Case Study: Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind
Lighthouse for the Blind Finds Internal Change Inside Peer Circles
Enduring nonprofit institutions like Seattle’s Lighthouse for the Blind regularly strive for renewal in order to enhance their legacies and to continue to better serve their communities. The Lighthouse for the Blind is one of the Northwest’s most venerable nonprofits, going back to 1918. Today its purpose is not much different from its earliest years: Help train and employ Seattle’s blind and deaf in jobs that range from producing component aircraft parts for Boeing to doing other manufacturing and assembly work. But how it manages organizational development can be trying, given the myriad of consulting options available in the marketplace.
This year, Lighthouse sets out to revamp the fundamental concepts that underlie its organization, including updating its mission statement, re-evaluating its vision and values, and doing strategic planning. In order to get buy-in from all sectors — some of which can be at odds with each other — it needs experienced personnel and a proven process to deliver the best possible internal changes to help charter a course forward. Tony Jorgensen, the Training Program Coordinator for the past 10 years who is also blind — and who started at Lighthouse 30 years ago as a machinist — was originally wary of using any "flavor of the month" HR solution to get the job done.
For its change making, the institution is turning to a model called "Peer Coaching Groups," offered by Authenticity Consulting LLC. Carter McNamara, one of Authenticity’s principals, was already a known quantity inside the organization. It had purchased many of the consulting firm’s books McNamara had written for nonprofits about internal development and found them practical and easy to implement. The CEO of Lighthouse, Kirk Adams, also had seen peer coaching in action at another organization and recommended it in March 2007. The other organization’s groups were based on Authenticity’s model, as well. But Jorgenson initially had his doubts.
"I was at first a bit skeptical about Peer Coaching Groups," Jorgensen admitted. "There is so much trendy, feel-good pop psychology stuff out there and we needed something substantial that could permeate the organization."
Turns out his hesitation was unwarranted. By setting up an "Authenticity Circle" to include six facilitators, they would learn to better interact with each other within the coaching model, and then pass the training onto others. According to Jorgensen, the 2007 Circle was "tremendously effective," but due to unforeseen circumstances, the original group stopped meeting for a year. It will be up and running again by mid-2009, with monthly circles, serving all levels of employees. Now Lighthouse can truly move on to using Circles as a successful change-management tool.
- Diverse groups of people — “whether they’re in HR or IT, production or rehabilitation” — can participate and come away with new insights
- Participants really open up to each other
- The coaching helps allay any misunderstandings among participants and bridges the gaps
- The Circles create genuine camaraderie among people
- The concept can be readily expanded to others in the organization
The three-year history of Circles at Seattle’s Lighthouse for the Blind is evidence that Authenticity’s Peer Coaching Groups produce engaged participants as they work through the organization’s major redevelopment planning this year. Jorgensen notes that Carter and his team are "down to earth, intelligent and helpful and really connect with people — they’re authentic." As to the Peer Coaching Groups, he offers that "it works really well in practice and the feedback is nearly 100% positive."
Jorgensen says he fully expects the program to help them produce the internal changes they need to continue serving their community and to better enrich the lives of Lighthouse employees throughout the 91-year old institution.