Archive for March, 2011

911! Six Tips to Triage Your Work+Life Fit When Thrown a Curveball

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What do you do when an event comes out of left field and lays waste to your carefully planned work+life fit?  This is the question I discussed with my friend, radio host Maggie Mistal, when I appeared on her “Making a Living” program last Friday.

Life recently threw Maggie a curveball when her newborn son arrived two months early while she and her husband were on vacation.  Now, they are living and working temporarily from another city until their son is able to travel back home.

At some point, most of us will deal with a sudden change in circumstances.  My most recent curveball happened five years ago when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Immediately your priorities shift.  How do you triage and rethink your goals, your schedule, and your responsibilities both at work and in the other parts of your life?  Here are some of the tips that Maggie and I discussed during the show:

Remember that curveball events typically have three distinct phases:

  1. The initial crisis—You are just making it through minute-by-minute
  2. The holding pattern—The crisis has passed, but the situation has yet to resolve itself or settle into a new reality.  You’re operating less minute-by-minute and more day-by-day.  And finally, you will move into…
  3. The post-curveball reality—You’re clearer about what your work capacity will be going forward and you’ve regained some level of control over the other parts of your life.

Try not to fall into all-or-nothing thinking, and avoid making a rash decision to quit.

Especially, during the crisis phase, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  You start to think “I can’t deal with this and work at the same time.”  Even I had this reaction when I got the news about my mother.  But thankfully I pulled myself back from the edge, and took a breath.

While quitting may seem like the only choice at the moment, it may not be the best answer.  First of all, most of us need the money.  Secondly, you may be surprised to find that work is a welcome distraction especially when you move into the holding pattern.  Try not to make any major work or life related decisions until the crisis period passed.

Be honest with your boss, team, clients, friends, and family.

99% of the people in your life will be understanding and supportive at least in the crisis phase and early stages of the holding pattern.  In terms of how much you share, both Maggie and I agree that you should tailor the information to your audience.  However, in my experience, managers, clients and team members appreciate simple, consistent updates.  This is especially true once you move into the holding pattern period, and you can start actively testing your capacity for more work.

Unfortunately, 1% of the people in your life won’t be able to show up for you emotionally or physically—let it go.   Don’t expend the extra energy you don’t have now.  File away the lack of support and, if you need to, deal with it later.  A woman who called into Maggie’s show talked about how unhelpful the president of her company was when she needed time during the adoption of her child. But she waited until after the adoption was completed to quit and get a new job.

Gather your resources.  You don’t need to handle the curveball experience all by yourself.

This is especially difficult for people who are used to being in control.  Regardless, you need to let others help you.

Perhaps there’s a work colleague that you respect who can take on some of your responsibilities.  Delegate “to dos” to your family members and friends who’ve offered to pitch in.  I can never repay the group of women in my town that provided meals to my family three nights a week for the last few months of my mother’s life.  But I will confess, initially, I refused because I didn’t want to be a bother.  It took my friend Nola saying, “Shut up, Cali.  They’re coming whether you like it or not,” to make it happen.  And it was a godsend.

Also, if you work for a company that offers work+life benefits and leaves, use them.  Remember the Families Medical Leave Act doesn’t have to be taken all at once.  It can be used over time in small chunks.

Once you’ve move into the holding pattern phase, begin to test your capacity for taking on more work but be patient.

Your priorities will continue to shift and change.  See what you can and cannot comfortably take on.  Perhaps it will help to be more creative and flexible in how, when and where you work.  For example, on Friday, Maggie broadcast her show remotely from Florida, while I sat in her New York studio.  You wouldn’t have known the difference.    When my mother had cancer, I often worked remotely from the hospital.

Build in even small moments of wellness.

This is so important yet can be incredibly hard, especially in the crisis phase.  But once you’ve moved into a holding pattern, gather your resources and use them to find time to care for yourself.  Take a 30 minute walk outside.  Try to get a good night sleep.  Eat at least one healthy meal a day.

