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Don't lose momentum

February 01, 2009

How many times have you come face-to-face with a moment that could move your organization exponentially forward toward the outcomes you've been hoping to achieve? Some may answer “once in a while” but others may claim “several times a day.” Either way, opportunities for change are moments that can be intentionally capitalized on to move our organizations to where we want them to be. Yet we often don't take advantage of naturally occurring moments for change—or intentionally make such moments happen.

This concept may seem like an insignificant approach to bring about major organizational changes, but actually these moments are the only real time we have. Real time is when the cameras are rolling and we can see changes—small and big alike—unfolding before our eyes. It's in these moments that we realize we can change the status quo. As leaders we need to recognize and use these moments to move our organizations forward. These moments give us an opportunity to role model and teach others. And individual moments add up to days, months, and years of organizational evolution.

No time to waste!

A theme repeated regularly in this column we're sure hasn't eluded you is our impatience. We can't believe how long it takes to get things done in the behavioral healthcare field. It usually takes way too long to make plans, and it takes even longer to move into action. Once the action finally begins, changes unfold at a snail's pace.

Such slowness does not generate much momentum. Without momentum, we lack the energy to carry us forward. The tiniest speed bump can stop the process. Thus, seizing important moments can help you speed along and generate more momentum.

Given our impatience, we aren't suggesting that you wait around for the perfect moment to further your organization's evolution. We'd like to see you create these moments! We've asked Christy Dye to join us this month because she recently created a moment to move her organization forward.

Creating a moment

Christy was committed to honoring the rich history of recovery and wellness at Recovery Innovations, Inc., a mental healthcare organization in Phoenix. As in many other places, the local mental healthcare system was undergoing a whirlwind of change. During this uncertainty Christy's goal was to bring the organization's values and services forward—into the moment—in ways that would provide more opportunities for delivering recovery services.

Since recovery services are built on the foundation of positive relationships, Christy and her team knew that building strong working relationships within the organization and the community was key to answering this question. They wanted to use the concept of the moment as a vehicle to accomplish this. Staff at all levels needed to reflect recovery values in every contact they had with each other and community connections.

First, Christy and her team convened all staff in three separate meetings. Having three meeting options allowed staff to choose times that best suited their schedule so no staff would be “left behind.”

Since employees had joined the organization over an eight-year period, many of them did not know the stories of why various values were revered or how some programs came into being. So the meetings began with stories of the organization's early days and galvanizing moments that shaped its culture. A lot of interest and enthusiasm spilled out as people remembered good times and hard times. This energy sparked creative ideas about how to move the rich elements of the organization's history forward in new and powerful ways.

All three meetings generated long lists of ideas, and the main intent that emerged was that all staff would participate in unfolding the past values into the present and future every time there is a moment to do so. Hoa Mai, a longtime recovery leader within the organization, synthesized and organized the ideas into a plan involving everyone.

In this business, we usually talk about content and process, so in keeping with that tradition, first we examine content, which may best be conceptualized here as themes. Below are some of the main themes that emerged during the meetings:

  • Everyone in the organization—whether in the billing department, the human resources department, or a service department—will respond in ways that reflect recovery every moment there is an opportunity, no matter the point of contact.

  • The organization will stay focused on participants' successes and actively will share them with family members, other organizations, and other stakeholders at every opportunity.

  • The organization will nurture relationships between those it serves and other organizations at every opportunity.

  • The organization will identify and acknowledge staff who have strong recovery results. Staff in other organizations will be acknowledged, as well, with thank-you letters and awards. Opportune moments will be created.

Putting these themes into action probably is more important, as actions speak louder than words. All three groups spent a lot of time thinking about being recovery and not just talking about it. Below are some of the themes that surfaced about putting the content into action:

  • Take the initiative and be the first to smile, acknowledge the work of others, and point out recovery results.

  • Reach out to other organizations and offer them help with becoming more recovery oriented.

  • Take care of each other within the organization by pointing out strengths and positive results.

Armed with these themes, Christy and her team quickly devised a plan to bring these ideas into reality. To reinforce recovery concepts within the organization, they planned a low-cost, but high-energy, appreciation picnic at a local park. The event was held over several hours so all staff could attend (The food was great!). A lot of people were acknowledged for their commitment to recovery and the good work they were doing. This gave managers and supervisors many spontaneous moments to role model appreciation.

The second event was a party for external organizations, what was called “you make a difference day.” One hundred fifty people (including doctors, case managers, family members, and counselors) attended and were awarded tokens of appreciation. The organization will continue to put the themes into action to move recovery forward.

Always look for moments

This is a simple example of how an organization can capitalize on spontaneous moments and also strategically create organized moments. We are sharing this approach because as we travel around the country, we see a lot of places undergoing tremendous structural and practice changes. We meet a lot of staff paralyzed by fear, not knowing if they will have a job tomorrow or what that job could become. We see systems in chaos due to massive changes. So we hope this example inspires some ideas on how to see change as a window of opportunity, in which you can use each moment to redefine your organization and align your programs with wellness and recovery values.

If your organization is based on recovery principles, identify moments when staff can make a difference. These moments add up to powerful forces that can shape the future of your community's wellness and recovery services.

If your organization is trying to convert to recovery and wellness principles and practices, stay open to learning new ways of working that will bring about better results. Find moments to highlight new processes and reinforce their development.

A final piece of advice: If you think your organization already delivers recovery and wellness services—and no changes are needed—think again. This is a mind trap that we all fall into from time to time, and it keeps us from learning and producing better recovery results. After all, we all are just scratching the surface. Look for those spontaneous moments when you can move deeper into the recovery experience and express it more fully in your programs. And, remember, you can intentionally create such moments, just like Christy and her team did.

Lori Ashcraft, PhD, and Christy Dye are with Recovery Innovations, Inc., in Phoenix: Dr. Ashcraft directs its Recovery Opportunity Center, and Dye is President/CEO of Recovery Innovations of Arizona. Dr. Ashcraft also is a member of Behavioral Healthcare's Editorial Board.
William A. Anthony, PhD, is Director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University.

For a complete description of Recovery Innovations' plan to take advantage of “moments,” e-mail

Behavioral Healthcare 2009 February;29(2):6-8

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