Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The importance of space

I think that it is possible for employees to determine aspects of the work environment especially if management is oblivious to the importance of work environment.

For instance, at my former organization, we changed locations midway through my tenure. I took the opportunity to change the configuration of office.

In the old space, the drivers and transportation office occupied cramped, noisy space out of sight of visitors to the office. And there was a little window from dispatch to the hallway by the elevators. The other office staff were in a wide open, bright loft space, except for the Finance Director who was in another corner tucked away from any interaction with the rest of the staff.

A couple of things were at play partly as a result. The drivers and dispatch felt disrespected and not part of the "real" organization. And the physical environment fed that, because their work space was awful. Plus that little window gave them access to and a relationship with the outside world - drivers never even had to come into the office to transact some business.

Meanwhile, the office staff - people who did fundraising and marketing and worked with food donors and agencies that got and distributed food - felt that the transportation staff was really unprofessional and didn't really appreciate all they did. And of course, no one really got how important Finance was.

It got so bad that people talked about "Park Avenue" and "The Ghetto." Guess which was which!

In the new space, we designed it so that the first thing anyone sees when they come off the elevators and into the office is the dispatch office. It's the heart of the operation, with a big glass wall. The rest of the space is open and loft-like. There are offices on two walls, all of which have lots of glass and light streaming through. People from different departments are seated together, to encourage sharing of information. Drivers have a locker room and dedicated computers where they can work when they come in. They have to enter the office to get to the kitchen, to their mailboxes, to the computers, so they are visible to office workers, and vice versa.

In the old space, people could take the unspoken messages and create their own interpretation - so it was frightening for some office staff to interact with drivers, and vice versa. When we hired new drivers, we found the most successful were those who already knew a bunch of drivers. This was not the greatest thing if we wanted to have a more professional attitude. But the new, unrelated drivers were driven out by a cliquish culture that demanded certain attitudes and behavior. Obviously, we had to change our hiring practices and performance management systems as well. But changing the physical space helped A LOT! Just being treated more professionally and with respect, and as part of, not apart from, helped drivers view themselves as professionals.

Similarly, the majority of the office staff was white women when I arrived. And they were their own clique, who made it very difficult for Jewish or Latino or African-American women or men to feel part of "the gang." So I made some key hires and moved some people from their choice offices to make room for the new people, thereby signaling that some of the new people had status, and mixing people up so they had to relate to people not exactly like them. We had some people who left, and that was OK because the people who stayed loved the diversity and the feeling that everyone was part of the same big organization rather than part of a little clique.

Interestingly enough, I encountered resistance from some of my direct reports about the space configuration when we moved. They wanted all their staff to sit together rather than be interspersed throughout the space. It was such a short-sighted view, based on them wanting it to be really easy to supervise folks. Gradually, they came to see that it was better for the organization for people to sit near and get to know people from other departments, if only to familiarize them with other aspects of the organization. Later, some of them came to me to say I was right because the scattering of people led to new teams and new ideas surfacing from the most unexpected places - things that really helped the organization because you had people with different vantage points thinking about how to solve a common problem.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The “Pie” of Life

Our lives have many different aspects, and often it’s helpful to remember that many segments are functioning quite well even as one or two pieces seem to be out of control. Look at it visually.

On any piece of paper, draw a circle and divide it into 8 segments. Label each segment as it best relates to your own particular circumstances:

  • Work (or Life’s Work, or Vocation, or Mission, or Passion)
  • Family (biological, chosen, or both; could include Community)
  • Friends (or Companionship, or Fun; could include Pets)
  • Spirit (or Mental Health, or Soul Health, or Religious Life)
  • Body (or Physical Well-being, or Health)
  • Love (or Marriage, or Relationship, or Sex Life)
  • Home (or Place in World, Safety & Security, Material Well-being; could include Car, Furniture, Clothes, Neighborhood, Cleanliness and Safety)
  • Money (or Financial Health, or Economic Well-being)

Then, using different colors, color in each segment according to how well you think you are doing in each of them. I use a scale of 1-10, with 10 being as you want it to be - completely fulfilled and balanced. Color in the segment to the extent of the number (10 is the segment completely colored in).

