Communities In Schools

Communities In Schools

Making Strategy Real


The challenge

Communities In Schools (CIS) is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to empowering at-risk students to stay in school and on a path to a brighter future. Working directly inside more than 2,300 schools across the country, CIS connects kids to caring adults and community resources designed to help them stay in school and achieve in life.

In 2017, CIS embarked on a process of updating its organizational design to support changes it had made to its strategic plan. In preparation for co-designing the new organization, Crossland facilitated a process to help CIS staff members define their views on the current organizational culture. The leadership team sought to understand what each team member thought needed to shift to ensure the success of the new strategic plan. This work then paved the way for a new organizational blueprint.

What we did

Crossland approached its work with CIS in three phases. To begin, Crossland immersed itself in a learning phase, participating in strategic planning meetings and engaging in conversations with CIS’s partners and leadership team. By carefully listening to the nuanced dialogue around the new strategy, Crossland was able to quickly understand what the organizational requirements for the strategy would be and provide a seamless transition between the strategic planning and organizational design processes. In addition to engaging upfront with CIS to learn and observe, Crossland also used the opportunity of this phase to perform a skills inventory for all staff members.

During the implementation phase, Crossland and CIS unpacked the work the organization needed to perform in order to realize its strategic aspirations and then assessed the readiness of the systems, processes, culture, skills/talent, and leadership to effectively perform in those roles. As is key to any organizational design work, we began by ensuring that there was clarity and agreement among leaders and staff members about what was needed to successfully implement the new strategy and manage continued growth.

In the final phase of this engagement, we worked with the CIS leadership team to apply the discipline and tools necessary to execute the operational blueprint we had co-created. As part of that execution, we offered leadership coaching support to high-potential leaders, and we also continued to partner with the organization on advancing the cultural shifts required to deliver its desired impact. Most important, we helped staff members discover, articulate, and plan for how they could bring their highest and greatest value to CIS and the individuals and communities that benefit from its work.

The impact

Our organizational alignment work enabled CIS to operationalize its strategic plan and reach its goals. As a result of being a truly aligned organization, CIS:

  • Increased the number of students served to 1.6 million across 26 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Launched the new Challenge Schools grant, which will serve more than 100,000 students in 152 schools.
  • Launched a new business development unit that provides new opportunities for school districts and community organizations to partner with CIS for licensing or professional development.
  • Developed an innovative plan to implement Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion principles into policies, procedures, and practices throughout the CIS enterprise.
  • Experienced one of the largest statewide roll-outs of the CIS model of integrated student supports in its history following a licensed partnership agreement with the state of West Virginia.

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