In episode 64 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Sarah Olivieri discuss:
Sarah Olivieri is a nonprofit leader like you who used to spend days and nights asking questions like: “how do I get my board to work with me and not against me?”, “how can I raise more money for this important mission?” and, “how can I show up and love my job as much as I love this mission?”.
Sarah has over 18 years of nonprofit leadership experience. She was the co-founder of the Open Center for Autism, the Executive Director of the Helping Children of War Foundation, and co-author of Lesson Plan a la Carte: Integrated Planning for Students with Special Needs. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago with a focus on globalization and its effect on marginalized cultures, and a master's degree in Humanistic and Multicultural Education from SUNY New Paltz. As the founder and heart behind PivotGround, Sarah helps nonprofits become financially sustainable world changers.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Sarah Olivieri. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. Sarah and I talk about how to set up systems and processes in your organization so that your work as leader and the work of your staff is made easier, how to have a productive team meeting, and how to assess and be realistic about your current capacity.
Welcome, welcome to the podcast. Welcome, Sarah.
Sarah Olivieri: It's a pleasure to be here, Carol. Thanks for having me.
Carol: So I'd like to start out each episode with just finding out from the person I'm talking with, what, what drew them to the work that they do and, and what would you describe as your why? What motivates you?
Sarah: Oh, man. I think for most people who work in a nonprofit or work with nonprofits, the fact that every day, no matter how bad things are in the world, when I wake up, I basically get to say, I'm already making the biggest impact I could probably make. And my work trajectory is only about doing more of the same. And that feels really good, when times are good and when times are bad. And I think a lot of people fall into nonprofit work. They have a calling. When I was young, I went to this independent private school that had just started. It was very small, not at all like a prep school, but very education focused. How can we be more human focused and skip forward till I'm out of elementary school. My mom ended up taking over the school. It wasn't her background, but it was one of those nonprofits that was about to go. It had a great mission. It had done great work with kids, but from a business perspective, it had just been run to the ground and was on the verge of closing, not paying their staff. And my mom was one of those people who said, well, I'll try. And she did, and it turned into a job and she grew this. School. And so then skip forward a number of years where I'm working at a nonprofit and it almost went under, it had a bunch of problems and I was like, well, maybe I'll try taking on that and I'll take on this other piece. And my mom was there saying, you can learn bookkeeping and you can do this. And once how to manage the finances and manage the people and manage the prom, You're sucked in really deep, pretty quickly. So that's kinda like how I get started, how I got started, and there's lots in the middle. That's the short version.
Carol: It's been interesting for me as I've talked to various people through this podcast and other places, how many folks have some experience in their childhood that leads them, especially often folks talking about that role model of a parent doing something either, engaged in the community or engaged in some way with service. Politics, whatever it might be, stepping in where there's a vacuum and making things happen and making sure that that resource didn't go away for children, so that's awesome. So I'm curious, as a former executive director of a nonprofit, what would you say was your favorite part of being an executive director? I feel like there's this big generational shift going on finally with new people coming into leadership and. I hear from a lot of younger folks that they're, they look at the job and they shy away from it because it just seems so, like undoable without like a real level of personal sacrifice. So I'm curious what was the upside? What did you appreciate about being in that role?
Sarah: Well, before I answer that, I have to say the secret from my clients who are mostly not young people, they feel the same way. When they come to me, they're like, I hate my job, but I also don't wanna quit. But we'll go into how we get everybody out of that. My own experience as an executive director was something I really enjoyed. Setting things up, scaling things up, making things run better. And even though I didn't know what I know now, I was already pretty good at. This whole thing about systems and processes and making things run better because that is the thing that ultimately makes the job not painful. And I really, really believe that being an executive director can be fun. And it probably helped that I had this example from my mother who had started out in this organization that was in complete chaos, working a lot of hours, and by this time, When I was an executive director, she was at the tail end and she would tell me, I work four days a week partly to, cuz she was older and partly to save money for the nonprofit. And she said, really, I spend a good chunk of my time playing solitaire on the computer. And that was a good thing. What it meant was she had everything running like a well-oiled machine. And now she kept an eye on everything and whenever anything did come up, she was available. She had that time built in. Right? It wasn't just she was goofing off playing solitaire. She kept, that's how she kept herself busy while she kept herself available to deal with things. And that's so important. And I had that lesson early on that you should not be filling every minute as an executive director. Of your job up with tasks and projects and because if you are, you're doing it wrong, you're doing it wrong and great systems, having a great team is how you do that. And so, because I was good at that early on, I was setting up programming, I was attracting great staff who were doing great things. I was attracting funding. Both grants and major donors and a real community quickly formed. And I'm a lover of delegation, so, spreading out the work amongst a lot of people, made everything run quite well. It wasn't perfect, but I certainly was able to enjoy my job. And that to this day, like that's what I. For all executive directors. I mean, your job, it, there's a lot of work to be done and a lot of problems to be solved, but it should feel joyful and it shouldn't feel like opening up your veins and just bleeding for your non-profit until you're dead.
Carol: Right, right. My tagline for this podcast is, working for progressive nonprofits and nonprofit leadership without being a martyr to the cause. So, for sure. And I just wanted to pick up on a couple things that you said. You talked about systems and processes and I, I don't think that's the first thing that most people think of when they think of nonprofits. They think of passion and mission and vision and all of that, but I'm a systems and process person too, so I appreciate those and. And it's not right. As you said, it's not for the I think oftentimes people get real, don't wanna set those up because they feel like they might be restrictive first. Second, they're always thinking about the exceptions. The 20% that doesn't fit into the process. And I feel like I often am talking to folks about how we can identify the 80%. Normally it happens that you can, that you can predict and is that regular or there are some things that are within your control, like how are you doing your fundraising, how are you doing your marketing, those kinds of things. That, that is, that. You can just decide what the cadence is. And then also having that margin, right, not filling up every hour so that you do have the flexibility to be able to respond when things pop up. But, how do you experience it with clients in terms of helping them or helping them think through those systems and processes?
Sarah: So, skip forward a whole bunch of years and I've worked with a lot of nonprofits in, in addition to working in nonprofits. And what I realized, I love all business, first of all. So like, as much as I love non-profits, I also love business. I love how people come together to create things that are bigger than what any one person can do. And all of the, the glue that makes that happen and all the functioning, which is systems and processes. What I have learned is there are some key ways of operating that everybody can implement. And I used to think, oh, well it has to be customized for each organization cuz everyone's different. Well, as much as everyone wants to feel like they're a special snowflake. There are a lot of things right that you don't need to reinvent and that actually can work out of the box for you. The for-profit industry has done this already numerous times. They've created methodologies and frameworks and systems for running a business that help people run better. And so I set out to make the same thing, but specifically for non-profits cuz most of the for-profit methodologies have like Making a profit built in as like this just assumed principle which is not true at a nonprofit, we may very well sacrifice profits. We can have profits, but we also might sacrifice profit for mission. So I've put all those pieces together in an easy-to-implement way. But when I hear my clients think about systems, and so one is I'm telling them, here's this easy way to do it. Like you don't have to be a master chef in order to follow a recipe, right? Right. So I like to get, say, here's the recipe, follow it. And then they do, and then it works. And then they're like, oh my God, my stuff is happier. And wow, I just took my first vacation and like I stopped working on weekends. Like, what is this magic? Let me keep following the recipe. And I think for most people, that is magic and they don't need to become a master chef. But we can also talk about. I would consider myself a master chef. I'm making recipes. We can go into what that is. But if for those of you who have that thought of like, ooh, processes, like that sounds restricting, then you have just experienced a bad process, a great process. Frees you up to do, right? We talked about the 80%, the 80/20 rule. If you've heard of it like it's like 20% of the work does 80% of gets 80% of the results. But then there's also like, what is that other 80% of the work? So if you can clear that 80%. Off and get it all running like a well-oiled machine. Get it off your plate. Now you can spend 20% of your time focused on like the really forward stuff. Usually that involves a lot of thinking and problem solving. Right. And that's what your solitaire moments are about. I'll call them. As doing, having that brain time to really think through how. Move something forward that no one has figured out before. And I love seeing people get that time back in their day and then the results that that gets is phenomenal.
Carol: Can you give me an example, one of those recipes?
Sarah: Sure. So a really simple one is how to run a team meeting. We have numerous types of meetings in the framework that I teach. Well, not that many. We actually only have three and the most basic one that typically replaces your staff meeting. I call it an issues meeting, but there are a few key things in it that are probably different from what you're doing right now that make the meeting way, way better. If I could see your audience right now, I'd say raise your hand if you have wasted time wasting meetings or you hate meetings, and probably most of you would be raising your hand, right? So one of the things we do, it's the same agenda every time, and probably one of the most important things we do is we identify the issues that are facing the team, but we don't discuss them when we identify. And everybody has to get trained in, don't just launch into talking about this issue, or we'll be stuck talking about issues all day long. Step two is we're going to then decide which is the highest priority issue. And then step three is we're going to then talk about that issue, make sure we understand it and work through it until we've identified a solution that basically we all agree will work and then we can assign somebody to go implement it. And so by being way more intent, Systematic about the priority that we work through our issue. Is a game changer because first people are like, oh, we actually produced something. We produced a solution in this meeting. That's great. But when you do it consistently, like replacing your staff meeting, initially, most organizations have this, like all these issues, like a long, long list. But a lot of those issues are usually symptoms of a higher priority issue. So often what happens is as you tackle the highest priority issues first, a lot of the issues that were on your. Just diesel resolve on their own because you hit the core underlying issue and then you don't even have to worry about tackling them. And the list gets short, short, very, very fast. Because of that, you're not just tackling issues meaningfully, but you're eliminating a lot of the issues because you got to what was really going on.
Carol: That's the common practice or habit that you described to people, like they name the issue and then we start talking about it. I'm on a volunteer team right now where we're having that exact challenge and I'm planning at our next meeting to bring it up as one of our habits that's not helping So I, I might, I might borrow that and say, well, I think we, we actually do have a list of our priorities, but, but, or a list of our issues. I don't know that we've done a good job of prioritizing them or even thinking about how we're gonna sequence this so that it makes sense to tackle one after another. So, but that habit of like, we bring it up so we have to talk about it, like, take a moment, put it on, put it in the. Folks don't call 'em parking lots anymore on the bike rack. Someone else that I talked to recently said, don't call it a parking lot or a bike rack because that's the place where those things go to die, but call it an on-ramp or the runway of the things that we'll get to as we get down the runway. So, fundamentally, I mean people spend so much time in them and so many of them are so poorly designed that it's, it's sad that folks have to be stuck in those, and, and it's some, there's some easy things that you can do to, to make them just a little bit better.