It's fascinating to literally see where one is out of balance. I've never completely filled in all segments, but I’ve been close. Then life happens and something demands my attention and things go a little out of whack again. I can focus a bit more attention on those areas to identify possible actions to help me get back in balance and feel more fulfilled. And I can be patient with my life process.

The “Pie” of Life is a visual reminder that my life has many aspects. It reminds me to pay attention to all of them. It assures me that the out-of-balance areas are just temporary, by visually demonstrating that I'm fine in other areas. This gives me confidence that I'll be fine in this segment, given time, faith and some targeted action.

With thanks to Linda Hall, CMC who helped me make my first "pie."

Hiring the "right fit"

In my MBA course reading, I've been struck by how successful 3M has been in overlaying its corporate culture on top of national cultures.

Maybe it has to do with the philosophy of the people in charge and the company culture that says ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. The culture respects other cultures, and in so doing, seems to include them. People see themselves as part of 3M, and really proud of it - seems they identify more as that than anything else, at least in the context of the company. It doesn't seem like there is any conflict, though. I don't get the impression that they're being asked to give up any part of who they are. It's more that they're being asked to tap into parts of themselves and their identities that match the 3M culture. And there are people who can't do that and so don't make it in the company. The toughness of the 3M culture is that it doesn't tolerate people who don't fit in.

I think that national cultures also reject people who don't fit in, but in different ways (obviously they can't fire someone!). Yet there is room in a national culture for many different kinds of people, and for regional and community and neighborhood differences. And of course, people are made up of many different attributes, capacities, talents, abilities, preferences and tendencies.

So even in a national culture that has certain attributes, there will be people who are more suited for a 3M culture. The trick is to find them, and that starts with a very rigorous hiring process that is based on the company vision.

I remember being taught long ago in a marketing class that "marketing was everything" and that meant that our brand needed to permeate everything and everyone so there was consistency throughout the organization. Every encounter an outsider had with the personnel and structures of our organization conveyed the same brand values. Another course on "Creating a Visionary Organization" talks about alignment of vision and values throughout the organization, which is much the same principle.

It makes sense to screen for people who are most likely to be successful in your environment. It's important that applicants are told about the vision during the interview process and asked some questions to determine whether they understand and share the vision and values. People can always learn specific skills and tools/machines, but you can't teach them values. They have to have those in the first place, and that then provides fertile ground for them to learn and internalize the company culture.

So I believe that anyone who works for the organization has to understand and embrace the vision and values. We used to do very extensive screening and interviewing before hiring anyone at the non-profit I led. It took us a couple of years to put a really good system in place, after some trial and error.

I advocate comprehensive communication, and to me, that includes telling prospective employees about the company vision and values and how they will be expected to behave and think within that context. That includes all levels and types of employees.

Line workers are the ones who are day to day responsible for meeting production quotas and ensuring quality, so it seems important that they understand the values and importance of living those values. So, for example, at City Harvest, we spent a lot of time and energy on hiring new drivers, who were our front-line staff. Drivers who just saw it as a job didn't last very long. Drivers who saw it as a mission ended up staying a lot longer as well as becoming contributors to the problem-solving culture we fostered.

The system involved setting out our mission and values right in the job posting and ads, so people knew that it wasn't just any job or organization. Other aspects included reviewing cover letters to see if someone reiterated any of our mission language and/or had spent any time on our website; making sure the basic requirements for the job were met; and having several people review the potential candidates to come to consensus about who should be contacted for an initial phone interview.

On the phone interview (conducted by our HR people), candidates were "grilled" about their own values and behaviors, asked to respond to our vision and values, and talk about what it would mean to them to work at City Harvest. We only wanted people who really wanted to work at the organization, who believed in our mission, and who understood and believed in working in teams, cooperating with other people, going the extra mile to get the job done, pursuing excellence, and going for smart, simple solutions to any kind of problem.

By the time someone got to the in-person interview, they already knew enough to be excited about the interview or had already taken themselves out of the running (usually, though, we eliminated people who weren't a fit during the phone interview). In-person interviews were done by at least two people, generally from different departments, because our work was interdepartmental, with everyone dependent on everyone else. And of course, we checked references. Even though it's getting more difficult to get qualitative references from people, we did try to talk to at least two people who would have something substantive to say about the candidate.

