Jane Pisano: Changing Public and Nonprofit Organizations Webinar

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0:17 …if the weather warnings, the dire warnings to-be here, of course, I’ve told our speaker that we have the bravest, most faithful of people here this evening, and a distinguished group of guests here this evening, including two of our vice-provosts – the Vice Provost for Student Life, Peter Novak, the Vice Provost for the Regional Campuses and Distance Learning, Carol Batker. We also have here this evening the founding dean of the School of Management, Mike Duffy, who is joining us here for this evening, and our Associate Deans, Richard Stackman, Tom Grossman and Catherine Horiuchi, who have been enormously supportive of the lecture series. We also have the founder of our program, our Master’s of Non-Profit Administration, Michael O’Neill, who is joining us here this evening as well as any number of distinguished and honored guests, so we’re very glad. And before I introduce our speaker, I want to introduce her spouse, Mark Pisano, who’s been an extraordinary leader in Southern California as the Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Governments. So you can truly say that you have two of the architects of Los Angeles as we know it here this evening with Dr. Mark Pisano and Dr. Jane Pisano.

1:36 I’d like to introduce Dr. Jane Pisano this evening around her work that has really embodied the ideas and the values of the University and the values that have been represented by the support that we’ve had for this lecture series, and an important part of that support has been through the Jesuit Foundation Board, and we have Fr. John Copeland, who is here this evening, who is the chair of that board and they made a generous grant to help us put this lecture series together.

2:06 And so the values that the Jesuit Foundation Board and the Ignatian values of this University about not really accepting the world as we find it. That what are the opportunities to change the world from here? And Jane has done that in two extraordinary posts. The Senior Vice President for the University of Southern California and now as President and Director of the Natural Hist – Los Angeles Natural History Museum. And so for the last eleven years, has really been an architect and a leader of change there and prior to that for a decade as Senior Vice President at the University of Southern California. So we’ve invited Jane this evening to talk about her leadership experience in getting traction on change, and getting change within organizations, and how do you do that as a leader? How do you change whatever part of the world that you’re changing, how do you change it from here and so on both a personal and professional level, deeply honored to have Jane join – Dr. Jane Pisano join us this evening and look forward to her discussion. Afterwards, we might do some brief Q & A, but want to get you out of here before bad weather hits and also want to thank Jane’s daughter, who’s here this evening – Mariana, who shared her mother and father with us this evening and managed to push them out of the house, even though their gran- their favored grandson is there. So, it’s a not just a long trip from California from Los Angeles to come up here, but to spend time with us even when your grandson is so near, so on so many levels, we’d really like to thank Jane and it’s a great opportunity here from someone I have the deepest admiration and respect for her considerable body of work that has been as our mutual colleague Bob Biller used to say, has advantaged us all. So it’s great to have you here, Jane.

4:00 [Applause.]

4:06 Jane Pisano: Thank you, Rich. We miss you at USC and in Southern California, and I’m not at all surprised that you took the initiative to do something as wonderful as this lecture series here at USF.

4:22 JP: In a way, when Rich asked me to come, I hesitated. The idea of changing the world from here is such a big idea. I’ve always felt that my work was more like – excuse me, Father – that old Protestant hymn, you know, “Brighten the Corner Where You Live.” Changing the world sounds quite bold, but the more I thought about it, I realized that what my career has been about is changing large organizations. And there’s something very important about the scale that large organizations can deliver. It matters that 200,000 school children and their teachers a year come to the Natural History Museum. It matters that more than 650 young people have had an all-expenses-paid education at the University of Southern California because they participated in neighborhood outreach programs.

5:31 JP: It matters that the University, working with neighbors, was able to reduce crime in the area around the University really by working with their neighbors in a kid-watch program. So what can be accomplished by large institutions, if they’re so motivated, that really change the world for the better, is extraordinary. And therefore, I think that the subject of how these large-scale organizations change is something that has been of interest to me, and might be of interest to you.

6:13 JP: And I have to say that you don’t have to be THE boss in order to change the world. I’m going to talk to you about two examples of changing large-scale institutions, one of which I was the Senior Vice President at USC, and the other, from the museum where I have been the person in charge and most responsible. And I’m going to talk to you about four elements that I think are essential if large-scale change is to occur.

6:50 JP: First, I want to talk about authenticity, which is the “real you.” The up-close-and-personal you, and how you then second communicate that authenticity to people inside the organization and people outside the organization. So the first element is authenticity and the second is communication.

