  As I was leaving, Tessie introduced me to some of her new staff, referring to me as “one of the stalwarts” in her life.  It at first struck me as odd. Stalwart is defined as sturdy, robust, firm, steadfast. Tessie had been one of my stalwarts for so many years – could I be hers as well?   Tessie’s comment led me to think about how we can be stalwarts and provide a safety net for each other, even if we may not think we need it.
One of my relatives has been unemployed for nearly three years, and I have been amazed at how she has kept a positive outlook through the ups and downs of searching for permanent work.  But recently, we began noticing signs that things weren’t as optimistic as she was portraying.  Being fiercely independent, we knew that she would simply not ask for help.  So my partner Greg put out a discreet and concerned call to the family, and folks stepped forward to offer their support.  Within days, we had a practical and emotional support plan in place for our relative, who felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and relief that she did not have to carry this crisis alone. 
It took a degree of skill, compassion, and expertise for Greg and the family to trust their instincts and reach out to this relative in a way that respected her feelings, acknowledged the circumstances, and allowed her to retain control.  It was the definition of family at its very best.
I wondered however, if such an action could happen between organizations, when I found myself facilitating a meeting of several executive directors to talk about a new program they were implementing.  One of the participants shared that his organization was going to experience a substantial shortfall next year, and frankly, he was afraid and concerned.  Such transparency took courage, and while he was not asking for help, his colleagues rallied around him and together they developed a plan to both meet the program objectives and provide some solutions for this organization. For me, the most amazing part of this process was the fact that these organizations did not have a long history of working together.  But in that short time, a relationship was built to a level that they could consider each other a stalwart.
Trust, respect, compassion, and a together-we-can-do-this attitude, are essential building blocks for establishing a strong personal and organizational safety net.  These traits demand courage to ask for help if you need it, and for those who can help, to reach out – even if they haven’t been asked. 
During these tough times, we know that any of us can find ourselves in rough predicaments. It makes good sense to establish the essential building blocks to be stalwarts for each other and be ready to provide a safe landing to those within our circle who are about to fall. 

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