Again, think small steps taken consistently so you aren’t overwhelmed.  The goal is not just functioning at your best during the curveball event.  You want to emerge from the experience as strong as possible and ready to move forward in the post-curveball reality.

Has life ever thrown you a curveball that’s made you triage your work+life fit?  What helped you reset your work and personal responsibilities and goals when your priorities changed overnight?

Did you find this post helpful?  If so, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @caliyost and at Fast Company.  Also, please sign up here to receive our NEW “Make Flexibility Real” How-To Newsletter.

To Make Flexibility Real, You Need All 3 Layers of the Flex “Turducken”–Policy, in Process, in Strategy

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(This post is the “Make Flexibility Real” Topic of the Month from our NEW monthly flexibility strategy “how to” newsletter.  Click here for “Make Flexibility Real” case study and question of the month and here to subscribe.)

Yes, that’s right.  Flex strategy “turducken.”  What?  Here’s the backstory:

It all started during a team discussion about the best way to present our next phase recommendations to a client.  In an attempt to wrap them under a unifying concept, FSG partner, Donna Miller, pointed out, “It’s a policy wrapped in a process, wrapped in a strategy.  A veritable flexibility  ‘turducken’ if you will.” And, with that, the perfect metaphor for “strategic flexibility” was born. A turducken.

And just as a butcher creates a turducken by wrapping chicken inside duck, inside turkey, organizations make flexibility real when they wrap policies inside of  guidelines, inside of a a plan for implementation that’s linked to business objectives:

What does a flexibility strategy “turducken” look like in action?  Although every organization is different, here are some highlights by layer:

Flexibility Policies (Chicken):  This is where most organizations start and many end.  They draft policies that lay out the approval, implementation and review parameters of the five discrete formal flexible work arrangements: flexible schedules, telecommuting, compressed workweeks, reduced schedules, and job sharing.  For example:

  • We define telecommuting as…/ We define a reduced schedule as…/
  • If you telecommute, the company will/will not reimburse certain expense
  • Every arrangement must be reviewed initially after 90 days and the every six months thereafter
  • If the arrangement is deemed unsatisfactory to either the manager or employee, it can be terminated immediately.

But these one-size-fits-all policies are often one-dimensional.  They fail to come to life because there’s no way to contextualize the flexibility to the unique realities of a particular business challenge, job or person.   This is where the next layer of the flex strategy “turducken” becomes important…

Flexibility Process to Tailor Win-Win Solutions (Duck): This layer takes flexibility to the next level.  It provides consistent guidelines to think through what type of flexibility will or will not work for a job or person.  Flexibility processes also address issues of fairness.  While everyone is not guaranteed the same type of flexibility, everyone does follow the same process for consideration of a request.

Here’s an example of three common levels of guidelines.  They build upon one another to harness flexibility and create win-win, tailored solutions:

Level 1—Manager/HR: A process to guide a manager or HR’s approval of a request for one of the five standard, one-size-fits-all formal flexible work arrangements.  Managers and/or HR are prompted to consider the performance of the employee, whether it makes sense for the business, etc.   This is where most organizations begin, but at some point they make three important realizations:

  • Managers and HR can’t come up with a flexibility plan that is going to work for each individual person,
  • The five, one-size-fits-all formal flexible work arrangements are too rigid.  They don’t allow the creativity required to tailor a solution that meets the work+life fit needs of the individual and the needs of the business, and,
  • Most of the time people don’t need to formally change the way they are working.  They just want to make small, flexible adjustments in how, when and where they work day-to-day.

That leads to the creation of…

Level 2—Employee Work+Life Fit: A process that helps an employee take the lead to determine what type of formal and day-to-day flexibility will help them manage their work+life fit. These guidelines help them think through how, when and/or where they want to work, how their job will get done, etc  before talking to their manager and team.

Unfortunately, in many organizations, these employee-based guidelines only focus on work considerations and leave out personal realities that will also impact the success of flexibility.  This incomplete picture is the reason that I wrote my book, Work+Life:  Finding the Fit That’s Right for You. I wanted to help individuals create a solution with the greatest likelihood of success.

