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Tales of Organizational Transformation: My Moment of Truth with IIE

September 23, 2016 Mark Hannum

As a consultant in organizational and leadership development, I’ve had the good fortune to work with some incredible organizations over the past 20+ years. During many of these engagements, there was a moment in time that stood out vividly in my mind when I knew that change would happen.

Four years ago, I shared such a moment with The Institute of International Education (IIE), an independent not-for-profit founded in 1919 that manages over 200 programs, including ones for the US State Department and the Fulbright Program. At the time, demographic shifts, technology, changes in government operations and in governance itself were jeopardizing IIE’s future growth.

Reflecting back on this journey, it occurs to me just how far IIE has come and what one very important—and at the time, somewhat painful—meeting of the minds helped us accomplish early on. This experience, what I refer to as The Blue Bell Moment, was the beginning of an IIE Story of Impact that has forever changed this organization.

Taking the First Step
Picture this: Associates from across the organization with varying levels of knowledge and buy-in to the overall objectives pile into buses and ride several hours in the summer heat to a conference center in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. The next morning, one of IIE’s EVPs took the stage to open the session. You could feel the tension and resistance in the room—punctuated with defiant voices and openly critical statements. We knew that we had a long road ahead of us, but without time to waste, we dug right in to the task at hand.

Day one was rough. We started by asking the group to invent a consistent way to manage their 200+ programs. The looks of disbelief were priceless. The resistance to the request was universal. We persisted as if we didn’t notice.

On day two, we led a facilitated exercise that ultimately revealed that the current organizational structure was actually working against the associates, making success even harder to achieve and the programs more challenging to execute. As the day wore on, I knew that we were going to be successful at IIE. I could see the resolve on people’s faces. I knew that these really smart, talented people were going to get out of their own way and make the next 100 years even better than the past 95 years had been.

Ultimately, IIE successfully engaged their associates to help deliver a curriculum that equipped all 650 employees with the tools that they needed to shift the cultural mindset and create a more forward-thinking organization, focused on driving change and creating growth. Read the full story to learn more about IIE’s path to redefining their strategy to create operational excellence.

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