By Kathleen McCarthy
A lesson in how to relate “thinking” technology to “feelings” and our broader organizational culture
Maya Angelou famously said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I have given a lot of thought to this quote over the past year, especially as the Knott Foundation has transitioned to a new grants management system.
The transition to a new system began with a deep dive into to the ever-expanding world of software options. To see the multitude of bells and whistles available to manage, measure, and message our data was both overwhelming and exhilarating. And, like buying a new car, I could see how it would be very easy to walk away with a Ferrari when you only needed a Ford.
Our approach when identifying a system was largely threefold: to find a system that would improve operational efficiencies internally, enhance the grant applicant experience externally, and enable us to understand, aggregate, and share the data and stories we are collecting.
After months of planning and long hours of building out our new Fluxx platform, with tremendous excitement we went live with the system in April of this year. While largely a smooth ride, as is customary with any database transition, we have hit a few bumps in the road.
And this is where Maya Angelou comes into play. As it turns out, database transitions concern themselves with more than just data. At their heart they are all about people and how they feel.
For our staff, it was important that that the new system be flexible and powerful without being intimidating. To ensure that we achieved this in the final build, feelings became a big part of the conversation. Learning curves are inevitable, but what’s invaluable in getting the best possible product is understanding how the database ultimately makes the staff responsible for interacting with it feel. Communicating with Fluxx how certain processes and design elements were leaving individuals confused and uncertain helped us get to a place where change management (rather than crisis management) could take place.
For our applicants, it was important that the new system provide a high level of real time access and control. We believe, and have heard from many applicants, that the new online system does this. While the empowering elements are a valued improvement, we remain committed to our welcoming culture in the face of our new technology. Realizing that grant writing is a hard job and navigating the proclivities of foundations can be even harder, we never want to promote technological empowerment over human understanding. If we neglected to address how our new grants system made our applicants feel, we would not only be making their jobs harder, we wouldn’t be true to our own organizational culture.
Listening, acknowledging and responding to feelings throughout our database transition process has not always been easy. We believe in the end, however, that in doing so we have created a strong platform to achieve our long-term goal of understanding, aggregating, and sharing the data and stories we are collecting. While this goal will take a bit longer to achieve, we are energized by the thought that our grants management system transition could have a transformative impact on how we work to strengthen communities and foster relationships.
As the Grants Manager, my job has been to shepherd the Foundation and our applicants through the transition to the Fluxx system. There have been times when my flock strayed; however, I found that when I took a step back and thought to myself, how would this change element make me feel if my role were something different? I found that I was able to get the flock back in the stall.
There are so many amazing grants management systems on the market today. There are also a lot of great resources, such as Idealware’s A Consumers Guide to Grants Management Systems, to help you get started in your journey. Regardless of the route you take in selecting your Ferrari or your Ford, and regardless of the choice you ultimately make, we’ve found that feelings are the fuel that will keep both on the road and running smoothly. They may be hard to hear and challenging to translate, but if you take the time…and a breath…people will never forget how you and your grants management system made them feel. (And your database will thank you for it.)