Sarah: And I would say a lot better. It's actually not learning how to do business well as a for-profit or a non-profit is not rocket science. And some small easy tweaks. If you find the right ones and then really implement them, it can make dramatic results. And I'd say the hardest thing is adjusting to that new meeting or actually it's not so hard, but it takes some time. And for those of you who are like Brene Brown followers, like all of her work comes into this learning to bring, be vulnerable enough to bring the real issues, create that culture where people feel. To bring that real issue to the table, that underlying core issue, and then also training your team and getting everybody used to interrupting each other, saying, oh, Or interrupting themselves. Like I interrupt myself all the time. Like I started talking about the issue. Excuse me. That's ok. I started talking about the issue. I'm gonna be quiet now cuz it's not time to talk about the issues, it's just time to stick them on the list. And that takes a little bit of adjusting because usually we're told not to interrupt each other. But after a few times of giving everybody permission, anybody's allowed to interrupt anybody. Who starts launching into talking about an issue when it's not time for it yet.
Carol: And I, the other thing that I like about what you were describing is that it, it get, it gets clear what we're doing at this moment. And I, I try to do that when I'm working with, with groups cuz, during a strategic planning process that I, that generally what I work on, There are points at which you're exploring, where you're opening everything up, where you're imagining, where you're visioning, and you're maybe getting like even a little bit really out there beyond what is really feasible. There's a time for that, and then there's a time a little bit later in the process to cut it down and, and put some criteria on what's gonna be more feasible. What, what do we have the capacity for? What, what's really gonna move our mission forward in a different way. But being clear about what you're doing in each meeting, in each session, in each portion really helps people have.
A more constructive conversation and feel like they, they, they knew what was expected of them so they could show up in a, in a helpful way. a hundred percent. So you, you, and I'm gonna use your words, you work to help nonprofits become financially sustainable, world, world changers. What would you say is really the key to achieving that with an organization?
Sarah: So for nonprofits specifically, there are three key areas that I think they need to be focusing on. First is capacity. Right. So that includes who's on your team, how many team members you have, how much money you have. Although money is usually a byproduct of core capacity. It's not the capacity itself and how aligned that team is, right? So the bulk of what makes up. Our organizations are people really, so right. Who are the people and how well do they work together and are they the right people on the team? And a lot of building that capacity has to do with creating great alignment. And that really means understanding who you are as an organization, how you behave, and then attracting people who want to behave in the same way. and all work together. So we can do a lot too. Capacity by making sure we have the right people aligned in the right way, and great systems and processes for keeping them gelled together as a well-oiled team. So capacity, right? And then actionable strategy, I always say actionable strategy. Which should be assumed, but there's so many people who have strategies that they aren't taking action on. And so just to quickly define some terms, to me, a strategy is a set of goals with a set of actions that you're going to take to achieve those goals. And in the method I teach called the impact method, we always have our highest level strategic goals tied right into our tasks day to day. And it goes through. In the impact method, we actually do strategic planning every two months, and then we map out a two month work plan. We check on that work plan every two weeks, and then each, each two week chunk everybody has their tasks that they're working on for those two weeks. So that's what I mean by what a really actionable strategy looks like that's like dialed in and people aren't flying off doing other things. And then the third piece, which is not true for all businesses, but is true for most non-profits. So if your non-profit has a mission to solve a problem that has never been solved before, so if you're working to end hunger or homelessness, Or solve mental health issues, any of those things. You have to be great at innovation. And to be great at innovation, you basically need some sort of built in process for improvement. You have to be able to experiment and improve and try things and, and have room to fail. That's where the capacity comes in and modify. So really having those three things, capacity, actionable strategy, and a continual process of improvement is what it takes to really have success as a non-profit.
Carol: No, those sound like definitely three key key areas that I'm often working with clients on as well. And one, one I wanna go back to cuz with, with capacity and what we were talking about before, when you can set things on a, on a process and, and make it easier, you're not having to constantly decide, you kind. For me, when I have a good process, I know it's working well because I, I'm not experiencing that decision fatigue of having to make all sorts of little choices and like you said, then have time freed up for that bigger thinking. But what I see groups do, and there's a lot of pressure to scale up is each time they, they, they do something smarter and they create a little space instead of taking that time to think or think big? Differently one not necessarily bigger, they add more, add more, add more. And so, while the, the kind of, the promise is if you work smarter, you're not gonna have to work harder, but then people add more, so they're still working harder. Mm,
Sarah: mm-hmm. So I think some of the ways that I tackle that one is in the process of improvement that I teach. It includes this concept of respite and we also, I also just talk about brain space all the time. Mm. So part of it is about this concept of how we work when we work. But in another part of that is how you define the roles in the organization. So I'll talk about respite first. So, I already said like, we work in these, we do strategic planning every two months. So it's a two month strategic cycle with many two week tactical cycles built in. If you put that into a 12 month calendar year, you will find that there are four extra weeks left over which you totally gain back in efficiency and probably many times over. And so actually built into the framework as a thing is respite. And respite are those extra four weeks. They're not really extra where. Organizations, I teach them to build this into their way of operating, and this is separate from vacation time. Respite is where you're not working on a goal, a big goal or a project you might totally shut down. You might just do minimal operations. Some organizations do all four weeks at once. Some do a week here and there. Some who really like vital, life or death services will scatter different people's respite. So like. What am I thinking? Like overlay it so that no, nothing is ever quite shut down as much, but starting to really like, use a new piece of language, right? It's not vacation. I intentionally didn't use the word rest, although it's designed to allow our brains to have that time. But I call it respite because it's not a word we use a lot in our everyday lives. So introducing that as an important concept and a thing that you're gonna schedule in is really key. And then when part of actually what I think of it as a capacity piece is how you design your team. And a lot of people call this an org chart. I take a slightly different approach because the traditional org chart is really. Who is in charge of who, and I think to run any business better, what we really need to be thinking about is what are the functions of this organization Like, what if it were a machine? What are the pieces of the machine? What outcomes do we need for each of those? Pieces of the machine to be produced and then just who's in charge of those outcomes. And to me, that's what makes me a leader in an organization. We talk about roles that are very, like brain based versus roles that are, we call, I say hands based, but it's like doing the task versus being, trying to get a result that you're not, don't necessarily have control over. And just as a side note, I find, those who are leaders, In many ways, are people who they're, they're built for being responsible for things that aren't in their control. like a parent, right? Like parents are natural leaders. Are they forced leaders? Because you're responsible for this, a kid and you're not really totally in control of the outcome. But you've agreed to be accountable for it nonetheless. Within all these functions of what makes a nonprofit run, there's a really important role of, I call it visioning and innovation. And then you start to see that, especially if it's a CEO or a founder, is often owning this role of literally visioning and innovation and they, that role requires a ton of brain. Or we can call it my mom's solitaire time, right? Like you need to be paid to be just thinking, because that's how we innovate with a lot of thinking and problem solving. And so we start to embrace this as a valued role in the organization as well as a valued activity that everyone's participating in.
Carol: So, as you were saying there are, there, there needs to be that downtime in organizations and I think culturally we're so conditioned to always add more. Yes. And so I love the idea of just taking those. Not even take more, protecting those for extra, those extra four weeks. And, and designating them for some downtime, for some respite for thinking time and, and or just, just not, not doing, doing, doing so that you can. And I, I feel like. I don't know what to do. Well, we all think all the time. If you've ever tried to meditate, you find that out real quick. But if I'm concentrating on it, it doesn't necessarily work. So doing something easy, like solitary, as you talked about, helps just like the brain relax and then you start associating different things and then, it's like, why? We get our best ideas in the shower or on a good walk or something like that. But I definitely appreciate what you're, what you're sharing with people because the tendency so much is to just pile on new things.
Sarah: And, in the way you work too. I referenced a couple times, like, we work in these two week sprints and I teach all my clients to do. That is the, one of the first things they realize. Oftentimes it's the first time they've written down all the projects they're working on at one time. And literally we use a Kanban style, meaning like we put each of our projects that are in progress in a column and the ones that are coming up next to another column, and once it's visual and I just tell them the rule is you can't work on more than three projects at once. And if you wanna go faster, you should only work on one project at once. And it's visually there in the column, you see the boxes stacking up in the column, and people start to realize, What can they actually get done in two weeks? And they start to see that the impact of overloading their plates, of adding more and more and more at once is actually slowing them way, way down. And so as they realize that and see it in a visual way as well, they start to go, oh, Less is more right? Less at a time is faster. I will complete more projects in a two month period if I'm only working on one or two at a time. And they start to realize that a lot of the things they think they're adding that are just little things are huge things like we need to rebuild our. I can say it so easily, rebuild websites, projects I used to build websites professionally. They are multiple projects in one, and your website is never done. So they start to realize, like, understanding how to pull things apart and understand the true load of what's on their plate. And that has all sorts of positive ripple effects. Like oftentimes I see, board members start to really understand why this organization needs more resources and, and leaders start to really understand, oh I do need to be fundraising a lot more because I'm totally underestimating the true load. That we're either carrying or that we're not caring, but we need to be doing, if we're gonna make a dent in solving whatever the problem of our mission is.
Carol: And I think the other thing that doesn't get calculated when you're thinking about projects and some people's work, is, is, is project focused. But other, there's always those things I have to do every day, something I have to do every month or every week. And those regular, repetitive, those things that you systematize, those become invisible in those, those planning out all the stuff that has to happen. And so, Being mindful and remembering you've gotta block space for them, just those regular things as well, is really important.
