By Jayvon Howard
Have you ever accidentally hurt someone’s feelings because of poor word choice, a bad joke or a complete misunderstanding? Have you ever explained away your misstep by citing how much you didn’t mean to or how it wasn’t your intention to cause emotional harm?
When making a mistake, it’s common to assume that we are redeemable based on a variety of factors, including the degree of our willful effort (or lack thereof) to cause harm. We expect the consequences to be proportional to how well-meaning we were, and not based on the infraction itself. We hope that others are aware of our good intentions regardless of what our clumsy actions may portray. Many of us fail to be straightforward about our intentions until those intentions are questioned, which means that we only demonstrate intent in a way that is often reactive.
However, our intention does not have to be passive or reactive but can be harnessed in personal and professional spaces to strengthen relationships, productivity and impact. There is power in doing things on purpose; being fearlessly proactive, strategic and deliberate is what we call intentionality. Here are four ways practicing intentionality can positively benefit our work:
1. Providing clarity of vision, mission and goals of the organization
Take the time as an individual or in a team setting to exercise your imaginations and explore what the future would look like if you had the power to make it happen today. What does your organization do to make that future a reality? what are some actionable goals you can make right now to get closer to that vision? Practicing intentionality forces verbal articulation of what you need, want and value. You have to answer the questions about who you want to serve or who you want to market/sell to, and why. This demonstrates a conviction in what your values are and assists in the creation of pathways for measurable opportunities and measurable results.
2. Rejects the One-Size Fits All Model
Practicing specificity of what you want to accomplish permits room for growth, change and adaptation. A one-size-fits-all model is detrimental because it assumes that a singular model operates the same for everyone. When organizations craft a single recipe to appeal only to consumers that are currently providing the most support, it can effectively lock out potential clients, investors and funders. Single models become repetitive and inflexible to changing demographics, advancing technology, or public interests. An intentional approach embraces creativity and originality, while also acknowledging that organizations can and should change when necessary. Even though adopting an alternative customizable model of inclusion can prove challenging it is ultimately rewarding.
3. Recognizes unique needs and interests of different community members and clients
‘Everyone is different’ is a recommended mantra for businesses to contemplate. Similar to abandoning a one-size-fits-all model, being intentional can provide reasonable understanding of the intersections of identities, social locations and circumstances. In other words, we must remember that our markets and clients are not statistical insights but real people who lead real lives full of triumphant and conflict. When trying to meet sales targets, revenue goals and master marketing it can be easy for a company to forget that people are multidimensional and complex. There are real social, political and economic issues that impact the daily lives of our and clients and sometimes it is O.K to recognize the reality in order make an effort to empathize, relate and understand to ensure you are building trust and strengthening relationships.
Businesses and organizations can focus on creating strategies that account for the variations of challenges or interests that impact age, gender, race, ethnicity, location, socioeconomic status...etc. Intentionality asks that we embrace new ideas, perspectives, or action even if they may appear unpopular to the public if it enables the company to provide the highest quality services. Being straightforward, direct and fair will gather more respect than being vague or unspecific in order to save face. Intentionality is asking who are we protecting and making comfortable? Are we harming others or threatening the erasure of their voices or visibility by doing so? Does non-specificity advance our mission efficiently?
4. Most likely to yield tangible results
Intentionality focuses on going beyond accountability towards a culture of responsibility and duty that maintains a system of flexibility, focus and is centered on execution. Being deliberate and specific about decision-making ensures that the execution of choices are effective and sustainable. It is easier to measure and track clear, concise goals than it is to follow the progress of vague insights.Team members will have well-defined roles and responsibilities, there are clear governance policies and procedures, processes of collaboration and communication are open and everyone is on the same page. Streamlined and high functioning systems will produce employees that are more motivated and clients who are more loyal.
So, Why Intentionality?
Intentionality is a forward thinking approach for businesses, consulting firms, non-profit organizations and community work. If we are not trying to operate within a space that is both efficient and encourages change, then the work is merely performative and those who need us most will continue to be left behind. We already make multiple decisions on purpose every single day. There are benefits and sometimes there are consequences when we decide on anything. But any concerted effort to make room for new perspectives, new strategies or new people is not a radical idea but a sensible one.