“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.

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%.