“Bring Your Soul To Work Day”: 3 Unconventional Workplace Principles That Can Transform Your People and Your Culture

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence―It is to act with yesterday’s logic.” – Peter Drucker

In the spirit of “unconventional”, I’ve decided NOT to start this blog post off by citing a gloomy statistic about the sad plight of nonprofit organizations that don’t invest in their people as a way to scare nonprofit leaders into compliance. There will be plenty of time for that later. Instead, I’m using this reflective space to focus on the promise of what could be if we allow ourselves to imagine a different possibility.

I invite you to close your eyes for a moment and envision the future you want for your organization. I know this sounds strange, but when you think about it, it really isn’t. You probably do this subconsciously everyday for the cause you are serving. It is the magnet that keeps you walking through the doors every day when your mind is screaming, “run”.

For now, I’m simply asking you to redirect your superpower and focus it within your organization. What do you see?

When I close my eyes this is what I experience as I get off the elevator at my client’s workplace – I’m almost blinded by the light flooding in through the floor to ceiling windows, I immediately notice the plaques and certificates from community leaders hanging on the wall as proud reminders of the progress they are making, I’m distracted by the laughter I hear and turn towards the conference room with transparent walls and smile when I see the smiling faces of the people at the table. As I walk through the workspace towards the executive director, I glance at the small groups of people congregated together working. I open my eyes now and I’m smiling.

After a few moments, it fades and I’m tempted to get overwhelmed and discouraged when I think about the time, resources, and money my clients need to create that desired workplace. And then I smile again realizing that I haven’t met a nonprofit executive YET that has walked away from a good fight for a good cause. That’s why they are my everyday superheroes.

So I ask you, at its best, what impact should your organization have on the people who are joining you every day to “fight the good fight”?

I’ve long held that nonprofit organizations have the raw materials to be the front-runners in the ideal places to work. Some for profit organizations invest lots of money to “engineer” the employee sentiments that naturally draw people to mission based organizations.

Consider the 2015 SHRM Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report, in which 600 employees from U.S. companies ranked “contribution of work to the organization’s business goals” in 20th place in the list of 25 factors
 that contribute to their job satisfaction vs. the 2015 UST Nonprofit Employee Engagement & Retention Report, in which 1200+ employees listed “sense of purpose/calling in work” as 4th in the list of factors important to employee job satisfaction and engagement.

For nonprofit employees it seems that helping achieve their organization’s goals feeds their job satisfaction. This is a gem for nonprofit leaders who understand the value of this insight. The road to the desired future you want for the people you serve is paved with the minds, bodies, and souls of the employees on the journey with you every day.

“The general rule seems to be that the level of consciousness of an organization cannot exceed the level of consciousness of its leader.” – Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations

As a “heart-centered” leader, I know you get it. Now is an opportunity like no other, for you to show it by hosting a workplace that invites the whole person to show up and be present at work. Guess what? You have the raw materials to do it:

  • People driven by serving a purpose that is bigger than themselves
  • People within your organization that likely embrace holistic care practices
  • People within your organization committed to challenging conventional ways of thinking

Here are 3 unconventional workplace principles from Frederic Laloux’s “Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness” I believe have the power to transform your people and your organizational life.

IMG_2123Shift in Thinking:
• Failure is feedback
• Every problem is an invitation to learn and grow

Shift in Structures:
• We discuss failures openly so everyone can learn from them
• We don’t talk behind someone’s back. We hold others accountable to their commitments through feedback and respectful confrontation.
• All business information is open to all. Every one of us is able to handle difficult and sensitive news.

• Mistakes are addressed proactively.
• Better information leads to better decision making.
• Creative thinking is encouraged up, down and across the organization.


IMG_2125Shift in Thinking:
• We take ownership for our thoughts, beliefs, words and actions.

Shift in Structures:
• We don’t blame problems on others; rather we take it as an invitation to reflect on how we might be part of the problem and the solution.
• We make peer-based coaching available to all employees.
• We dedicate space and time for self-reflection and centering.
• Growth towards your calling is our primary measure of success.