7:13 JP: And then you have to have strategy. Otherwise, you’re flailing around. And I want to talk a lot about what strategy looks like in large organizations, if those organizations have room enough to breathe and maneuver and be opportunitistic, even if their original plans don’t materialize.

7:35 JP: And in the process of that, I’m going to talk about using a budget to effect change, and finally the importance of metrics, so you know how – you know whether and to what extent you’ve succeeded

7:51 JP: So, authenticity, communication, strategy and the fourth thing I want to talk about is commitment, or will. There were certainly moments that I had at the Natural History Museum early on where I just willed it to happen. I would not let it fail. And I’m sure that all of you have had similar experiences, actually, where there’s something that just moves you forcefully forward because you can find a path, or because you’re too stubborn to quit. Whatever it is, I think that element of commitment or will is also absolutely essential to change the world from here.

8:41 JP: So let me talk about authenticity. You know, it’s not so easy if you’re a large organization and especially a well-established one to know who the “real you” actually is. If, at a University, the alumni would actually like to see the place frozen in time. They want it to be the way it was when they were students, whereas the students want to move into the world of the future. The same is true at a natural history museum. I mean, it may be even worse because the researchers see it as a research institute and suffer the public to come. The educators see it as the place for moms with kids in strollers, not a wonderful place for lifelong learning, which is what this center does. So somehow, getting everybody on the same page is absolutely essential if you’re going to move the institution forward, and that takes a tremendous amount of work.

9:49 JP: I’ve come to know that process as “branding.” Now, branding is not the – I mean, yes – branding is not just a logo. Branding is not the Nike swoosh. Branding is basically everything that you feel about yourself and that you project and that you want those with whom you interact to experience with you.

10:16 JP: At USC, there were many diverse constituencies. Authenticity was definitely in the eye of the beholder. And around 1993, we actually started a logo process, not a branding process. So, I was shocked when Saul Bass, who is a noted graphic designer, said, “Well, first we have to talk to all the different constituencies at the University and get their take on what the University is.” I thought, “Well, don’t you just go off and design something?” Well, no. And that process taught me so much and out of that process came five elements that the whole community, the whole USC community could agree were absolutely central to USC’s authenticity.

11:10 JP: One, and keep in mind that these were aspirational, as well as real. So one was quality aligned with the top AAU universities. So USC had had and still has an aspiration to be among the very best universities in the country. It was very good, and had an aspiration to move higher.

11:38 JP: Prominent stature in a major world-class – as a major world-class university. Global reach. Well, USC had plenty of students from abroad, but I wouldn’t say its global reach was extensive. It had definitely something to build on and it was something that the community identified with. Inclusive. Including diverse constituencies, a multi-cultural student body and a culture pre-disposed to service, as in USF. And finally, the last element was Trojan Family. It was a very, very strong identity of USC.

12:20 JP: Well, by the time we got through all that, I wasn’t even very interested in what the logo would look like because that was much better. That exercise, yes, it led to a new logo, but it led to something much more important. It was a guidepost. It was the opportunity for consensus-building among the constituencies. So that everyone said, “We are and have not been for years, the University of Spoiled Children. We are not that. We are something else. And then we began to walk that talk. That’s where the “Change the World from Here” comes from. So, ok, if you really want to be inclusive, and you really want to celebrate multiculturalism and diversity, well hey! USC was right in the middle of an urban neighborhood. For years and years, it had been inward-facing, and the challenge was how to make it outward-facing and reach into the community.

13:22 JP: We had many conversations with neighborhood teachers and with principals, and out of that was born the family of five schools. I mentioned the kidwatch program…

13:36 [Technician adjusts speaker's microphone.]

13:40 JP: Keep going, he says.

13:41 [Laughs]

13:49 JP: And all of these – all of these programs were really interesting but wouldn’t have taken root and changed the very nature of the University had we not done a few other things, and one of them was to establish a fund called USC Neighborhood Outreach, and ask all the faculty and staff to contribute to that fund. The University was collecting $150,000 for United Way every year. A university that was the largest private employer in the City of Los Angeles. $150,000. And we went to the staff and said, “OK. What would you give money to?” And the bottom line through all of the … better? — bottom line through all of those conversations was, “We would give money to something where the University pays all the overhead. So one hundred cents of every dollar goes into the community. And where there’s a partnership, being a community or a department or you know, some element of the community – of the University and a community-based organization. And only the USC entity can apply for the money and only the community-based organization gets the money. It’s a true partnership, not, you know, rubber-stamping.

