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.
I think the coolest thing about how the North Star and guiding principles have shown up in the organization is that our team is talking about guiding principles directly. Everybody’s talking about the concept of “activating the possible” and how that shows up. And now we have community members taking North Star language, and then our entrepreneurs show up at graduation and give a keynote, and they’re leveraging the North Star in how they talk about their experience with RMMFI. They just get it through their experience with us.
Mary Kate Morr
In the community engagement world, I would say the North Star language is really one of our biggest driving forces for how we show up to external stakeholders and how we communicate what we do and why we do it. Rob, Aaron, and I really thought about how our brand pillars align to the North Star and guiding principles and reflect them in a genuine way. Every time I write any piece of external communication, I read over our North Star and guiding principles and make sure that I’m embedding it in whatever I’m putting out into the community.
And I think we’ve seen it start to show up more in partnership development. It’s given us a tool to be able to find early alignment: Are we on the same page? Should we be partners? We can put the North Star and guiding principles in front of a potential partner and ask, “Is this the vision and the goal that you have in your work as well?” That’s really allowing us do more expansion and growth work with a tool that we didn’t have before.
Then, with volunteers specifically, it’s given us a tool to find the right people for our program. We can redo our volunteer descriptions using the North Star and guiding principle language. We’ve shifted our questions a little bit to better align when we’re talking to volunteers.
I really like that we broke down the North Star into very small parts to talk about them each through that. We were able to respond to each section of the North Star with what we thought it meant. I think the coolest part is that everyone brought a different viewpoint to certain parts of the North Star and what we do.
Mary Kate Morr
I also loved reading how other people were reacting to it and interpreting it. It made it feel like the values and mission that we want to embody are clear, but not rigid. This is where we want to go, and we want everyone to bring themselves to that and see themselves in that work. I think that process really built ownership across the team.
What surprised you the most about the principles and the North Star when we started to put them into action?
The sincerity of it. I’ve worked in other organizations that had guiding principles or cultural values, and they were a very fake uninvested set of principles. But these were just so well-aligned. And everyone was on board.
We chose principles that people have past experiences with. So with “trust and connection,” everyone’s going to bring their own experiences of trust to the table.
Mary Kate Morr
What surprised me in a very good way was how well the North Star and the guiding principles captured what was already happening.
I think that’s one of the biggest differences. Other organizations have rolled out values, but it’s really a thing for employees. Our guiding principles and North Star are for the organization. When we make organizational moves, Rob will say, “Yeah, but how does this acknowledge the whole person? How does this acknowledge trust?” It’s an ask we make of RMMFI before we ask it of our team. That’s part of the reason we can be very invested in it.