The Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute (RMMFI) invests in individuals across Colorado to increase both income and wealth generation through business ownership. With consistent MBM coaching, RMMFI and its leadership team have worked hard to identify their guiding principles and North Star, taking their potential for impact to the next level. In this two-part Q+A, you’ll hear from CEO Rob Smith, Director of Programs Sera Muñiz, Community Engagement Manager Mary Kate Morr, and Director of Operations Jessica Sveen about their experience developing a cohesive strategic vision.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
RMMFI’s North Star: We believe everyone should be free to make choices to activate the possible. RMMFI creates the space for communities and people of all backgrounds to realize their unique potential through the power of entrepreneurship.
When Jessica and I came back from the Catalyst Program and we brought these concepts of market-based management, guiding principles, and the North Star back to the team as an opportunity to grow the organization and deeply invest in culture, what’d you all think?
I think a framework like this provides us with language to have conversations that we’ve been independently having in various different ways. It kind of unifies that conversation and gives us the ability to converse with common definitions.
We already had those conversations. We were already looking for ways to get aligned to the same vision, but we didn’t have the language to support it. It was just a bunch of separate conversations of well-intentioned people.
Mary Kate Morr
In other spaces I’ve seen where someone comes back from a conference with a great idea and you put a lot of energy towards it—and then it just sits on the shelf. I think from the start we were really integrating the guiding principles and North Star language into the rest of our work. And so it didn’t feel like a fancy new trend or buzzword. It was clear from the start that this is really going to inform our work and our culture and our messaging.
How do our North Star and guiding principles look in terms of community engagement, programs, operations and culture in the organization?
Within operations, it’s a driver of culture. It’s not the culture. But a big part of my role is making sure that we have guiding principles within our management structures and our fun days that revolve around something meaningful. Outside of culture, the guiding principles of our North Star really show up in HR: setting management structures, the way that we approach each other, the way that we show up in team meetings and reviews, and how we hire people and look for talent.
For programs it shows up in a lot of ways. First, when we think about building programs, we think about our North Star and activating the possible. We are thinking on a large scale: “What is our ultimate mission when we do these things?” The North Star is there to guide us in a lot of that thinking.
And then, when you’re managing a big team, you’re having hard conversations all the time. Sometimes they’re emotional conversations. It can be emotionally taxing and it can be hard to have those conversations in a way that’s beneficial to everyone. But using feedback and having hard conversations within the guiding principles allows us to have tough conversations while recognizing we are all whole people.
So we can have awkward interactions and still try to build positive results for everybody involved, because we’ve got this clear language that gives us space and room to express who we are while allowing other people to express who they are. The most difficult moments I have had are a little more easily navigated because we’re all working from the same template.
I appreciate that. And even about celebrations, I’m learning to incorporate that within my own life. For too long, I’d just take care of an accomplishment and then move on to the next task. So I’m also incorporating the guiding principles into my personal beliefs and benefiting from it.
That’s a huge point. The concept of the North Star and guiding principles is not just something that we do in service of our entrepreneurs. It’s really about: How do you internalize that for yourself? How do we internalize that for the organization as a whole? How do we do that for our entrepreneurs, volunteers, and board? It’s a stakeholder-wide concept, and everybody has potential to activate the possible and then build from that point.