If you’ve had the privilege of meeting Shannon, you know that she exudes joy, enthusiasm, and passion. (And that she curses like a sailor!) As Partner at Blue Garnet, she leads many of our client projects and helps manage the behind-the-scenes of running a small business. Shannon just celebrated ten years at Blue Garnet, so we wanted to take a moment to highlight her! I, Sofia Van Cleve—peep! I’m back part-time!— sat down with Shannon to reflect on the past decade…
Sofia: To start us off, could you share more about how working at Blue Garnet has shaped you? How have you changed or grown both professionally and personally during this decade?
Shannon: I started off at Blue Garnet (BG) after finishing my MBA at UCLA Anderson. I was newly married and had no kids. My two kids have grown up with me working at BG! BG flexed with me through my personal life changes, in terms of having a family and moving to Seattle. Way-Ting and Jenni have really been steady partners throughout the last decade.
BG has made me a better person. Before coming to BG, I had only dabbled in social sector work. BG fulfilled my drive to find a more meaningful purpose in my work. It has taught me so much about the social sector, in terms of how it works, its challenges, and the people involved.
You’ve also grown a lot in your role at Blue Garnet, right?
Yep, I was a Senior Associate at first, then Project Lead, and now Partner. In addition to client work, I’ve had the opportunity to learn much more about relationship building, client and staff management, and how to run a small business. I quickly realized you have to wear the other “hats” of running a social enterprise at BG, like HR, talent management, business development, or ordering paper for the printer! This decade at BG has given me a much broader perspective of what it means to be a social entrepreneur.
Channel your younger self 10 years ago. How did you hear about BG? Why did you choose to work with us?
I heard about BG via Net Impact at UCLA Anderson. Working for BG was a “no-brainer.” The work was challenging and inspiring, and there was a kick-ass team. I’m a big extrovert, so I need a team to interact with and learn from. I love that we push each other to deliver our best. I think TEAM is a key that sets Blue Garnet apart.
I think you’re getting at an important point— what sets Blue Garnet apart. Could you share more?
We’re a group of learners, constantly geeking out with each other. And we are generalists – we don’t focus on one industry. I like the variety of solving different problems in different fields. Every project has its own unique circumstances. It’s never boring work, and we lean on each other to make sure we’re delivering our best.
Along with that, what do you wish people knew about BG?
How much time we invest in our clients. We really care about our clients, and they often don’t have the budget to do the work that they really need to be done. We stretch our budgets so far because we really want clients to get what they need (even if they can’t always pay for it).
What’s one thing from “the Blue Garnet Way” that you’ve adopted into how you work?
I was a consultant before BG, so I didn’t think the learning curve would be too steep. I was SO wrong— the “Blue Garnet Way” is a completely different way of working! Clients in the social sector are much more complex than corporate clients because they have so many more stakeholders to consider. And they have to do far more, with far less money!
One thing I’ve really adopted from the “BG Way” is starting with the end in mind, or the WHY. The focus is always on the North Star of impact. We push ourselves and our clients to get to the ultimate “so what.” We need to focus on how the community is different because of the work we’re doing; impact is not just the sum of all our programs. If, for example, you want to solve houselessness, you have to do more than meet an individuals’ immediate needs. You need to take a long-term perspective and define what it takes to make an individual self-sustainable. And don’t forget about systems change!
What’s something you’re really proud of having contributed to the BG Way?
For our services, I’m proud of building up our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expertise, as well as refining our thinking around organizational culture and the intersection with strategic planning work.
Internally, I always like to make sure we’re having fun! And I’ve contributed a healthy dose of sarcasm 😊. I like to boost team morale and create silly competitions. I organized a hot dog cooking competition, a paper airplane throwing contest, and a “best all-around person” contest with trivia, physical fitness, and creativity components. We also had a “Lincoln Lunch Experiment” where we tried a new restaurant each week on Lincoln Blvd next to our office! Even remotely, I could help organize some of these. One down-side of being the organizer is that I couldn’t participate, and I’m super competitive!
Describe one of your favorite project moments in 10 years at BG. What made this moment interesting and memorable? What were some key learnings, if any?
One highlight was working with a big corporate foundation and seeing the way they dug their teeth into the Impact Formula. They used it as an opportunity to challenge assumptions around their theory of change, and to get to the root cause of problems. With BG, they took time to reflect on how to best serve domestic violence survivors in a connected ecosystem. They also assessed their reputation in the community, creating a sophisticated new scale. Their curiosity really inspired me!
I learned the importance of an inclusive process that embeds change management. At first, we worked only with a small group of Senior Leaders to save others’ capacity, but then completely changed our process when Directors and others wanted to get involved in the Strategic Business Planning. It’s important to give people a chance to share their voice!