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Town Meeting

As early as possible and throughout your change effort, hold an event to gather as many participants as possible to solicit feedback, build support, get new ideas, and bring in newcomers.

Involve local communities in virtually every step of the conservation process. "We don't present solutions," says Francisco Nunez, scientist for the Nature Conservancy. "We put scenarios on the table and let people decide." If you want to protect biodiversity, you need to give local residents a stake in preserving it. But finding win-win solutions isn't always easy. For every success story, many more projects fail, often because "solutions" are conceived without consulting all stakeholders, or because the projects rely solely on one economic activity, such as ecotourism, that depends on factors often beyond local communities' control. "This is a process," says another scientist for the Nature Conservancy. "There are no easy solutions." [8]

You are an [Evangelist] or [Dedicated Champion] who wants to explore the issues in a change initiative. You may be at the beginning of your effort, interested in identifying problems and possible solutions. You may have experimented with some of your ideas in your own work by deciding to [Just Do It], or you may have completed a [Trial Run] and want to share your results and thoughts about what [Next Steps] to take.

You want to engage others and try to understand how they feel, but personal conversations take time and are not effective for building consensus across a wider community.

It might seem easier to trust your own judgment and do whatever you think needs to be done, but you risk taking actions that don't provide real help for the organization. Feedback is essential—you don't want to work in a vacuum. You might be removed enough from the day-to-day environment that you have lost touch with the real needs of the organization. You might miss important information or run the risk of people feeling ignored.

Therefore:

Hold a meeting to solicit feedback, build support, get new ideas, bring newcomers in, and report progress. Invite as many people as possible.

Advertise the event with [In Your Space] and [e-Forum]. Try to invite as many people personally as you can, using [Personal Touch]. Encourage participants with diverse backgrounds and ideas [Involve Everyone]. Include likely skeptics [Fear Less]. Be sure to invite the people who will be most affected by the change. Use [Corridor Politics] to influence the lay of the land before you open the discussion to a large group.

Have a clear agenda. Begin by focusing on the purpose of the meeting. You might give a brief history of the change initiative. Solicit feedback on your ideas. Brainstorm new ideas. Check your ego at the door, and explain that you're there to increase everyone's understanding, including your own.

Be sincere when you [Ask for Help]. Sometimes groups expect a leader to provide all the answers. It's a fine line between appearing incompetent and weak and bringing others in on the conversation.

Watch out for ineffective discussions and endless debate. Be willing to put these matters into a "parking lot" for later or for offline discussions.

End the meeting by discussing possible [Next Steps], and welcome willing volunteers to help. After the session, you can continue the conversation on an [e-Forum]. Post progress updates for everyone to follow [In Your Space].

You will build visibility and knowledge of the change effort and the impact of potential solutions. This gives you a chance to solicit feedback, gather support, and collect other ideas. The event can be the beginning of a [Group Identity]. People are more likely to take ownership if they've been given a say in the changes that could be made.

However, attendees will expect their suggestions to be followed. If they're disappointed, these people could get angry and work against you. Be sure to set clear expectations during the meeting that you're gathering feedback and suggestions. Be honest about your ability to please everyone. Don't make promises you can't keep.

Allen was hired as the new president of a university. It was a time for change. Allen saw problems and issues that needed to be addressed, so his staff scheduled a series of planning meetings to gather input for a strategic plan. Everyone on the campus was personally invited by email or phone to attend one of the sessions. Each meeting began by setting the expectations for the session and the suggestions that would be gathered. In each meeting, Allen presented a list of specific questions. The responses were recorded, and a summary of the results was sent to each participant. The participants were kept current on how the summaries were being used in the strategic planning process.

Ralph, the head of the library, was retiring after 30 years of service. The administration decided that it was a good time to examine the organization's structure and procedures, to determine what changes should be made. One representative from each department was invited to a series of meetings where these issues were studied. Their rough ideas and recommendations were then presented in a meeting with everyone in the library. The results of these meetings formed the basis for the new leadership as Ralph's retirement drew closer—changes in the org chart, decisions regarding Ralph's replacement, and modifications to some processes and library facilities.

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