Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2014 Un/Conference Content Curation | Open Space: (N)icebreakers

The Minnesota Rising 2014 Un/Conference: The Future Is How was held on Saturday, November 15, 2014 from 10:00AM – 4:30PM at DLR Group offices in Minneapolis, MN. Hosted by and for emerging leaders, the Un/Conference engaged emerging leaders across Minnesota in an energizing day of innovative learning and dialogue, skill-building, and network-building with their peers!

Minnesota Rising is pleased to feature content as well as continued opportunities to learn from our insightful and engaging breakout session speakers. In our Content Curation series, we highlight the ideas of and ways to connect with our 2014 Un/Conference presenters! One of our Open Space callers, Matt Lewis, recaps his session about talent attraction and retention to the greater MSP region below. 


(N)icebreakers: We roll out the welcome mat. Do we invite people in?
by Matt Lewis

Breaking in is hard to do

It’s hard to break in here. Whether you’re an immigrant from halfway around the world, a transplant from halfway across the country, or a first-generation graduate from halfway across the city, it’s not easy to penetrate the invisible networks and constructs that exist in our professional and social environment. It’s a challenge that’s not unique to Minneapolis-Saint Paul. But if we want this to be the place we all hope that it can be we need to acknowledge this reality and recognize the implications.

That assumption, derived from thousands of individual data points across all sectors of our community, resonated with a group that came together for an open space breakout session I proposed during the Minnesota Rising 2014 Un/Conference. Fifteen participants joined my impromptu call to talk about the challenge of “breaking in” here. I shared some insights gathered by GREATER MSP. Then, we split into groups to share what has helped people to break in and brainstorm what might make that process easier.

Thankfully, nobody kept quiet.

“Having a built-in social fabric here in Minnesota is important,” said one individual who boomeranged back to the region. “I made most of my friends through work,” and “I worked through my partner’s network,” were other common refrains.

“Minnesotans need context,” one young woman put it. “They need you to say, ‘I know so-and-so…’” As you might suspect, there was a fair amount of talk about the particular importance of high school networks in Minnesota. It takes serious effort as an outsider in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, most agreed. “You have to be intentional and proactive here to break in.”

Working on ways to welcome

Even while we tried to take an asset-based approach to the challenge we still had a lot of venting to do. However, people here are inherently optimistic about our potential. This group was no different. A sample of some of the “back of the napkin” ideas people put forth:
  • Social dinner club programs that match newcomers and longtime Minnesotans, bridging cultural barriers through a common denominator – food
  • More purposeful networks of community connectors and ambassadors who can be tapped to guide people to community assets in guerilla fashion
  • Intentional storytelling that elevates our activities and invite others to experience them
  • Welcome kits or other assets that better match people’s interests with the opportunities that are out there. “We find out about things through a single person’s endorsement. Why can’t we create a profile of what we’re interested in and be guided?”
  • A more comprehensive, more easily navigable activity calendar or similar dashboard that is populated by the community and easily segmented by interest
There are realities worth acknowledging. First, no clever program alone can make as powerful an impact as extending an invitation. People will find opportunities. What they need is to truly feel welcome. That’s a deep, serious cultural and social challenge. Second, more people can’t and won’t act as agents of change if they don’t view that as a challenge. Dialogue happening in a session just before ours was an example of what we need more of – conversations that move beyond “Minnesota Nice” to an honest discussion about what it takes to be “Minnesota Brave.”

Planning for the future starts with inclusion

This is a great place because people make it great. The fact that relatively few people leave here – an anecdotal assumption that turns out to be statistically true – signals just how special this place is. But right now we’re looking at the trends with appropriately high concern. While we have tremendous assets to build on, unacceptable opportunity and achievement gaps persist. The demographic wave that will hit our workforce adds to our urgency: this region will soon face a massive professional workforce shortage and none of us can afford to leave anyone behind.

To ensure collective benefit we need to develop all of our people, and then retain them by better connecting them to opportunities here. Additionally, just as our economy is currently fueled by migration we need to continue to attract diverse, talented individuals from all over the world. We will not succeed at any of these things without a more welcoming, more inclusive community.

None of this is easy. But broader awareness of the challenge is a starting point. If you have ideas or thoughts, please get in touch. Conversations sparked through groups like Minnesota Rising are making this great place even greater.


Matt Lewis is a Strategy Consultant at GREATER MSP, the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership. He holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management. Matt can be reached at matt.lewis@greatermsp.org.

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