• Employees become fully invested in their own growth and development
• Employees with a “growth mindset” are more successful as individuals and make better team members.

IMG_2126Shift in Thinking:
• We each have full responsibility for the organization. If we sense that something needs to happen, we have a duty to address it. It’s not acceptable to limit our concern to the remit of our roles.
• We believe in the power of collective intelligence. Nobody is as smart as everybody.

Shift in Structures:
• We have self-organizing teams with clear values translated into explicit rules of engagement.
• “Top down” performance evaluations get replaced by peer-based process for individuals.
• Employees are fully invested in the purpose of the organization.
• Employees value being part of a bigger purpose more than a title.

Not sure how this can work in your organization? Don’t try to figure it out on your own. Share it with your experts (your employees) and inspire them to figure it out. Now smile as you realize you just put one of the principles into action.

Is Your Annual Performance Review Process Creating Workplace Zombies?

workplace zombiesAs Zina walked towards her co-worker’s cubicle she knew something was off. Sandra, dubbed the “golden child”, was staring out of her cubicle into space. Zina approached slowly and waved her hand in front of Sandra’s face and said loudly, “what’s up with you?”. At that moment, Sandra came out of her haze, looked at Zina and said “oh, nothing…just thinking about my performance review this morning…what a drain!”

While evaluating performance is a valuable process for a mission-driven organization, many executive directors are unknowingly allowing their process to suck the life out of their managers and employees. Want to know if you are hosting a back-up filming site for AMC’s The Walking Dead?

Here are some clues:

Clue #1: Your Top Performers Dread The Process
After you have spent a little time in management, you recognize the quirks of the annual performance review game: the employees with good performance who underrate themselves, the employees with poor performance who overrate themselves and the managers who can’t muster the courage to select “below average” in any category. These are just some of the “oddities” that make the annual talk about performance awkward.

While it is easy to assume that the only employees complaining about the annual performance review are the ones with poor performance, that assumption can mask an overlooked truth. When top performers are waxing cold, it is time to look under the hood. In general, for the performance review process to be worthwhile, employees, managers and the organization as a whole must see and derive value from it.

Clue #2: Your Managers Are Not Comfortable With Feeling Uncomfortable
No matter how many times you have done it, addressing performance challenges with an employee face-to-face is never easy. Even for experienced managers it can feel like walking into the lion’s den. It is no wonder then that the mere thought of having the conversation can trigger sweaty palms, a rapid heartbeat and the urge to flee. That is a normal human response to a perceived threat – real or not.

However, to avoid that feeling many managers will dance around or avoid addressing a significant performance issue with an employee. Ninety percent or more of the time that tactic backfires on them as most performance issues escalate if left unchecked. To be effective, managers must learn to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Situations involving conflict and uncertainty produce feelings of discomfort each and every time. Instead of avoiding the normal feelings of discomfort involved in the performance management process, the savvy manager normalizes them to improve the experience.

Clue #3: Your Annual Performance Review Form Is More Focused On The Past Than The Future
As a leadership strategist, this is one of the biggest blunders I’ve seen in organizations relative to performance assessment – the form has become more important than the function. I’ve watched organizations spend thousands of dollars and countless hours of time collecting performance data every year to put on a form that will sit in a folder in a file drawer collecting dust until the next year. Sadly, I admit that I have not only been part of the dysfunction, but an advocate for it in the past.

Now, I advise my clients to create value rather than a process when it comes to performance assessment. That strategy will lead an organization to invest more dollars and energy on perfecting the dialogue rather than the form. After all, the primary purpose of the form is to help employees understand how their performance needs to grow in the following year to help the organization reach its goals. The real value is in cultivating growth.

Unfortunately, most performance review forms dedicate 80% of their real estate to past performance and only 20% to future performance. This puts the focus of the annual conversation on how employees performed over the last twelve months. However, to cultivate growth, organizations must shift the focus of the annual conversation to how employees should perform in the next twelve months. Doing so enlightens the organization on how to better prepare managers to support and encourage behavior change.

