Editor’s note: Those who have participated in our Certified Manager of Housing or Certified Manager of Senior Housing programs are familiar with NCHM’s Four Quadrant Model — a simple yet effective tool for identifying and solving operational problems. When a recent participant asked us for permission to translate the model into Cantonese for her Chinese-American staff, we were intrigued. Below, Lindsy Carpenter, Chief Operating Officer for the YWCA San Francisco & Marin, tells her story.

I’m here to tell you a story about something that worked – and in a time when there’s more to be done than time to do it, finding things that work is like finding a golden ticket. I was a skeptic, and then a convert, and that’s why I’m sharing my story with you now.

When I was first presented with NCHM’s Four Quadrant Model at the Certified Manager of Senior Housing training, my gut cried out, “Another non-profit model! More navel-gazing!” Having been in the nonprofit world for a while, I know how consultants love their models and how hard it is to get those models to translate into something a team would actually find useful. They make for a great presentation to your Board of Directors, but it can be a different story when you try to use it “on the ground.” To top it off, the staff on my team come from different cultural backgrounds and have varying linguistic capabilities, which led me to wonder if NCHM’s model could cut across culture and language. Was this model for real?

I had a healthy amount of skepticism when we started our classroom exercise at CMSH, but man was I wrong. It was a great experience practicing the model with my classmates and discovering how much potential this tool had. I brought it to my onsite apartments team a few months later. We were trying to improve our annual unit inspection process, which involved everyone in some way — and which no one liked. I walked the team through the model and got us started on Quadrant One: measuring existing results. Everyone had LOTS to say about what wasn’t working, and it was a mini-bonding experience to just vent collectively. Then, we moved on to Quadrant Two: identifying underlying causes. It was especially helpful to distinguish between causes we brought upon ourselves versus causes that had to do with non-staff; it helped us think about the problem differently. Next, we moved on to Quadrant Three: establishing achievable, measurable goals for the future. It took more time to agree on this, but allowed us to have an honest discussion about what we needed versus what was nice to have, and to find places where we could compromise or help each other think about things in a different way. Finally, in Quadrant Four, we talked about what it would take to get it all done. We turned that into a checklist of next steps, and we were all so proud of ourselves at the end of the exercise because it felt realistic, like something that would actually solve the most important problems.

I am happy to report that we continue to make progress toward our goal of improving the annual unit inspection process. Despite my initial skepticism, the Four Quadrant Model has proven to be that rarest of things: a problem-solving model that actually solves problems!

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