Madison Magazine

Community Support Network: Defying expectations in a good way

No. 5 for 2015's Best Places to Work in the 10–50 employee category

When you're running a nonprofit with starting pay well below the standard, when regulations mandate that you micromanage staff, when the work itself is emotionally and physically challenging and may even go unrecognized by most, it's a real coup to pull off a Best Places to Work ranking—yet that's exactly what Community Support Network has done.

"We're acutely aware that a micromanaged environment can be really counterintuitive to a productive and engaged workforce, and so we've spent a lot of time and energy thinking, how do we ameliorate that?" says executive director Deb Raettig of CSN, which engages adults with developmental disabilities in the community. One key was reorganizing so employees always have opportunity for advancement. More than half of the thirty-one staff are managers. There's also support, communication and a care-taking environment inherently valuing of all races and abilities.

But what's had the most profound impact, says Raettig, is The Dignity Model. The model was developed by UW–Madison alum Donna Hicks, who applies it in peacekeeping negotiations throughout the world—Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls her a prophet in the foreword of Hicks' book Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict. The book's core tenet is that the human brain experiences a dignity violation in the same way it does a knife-wielding threat from an attacker; identify the violation and you've got resolution. Most who read it claim a life-changing paradigm shift, and that's exactly what happened to Raettig and the rest of her staff. "We've implemented it literally at every level we can think of," says Raettig. "It changes everything." 

Some tenets of the dignity model
• All human beings have a profound
desire to be treated with dignity—it's part of our evolutionary inheritance.
• When human relationships break down, there has, most likely, been a threat to or violation of the dignity of one or both parties to the relationship.
• Without check, human beings usually react to a threat to their dignity with the impulse to "attack and blame" and to seek revenge. This is a "default" reaction that is "hardwired" in us.
• Our instincts for self-preservation may be hardwired—they are not our fault—but it is our responsibility to control them.

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