I ran a large community mediation agency for six years, with a mission to provide exceptional conflict resolution services throughout a broad metropolitan area. We partnered with the courts, state and local government, foundations, schools, and private organizations. Our agency provided direct mediation services to people of limited means in the courts, and also taught and trained hundreds of people every year in mediation and conflict management. Over the course of my time there we increased our operating budget by 30% and effectively expanded our programming to address critical community needs. I make these points upfront because once I start talking about vulnerability it’s easy to forget that hard core results were always in focus.
There remains a strong perception that the field of conflict resolution requires “touchy feely” encounters. Before you even start talking about conflict resolution you can lose the attention of professionals who are focused on high performance. Conflict Resolution can be viewed as a beacon for soft output and ‘feel good’ interactions that carry no impact. But my career has been aimed at bringing the relevance of conflict resolution into extraordinary results. In my world, if the conflict resolution process does not meet quantifiable goals then it won’t succeed. Saving time, money, increasing production, reducing delay and improving settlements are a few examples. At the same time, if the process does not build trust, engagement and connection, then strong results won’t ever be fully achieved. A foot in both worlds is required.
When I started at my agency, I was convinced that hard work, discipline and rigorous goal setting would allow me to be an effective leader and take our organization to its next level of achievement. I was anxious to try out all the management and performance techniques I’d studied over the years and was determined to focus on recruiting and retaining good people, avoiding all the missteps I’d witnessed by leaders in my own career, and running the enterprise at an unprecedented level of success.
Coming out of the gate, my critical priorities were fundraising and refocusing our mission on a few crucial goals rather than trying to be all things to all people. It was critical to raise the organization’s profile and expand the practical application of conflict resolution in our community. We needed to bring the place into the 21st century with technology advances and reenergize employee morale. The organization had been operating a vast number of programs without sufficient coherence and focus, new programs were launched without much design or planning, and they were using the exact same approaches to fundraising and profile building that had been used decades earlier.