Chicago ISPI Perspectives

Chicago ISPI believes collaborative, authentic, and frequent and open dialog are essential to our community. Each month a different board member or other chapter leader will share a personal perspective about our field, the chapter, or the work we do. If you would like to share your perspective in this space, please let us know and we will discuss the opportunity with you.
  • July 31, 2015 2:54 PM | Anonymous

    This word has been used or applied to describe about almost any collection of individuals – at town, a religious affiliation, a fraternal organization, an apartment complex, and yes, even a professional organization – and regardless of how poorly those individuals communicate with each other. 


    noun: community; plural noun: communities

    1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.

    2. a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals

    We, as a board, and as an entity have been using the word “community” to attempt to describe how we want people to associate and communicate with one another regarding our professional interests.  Where this is generally an okay use of the word, I believe it falls a little short on directive.  To be a meaningful community, we need to restrict that label to be a descriptor for a group of individuals who have learned to communicate honestly and openly with each other - where our relationships can go deeper than the masks of composure we wear, and who have developed some commitment to each other and can make other’s situations our own.  But how do we get there?  And how do we function to look like that?

    Community needs to be more than the sum of its parts, its individual members.   But what is this something more? 

    I read an article where the concept of community is analogous to that of a gem.  The seeds or foundation of community reside in our humanity – being a social species – just as a gem originally resides in the earth.  But that which lies in the earth is not yet a gem, only a potential one.  Geologists refer to gems in the rough simply as a stone.  A group becomes a community in somewhat the same way a stone becomes a gem – through a process of cutting and polishing.  Once cut and polished, the stone becomes something beautiful.  And generally we describe this beauty using terms like clarity and facets.  So community, like a gem, is multifaceted and that each facet is contributing to the overall worth.

    I believe this analogy resonates with me because we just cannot push people together or ask them to come together and expect beautiful things will automatically happen.  Our communities in Chicago ISPI will require a lot of “cutting and polishing”. And just at the artist who takes a rough stone and creates a gem with the greatest clarify and light reflecting facets, we will need to have patience and creative sight.

    So for me, if we are to really aspire to be a community for each other, then like the gem stone, we’ll need to strive for the best clarify –i.e., communicating honestly and openly with one another – and have brilliant facets – i.e. members who are willing to reflect the light on topics, problems, career paths, our industry, etc.   And it is with this aspiration and commitment to cutting and polishing, we can make our Chicago ISPI communities invaluable to our members.

    Kevin Rillo, Director Chicago ISPI


  • June 10, 2015 2:34 PM | Anonymous

    Reflections on the ISPI Conference 

    I challenged myself to come up with a one word summary of the 2015 ISPI national conference. But how to choose just one word to represent four days of workshops, reflections, new friendships, and the opportunity to meet the rock stars of performance improvement: Bob Brinkerhoff, Roger Addison, Roger Chevalier, Judy Hale, Kery Mortenson, Dick Handshaw and others?

    The word that I kept coming back to was: excellence.

    Excellence touched every aspect of the experience. Whether it was explicitly stated or not, excellence was a part of every workshop and all of the keynotes. And, the word seems a fitting summary, because it is what performance improvement is about. We strive to make people better at what they do using a systematic approach that focuses on results.

    Here are the top two things I learned:

    1. From a chapter perspective, every chapter struggles with programming! It’s difficult in our larger geographic locations to offer programming that is convenient to everyone. In addition, we serve a wide range of professionals so it’s also a challenge to offer something to meet everyone’s growth needs. One potential solution we discussed is co-located programming. In the future, we will be sharing our event calendar with other chapters. The recent Ask the Expert call-in was a great example…we sent our event information to ISPI and the Michigan, Charlotte, Florida, and Virginia chapters. We hoped that this would not only be a great way for other ISPI and chapter members to take advantage of performance improvement leaders, Lisa Toenniges and Kery Mortenson, but also that it would begin to broaden our connections and perspectives by attracting views from across the country. We are an amazing and talented group of people; it’s time we got to know one another!
    2. John Heun from TIAA-CREF provided another top idea: project charters. A project charter is applicable to consultants and those who work in corporate learning. In both spaces, there are more projects and work to be done then hands and budget to do them. The charter provides a mechanism to focus on and prioritize those projects with the highest return and best opportunity for successful completion. It helps project sponsors think through the specifics of what they want to accomplish with the learning request and begins the needs assessment – what is it that the sponsor is seeing that is leading to a learning request? It also asks for information on human capital and budget resources. Even the best, most needed project won’t be successful without the resources needed to make it happen. We wouldn’t begin construction on a house with no manpower and no money. Why would we take on a learning project with the same conditions? Yet we do and the opportunity cost is enormous. Check out the Chicago ISPI tools website for an example of a project charter.

    If you were able to attend the conference, we would love to have you share your top ideas…start a discussion on the Chicago ISPI website under discussions:

     Or maybe you have an example of a tool that you couldn’t live without – share it with others using the resource referral section:

     Help us build excellence in your ISPI community.

  • April 20, 2015 7:45 AM | Anonymous

    Parker Palmer, one of my favorite deep thinkers and writer who focuses on issues in community, leadership, and social change says,

    “Leadership for community consists in creating, holding, and guarding a trustworthy space in which human resourcefulness may be evoked.”

    Wow. That sounds deep, eh? Well it is and we can learn from this depth of wisdom.

