Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘staff management’

Things that Aren’t Really Free and Don’t Raise Money Anyway

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on November 21, 2015 at 10:33 am

There are three questions that I regularly ask when it comes to fund raising and many other topics as well. The questions are “What is the goal?” “Is this a good use of your time?” and “To what end?”

What is the goal?

When the answer is raising money for an agency, sometimes the goal is not in concert with the actions. I once ran an agency that held a duck race as a fund raiser. I should say I ran an agency that had a duck race in process when I arrived and that once I saw recommended we never do again.

If you’ve never seen a duck race, it really is just that: a race of plastic ducks down a river. People pay $5 each for their ducks and get assigned a number; if their duck wins, they win a prize. Now all of this sounds fine, until you hear the details. The devil is always in the details.

Here are the details: We rented for $1 and then “sold” 8,000 ducks for $5 each.

They – and I’m completely disowning this part- had my Board members selling ducks for $5 a piece at Walmart. My Board members, the pillars of our community whom we (they) should have been treating like gold, honoring and cherishing, and giving meaningful strategic work to do, were at Walmart selling ducks for $5 apiece, and not just them either.

It takes a long time to sell 8,000 ducks, so we also invited service groups to sell ducks on our behalf for which we paid $1 for every duck they sold. If you’re doing the math with me, and I know you are, I’m now down $2 for every $5 we bring in.

8,000 ducks were sold. They came in filthy from whatever river they had most recently been fished out of and needed to be cleaned, stored and have the 8,000 stickers from the prior race removed and 8,000 new stickers added. We borrowed the factory and used volunteers so other than the cost of soliciting and managing those pieces, no additional cost there, but man was it a lot of work!

The prize was a $5,000 cash prize. As you might imagine, it came right off the top and in case you’re wondering was not donated back to the agency. 8,000 ducks at $5 a piece is $40,000, minus the $1 cost per duck, the $1 we paid other groups to sell them, the cash prize and the staff time.

I had two staff, one of whom was an intern (brilliant who I later hired and who we’ll come back to later), that worked nonstop for at least the two months I was there on nothing other than this event, which did not have the agency name in its title. No one even knew the event benefited the agency.

What was the goal?

It was intended to be a fund raiser. Because it didn’t really raise funds, especially once you added in staff time; because no one knew it benefited the agency so we couldn’t even call it a friend raiser; because my BOARD MEMBERS WERE AT WALMART SELLING DUCKS; I recommended we never do the event again.

That is my favorite illustration of “things don’t raise money anyway.’” Now, let’s move on to things that “aren’t really free.” Our intern, later promoted to event planner who was amazing – and also ornery – insisted she stay and physically put together 300 program books for our gala. She printed, copied, hole punched and bound each book by hand. It took forever. It possibly would have been justifiable but it didn’t even save us money. She spent hours on something we could have paid a printer to do for less money in less time.

I cajoled. I teased. I encouraged her to make a different decision. Finally, I insisted, sent her to the printer and then home. If the goal is raising money, spending 10 hours to do something I could pay someone else to do for a fraction of the cost is counter-productive. Had I asked, the answer to my next question would have been no.

“Is this a good use of your time?”

I am consistently amazed at the things people do that are not only not a good use of their time, but are actually other people’s jobs. Weekly, someone tells me about a situation in which they, as the executive, do the work of the board; they, as the board, do the work of the executive. Worse, sometimes they, the executive, do the work of the staff. If you are doing the work of someone who you pay, what are they doing? Also, what are you not doing?

I totally get that it’s easier for you to do it. Here’s the problem with that logic: you will always be the one that does it. If you don’t want to be the one that does it, and if you want to be the kind of leader that develops others, you will have to teach other people how to do it and then allow them to do so.

Boards that are trained to their role and allowed to fulfill their role, do. Ditto for staff. Let them.

Doing other people’s jobs isn’t the only way to “not really free.” When you have a small agency and the CEO is doing basic admin work, such as coding or data entry, there is an opportunity cost. It’s not only the highest paid admin work in town; it’s the actual CEO work that is not getting done. It’s every donor that is not getting cultivated; every public event at which your leader is not being seen; every strategy that is not being considered. This brings me to my last question:

“To what end?”

If the end game is a strong sustainable agency, and your CEO is doing work that you could pay someone else a fraction of the cost to do, that not only isn’t really free, it’s costing you money and opportunity.

