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Case Studies: Mary Jo Brown

Anne showed an incredible ability to advocate, yet remain neutral, as she represented staff members’ opinions.”

—Mary Jo Brown, President
Brown & Company, Portsmouth, NH

CLIENT

Small business owner, design firm

SERVICES
THE SITUATION

When graphic artist Mary Jo Brown opened her design studio, her goal was to create designs clients would love—and have fun doing it. Brown & Company quickly grew from two to eight employees. By the time that number had shot up to 20, Ms. Brown realized two things: the existing organizational structure no longer worked, and owning a business had stopped being fun.

Though she held the dual reins of president and creative director, Ms. Brown admits she “never really wanted to be the boss.” So, while she was aware her firm’s flat structure needed changing, she resisted the notion of a traditional hierarchy. And she was struggling to glean from her staff the feedback she needed to effect any change. It was time to seek outside expertise to open the lines of communication so the organization could move forward. She was referred to Anne Litwin.

THE APPROACH

Dr. Litwin gathered information through company-wide discussions and private, individual interviews with virtually everyone in the firm. “Anne was the best listener we could have hoped for,” enthuses Ms. Brown. “She showed an incredible ability to advocate, yet remain neutral, as she represented staff members’ opinions.” Her findings revealed their ideas on what worked, what didn’t, and how to move forward.

Dr. Litwin worked with her on using the findings to determine how to redesign the firm, revise her leadership style, and reset her priorities. “I had to be the one to figure out what structure would make sense,” explained Ms. Brown. “Anne served as an information resource and coach.” During the entire process, Ms. Litwin modeled a collaborative, inclusive approach that opened lines of communication, built trust, and helped generate an attitude of collective participation in the firm’s future.

THE OUTCOME

Recognizing that she had surrounded herself with “the most talented and eclectic team of designers and technicians possible”, Ms. Brown saw it was time to remove herself as a “bottleneck” and empower others to make decisions. In a major move, she stepped down as creative director. And she came to accept the need for a more hierarchical structure—one that embraces individual leadership, open communication, and participatory management. She continues, in other words, where Dr. Litwin left off.

Ms. Brown credits Dr. Litwin’s work for being “instrumental to the further development of the company.” She also credits a program Dr. Litwin referred to her for insights that she calls “life changing”: “I have the freedom and the ability to change my role. I have to be happy here in order to serve the company well. And I need to take care of myself before I can take care of everyone else.”