It occurred to me recently as I was writing the staff and board series, that there was one more area where we could definitely stand to air some things out.
Much like the relationship between staff and board, the relationship between the rank-and-file staff and the ED is another area that can be subject to power struggles and toxicity. Of course, it’s not always that way and I know I’ve personally worked for many wonderful EDs. But for the sake of honesty, I think we can all admit that the ED role attracts Type-A personalities. For many reasons, it SHOULD, because that’s often what it takes to get it done and get it done RIGHT.
But for us Non-Type-A’s out there sometimes we can find ourselves at a loss for how to communicate with our intimidating bosses. This doesn’t always lend itself well to good feedback or for us to let our ED know when we are approaching burnout level.
Like the last 2 posts, this one is not strictly for the purposes of kvetching. (But again…it’s so cathartic, isn’t it?)
Nope – it’s more about finding common trouble areas and looking for ways to improve communications and relationships because it’s absolutely vital to your mission that staff and leaders can work in some semblance of harmony.
So what 5 things do staff wish they could say to the ED?
#1 – I have too much on my plate to get it all done and I need your help prioritizing.
Nonprofit staff rarely wear just one “hat”. We do a lot. And that workload can lead to burnout or even resentment if the load and effort are not acknowledged by the ED. You can only run on empty for so long and you can only take on so many new projects with a smile on your face before you snap and start throwing office supplies at anyone who comes into your office.
You will probably always have a lot to get done. That’s the nonprofit world. But listen up, EDs, because here are a few things you can do to help:
- Talk to your staff at the beginning of each week. Ask them what’s on their to-do list and help them prioritize. If there’s way too much to do and it’s all a Level-10 priority either offer to help or offer to call in reinforcements in the form of board members or volunteers who can lift a hand.
- Discourage the organization to add new programming without a fully thought-out plan of how to execute it, which includes staffing and time.
- Encourage your staff to talk to you when they are feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes just feeling “heard” is enough to get you through the tough times.
- Download my free Nonprofit MasterMind Cheat Sheet and give it to your employees. It has an easy 5-step process for getting more done in less time and giving you tools and resources to either streamline or automate your work.
#2 – I need my time off to be respected.
This is a tough one. With the rise of the smartphone, we are all more connected than ever and some bosses have also taken that as an opportunity to talk with their staff at all hours. Meaning they are never really off work. Talk about burnout…. If your staff is “accidentally” dropping their phone in the toilet once a month and now can’t be reached, it could be that you’ve been blowing up their phone a bit too often. Yes, I know you meant well, but maybe try this instead before you lose your best people:
- Institute weekly staff meeting times so you can talk through things that need to be discussed. If you don’t need a meeting that week, cancel it. No one likes pointless meetings.
- Try to limit chats and work talk to work hours and staff meeting times. I know it’s hard sometimes but chances are good that whatever you just picked up your phone to text them about is NOT a life and death matter. It can wait until tomorrow morning.
- Lead by example. When you’re off, BE OFF. And encourage your staff to do the same. It will be doing all of you a favor, I promise.
#3 – I think there’s a better way to [insert literally anything here], but I’m scared to tell you because I think you’ll just shoot it down.
So we all know there’s a bigger picture and staff members may not be privy to all of it. Having said that, staff are typically the ones in the field making it all happen, seeing what works and doesn’t, and engaging on the front lines with patrons. So even if they don’t have the whole picture, their opinions are worth a listen. Here’s what to do:
- Listen to your staff’s ideas
- If they don’t have all the information, give it to them and then ask what they would do. They very well may have valuable insight or solutions you hadn’t thought of because you’re so close to the situation
- Be as transparent as possible so when you DO need to shoot staff ideas down, they understand why and know that you took all angles (including theirs) into consideration before you made a decision
#4 – Please stop micromanaging me.
Oh, micro-managers. I hate to tell you this, but you are the bane of staff’s existence. And you aren’t really doing yourself any favors either. The stress must be immense! But it doesn’t have to be and with just a few (albeit challenging for Type-A’ers) tweaks you can stop micromanaging AND stop worrying about when and how things are getting done.
- Make expectations really clear right from the beginning and make sure you or another trusted staff member do a stellar job of training the new employee. After all, you can’t expect someone to do a great job if they don’t know what you want or how to do it. Cover your bases.
- Use the “Coach Up or Coach Out” model. This means you coach when you need to and if it isn’t working out you have a candid talk with that person about whether or not this job is a good fit and if they’d be happier somewhere else. Remember: if you have to micromanage someone, then they probably shouldn’t be working there.
- Be mindful of why you feel the need to micromanage. Is it really that you can trust your staff to do great work or is it that you need to address some of your own control issues? If it’s the latter then do the internal work that you need to do and get out of your staff’s way.
#5 – Before you roll out a new program, can we talk first about what this means for hours, staffing, and the projects that are already on our plates?
Again, nonprofit staff typically put in a lot of hours. So if you don’t want them silently vowing to start searching the Help Wanted ads next time you pitch a new program, then there are some things you may want to do to give your staff and the programming the best chance at success:
- Devise a system so that you are aware of the workloads of your staff. This doesn’t have to be fancy. It could just be a verbal check-in every week or so to see what they are working on and how they feel about their load
- If you want to put something new in place, wrap in relevant staff early in the discussions so that a comprehensive plan can be formulated that takes into account how you are going to manage and execute that program
- Always ask if you really need another new program. Is it mission/scope creep? Are you doing it just to get a certain grant or court a certain funder? What are the real motivations? Could you hire more staff, even if PT, if needed for this?
Alright, that’s the end of this one. I know nothing I’ve written on this topic is rocket science. But it is stuff that many leaders don’t prioritize. If you fall into that category, your staff will thank you for making just a few of these tweaks and making sure they feel heard.
Catch ya next time!
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