Sarah: Totally. And we track those and I have a number of ways that I teach my clients to track them, so it's not time consuming just to track them. Right. Sure. You don't wanna spend more time tracking them. No. Them. So, but it can be as simple as every two months, each team member, just like estimates, like what percentage of my work time is taken up by recurring tasks. Mm-hmm. And when they're at 80%. They don't have, I tell them once you hit 80%, you don't have time for any projects, and this is the time to hire or have the one project of streamlining so that you can get that 80% back down to like 50%, 60%, something like that.
Carol: So at the end of each episode, I like to ask an icebreaker question, and since we've been talking about processes and systems, I'll, I'll choose this one. So what do the first 30 minutes of your typical day look like?
Sarah: Oh, coffee definitely, and I journal most days. It can vary. I have a son, I'm a single mom, I have a son, so there's usually getting him. I do what I need to do to be ready to get him ready for school and then face my day. But I will share. When I was newly a single mom and launching a business in the most crazy time of my life, I had this, I called it like my super routine, and it took about 30 minutes. I did 12 minutes of meditation, usually with my son sitting in my lap watching cartoons. He was a toddler at the time. I did the seven minute workout on my phone. And I took a quick shower and there is nothing like, even though each thing was short, there is nothing like a little bit of intentional just, brain time. That's that brain time, right? I gave myself that brain time. I had probably a little more brain time in the shower too. And a little bit of body exercise and just that little bit of self-regulation, self-regulation took me through the hardest times in my life. And. With energy and strength, it was great. Awesome, awesome. And it took about 30 minutes. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.
Carol: We can optimize those things for sure. We can, or, or just fit in a little bit and you can fit in more later if, when you have, when you have time and space, but at least doing a little bit each day is really grounding. So what's coming up from you? What are you excited about and what's emerging in your work?
Sarah: Well, I continue to offer the Thrive Program, which is where I take CEOs from non-profits who wanna be like me. I wanna learn everything that Sarah's teaching and work with her every week.
So I continue to love offering that program. I'm really excited to be coming out with a new program called Pivot this year. Access to all of the curriculum I use in the Thrive program, but aren't ready to dive in with all the support and wanna just try some stuff on their own. That'll be coming out in 2023. And also I continue to do this board retreat that I developed in a number of board training related to it. To really help boards get engaged. It comes with a new job description for the board. And the results from that have been so fantastic that I'm very excited to get it out there. And it's, it's, I'll just give you a sneak peek of some of the ways it's so different. I no longer have boards. Approving budgets, and yet they're more engaged with the finances than ever before. I have boards not participating in fundraising, and yet board members are more engaged in helping with fundraising than ever before.
And I have boards really starting to understand. Stand some of this, like how nonprofits work stuff so that they can truly be supportive and have their leadership teams back in a way that just feels great to CEOs and never ever hints on overstepping or micromanaging.
Carol: Awesome. Well thank you so much and thank you for coming on Mission Impact.
Sarah: It's my pleasure. Thank you.
Generous leadership with Carolyn Mozell
In episode 45 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Carolyn Mozell discuss:
Carolyn Mozell is the founder and CEO of Leaders Who Connect and Inspire LLC and knows firsthand how transformative it can be when leaders and employees treat each other with mutual respect, kindness, and a genuine desire to see each other succeed.
Carolyn served in some of the highest levels of local government leadership for over 25 years. Rising from executive assistant to deputy chief, she also knows that leadership is a privilege. It can literally change someone’s life. She’s seen it happen and she’s made it happen.
Now, Carolyn leverages her direct experience advising elected officials, cabinet-level leaders and activating diverse high-performing teams to help leaders in business, nonprofit organizations and government agencies do the same.
Carolyn’s journey through leadership provided clear evidence that people do not leave companies, they leave bad bosses. That’s why she is dedicated to working with organizations to provide consulting, coaching and professional development programs to strengthen leadership, retain and attract good talent, and improve workplace culture through a lens of Emotional Intelligence.
Carolyn is passionate about putting more kind leaders into the world. That’s why she helps leaders develop their emotional intelligence skills so that they can grow teams that work more collaboratively and employees who thrive and want to stay. She can be found facilitating conversations on leadership, emotional intelligence, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to coaching clients on how to build a better team by being a better boss.
Clients appreciate Carolyn’s accumulated years of experience managing up, down, and across organizations as a former Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief and rely on her expertise to advise on what a positive workplace culture looks like for them, how to achieve it, and how to sustain it.
Carolyn is a graduate of the University of Maryland College Park, BA African American Studies, Public Policy Concentration, a certified DISC Behavioral Assessment Practitioner and a certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner.
She is Vice President of Suited to Succeed and Dress for Success Greater Baltimore, member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and host of the "Use Your Powers for Good with Carolyn Opher Mozell” podcast. She resides in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband, Dawyne and adopted cat, Eva.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Carolyn Mozell. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers, all of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Carolyn and I talk about why everyone in organizations need to consider what their sphere of influence is and think about how they can contribute to making it better, why it is so important to share back the results of any survey or assessment with the people who participated and then to act on the information, and why it’s important to know what is critical for your self care so you can manage the energy you bring to work and your colleagues.
Before we jump into the conversation I want to let you know about a new thing that I am doing. I am hosting the Nonprofit Leadership Roundtable every couple months. During the Roundtable, you get to talk with your peers, share an opportunity or challenge you are having at work and get some peer coaching on the topic. The Roundtable is free and I host it on Zoom. The next one will be Thursday April 28, 2022. You can register on the Eventbrite site. We will post a link from the mission impact website. It would be great to see you there.
Well, welcome Carolyn, it’s great to have you on the podcast.
Carolyn Mozell: Thank you so much. Great to be here. So
Carol: I like to start with a question around what drew you to the work that you're doing? What, what motivates you and what would you describe as your work?
Carolyn: Well, having served in local city government for decades. And I, and I, when I say decades, that just sounds like something my parents would say, but yes, decades I saw like so many problems that were caused by a toxic workplace. And the impact that it had on employees, the leaders and even the customers. And then it made it very clear to me that when your workplace is sick, your employees are sick and it's a vicious cycle that leads to an unhealthy, unstable, and unproductive work environment for everyone. So I started solving this problem through my own leadership, because I felt like it doesn't have to be this way. I have no desire to lead in a way that promotes or fosters an unhealthy environment. And I started just being, as I grew in leadership, started being more intentional about my interactions with people that basically led to me consistently leading with empathy. Compassion. Integrity and accountability though. And that helped to inspire a work environment where people felt seen and heard and valued, all those things that we as humans like in the field. And at the same time, created an environment where the organization is, in this case, the agency, so the agency was productive. So, I began to understand that. It was a win-win for everyone. And even the constituents, now that the workforce is happy, when they're out. We're interacting with the community, we'd get, we would always get a lot of good feedback about how our people are nice and professional and polite and get the work done. So I began to really understand that it didn't have to be the other way, that you can lead with compassion. You can, with empathy, then on behalf to be a model of integrity. Because otherwise your employees don't trust you. And they'll, they won't do it. They won't do that. As you say, they'll do FAC. And then you know that, but I always, always, it was very clear about we are here for business purposes because we are all here and our job to work. For an outcome. But so that was my way of having some compassionate accountability with people, just so being there for them, but unders pairing them up to understand that You need it to also get the work done. So now I work with leaders in Munis municipalities and nonprofit organizations who want to break that vicious cycle that leads to something unhealthy, unstable, and unproductive.
Carol: Yeah, and I so appreciate your statement around, when the workplace is sick, then, infects everyone else. Everyone else is sick too. And I love the turn of phrase, compassionate accountability, because it really brings both sides. Right. It's a ying yang of but we need both. And yeah. So your, your work now, you're really working with leaders. Foster those productive and healthy work cultures. And I think it's everything. It's something that everyone wants. A lot of people just don't know how they can contribute, how, or how they can make a change. And I really appreciate your story and that, you're in a big agency, you could, could look around and say, well, what can I do? But you decided, no, I have a sphere of influence. There are things. So there are ways that I can be there, ways that I can show up for my team and then the people that I'm working with. So, so how, when you're working with leaders, what are some steps that you take to help them see that, that they can start doing to cultivate that healthier work environment.
Carolyn: First I, I really always say that I consult and then I coach interactively because at first you need to understand you, you have to. Make sure that you are willing to uncover your blind spots that may be leading to this environment and be willing to have the blind spots exposed, of people that maybe you have a higher regard for et cetera, that the blind spots are being uncovered. Are going to eventually lead to that healthy workforce. So, be willing to uncut, get data to uncover blind spots. The first thing I always do is to have either an insight survey or assessments behavioral or, or emotional intelligence assessments to go in and just understand where people are so that we know where we're starting and get some baseline data. And then using that information to align that with your goals and all, and the most important thing is, involving people who are directly impacted in that process and whatever the recommendations will be in the process so that you're not faced with a situation where when you're done. People are like, I don't agree with that or I'm not doing that, you know? And I found that like having a representative, so to speak of all levels of the organization helps to give that insight more a more well-rounded insight so that even if like, 100% of the people are not going to agree all of the time, but at least you will get the representation from all of the levels of your organization to make sure that you are incorporating those diverse voices. And then after that, then it's time to always say you got, you gotta apply the results timely, just not be worse than going through, getting people to answer surveys or getting people to take assessments. And then. having meetings and then not doing anything with the information. Yeah, that's the same as, having, we talked about having a workflow committee or a task force and, you just sit the document on the shelf. And so I always encourage leaders to keep the communication consistent. And reliable because humans again, we all like reliability, and it's the same as businesses, businesses like reliability and, in humans like reliability. So, having people to know that, they're going to hear about the survey update or the next step. On Fridays from their leadership, is what I try to encourage them to do to establish some level of consistent communication. And it's all in one case, they would do it at their Monday staff meeting, but just having, keeping people engaged and letting them know that the process is resulting in some action and action that will be.
Carol: Yeah, I really appreciate it. It's so important that when you ask people to take their time to contribute their thoughts and, and answer a survey or do anything like that, that, that you do complete that circle and that a group of people looks at it synthesizes it, but that synthesis then goes out, back out to the folks who originally were asked the question so that they can, can see that they were heard. And, and yeah, that's, that's so important. So can you say a little bit about this, because you also do some executive coaching with leaders? Can you say a little bit more about what that is and, and how you work with clients in that situation? Yeah.
