At The Deciding Factor, lifelong learning is one of our core values. So when employees meet with Karen Meyers Holzer, President of The Deciding Factor digital marketing agency, to talk about the future she always asks, “What new skills and areas of interest do you want to explore going forward?”
Mitch Wilcox, Digital & Content Marketing Manager for TDF, had to do some research first. “In addition to some more technical growth goals, I really wanted to look into programs focused on leadership development and civic engagement,” he says. When Mitch sat down with Karen, he told her he wanted to apply for Cincy Next.
The program is aimed at early career professionals seeking meaningful growth — both personally and professionally. With the full support of Karen, Mitch applied and was accepted to Cincy Next Class 7. Although it was envisioned as starting in April 2020 and lasting for eight months, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Mitch and the rest of the Cincy Next participants to adapt.
Stretching Your Knowledge
Cincy Next is part of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Harnessing Young Professional Energy platform (HYPE). “This program is built to provide emerging leaders with the essential leadership foundations to get them to the next level in their career,” says Andrea Mersmann, HYPE Programs Leader for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
Forty-three early-career professionals from a variety of backgrounds — including lawyers, software developers and financial planners — were accepted into the program. The curriculum covers topics ranging from personal branding, community engagement and conflict management to goal setting, personal finance, networking and more.
“One of my goals is to learn more about Cincinnati as a whole, but more specifically the local political scene — the issues at-hand and the organizations and people that shape our region,” says Mitch. “Even as a lifelong resident, Cincy Next is helping me stretch my knowledge of the Greater Cincinnati area and find ways to get involved in my community.”
Adapting to COVID
Cincy Next hasn’t been immune to COVID-19. Instead of April the first class was held in late August. Mitch and his classmates managed to make the most of the downtime.
They met for Zoom calls and Virtual Happy Hours over the summer. “I’m not the most outgoing person,” says Mitch with a laugh. “Cincy Next has helped me meet people I otherwise wouldn’t have met and have conversations I otherwise wouldn’t have had.” They even got together to volunteer at Gorman Heritage Farm in Evendale, OH — while wearing masks and staying socially distanced, of course.
With the program officially underway, Cincy Next is meeting virtually at least every other Wednesday with an occasional special session and monthly “one-on-one” conversation between classmates. Additionally, the group is continuing to foster and grow their connections by hosting small-group meet-ups around the city.
What is the rest of the program going to be like stretching into 2021? Upcoming virtual meetings cover such topics as difficult conversations, negotiations and “stepping into happiness,” with graduation planned to take place in person (if possible) in April 2021 at Camp Joy in Clarksville, OH.
“I can’t say enough about the flexibility, adaptability and grace Andrea, the Chamber and my classmates have shown throughout this program,” says Mitch. “A lot of people got a crash-course in agile leadership during this pandemic, and I admire the resourcefulness and ingenuity of my peers around the city.”
Creating a Cohort
Despite the necessary adaptations to the program, Mitch and his classmates are staying engaged and supporting one another from a distance. They often share ideas and experiences from their work and personal lives through Basecamp.
“My favorite part of the program is connecting with everyone,” says Mitch. “It almost feels like college again where you’re making meaningful connections and building a network of peers around the city who you can bounce ideas off of, learn from and grow with as you’re all advancing your careers and making an impact on the region.”
At its core, Cincy Next is about equipping young professionals with leadership tools to make an impact on the community and facilitating the creation of a cohort of the region’s next group of leaders. “Our goal is to cultivate change agent leaders who are growing personally, and making a difference in their organizations, and in the community,” says Amy Thompson, Senior Director, Leadership Programs for the Cincinnati Regional Chamber.
Thinking and Acting Locally
Cincy Next challenges its participants to do more. “It can be easy to get caught up in what makes national headlines and feeling like every issue is too big for you to make an impact,” says Mitch. “I’ve spent a lot more time paying attention to what’s happening in Cincinnati over the last few months and trying to narrow my focus to help make meaningful change. I’m grateful for Cincy Next challenging me in this way.”