[Nfbc-info] FYI FW: a response to Bob Burke's email of last Friday

Michael Hingson info at michaelhingson.com
Sat Jun 29 03:11:40 UTC 2013

Greetings all,

Earlier this month I forwarded to you a letter I sent to the Board of
Directors of Guide Dogs for the Blind expressing my concerns over actions
the GDB leadership team has taken to the detriment of the program and the
school's relationship with consumers.  This past Friday the first
communications from the Board was sent to consumers.  Given that letter's
total lack of substance I made the response you will see below.

As back ground, since my first letter I have heard from many individuals
including staff, volunteers, donors, and consumers all of whom expressed
support for what I said.  The staff comments were especially disconcerting
since I heard that many at the school feared for their jobs and that the
overall attitude of many of the workers was that of a disenchanted and
fearful lot.  I have seen emails from donors who indicate that they no
longer shall give to the school.  Consumers tell me they will not go back to
GDB for training and new dogs.  Blind workers, I understand, are most
unhappy and fearful of all.

I am sending this to you as Guide Dogs for the Blind has been one of the
premiere organizations serving blind people in the United States and now it
is coming across as one of the worst.  This kind of information is important
to you whether or not you use a guide dog.  You should be aware of how
important it is for us as concerned blind consumers and citizens to stay on
top of what agencies purporting to serve us do and how they behave.  I look
forward to seeing many of you next week in Orlando.  I am sure the GDB issue
will be discussed and pondered. 


Michael Hingson

-----Original Message-----
From: Michael Hingson [mailto:Mike at michaelhingson.com]
Sent: Friday, June 28, 2013 07:49 PM
To: bburke at guidedogs.com; gkerscher at guidedogs.com; sodell at guidedogs.com;
ruthann.dodson24 at gmail.com; jboyd at guidedogs.com; mwatkins at guidedogs.com;
sbutton at guidedogs.com; dgershen at guidedogs.com; jharris at guidedogs.com;
amathieson at guidedogs.com; smansfield at guidedogs.com; jackscott at guidedogs.com
Cc: mike at michaelhingson.com
Subject: a response to Bob Burke's email of last Friday

Dear Members of the Board of Directors of Guide Dogs for the Blind,

I am in receipt of the letter Bob Burke sent on Friday, June 21, 2013 to GDB
alumni, (or consumers as we feel ourselves to be).  We are consumers in
every sense of the word as we are the ones who “consume” GDB services and
thus we have the greatest stake of all in insuring that Guide Dogs for the
Blind, Inc. truly remains committed to and provides the highest standard of
excellence in all aspects of its operation.  It is in this vein of a
concerned consumer who understands a great deal about the high standards
usually attained by GDB that I write to you.

Mr. Burke’s letter is extremely disappointing in many ways.  I will
enumerate my observations and concerns below and within the original
correspondence from Mr. Burke.  Here is the original email along with my

From: Bob Burke [mailto:gdbboardletter at guidedogs.com]
Sent: Friday, June 21, 2013 04:22 PM
To: mhingson at sbcglobal.net
Subject: Communication from GDB Board

“Dear Alumni, As a GDB graduate your support and understanding is
extraordinarily important to the board and leadership of GDB. We have a
responsibility to earn that support and understanding with frank and ongoing
[Michael Hingson]  I appreciate the desire for frank communications.
However, are communications really ongoing?  I know that within the past few
months over a hundred letters were written to the GDB board by consumers and
other stakeholders of which not one individual received even one automatic
form letter response.  I am sure that the members of the board never
expected the mountain of correspondences from consumers, but no responses
from the board at all?  The ongoing concept is questionable at best.

 “You may have heard about recent and substantial changes to our programs,
which resulted in the layoff of eight employees. GDB is a large and complex
organization, and from time to time, change is required to respond to new
economic and program environments.”
[Michael Hingson] Now we begin with the issues about “frank communications”.
“Change is required to respond to new economic and program environments”?
What does this even have to do with the issues raised by your consumers?
What economic environments especially since the GDB operating reserve grew
in the past two years back to nearly or above the $300,000,000 number amount
where it stood when the economic downturn began in 2008?  Also, telling us
that GDB is a “large and complex organization” is condescending at best.  We
all know better than many how large, complex, and sophisticated GDB is.
Those qualities are the very reasons the consumers now writing to you picked
GDB as our guide dog provider of choice.  Saying that GDB is a “large and
complex organization” is unfortunate and justifies nothing relating to the
issues consumers have raised.

As far as program changes are concerned you are the organ which thus far has
supported the very “changes” that GDB leadership is putting in place while
your stakeholders are expressing outrage and telling you that the changes do
not work and are not working.  Even the back room call center is not
responding to calls in a timely manner.

