God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen & Gentlewomen

We’re winding down another year here at OrgCode. Heck, we’re even going to shut the door and turn off the phones for a week between Christmas and the New Year and that will be a first since we re-booted the company in Q4 2009.

God rest us merry gentlemen and gentlewomen.

It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since John Whitesell and I shook hands to grab the reins of OrgCode together – and a real honor for me given John had been leading the company as Managing Director for over 25 years.

Taking a retrospective gander at 2011 there are some things that stand out for me as great opportunities as well as lessons learned. They are:

  1. Our professional integrity remains intact. We truly want to be catalysts for better outcomes and when we were challenged in a “bait and switch” RFP to be the mouthpiece for somebody else’s agenda after we won the project, we noisily declined to continue and ended the engagement. If you listen carefully, sleepless nights can be informative in and of themselves.
  2. The National Alliance to End Homelessness still rocks. I just totally dig their staff and everything the organization stands for. The fact that they decided to let me start guest blogging this year is and honor and icing on the proverbial cake.
  3. Speaking of blogs, I finally got the hang of taking point for the OrgCode blog this year. The 10 part series on the essential elements of successful housing programs was particularly well received. The one on youth and harm reduction also got some good conversations started.
  4. Facebook page. I let attention to it slip for a while but focused attention brought with it some good results. The “Insights” button on our page tells me we are big with women. Given so much of OrgCode’s work is in human services and housing, it is no wonder that so many women look at our page due to their disproportionate representation in those sectors. Now, if only we could get to 100 “Likes”…come on guys!
  5. Minnesota is a larger state than I thought. When I did a five-day workshop and speaking tour through the state I was amazed how long it took to get from one destination to another. Thank goodness for gracious hosts from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency who were much more than tour guides.
  6. Detroit would be more fun if border crossings were easier. Yes, I am working on getting my NEXUS card. I also had a habit of getting lost when in Detroit but that led to some interesting insights about the changes in the City. The work with HAND and CSH was really terrific and totally offset the tardy border crossings As an aside, there is a humorous blog I wrote after staying in a hotel in Detroit.
  7. Another affordable housing study done. I like that we have, in a couple short years, been successful at preparing affordable housing studies in small, rural and urban communities.
  8. Tweeting about things that matter. Slowly, I have learned the art of the 140 character haiku that is the core of the Twitterverse. Linking to interesting research, news articles and highlighting where we are and what projects we are working on has turned out to be a good use of the medium for OrgCode. Our followers have increased, and many of them are directly related to the work that we do. Now that we have the hang of it, we are looking forward to attracting many more followers in 2012.
  9. I appreciate how much certain Executive Directors teach me. This year in particular I learned loads from Robin Miiller who is the ED of the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society about patience, seeing the big picture and graceful leadership. I learned about embracing change as an organization from Marion McGuigan who is the ED of CMHA Red Deer and in charge of the Buffalo Hotel. Susan McGee at Homeward Trust in Edmonton has shown me the value of constantly trying to improve an organization and seeking excellence day in and day out. There are other fine EDs that I have had the privilege of working with as well, but these three fine women immediately jump to mind.
  10. Providing leadership training rocks my world. It was a real honor to roll out the leadership training curriculum, especially for folks in the trenches of non-profits who rarely get the opportunity to participate in this type of training. The few weeks I spent this year delivering this training really fuelled my soul.
  11. Kudos are a nice feeling, but I really do like knowing what people think of my presentations, workshops, speeches, keynotes, etc. At the Ending Homelessness Summit in Michigan this year, I was the top-ranked speaker. That felt awesome. I’d still like more people to fill out our survey to give us feedback on how we can be even better in the future. We are offering a $250 donation to a charity of your choice by means of a draw from the people who complete our survey. The winner will be announced on our website and through social media on January 20.
  12. It may be time to buy property in Alberta. The people and organizations I meet in the province keep blowing up the stereotypes that I had about Alberta. This, in turn, keeps me going back there to the point where I am spending about a third of my time in the province. I have concluded that we need to buy property in Alberta so now the “where” becomes a challenge because I have enjoyed the local nuances of every place that I have visited!
  13. It remains an honor to stay connected to academia through York University. I love that I get to spend time with graduate students chewing on ideas related to housing, homelessness and community planning. I really dig how this helps translate into my professional work. I especially enjoy that John and I have the opportunity to take on interns and provide meaningful connections for them to the real world. Our interns have helped us to anchor some of our research work. For example, we are doing a research project with E4C in Edmonton on the experience of sexually exploited women and Housing First. Such a project would not be feasible or possible if it weren’t for the connections to York University and the involvement of my students.
  14. Growth of a company can have false starts. I want OrgCode to grow. We have loads of work to do. But trying to find the right fit for the way that we operate, our ethics and values isn’t all that easy. The private sector and non-profit sector may seem incompatible but, in fact, they are starting to mesh and we have to plan accordingly. We had a few people cycle through this year because the challenge of our work combined with our expectations surprised them. The gem of the year has been Ali Ryder. She is a complete geek in all the right ways. She gives John and I the gears. She is an awesome analyst and I know she has a really bright future.
  15. John is a terrific business partner and great friend. Really sappy, I know, but John is a super duper good dude. In his role as Chief Operating Officer as well as a frontline consultant, he takes care of all the stuff that I suck at, without complaining. He encouraged me to start using the President & CEO title with the full knowledge that growth and succession are realities of both life and organizations. When I look at some of the projects like Newfoundland & Labrador, Saskatchewan and others where John did the lion’s share of the work this year, I remain in awe at the breadth and depth of his knowledge. He is going strong with an exuberance that would challenge professionals half his age. There is still so much I want and need to learn from John. Even as my business partner, he hasn’t relinquished his mentorship duties and for that I will always be grateful.

And that pretty much wraps up the quick 2011 retrospective and all of us at OrgCode hope that we have the chance to connect with you in 2012. In the meantime, here’s our wish that you get a chance to sip some eggnog, hang out with people you care about, and enjoy a safe holiday season.

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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