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Section I.

In “Seattle Community Association: Undoing Institutional Racism”, the main problem

that the Seattle Community Association (SCA) faces is the lack of effective leadership and

communication from Executive Director Cheryl Cobbs in her implementation of the Anti-

Racism Initiative.

Section II.

This communication challenge exists, in part, because of the structure of the SCA and

how it operates. The Seattle Community Association is characterized as follows:

 It is an amalgamation 27 different programs


 Its programs have a wide array of focuses, from food banks to tutoring programs
 It boasts a total staff size of approximately 400 employees.
 Each organization operates independently from one another but all programs are united
under the leadership of SCA’s Executive Director, Cheryl Cobbs.

The staff at each of the programs was used to a collaborative, semi-autonomous environment,

and the “top-down implementation” of the anti-racism initiative went against that spirit and

culture of the organization. In addition, because of the sheer number and variety of organizations

involved in the SCA, it is difficult for the organization as a whole to adopt a shared set of values

and a common vision that appeals to everyone involved in the organization.

While this may be difficult, having a vision for the organization is vital to its success.

And it is the responsibility of the Executive Director to set the direction of the organization, and

to wholeheartedly embody that vision. This is something that Cobbs did well. She took the belief

that institutional racism is an underlying cause of poverty, and brought that to the organization.

This is aligned with the SCA’s vision and values, part of which states the SCA is “a leader in

advocating for the elimination of poverty, racism, and other forms of oppression in our society”.
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And this vision is something that Cobbs, as a woman of color, understands and clearly believes

in, which is also a vital aspect for an Executive Director to have.

However, it is the Executive Director’s responsibility to not only set direction, but to also

“motivate others to pursue the vision that drives the work” (Tschirhart and Bielefeld 2012, pg.

232). This is where Cheryl Cobbs fell short. She was unable to effectively inspire her staff to

adopt the same vision of the organization through anti-racism initiative. First, Cobbs created the

initiative as a “mandate”, without consulting many staff members. Cobbs was aware of the

independent, collaborative culture of the SCA, and did not take that into account when planning

and implementing the anti-racism initiative. Second, while the topic of racism is an important

aspect to address when serving individuals of color in poverty, it is a difficult subject to tackle,

especially in “an agency made up mostly of white people.” The employees of the SCA were all

in different places in terms of cultural competency, and each had different perspectives and

barriers to dealing with this situation. This is not something that was addressed by Cobbs in

implementing the initiative, and created problems. Staff were not comfortable sharing their true

feelings and creating dialogue, which was a goal for the initiative. This indicates a failure in a

critical principle for engagement, outlined by Santropol Roulant- the need for relational

productivity, “creating the space and skills for healthy interpersonal and group communication

are essential and highly productive aspects of organizational life” (Tschirhart and Bielefeld 2012,

pg. 239).

Because of these multiple issues, Cobbs failed to rally the SCA staff around her vision of

the anti-racism initiative. The Director of Human Resources for SCA, Kathy Crumlish, stated the

problem best: “…It sort of became an imposed vision. And when you have an imposed vision,

it’s very, very difficult.”


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Section III.

One of the most important steps in revising the organization’s vision and direction is to

create a strategic plan surrounding that vision. While Cobbs’s anti-racism initiative did have a

plan, it was created by the mandated Anti-Racism Committee, with little input from other staff

members or from the board of director. This is one of the direct causes of the plan’s failure, and I

believe that the first step is to evaluate the old plan and create a new plan for moving forward

with the anti-racism initiative. One of the problems with Cobbs’s old plan was that there was

little input from the board of directors. The board of directors of SCA “should be involved in

strategic planning and monitoring the achievement of strategic goals” (Tschirhart and Bielefeld

2012, pg. 203). While boards of directors are mainly responsible for strategic planning with staff

members sitting on the periphery and providing less input, the structure and culture of the SCA

demands that staff have more of a say. Therefore, I recommend that Cobbs set up a strategic

planning meeting with the board of directors, herself, and some of the more senior staff and

managers from multiple programming areas, including those that participated on the Anti-

Racism Committee before. This is a larger, more diverse group of people, which can lead to a

greater diversity of ideas in creating a successful plan for the initiative, and eliminates the

appearance of the initiative coming down as a mandate from the upper levels of management.

To create this plan, the strategic planners can conduct a modified SWOT analysis,

specifically in terms of the anti-racism initiative and utilizing the employee evaluations and

action plans from MEDC. This allows them to examine the strengths of the plan already in place,

the weaknesses of the plan, opportunities that SCA has by becoming an anti-racism agency, and

threats that can prevent this course of action. After the analysis, planners can actually set

strategy, working within the framework of the SCA and improving on weaknesses of the past
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plan by examining feedback. They must also set specific goals for progress in increments, rather

than attempting to do too much at once. Finally, the planners must set up a plan for monitoring

the success of the plan, to “periodically review whether [the strategy] has been successful in

creating the intended results” (Tschirhart and Bielefeld 2012, pg. 104).

After the plan has been created, Cobbs, as the Executive Director, is responsible for

communicating this plan to her staff and motivating them to follow the plan. The most important

step Cobbs can take in this is by taking the time to explain to the various program heads (who

can in turn communicate this to their staffs) why the anti-racism initiative is vital to the future

success of the SCA, utilizing multiple frames of reference (Tschirhart and Bielefeld 2012, pg.

241). The anti-racism initiative is consistent with the SCA’s values (symbolic), it provides an

opportunity for personal growth in cultural competency of individual staff members (human

resources), and by becoming an anti-racist agency, the SCA elevates its credibility with

community members and those it serves (political). Cobbs can also apply the goal-setting theory

of motivation to inspire her staff to engage in the anti-racism initiative. Encouraging and

motivating staff to achieve the incremental goals set in the strategic plan can lead to a motivation

to continue and improve in the initiative (Tschirhart and Bielefeld 2012, 294).

By following the steps I have outlined above, Cheryl Cobbs has the ability to more

effectively communicate the goals associated with the anti-racism initiative and how this

program relates to the vision of the SCA. She is taking into account the structure of her

organization, to formulate a plan that involves all parties (herself, the SCA’s board, and SCA

staff) in the process to eliminate the belief that this is a “top-down” implementation of the

initiative. And can transform the “imposed vision” of turning the Seattle Community Association

to an anti-racist agency into a shared vision that will guide the actions of staff for years to come.
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References

Tschirhart, M., & Bielefeld, W. (2012). Managing nonprofit organizations. San


Francisco:Jossey-Bass.