Signs of spring are around. Here in Edmonton, we’ve almost reached the time of year when it’s safe to plant the garden – anything put in the ground earlier than mid-late May runs the risk of perishing in an overnight frost. I force myself to be patient as greenhouses open, tempting me with bright blooms that appear ready for planting. Instead, I turn my attention to clearing thatch, loosening the soil after our harsh winters, and readying the ground for new recruits to take root. It’s not as easy to appreciate as the flowers to come, but it’s progress.
Spring is also here at NSGC, marked by a rise in activity. After time to establish new leadership teams and settle in with members and staff partners, committees are meeting and starting on their charges that drive NSGC’s Plan of Work. Some hit the ground running with recurring and rhythmic deadlines, while others take a beat to absorb work that is variable, abstract or perhaps in collaboration with others. On the Board, we experience regular and unexpected work, which all drives NSGC’s Strategic Plan. Much of this is to support committees, SIGs, individual members and others who advance NSGC’s work, while other parts are anticipatory or are topics that we raise for the organization.
At our first Board meeting, we talked about process. The process of how we treat each other, how we explore issues, how we engage others, how we look at the work, and of course, how we each process information (see what I did there?). Some of us speak aloud to process, some of us process internally and some of us are somewhere in between (that’s me). Often, we may only feel ready to make strategic decisions for the organization when we understand the process itself.
We’ve also talked about outcomes, the outputs of process. We can’t lose sight of outcomes as we focus on process, especially if these can be measured. Sometimes, outcomes are more important because critical windows of opportunity will close if we spend too much time on process. In some instances, we may accelerate the process if a critical, time-sensitive outcome will be achieved.
Everyone considers process and outcomes differently, which creates a tension that is helpful to recognize. Maybe this is articulated as, “I value time spent on process over outcomes” or vice-versa. On the Board, we’ve explored this tension as we’ve progressed through and toward strategic decisions. It’s clear that process and outcomes are linked, but the priority of each differs. It’s a challenge to find the right balance for everyone. But I also wonder if the process-outcomes paradigm doesn’t always serve the work we are doing.
In NSGC’s collective efforts that engage many individuals heading toward different goals, it can be difficult to recognize or define outcomes. And when an organization is growing and changing, as NSGC is, outcomes cannot always be quantified – this is often true for culture change, an incremental process. But without measurable outcomes, how do we know if we’re achieving or if we’re succeeding? Is something even happening if it isn’t being tracked?
In these situations, it can be helpful to apply a progress mindset.
I first stumbled upon this idea five years ago at my younger son’s elementary school. I was volunteering in his third-grade Art class and caught a wall poster that read, “Practice makes
perfect progress.” I read it repeatedly to ensure my eyes weren’t tricking me… and it blew my mind because I was raised to believe that anything less than perfection didn’t count. The Art teacher would say, “Practice makes progress” in response to frustrated students who didn’t feel their final artwork was good enough, and were being asked to recognize their smaller milestones in getting there.
A recent conversation with a fellow leader at a non-profit organization made me recall that poster. We talked about the tension between process and outcomes and she offered, “How about the progress?” All too often, we prioritize the method or final products over the little steps along the way.
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve seen progress across NSGC. Federal advocacy efforts are happening as we reintroduce our bill in a new Congress, with the progress from last year pushing our starting point further ahead than it’s ever been. Work around J.E.D.I. is evolving to action and assessment because the progress from last year of creating conceptual definitions allows us to move forward with a shared language and heightened awareness. There are many more examples of progress hiding in plain sight, if we shift our mindset to look for them.
As I look out at my garden, I’ll admit it – I wish those spring flowers were there. But since they’re nowhere to be found, I try to appreciate that the soil looks ready for new plants. Just yesterday, I spotted a ladybug crawling through the dirt. That’s a sign of spring, of progress, which I celebrate.
*Deepti took this photo of a lady bug in her garden to share with this article
Deepti Babu, MS, CGC (she/her) is 2023 NSGC President and Founder of Integrity Content Consulting. Deepti's engagement with NSGC spans 25 years, since joining as a student member and catching the volunteerism bug. She enjoys making meaning of complex scientific topics for varied audiences through her medical writing.