15:21 JP: Well, that turned out to be very successful, and by the way, today the University raises more than a million dollars a year through USC Neighborhood Outreach, but it was especially important in disaggregating the University, the big University. So it, so a small non-profit or even an individual could have a conversation, knew where and how to have a conversation with a part of that University, and they could have it as equals. So there was – there wasn’t , “I’m asking you for this and you, Big Institution, will you give it?” but something that really approached much more the neighborliness that the outward focus seemed to require, and it seemed appropriate to do.

16:18 JP: Well, a funny thing happened over the years since we started Neighborhood Outreach, and that is the faculty and staff are completely outward-looking. I mean everybody understands we live in this fabulous urban environment and that USC has something to contribute.

16:39 JP: As important, we made lemonade out of what was a negative for the University. People didn’t want to send their children because it was crime-ridden and bad part of town. Well, the whole area picked up because of these partnerships and it was really kind of a win-win. And the University then was able to truly walk the talk of what it had said aspirationally in its brand.

17:07 JP: With regard to the Natural History Museum – first of all, all natural history museums have a problem, which is the general take on them is that they are filled with dead, stuffed things. And that they are boring. And the Natural History Museum – and on top of that – was really stuck. It had low attendance. The budget was not even close to being balanced, and yes, it did fall into the category of dusty and dead. And so we decided that we had to do something pretty dramatic.

17:48 JP: We did an environmental scan. We looked at what other cultural institutions were doing. We looked worldwide at natural history museums. We asked ourselves, “Who are our audiences?” And it turns out that at the Natural History Museum, our audiences are as diverse as the City and County of Los Angeles itself. And at the same time, most of our audience couldn’t tell you what a mammal is, but they want to know and they don’t want science dumbed down.

18:22 JP: So, we came to the conclusion actually after all of this work, that our brand was really hiding in plain sight. It was our mission statement. And our mission statement, which we were very seriously following and inspired by, itself said the mission is to inspire wonder, discovery and responsibility for our natural and cultural world. So it was extremely visitor-focused. Just as the University became very neighborhood-focused, and that was a real turnaround for most of our staff, I must say, who felt that people who walked through the door were going to get their unvarnished pronouncements about whatever they were most interested in, as opposed to what the visitor was most interested in.

19:16 JP: I myself am not a scientist, but it just occurred to me that if we could listen to our visitors, we could meet them halfway. And that, in fact, became our mantra, which is where our research and collections meet our visitor experience. We began to develop this brand and we used it as a tool for transformation. And why do it? Well, we felt if we could have a clear brand that it would increase attendance and loyalty. It would help people understand the museum and its purpose. It would increase our ability to fundraise and it would increase our visibility in the community. And all of those things proved to be true.

20:06 JP: But then came the hard part. We had to look at ourselves really closely and say, “Hmm. You know what? Even though the mission has been our mission for a number of years, we don’t really do it very well. And we either have to do it well or we have to change our mission. So when we looked, we said we do pretty well on wonder. I mean, dinosaurs are about the awe. You know, sort of the a-ha moment. So we gave ourselves three checks out of four on that one. Then we said, “Well, hmm. But discovery. We don’t do so well on that. Give us two checks.” And responsibility. Responsibility for our natural and cultural world we do least well of all. One check. Admitting that. Getting everyone to understand that we either had to do this right or do something else, which I was not going to do, was an important challenge and THE thing we had to do.

21:11 JP: So we made this brand, this mission, the heart of the matter. It was – it’s everything for us. It’s what we did with our exhibits. It’s what we did with our programs. It’s what we did with our website. Yes, it was a logo, and yes it was communications tools, but the most important thing was it was a tool for us to get us all on the same page and agree about not only agree to the words of what the museum was about but to live them every single day, and to have them guide our collective decisions.

21:56 JP: So, I think that’s all I want to say about authenticity, but obviously it right away in to communications. I learned about communications very well when I was at USC because the mantra at USC was, “You know the name of your audience.” Just like here. There are donors. There are students. There are prospective students. There are alumni. There are community influencers. You know their names. They are not random people. And you have communications vehicles. And you need to communicate with these people that you know clearly, consistently and often.