The processes in levels 1 and 2 address the individual’s need for flexibility to manage their personal work+life fit.  But how do organizations harness this same flexibility to deal with business challenges?  This is the next level of flexibility process…

Level 3—Team-based Innovation: A few companies are providing teams with guidelines to help tailor win-win solutions that use flexibility to target business challenges.  The process shows leaders, managers and employees how to engage in an ongoing conversation that rethinks rigid ways of working. Together they create flexible, innovative solutions.  For example, creating a rotating telework schedule to deal with overcrowding in the office, or a flexible shift schedule for global client coverage to ensure people aren’t “on call” all of the time.

This brings us to the final level of strategic flexibility.  You can have the best policies and guidelines, but they won’t have much impact unless there’s a…

Plan for Strategic Implementation (Turkey): This is the piece of the “turducken” that too few organizations develop and execute.   Without a plan that creates readiness, links flexibility to other management practices, rewards buy in, communicates broadly, etc. flexibility will not become a meaningful part of an organization’s culture and way of operating.   Like laying a piece of paper on top of water, it floats but never penetrates.

Flexibility implementation must be intentional, have a clearly articulated impact on the business and its people, and be able to be measured.  Depending upon the unique goals of the organization, it might include:

  • Creating a shared vision of flexibility that answers the questions “why do we need it?” and “what does it look like here?”
  • Aligning work processes, management structures and rewards
  • Linking flexibility to leadership competencies
  • Encouraging a culture of shared responsibility versus top-down hierarchy

There’s more, but it gives you a sense of some of the key elements for deep and broad buy-in and impact.

Just as a butcher creates a turducken by wrapping chicken inside duck, inside turkey, organizations must link policy, process and strategy if they want to make flexibility real.

Does your organization have all three layers of the flex strategy “turducken?”  If not, what’s missing?

For more, I invite you to sign up to receive the “Make Flexibility Real” newsletter via email, to visit my Fast Company blog, and to join me on Twitter @caliyost.

United Nations Interview–Strategic Flex “How to,” Work+Life Fit Defined…and More

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I want to thank my friend, Aparna Mehrotra, the Focal Point for Women at The United Nations for asking me to share my thoughts on a wide range of flexibility and work+life fit related topics in the most recent issue of the UN Women’s Newsletter.   In her role at the UN, Aparna is committed to advancing the strategic application of flexibility both within the organization and beyond.

Here are some of the questions that I answer in the interview:

  • What are the three principal achievements we’ve accomplished and the three principal challenges we face in our work?
  • What is work+life “fit,” and how have I applied it in my own life?
  • What are some of the main issues facing working women in leadership positions in the private sector?
  • What are the characteristics of the emerging workforce that make flexibility essential?
  • How do you combat ongoing skepticism about the benefits of flexibility to an organization?
  • Recognizing that policies alone have limited impact, how do you improve implementation of flexibility?

Are there other questions that you wish I’d discussed about work+life fit and how to make flexibility real and more strategic?   Let me know either in the comments or in our NEW “Make Flexibility Real” LinkedIn group.

New Series! Flex and the C-Suite: John C. Parry, CEO of Solix, Inc.

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Post originally appeared on FastCompany.com.

This is the first post in a new series that I’m calling “Flex and the C-Suite.” Periodically, I will interview C-Suite leaders who have made flexibility in the way work is done a key strategy for achieving business results smarter and better. In other words, they get it.

I’m kicking off the series with John C. Parry, the President and CEO of Solix, Inc. I had an opportunity to get to know Parry and his Senior Manager of External Communications, Gene King, when we rode back to New Jersey from Washington D.C. on the Acela late last year.

Parry had just presented at the Workplace Flexibility 2010 celebration that I’d attended. I was struck by the clarity with which he described the key role flexibility plays in achieving the core objective of his business which is excellent client service. I think you will be too.

