Staff turnover is usually described in terms of its costs. The loss of institutional knowledge. The time and energy it takes to find a replacement. The burden on those who are left behind who have to take on urgent tasks while juggling the rest of their responsibilities. Yet when someone leaves creating a vacancy on your team, you can use this moment as an opportunity.
Look before you jump
You may be tempted to hurry into the hiring process, dusting off the old job description and posting to every place you can think of. Instead take a breath and a moment to think about what has changed since the person who had been in the role started.
What’s different now?
Start by asking yourself and your team a few questions. How has the role morphed to fit the departing person’s particular skills and talents? Are there aspects of the role that someone on your team would be excited to take over? What would they trade for these new responsibilities? What else has changed? Within your organization? With the constituents you serve? The wider political, economic or social environment?
Get the team involved
Use it as an opportunity to even reimagine everyone’s role on your team. Rather than simply doing this reorganization yourself, involve your team in the discussion. This will make it more likely that they will embrace any new role that is created. One way to do this is to have a conversation with each team member. Find out what skills and talents they want to develop and what new responsibilities they see themselves taking on, as well as what responsibilities they feel like they have outgrown.
Create a responsibility wall
This type of reshuffle will likely create a bit of a domino effect. Each person on your team will likely be impacted in some way. Another way to involve the team in reimagining the distribution of responsibilities is to create a map of your team’s work. Ask each team member to write their major tasks on post its (using the one task per post it rule). Consider assigning each team member a color. Put them up on a wall. You will likely notice that team members are doing similar work that they may not have realized. How could the tasks be clustered differently than you are doing now? Are there natural groupings that you did not realize before? Do you have good alignment with each team member’s strengths? Before diving in, decide whether there are any non-negotiables that should not be put on the table – or the wall in this case. Set your ground rules of what is in bounds and what is not up for grabs.
Want to be in the conversation that results in this reimagining instead of facilitating it? Inquire about a coaching session and we can talk about how I can help.
Sustainable nonprofit organizations stay strong by paying attention to five key areas – vision, mission and strategy, leadership, communicating value, revenue generation, and engaging stakeholders.
Organizations that fail often are tripped up by trouble in one or more of these areas. They allow mission-creep. They fail to generate sufficient unrestricted income to support the on going operation of the organization as well as new initiatives. They fail to tell a compelling story of the work they are doing and the impact it is having. Their leadership becomes insular and stops engaging with stakeholders, often assuming they already have a good sense of their needs and wants.
Vision, mission and strategy
A compelling vision of how the world will be different because of your work is not enough if you do not couple it with specific strategies to achieve that vision. Organizations are stronger when they invest the time and energy into periodic strategic planning – taking a step back to assess their current state and set a limited set of goals for a three or five year period. But this is also not sufficient. Those larger goals then need to be translated into the organization’s annual work plan. Both volunteer and staff work needs to be tied to achieving those larger goals. Those work plan goals are ideally “SMART” – specific, measurable, assignable, relevant and time bound.
The organization’s long-term health is best served when there is shared leadership between the staff leadership and board. An organizational leadership who discusses strategic issues, has clear goals that they are aiming for and makes sure that they have access to good information and data when making decisions positions the organization for success. A key role of leadership is also to ensure that staff has access to the tools and resources they need to effectively do their jobs.
Becoming internally focused is a mistake that is very easy for organizations to slip into when confronted by the rush of the urgent. There is a creative tension between your leadership holding your vision and setting strategic direction and ensuring that you are also engaging with the constituents you serve. Taking the time to see the world from their vantage point and understanding their needs and their pain points. Without this, the organization may waste time and resources creating programs and services that are not relevant to the constituents they aim to serve.
A truism in the nonprofit sector is “no money, no mission.” This saying reminds organizations that they will not be able to pursue their mission for long with no resources. While a nonprofit does not pay dividends to share holders, it can have programs that are profitable. It can – and should -- be profitable – or have net assets in nonprofit accounting language at the end of the year. An organization with a break-even will constantly struggle to remain financially viable. Leadership needs to understand the organization’s business model, including its revenue engine. What is the mix of revenue sources – both traditional fundraising and earned income that build the organization’s capacity over time? Relying solely on grants endangers organizations because most often those funds are restricted to a specific purpose. They support (and create) work but do not necessarily support the organization overall.
To raise funds from individuals and from organizations, organizational leaders need to be able to effectively communicate the value that the organization produces. What are the compelling stories that demonstrate your impact? Have you defined how you achieve your impact, including the outcomes of your work? Are you measuring that impact so that you can demonstrate the change you are affecting?
Use this Organizational Sustainability Assessment tool to see where your organization is strong and what needs attention.
Would you like to talk more about how this applies to your organization? Inquire about a free coaching session.
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.
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