Usually, I met with the final one or two candidates for mid-level and up positions, and of course was heavily involved in hiring people who reported directly to me. For those senior people, I always involved members of the Board of Directors, because the person would inevitably interact with the Board, and should understand the Board culture (which was slightly different from the organization's, unfortunately).

The process was time- and resource-intensive. And well worth every bit of energy! We had very little turnover in the lower ranks of the organization, and even senior people stayed for many years when the industry norm was two years.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

"Battle for the non-profit soul"

I have worked in the non-profit field for more than 25 years, and my father began working for an international non-profit in 1968 - so I've seen a lot of change in that field. One of my colleagues talks about the "battle for the soul of non-profits" now taking place as business people have begun to play bigger and bigger roles in non-profit governance and management.

As baby boomers grew into their 40s and 50s, many started to seek meaning in their work lives and turned to the non-profit sector - a place where they could "make a difference." Unfortunately, many brought an arrogance along with their skills, thinking that they were superior to people working in the non-profit field simply because they'd worked in the for-profit sector.

After a bit, I found that a lot of them left the non-profit sector because they couldn't deal with the challenges of raising money and then performing very difficult work with limited resources. Some were generous enough to say that they'd learned how to do more with less at the non-profit. I think the roots of the social entrepreneurship movement were born when people realized that they wanted to do good and make money at the same time. The for-profit people who remained active in non-profits brought their skills and abilities, as well as - more's the pity - their profit motivation.

Certainly, there's room for improvement in the non-profit sector, and I know many, many non-profit leaders who have sought to improve their management and leadership skills. Peter Drucker brought enormous resources and knowledge to the non-profit sector - and was a clock-builder who left a powerful legacy in the Drucker Institute and various periodicals and trained successors. What he never did, though, was belittle the non-profit leaders already working in the field. He had some respect. And he also respected the fact that the non-profit is about putting people first - that the bottom line is about who and how you've helped.

The newer Board members and migrants from the for-profit sector seem to have an attitude that it's the numbers that count, the impact you can measure, the dollars you raise, the way you invest your cash, balance sheets, etc. All of those are valuable tools, yes. But they do not get someone to volunteer time to teach a child to read. A balance sheet can reassure a donor that their dollars will be spent wisely. But the balance sheet does not get the person to open their wallet. The mission does. The heart does. The face of the child who is eating an apple for the first time is what gets someone to give.

I'm very sad about what's happening in the field. There's a generosity of spirit, a sense that we are part of a larger community, that's being lost in the pursuit of getting non-profits to "run more like businesses."

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Non-profit and for-profit mindsets and operations

As a lifelong non-profit type, I never understood the mindset of the for-profit person - and may I say that the for-profit person often has an equally difficult time understanding the mindset of the non-profit person. Many for-profit folks think of non-profit people as less intelligent, less skilled, less motivated, less sophisticated. I took great pleasure in bursting those bubbles of disdain, while also recognizing that there are many in the non-profit sector who are not well-trained or well-educated or well-equipped simply because the sector doesn't have the same resources as the for-profits.

My mindset is always "let me help, let me put my gifts to use helping others find and use their own gifts." I am not motivated by money so much as by being of service to others. Yet at the same time, I believe in and value efficiency, effectiveness, results, measuring progress, having a demonstrable impact, being accountable - so many of the things that I am taught in the MBA program. It always struck me as a huge insult to those I said I wanted to help to operate sloppily or to tolerate incompetence. Treating people with dignity means doing my best, aspiring to excellence. It also means being entrepreneurial, in terms of looking for the best and most effective way to meet a human need.

Entrepreneurial spirit is not limited to profit-making enterprises and people - entrepreneurial people are innovators, initiators, dreamers who can bring their vision to life. There are tens of thousands of non-profit organizations that exist because someone had an idea that s/he could provide a needed service more effectively than the non-profits that already exist.

And non-profits compete, too, for limited foundation and corporate contributions, as well as for the charitable dollars contributed by individuals. More than 90% of charitable funding is from individuals, and so non-profits spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to market themselves to people, to get a potential donor just to open the envelope or the e-mail, to convince potential donors that their solution is the best one, and to get donors to give more the next time.

