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Dysfunction at AIM and What I learned

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I have made mistakes over the years. I would do things differently if I could! Especially if people have been hurt – those are the worst. If you’re one, please let me know – I would rather apologize and learn than bury an issue. I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that mistakes are inevitab…
By sethbarnes

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I have made mistakes over the years. I would do things differently if I could! Especially if people have been hurt – those are the worst. If you’re one, please let me know – I would rather apologize and learn than bury an issue.

I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that mistakes are inevitable. It’s how we learn. As parents, we laugh and smile at our babies as they progress from crawling to toddling, repeatedly falling down. It’s normal.

So, I’m more interested in people learning from my mistakes than I am in protecting my ego. I’ve found that if you can try to be authentic, people will give you more grace.

Over the years, I’ve written a lot of blogs where I’m trying to process in public what God has for me to learn. Here’s me at my vulnerable best.

And here’s me processing about the World Race. I’ve been at this for 34 years, so in 2022, I thought it was time for me to hand the reins to someone else. When my succession plan didn’t work, dysfunction crept in. Trust was eroded. Seeing we needed help, the board said, “please come back.”

Let’s talk about the mistakes.

1. A number of years ago as the World Race was growing, I knew I needed help and went outside the organization to get it. Good hiring should involve the due diligence of in-depth interviews. But I was impatient.  I hired some people who didn’t fit our culture. The effects of that continued to ripple out for years.

2. In 2013, we began to see that our applicants were struggling. Years later, this forensic analysis ties it to social media.

3. About 6 years ago, the World Race began to decline. Why the decline? The World Race was made for millennials – they loved adventure and telling stories. But Gen Z was different. Raised in the Great Recession – caught behind masks and in lockdowns, anxiety and trust issues skyrocketed.

As a consequence, we had to shrink staff from a high of 150 in our home office. This was hard. Though most of it was through natural attrition, it hurt our culture.

4. Our reliance on custom software propelled us to rapid growth. But we had a hard time transitioning to a new platform that cost less.

To regroup, we empowered our leaders to make quick changes. We cut overhead and reorganized. We changed the way we recruited people. We tripled the number of our leaders on the Gap Year program. Our quality scores shot up and with it, word-of-mouth and sign-ups improved. We improved our overseas bases and our finances stabilized.

So, what did we learn? I had grown complacent in my leadership and that had trickled down to others. When I said “yes” to the board and recommitted to directing AIM, I did so with a renewed commitment to eliminate dysfunction and to innovate. It’s a new day.

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