Our Stories

‘True dialogue’ on May 5 yields fresh thinking, inspiration, sense of ownership

Inspired by Michael Porter’s thought leadership on shared value, we explore the intersection of where traditional “marketing” creates both economic value AND creates value for society. For more on Michael Porters vision see this article in the Harvard Business Review.

Josh Workman’s proposal to think about supporting a broader vision of Urban Systems as an “authentic organization that facilitates innovation and contributes positively to community” is one idea surfacing in a May 5 Urban Systems workshop that found resonance with those present.

About 20 people from a number of Urban Systems branches joined the day-long gathering, dubbed the Conversation Starters Group, in Vancouver. Chris Ulmer is one of those describing it as a “true dialogue” as people were invited and felt comfortable to share authentically their ideas, commitments and aspirations and how those might be leveraged through connection to others on the team, as well as through accessing available company resources.

“As I am still a relative newbie, it was great to connect with so many dynamic people,” Chris writes in an e-mail message reflecting on the day. “What an outstanding opportunity for me to better plug into the network. I left not only with a great sense of inspiration, but also a feeling of ownership and accountability to be a catalyst to push these ideas forward.”

Carla Berrie, a gathering co-organizer, brought a passion she’s been seeking to bring to fruition for about two years, which is to synergize the company’s marketing and communications efforts with positive impact in the community.

She saw this gathering as a key next step on that journey through engaging a broader circle of team members representing various branches, generations and roles.

“It’s not necessarily about the resources and increasing or decreasing them, but saying, ‘With the resources that we have right now, could we be having greater impact just by doing something slightly differently?’ ” says Carla.

She gives as an example of this the company’s decision to swap the typical swag totes for bags created by Vancouver social enterprise Common Thread which employs disenfranchised women. The bags are made of recycled community banners. “In doing this, we support (Common Thread’s) cause, people love the bags and we get to tell a story about this organization, which gives a better indication of our brand than we could have otherwise done,” says Carla, noting the cost of the bags is comparable to that of the typical swag.

Other examples of how Urban Systems’ marketing and communications might fulfill a more mission-centric role than simply “selling” the company include Urban Systems team members providing thought leadership on key issues and trends in their community. Team members might also share stories of great work they’re seeing being done by others in their communities.

“It’s less about telling people we’re about having positive impact in community and more about actually doing that through something as traditional as marketing and communications,” Carla says.

The approach fits more closely with the Urban Systems’ culture, she adds, which includes listening and supporting in order to actualize the vision of a larger group of people of which the Urban team is a part.

“Talking about Urban Systems (in order to sell it) feels a little awkward to most of us I think because Urban isn’t the logo and building, Urban is genuinely the people here,” she adds. “That’s probably why it’s not bought and sold as a commodity like other businesses are, because you don’t buy and sell people.”

A key next step from the gathering is talking to people who weren’t in the room about the opportunities that emerged and were highlighted.

“People are doing awesome things, they’re doing great work on their projects and they’re doing great work in their communities, (for instance), through volunteering. We just want to spread the word that we can be leveraging that a little bit better and having additional impact,” Carla says.

Work is also underway to revamp several of Urban Systems’ business development resources, in which Carla is looking to include a variety of elements that enable ideas shared in the workshop. Instead of just talking about what’s been done, the goal is to support and facilitate both ongoing projects and new initiatives. She welcomes the participation of anyone interested in leveraging this.

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