3 Warning Signs that You Hired the Wrong Person

It was day two of the new hire orientation training for the most recent cohort when I got a visit from one of the training facilitators, Sharon. As the human resources manager, it was customary for the training facilitators to check in and share how things were going during the new hire computer training. However there was nothing customary about this check in. Sharon reported that one of the new hires was asking the other new hires to borrow money. Strange…I had to find out what was going on so I asked the new hire directly. “Linda”, as we’ll call her, said she left her wallet home…hmm, understandable…but I had a nagging feeling that something was off. After all, the manner in which she handled it was odd. By now, you are probably thinking this story doesn’t have a happy ending. You’re right! I had to let her go within the probationary period.

Bad HireThat situation was a blinking red light in the middle of the night, but the most common signs that we have hired the wrong person don’t always grab our immediate attention. Understanding the nuances of human behavior is necessary to spot some of them. When you couple that with the free-flowing compassion of many nonprofit leaders, it is easy to see how these signs get overlooked. To cushion you from The Not-So Surprising Truth: Nonprofit Leaders Are Likely to Repeat Bad Hiring Decisions, here are 3 warning signs that whisper “bad fit” and some strategies for addressing them.

1. Lateness/Call Outs – Surprised this is on the list? Well, don’t be. This issue definitely makes the “top 3 reasons people are fired in the first 90 days” list. Let’s set the record straight. Life happens and there are legitimate reasons why someone would be late or call out (e.g. hospitalization/illness, death, pre-scheduled court appointments). However, those are not the most common reasons you will hear for why someone is late or absent;  “the train/bus was late”, “I overslept”, or “I wasn’t feeling well” are more likely. On the surface being late once or twice a week may not seem like a big deal, but frequent lateness is often the first to manifest itself in a series of unprofessional conduct such as not following standard policies/ procedures and lack of consideration for team members. In my experience, this is one area where past performance can be a predictor of future performance. For example, at one of my former organizations, we found that 6 out of the 10 new hires who were late during their probationary period received progressive corrective action including termination for lateness within the first year of employment. What are the stats for your organization? Conduct a quick assessment by looking at your hires for the last 2 years. For the new hires that showed up late within their probationary period, have you had to counsel them subsequently? Chances are you won’t have to dig far to know the answer. Use that information to develop a protocol for lateness/attendance issues in the probationary period.

2. Regular complaints about the work, organization, co-workers and/or clients – In the “honeymoon” period, new hires are the most excited about their new role, their new organization and the new possibilities. The excitement tends to wane as new hires assimilate into their new experience and begin to put their new skills to the test – this is normal, and so are the accompanying doubts/concerns they might voice about doing a good job. During this time, you play a critical role in helping your new hires succeed by providing direction and restoring confidence. However, if a new hire regularly complains about the work or is very critical of her/his new co-workers this could be an indication of something more serious. Addressing this kind of issue can be uncomfortable because it is not as tangible as a lateness record or a poor quality report, for instance. However, leaders must specialize in the “intangible” as it is their responsibility to uphold the vision and values of the organization. Trust your instinct and probe further by having an honest and open check-in meeting with the new hire:

  • Does she/he feel this is the right place for her/him?
    • If not, what is the best exit strategy?
    • If so, how is her/his behavior not aligned with organizational values and your expectations? What behavior change is necessary? Leave the door open for another check-in within 2-3 weeks to reassess the situation.

3. Poor quality work –During the “put the best foot forward” period, most new hires want to show off their skills and abilities to convince you that you have made the right choice. That’s a good thing! However, when the work product doesn’t reflect that, don’t ignore it. Instead, get to the bottom of it. Poor quality work can result from a lack of know-how, a lack of resources, a lack of motivation or any combination thereof. Before deciding the next steps, consider these questions:

Poor quality work image

non profit management consulting

I’m in a really bad predicament.

