Strategic Pillar 1: Establish a Creative, Open Work Environment at SIS

By Robert Phillips

As folks heard at the All Hands meeting last week, SIS has a new “Greatness Agenda.” We will all be talking about this a lot in the coming months. The Greatness Agenda clarifies our purpose and guides our work going forward. It will be carried by the five Strategic Pillars.

Strategic Pillar 1: Establish a Creative, Open Work Environment at SIS

Here I want to talk about the first pillar: establishing a creative, open work environment driven by our cultural cornerstones – purpose, transparency, and voice. I’ll explain these and then talk about ways we are going to achieve this. And I’m gonna need your help.

This pillar is the first priority because our internal culture supports the work we do every day and the atmosphere in which we work. It is essential to our job satisfaction and general happiness.

Here is why these cultural cornerstones are important:

  1. Purpose: Our purpose gives SIS’s work meaning, because it is a moral rather than a business goal. The most powerful movements in history have had moral motivations, whether they were quests for independence or equal rights. And while I don’t want to push this idea too far, it’s fair to say that there’s a reason that revolutions tend to be about ideas and not money or market share. It’s important to realize we can never fully achieve our purpose, as there will always be more connections to create between people and the lives they dream of. This keeps us animated to constantly innovate and push into new areas by allowing us to steer with a compass rather than a speedometer. Most importantly, the underlying shared beliefs provide us with a touchstone for keeping our culture strong, even as we grow in size and influence.
  2. Transparency: If we believe people are good, we must be unafraid to share information with them, which means we must “default to open” (to borrow a phrase from the open-source technology community). In everything we do we must assume that all non-protected information can be shared, instead of assuming that no information can be shared. This assumption suggests that restricting information is a conscious effort that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and shouldn’t be done without having a good reason for doing so. In open source, it’s countercultural to hide information, and this is something I need SIS to embrace.
  3. Voice/Autonomy: All of us want control over our destiny particularly at work. Having a voice at SIS should mean that we are giving folks a real say in how SIS runs. Either we believe our people are good and we welcome their input, or we don’t. For many this can be terrifying, but it is the only way I believe that SIS can “live its values.”

So you might ask me… How is all this going to happen?

What you’re going to hear me talk about a lot is being “porous.” I want SIS to morph from being a closed box to being a sponge. We will embrace a culture that is thirsty for new ideas and new approaches. And to do this we have to draw in those elements from the outside as well as from our own people. Becoming porous means breaking down walls and building pathways. Some big ways to do this are:

Work environment. Developing our staff’s sense of purpose, transparency, and voice/autonomy are SIS’s cultural cornerstones. To make sure we consistently realize them we have to not only change our mindset, but also physically change how and where we operate. One example is security: Door swipe pads are emblematic of a certain mentality. Why are we so locked down? Who are we trying to keep out? We need to critique how our security practices, physical and digital, prevent us from doing better work by closing us off. The work environment we create – how conducive is it to collaboration? Let’s find work spaces that are more open and adopt space policies that make us more welcoming to everyone.

People. We have rolled out the Greatness Agenda so that we all understand what SIS believes, what our purpose is, and why we are so passionate about investing in our success. I believe this will help us unleash creativity here at SIS. But we also want to bring in fresh ideas from others, because we don’t have all the answers. So we will be sponsoring interns, fellows, and other folks up and down the continuum of skills and experience. Not just for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of the larger community of social tech.

Location. As our lease in Sacramento runs out, we have to ask ourselves whether the people and partnerships we are seeking to cultivate can be found in an isolated business park 15 minutes north of Sacramento. Where can we position ourselves – literally position ourselves – to be more attractive and receptive to those who can contribute to our focus and direction? It ain’t where we are now.

All of this is a work in progress. And it is work that we will do together. So send me your ideas and feedback. And stay tuned to hear about Pillar 2…

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One thought on “Strategic Pillar 1: Establish a Creative, Open Work Environment at SIS

  1. Fred D. Mason, Jr. says:

    So very insightful and educational. Thanks

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