First, here’s some of background about Solix, Inc. and its business. Solix is a New Jersey-based provider of comprehensive outsourcing solutions for government and commercial clients. It manages public benefit programs ranging from providing funding for Internet access for schools, libraries and rural health care facilities to qualifying low-income consumers for discounted phone service. Commercial clients work with Solix to enhance customer relationship management and to effectively satisfy regulatory program requirements.

Cali Yost: Let’s begin with the top challenges and opportunities that you see facing Solix and Corporate America over the next year or two?

John C. Parry: For most CEOs, the challenge is how to grow their companies profitably. Keeping current customers happy, while expanding into a larger, more complex organization and making sure that new revenue is profitable. Too many companies are trying to maintain profitability by trimming their workforce. We are doing it both ways–we’re becoming more efficient as we grow.

The benefit of this approach is that we give more opportunity to our current workforce. This allows us to keep the bright young people who work for us motivated because we are growing and changing as a company which creates more career opportunity.

In your opinion, how does flexibility in the way work is done help Solix, Inc. address those challenges or seize those opportunities?

To me, workplace flexibility is one of the ways to remove “the noise in the system” so that employees can focus on the business at hand which is providing the best service to our customers, both new and old. That noise in the system can be anything from the fear of losing your job, the unproductive rumor mill or worries related to family issues. Providing a great work environment allows people to focus on the clients. We do this a few ways.

First, we remove the noise from the system. How do you do this? First, communicate, communicate, and communicate. We have an “Ask John” program where people are encouraged to anonymously send any questions or concerns they may have to me directly. I will answer within 24 hours.

Next, we don’t want people to worry that it’s a black mark if they miss a day of work because of a family issue. In our culture, all we really care about is the excellent service of our clients. We don’t care how you structure your hours as long as you’re providing that service. If you are sick, don’t come in. If it snows and you want to work from home, fine. You make the decision. This eliminates a lot of workplace stress that, again, is unproductive noise in the system.

We let people compress their workweek, telework and flex their hours. We’ve supported phased retirements and even let people take longer chunks of time off to visit family overseas. The reality is that it takes a year to train someone. Why wouldn’t we take them back after a three month break to visit their family in India? In fact, we would let people work from home more, but they like coming in to work.

Second, we give people meaningful work to do. The work we do reaches all corners of the country to help people and that feels good. For example, a small school in Pahoa, Hawaii where less than 25% of the students have Internet access at home was able to upgrade its computer lab and a rural health care provider in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska has improved their Internet and telecom infrastructure to better serve their customers in this remote area. In addition, the work we do helps low income citizens gain access to subsidized cell phone service. We value that.

Third, we promote the team concept. I spent most of my career in the Bell System. Because we had no external competition for many years, they promoted internal competition which wasn’t particularly positive. From this experience, I am a big proponent of teams. Individuals are important but we celebrate and recognize team success, and people really support each other

Finally, we encourage community involvement, and good citizenship. Our employees often work in the soup kitchen as a team or raise money for charities about which they are passionate.

What factors have been most critical to the successful implementation of flexibility at Solix?

To any leader who thinks creating a supportive, flexible work culture is a boondoggle, I’d suggest starting with a trial run. Use work that can be done from home and with low supervision. See the results.

Ask for input from all levels. What’s making the work environment stressful? Trying to raise a family and punch a time clock?

Prepare supervisors and employees to succeed in a flexible work culture. Pick managers who have already bought into it to take the lead because there will be a lot of skepticism. At some point, everyone will realize that there’s been no reduction in quality or productivity because of flexibility and that they, as managers, get to have flexibility too!

Now everyone gets to set his or her hours. For example, I am an early person so I get in to the office very early in the morning but like to leave here by 4:00 pm most days and I do. On the other hand, our CFO and the head of HR get in later and stay later.

What would you say to a C-Suite leader who still thinks workplace flexibility is a nice-to-have perk, not a strategic imperative?

What is the end result you are looking for? You are looking to achieve corporate goals. Let’s be honest. Nobody goes around cheering that 99% of employees got to work today and worked eight hours.