What we sell, however, isn't something consumable but something intangible, spiritual if you will. We sell good will, good feeling, satisfaction in doing good. Yes, fundraising is about getting money to support daily operations and activity. We do have a bottom line, after all, and have to break even (and hopefully put some money by for a rainy day). That's from the organization's side - we need money to feed people or put in wells or distribute mosquito nets or train someone in a new skill or to teach a child. Because there are costs associated with living on this planet and most of those costs require money in exchange. From the donor side, however, a non-profit is providing an opportunity to be part of making a difference, to have a positive impact on the world, to practice giving without expectation of return, to give back what the world has so generously given to you.

So it takes a slightly different perspective to market a non-profit. It takes an understanding of what makes people give. That's different from understanding what makes people buy. Of course, when my non-profit put on events, we understood what would make people buy tickets: a fabulous NYC venue with other people like them in attendance (ego), some celebrities with whom to rub shoulders (ego), a chance to wear an amazing dress (ego), and in the case of our events, a fun time to dance and eat and drink. Oh, yes, and a chance to learn a bit more about the organization and feel really good about dropping $1000 or $5000 or more that evening. Sort of like selling a product.

More than anything, it takes authenticity to attract funding. I really believe in the causes I support. I fundamentally believe that it is possible to improve conditions for many people, and that I have an obligation to work in that arena. That's the purpose that gets me going in the morning and afternoon, day after day.

What I understand from my MBA studies and talking to many people who now want to transition into working in the non-profit sector is that for-profit life is not like that. Money is the purpose, the creation and expansion of wealth is the reason for the corporation's very existence. People who want to work in non-profit now are motivated by adding meaning to their life. They have their basic needs taken care of, so now they want to help others meet their basic needs. That's a great shift in the consciousness of the boomers - the search is now for meaning instead of accumulating more, more, more wealth and profit. Some of these people have said "yes, I have enough stuff, but I don't have enough spirit." That makes me hopeful. Of course, many of these people are shocked by how much non-profits accomplish with so few financial resources and some gain long-overdue respect - or leave the sector.

Could a non-profit organization perform the same functions as a for-profit without being driven by the profit incentive?

I don't know. I mean, non-profits are usually organized around meeting the fundamental needs of people. I was Executive Director for 11 years of an anti-hunger non-profit in NYC - providing food for people who did not have the resources to get enough nutritious food for themselves and/or their families. I've worked with job training, with community gardening and local food production, helped community organizing around primary health care and economic development, around literacy and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment and housing - you name it. Even the largest non-profits like hospitals and universities are organized around basic human needs, for health and information and knowledge-building. There are those that get computers to non-profits or to low-income people. Most non-profits seem to provide a service that no one can or will pay for. So it gets provided for free by a non-profit. And thus the motive isn't profit or wealth creation per se, but doing good, redistributing resources, ensuring that something valuable is available to everyone in society not just those with money.

Theoretically, I suppose a non-profit could organize around getting just about anything to anyone if you really wanted to create a disincentive to the profit motive. Today, the legal restrictions on non-profits mitigate against this. Non-profits are tax-exempt in the US and most of the world because they perform work for the public good, the public benefit. My understanding is that for-profits are taxed because they perform work for their own benefit or for the benefit of very few people. I just can't see a non-profit making and selling yachts to wealthy people. Making yachts for anyone to ride on, that I could see. But who's going to pay for it?

It's a conundrum, because we have a society and a global economy that is based on the currency of exchange, and the creation of wealth seems to be the engine for the system, with human nature the fuel. I wish people had less desire to have more and more and more. That seems to be a basic human characteristic, however. Those of us who have somehow moved out of the "more" syndrome have done so through years of work and self-examination. And speaking for myself, I slide back into it when I see something I like and want and can convince myself I "need." Eternal vigilance is the price I pay for enlightenment! :-)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Organizational development

I've been reminiscing about my old bosses and my own experiences - and realizing that none of my bosses ever consciously applied the various motivational or job satisfaction tools. I knew that already, because when I became a boss, I looked on a few of them as "negative powers of example" as in "I'll do it differently." And I did, very consciously and deliberately, and with a lot of help.

