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Field Notes

Andrew Wolk, Root Cause Founder, stepping down as CEO; Erin Rodriguez, current Managing Director, to take helm

October 13, 2020

A conversation between Andrew and Erin about the transition process and what’s next for this nonprofit consulting group.

After more than 15 years of leadership, founder Andrew Wolk will move into a senior advisory role at Root Cause to focus more time on his new project Finding Common Purpose. Erin Rodriguez, who has led the cultural growth and day-to-day management of Root Cause for nearly three years, will lead the organization in its next chapter.

Andrew and Erin reflect on making a smooth transition and where both Andrew and Root Cause are headed next.

 

ERIN:

Well, Andrew, we’re in the midst of a pandemic, social protests, and an election. Why step back as CEO and into a different role now?

 

ANDREW:

For many of us, this tumult has crystallized what matters most to us and lent fresh urgency to change. Yet Root Cause has been moving in this direction for quite a while.

First, we repositioned the organization to ask ourselves and the sector the question, To What End? In collaboration with our partners, how do we as professionals, as organizations, as a sector, and as a nation contribute to improving people’s lives?

Then we shifted our consulting focus, developing long-term partnerships that allowed us to be part of larger efforts of system change that can affect many more lives. Our work with State Street Foundation and the Workforce Investment Network and the Duke Endowment and Get Ready Guilford are great examples.

Along with that, you came on board to retool the Root Cause culture. You’ve put the expertise and experience of our Advisory Services Leaders at the forefront of those long-term partnerships. For organizational resilience and to strengthen our team relationships, we decided to pivot Root Cause from a reliance on me as the Founder and CEO to a new way of working.  You dubbed it, ‘me to we’ that over the last year has put more and more of the decision making into the hands of the team.

I knew succession planning was important, but honestly had not really thought about when we might be ready or how to go about it.   Between that organizational readiness and your own, I started to think, now is the perfect time to make the change and let you and the team lead the way.

 

ERIN:

So what’s next for you?

 

ANDREW:

My new project, Finding Common Purpose—building on my blog and podcast of the same name— is a new national, non-partisan think tank advocating for re-framing success.

We must put people first in all the work the public, private, and nonprofit sectors do. I believe the only way to do that is if there are greater coordinated efforts between institutions using a pathway framework from a healthy birth, to a quality education, to getting and keeping a good-paying job, and to healthy and secure aging.

I’ll be working more deeply on the question that has driven me for twenty years: how do institutions agree on the ultimate outcomes that speak to living in a healthy and sustainable society? Promoting and supporting local efforts that are answering this question can be the basis for a new social contract between institutions that have lost the trust of the people they serve, all along each step in life.

 

With your leadership, what’s ahead in Root Cause’s own journey?

 

ERIN:

As a team, it’s been great to see us all dig deep into where our years of experience can make the biggest difference, and partner with foundations and clients similarly impassioned to work in that area.

Root Cause will stay true to this longstanding approach. Foundations, nonprofits, government agencies and school districts can all continue to count on us for personalized collaboration, working directly with senior leaders who know their sector well. We’ll continue to advance projects and the sector through our expertise in Strategy, Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) and Collective Action. We bring our Principles of Engagement to everything we do.

I’m looking forward to taking all of that to the next level with our clients and partners with a particular focus on expanding our commitment to the Principles of Engagement, “Involve People in Communities” and Aim for Equity”. For example, I’m really proud of our healthy & fulfilling aging project with the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, and the way the team has been able to engage and empower older adult community members across Washtenaw County as our partners, despite the challenges of the pandemic. I’m also excited about our strategic planning project with the Guilford County Coalition on Infant Mortality, which seeks to create a collective action approach to increase access to quality prenatal care and eliminate the racial inequities that causes babies born to African American mothers to experience pre-term births, low birth rates, and infant mortality at higher rates than babies born to White mothers.

I’m excited that you’ll stay part of that picture. We’ve been using the words ‘step back’ to describe your change in position to Senior Advisor because you’ll still be a part of the team.  Can you share more about how you’ll stay involved at Root Cause?

 

ANDREW:

Sure: while I’ll devote much of my time to Finding Common Purpose, I look forward to staying on as a Senior Advisor in 2021. I’ll be here for you, the team, and Root Cause clients.   

You may recall, it was you who suggested I stay on in some new role. For other organizations considering their own transitions, why did you recommend that approach?

 

ERIN:

I’ve always believed that a truly cohesive and collaborative culture capitalizes on the strengths of every person involved. By using this slightly unorthodox transition plan, we can move forward while retaining benefits of your experience and your passion for finding opportunities where we can do the most good.  I’m glad you’ll stay part of that picture as we focus on the projects, places and people where we can be most helpful.

Together we’ve cultivated a wonderful staff with varied work and life experience from consultants to co-ops, including quite a few people who have worked in direct service in human-focused areas.  We will continue to bring the strengths of all of our team and to build our strength through a culture of learning and inclusiveness.

Looking back at 15 years of Root Cause, what are a few of your proudest accomplishments here?

 

ANDREW:

First, our team. I am so proud of the current team and hundreds of others who have worked at Root Cause over the years and gone on to find their own ways to contribute to important issues ranging from early childhood education, to college, and career readiness to economic mobility.

Second, our partners and clients. I am grateful to the hundreds of organizations we have consulted to and helped to start over the years for the chance to assist them in improving so many lives.

Third, our culture of continuous improvement. We coach our clients to push themselves in this direction, and we do so ourselves as well, it’s what I believe makes Root Cause special.   

I feel fortunate to have been able to do this kind of work for so long.

 

ERIN:

Andrew, thank you for your vision, and for entrusting to our team the future of Root Cause.

 

ANDREW:

Thank YOU, Erin, for shouldering what’s ahead. I am committed to supporting you, the rest of the team and our clients.

Our country is at a crossroads, where over the next years and decades, we will determine if we can work together towards not just a few thriving, but many. I have seen how this work across the country, including projects Root Cause is working on, can bridge some of the divisiveness and move us towards a common purpose.

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