What you want to know is that you have a highly motivated workforce that delivers high quality customer service. With flexibility, it helps to measure output over a longer-term period. Because of flexibility we are getting better productivity and commitment. When we look for volunteers to meet a tight deadline or deal with a backlog, everyone raises their hands to help. That’s engagement.

Too many CEOs believe they can force their will on people. It never works in the long run. Our turnover is ridiculously low (although we do let poor performers go) and we don’t have an absence problem because if someone is sick they stay home and don’t infect everyone.

Readers: Do you know a C-Suite level executive who “gets it” that flexibility is a strategic imperative for their business and their people?  I’d love to showcase them.  Send me an email at cali@flexstrategygroup.com.

“The Keys to Finding Work+Life Fit” from Psychology Today

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In addition to being the author of a smart, engaging new book, Success: How We Can Reach Our Goals, Heidi Grant Halvorsen writes The Science of Success blog for Psychology Today.  Recently, she asked me to explain work+life “fit” for her readers.   The following is an excerpt from her post.

Like a lot of working parents, I find myself constantly juggling both professional and personal goals, trying to find time for everything that matters, and sometimes feeling like I’m screwing it up big time.  So for a little wisdom and practical advice, I turned to Cali Williams Yost, the CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group / Work+Life Fit, Inc., a flexibility strategy consulting firm. (Her book is  Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You).

Me:  Why is it a problem for us to think in terms of work-life “balance”?

Cali:  When your goal is work-life “balance,” it causes more problems than it solves.  In fact, here are what I call the 10 Tyrannies of Work/Life Balance:

  1. Balance is always discussed in the negative-what you “don’t” have.
  2. Balance keeps you focused on the problem, not the solution.
  3. Balance assumes we’re all the same.
  4. Balance infers that there is a “right” a answer.
  5. Balance leads us to judge others (and ourselves), often unfairly.
  6. Balance results in unproductive guilt.
  7. Balance suggests that the goal is an impossible 50-50 split between work and the other parts of your life.
  8. Balance leaves no room for periods where there’s more work and less life, and vice versa.
  9. Balance ignores the fact that work and life are constantly changing, and
  10. Balance will never be taken seriously by corporate leaders, who only hear “work less” when you say “balance.”

Plus, have you ever noticed that when the term “work-life balance” is written out, there’s either a “-” or a “/” between work and life?  The truth is that work and life are one and the same today.  Not separate.  You may want them to ultimately be as separate as possible, but you need to start from the premise that it’s all one big ball of time and energy that you need to deliberately and consciously manage.

Me: What is “work+life fit” How will I know when I have it?

Cali: Work+life fit is the way work “fits” into your life, day-to-day and at major life and career transitions.  It’s like snowflakes.  Everyone has a different work+life fit reality.  No two are the same.   Thinking about the goal as work+life “fit,” frees you from the ten tyrannies of balance above because you:

  1. Talk about what you could have.
  2. See solutions.
  3. Know we’re all different.
  4. Realize there’s no right answer.
  5. Stop judging yourself and others, harshly.
  6. Lose the guilt.
  7. Embrace and plan for the ebb and flow of work and life, and
  8. Increase the likelihood that corporate leaders will support the need to flexibly manage work and life better and smarter.

How will you know you “have it?”  (Click here for my answer to this great question that Heidi posed!)

“A Guide for Stressed Out Parents” from U.S. News & World Report

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Kimberly Palmer, author of Generation Earn, is senior editor for U.S. News & World Report where she writes the Alpha Consumer blog.  She recently asked me to share some tips about how to manage work+life fit with her readers.  The following is an excerpt from her post.

Before becoming a working parent myself, I didn’t really grasp the challenge of combining a career with family life. After all, don’t you just send your happy child off to school during the day while you pursue your professional life, and then gather around the dinner table for quality time at night? Of course, I quickly realized how challenging it really was, as soon as my daughter came down with a series of viruses her first winter and I felt like I was constantly leaving work early or staying home to be with her, not to mention worrying about her when I managed to make it to the office.

