This article is included in our Fall 2021 newsletter. Click here to view the entire newsletter!
The Impact of Cultivate Circles
Setting goals is a way of telling your story. It helps answer the question, “Who am I, and where do I want to go?” For the individuals we support, goal development is a crucial way to express themselves and give a clear direction of where they want their story to go next.
So, how can we help people achieve their goals? Maybe a picture really is worth a thousand words.
In each edition of our newsletter, we’ll have a conversation with Becky Sharp, Chief Executive Director of Open Door, who will share her thoughts on the progress our organization is making in a variety of areas.
In this edition, she talks with Andrew Stinson, Marketing Coordinator at Open Door, about the strides we’ve made in updating our goal development process, the impact of cultivate circles on individuals and staff, and ways we can work with community leaders to continue achieving successful outcomes.
Andrew: Goal development at Open Door has changed a lot recently. How did we used to do goal development, and why did that need to change?
Becky: One of the problems that we noticed was that sometimes the individuals weren’t even invited to take part in the process, or they were unable to communicate at the goal development meeting. Often, folks weren’t even engaging with them. They were talking ‘about them’ but not ‘with them.’ Sometimes the plans were being cut and pasted, meaning literally the same goal for 13 years.
Andrew: Wow, doesn’t that sort of defeat the whole point of goal development?
Becky: Right. And then the goals became a ‘task’ that we had to have in the plan, not something the individual would say. For instance, you would see goals like “learning to tie their shoes” or “brush their teeth” and when you ask the individual, they’re like, “I don’t care, I have Velcro shoes, I don’t need to tie my shoes.” So, they were way off base. And then other times, the goals were focused on their weaknesses as opposed to something they said they wanted to do. Also, with that, a lot of the families were dictating what their lives would look like as opposed to the individuals saying, “This is what I want in my life.”
Andrew: Did you notice that other providers were having similar challenges?
Becky: In visiting with other providers, we noticed this was a system-wide issue. We were seeing the same things. The whole premise of cultivate circles was built on a model from Starfire in Cincinnati. They use “community conversations” and invite whoever the individual would like in the room. They showed us a method to build upon. From that, we decided we were going to do cultivate circles.
Andrew: So, cultivate circles are a better way to document goals?
Becky: Yes, but it’s more than that. Part of the cultivate circle is also drawing and digitally recording what they’re saying, so that also applies to an individual who’s nonverbal, or a new staff member who might be really shy. They all can express themselves. And essentially, the first three to five minutes is just brainstorming about what they want in their life, their dreams, goals, desires, interests—the things they say they want to accomplish in the next year. And then when they digitally record them, the second section is three to five minutes on keying on one of those things to focus on.
Andrew: What have you noticed from the individuals we support after we implemented these new cultivate circles?
Becky: In particular, I think of Ron. His plan had a lot about him being homeless in the past, a lot of weakness-based things in the plan. But if you talk to Ron, he will say, “I love Elvis. I want to go to Memphis. I really want to do art.” He stands out because he started going to Open Door Art Studio, and within two weeks had two pieces selected for the Franklinton Art Show. And we never knew he had any art skills until he participated in the cultivate circle. By using pictures, he showed us what he wanted to do in his life. What’s great is that picture can be applied to their room, their refrigerator, or their staff’s refrigerator as a constant reminder of what we’re helping them work towards.
Andrew: Having a visual representation of a goal like that can make a big difference, yes?
Becky: Absolutely, I think it’s helpful to see a visual as opposed to having 41 pages of documentation! Also, the staff can go on the JotForm and upload the experience to show that it’s actually done and can share these stories with families through an email and a picture. That has been especially helpful during the pandemic when families haven’t been able to visit all the time.
Andrew: That’s great! From a regulatory perspective, does completing a cultivate circle fulfill all the necessary requirements?
Becky: Actually, the DODD surveyors came in to review this. At first, I was a little afraid of their response; after all, we’re in a system that’s very driven by paperwork. But the experience form met all the requirements for the DODD documentation rules, and they were very impressed to see actual pictures of the individual accomplishing an outcome and how the outcomes changed based on the individual achieving one. In the past, you might have seen ‘tying their shoe’ year after year, and you’d never see any progress. But here, you see the progress and then you can do another cultivate circle for the next step, and so on.
Andrew: It sounds like accountability.
Becky: Yes, it’s accountability! It’s also empowering for the staff to see that they helped the individual achieve the goal, and I think it’s a great way to talk to the community about our services in a positive manner. When people can see those pictures on social media, our website, and our newsletter, we often get feedback like, “this is great” or “you’re doing great things!”
Andrew: How did we start the process of implementing cultivate circles?
Becky: We started through training with staff, and part of that was staff actually doing cultivate circles for themselves. And then we decided we would start applying this to their individual plan meetings, and we’ve been doing that for about two months now. With the outcomes that we were seeing from the individuals, we started to implement that in orientation on Day 1 with the new staff coming in. The workforce issues are huge, as everyone knows. So, connecting with those DSPs was one of our priorities. Instead of doing all the rules and regulations right away for new employees, Day 1 is spent getting to know them and what a cultivate circle would look like for them. What goals are they working towards, and how can we as an organization help them with that?
Andrew: What impact has this had on newer staff?
Becky: So, the new employee might identify that they’re going to school, or they really want to be a finance manager, and then we take it a step further and connect them with someone who can help them with that goal. For instance, one of our new employees was going to EMT school, and it just so happened that somebody on the team where she was going was a prior EMT. We paired them together on Day 1, and she felt like we were trying to help her reach her goal. Her comment was, “I never found a company that cared so much, that connected me to my dreams and the things that I want to work on.” She thought it was admirable that Open Door was connecting with staff and making them feel like they matter.
Andrew: What role can cultivate circles play going forward? What would you like to see happen?
Becky: I’d like to take the cultivate circle a step further and invite community members in that can help us achieve some of the goals we draw up. I think that will be key: linking them to community resources. Sometimes, we’re so caught up in what we can do here, as opposed to the resources that are already available in the community. For example, somebody’s goal might be to be a barista at Starbucks. It would behoove us to have somebody in the community that works in that setting come in and be able to connect as opposed to us starting with no leads. Maybe create a community advisory group of businesses that want to participate.
Andrew: Overall, this seems like such a great process.
Becky: It’s been a positive light for us despite all the negativity going on, from the pandemic to workforce challenges. Our goal development process before took an hour and a half. Now, it takes ten minutes and people are saying how much it means to them. So, if we can spend our time doing meaningful things that have an outcome, we’re on the right track.