Dear Nicole,

I’m in a really bad predicament. I was hired as the ED for my organization almost a year ago. Right away I had concerns about the program director. He doesn’t act like a director. He is not an analytical thinker and his work quality is not good – reports with many mistakes. My concern is that he is well liked in the organization and as the new ED, I don’t want to appear hasty in making this decision. Is there any way to fix this without firing him?

Haste Makes Waste

My Quick Read: You are second guessing yourself. Chances are your courage to address this situation will not grow as time passes by. To boost your assurance that the world won’t come to an end after you let him go, start preparing yourself for the aftermath now. The employees who really care about the organization will understand the decision and stand by it. Either way is fine as being a leader is not a popularity contest. Being respected is more sustainable than being liked.

Dear Haste Makes Waste,

In your case, that phrase expired about six months ago. Six months was more than enough time for you to get a read on this situation.

I will assume that you have done your due diligence (i.e. followed your policy and procedures for proper documentation and progressive corrective action or been advised by HR/Legal Counsel). If not, I’m available for consultation.

How you handle the aftermath is what distinguishes you as a great leader:

  • Realize that letting an incompetent employee go doesn’t hurt employee morale nearly as much as keeping them around. Everyone bears the pain of that choice.
  • Be transparent about the decision (without violating the person’s right to privacy) and don’t apologize for doing what is in the best interest of the organization. One person’s interest is not bigger than organization’s.
  • Pull together the immediate team members right after the termination to do some damage control. Use that as an opportunity to respond to their concerns about the continuity of work and to share how they are impacted. It is fine to give them the space to share how they are feeling, but don’t feel the need to justify the decision or to change how they are feeling.
  • Demonstrate empathy for him. Understand what is like to be in his shoes and ask yourself, “regardless of how we got here, how would I want to be treated?”
  • If you don’t have a formal reference policy, ensure that all reference calls go to you or HR.
  • The process of letting someone go can feel very personal, but don’t make it personal. Remember, you were acting in the best interest of your organization, but don’t go on a mission to keep the person from ever working in this town again. Being truthful about the person’s track record is not a license to bad mouth the person.

Happy Leading,

“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” –Marianne Williamson

non profit management consulting

I’m so proud of the people working in my organization.

Dear Nicole,

I’m so proud of the people working in my organization. They are all hard workers and care deeply about our mission – helping families with children who have terminal illnesses. It is hard not to fall in love with all of the families. It makes us want to work even harder for them. Here’s my question, key members of my staff often miss important deadlines, but I’m afraid to say anything because they work so hard. What should I do?

Want to Work Smart

My Quick Read: You can’t change behavior without changing the thinking that created the behavior. As the ED, YOU lead the way and model it for others. Is being compassionate and being accountable mutually exclusive? Of course not, but it sounds like you are unknowingly reinforcing that message in your words and actions (or lack of action). At the end of the day, an organization is only sustainable if it is both.

Hello Want to Work Smart,

You are singing the heartsong of many an organization. When the guitar strings get plucked, it is easy to forget that you are, just that, an organization.

If this is a widespread issue, accountability is not being modeled and reinforced at the top. You can’t do it alone; your leadership team has to be front and center with you. It is refreshing when a chief executive acknowledges that point.

Have a working discussion with your senior team about it. Notice I wrote “working discussion”. For the discussion:

  • Show how resolving this issue serves your organizational values (i.e. being accountable means _______________(positive result for organization) which in turn (positive result for people you serve).
  • Create a safe space to discuss the issue by establishing rules of engagement. (e.g. we will assume that we are working with the same level of dedication, we will start with a clean slate, we won’t defend the behavior that no longer serves us)
  • Divide the group into two teams. Ask one team to come up with a list of “What Being Accountable Looks Like At Our Organization” (e.g. showing up to meetings on time.) The other team makes a list of “What Not Being Accountable Looks Like At Our Organization” (e.g. missing funder deadlines). No more than 10 items per list.
  • Decide as a group: As an organization, for us to say we’re accountable, which 5 behaviors on “being accountable” list are non-negotiable and which 5 behaviors on the “not being accountable” list we won’t tolerate.
  • Build a consensus with the group for adoption: Is everyone comfortable with what is/isn’t on this list? Any concerns? Go around the room and have people respond individually to the questions so you can see where everyone stands.