If you want to go down a path, it is important to know where it will lead. Sometimes, it’s staff that are doing things that are not within their charts of work, and way below their hourly rate. Sometime it’s volunteers. If the cost of free is high, maybe it’s time to pay someone to do what needs to be done.

I know of agencies that get a variety of things done for free, which is awesome when it works and totally frustrating and disengaging for all involved when it doesn’t. If you can’t get done what you need done, free isn’t working for you and it’s time to do something different.

Free is only free when it gets you what you need. If the cost of free is frustration and disengagement, your actions aren’t aligned with your goal. It’s time for a new decision. Life is about making new mistakes.

What price have you paid for free? Will you share your stories? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Are your Actions Conflicting with your Goals?

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on January 10, 2014 at 9:07 am

I’m always fascinated by the number of things people do that are in direct conflict with their goals. My dog does a perfect illustration of this: He gets so excited when we have visitors that he acts inappropriately and gets put outside or crated, which prevents him from meeting his goal of being loved by our visitors. He is not alone. Leaders and organizations do the same thing!

This week, since it’s a new year and many people in my personal and professional lives have begun working on new goals, I’ve been thinking about the intent of those goals.  I love goals that are intended to get everyone on the same page and align the work of an organization.

I do not love goals that are intended to motivate people, and I’m not even clear why we would need to do that. Employee goals intended to motivate don’t make any sense to me and, honestly, I don’t find them motivating. In fact, I find them de-motivating, and also slightly insulting.

High performers – a group I like to count myself among – will do their very best every day, aligned with the work they’ve been assigned and the expectations of their position, and not in any way because of the goals they’ve been assigned. They will do their best because it’s who they are and the work ethic they possess. It is our job as leaders to demonstrate our vision and hire, support, groom and develop high performers who can help us reach that vision.

Let me be very clear, I absolutely and unequivocally believe that leaders must set expectations for staff and also evaluate those staff based on the expectations set. I also believe that the job of the executive is to implement the strategic plan which doubles as their goals. In the absence of a plan, it is the board’s job to work with the exec to set the expectations by which they will evaluate that exec’s performance at the year’s end. Those expectations (call them goals if you must) should not be set to motivate your exec. They should be set to align the work of the organization, ensure everyone is on the same page and provide a process for evaluation. If you have to set goals to motivate your exec, you have the wrong exec.

We, as leaders, should all strive to have as many high performers as we can possibly attract and afford.  It begs the question: are the goals we are setting for high performers alienating those performers? I think they might be. I’m beginning to believe that employee goals that are intended to motivate people are lowering our standards, teaching to the middle, and working in direct conflict of our actual goals of meeting our missions and achieving our organizations’ visions.  You know, I believe that any action, process, policy or procedure that is in conflict with our goal is a bad action, process, policy or procedure. I am starting to believe that goals that are intended to motivate are just that.

Once, many years ago and before I really understood resource development and major donor cultivation, I was running an agency that attracted about $50,000 of contributions from individuals each year. My Board Chair wanted to set a goal for me of $1,000,000. One million dollars! Yes, your math is right and that would have been 20 times the annual giving received by that agency. He called it a stretch goal. Rather than inspire me to reach that goal, it created enormous anxiety for me. How in the world – with no change in staffing, no change in process or a new program or project to announce – was I going to raise 20 times our current contributed income?  I wasn’t. Thankfully, I was able to explain my position and get him to revise my goals. To his credit- and this may have been his intent all along – I ramped up my own knowledge and capacity for raising money and cultivating and retaining major donors giving major gifts.

I did raise that amount and more a few years later, but not because of a goal and not, by any stretch of the imagination, alone. I did it with a change in staffing, a more developed board, several changes in process and a huge project that addressed a significant gap in service that I was committed to rectify.

Wanting something doesn’t make it a good goal. If you set goals, set them to recognize, hire and retain high performers.  Set them to align the work of your agency. Set them to have some way to evaluate your executive. Make your goals doable, with systems to support them and a path to achieve them.

Don’t set goals to motivate people! We should not be using goals to motivate. We shouldn’t have to. The work we do and the communities we serve should motivate our team toward greatness.  If they don’t, we have built the wrong team and no amount of goal setting is going to rectify that.

What do you think about goals being used to motivate staff?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

The One Question All Leaders Should Ask

In Leadership on April 13, 2013 at 4:25 pm

At least once a week, I wish I could go back in time and apologize to a board or staff member for something I previously did.  I see my younger self in every client, every case and every workshop.  I’ve been working in this field for over 20 years and I’ve learned a lot of lessons in that time, many of them the hard way.