It appears to us, your consumers, that you are not demonstrating sufficient
oversight and care for GDB.  You seem to be relying on a CEO who is
misleading you and whose own staff fears to contact you for fear of reprisal
from the CEO.  You as the board have not reacted to the hundreds of emails
and letters which have been sent to you and you have seemed to take no
interest in the fact that over 500 stakeholders have publicly expressed
their dissatisfaction on a public petition web site.

“However, we are also a community with a shared mission. I believe the board
and GDB executive leadership are doing a good job of becoming an even more
mission-driven organization, which is a wholly good thing in spirit and
strategy. But, in execution, the way we announced the changes increased
doubt instead of understanding.”
[Michael Hingson] The fact is that the tide of objections from consumers
began only in a small part because of the way GDB made the announcements,
and you have been told this in countless letters.  The changes themselves
are the problem.  The individuals who are making the “changes” are also the

In addition, Mr. Burke says, “I believe the board and GDB executive
leadership are doing a good job of becoming an even more mission-driven
organization, which is a wholly good thing in spirit and strategy” and this
while consumers and stakeholders by the hundreds continue to question this
assertion.  Mr. Burke does not even recognize the comments and viewpoints of
consumers.  Instead he says that the board and executive leadership are
doing a good job and it would appear that he expects this to be the end of
it.  Discounting your stakeholders shows just how far the board has become
disconnected from the consumers it serves and it shows more than any other
demonstration can provide why the current executive leadership does not
understand the mission, values, and needs of GDB.  The disconnect and lack
of understanding are the true reasons for the distrust everyone has
expressed to you.

>From my experiences in sitting on and chairing boards in California it seems
to me that the board is more loyal to Paul Lopez than it is to the
organization as a whole.  If so, this is unfortunate.

“The past few months have been challenging for GDB. The organization may
have been well served but our community was not. Both the board and GDB
leadership have learned from this experience and from your comments,
questions and concerns. The board recognizes and honors its relationships
with clients, puppy raisers, donors and volunteers; and it also recognizes
its responsibility to do what is necessary to ensure mission fulfillment in
the future.”
[Michael Hingson] “Well served”: Please understand that if the board and
executive leadership of GDB believes Mr. Burke’s statements than you are the
only ones who do.  The evidence of the divergence between the opinions
expressed by Mr. Burke and the consumers of GDB services is overwhelming.

Saying that “The board recognizes and honors its relationships with clients,
puppy raisers, donors and volunteers” does not make it so.  Unfortunately
the very lack of communications over the past few months and the lack of
substance of Mr. Burke’s letter to us at this time, I think, show the exact
opposite of what Mr. Burke says he wants.  The comments I have seen about
Mr. Burke’s letter for the most part are negative at best.  One person said
that the tone and nature of the wording of Mr. Burke’s letter depict someone
lecturing a child and expecting that people are simply supposed to believe
the words no matter the facts.

Mr. Burke also says, “it, (the board), also recognizes its responsibility to
do what is necessary to ensure mission fulfillment in the future.” I hope
that is so, but we as consumers have not seen this yet.  I believe you are
all good people, but you are being misled by executive staff with different
values and possibly different objectives.  Mr. Burke says that the board has
learned from this experience.  Mr. Burke’s letter does not show that any
learning has taken place.  If you have learned then you must undertake your
fiduciary responsibility and change the executive leadership of GDB.  The
current executive staff has lost all credibility and standing with the
stakeholders of the organization and if you continue to support the current
executive team and do not change the GDB executive leadership then you too
will lose what standing you have with the GDB community and the blind
population of the U.S. as well.  Things have gone too far now for the GDB
executive team.  They will never be trusted again by blind people and other
stakeholders.  If you need to gather more information then please do so, but
do NOT leave out consumers in your investigations.  If the changes reacted
to by your consumers were orchestrated by other executive staff members then
the board needs to understand this.  Mr. Hibbard now directs training, and
it is our understanding that he is behind a lot of Mr. Lopez’s efforts.  The
consumers of your services have a collective experience that greatly exceeds
the entire training experience of the GDB staff.  At present there are, for
example, consumers who have been using guide dogs far longer than your most
experienced trainer has worked in the field.  There is no record of any of
these consumers ever being consulted prior to the changes being instituted,
and there is no evidence that the board has conducted investigations with
your most experienced consumers since the anger by stakeholders began.

