Reshaping responsibility


By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Recently we have been hosting agency-wide feedback sessions exploring responsibility and accountability in our culture. We have been imagining the results of our work as we move away from blame and shame when our actions don’t have the outcome we’d hoped for. Instead we are getting to the hard stuff.

That’s right, I am suggesting that blaming, shaming, punishing and moving on is the easy way out. We as leaders lay our heads on the pillow at night thinking we have done something that helps improve care or make our work safer, but it doesn’t work! In fact, research shows it has never worked.

Perhaps we do it because it’s all we know, and we do live in a blame-addicted society. Perhaps we do it because it feels good to blame, shame and punish when we ourselves are hurting. Or perhaps we do it because we often don’t know what else to do. We fall back on assuming “human error” or “bad” judgment and we continue to behave in ways that attempt to “fix the human.”  The human being is the constant in the human service business. You cannot remove human error, just as you can’t always predict human judgment in a complex system. But you can learn to understand what made the person’s behavior absolutely logical and rational to them at that moment in time. By understanding those system influencers, not only might you strengthen the work of one, you stand a chance of helping others.

At Heritage Christian, we are working to create a culture that shapes responsibility through learning. We are improving by responding to how work is really done rather than creating policy based on how we imagine the work to be done. We know that people carry even greater responsibility for the outcome of their work when they themselves can point to and learn from all of the context that helped to create the outcome. When we imagine the collective impact of this hard work we see improved communication and trust. When we stop blaming and shaming, we see greater investment in the work we do. We see improvement even within imperfect service systems. We see a broader path for success. Onward!



The Spirit of Welcoming

HCS_Springdale_082817_125_LRBy Marisa Geitner, President and C.E.O.

In a fractured world, it can feel natural to pull inward to avoid the sharp edges of conflict. But the only way to heal today’s fractures – to make it safely past the shards – is actually to pull together. To lessen the distance. To become whole.

To welcome.

It starts with conversation, with getting to know someone else. That leads to community and relationships. And we find that when you welcome community, that’s when you welcome true change.

Every society and every time period has had its own list of people who were not welcome. That created a fracture, a break.

Children were expected to be seen but not heard. Women were to be in the kitchen. African Americans were sent to their own schools, supposedly separate but equal. And people with disabilities were forced to live behind locked doors.

Each time the way forward has been to welcome.

And this time – when our industry is changing, our workforce pool is shrinking and our society is reeling for direction on how to treat people – the answer is still to welcome.

So, welcome to the conversation. Together, let’s welcome the change we need in order to be a stronger, more whole, society.


Making 2018 a year of gratitude and joy

gratitude is a lens that helps us amplify goodBy Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Happy New Year!

I’m not typically a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but this year one hit me that seemed to make sense. In 2018, I will approach each day with as much reflection and anticipation as I would the turn of a new year! After all, it just makes sense and is much more manageable. I will recap the day, sort my accomplishments and build my ‘Things to Anticipate’ for tomorrow. Although I acknowledge the harder part might be what I hope NOT to do: I will not perseverate on what I did not accomplish. I will not carry regret for time I did not have. I will not hold on to those retrospective missed opportunities.

Today it seems natural to tip toward a mindset of scarcity… I didn’t get enough sleep. I didn’t get enough done. I ran out of time. If only, if only, if only. Counterfactual thinking (should have, would have, could have) really zaps our gratitude and therefore our joy. For me, it is time to focus with gratitude on the abundance of my day – the just enough. To marvel at how the day unfolded so differently than I might have expected and yet, I did it! I had just enough time, just enough help and accomplished just what I needed to despite the variations of a dynamic day.

We know that gratitude is a lens that helps us amplify what is good, and who couldn’t use a bit more reflection on the good of our day?

Onward to 2018!


The art of showing up

Buffalo100517_017By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Just to keep our interest as we approach our January book study of Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown, I thought I’d share a concept that has me thinking differently about healing in a hurting world. The concept as Brown describes it is “Hold hands. With strangers.”  In a day when we may be so overwhelmed by differences and confused or angry about our interpretation of the beliefs of others, we find our world in a spiritual crisis. It’s hard to see beyond ourselves let alone be mindful of something greater. In times of such spiritual crisis Brown suggests it is essential that we remind ourselves that we are undeniably connected as we are all human beings, connected in a way that is impossible to disentangle or separate. If we ignore that connection it’s easy to retreat, to shut-down, and to “hate” from afar – behavior that just perpetuates hurt and divide.