Carolyn: So the local clients that I've been working with so far are either in like a big government or a smaller non-profit. And when I have, but they're, they have been mid to senior level executives and they are, they, they are at a point in their. Career where they want to understand how to gain, influence to expand and their leadership. And so what I do, I help them with understanding how to interact better to gain that influence and using it again on like, improving their emotional intelligence and using disc assessments to help them understand how to, how they, how they are communicating. And if they're, if they're communicating what they intend to communicate or is, are people hearing differently than what they are trying to say. And, I learned that, through my leadership process, that was really important. And gaining influences, they'll always used to say, say what you mean and mean what you say, and, but you gotta be careful of what you're saying, you know? And so it's a whole, it's a whole self-awareness piece, as well as understanding how to communicate with different types of people.
Carol: Yeah. Sometimes those truisms are true.
Carol: So when folks are trying, you talked about self-awareness, you talked about being aware of how you're communicating with folks, is what you're intending to say, matching up with how people are hearing it. What are some other ways that leaders can start to be more intentional about growing their influence?
Carolyn: Well, they can be careful and intentional about the energy that you embrace into a conversation. The energy that you're bringing into a room, the energy that you're bringing into a meeting, it's always I would say you can't change the reaction of the other person, but you can always, always control how you respond to that other person. And so I always make sure that they are intentional about responding and not reacting and understanding what that means for them. And, if you know that. John, every quarter is gonna trigger you for some, will be because of what he's going to say or do in a meeting then, prepare yourself for that because you can't necessarily control. You can only control him to a certain extent, if you're directly you have that. If he started direct reports, then there's always that coaching conversation about, would be appropriate this and what he's doing, if there's anything inappropriate, but John, as his own personality, So, you, he, John just may communicate in a way that's different from how you communicate, but as a leader, you should just be, you need to be aware of that so that you can. The most productive output from John all while making sure that he feels seen, heard and valued. So, it's, it's, it all works. So if the change is believed, interchange, it bleeds together and, having empathy, having empathetic leadership can be exhausting. So always encourage leaders to make sure that they're taking care of themselves and that they are understanding what their balance means. I always see a lot of people say, oh, there's no such thing as balance, but we all have our own personal balance. There's no one definition for what balance means for you or for me or anyone else. Everyone has their own. Version of what balance means to them, but by whatever priorities they have in their life. So I always make sure that leaders take care, take, and have a routine to take care of themselves, whether it's meditation, whether it's, getting a good night's sleep, whether it's, time-blocking for your calendar to make sure that you are incorporating. Priorities that are going to make your life feel like you are living. As well as, having a professional life, because I know like when I worked at city hall, it just felt like my, like, it could be 24 hours, that because in the city there was always something going on. And so you just felt all absorbed in all of that. So I had to understand how to take care of myself so that I can go in and lead the people that I had to lead in, in a productive way. And show up with energy and show up, with my best version of myself, to encourage them to bring their best version of themselves.
Carol: Yeah. All of those things and, and, ideally you get, you can meditate and go to get a good night's sleep and get some exercise and have some time blocking and do all those things to create those guardrails that really. Help you stay centered so that you can show up with empathy for people. So, yeah, but it takes a lot of practice. And, then I think also for me obviously we all want to be more, we're, we're aspiring to be less reactive, more proactive and then things catch up. Right. And we get triggered. And so how do you recover from that and repair what might've happened?
Carolyn: Well, first as always, it goes back around to just being aware of those things about yourself and repairing those things. Again, different for everyone. Repairing could be that you are you, that you need to turn off your email at a certain time or that you need to, they'll schedule looking at your email at a certain time. It depends on what your circumstances are, but recovering are some of those things that you mentioned, exercising. I worked for a mayor who. That was her recovery exercise. We took exercising out of her schedule one, one time because of a conflict and it was a horrible afternoon for everyone. She could not show up as her best self. I tease about that all the time. I'm like, oh, I told her it's her executive assistant at the time. Please do not take exercise out of her schedule because she was just a barrel the rest of the day. And so, but that made me really understand that, being a leader. It's exhausting because you are trying to solve a lot of different problems and still have a life of your own. So you do have to have things in place to recover, like, going exercise, taking a walk, getting fresh air, being out in nature. And I learned over the summer, I've been very. Intentional about just trying different things over the last year and a half. And I, and I came across a coach who talked about grounding yourself and going and standing on like in the grass on seeing it with no shoes on and how that just does something to the body and makes you feel refreshed. And I said, let me try that. So over the summer I did that. It was awesome. I went out and stood on the patio and I just stood there. The neighbors probably didn't understand what was happening. I'm standing there in my bare feet and in the middle of the patio, not really looking at anything, eyes closing up, just absorbing all of the energy. And it was really refreshing because over this last year and a half or so leaders have had to rethink everything about how they're leading themselves and So, I tried to be very intentional and open about learning new things.
Carol: I love that. Cause I think of lots of meditations where I've had, where the instruction has been imagined, the, or, feel the ground that you're you're on and imagine how you're connected to the earth, but actually going out. Standing with bare feet and, in grass or wherever you can to really, really feel that. Yeah. That's interesting. What other, what other things have you tried out in this last year and a half of experimentation?
Carolyn: A night routine. So I had, and this was a, this was mostly actually recently I had a young woman on my podcast. You should power, so good. And she is, she dealt, she was a healer and a coach, a healing coach. And so she talked about the importance of a night routine to get sleep that would help to revive you and re-energize you and all, and some of the things she said, I tried and I was like, oh my gosh, I feel so good. And it was, there were several things to do, but you don't really understand the impact unless you're consistent with them. And so for me, I took my shower at night and she suggested like, take a nice hot shower and have the water just run on your phone. And that disliked does something. She has all her terms. So then you can check the podcast, but it does something to your body. And, it just promotes some sleep stuff for lack of a better term. Because that's not my area. And then, doing things that are going to make your next day more productive. So for me, getting my clothes out the night before now for me, I couldn't understand why I had so much anxiety around this when I wasn't leaving the house. Really zoom calls. Yes. But, then I would like recordings and stuff for some of my content. And so I had so much anxiety around, like, what am I going to wear? And then, I spend half the morning, like finding something and then. didn't want to iron. So I just really, so I, what I decided to do was like one Sunday. If I needed to put the clothes out and if I needed to iron something, iron it, then and sell them. That's taken care of, check it out off my list as I have something to do in the morning. So, she shows you how, like on the, on the back of your feet, the different pressure points that help to relax you. And so, I try some of that and that scene. To spark some type of relaxation for me and using an IMS to blackout the light. Now I'm married and my husband likes the TV on all night, all night. And, I grew up like that, but then I started somewhere along the way, I didn't have to have the television on. So having the eye covers really helped me to just get into my, getting to sleep mode and, oh, one important thing that almost everybody probably has. Well, if you have an iPhone, turn it on that night mode where the screen goes into more of a blue demo mode because she talked about getting yourself. Prepare for sleep and remove yourself from the light of the television of your phone and all that. But you're the fluorescent lights above you. And getting blue light glasses to help with that. I haven't purchased those yet, but that's one thing that I'm going to try. So there are like so many ways, so. Help yourself, but a lot of times we just struggle with getting started. So I, I've, I've gotten into a mindset where I make it uncomplicated and I just take the best next step.
Carol: The best next step. I love that. Yeah. Yeah, I think there's so much emphasis on creating a good morning routine, but people forget about the night routine and how you kind of, you, you, you think about it with kids, right? Like what's their routine for getting them to bed so that they can get to sleep well, we're just grown up kids. So, yeah, that's awesome. So what are some of the common challenges that you see leaders facing as you work with?
Carolyn: One of the biggest ones is dealing with people who are like bringing their personal problems to work and just dealing, not how to manage themselves personally in the workplace. And so they bring all their stresses and then they, that shows up in the work that they're doing. How they're interacting with people. And so helping people to manage that piece of their participation in the workforce and workplace is one thing. And then also helping people to. Understand how to work collaboratively, like in groups, without it feeling like a competition. And so, one of the things that I did with a client, I have. After we did the survey process, we put together a task force that I facilitated and it had various generations of people, diverse people in all respects. And so one of the things I laid out for them in the beginning is that as I always say, we're gonna, let's w we're going to jointly come up with our rules of engagement. And, so we listed about five things, about listening, respecting conversations, respecting differences, in opinion a grade to disagree, so, we, we just, we, we, we covered things that. We agreed to want to gather so that, as we were moving forward, the process didn't seem offensive or unfair or anything to any, any person in particular. And that, we were all, we just all remember when our rules of engagement were that we agreed. And we're able to have a very productive meeting with a very productive outcome. We got through the recommended survey recommendations and like two sessions. So the third session was just a tweak, But we were able to substantially get the work done and all, and everyone was really happy. And, those are the kinds of things that really make my work feel very gratifying knowing that I've gotten people. A diverse people able to work together for a common goal to achieve a common goal.
Carol: Yeah. Those, those having a conversation about those rules of engagement and how are we going to work together? And what do each of those things mean? Like what does respect mean to you? How does that show up? How do you demonstrate it? What, how am I going to know or what, what demonstrates to me that, that you're respecting me or listening to me or effectively communicating yeah, that, that work it, you know infrequently take the time to do it. And that feels like, oh, it's a big conversation, but they can use that, meeting after meeting to work productively together. And it's, it's just so, so helpful. Oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Carolyn: Let's say one of the, one of the biggest benefits of that process that I just, was some of the middle management leaders. Stepping up to like continue the pro content, continue in the process and bring. And, like, because some of the work is included, the next steps included. We outlined the five goals that we would want to work on. And then the next step was like assigning resources to those at those arm recommendations. So, we had people step up to say, all right, I'll take this one. And then I'll go talk to this department and explain to them what this work has been about. And I understand how the capacity is for completing the work and getting this goal completed. And so it was really awesome to say, those leaders, like just raising their hands, like if there was no. No. Yeah. Like sometimes you'll, you'll say, well, who's going to do this. And then you hear pins dropping and all kinds of stuff. And, but then this case, it was like, I'll take this one. I'll take that one. I'll take this one. So, I was like, it's done. Our work is done.