Let me know how the discussion goes.

Happy Leading,

“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” –Marianne Williamson

non profit management consulting

The CFO on my team has a quirk that drives me nuts.

Dear Nicole,

The CFO on my team has a quirk that drives me nuts. He is good at what he does, but often shows up to meetings late and opts not to attend important meetings. The other direct reports are starting to resent having to be on time and at meetings. Help!

- Mr. Planter

My Quick Read: Your CFO is not getting real value out of the meetings – getting information and getting value from the information is not the same thing. Wise executives proactively manage their time and other people’s time too. It sounds like she/he is trying to do that; however, it looks like she/he is not communicating upfront about how she/he is doing it, and that’s creating the rub.

Hello Mr. Planter,

The good news is this is a communication issue. The bad news is they are all communication issues.

So here’s an easy guide to use for creating dialogue around it:

  • Have a conversation with the CFO to get clear on what is going on.
    • Guide for conversation
      • Open with observation - "I noticed that you opted out of the last meeting..."
      • Ask probing questions to understand her/his perspective – “What’s going on?”, “what’s the upside/downside of not attending?”
      • Manage expectations about what will change going forward –
          • lay out your expectations about how you want to see this handled so it isn’t perceived negatively by others on the team - “showing up late to meetings isn’t being respectful of other people’s time”
          • Bring it up at the next meeting with the rest of the team to help them reframe their concern. “As CEO, I recognize that in our culture proactively managing your time (e.g. “opting out” of meetings) is not seen as a positive thing, but I would like to change that …”

        In closing, release the need to come up with a solution that works for everyone all by yourself. The more involved they are in coming up with a working solution, the more invested they will be in making it work.

        Happy Leading,

“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” –Marianne Williamson

Time Saving Shortcut for Assessing the Talent In Your Organization

According to Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO)’s recent national study of philanthropic practice, “Nonprofits still don’t have the resources they need to respond to new opportunities, leadership transitions or changes in their environment.”

This sentiment is echoed throughout the sector and serves as a wake-up call for the nonprofit ecosystem. While the funder stream is slowly coming into a new awareness about best practice in capacity, nonprofit executives can’t afford to sit idle – their missions are depending upon them.

My focus is on sharing high impact, low cost leadership strategies that nonprofits can implement now to increase sustainability and impact. Talent assessment and development doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to have an impact, if done right.

Seeing how it is administered in most organizations, it is easy to see why most leaders cringe at the mere mention as they imagine the tedious performance review form and the annual anxiety-ridden conversation. As executive director, it is your role to set the talent assessment and development strategy for the organization. It doesn’t have to be cumbersome. Here’s a time-saving method to get started:

  • REVIEW THE PERFORMANCE/POTENTIAL MATRIX COLLECTIVELY WITH YOUR DIRECT REPORTS – This is a framework that is used to take a “snapshot in time” of the talent within your organization. The premise: talent is a reflection of both performance (delivering results) and potential (ability/aspiration to climb up the org chart). A high performing organization needs a diverse combination of both to be sustainable. The insight gained from this exercise is valuable for succession and talent development planning.
  • HAVE EACH DIRECT REPORT INDIVIDUALLY PLOT THEIR STAFF USING THE PERFORMANCE/POTENTIAL MATRIX WORKSHEET – If this is the first time you are engaging in an activity like this with your team, have them complete the worksheet before handing out the Developing Talent Matrix to avoid the having them plot a person based on how they WANT to develop them vs. how they NEED to develop them.
  • REVIEW THE COMPLETED MATRIX WORKSHEETS COLLECTIVELY AS A TEAM – Give each direct report an opportunity to discuss where their employees are plotted on the matrix. (NOTE: This is a prime opportunity for you to stretch the leadership capabilities and collaboration of the senior leadership team by asking them to “challenge” one another on their designations where necessary. As members of the senior leadership team they are expected to put the organization’s best interest above their individual department or program areas. This assignment could provide valuable insight about the leadership development needs for the team, collectively and individually.)  
  • AFTER WORKSHEETS ARE DISCUSSED AS A TEAM, REVIEW THE DEVELOPING TALENT MATRIX FOR RECOMMENDATIONS – Give each direct report time to digest the recommendations against the employees that are plotted in each box. If the recommendations won’t boost the employee’s performance and/or potential, consider whether or not the employee is in the right box. Make adjustments where necessary.
  • ASK EACH DIRECT REPORT TO CREATE DEVELOPMENT PLANS (BASED ON THE DEVELOPING TALENT MATRIX) FOR THEIR STAFF IN THE “PROMOTE TO A NEW ROLE” BOXES AND REVIEW THEM COLLECTIVELY AS A TEAM. – Reviewing it as a team gives the leaders an opportunity to create “stretch assignments” that benefit the organization as a whole and not just a particular area of the organization.