    If you’ve been to this website before, you already know that Chicago IPSI is transforming its meetings so that they are based on a community of practice (CoP) model. Why? Because the model we had before was not sustainable, and there was enough desire, vision, and love of the community to launch us forward towards a new model that more aptly meets our professional and connection needs. One where we, indeed, have begun to create a space for human resourcefulness, or room for contribution from each and every Chicago ISPI member to be able to “give and get” in equal parts.

    So far, we’re on a steady climb. It’s not been without stumble, but let’s talk about what’s worked thus far.

    In the beginning, we reached out to long-time members of Chicago ISPI who had successfully run local community meetings and asked for their key learning. One dictum came clear...

    Lesson Learned: Do not do it alone! Avoid taking the majority of responsibility on one or a few people.

    I knew if I was going to lead the exploration of uncharted terrain based on research and inspiration alone, I needed  to round out my perspective and make sure my thinking was challenged. From the get-go we recruited a “core team” of leader advisors who came from different vantage points. Who knew it would turn out that the three of us had complimentary, yet distinct points of view whose voices could grow to a crescendo faster than Beethoven’s Symphony #9.  

    Lesson Learned: Lead a community with other leaders. Seek out different points of view and welcome debate. Have the grit to allow healthy discourse and challenge to broaden and strengthen your thinking.

    We all knew clearly that we couldn’t build the community with just the three of us. The first time we had to trust, and be willing to let go of the idea, was at last year’s Cracker-barrel. We told ourselves we were going to do an “ask” of the attendees for volunteers to build these community meetings. If the attendees were not interested, we’d leave it there. 18 of you filled out brightly colored cards and offered to be on a team.

    Lesson Learned: Check in with the community at critical milestones. Ask for buy-in. Do not move forward without it.

    We recruited the majority of the volunteers for our Face-to-Face (F2F) Design team; the challenge was to structure in-person community meetings. So that no Chicago ISPI member had to travel too far, the idea was (and is) to create multiple communities throughout Chicago-land, based on geography. Up to this point, which was around November 2014, our core team had had many discussions on what these meetings would look like. And, at the same time, we were mindful that we did not want to impose our ideas on the new volunteers. In other words, we wanted them to be able to contribute original ideas and contribute to the vision.

    This is the stage when things can get potentially tricky... We were building a new kind of widget, without known equipment and with a new team. We had no policy and procedure manual and no standards for hiring. We also did not have a defined task. Our task was conceptual and visionary. What would you do?

    Lesson Learned: Trust the person with the clearest idea and use a collaborative process. Take the time to set up collaboration systems. Now!

    We developed a track to run on for the group. This track needed to be structured enough to help guide the teams, yet open enough to allow for creative thinking. It ended up looking like general descriptions of work streams--meeting design, content selection process, facilitator support, participant on-boarding, evaluation and logistics--with defined suggested goals, tasks, collaboration points, and examples. For each track, we recruited work stream leaders—right then and there, in that first kick off meeting--and asked them to commit to a weekly status meeting and the duration of the project.  And, by the way, this all happened in December of 2014 so that the team was prepared to start work in January of 2015.

    Lesson Learned: For emergent collaborative work, teams need a solid structure to get them started. Face to face is a must to build connection and trust. Once the trust is established, a looser structure, deeper collaboration, and controlled experimentation is possible. And, you can get work done in December!

    There’s more to this story, but this is a blog...

    I will make one last point, though. When you set an intention to build a community, which is something you’ve not done before, with people you’ve mostly just become acquainted, and you want to elicit “resourcefulness” from the contributors, trust is the operative action word.

  • March 28, 2015 12:33 AM | Anonymous

    We are laying the groundwork to make us a better and stronger community. Upcoming changes will redefine this group.   Being new to the Chicago ISPI Board, I thought I could write something about my experiences so far as a director on the board. 

    I was happy to join, but I wasn’t sure what a board did except sit around and make very important decisions about very important issues.  So I Googled “board” and found the definition, for our purposes, to be “an organized group of administrators assembled to function as a governing body”.  Good enough?  Of course not.  I didn’t stop there. 

    I quickly realized that “board” likely has more definitions than any other word in the English language.  There were the normal definitions, such as ”board” (a flat piece of lumber), being “on board” (in agreement), “room and board” (food and lodging), etc.  But there were others I hadn’t heard of such as a leeboard, which is a lifting foil located on the leeward side of a ship.  In Australia, a board is the part of the floor of a sheep- shearing shed where the shearers work.  In the early days of English theater, “treading the boards” referred to a stage career.   A plank is thicker than a board but not necessarily wider.  Who knew?

    Some definitions were confusing.  In transportation terms, board means both “an invited embarkation on a vessel, train, aircraft or other vehicle” and “to attack by forcing one’s way”.  I guess the second definition explains most passenger behavior at O’Hare.

    Some boards are luckier than others.  You can board a ship for a cruise vacation.  After years of hard work you can successfully pass the medical boards and become a MD.  Other boards are not so lucky.  Snowboards and surfboards are stepped on and ridden, hockey players are violently shoved into the boards (go Hawks!), thumbtacks are jabbed into bulletin boards, and dartboards….well…...need I say more?

    I now believe that as our language was being developed and people couldn’t think of a word to call something, they just chose to name it a board. 

    So what was the point of all of this?  I really didn’t have one.  But I do look forward to working with all of you during this wonderful transition!

    Jim Davis, Director, Chicago ISPI

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