Carol: Leaders who built leaders. They go, they go. Yeah. And the other thing you talked about in terms of people bringing their personal challenges into work. And I think that, it's gotten even more so, muddied with, with so many people working from home and us literally, being on video calls where you can see into people's homes. And obviously some people have. Manage that by figuring out how to, or having computers that can manage a virtual background or a blind thing, I've tried them. But for some reason, the, the, the Whatever it is with my hair. Like I disappear, like, so I can't use them. So I'm like, okay, here I am. This is, this is what's behind me. But yeah, I wonder what you've seen in the last, almost two years now for leaders that I feel like there's been a call to be more empathetic with everything that people are dealing with. And at the same time how, helping people set those bands.
Carolyn: Yes. And oh, I am like, this pandemic has caused us to have to reef. And everything, everything, we are just, at anything that you thought, anything that you thought about leadership, post I made free COBIT, has gotten twisted and turned and changed like ever. But the bottom line is that employers want to grow a workforce where employees don't leave and employees want to have a workplace where they can grow professionally and financially. So understanding that. Sprinkle some empathy around all of the challenges that people are experiencing. I've found that the best thing that leaders have been able to do in this environment is to just really exercise, flexibility, responsible flexibility. Now, again, Yeah, they have that compassionate accountability piece where we are here for the business purpose. But understanding that, your workforce and your poor employees are people who are the engines of your organization. If they all go away, you have no organism. So, so, so leaders have had to really be more flexible and especially the work from home piece and, and understanding how that impacts the work and, and. Wherever possible, making the environment flexible enough that a person could work from home or do a hybrid situation. But just making things more flexible and understanding that with the knowledge of knowing, everyone on the same page about the work still has to get done.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. So you encourage everyone to put a little more kindness into the world. What, what inspired you to put that front and center? And I'm, I'm also curious what, how you put more kindness into the world.
Carolyn: So, so. What inspired me to, to create the podcast, use your powers for good that inspires leaders, managers, and supervisors, to put more kindness into the world, because through my experience, I saw how leaders build other leaders. And though that could go, you could be building positive leaders or negative leaders. And I haven't experienced back in like the late eighties. But one of my first jobs out of college, And I worked at the us chamber of commerce in the manager director there. She said I am right, I don't expect you to be in this job for more than three years. It was as a staff assistant. She said, I will expect you to be here for more than three years. And I was like, what job is this? I can't say more than three years. That was the whole, you go to a place and you retire. So I'm like, what the heck? So but what she said after that was, I'm going to give you everything. You need to be sunsetted. So it's up to you to use the tools that I gave you, the experiences that I gave you the opportunities that are put in front of you to be successful. And she did, and she gave me, she put me in front of people and, I was 23, 24 years old. Put me in. People that I would never think that would be a front of and situations, but she gave me the tools and, she allowed me to go to different trainings and, and to hone how to interact with higher level people at the time I considered. Because they weren't like chamber presidents from around the country. And so, I've never forgotten that and I never forgot that. And so that created a lead. And myself that paid that forward to other leaders, to other people that I was, I was developing into leaders. And so I have always led with a, so this is how I put my kindness into the world. I always lead. And whether it's in the workplace or in the personal and personal life, always lead in a way where, someone is left with an impression that is so. Heartwarming or inspiring that they feel compelled and inspired to do kindness for someone else, be kind to someone else or exhibit that kindness for someone else. And that really was like really I saw that in my recent work when I was in city hall. creating the people that were directly sat directly supervise, they went on to become leaders who, understood how to place empathy in their leadership, without it feeling like they were like gonna be a pushover and all that, because empathy, when people hear that, they think, oh, you're just a soft manager. I was very clear that we are here for business purposes, but I understand your situation. So let's solve the problem together. And so that you can get a productive outcome. We can still get the work done, but then it leaves the person. I gained a lot of loyalty through leading in that way. And so people showed up for me and I, I will never forget that. And I want all leaders to have that feeling. So that's why I want to inspire leaders, managers, and supervisors that put more kindness in the world through their leader.
Carol: Yeah. And I love that story that you tell because it demonstrates a lot of different things. One, she knew the reality that this was an entry-level job that, if, if you were, if she was doing things right, you weren't going to stay in. Cause you were going to grow and learn algebra. But the trust that she also put in you to say, let's, let's have you go here and there and do these different things. And the fact that you're telling your story, years later, it's pretty amazing. And then the ripple effects that you're talking about makes me think of it, is it the Maya Angelou quote of, my favorite. Yeah, we'll forget what you say, but we’ll remember how you made them feel and as a recovering, no, at all. I try to remind myself that every day.
Carolyn: I forgot that that's one of the quotes that I always have in all of my coaching that people are going to ever re they may remember. They won't remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel. And that's it like, yo, that's exactly what happened from an experience and the eighties, So telling that story, it still feels that emotion around that.
Carol: Right, right. Then the way that she trusted you. Yeah. That's awesome. So one thing that I like to do at the end of my podcasts is ask one random icebreaker question that I pull out of a box. So the one for you today is in what way do you feel your childhood was happier than most? People's?
Carolyn: I didn't know we were poor. I never, I never knew we were living paycheck to paycheck. Until I went to high school and I went to for those who are involved, the Baltimore area, Western high school, an all girls high school and, and you're seeing a year, they're like, like they have so many activities that no one, everything required. They do everything that is required like a white gown or something. Outfit. And so I did not know that we did not have the resources to support that until I got to that time in my life. And my parents, my parents were awesome. They were awesome. But they, they, they, said it in a compassionate way, but they were pretty much like we don't have the money. And they said it in such a compassionate way that that just led me to go and get my first job in worry Rogers and raise my own money to do all this stuff. So then they wouldn't have the burden of doing that. And so, I always remember that, I didn't know, we were living paycheck to paycheck. I had everything I needed. And some of what I wanted and I think it didn't help that I wasn't a very needy child. So, I had everything I needed, some of what I wanted, we ate, I was, I was. A little baby, but my brother who was next in line to up for me was 14 years older. So they were like, my brothers, brother, and sisters were like stairsteps. And then I came like 14 years later. So have another story behind that. I'll go into that. But so I said, boys are pretty spread out too, so yeah, so I was like an only child. because they were pretty much not paying me any attention because they were teenagers. And then either the house, by the time I really got to any like, like elementary school. So, we ate together, my parents and I, we ate dinner together. I watched after school special holes. and I just didn't need anything. And, I felt safe and protected. So I never knew we were poor until high school.
Carol: All right. Well, thank you so much. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you?
Carolyn: Oh, wow. So I am going to be rebranding my podcast. Well, it's starting now. So anyone who wants to like, come on the podcast, I'm starting to do, I was doing all audio. So now I'm doing visuals because what I learned is like, people love seeing other people and I get, I got so much, I get so much feedback and people engage when they are, when they see me. So if anyone's interested in being a guest on the podcast, please reach out to me. Subscribe to my mailing list. All of this can be found on my website at www dot leaders who connect and inspire. And if you are looking for. The speaker or moderator I've recently met. I didn't know. You have plans. I plan. So who knew I was like a speaker or a moderator? I didn't. So recently I got asked to be a speaker and my reader at the Maryland association of counties con on winter conference. And I loved it. I did. That was one of those things that I did not know I would love, but I had done another event prior to that and I got my feet wet and now I'm just like, I love it. So, those are some of the things that I want to just explore more of, and especially in municipalities, because those are the people that I understand most and that I feel like, my experience. Yeah. Help inspire and lead to leaders, building other and other better leaders in. So the solos, those are some of the things I have coming up But I really look forward to connecting hopefully with anyone who wants to oh, one other thing. So I've been working with folks who, or having conversations with folks who are working in DEI, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And, those are, those things are still evolving. And one of the things that has come up. Especially as a person who had to build the infrastructure for the city's program, that the law was passed and then had to be implemented. So I was one of them, I was the deputy that implemented it. And so. One of the things that came up for me as I left that process and started looking at how others were approaching it is the using emotional intelligence in that process. Because if I had to do it over again, that's where I'm going to start it with, like getting people prepared for all of these uncomfortable emotional conversations and helping them to understand how to interact with that. If anyone needs any, if anyone is in that space and is thinking that is something that they would be interested in exploring, I'm doing information gathering, especially what that means for municipalities and leaders.
Carol: That's awesome. Well, thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the podcast.
Carolyn: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.
Carol: I appreciated Carolyn’s comment about the best next step. Or I might make a slight edit – to a good next step. You may not really know whether it is best or not. But that approach pulls us out of trying to game out all the possibilities and pretend we can predict the future. It keeps us in action – just make one small choice about your next good step and it keeps you out of analysis paralysis. I also appreciated Carolyn’s perspective on being a leader who builds leaders. Confident leaders want to invest in those around them and contribute to their growth, learning and success. And this may mean they leave your team. Wish them well and know that by investing in them, your support will continue to have a ripple effect as they contribute in their next role. It can be challenging in the short term as you have to fill a vacancy – but you are contributing to the long term. And your mission of your organization is likely part of a wider movement – your investing in your teammates and what they go on to accomplish will likely contribute to that wider movement you care about. Be generous.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Carolyn, her full bio, the transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. The easiest way to do that is to share pod.link/missionimpact – then your colleague can access the podcast on their preferred platform.
Thanks again for your support. Until next time!
An Invitation to do Less with Carol Hamilton
In this solo episode 38, Carol Hamilton discusses burnout in the nonprofit sector, what possible ways forward are, and how to stay engaged while prioritizing your own health.
Carol Hamilton: For so many check-ins recently whether it events that I've held, the recent nonprofit leadership round table or with client meetings, other webinars, and just checking in one-on-one with people when they do the check-in so many, so often I'm hearing, I'm tired. I'm exhausted. Most of us in the nonprofit sector, we're doing too much.
Before the pandemic, we worked too hard. We were sacrificing for our cause and then came this global state of emergency and we came into it without reserves our tanks on empty. This could be reserves in terms of energy. It could be literally in terms of money in the bank. And then we've been asked to do so much more over the past two years.
I'm sitting with the question of whether we can step back and ask whether another way is possible.
Mission impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I'm Carol Hamilton, your podcast, host and nonprofits, strategic planning.
