TransForm's transformation

What a difference a year makes!

At this time last summer, I was far from the office, pedaling, backpacking, and relaxing my way through a three-month sabbatical – my first meaningful break from TransForm in 18 years.

The time off, supported by a grant from O2 Initiatives, was intended to allow me to recharge, and to build a more resilient organization by empowering others to lead.  In my absence, TransForm staff were stepping up, taking on my responsibilities and testing a new model of shared leadership. I returned to find more open communication, stronger collaboration, and deeper investment in problem-solving throughout the organization.

I don’t think we could have predicted how important and timely that effort truly was.

This spring, TransForm said farewell to two long-term staff whose contributions and leadership were hard to imagine replacing.  After seven years on our development team, Development Director Sara Marcellino transitioned to a new role raising funds for Contra Costa Community College.  And after 17 years, Deputy Director Jeff Hobson – the first employee I hired! – joined several other TransForm alumni at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority as Deputy Director of Planning.

For Jeff and Sara, these changes represented incredible career opportunities; they both invested tons of smarts, passion, and experience to build and strengthen TransForm, and they will bring that to these new positions.  Nonetheless, their departures left some big shoes to fill.  Jeff’s departure in particular raised big questions about how our organization might evolve from a structure that had grown organically into a more intentional and powerful force for change.

Thanks to last year’s sabbatical and its focus on shared leadership, we were prepared – even excited – to think creatively about what we have called our “organizational evolution.”

An evolving organization

TransForm has grown over the past 19 years from two scrappy (and often scruffy) advocates to over thirty non-profit professionals.  As we grew, Jeff and I shared leadership and responsibilities in a way that reflected our own balance of strengths.  In many ways he evolved into a co-director, overseeing our regional policy, operations and finance – and I daresay it worked pretty well.

But looking forward, it didn’t make sense to try to find a single new Deputy Director who could replace Jeff.  So we embarked upon a process of “organizational evolution,” a journey to revamp the old “org chart” and come up with a new structure.

As with all internal processes at TransForm, we sought to centralize our commitments to equity and inclusion, and to shared leadership.  This manifested in two guiding principles.  First, we want to create paths to leadership for existing staff – so we decided to prioritize internal promotions.  Second, we want to meaningfully include staff in decisions that will impact their work and lives – so we created a process where everyone could shape the new TransForm.

With strong leadership from our wonderful Jo Ann Prompongsatorn Farrant, we began to coalesce on a new organizational “map” that begins to institutionalize the shared leadership model that sprouted from my sabbatical.  Project directors played a critical role, and we got some great guidance by our wonderful Board of Directors, and especially our new Chair Dan Luscher.

TransForm, transformed

Our new structure comprises two main changes:

  • We created two Deputy Director positions instead of one, expanding our Executive Team to three people.
  • We elevated our nine-person Management Team to a decision-making body from a purely information-sharing group of program directors.

Both of these structural changes expand the circle of decision-making, engaging more staff in organizational leadership – which not only brings more voices to the table, but also lifts some of my burden as Executive Director.  I’m excited to be working more closely with my new Executive Team colleagues: Jo Ann Prompongsatorn Farrant as Deputy Director of Organizational Development, and Shannon Tracey as Deputy Director of Campaigns.  Both have been at TransForm for several years, where they’ve demonstrated their capacity to look at the big picture as well as advance key initiatives on the ground.

Our Management Team is taking on new work, including a bigger role in developing the organizational budget.  We’ll continue to tap smaller groups to lead specific projects, but we’ll also bring organization-wide decisions here, where all teams are represented by their program director.

And because of our commitment to promoting existing staff, there’s been a cascading effect in terms of leadership development.  We gave promotions to several other staff members who had stepped it up during my sabbatical and kept it up through the winter and spring.  Congrats and a huge thank you to Anjali, Bianca, Chantel, Clarrissa, and Jennifer West.  We also have a great new Development Director, Roger Miller.

There’s still a tremendous amount of work ahead – new positions to bring to life, new staff to hire and train, and new roles to define.  As we move forward, our goal is for these changes to make TransForm even stronger and more inclusive.

I’m excited to see what new horizons we’ll reach as we leverage our new structures and work with our wonderful partners and allies to promote a more sustainable and just California. 

Hey, maybe I should go on sabbatical every summer?  Just kidding…

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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.