Now, when I read about working parent issues, I’m looking for real solutions. How do you share responsibilities with your partner? How can you be productive even when making sure to put your child’s needs first? Is it even possible to feel like you’re excelling in both areas of your life? Cali Williams Yost, chief executive of the Flex+Strategy Group, a flexibility strategy consulting firm, and author of Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You, helps people answer those questions for themselves. Excerpts from our recent conversation:

Before you wrote your book, what did you feel was missing from work-life discussions?

The individual was missing. Since 1995, I’d been developing and implementing work-life flexibility strategies for companies. Most, if not all, of the emphasis was on the company and manager. What did they need to do differently to help their employees manage their work and life?

Around 1998, it became clear to me that, honestly, an employer can only do so much. They must create a culture that supports the work-life conversation, but, at the end of the day, the solution rests with each of us. Only you know what’s going to work for your unique job and personal realities. And, everyone is so different. One size does not fit all. My book was the first step-by-step guide to creating a plan that fits.

You write that the most successful work life plans are employee-initiated, but how can employees best propose a plan?

First, make sure you have the right mindset for success. For example, know that for any kind of flexibility to work, you are responsible for keeping the lines of communication open with your manager, your clients, and your team. Don’t expect them to come to you. Also, be flexible, by willingly shifting your new schedule periodically to “go the extra mile” as needed.

Second, know how to identify and avoid the common roadblocks that will unnecessarily derail you if you’re not careful. For example…(Click here for more work+life fit tips)

“6 Reasons Flex is a Hot Topic–and How to Get the Flexibility You Need” from Evolved Employer

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Recently I spent time talking with Melissa J. Anderson from the terrific new site, Evolved Employer, about strategy flexibility.   Below is an excerpt from the article about our discussion that originally appeared on the Evolved Employer blog:

“The two spheres between work and life are now one and the same. We have to look at this holistically,” began Cali Williams Yost, a strategic flex work expert, author of Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You, President and founder of Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc.

Yost has spent over 15 years developing strategic flex programs for companies across the US. She says she’s been passionate about the issue since the mid ’90s, when she was a manager as a bank and noticed that work/life issues were impacting her employees. She didn’t have any children at the time, but she realized how critical issue work/life issues can be – and not just for her staff. It was affecting her business too. Yost decided to go back to school to earn her MBA at Columbia, and began working at the Families and Work Institute.

Now having written an award-winning book on the subject and founded her own company, Yost says she is excited about where flex is going, moving forward. She said, “There’s a lot of fear around flex work, but if you plan appropriately, you can negotiate it within your organization.”

Six Reasons Flex is a Hot Topic

Flex has been on the radar for quite some time – but it seems like only in the past year or two has it really been recognized as a hot button issue. Yost explained, “People have been paying attention to flexible work for about a decade, but recent the convergence of six trends have made it so the general public can no longer ignore it.”

First of all, technology has erased the boundaries between work and life, she explained. “Tech has destroyed the nine-to-five, five days a week culture.” Second the amount of dual earning couples is increasing rapidly. “Seventy percent of women with kids work,” said Yost. “And men and women both are realizing they need work and live a different way. The third trend is around Generation Y. “Twenty-somethings just assume flexibility. It’s not that they want to work less,” she explained. “Just differently.”

Fourth, she warned, “Elder care is becoming a huge issue. It’s going to be unlike anything we’ve seen with the need for flexibility around children.” She continued, “And fifth, as the baby boomers are getting older, they don’t want to leave work. But they do want to work less.”

Finally, she said, the last driving factor is global competition. “As globalization increases, we need workforces to be more productive and efficient.”

Flex work has been cited as an answer to all of these issues, Yost explained. “It’s like the CFO of one of my clients said. ‘By 2015, flexible working will just be the way we do business.’ If you’re not nimble and responsive, you’re out of the game.”

How Business Leaders can Negotiate Flex

Yost said the challenges individuals face in initiating a flex program at their workplace are many – but by keeping a few tips in mind, employees and business leaders can be more effective.

