Case Study: Lifting Up Everyone! [Extended]

Good Wolf’s Collaboration with Lifting Up Westchester

extended case study

The Challenge

Lifting Up Westchester (LUW) has been transforming the lives of thousands of individuals in Westchester County since 1979. By providing food and shelter, job training, education, and other essential services, LUW supports more than 2,500 men, women and children each year, restoring hope and dignity to some of the County’s most vulnerable residents.  Highlights of LUW’s impact on housing, emergency services, and educational opportunities can be found here.  

In February 2021, LUW leadership invited Good Wolf to help them take the quality and effectiveness of their work, and culture of caring, to even higher levels.  Their goals included (1) decreased staff turnover rates, (2) increased engagement and participation of staff in professional development activities, and (3) improved communications and relationships between staff, middle management, and leadership. 

Good Wolf’s Approach 

Good Wolf’s engagement with LUW was a collaborative and co-creative venture, led by Good Wolf Managing Director Jade de Saussure and Founder John Delfs. 

LUW is committed to improving its organizational culture and its service to clients. Good Wolf is committed to using neuroscience to help people empower themselves, grow healthier relationships, and build thriving communities. This engagement offered Good Wolf an opportunity to develop and test our approach in a mission-compatible organization, supporting the best possible service to some of our community’s most vulnerable individuals and families. 

Phase 1: Initial Needs Assessment and Engagement (February – June 2021) 

Good Wolf’s initial work was with frontline staff providing services to men and women in emergency shelters and transitional residential programs at LUW’s Open Arms Men’s Shelter and Samaritan House Women’s Shelter.  

During this phase, Good Wolf:   

  1. Met with LUW leadership to assess the organizational environment and needs;  
  2. Held confidential interviews with frontline staff regarding their work and needs; 
  3. Created a curriculum in collaboration with frontline staff, focused on using neuroscience knowledge to learn and understand more about ourselves. 
  4. Introduced The Good Wolf “Three Steps” (Note: which, in Phase 2, became “The Good Wolf Four Steps”!): (1) slowing down, (2) listening to one another, and (3) feeding each other’s Good Wolves.  
  5. Made a series of presentations about what we can learn from neuroscience about ourselves, our reactions, and our relationships with others; 
  6. Focused on applying key findings from neuroscience to understanding and managing feelings, decisions, and actions by staff caregivers.

Phase 2: Preparing for Organizational Cultural Change (July 2021 – June 2022)

In the context of an enlarged scope of engagement with LUW, and with the full support of the LUW leadership, Good Wolf began the work of preparing the leadership and staff for organizational cultural change.  

We emphasized the need for creating a LUW that embraced: 

  1. A collaborative culture,  
  2. A safe (trauma-informed) culture,  
  3. An anti-bias, anti-racist culture, and  
  4. A growth-promoting culture. 

We revised the original three-step process to base our work on the Good Wolf Four Step Process: 

  1. Achieving Self-Governance: Slow down, become self-aware, and exercise self-control 
  2. Achieving Competence: Listen, learn, think critically, and develop an effective Mind Map 
  3. Individual A-Team Action: Decide and act based on shared, pro-social values 
  4. Collective A-Team Action: Work together to achieve shared, pro-social goals  

In this phase, we communicated the findings of the needs assessment and plans, created two working “Cultural Change” committees, each facilitated by Jade and John, and instituted regular communications channels with leadership. 

  1. Phase I findings and Phase II goals and processes were presented and discussed in venues ranging from the Board of Directors meetings to staff lunches.  
  2. The Cultural Change Steering Committee initially consisted of the executive leadership, later adding middle management, acknowledging the central importance of leadership in the cultural change process.  
  3. The Cultural Change Advisory Committee consisted of frontline staff nominated by managers who represented departments and roles across the organization, plus the perspectives of multiple cultures and ethnicities. 
  4. Weekly meetings with CEO Anahaita Kotval provided collaborative navigation of this phase of our work. 

John led discussions focused on using neuroscience to understand our selves, applying that understanding to policies, procedures, change processes, and leadership.   

Jade led discussions focused on translating neuroscience knowledge into learning experiences that supported personal and professional growth. She introduced activities, including role-playing and information-sharing, geared toward helping staff reflect on themselves and the changes that needed to be made within the organization, as well as practice implementing these changes within their decision-making and staff interactions.  

