Three insights from week two: intentionality, innovation and leadership in Anchor organisations

(If you haven’t read previous blog posts on Anchors, you can check them out here. This one might not make much sense without those as background)

This second week of the research has been a busy one, first in Boston and now in Cleveland – a city that many consider the leader in community wealth building. It’s been a hugely productive time, and in the moments in-between interviews and meetings I’ve been starting to draft a theory of change to help frame the research. I’m hoping to share the Theory of Change next week, and will test and adapt it through this trip. For now, I wanted to share three insights that have come up this week in the conversations with leading Anchors in North America, which I have found particularly helpful in distilling some of my thinking about what it means to be an Anchor organisation.

The first is on the idea of intentionality. It’s a word which has come up a lot in the last week, and more than one organisation has said that being an Anchor Organisation really means being very intentional in everything you do: from what you buy to who you buy it from, what you invest in to who you hire and how you think about your future as an organisation. It means being a hospital, or a University, for example – that has its own economic development strategy for the area it is based in, and the population it serves. Perhaps most importantly, it is about being consistent about applying this intention across all of an organisations’ functions, and having some way to co-ordinate the sum of all these parts and make them a core part of an organisation’s strategy and narrative.

The second insight is about who does the work when it comes to implementing the action that make up an Anchor institution. Being an Anchor institution means the core organisational functions – finance, procurement, HR, supply chain, estates, IT – are the site of innovation. The Anchor story is one where many of these functions become much more closely connected to the mission of the organisations, and the way that they do business becomes as important as the front line services of a hospital, or university, for example. The leaders I met in Cleveland driving this work forward were Finance managers, Chief Administration Officers, Supply Chain Directors and HR managers – not the strategy and innovation teams, or even the clinical teams – which often are the ones that we might expect to see innovation from.

The last area of insight has been on how to create the institutional infrastructure that can guard against an over-reliance on visionary leaders to lead and deliver the Anchor mission. As with many innovations, senior buy in and ownership is essential. The pioneering work in Cleveland that I have seen in action this week started with the vision of senior leader – CEOs and Chief Operating Offices, mainly – and many of those have stayed engaged over the last fifteen years. Over that period of time some of the work has become routine, and embedded in the day to day operations of their organisations. This is particularly true when it comes to supply chain, procurement and HR initiatives. But institutional knowledge also requires a strong public narrative and close community partnerships: these provide external accountability. Public commitment and long lasting relationships go a long way, and are proving essential foundations to the most successful Anchor initiatives.

Lots of other gems of learning have emerged this week from the many interviews and meetings I’ve had which I’ll share next week, along with the draft theory of change. For now, it’s on to San Francisco!

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