Unconventional Methods, Extraordinary Results: Sandra McGuire

Sandra was the Chief Communications Officer in a large healthcare organization. I got to know her when the CEO recruited me to take part in a strategic planning initiative. The CEO had expressed a desire to use innovative processes and I suggested that we use an appreciative alternative to the traditional SWOT method. Sandra and I ended up working closely together throughout the strategic planning process.

I quickly discovered that Christie has a special ability to get a team on track and stay true to the processes of building on strengths and engaging stakeholders openly. I was impressed with the way she designed and led processes that elicited new information, rather than just filling in what we already knew. Everything she did was innovative, from the way the tables were set up to the focus of the questions.

Christie has outstanding facilitation skills and is able to manage people and groups who are in conflict or held back by unhealthy power relationships. Our strategic planning process involved more than 40 sessions with varied groups of stakeholders, each with its own agenda. Christie worked confidently and comfortably with all.

One session she facilitated was particularly impressive. The CEO of the Local Health Integration Network was there, as were senior mental health executives, heads of family health teams and our CEO. There was an open, honest dialogue that day. Christie managed the room like a professional debate mediator. In her hands, people let down their guard and agreed to make changes within their organizations to better focus the healthcare system as a whole on the needs of patients and their families. There was great potential for politics to take over the meeting, but it didn't happen. Some of the participants said it was the best process they'd ever been through.

I learned a great deal from Christie that I apply in my own work as a communication executive. Most importantly, I learned to listen and believe in the efficacy of appreciative strategic planning methods.