Phase 3: Implementation of Organizational Cultural Change – IN PROCESS

In July of 2022, we embarked on Phase 3: organization-wide implementation of the cultural change process. This phase will include: 

  1. Implementation of neuroscience-informed practices and tools, policies and procedures to support the newly revised and articulated LUW values, and the desired culture change. 
  2. Training on revised policies and procedures to signal and support definitive change. 
  3. Implementation of cultural indicators, such slogans, rites, ceremonies, symbols, and stories, to support new expectations and behaviors in a changed culture  
  4. Education about the relevant neuroscience and practical methods for applying the Good Wolf Four-Part Process across the entire organization.  
  5. Institutionalization of the Advisory Committee, with formalized rules and procedures, and resources to support the Committee’s continuing effectiveness. 
  6. Implementation of enhanced professional development programs and fostering skill development and building pride in being part of a growth-promoting community. 
  7. Concluding with an organization-wide celebration of the continuing commitment to positive cultural change and LUW’s ongoing commitment of service to those most in need. 

The Results: Lifting Up Everyone!

Phase 1 Results

  1. The most impactful neuroscience topic was how our brain creates our experiences. Using an optical illusion, we demonstrated that our brain quickly and efficiently processes sensory information, so that what we experience is what is triggered from our past experiences rather than the truth.  We emphasized that when we act on a “gut” reaction – or on an emotion – we are responding to what we have learned from past experiences, not to the current reality! 
  2. Exercises that build on the understandings of our selves cleaned from neuroscience, including role plays, case analysis, and discussion, were effective in facilitating staff’s growth in self-awareness, assumption identification and management, active listening, and collaboration skills within power dynamics.   
  3. Participants reported that these sessions were powerful and left lasting impressions.  
  4. By May 2021, executive leadership saw transformational change in frontline staff.   
  5. A decision was made to invite Good Wolf to extend our work across the LUW entire organization. 

Phase 2 Results 

  1. Leadership and staff committed the necessary time, energy, and personal work to develop skills of self-reflection, active listening, and valuing the perspectives of others, thus supporting a culture of collaboration and growth.   
  2. Leadership and staff showed significant personal self-development and movement toward increased self-awareness, improved abilities to listen effectively to others and challenge assumptions, and increased effectiveness in their roles at LUW. 
  3. New policies and procedures were developed to guide cultural transformation. Onboarding processes were enhanced, training needs were assessed and increased in frequency and quality, and an organization-wide process led to a re-statement of values and to a commitment to those values by leadership.  
  4. Effective communication and collaboration were enhanced between leadership, middle management, and frontline staff.   
  5. Frontline staff reported signs of positive changes in their relationships and work with executive leadership and in middle management. 
  6. An organization-wide, all-staff retreat to launch the cultural change process was planned for the autumn

The completion of Phase 2 was signaled by a final Steering Committee meeting at the end of June 2022 in which Jade and John reflected on the process, on the positive changes that had occurred, and described the work to be done in Phase 3, the implementation phase. 

Phase 3 Results 

(In process)

Conclusions & Key Lessons Learned

The positive impacts of this first Good Wolf organizational intervention exceeded expectations. 

Particularly notable was the sometimes rapid and transformational change that occurred in the context of a participant seeing themselves and their capabilities in a dramatically new light. 

Specifically, we demonstrated: 

  1. Good Wolf’s Approach Foster’s Self-Examination. Teaching about the neuroscience of our selves is a powerful and non-threatening method of fostering self-examination and self-directed personal improvement. 
  2. Leadership Commitment is Critical. Commitment by executive leadership is critical to success, ensuring that this process is a priority, and making available the necessary time and other resources that allow success. 
  3. Change is Not Necessarily Linear. Personal and professional growth – and organizational culture change – are slow and not always linear.  Creating a growth mindset is critical for success. 
  4. Intentional Practice is Necessary for Optimal Behavioral Change. Education and policy changes can start the process of behavioral change but it’s intentional practice that will lead to new habit formation. 
  5. Good Wolf’s Approach Facilitates Personal and Professional Growth. Understanding ourselves better through neuroscience is a viable methodology for personal and professional growth, and for facilitating organizational cultural change. 

These results confirm the power and potential of the Good Wolf approach to personal and professional growth and to healthy organizational culture change. 

Acknowledgement: Good Wolf Honored by Lifting Up Westchester

At their Annual Gala, Lifting Up Westchester honored Good Wolf’s Founder John Delfs and Managing Director Jade de Saussure for their work in facilitating LUW staff growth and empowerment and strengthening the LUW organizational culture.