exiting with purpose

Purposefully Changing the Culture

Countdown to Sunset

Our Pillars of Strategic Partnerships promote maximizing stakeholder empowerment, including the empowerment of our co-workers: our internal partners. (See “Pillars of Partnership” on page TK.) Yet in the months leading up to the sunset announcement, most of our co-workers felt a keen loss of empowerment. Management meetings behind closed doors and whispered conversations in the halls intimated that something secret was going on. We dashed to get documents off of the printer and abruptly stopped or altered conversations mid-stream when someone popped their head into the room with a quick inquiry. These were some of the first signs that our culture was changing, and the discomfort was palpable. In hindsight, it’s clear this drama could have been avoided.

The sunset triggered an entirely different way of working. And so, in order to better manage a lot of work in a limited time frame with little margin for error, we introduced new management tools. Historically, we had avoided static strategic plans because our co-founders are such vibrant entrepreneurial visionaries, and experience had informed us that any documented plan would be outdated before it could be printed. But the sunset required a tightly defined strategy because changes in direction or focus could prevent us from completing our remaining work. We now employ highly detailed planning processes, with intricate reporting mechanisms. We’ve changed our culture to fit the times, committing to the diligent documentation of goals, progress toward those goals, and potential obstacles to reaching those goals – in great detail. It is an unfamiliar way of working, but the structure has allowed time to deliberate our strategy, best allocate our diminishing resources, and map anticipated challenges to better forecast workflow and realistic accomplishments.

Perhaps the most difficult shift in our culture has been accepting and embracing the imperative to “let go” and let others step into leadership roles. Traditionally, we kept our antennae up and explored every relevant opportunity for potential collaboration, partnership development, or ongoing learning or sharing. Shifting to sunset mode compelled us to focus solely on the work at hand, completing what we started as best we could within the timeframe, and sustaining the work after we are gone.

In a way, this is a liberating mandate. We no longer feel obliged to be constantly looking out for new opportunities. Instead, we have gradually turned inward, focused on our closest and most critical partners, and directed our attention to the three priorities established by our board for the final phase of sunsetting: Evaluation; A Legacy of Learning; and Sustaining the Work. We have never been so focused. Our vision has never been so clear. The hardest part is loosening our grip and letting our trusted partners take on the work and pursue their own vision.