The thing I’d like to apologize for this week is not ending every meeting with every staff member I’ve ever supervised with this question: “Do you have what you need to be successful?”

9 words, only one of which is more than one syllable, and it’s huge!

Imagine the doors that one question opens.  It allows staff to ask for more information.  It allows me to confirm staff have the information, the tools and the resources they need.  It’s the question that opens the door to them coming back, and to me feeling confident they won’t have to.

It’s the question that allows them to say: “No, actually….  I don’t understand this assignment.” “I need more information.” “I need more stuff.” “I need more staff.” “I need more time.”

If you ask the question and you get an honest answer, you still may not be able to provide what your team member is requesting.  Even if that’s the case, they will feel heard, and you will know what they feel like they need to be successful, in case you didn’t know before.  In either case, it’s an educate-able moment to explain and perhaps negotiate a resolution everyone can understand, even if they don’t love.

Now I’m quite confident that even if I had asked the question, and even if I had gotten the answer yes, things might have still gone awry.  But I’m also confident it would have happened less often.

I didn’t know to ask.  When I was a new manager, I didn’t understand that there were people who wouldn’t tell me they didn’t understand the instructions.  They would walk away and try to do what I wanted, without really understanding what I wanted.  As you might imagine, it didn’t always end well.

I move fast.  You move fast.  Sometimes I, maybe like you, have talked in half information, which for most staff is just enough to start, but not always enough to successfully finish an assignment.  And I, maybe like you, have had staff that were intimidated to come and ask for clarification.  And I’m sure that I, maybe like you, have lost my patience when I thought I had explained what I needed, yet not gotten what I wanted.

What if I would have asked the question?  What if my people would have answered honestly?

Now let’s be clear: This one question alone won’t change the culture of an office.  It won’t fill the gap created by a lack of systems; it won’t magically transform a bad hire into a star, or turn a bad manager into a good one.

What it will do is build confidence on both sides of the table, build rapport, build a tradition of team work, and an expectation that your team can ask for what they need, and that you will try to get it for them.  It says “I trust you. I am here for you. I believe in you.”

9 words, only one of which is more than one syllable, and it’s huge!

What’s been your experience?  Have you ever asked this question?  Has anyone ever asked you?  As always, I welcome your experience and insight.

Staff Management

In Leadership, Organizational Development on July 11, 2012 at 7:56 am
When I was in grad school I learned of a leadership style called “Management by Walking Around” which really resonated with me. The basic premise is that staff may talk to you about things in their space or on the fly that they wouldn’t necessary come to your office to discuss.
I loved it! When I became an Executive Director I made sure I walked around and checked in with my team at least once a day.  I asked: “How’s it going?” “What’s going on?” “Need anything?”
Great! Except that it wasn’t. Balls got dropped; decisions never got made, or if they did, never got implemented – and the truth is, I never got the impression that anyone ever actually talked to me about things that they wouldn’t have come to my office to discuss. 
The other big revelation about Managing by Walking Around is this: it doesn’t work. Walking around has its place, as long as we’re all clear that it’s not actually leadership, or even management. Managing on the fly isn’t managing at all; it’s really just walking around, checking in, seeing and being seen. None of which is irrelevant, but neither is it leadership.
The best way I know to manage staff is to set expectations, clarify the expectations, as necessary and then support staff to meet their expectations. The best way I know to do that is to sit down to talk with them. 
I recommend my clients meet with their team’s individually on a regularly scheduled basis, once a month at a minimum, preferably once a week or every other week.  (I also recommend Board Chairs sit down with their nonprofit’s CEO on a similar schedule.)
What to discuss?  I like to have my team send me, by noon the day before our meeting,  a written list of:
1.       things they’re working on;
2.       things they need permission for; and
3.       things they just want me to know about
I then add a list of things I want to discuss and send it back the same day.  Then, I print the list for myself and I take notes on it at the meeting.   After the meeting I throw my notes in a file with the employee’s name on it- and voila! – I now have documentation of who agreed to do what by when and an entire year of meeting notes for when I need to do their evaluation.  It’s brilliant …… though I can’t take any credit for it; I learned it from a past board member.
Weekly meetings, coupled with expectation setting, valid and accurate job descriptions, performance reviews and professional development plans can transform your management style as well as the way staff work and work together – and that can transform your organization.
Try and it and let me know what you think!
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