Why the longer road is often the shortest path

“At first we were frustrated by how many meetings we needed to kick off the projects. After all, we could have given you what you needed in a couple of hours. But as the projects went on we realized that engagement across both organizations wasn’t just politically expedient, it was central to the projects’ success.” – Director of Development and Communications, Pathlight.

Some backstory: Over the summer and fall we renamed and designed a new visual identity for a 64 year old organization that serves individuals with intellectual disabilities. Founded by five mothers who wanted their kids to have an alternative to living in a state run institution, The Association for Community Living had outlived its original name. They took the same opportunity to rename one of their programs, Community Resources for People with Autism.

The Clarity brand design process is built on listening, and Todd Felton and I designed and executed a program of systematic engagement. We did workshops with board members from each group. We interviewed staff members. We engaged clients and their families. We facilitated conversations about the essence of both organizations. We helped stakeholders from throughout the system to listen to each other about why the organizations exist, who they serve and how they help.

Then, after we had agreed upon new names, core positioning definitions and messaging strategies, together, we turned our findings over to art director Aaron Haesaert. Working now with a smaller client team he and I finished the visual ID part of the work. This team included the Director of Development and Communications and the Communications Manager of the parent company and the Communications & Development Coordinator of the program.



A couple of weeks ago I met with that client team to conduct a post-project critique. The quote at the top was one of the very first things they said. “As the project moved forward we realized that because we are such a complex organization, and because the organization and this program have so many stakeholders, and because the organization and this program mean different things to different stakeholders, yes, we could get to the same place, but getting buy-in to something as foundational as a name would have been very difficult. But as it is, today key people feel a sense of ownership of the new identity. It didn’t come from the top, it came from the bottom up.”


Bonus points. They then reminded me that two of the three leaders were brand new to their jobs when this projected started. “Giving voice to so many people and by making the process very transparent turned out to be a fantastic way of introducing both our new team and the roles of communications and development themselves.”


How did the roll-out go? “Smooth as silk.” “When I showed the names and logos you had developed and the new websites and announcement materials we had created to the consultant who had recommended that we change our name, she deemed the effort the best name change and roll-out she had ever seen.”

I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s important to repeat: the fastest way to change is to slow down and engage your stakeholders first. Their contribution is priceless, and their sense of engagement and ownership will ensure that the change is lasting and meaningful.

Leave a Comment