On this podcast, we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures, where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers, and all of this. For the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
My thinking on this has gone, gone back for many years. in fact, I stepped into the organization development, stumbled into into the organizational development field when I was investigating the disconnect that I saw so often in organizations between the missions that they had for the change that they wanted to see in the world, and then how staff were treated inside the organization and how organizational cultures were built.
But more recently, I was doing a webinar on healthy cultures and talking about modeling a healthy behaviors and self-care for staff and. I was getting some pushback and eye rolls from, executive directors and perhaps, you're having that reaction right now. And one executive director stated, “I have to work 70 hours a week. Should I pretend that I don't to staff?”
And she stated it as if it was a fact as if it was something that could, she could not escape. But it's really a belief and it's a belief that drives so many of us. And I thought about it later. I thought about her statement a lot after we got off that call.
And I thought, you know, if you follow the logical conclusion of that is 70 hours a week, even enough. By doing that is the leader doing everything that they could do towards moving their mission,n forward? Sadly, probably not. For most of us, our organizational missions and visions are always larger than what we can reasonably accomplish.
If we're in direct service, we're unlikely to be serving everyone who needs our services, even as we work ourselves ragged. And other areas where the mission is movement or policy or educationally focused, the urgency can feel equally real. But the truth of it is that so much of it is arbitrary. People set those deadlines and people can change those deadlines.
So is 70 hours hours a week enough? Again, probably not even working 24 7 would probably not be enough to reach everyone who needs the services or all the possible projects to move your mission forward effectively.
But we know that we can't work 24 7. That's not humanly possible, but the truth is that working 70 hours a week, week in and week out, isn't sustainable either
We know that we will burn out and we know that we'll burn out our staff as well. And it's hard to be around martyrs. They're not a lot of fun.
We feel trapped in this. The system treats us like machines as if we are worker, we are not workers. We are not people. We are machines and we just have to keep keep our heads down and be as productive as possible.
But the idea that your worth Is really inextricably tied up in your productivity that you're constantly having to prove yourself, improve your worthiness through what you accomplish, what you achieve. That's the ethos of our culture,
but many people are starting to question that we're going through. What's being called the Great Resignation, , over 4 million people quit their jobs in August, September, and October.
And we probably haven't seen the end.
And that stepping back, people are stepping back to reevaluate their priorities. And even when we're working with causes and missions that are dear to our hearts at what cost are we doing that?
There's the outside, larger culture that prioritizes work over all things.
That treats people like machines, treats us like we're expendable, but then there's also our dedication to the causes that we work for
This summer. I read a book called Work Won't love you back: How devotion to our jobs keeps us exploited exhausted and alone by Sarah Jaffe. And the book, maybe didn't quite live up to its self-help title,
but she explores how the belief of following your passion and the quote that often gets said that if you love your job, you won't work a day in your life.
That that has led us down a path of being easily exploited. She examines, the eroding working conditions across industries and the unionizing efforts that are combating them, including in the nonprofit sector. And we're certainly not immune from these trends. And in fact, I would say that as a sector, we have may have already had them embedded in how we work long before anyone else.
We've been doing more with less. We've been putting up with broken office furniture, slow computers, hand me downs that serve as obstacles to our good work. And then we also have this belief system that we almost always must put the mission before ourselves.
Fobazi Ettarh I hope I'm pronouncing that name correctly.
Coined the term vocational awe when talking about librarians. And when I heard about this term, and this was a term that I came across in that book, by Sarah Jaffe, it seemed very relevant to the nonprofit sector more broadly.
“Vocational awe describes the set of ideas, values, and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that results in notions that libraries as institutions are inherently good, sacred notions.
And they're therefore beyond critique in a piece that resonated by with some discomfort among many in the. At re argued that vocational law directly correlates with present pervasive problems in the profession, such as burnout, under compensation, job creep, and lack of diversity. How can the devotion to positive ideals go wrong at rare rights in the face of grand missions of literacy and freedom advocating for your full lunch break feels.
And tasked with the responsibility of sustaining democracy and intellectual freedom. Taking a mental health day feels shameful. All that vocational awe is easily weaponized against the worker.”
And I would pause it that the, uh, the rest of us in the rest of the nonprofit sector suffer from that same vocational awe in the face of
insert your very important mission.
Advocating for your full lunch break, feels petty or taking a mental health day feels shameful. How has, how has that vocational awe being weaponized against yourself and the end, your staff and your organization?
Unfortunately, so much of the literature around self care, or maybe just the way it's been described in the general media has been posited in our US culture, as an individual need to integrate into your life.
Like so many things, the onus is put on the individual to create the conditions for themselves and to thrive. But what can you do at your organization to make it part of the culture, the policies, the way leaders, model behaviors they want for themselves and staff? to create guardrails for everyone, rather than relying on individual staff, people to center their self care?
Leah Reizman. another study that I thought was interesting did a study of consultants, a nonprofit consultants for her doctoral work, and found similar patterns. One of her findings was that contrary to stereotypes about consultants. Most nonprofit consultants had their client's best interests at heart and took time to customize their work, to fit the context of the clients that.
But with this consultants often, often subverted their bottom lines and engaged in what she termed “moralizing money” in which consultants often gave more than what was contracted. Allowing scope creep to happen and modifying fees to fit the needs of clients instead of prioritizing their own needs. Their identification with the causes they support made it harder to charge their full fees. And for all of the work that they did on behalf of the organizations.
This struck me as just a continuation of that similar dynamic of the individual sacrificing for them. Accepting low pay, accepting long hours accepting, difficult working conditions, but could there be a better way?
As you think about your work in 2022, I invite you to consider the possibility of putting the people in your organization First. Creating organization, organizational cultures, that center humans with humanly possible workload. Cultures that create thriving instead of burnout.
And this might start by actually deciding as an organization, not just as an individual, to do less instead of working from your mission and your vision.
First, what if you were to start with, these are the resources we have. We have this many people. We have these many staff, these many volunteers, we have this much in our budget, this much in our bank account. What can we reasonably accomplish with those resources that move our mission forward, but does not sacrifice your staff or volunteers along the way?
This may seem simple, but in many ways feels radical to say. What if we did less?
I you leave you with the intentions that leaders who gathered from my recent nonprofit leadership round table had for their 2022s, they want to model healthy behaviors, encourage a happy and healthy, well supported staff.
One person saying if I take care of them, they take care of the mission. Letting go of the small stuff, prioritizing relationship building and advocating for manageable workloads.
I hope you get some rest over the holidays and plan now how you're going to integrate rest and rejuvenation throughout the rest of the year.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and with my guests on other episodes. I will put links to the resources that I mentioned during the show in the show notes missionimpactpodcast.com/ show notes. And I want to thank Izzy Strauss Riggs for her support and editing and production as well as April Koester of a 100 Ninjas for her production support of the podcast.
If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a colleague or a friend. We certainly appreciate you helping us get the word. I'm wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season and a happy new year. And thanks again for listening.
This week we’re talking to Beth Sperber Richie.
We talked about:
• What is burn out is and why burn out is so prevalent in the nonprofit sector
• What the research shows about rest and productivity for organizations.
• What vicarious trauma is and how it impacts staff and an organization’s culture.
Beth Sperber Richie, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and consultant in private practice in the Washington, D.C. area. Dr. Richie works with non-profit leaders on how to sustain their staff and their mission given the grind of social change work. She gives workshops and presentations on managing stress and burnout, vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue, improving cross-cultural communication and counseling skills and setting boundaries for front-line employees. Her workshops focus on practical skills and engaged involvement of all participants.
Beth on LinkedIn
Carol Hamilton: Hi Beth, welcome to the podcast, it’s great to have you on.
Beth Richie: Thanks, great to be here.
Carol: Could you tell us a little bit about what drew you to this work and how you got to where you are?
Beth: I got involved doing clinical work with trauma survivors. I'm a psychologist, so the clinical work came logically out of the stuff I was studying when I was back in graduate school. I began working with trauma survivors clinically in the nineties, and as much as I'm passionate about that work, I've enjoyed that work and feel that it's been very meaningful to me over the years, I began to realize that I'm talking to one person at a time and I'm helping one person at a time. I started to look for the ways in which I could multiply the impact that I could have, and consulting with organizations just seemed like a logical next step. It really started when a friend of mine started an organization that helped landmine survivors all around the world, he was asking all the right questions about how to get landmine survivors back into the workforce. How do we take somebody who’s a farmer and who's lost their limbs in the landmine accident, and get that person back into the paid workforce. How do they support their family, but wasn't really asking the questions about what the impact of the trauma is on the person. I started asking him those questions and that led me to work as a consultant with his organization.
Then, because it was a new organization to talk to him a lot about what organizational policies and procedures and what practices can you put in place for your staff that's going to be dealing with this really traumatic material on a daily basis. That was what got my foot in the door. I saw that ‘here's a way to have an impact on many more people at once.’ That's what really hooked me to the idea of doing consulting in this area. I know that when you and I first spoke, we talked a little bit about the whole idea that you have about how important it is to make a healthy organism, relational cultures that it's not just enough to work with an organization, the goal is to help them make the organizational culture healthy. That's such a dovetail for me with this work that it's an opportunity to help organizations where people are helping folks who have experienced trauma, how they keep their staff healthy and how do they keep the organization healthy as they move through working in this arena, whatever that arena might be.
Carol: Actually, part of the goal of this podcast is to help progressive nonprofit leaders do that work that they want to do to build a better world, but without really becoming a martyr to the cause. Much of your work centers around that, and one of the things that you help organizations with is managing stress and burnout. I feel that that is such a large part of the nonprofit sector that people almost see it as a given.
Carol: To the point where, if they're not experiencing it, they think they're not truly dedicated to the cause.
Beth: Yeah, like they're not working hard enough if they're not in pain.
Carol: I'm curious, how do you define burnout? Cause I think it's a term that's thrown around a lot, but burnout is another level and I'm not sure that everyone really defines it the same way.