“That said, we will be evaluating the program changes with a set of rigorous
metrics based on our traditional program standards of the annual number and
quality of working teams. We will track progress, or the lack of it, and
make adjustments in order to achieve our goals.”
[Michael Hingson] What does this mean?  Metrics has nothing to do with the
kinds of services we are discussing and concerned about.  Yes, one can find
ways to measure anything, but GDB already uses a set of complex and
“rigorous metrics” to evaluate “progress” on a number of fronts.  GDB, as
Mr. Burke has said is a large and complex organization.  The metrics are in
place, but the services have deteriorated anyway.

“We will share evaluation results on a quarterly basis. We understand that
trust and confidence in GDB executive leadership has been brought into
question. The board is confident in the executive leadership of GDB. The
board believes the changes that have taken place, some of which predate
Paul’s arrival, are important to the ability of the organization to realize
its mission.”
[Michael Hingson] These comments tell us again that you do not believe that
what we have brought to you matters.  If we are to believe what Mr. Burke
says in his correspondence then you are going to do nothing despite a huge
number of unsupportive comments from an unprecedented number of
stakeholders.  I hope that you realize that doing nothing to address the
concerns and issues brought to you by your consumers is as great a violation
of your trust and your responsibility as can be imagined.  There is nothing
in Mr. Burke’s letter that addresses consumer involvement.  All the letter
says is that we shall get some kind of report.  If you permit Mr. Burke to
ignore consumers and allow the existing leadership of GDB to work unchecked
then we must begin to wonder if it is also time for a change in board
leadership and perhaps the board overall.  In today’s world consumer input
is crucial for any organization to operate effectively.

“At the same time, the board realizes fully that it is also important to do
a much better job of communicating about such changes, as we intend to do
moving forward. We are reaching out to the Alumni Association board to
improve our communication and teamwork. A meeting is scheduled at the end of
July to conduct a comprehensive discussion of the board-approved five-year
strategic plan. The AA board’s involvement will help guide the development
of the associated operational plans. We will continue to ensure that our
alumni community and interests are represented through graduate
participation on the GDB Board, as they are currently through our graduate
board members. In the coming weeks and months, I believe you will see
changes in our communications and approach all designed to deepen outreach
to our constituents, rebuild relationships and refine leadership goals. The
voice of all those who love and support the mission of GDB is important to
us. We value and respect the role that the AA Board plays in making sure we
hear and understand it. Your input and feedback will help all of us at GDB
keep the focus on our graduates and on getting better in all that we do.
Sincerely, Bob Burke Board Chair ”
[Michael Hingson] It is my understanding from several on the Alumni Board
that the GDB Board of directors already has demonstrated its value of
communications with consumers by not following through on the request of the
Alumni Board.  Even after the May GDB board meeting with representatives of
the Alumni Board no communications was sent to stakeholders.  Change means
that something different must be done in order to obtain a different

Let me comment a bit on Mr. Burke’s letter as a whole.  I have used terms to
describe the letter such as “condescending”.  His letter is written as if
from one businessperson to another and says little of substance.  The letter
is something more like what we expect from a politician during an interview
with the press in which the politician says a lot that sounds good to the
casual observer, but, in fact, they say nothing at all.  One can only wonder
if, in fact, Mr. Burke’s letter was created by the newly hired pr firm that
GDB has brought on board.  In fact, why is a pr firm needed at all?  If Mr.
Burke wrote this letter then his level of disconnect from the issues is
significant and, again, it might be time to wonder if he is the person to
lead the board.

One more observation.  Mr. Burke’s email came from the email alias
gdbboardletter at guidedogs.com.  Why not from Mr. Burke’s address or from a
known alias representing the entire board?  Several individuals have asked
me about this and have indicated that if anyone writes back to Mr. Burke at
gdbboardletter at guidedogs.com who will really get their letters?  Please,
this is not nit picking.  This is how far trust has eroded.  The fact that
people question an email alias is distressful.

I am sending you the foregoing as further input.  I am horrified by the
amount of private correspondence I have received since my first email to you
which support what I said and which show just how disenchanted and unhappy
people from all areas of GDB influence really are.  It is time for an
executive leadership and executive staff change at GDB.  No matter how you
evaluate the performance of Paul Lopez and his executive staff, if you do
not take into account the views of stakeholders, some of whom have decades
of personal experience in the GDB world, then you are not doing a complete
study and are not fully taking into account the entire picture.

Thank you for taking time to read my comments.  I would be happy to speak
with any of you about what I have said here.  You may reach me via email at
mike at michaelhingson.com or by phone at (415) 827-4084.  I hope to hear from
you in order to continue our communications.  Thank you for your time. 


Michael Hingson

The Michael Hingson Group, INC.
"Speaking with Vision"
Michael Hingson, President
(415) 827-4084
mike at michaelhingson.com
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