Leading a Merger with an Impact-Driven Strategy
Learning Grove Case Study
When two organizations come together with a different set of tools, practices, methodologies, people, cultures, etc., there can be confusion and frustration. When teams are stuck, or grappling with differences, it’s often because they are focusing on the execution – what they are going to do or how they are going to do it. To shape the success of a merger, the first step is to start with the why and align the two different organizations on a shared purpose, together.
In 2020, Cincinnati Early Learning Centers (CELC) and Children, Inc. (CI), two high-quality rated early childhood agencies in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, decided to combine their strengths and become one, under the new name Learning Grove.
The merger of two distinct early childhood education organizations, with the goal of meeting community needs on a larger scale while maintaining high standards.
Impact Accelerator: A strategic approach to create alignment on desired outcomes, strengthen data practices, and build staff capacity to engage with data.
The strategy, plans and tools to actively engage program teams in data use and decision-making, instilling accountability and continuous improvement within a newly merged organization.
Learning Grove knew that by bringing together the strengths of the two organizations, they could meet their community’s needs on an even larger scale, while maintaining the highest standards of both early education programs. They also knew that integrating the teams, programs, and services of the entire newly merged organization wouldn’t be easy.
For this process to be successful, Learning Grove wanted to ensure the organization was aligned on the vision, mission and outcomes that they wanted to achieve within their communities, and that they were measuring progress towards their shared goals.
Learning Grove came to ResultsLab to help facilitate that process.
Impact Accelerator Process
To address this challenge, Learning Grove engaged in our Impact Accelerator, which provided a model that Learning Grove could follow to create shared vision, mission and alignment on desired outcomes.
The engagement began in the Align phase of the Impact Accelerator. In this phase, we worked together to create:
- An organization wide Impact Strategy – where the team identified a set of detailed, measurable outcomes. These key outcomes would serve the basis of a shared measurement plan across the organization.
- Three program models for Learning Grove’s Early Childhood Education Program, NaviGo Program, and Outside Services Program. In each of these models we worked through the core program components, including content, quantity (dosage, duration, and sequence), and indicators of quality.
We then moved to the Capture phase of the Impact Accelerator. Through this phase, we developed:
- An organization wide measurement strategy – which defined a set of questions that the team wanted to answer through data, and that stemmed from the Impact Strategy defined in the Align phase.
- An organization wide measurement plan – which outlined what data to collect that would help answer the questions defined in the measurement strategy, and the plan to collect that data.
- A data audit – which provided a detailed review of what data gaps might exist, and would need to be collected to support the measurement plan and strategy.
- Data Collection tools – which were both a revision of existing tools and development of new tools that again would support the measurement plan and strategy.
Having defined the shared outcomes that the Learning Grove was working towards in the Align phase, and having set the strategy, plan and tools to measure progress towards those outcomes in the Capture phase, we then moved into the final phase of the Impact Accelerator. In the Transform phase, we built the tools and processes that would help turn the insights and learning from the data collected into action. In this phase, we built:
- A data use plan – which outlined the steps and activities need to use data consistently, including what data to review, in what format, when, and with whom
- Data dashboards – which provided an easy way to synthesize the data, and for staff to use regularly in programmatic conversations
During this transformative process, Learning Grove was able to create a visualization of their Impact Strategy, which became a powerful tool to simplify the communication of their strategy to program teams and key stakeholders. They were able to take a fresh perspective on current data practices and tools, identifying gaps and promptly developing new tools to enhance their data collection capabilities. They were able to build interactive dashboards that became instrumental in informing the Board, Leadership, and Program teams, offering a dynamic and accessible way to interpret complex data.
Learning Grove went beyond mere data collection. They built the strategy, plans and tools to actively engage their program teams in data use and decision-making, instilling accountability and continuous improvement.
“[Impact Accelerator] completely changed my approach to the work. Completely changed the way I manage my team”
-Learning Grove Program Manager
Learning Grove shared some lessons through their merger experience:
- Merger Commitments and Guiding Principles are critical
- You need to develop a shared vision and a clear “why” that the full team contributes to
- Find a model that works for you and your organizational needs
- Review what data you are currently collecting and measuring to ensure it fits into the broader impact story – reflect and identify gaps and opportunities
- Make the data meaningful for your teams – how can staff use data in their roles and their work to drive quality and fidelity. Provide frameworks and training to help teams think differently about data.