Beth: Well, I think you're right. Everybody does not define it the same way. When I'm working with organizations, I get people to take a look and do a little bit of an assessment of their own level of burnout. For me, burnout is not just that there is stress in your work because lots of work has stress. Burnout to me is like the moral distress or the moral level of fatigue, where you just find it difficult to get the motivation to do even a simple list of tasks. The other piece of this for organizations that work with trauma survivors is the vicarious trauma of hearing those stories has an impact on the listener, to the point where they can actually get post-traumatic stress symptoms, similar to the ones that the survivors themselves get, where their worldview is actually shifted. I think that that's particularly a hallmark of vicarious trauma, but I think it's true, in burnout that it's almost a worldview switch where, what used to be something that motivated you and got you excited, that you had the drive and the burn to make this change in the world that gets to the point where you're tired and hopeless, [to the point] that there's actually been a shift in the way you view the world. To me, that is the difference between burnout and just general stress. I think general stress is easier to recover from than burnout. I have a couple of nonprofit leaders that I'm working with at the moment who both like the idea of burnout rehab. That's what we've been calling it.
Carol: What are your steps for burnout rehab?
Beth: It depends on the individual human being, right? Each burnout rehab is its own special thing. [What] I say to everybody I work with is you need to find the thing that works for you and then apply it liberally. The metaphor I use is that of a stress fracture. Despite not being athletic myself, I produced three children who are athletes. One of my children played right through a stress fracture, he continued to play. My daughters are the same way, one of them had her knee ripped open in a soccer incident and she wasn't even aware that she was bleeding. They had to take her off the field because apparently it's not legal to bleed while you're playing soccer, you have to be taken off the field. She didn’t feel that it was necessary, but those to me, those metaphors of the stress fracture or you're playing hard that you don't even realize you have a ripped open knee, is exactly what happens with our nonprofit leaders that they're working hard and strong. [They’re so far] beyond stressed that they're at the point where they don't even realize that they're bleeding or that they have a stress fracture. In the same way that with a stress fracture or with an open wound, you would have to come off the field. That's step one for burnout rehab.
[The problem,] as far as I'm concerned, is how to get off the field when you don't want to get off the field completely. The athletes don't want to get off the field completely, they don't want to go off the field at all and neither do the nonprofit leaders. We have to get them off the field, and one way or another figure out ways to put boundaries around their work, either in terms of time like, “you are allowed to work X or Y amount of hours a day and that's it, or you are no longer allowed to work Saturdays and Sundays, or I know nonprofit leaders that I've worked with who are working on vacation, I remind them that that's not actually vacation. Some of it is putting boundaries around the work, recognizing that you have a stress fracture and therefore you shouldn’t go back out on the field and play the sport again. The other is to figure out what's sustainable for them in the long haul, how can they individually find that burnout rehab that works, the metaphor I like is the idea that we all think about filling our cup, is your cup half full, is it half empty. The whole notion of a full cup to me is that that full cup can then spill over onto other people, a lot of nonprofit leaders feel that if they're not feeling burnt out, then they're not really working hard or they're not really doing it right. I remind them that their own cup is actually a way to help other people, because it allows them to keep going in the long haul.
Carol: I think [it also] models that for any staff that are working for them, because I've talked to many executive directors who say: ‘well, I tell my staff not to work on the weekends,’
and I say ‘okay, are you working on the weekends? Are you answering email? Are you sending them an email on vacation?’ Well, if you're doing that, no matter what you say - my mother loved to say, ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ but clearly that doesn't work. We watch how people behave and that's really the expectation. People see that and they feel they have to work towards it.
Beth: They have to match what the leadership of the organization is doing. I’ve said more times than I can count that whole thing about emailing on vacation. You can have a company policy that says you absolutely must take X or Y amount of vacation, [and] I know a number of organizations that respond to this [with] mandatory vacation. [They say,] you must take a break ‘cause we want you to be here for the long haul, but then they write emails on vacation. If you're writing emails on vacation, then your staff gets the message [that] they should never take a break. We've got excellent research out there that talks about what taking a break does for people and how much more productive people are, even after a short break. It doesn't matter what field they're in, this research has been done across many different fields, I think one - I'm not going to come up with a citation right off the top of my head - but I think of one group that looked at basketball players, their free-throw percentage went up when they took breaks from working out. We know it's true with folks in the arts. We know it's true with folks in business. We know people have looked at this in terms of the research, on taking a break on from many different perspectives.
People who take vacations get higher ratings from their supervisors in terms of being more effective employees, and it's correlated very strongly with the number of days of vacation they actually take. We know that the research tells us that this is how we rehab for burnout and how we come back. As I say, it's an individualized program in terms of how you actually get the person to make the cognitive switch to: this is actually good for me, I really need to do this. I have sports injuries and I feel like I've probably experienced burnout at some point in my career, [and] I do feel like with both, you don't come back to where you were before the injury. I think it ebbs and flows over the span of a career, what you might've been able to do in your twenties, or maybe when you were in a startup phase with an organization, it needs to shift. Yet the times people don't shift because they started out a certain way, working a certain way either for an established organization or as a founder let's say or whatever, and then that just becomes the culture. So being much more mindful of how you’re setting those boundaries and then what are those different things that fill your cup?
Carol: I feel like I've seen much about that research that you're talking about and yet somehow in our culture, there's still so much bravado about this macho, ‘we've got to always be working, got to always be busy. I'm busier than you.’ stuff that I'm trying to step out of.
I don't need that, but how the hell is it for most people, they think, ‘well, it's not possible for me to do it differently.’
Beth: Yeah, and some would see [it as] a failure of their imagination that they can't imagine that taking breaks would have a positive impact on that, that they could do it in a different way than they did it in their twenties now that they have different responsibilities at home, it’s ironic. I think that Corona and the Coronavirus has caused a lot of people to really rethink and to look for new ways to figure this out. Just plugging through is not going to work if you’ve got an eight year-old at home who needs your attention and needs your help getting the education that they need. Folks are, are looking around and saying, ‘oh wait, I have to figure out a new way.’ I think that this is an opportunity, that's the silver lining, there's an opportunity here to get a little bit creative about how people approach their work and look at it in a different way. When you described the whole notion of burnout rehab being this combination of sets and boundaries, and then the TLC and how you fill your own cup.
What I always say to people is ‘sometimes how you fill your cup is the work,’ and I like to say self-care is not always a bath bomb. Like this is not about going to the spa.
There are a lot of people for whom the work itself is fulfilling that it does fill their cup. I say amen to that, then you're probably not burnt out, but for other folks in your organization that might not be true. The other piece of this is that, when you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to fill your cup. Part of the reason the work fills your cup is when you are connected to the mission.
What ends up happening is we get into getting ready for the board meeting, the actual getting ready for the board meeting becomes this huge stress. That is a disconnect for me. What is our mission or what is our goal? Even though the board is important and that helps move the organization forward, it is connected to the mission [and] when we get too wrapped up in the, ‘I've got this meeting and then that meeting,’ or ‘I need to make these fundraising calls,’ or ‘I need to get ready for the board meeting,’ whatever the day-to-day logistics of the organization are that those logistics disconnect from the mission and the part of what refills our cup in the work is mission-driven work or mission-focused perspective.
That's something that people can get this too disconnected from, and that can contribute to burnout. When someone says, ‘no, I just care so much about this one work. That's what drives me. That's what fills my cup.’ to that person, my response is ‘okay, when was the last time you were really connected to the mission of the organization, as opposed to just what it takes to run an organization.’ For people who are not yet willing to say, ‘oh, I just need to fill my time cup.’ That means going out in nature, for those people, I would say, ‘ when was the last time you actually were connected to why you came into this work in the first place?’
Carol: They could do both. They could take a walking meeting. I've been doing a lot of those since Coronavirus. I am pro-walking-meeting.
Beth: There are ways to combine moving your body, being outside, and something done, it's a win, win, win.
Carol: You work with organizations where the staff are really experiencing what goes beyond day-to-day stress of vicarious trauma and compassion, fatigue. Can you first, both define those things and then tell me who's typically affected and how that shows up in organizations?
Beth: Absolutely. The difference to me between vicarious trauma, let's say in burnout, is that piece that I said before of a shift in worldview of seeing the world as a little bit less safe, or that if you had gone into this believing that there are good people in the world and there's good things in the world, being exposed to a steady diet of trauma can eat away at that pretty quickly. The other way I think of it is in terms of how you get burnout or how you become burned out and how you get vicarious trauma, you could get vicarious trauma after a particularly difficult one-time experience, whereas burnout is more like the steady drip of water eroding rock. You wake up one day and look around and say, ‘oh, I'm burnt out,’ but it's been based on this slow, steady drip of the difficulty of the work that you're doing.
The other piece between burnout and vicarious trauma, to me [is that] vicarious trauma is actually probably about being exposed to traumatic material, whereas burnout can happen in all sorts of organizations. You might be an organization that is working on social change and you might feel burnt out by the slow pace or by the backward steps that you feel like is happening in a particular environment, but that's different from actually being exposed to traumatic material. Who tends to get vicarious trauma? I would say most times it's first-responders. It's in this environment, healthcare workers, but it's also people who hear the stories. I've worked now with two and am working with two different gun violence prevention organizations. You might go into that because you're politically motivated and you feel like you want to change the political strategies and you're an advocate, but you’re telling the stories of people whose lives have been shattered because of a murder that they experienced or because they were part of a mass shooting or because of other traumatic material that, that they're going to have to process.
Anyone in the organization who is having contact with survivors and in most gun violence prevention organizations, the survivors are at the forefront of the advocacy work. You're going to be hearing those stories and anyone from the person who's sitting at the front desk to the CEO, to the ED, whoever it is, one in the organization could potentially be exposed to the traumatic material. That's different than just the burnout - one of my children works in the climate change field and she might argue that there's some pretty traumatic scenarios out there. It's an example of it's a long haul. It's a lot of work and you could get burnt out by the enormity of the problem and the small steps that you are making to make change in that arena, but you're not actually being exposed - for the most part - to actual trauma or to the traumatic experiences of others. That's a big deal, and certainly people who get vicarious trauma can be burnt out, but it's not always true that people who are burnt out all have vicarious trauma if they've not been exposed directly to that material.
Carol: My daughter worked doing direct service with a number of different groups, working with students in lower resource schools, helping them with college access and there was always something going on with one of the students, maybe not directly with them, but then with their friends, family, and just hearing those stories all the time. One thing that was interesting that you said before was that people can experience PTSD symptoms. I feel like in the media, and what people have heard about PTSD, it's okay. As if veterans are the only people [who] experience PTSD and that's not true. I'm curious if you could just share some of the signs that people might, if they're experiencing that and not really knowing what's going on, what might be some things of how it shows up for them?