So how do we exercise a renewal in that human connection?  By showing up for experiences of collective joy and collective sorrow. We’ve each experienced both from time to time. How about collective joy?  You know that one song at a wedding reception that has everyone instantly dancing or at the very least singing? You find yourself acting silly alongside others you’ve never met but who cares…. Celebrate good times….. Come on! Maybe the stadium full of college football fans when the team fight song or alma mater plays. You don’t care who is standing next to you as long as they are singing, too, as you sway back and forth with your arms draped across one another’s shoulders. We are connected!

The collective sorrow, although painful, is equally – if not more – powerful. Depending upon your age, you remember exactly where you were and who you were with when President Kennedy was shot, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded or when the towers came down on 9/11. We stop in our tracks. We stand in shock and disbelief alongside one another. We ache at the loss and we turn to comfort and to be comforted by whomever we are with. We share sorrow even as strangers and it binds us. It reminds us that there is something bigger than us, reminds us that we are created as part of the same race, the human race! It is powerful and healing.

Throughout this holiday season I hope you will take the time to be thoughtful about what you are showing up for. Be watchful for the magic moments of collective joy and celebrate them!  Show up and stand with others in times of sorrow and tragedy, too. Let it be a reminder of our connectedness within this beautiful and intricate human tapestry.

When our belief that there's something greater than us, something rooted in love and compassion, breaks

Read ‘Braving the Wilderness’ with us?

Marisa Geitner, our president and C.E.O., invites you to pick up a copy of Brene Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness, and join us for a conversation on Facebook.

The first 25 people who respond on Facebook and want to participate in the book club will get a free copy of the book. Watch the video below for details.

Then, after the first of the year, Marisa will host four online discussion sessions so we can learn from the book and from each other.

If it’s easier, here’s a transcript of the video:

Hello, everybody! This month we decided to try something different rather than the written blog. I recently read a book and got very excited about it so I wanted to talk with you a little bit about it today.  It’s Brene Brown’s latest book Braving the Wilderness. It is an excellent read and a quick read and as I said something I got very excited about as soon as I read it. In particular, I found it so relevant to the work that we do at Heritage Christian Services because our work is all about relationship with people.  And this book kind of brings us back and in a time in our world where maybe we’re not feeling as good about how we’re treating one another and this book kind of brings it back to ourselves and how we’re working ourselves. How we’re welcoming others into relationship with who we are and how we’re moving forward together as human kind and that just really resonated with me as relationship is the fabric of the work at Heritage Christian Services. It’s so relevant in today’s world because as I said, many of us might be feeling that we’re taking some steps backwards in how we’re treating on another and that doesn’t feel good to many of us and this book acknowledges that but also provides some strategy for how we might move through it and how we could successfully move through it and I just found it energizing. Once I started reading it I just couldn’t put it down. So, what I’d like to do is offer the opportunity for 25 people to join me in reading the book. The first 25 people who comment we’ll make sure we get the books to you give people some time to read it and then shortly after the first of the year when we’re getting ramped up and ready moving into 2018, we’ll host four, quick, online sessions of the book club where we’ll talk about really the four main chapters that she breaks this book down into and really just share our learning together share how we felt in reading the book and hopefully by that point if you’re like me you’ll already be implementing some of these exciting things and talk a little bit about the difference it’s already made for us. So I thank you for the opportunity to share some of the excitement that I have today related to this book and I look forward to enjoying more conversation with some of you after the first of the year.

Keeping the conversation going

1710By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Sometimes certain words or themes have a way of finding us. They show up in emails and in conversation, on social media and even on billboards. That is what has happened to me last week.

First, one of our residence managers, Bethann Selice, posted this question on our Facebook page:

I’ve been reading a few profiles of people who choose our services and it seems weird to me that we are referring to friends as “peers.” I don’t make plans “to go out to dinner, or bowling, or camping” with my “peers,” I make plans with my friends. Using the word “peer” seems like a “lessthan” language word. Just something to consider when referring to people that utilize our services. What are some other words that you’ve noticed that seem like “lessthan” language?

It generated more than 30 comments – all full of suggestions for how we might be more equal in our language.

Then, Steve Fedchak, a behavior intervention specialist, included this in a monthly email that circulates throughout the agency:

This month we’d like to talk about how words matter. Words mean things. And words mean different things to different people. It is important to remember that the intention of our words does not diminish their effect on others.  Historically, our culture has been careless about the way we explain, describe, and define people with disabilities- think about the impact of that. We are role models for people in the community who often lack knowledge and understanding of people who have disabilities.

So, we have some momentum here. Let’s keep the conversation going.

How can we continue to improve? And how do we know when we’ve hit the mark with our language?