Make Time to Save Time: 4 Ways Executive Directors Can Model Time Management

4 Ways Executive Directors Can Model Time Management

8:00am – 9:00am – Executive Team Mtg
10:00am – 10:30am – Call with RobinHood
11:00am – Noon – Mtg with Linda (CFO) re: prep for board mtg
2:00pm – 3:00pm – Mtg with Harry (HR Exec) re: prep for board mtg
4:00pm – 4:30pm – Touchbase with Board chair

A snapshot in the day of an executive director…looks doable, right? Well, by 2:00pm that ED is mentally fried. What caused it?…intense meetings, a tenacious CFO, unwanted news from Robinhood – all plausible, but more often than not, it is what happens in between the meetings that drains the brain:

8:00am – 9:00am – Executive Team Mtg
Email check 2x
2 unscheduled calls
2 “drop by” visitors
Voicemail check
10:00am – 10:30am – Call with RobinHood
Email check
1 “drop by” visitors
Voicemail check
11:00am – Noon – Mtg with Linda (CFO) re: prep for board mtg
2 random meetings
Email check 4x
3 “drop by” visitors
Voicemail check
2:00pm – 3:00pm – Mtg with Harry (HR Exec) re: prep for board mtg
Email check 2x
2 unscheduled calls
4:00pm – 4:30pm – Touchbase with Board chair
5:00pm – Finish mtg with CFO

Phew! Is it time to go home yet?

It is a good practice to have a buffer in your calendar for the unplanned and unexpected, but if not managed, “urgent “tasks can hijack your day. After all, urgency can be very seductive with its wide eyes and “rescue me” voice.

As ED, whether you realize or not, you set the tone for the rest of the organization about time management. By being mindful of your time and proactively managing it, you pave the way for others to follow. Here are 4 low effort, low cost ways to model it:

  • Check email at scheduled times rather than every time you have an “opening”. This will keep you from getting distracted by the lure of urgency.
  • If something requires an immediate response, don’t send an email. Call the person first. By doing it this way, you are saying to your staff, “I don’t expect you to stay glued to your email so when something is really urgent, I will call you”.
  • Politely redirect unplanned visitors. Sounds counter to an “open door” policy, but it is not if handle properly. An “open door” policy is meant to encourage transparency and access to leaders when needed. It is not a license to zap people’s time for no good reason If the unplanned visitor doesn’t have an urgent and important issue, kindly tell them upfront that you only have ______(#) minutes before __________ (your next activity) and ask can someone else help them. If they say no and need more time than you have allotted, ask them to schedule a _______ (# of minutes) meeting on your calendar.
  • Unproductive meetings are the biggest time/energy/resource drain for many organizations. As Death by Meetings – 5 Tips for Better Meetings points out – bad meetings are not inevitable. Get creative about how you can make meetings more efficient and productive in your organization. For example, to reduce the meeting time and get people on their feet more, some companies hold standing up meetings. Melissa Dahl of New York Magazine recently wrote that standing up meetings can reduce meeting time by 34%.