Ashton MartinSeptember 12, 2019

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It’s hard to admit that your organization may be stuck in place.

Everyone wants to believe that their organization, which has been built on certain values and ideas that are likely held dear, is always charging forward towards its goals.

But this (unfortunately) isn’t always the case. Even the best organizations from time to time are stuck in place. Leaders of these organizations face the unique challenge of figuring out how to jump start forward progress in the face of growing doubt from both team members and constituents. As I start my journey as Student Body President at UNC Chapel Hill, forward progress is at the front of my mind. Below are three important lessons that I’ve learned and continue to embrace every day:

  1. Build a team that has no concept of limits

    Everyone’s heard the old adage “the most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘we’ve always done it this way.’” and it’s taken me a long time to realize the depth of truth in that statement. So gathering a team that has no concept of your organization’s perceived limits – or, they understand these limits and simply don’t care – is vitally important. Getting out of a stagnant position requires high energy and dedication, and having a team that will take their ideas and run with them despite doubt will move your organization forward and out of its holding pattern.

  2. Give space to grow

    If you successfully build that team that doesn’t know or care about the past limitations your organization faced, you’ll have with you a group of motivated and talented people who aren’t afraid of pushing the proverbial envelope. This space to grow can take many forms, such as giving the green light on big ideas without a clear plan for how they’ll be accomplished, or setting lofty goals that may have never been tried before. This will also include trusting your team to problem solve and get creative to find solutions to the inevitable obstacles that come with uncharted territory.

  3. Create a culture of not fearing feedback

    If your organization has stalled and seems to be putting out the same results every year, it’s likely that many people have noticed. Possibly, your organization is receiving “negative” feedback about your practices or productivity. When an organization is faced with backlash, it’s all too easy to stay in the stalled position because the fear of unwanted feedback is too great. The key here is instilling the belief that feedback is an inherently good thing and a necessary thing, and that even feedback that is seen to be negative is just an indication that someone sees value in your organization and simply expects more. Feedback is right and it is smart, and by embracing it, learning from it, and acting on it, you will move forward.

When I took over leadership of a large student organization, I was faced with a student body that had lost faith, a team that felt they were constrained, and a general sense of discontent from everyone. While the three things above haven’t made my organization into the perfect machine, they have allowed us to move forward and enact change when very few thought it possible. This didn’t happen overnight, and it takes a daily dedication to embracing feedback, but I am confident that my time at Feedback Labs and the ideas that it taught me will guide me and my organization for years to come.


Ashton was Feedback Labs’ summer Strategy and Fundraising Intern. A senior Morehead-Cain scholar at the University of North Carolina studying political science and philosophy, Ashton caught the feedback bug after working at a nonprofit in Ecuador for a few months. There she witnessed firsthand an ineffective feedback loop and realized the importance of proactive feedback practices. As the Student Body President at UNC, Ashton hopes to bring the skills and knowledge of good feedback practices back home to improve her own organization. In her free time, Ashton enjoys baking, hiking, reading mystery novels, and finding the best iced coffee in any city she’s in.

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