Moments that Matter

Book Discussion: Upstream

February 8, 2021 by Suzanne Walden-Wells CEO

I love books. I love the way they smell and the sound they make when you open them for the first time. I love the satisfaction I feel when I finish a chapter or – better yet – when I finish the entire thing. Then I get to decide whether to pass it on to someone else or store it amongst my keepers – the ones so good I could never part with them. There is something terribly romantic about falling in love with a book.

Life is busy these days and spending a leisurely afternoon reading is a bona fide luxury, so I started a new love affair with Audible. All those hours I once wasted in my car are now important moments of listening – opportunities that spark ideas and inspiration. True, Audible doesn’t have that hypnotic new book smell, but it has made me fall in love with books all over again.

So, I decided to share the love and enroll DMB Community Life in Audible for Business, giving our entire team the opportunity to download hundreds of titles, seminars, and learning paths.

We even launched a Book Discussion Group to make things interesting and, wow, did it ever get interesting when we talked about our first book, Upstream by Dan Heath.

Upstream is all about eliminating problems before they happen. It sounds pretty simple but it’s not so easy, especially when systems and society are wired for reactionary response. Our team dug into the content and discovered some nuggets we can apply to our work in communities.

Relationships come first.

DMB Community Life places high value on relationships. It is difficult to care about someone until you know them. That thinking extends to problems. If I do not know you, I may not care about your problem. So, let’s start with knowing each other – even if our only interaction is on the phone. Relationships really do come first.

The biggest challenges require collaboration.

Challenges cannot be solved in a vacuum. All stakeholders need a seat at the table in order to arrive at effective solutions that are meaningful and lasting. The more complex the problem, the more people we should have working on the solution. Our collaboration needs to be deep AND wide.

Grooming Residents for leadership.

An important moment in the life cycle of a community is the election of its first resident board members. If we have not taken appropriate Upstream measures, the relationship between board and staff members can get off track quickly. Here’s what we are doing to ensure success:

  1. Initiate opportunities to learn about community vision, how and why things are done, and connect the dots between dollars and impact.
  2. Integrate operations-focused content into our signature leadership development programs.
  3. Leverage operations team members to engage residents in operational interests.
  4. Develop a Process Map for every community by Life Cycle identifying specific activities that should occur at every micro-stage.

Every system is designed to get the results it gets.

If we are not getting the results we want, perhaps we need a new system. To address the systems and stigma surrounding board service, we need to reframe how the community views board service, creating a new narrative that celebrates board service and demonstrates its importance in the sustainability of the community.

We also need to take deliberate action to recruit board members with diverse backgrounds and skills. Make it part of the pre-election communication strategy to seat a balanced board that is representative of the whole of the community, not just a small niche with a single agenda.

Systems, preventative measures, and early warning signals.

All technology and systems decisions should take into account the need for consolidation. Adopting software for a single function doesn’t make sense and perpetuates the challenges that result from lack of integration.

There may be an opportunity to create our own systems and software. No company operates like we do so it is not likely that we will find a perfect solution for our needs.

suzanne audible