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Local Author Pens Matter•ness — Fearless Leadership for a Social World

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April 1, 2015

Allison Fine
Allison Fine

|  by Linda Viertel  |

Allison Fine grew up in Philipse Manor, graduating from Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown High School, the 1982 Athlete of the Year. At age 21, she became a Sleepy Hollow trustee (1986-9), the youngest official elected in New York State. And, after receiving her M.A. in non-profit management, creating and running her own non-profit in Washington D. C. for 12 years (Innovation Network – an organization to help other non-profits evaluate their outcomes), she missed the river towns and moved back. “I wanted to bring up my kids here,” she said. “I missed the Hudson River.”

Looking for something new when she returned, she watched “how campaigns began using blogs and email – a revelation,” she noted. “We have this tool that moves power through institutions to individuals, so what happens as a result?” she asked herself. Her first book, the award-winning Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, (2005), discusses how to use social media tools to effect social change. As a co-author of the bestselling The Networked Nonprofit, (2010), she created a resource of guiding principles to help nonprofit leaders navigate the transition from top-down organizations to a networked approach enabled by technology. She is also co-editor of Rebooting America and writes about the intersection of social media and social change on her blog, A. Fine Blog.

But, her third book on the social media revolution, Matter•ness: Fearless Leadership for a Social World was born out of her frustration “after seeing huge shifts as to what individual people can really do, even as institutions double down on command and control systems.” Her point is that “people need to matter more” – those who are smart, generous, creative, in both for-profit and non-profit institutions should be engaged, reached out to, valued because they are stakeholders who can help their organizations thrive.

Fine-BookAs she states in her introduction, “Matterness is the shared space between people and organizations where each is heard, their unique needs met, and a greater whole is formed.” This isn’t always easy, of course. “Matterness” entails a willingess for CEO’s to listen to employee and client criticisms, problem-solve creatively, and use social media to connect on-line. It means allowing employees to play multiple roles, leaders to reveal their humanity and be less prone to self-protection.

Matterness creates accountability for what employees, leadership and citizens say and do in their professional and civilian lives. And Fine makes the case for the best uses of technology as a tool to connect in helping others through business crowd-sourcing, raising funds for those in need, and sharing narratives. Front Page Forum, a site that enables neighborhood residents to share news and connect with one another, has countless sites throughout the nation; a new way to connect on-line, not on-land.

Fine begins her chapter, “Living in Big Small Towns”: “I grew up in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Yes, that Sleepy Hollow – with the famous cemetery, and the Old Dutch Church with its stained-glass windows painted by Mark Chagall. The majestic Hudson River was outside our window and the Headless Horseman was still roaming about, at least according to rumor.” She goes on to describe a village we all recognize still, but segues into how the World Wide Web, Yelp, and Angie’s List have altered connectivity. We can share news, connect, discuss, dissent, help one another on-line as well as on land now. She emphasizes that it is our responsibility to do so with civility and collective responsibility.

But, Fine’s main focus is on institutional “matterness,” and she decries outmoded 20th century organizational structures which she calls “fortresses – hard to get in, hard to get out of, declarative. They tell you what to do, whom to support, how to support them. People have too many choices and opportunities nowadays to settle for old-school style organizations.” She notes that, for young people coming out of college who go into these workplaces, the experience is discouraging. Because they are used to being collaborative, having their voices heard; for them “the experience is soul-sucking.”

Success for a 21st century organization should be based not, as Fine writes, “on serving a lot of people but making those they do serve feel that they matter.” Her book cites a number of successful organizations and how they achieved their “matterness”: The Container Store’s intentional communication of fundamental values derived from employee input makes it one of the highest rated businesses in terms of employee satisfaction and retention; Volkwagon’s pro-active directive that all employees go off-line, forget technological multi-tasking after work to enjoy family, friends, social time has similarly created a high level of employee respect. Productivity in both companies has soared.

Fear of change, of losing control, the threat of technological connectivity for executives, boards, for-profit and not-for –profit institutions is palpable, Fine acknowledges. But once organizations learn how to “spread out the work, energize their external and internal actors instead of keeping them couch potatoes, feeling like anti-matter,” productivity, profitability, staff energy and mutual respect begin to thrive. And that, according to Matter•ness, is what matters.

(Fine’s book is available at The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville 914-769-8322)

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