Case:  YMCA of Eastern Union County

Case Studies

Case: YMCA of Eastern Union County

Krystal R. Canady is currently COO of the YMCA of Eastern Union County, New Jersey, the sixth largest of 43 corporate YMCAs in the state, with a staff of over 300 people. The YMCA of Eastern Union County is a mission-driven, values-based organization and has three branches, located in Elizabeth, Union, and Rahway. The YMCA serves over 11,000 members in 12 different towns in Union and Middlesex Counties. This coming July, Ms. Canady will become CEO of her YMCA. She recently discussed with us the progress that she has made in transforming her YMCA into a high-performance, horizontal entity.

Is there an inherent disconnect between mission-driven and profit-driven organizations?

Without a strong business plan and results, it would be difficult to meet our mission. While meeting our mission in the towns we are chartered to serve is very important, and it is why we are here, it is also important to ensure we have great results.

So, running an organization like the YMCA is not very different from running, say, General Motors?

Sure there are differences, but not as many as you’d think. Once our mission, goals, and strategy are ratified by our Board of Directors, we expect our staff to sign on and be the best they can be to get the job done. That holds true regardless of the type of organization.

What prompted you to move your organization to the high-performance model?

We wanted to move from being a good organization to a great organization: to deliver mission-driven, values-based services to our members. We also needed to free up senior management’s time to be more strategic. We wanted to speed up decision making and develop our middle managers as future leaders.

How did you go about achieving your objectives?

We decided to proceed in stages. We wanted to be sure that our senior management branch team understood the high-performance model and why it was essential to our mission. We also wanted to ensure that team members had the skills to play in the new environment. In addition, I'll be transitioning to the CEO position in July 2008. I wanted to coordinate the transformation with the leadership change.

And your actions?

We took our senior team through a deep dive into the high-performance concepts and then immersed them in conflict management and influencing skills. This initiated behavior change and allowed team members to serve as role-models for the rest of the organization.

What about those below the top team?

Interestingly, our middle managers noticed an immediate change in their colleagues at the top, both in their behavior and how they communicated. Next, we put our middle managers through an intensive concept briefing.

What about going through formal alignment sessions?

When I assume CEO responsibility this July, one of the first actions I plan to take is to align the senior management branch team. I will then lay out a similar path for middle managers.

What’s the biggest change at this stage?

The biggest changes have been in perception and behavior. If you’ve been driving on the right-hand side of the road, and now you have to drive on the left, you have to think twice. We’re all programmed to understand how vertical organizations work. Now, we’re saying, “We’re moving to a horizontal approach. Here is why. Here are some initial skills. Let’s begin to drive differently.” The perceptual changes are now leading to behavioral changes.


If a program director on the senior team feels that something should be done differently, then he’ll not hesitate to state his case. Team members are more authentic; they hold one another—and me—accountable; decisions are made quicker; and conflict no longer involves going to a third-party rescuer.

How has the change affected you as a leader?

I’m no longer tied to the day-to-day tactical issues. When I think about starting my tenure as CEO in July, I’m confident that I’ll be leading an organization that will be speaking with one voice, and that my team will have the basic skills to engage one another as high-performance players.

And the major lesson learned?

At our last organization-wide meeting, the senior management branch team all came dressed in sweatshirts emblazoned with the motto, “One band, one sound.” That about sums it up: the importance of alignment and commitment.


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