About a year after I became Executive Director of City Harvest, the anti-hunger food rescue organization in NYC, I saw that the Support Center of NY (formed to help non-profits with management) was offering a workshop for new Executive Directors followed by a six-session Executive Director's Roundtable to go deeper into workshop lessons and discuss their application in a smaller group setting. Since I had only had mediocre bosses at best, I thought it would be good to learn something about how to be a better one. It's one of the best decisions I've ever made.

I stayed with the ED Roundtable for eight years. The woman who led it became my coach for 12 years. The other Roundtable members were coincidentally and then intentionally all women. They became my closest colleagues. We met once a month, each of us having time to present an issue, ask for the kind of help we needed (e.g. advice, listening, brainstorming, sympathy) and then get it. The group varied in size from six to eight; I was a member for 8 years and others for 1 to six years. I credit the Roundtable and my coach with my success in leading City Harvest for 11 years, because it was with them that I identified and then appropriately addressed various challenges.

For instance, I wanted to devote more organizational resources to developing people, to building a team ethos and environment, to establishing a "continuous improvement" work style. With the group and my coach's help, I developed a new position - Director of Organizational Development, responsible for human resources and everything associated with people. I purposely didn't use the term "Director of HR" because I'd encountered some awful ones along the way and I also didn't want the person to get bogged down in benefits and procedures. I wanted the person to see people as the essential components of the organization and to do everything required to motivate people to enroll in the City Harvest team, its culture, values and mission. That person reported directly to me, so the message to the organization was "this is really important."

Over time, that position evolved and changed but the general effect was the same: thoughtful consideration and application of leadership tools, including motivational and job satisfaction techniques. We (meaning the entire organization through a variety of methods) articulated core values and behaviors, integrated them into hiring and evaluation processes, used them in planning, etc. Strategic plan goals cascaded down through departments all the way to individual job descriptions. We had overall City Harvest team goals in several areas; when the organization met or exceeded them, everyone got a raise. To recognize individual performance, people also were give merit increases. I had monthly cross-function/multi-level small group "Javas with Julia" in the morning, for people to get to know each other and me better, air issues, get and give feedback. We had monthly staff meetings, planned to within an inch and designed to give everyone a chance to shine or participate. Staff gave each other recognition awards. We had fun and did team-building at annual one-day retreats. And more - all carefully considered and intentionally instituted and regularly reviewed (including surveying and chatting with staff).

It worked! Our results were phenomenal: 5-fold growth in funding and food distributed ($1.9 M to $10 M, 4.5 M lbs. of food to 23 M), 9-fold in people served (33,000 a week to 265,000 a week).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

direct mail intro

Throughout my career, I've done a lot of fundraising through direct response vehicles, especially the mail. Direct response does exactly what it says - goes to the donor to get a direct response to a request for a donation. Most of my experience is with direct mail, although I'm also familiar with direct response newspaper advertising (used to great effect in Europe where newspapers have distinct reader demographics and a tradition of newspaper "asks"), and a little with the emerging field of internet giving.

The wonderful thing about direct response is that we can collect lots and lots of data about who responds to what, over what period of time, with how much, at what time of year, etc. The first time a direct mail package is used, we mail to a fairly small set of potential donors in order to see what the response rate will be. An excellent response is that 1 to 1 1/2% of those who get a mailing actually send in a donation. At City Harvest, we once did a new donor acquisition mailing and got a 2.5% response rate - almost unheard of and quite celebrated in the non-profit direct mail universe (and much copied).

If a package gets a successful response, then you "roll out" the package to a much bigger group of potential donors (usually comprised of lists of donors to other charities). That becomes a "control package." It will remain the control package until another donor acquisition package exceeds its average response rate.

Testing new packages goes on all the time, always with small groups of potential donors. Other tests also are done, with potential and with current donors - envelope size, real stamp versus machine stamp, celebrity signer versus CEO, enclosing pictures or not, the list goes on and on. Only one thing is tested at a time, though - it's the only way to isolate what works or not.

One example: We tested whether to include a business reply envelope (with the organization paying for return postage) or provide an envelope that required someone to put on their own stamp. We found there was a slightly higher response rate to the no-stamp envelope - not statistically significant but enough to let us know that we could stop using BREs which cost us a lot of money. (Charities pay the postage AND a handling fee - it really does matter when you add your own postage).