Beth: Particularly for people who [have] vicarious trauma that I always described the post traumatic stress disorder symptoms as being a pendulum swing between numbing out and over feeling or, or feeling to a larger degree. We call it hyper-arousal in our field. That you go from 0 to 60 in terms of emotional response. Some of the other classic symptoms are people having nightmares or having flashbacks to the event that can even be true. If you just heard about the event and didn't witness it or didn't experience it yourself. I can say personally, one of the ways that I realized I had vicarious trauma in the early days of becoming a therapist to work primarily with trauma survivors was that I would have nightmares about the things that had happened to my clients happening to myself or to members of my family.
It can show up in all sorts of different ways, but I think those are the two hallmarks if you're feeling a lack of feeling, a numbed response to something that in the past probably would have generated some response for you or in the opposite direction. I feel like everything people think of PTSD being somebody hears a car backfire and they think it's a gunshot and they jump through the roof, but that can be true for anybody. They can have a hyper-emotional response to a story here, to a smell. to a sound that is not like a gunshot, there are lots of different ways that people can experience that. That could be true for your daughter as well. She’s heard those stories enough that she becomes hypervigilant about scenarios that she might be in that are similar to what she's heard from her clientele.
Carol: How does this impact the organization at large? I mean, certainly it impacts the people who are providing direct service working on the front lines, but I'm guessing that there are ways that it shows out throughout the organization and impacts culture as well.
Beth: Yeah, it's a great question and absolutely the most obvious [is] when you have high turnover in an organization, because people, , as you said, people think of the progressive nonprofit world as - I've had people say to me, ‘we assume that people will be gone in about 2-2 ½ years.’ That that's the timeframe and that they see that as an acceptable outcome. They’ll just get some new 20-something graduates from college
Carol: And give them vicarious trauma.
Beth: Exactly. I think that there’s the sense of it [being] inevitable and my feeling is [that] it's not inevitable. It doesn't have to be inevitable and you lose things as an organization; that turnover is really expensive. It's expensive in terms of time, cause now members of your staff have to spend time - even if you have an HR department - other members of your staff or content folks are all going to have to interview people and figure out who they want to bring on. You have that time issue. Time, obviously, costs money and people are not doing the other things that you need to be doing. When you're doing that work, you have to train new people over and over again, you lose the historical memory that goes with the folks and you lose the relationships that those folks have built, whether it's with a board member or with a fundraising source, a funder, or with other members of the staff you lose when they burn out and leave, or when they get vicarious trauma and leave, you lose all of these intangibles in addition to the time and money that you've spent on the hiring process. Turnover is more than just another hiring process, which is exciting.
Carol: It also impacts all the people who are left behind because I'm thinking over my 20-plus years at nonprofits to think I'd have to go back and calculate, but what was the percentage when I was actually doing a part of someone else's job because we all had to. So-and-so left and we had to divy it up. People don’t feel like there's the bandwidth or the resources to hire a temp, or that feels harder than just doing it yourself or those kinds of things, there's all sorts of ripple effects.
Beth: Those ripple effects then potentially contribute to the burnout of the rest of your staff, because they’re doing more work.
Carol: It’s a vicious cycle
Beth It can be, my feeling is [that] it doesn't have to be right.
Carol: What are some of the things that organizations can do to take steps to have it not be an inevitability?
Beth: There are actually some decent organizational assessments out there, mostly talking to the members of your staff to figure out - one of the things I think that's helpful about bringing a consultant like me in is that I can do that in a way that folks potentially can feel like their responses are actually anonymous. They can be - hopefully - a little bit more candid and honest about what their experience is like. Sometimes people don't even realize that that’s what they're doing. [They’ll say] ‘I'm sending an email on Sunday night because I'm living at home with my family during Corona. I know that tomorrow morning, when you all need this information, I'm going to be homeschooling my kid.’ Okay, great. How about you try making that explicit, I'm sorry, I've sent this email more times than I can count. I'm sorry.
I'm sending you an email on Sunday night. I don't expect a response and the reason I'm sending it on Sunday night is because I know you need this tomorrow. I know that I have the following things tomorrow that are not work related. I have to take my kid to the doctor in the morning, therefore, whatever it is to just send the message. a piece of it is assessing the culture. To see whether this is a, we should be responsive all the time. This is a 24/7 experience, always be available. See if that message is being sent out there, but the other piece is to actually ask staff what would support them.
Just as you asked me before, well, what does burnout rehab look like? my response unhelpfully was, it depends on the person. The same thing is true. What's going to work for this staff? I don't know, but I'm going to ask the staff what they think, ‘Oh, well, we're going to put in a wellness program.’ That's always my favorite. We're going to put her in a wellness program, we're going to convert this empty office into a wellness spot, we're going to put water sounds and an exercise ball and some yoga mats and let people do what they want with it. My feeling is don't waste your money. Even though that's not a lot of money, don't waste your money. Spend some time talking to your staff about what actually feels like a wellness moment for them. Maybe what feels like a wellness moment for them is everybody actually getting together and talking about the work, right? Maybe it's about sharing wins. I have one organization that I work with that in the last couple of weeks has decided to give all of their employees eight hours of flex time to use during the work-week. At any time you want to discuss it with your manager, but here's some flex time because they're recognizing the impact of coronavirus and what it means to have your whole family at home. You might not have computer access or wifi access at X or Y time during the day, or you may need to be caring for an elderly relative or for a child or for each other or whatever it is. That was something that came from the staff. As something that would be useful to them, if they just felt like they were not stuck inside those core hours then they could help their kid during the day and work at night. Maybe they can't get an eight hour work day, [but] having those eight hours of flex flexibility gives them an opportunity that they otherwise wouldn't have had, but to me it's really about assessing from that particular staff what feels to them like it would sustain them in the long haul.
Carol: A lot of this comes down to setting appropriate boundaries and, as you said, filling your cup. What are some of your favorite ways to fill your cup?
Beth: Being in nature is huge. On mother's day, my husband, who, he and I have been married for almost 30 years and he knows me. He knows the goal is to get to some body of water. There are no large bodies of water near where I live but we can walk to a creek and that'll do, we get outside near water. That for me is the big one. Then the other one is music, either making music with friends or listening to new music that I just got exposed to for the first time. Those are really big for me in terms of filling my cup. How about you?
Carol: Well it's funny, water for sure. I once went on a vacation where we only were by water one day and I realized, no, this is not a vacation for me. I need to be by water, the entire vacation, whether it's a beach or at a lake, or kayaking or some body of water, anywhere I [need to] have water. I spend my summer at the pool. I'm a little nervous about this summer. I think kayaking] will be the thing that keeps me going throughout the summer months. Also doing something that uses a different part of your brain. You talked about music, I used to play music as a younger person and maybe one day I will again, but these days I've been playing around with drawing. I'm no great artist, I actually do not call myself that purposefully so that I can continue to just dabble in that. Then for me, sports, anything active. Getting the body moving, all those things that don't have to do with being at a computer.
Beth: Getting away from the computer is huge, especially right now. What I say to people is that sometimes it even helps to be doing something that is a volunteer thing. My family packs boxes at a local food pantry and it's physical work. I like that, it's different.
It's not sitting at a computer, but also, I'm not in charge. That fills my cup. Being able to do something that's good and helpful for somebody else, but I didn't have to organize it. I can just show up, pack my boxes, be with my family and leave. Fantastic. It doesn't have to be a bath bomb. Sometimes it is actually about providing service, but providing service in a way that feels different for you or is not the same thing over and over again, because our brains crave novelty, and we need to use our bodies in different ways and we need to use our minds in different ways and anything we do that steps away from our day-to-day can be very useful.
Carol: I actually have often reminded boards and people working in recruiting volunteers that they shouldn't assess that, say they need someone to work on marketing and communications that they should go after someone who does that professionally well, in fact, they may want to do something totally different and they may want to facilitate your small groups or do workshops or do some other thing, and someone else who is interested in that and may want to try out those skills as a volunteer. Oftentimes volunteering gives you an opportunity to try something different, or like you said, just show up and be told what to do, not be in charge. You have something concrete that has happened by the end, this had a clear impact on someone.
One of the things I like to do is play a little game at the end here. I have a couple of icebreaker questions. Let me pick one. If you could never work again, how would you spend your time?
Beth: Oh, if I could never work again... I hate to be one of those people that sounds like the people we're talking about who are burnt out, but honestly, I really do love this work that I'm doing with organizations. I would do this for free, that's a terrible marketing strategy, but it's true. I do need to pay the bills, I can't do it for free, but I think that would be one thing I would do, one of the things I know about myself is that I like variety. That would be one thing I would do, somehow finding a way we mentioned to be near a body of water would be something I would do. I would play my guitar and sing as often as I possibly could, find some other people to hang out with who had nothing else they had to do and just spend hours singing. My life could be one long campfire with a guitar. I would love that.
Carol: What are you excited about? What's coming up next for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Beth: I actually had an opportunity recently to do a webinar for some social service agencies in DC. The mayor of DC, mayor Bowser has put some focus and some money into looking at the district's response to trauma. I've been able to do one webinar in a series, and I'm going to get another one in the can coming up in the not-too-distant future and I'm really excited because those are the folks who I most want to be in touch with. Those are the frontline workers who are the government folks in DC who are handing out food stamps and who are trying to find people housing and who are trying to find people jobs. I think both burnout and potentially vicarious trauma is high in that group of folks. I'm really excited to have an impact on those folks who are providing such important services in DC.
Carol: How can people find you more about you or get in touch?
Beth: People can find Fermata Consulting on LinkedIn, F, E, R, M, A, T, A, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would say LinkedIn is probably your best bet.
Carol: We'll put those links in the show.
Beth: That would be terrific. I'm always happy to hear from folks who I don't know, who have questions about the work I do. Feel free to reach out and shoot me an email and I'm happy to be back in touch.
Carol: Well, thank you so much. I appreciate you being on.
Beth: Sure, I'm looking forward to hearing all of your podcasts, not just this one.
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.
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