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).