When corporate quality improvement professionals first started coaching groups of teachers, social workers, school administrators and health care professionals as part of Milwaukee Succeeds, differences in culture and language frustrated participants and slowed progress.
Some members of the new education initiative’s “collaborative action networks” even felt coerced into participating, according to Mike Soika, director of Milwaukee Succeeds.
Longtime community organizer Mike Soika brings his passion for social justice and a “continuous improvement” model to his position as the first director of Milwaukee Succeeds, a year-old community partnership for education reform launched by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. Read More
But the process works, Soika told a national audience in Milwaukee, and network members now are embracing it.
“We started with people saying ‘I don’t understand this. I don’t think it will work, but I feel like I have to be here.’ Then they said, ‘I still don’t understand at all but it’s kind of interesting.’ Now they’re saying, ‘I’m beginning to understand it. It’s pretty interesting and I’m committed.’ It was messy and it was hard,” Soika said.
Soika spoke to a group of professionals from non-profit organizations at a two-day Strive gathering held at the Frontier Airline Center. GE Healthcare volunteer and Six Sigma black belt Nata Abbott co-presented the workshop, “A New Way to Support Networks: Milwaukee Succeeds’ Corporate Engagement Strategy.” Six Sigma is a business management process that seeks to improve the quality of various outcomes. It originally was applied to eliminating defects in manufacturing.
The Strive Partnership of Cincinnati initiated the model for education reform on which Milwaukee Succeeds is based. Strive describes its goal as “focus[ing] on the success of [all] children: every child, every step, from cradle to career.”
Audience members at the interactive presentation were most interested in learning how to approach and work with corporate partners.
Milwaukee Succeed’s first round of recruiting skilled corporate professionals as coaches and facilitators “was not spectacular,” Soika said. While the Greater Milwaukee Committee and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce were willing and able to give the program access to corporate executives, it took a corporate quality insider to reach, understand and communicate with those who specialize in quality improvement, Soika and Abbott explained.
“The secret is the same secret as for any good community organizer. You’ve got to knock on doors and you have to have the right person knocking on doors,” Soika said. Abbott is the “right person” for Milwaukee Succeeds, and Soika recommended that audience members make it a priority to find their own Nata Abbott.
Along with her boss from GE Healthcare, Abbott has been on Milwaukee Succeeds’ leadership council from the beginning. After countless phone calls and many face-to-face meetings with potential volunteers, Abbott recruited an initial group of about 50 quality professionals from GE and more than 20 from other large area companies.
One audience member expressed her belief that corporate volunteers need to approach the community first as listeners rather than advisors.
“Listening is part of the skill set the coaches bring to the process. They are trained to listen, and that’s very helpful,” Soika answered.
Soika said that by next month Milwaukee Succeeds will grow from six networks to nine and by spring to 15. The networks, comprising 20 to 30 education, healthcare and related service providers, are working groups in which participants break down program goals into their most basic elements and hammer out best strategies.