22:40 JP: At USC, we did something that was really unorthodox. We took various constituencies and we took people we thought were leaders from various constituencies. There were maybe a thousand when we started, and we asked them if they would be willing to be USC ambassadors. And we sent them every piece of information that we produced. And every piece of information that we produced by the way, was on the elements of what we determined was the “real USC.” The Trojan Family, the diverse cultural audiences, the top-tier university. Those messages over and over, and we asked these ambassadors who eventually put USC Ambassador on their resumes, which I thought was great, we asked them what they thought. And in the beginning, what we got was, “You are dropping the ball here, there and everywhere.” And we were running around fixing problems. You know, what we wanted was feedback on the communications, but what we uncovered were a lot of problems that we could fix right away, so people would say, “Oh my gosh, they’re really moving forward!” And we got really valuable feedback as well. You could not read a USC publication ever without there being some story of a USC partnership with the community and the same for any other of the elements that we all agreed were part of our authentic self. And you know, as we said them over and over, collectively, internally in the museum we all began to believe it. That that is who we are. And so it was the combination of the doing and the saying that really turned USC in a fundamental way to being an outwardly focused institution.

24:56 JP: Our goal was to make the our inner city location a plus in order to actually increase the quality of undergraduate education. We were really clear about that. People didn’t want their children to come because they thought the neighborhood wasn’t safe. And as I mentioned before, this campaign and all this work has really made it an asset for USC, communicating internally and externally.

25:14 JP: At the Natural History Museum, I learned that lesson well. We don’t know all of our audience by name, but we started with 13,000 members and now we have 28,000 members. We know them by name. And we know our donors by name, and our civic leaders by name, so we’ve taken a page out of what I learned at the USC playbook, and we communicate with our donors clearly, consistently and often, too. And of course, websites and social media and all the things that I need my 30-year-old staff to teach me, we do.

25:54 JP: So, we’ve talked about authenticity and we’ve talked about communication. I’d like now to talk about strategy, and the first thing I want to say about strategy beside how absolutely essential it is to driving change is that in my experience, strategy is about a direction, not about a plan. So, it’s like, you know you want to go north and you don’t really know whether – you don’t really have to decide whether you’re going to take a bus or a train or a plane. You just know that you want to go north. Because so much happens and you can be opportunistic, or if there are roadblocks you can just take a detour. We certainly did that many times at the Natural History Museum. I have another word for this. Which is called “its journey.” When I got to the Museum, the board really wanted change, and what they thought would be good would be a new building. If you don’t know what else to do, build a building. And you know, I kind of got sucked into that. I didn’t know much about natural history museums when I started. But we couldn’t, in the end, build the building. We had world-class architects. We had a competition. We chose one. And by the time this world-class architect was finished designing our new building, that was before the crash, the building cost almost $400 million. And I knew that we were never going to raise $400 million. And I think – I know the board did, too. So we abandoned that plan. Even though we had paid this architect a lot of money, we said – that’s when I really understood the concept of sunk costs, actually – “Just move on.”

27:51 JP: So instead we decided that we would restore our historic 1913 building. We would put in new exhibits. We would seismically strengthen as much of the building as we could and we would do the exhibits in this historic building and just a few others but just because the bones are connected and we felt we needed to do it. And as we did that work, we started fleshing out what the brand really meant. So every new exhibit that we’ve done is heavy on how we know what we know. And, “Oh my God, I didn’t know that!” The “a-ha moment” is the fun. In other words, we began to say, “Oh, if we’re going to be really serious about this brand – Wonder, Discovery, Responsibility – then we have to incorporate it in everything from the exhibits to the programming to the website. Everything. It has to be seamless. And so that’s what we did. There’s a lot more to it, but I’m trying to give you the essence because I think it has come to define the museum today.

29:13 JP: We also used the budget to set institutional priorities and to do that in a way that changed the culture. But every year, we had strategic priorities and every year, all my direct reports and I looked at the budget, planned for the budget and said, “We can afford five strategic priorities.” But we had a list of ten. We said, “OK. If we get to January and we have money that we have not spent, let’s prioritize the other – the rest of this list – and we’ll fund those as well.

29:55 JP: It was so liberating. It was so strategic and it was fabulous for me because instead of having the budget be a bilateral negotiation between me and the department head about their budget, instead it was about where the institution was going and what our collective priorities were. And everyone bought into it. And everyone put unspent money back on the table instead of squirreling it away. It was strategically, I think, one of the most important initiatives that we took and led to a much more collaborative, team-based culture, which has served us exceedingly well. I also have to say that our budget is always balanced, which is a change from when I arrived, which gives us a lot of credibility with the board.

30:51 JP: Today, after eleven years, there’s a Trustee-Staff committee and we’re talking about what we want the museum to be in 2023. So we have a new direction that is coming into focus. And once again, we will not use a plan. We will instead just move opportunistically and flexibly in order to accomplish whatever goal we decide to do.