She explained, “One of the mistakes companies make is to think that flex is as easy as putting a policy in the books and running a few training sessions. But it doesn’t work that way.”

“First of all, business leaders need to educate their team about the business case for flex work. They need to frame flexible work from a business standpoint, as a strategic initiative – not just a way to help people. Think of it as a way to cut costs or do business with global clients, and serve leadership.”

She continued, “The next thing they need to do is…(Click here for more of the interview)

How to Make 100 Organizations in the Same Industry More Flexible… Key Lessons Learned

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Post originally appeared in FastCompany.com

In all of the years I’ve helped companies rethink the inflexible ways we work, I’d never seen anyone coordinate an effort to get 100 organizations in the same community to embrace flexibility at the same time. That is until I met the indefatigable Shifra Bronznick and her team at Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community (AWP).

The mission of AWP is “to promote the leadership of women within Jewish communal institutions and to advocate for healthy workplace practices that benefit both men and women.” The issue, as AWP defines it, is that a majority of the professionals in the Jewish nonprofit community are women, while most of the leaders are men. AWP wants to close that gap.

More details regarding the multi-faceted change process they’ve undertaken to close that gap can be found here, but one of the primary solutions they’re targeting is greater workplace flexibility. To promote a more formal, strategic approach, AWP created the Better Work, Better Life Campaign which is “aimed at enlisting 100 Jewish organizations in improving their policies on flexibility and parental leave.”

Recently, I was invited to present at a convening of 30 of the Better Work, Better Life organizations to discuss strategies to advance flexibility. This gave me a unique opportunity to observe first-hand what happens when organizations from the same industry gather to share best practices and support innovation in workplace flexibility. Here are my three key takeaways from the event:

Lesson #1: Peer-to-Peer Influence is the Most Powerful

Humans resist change with every tool they have at their disposal. And the most powerful weapon of all is, “Oh, that might work for an accounting firm, but it won’t succeed in manufacturing.” In other words, we dismiss the applicability of something new because we believe that a unique quality of your industry or organization makes it non-transferable.

But it’s much harder to dismiss information when it is comes from an organization with a business model that’s just like yours. In this case, nonprofit and mission-driven. When Sari Ferro from UJA-Federation of NY shared the steps that she followed to get a more formal flexibility process implemented in her workplace, you could tell from the follow up questions that her story prompted the group to see possibilities, not roadblocks.

Lesson #2: No Matter Where You Are On the Flex Innovation Curve, You Can Be Part of the Same Conversation.

There’s a standard flexibility innovation curve that most organizations follow. And while it’s important to meet organizations where they are on that curve, there’s a benefit to having the more advanced entities in the same room with those just getting started.

During the Better Work, Better Life convening, I facilitated a discussion of the strategies that we’d covered throughout the afternoon. At my table sat representatives from a couple of organizations that were relatively far along the innovation curve in terms of advancing formal flexibility and a couple of others for whom it was very new. Yet, you could see that the experience of those who had “been there done that” informed the thinking of those just starting to dip their toes in the water.

Lesson #3: There Are Many Creative Ways to Scale a Clear Vision for Change

The clarity, passion and commitment of the AWP team to advance their mission has driven them to develop creative vehicles to scale their efforts and impact including,

  • AWP Action Teams–Training others to be change agents and fan out into the broad community.
  • The Bay Area Project–Leveraging the success of the large number of women in the Bay Area who occupy senior positions in Jewish foundations to influence change.
  • Men as Allies–Engaging influential men to advance more shared leadership. This effort include “Sign the Pledge’ where men agree not to appear on public panels without women.

Spending time with the 30 organizations that participated in the Better Work, Better Life convening reminded me of the power of peer influence, and how beneficial it is to share best practices no matter where your organization is on the flexibility innovation curve. Imagine how much further along we’d be if groups of accounting firms, advertising agencies or hospitals worked together and shared best practices related to flexibility.

Finally, never doubt the power of the clear vision of a small group as they scale and grow in impact. Go AWP!

For more, I invite you to join me on my Fast Company blog and on Twitter @caliyost.