31:21 JP: Finally, we have measured our success. I can tell you how many – what our attendance was last year. I can tell you that our attendance was 61% increased over a two-year period. So people do vote with their feet. I can tell you what the visitors are saying and how that has changed over time, because we do market surveys. We do focus groups and we measure our performance on a range of indicators that are important to us because they’re either important to our business model or they’re important to something deep in our mission, such as serving school children or partnering with teachers to co-create content for other teachers and the like.

32:14 JP: So that’s strategy in a nutshell. And the fourth element is commitment or will. I heard a wonderful story about a woman named Dorothy Buffum Chandler. Since you’re San Franciscans, you don’t know her, I’m sure, but she was the wife of the publisher of the Los Angeles Times and in the 1960′s she raised money – a lot of money – for the Music Center and really put Los Angeles on the map culturally. Now, I think you’d all agree that she started out with some pretty big assets to be a change agent. To be the wife of the publisher. But, you know, some years later, when she was older and the work was virtually done, a young woman told me this story who was there. She was at a small lunch with Mrs. Chandler and she said, “Please tell me the secret of your success. Why have you been able to make these fundamental changes?” And Buff Chander said, “Because it’s all I do. I get up in the morning and I’m thinking about it. I work on it all day long. I don’t go to – I don’t play bridge. I don’t go to ladies’ lunches. This is what I do.” Her commitment to it was unwavering and unceasing. People tell funny, funny stories. No one wanted to get near her at dinner, of course, because it cost them.

33:52 JP: But I think it’s really, really important. It’s the power of will. Theodore White talked about John Kennedy as President and said that he had the intellectual energy to imagine and perceive and to seize the initiative. I think that’s a really good way of saying what is required if you’re going to change an organization or change the world from here.

34:25 JP: So what else about commitment? Well first, I would say it’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. My friend, Warren Bennis has written a very famous book – a very famous saying about leaders and managers. “Leaders do the right thing. Managers do things right.” But my experience is that if you’re going to transform a large organization, you have to be both a leader and a manager. You have to be – and I used to always say, “Well, I’m a builder. I’m not a maintainer.” And I used that every time I changed jobs, which was fairly frequently, but the truth is that you have to be a builder and a maintainer. You have to always strive for something new and move the institution forward, and you have to do the things that institutionalize that change and enable you to maintain the gains that you’ve done. It’s pretty easy to go around and make big pronouncements or even to do an interesting program or something that doesn’t last but for something that lasts, if it’s a large organization you better have your HR systems in place. You have to have the nuts and bolts working really well that enable an institution to just move along.

35:59 JP: And I would also say that culture change, which is typically needed in organizations, takes a lot of time You have to – if you’re going to really change and that change is going to make a difference in the community, then you have to institutionalize it. And that’s a really important reason why commitment is a marathon and not a sprint.

36:30 JP: I mentioned before that it’s also a journey. Let me tell you what I mean by that. You cannot go from poor to great in an institution. It’s just not possible. I think everyone would agree that the key to great success is having great people. If you don’t have great people, and if those great people arent’working to their fullest capacity, if they’re spending all of their time, you know, jockeying for power and stuff like that, then they’re not lifting the institution. You have to have great people and they have to be working together on behalf of a shared vision. But if you have poor staff and you have poor institution you can’t get “A” people. Takes a long time for “A” people to risk their careers on you. So you have to go from poor to OK and then OK to good, and then good to great. So that takes a long time too, but it’s absolutely key. It also takes awhile and it’s a journey. It’s certainly not a straight line because you try a lot of things and you fail. And so trial-and-error, moving things forward, taking prudent risks, and if they don’t work, moving on is all part of the process, too.

38:00 JP: So, commitment, it seems to me, is an essential piece of change. Changing the world from where you are, changing large-scale institutions so that they are better, all of that requires tremendous commitment if you’re going to be the change agent. So authenticity, communication, strategy and commitment. Those are the four keys I think.

38:30 JP: Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.”Excellence than is not an act, but a habit. Commitment is the key. Like excellence, leadership is not an act but a habit. But if you have that habit, you can change the world from here. Thank you.

38:55 [Applause]

39:03 JP: Now, I would love to take your questions, but first, I’d like to show you just a really brief video, because usually when people talk about the kinds of things I’ve just been discussing, there’s nothing visible that you could see, but there is in the case of the museum and I think you might enjoy it and then I’ll come back and take some questions.

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