At our workshops and peer learning groups, I enjoy watching participants share ideas, insights, and resources. When the room buzzes with energized voices from people perched on the edge of their seats, it’s fun. And I learn a lot.
This is my vision for our new Lunch & Learn events coming in May. Our Lunch & Learns start at 12:05 and end at 12:55 pm. The session opens with a brief presentation of the topic followed by a facilitated discussion. The goal is to not just share our knowledge but to go deeper into the subject. My hope is that each person leaves with a greater understanding and feeling challenged to take the next step related to the day’s concern.
This month, our Lunch & Learns focus on people topics. On May 21, we’ll explore Giving & Getting Feedback, and on May 27, we’ll tackle Managing Expectations.
Each Lunch & Learn is limited to 12 participants so that everyone can fully engage the discussion. Also, it’s BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag-lunch). We’ll provide our usual water station.
Last week, Kevin Brozovich, Founder and Chief People Officer at HRM Innovations, led a Management Track workshop on HR Essentials. During the session, we spent a chunk of time on the hiring process – especially the interview.
A surprising number of interviewers take an unstructured approach to the interview. These commonly begin with light conversation and eventually get into some more formal questions. Kevin noted that, when using this unstructured approach, the interviewer often decides on a candidate within the first few minutes of the interview – the more personal connections with the candidate, the more favorable the impression.
The unstructured approach raises significant concerns. The selection may be based more upon personal affinity rather than qualifications for the job. Plus, it may undermine efforts to build a diverse workforce as we gravitate toward people like us. Even greater concern arises if only one person conducts the interview.
A structured interview (same questions in the same order) offers a more uniform approach to the process, and studies show a much higher validity with a structured interview (0.51 vs. 0.14 with unstructured). Also, conducting an interview with a panel of interviewers improves the quality of the process even more.
For more on HR, read Kevin’s blog.
James Mattox is a Kalamazoo native who is the founder of A's for J's,
an incentive program for high school freshman that currently operates
at Kalamazoo Central and Loy Norrix. James manages and funds the program
while working another full-time job – and he is happy to do it. Read on
to find out more about this enterprising professional and what he's
1. What is one of the most energizing aspects of your job?
Making a change in the kid’s lives…I’m just trying to be a difference-maker, and trying to be a part of this new wave of education. No one I know is doing this [kind of work].
2. Do you feel like your early life and education directed you to your current career path, or are you surprised at where you are?
A little bit of both. I attended Lincoln International Studies School and started using Rosetta Stone to learn Spanish when I was in kindergarten. We were one of the first testing sites for that program. At first I hated it, but as I got older I was happy that I learned it because I still know Spanish to this day. I’m trying to repeat that by finding a way to get the kids excited about learning.
3. What has been one of your most impactful professional experiences?
Making the news was the biggest stepping stone for me. It got me out there and paved the path for me to do what I’m doing. Last August, right before school started, News 3 had me on talking about A’s for J’s. At that time [my program] wasn’t in any schools, but I believe that interview is what got the ball rolling. I’ve been trying to get A’s for J's into [KPS] for two years.
A reporter for Channel 3 came into my other job. I told him about A’s for J’s—I had the proposal, the pros and cons and what I wanted to do all ready for him--and he loved the idea. It moved very quickly. I met him on a Tuesday, and I was interviewed on Friday. I’m so blessed. ONEplace is also a big help. The KICtalks event was a great chance for me.
4. Do you know many young business owners personally? Does that make your job more challenging/simpler?
I don’t know any other young business owners. I don’t really think about it is as a challenge. I do my homework, I study, and I’m always willing to learn new things. I don’t think I know it all. If there was someone I knew I’d hope I could learn from them. So, in a way, it is a disadvantage because I’m learning everything by myself.
5. What do you think is one of the biggest barriers as a millennial/early career professional?
Honestly, not graduating from college is a big barrier because it’s hard for people to take me seriously. I try to plead my case and say that it wasn’t for me. I took some very good classes, like Business Management and Public Speaking but I didn’t graduate. So it’s hard to get people to listen to you and to take you seriously.
6. What is a project related to your job that you’re currently working on and are excited about?
I have an app coming out in late August called Wowzers. It will have a whole series of games that will teach kids math. It will show the kids that learning is fun. When I thought about what made me love learning math, I realized it was a computer game that I loved called Math Munchers, and it helped me grow as a person. This is another way I can make a difference in a kid’s life, and I know that apps are the new wave of learning. I’m currently developing the content, so I’m in stage 2 of 10.
7. What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?
Kalamazoo comes together when we need to. The people here are great, and it’s just a good people to grow up and raise a family. I love being a Kalamazoo native.
8. What is the best piece of advice you've received to date, and who gave it to you?
“Whatever the mind can perceive, it can achieve.” That’s from the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, and I read this book over and over.
9. Which natural talent do you get to use most often in your work?
Talking to people! I love taking to people—I could speak to 30,000 people and wouldn’t get nervous at all.
10. What's your favorite way to spend your free time?
I love video games, and watching inspirational speeches. I do that a lot, like watching Steve Jobs…learning from my elders and those who came before me.
11. Lastly, how do you take your coffee?
I don’t like coffee, but I enjoy cappuccinos – only in the winter, though.
At ONEplace we have the opportunity and honor to have extended conversations with many who devote their career to the nonprofit sector. One of my favorite questions is, “What attracted you to do this work?” The answers vary in detail, but a consistent theme runs through virtually all of them:
It’s not work. It’s what I love to do.
That point resounded loud and clear at last week’s 30th Annual STAR Awards. Since its inception, Volunteer Kalamazoo and MLive Media Group/Kalamazoo Gazette have co-sponsored the annual STAR (Sharing Time and Resources) Awards program to recognize the contributions of the outstanding volunteers who exemplify the spirit of volunteerism – a spirit embodied by Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Elaine VanLeeuwen.
In case you missed it, Mrs. VanLeeuwen served as a foster parent for 52 years and cared for nearly 500 children. MLive reports her story and many of the things she said in her acceptance speech. Yet the one thing she said that stood out to me was,
I don’t deserve any praise. It was something I enjoyed doing.
Over the years, many psychologists and others have explored the question, “Why do human beings do good things?” Altruism poses an evolutionary conundrum: how does it serve my preservation to risk myself for others?
Steve Taylor (Leeds Metropolitan University) suggests that we don’t need to try to explain away altruism, figuring out how it serves our best interest. He says that our “altruism is an expression our most fundamental nature – that of connectedness.” So, we should celebrate it.
Thankfully, the STAR Awards did just that.
The Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Institute is a beginning-level program for organizations that are ready to engage in advocacy but need the skills to do so. It is designed to enhance your nonprofit’s capacity to impact public policy at the local, state and federal levels. Michigan Nonprofit Association has contracted with Erin Skene-Pratt to facilitate the sessions. During the five month program, you and your peers will learn how to engage in policy work with specific strategies tailored for your community.
The Institute will include:
Individualized course learning plan
Five group sessions covering the following topics with customized content:
- June 16, 1-4 pm: “How and Why of Advocacy”
- July 28, 1-4 pm: “Systems and Process: How to institutionalize Public Policy in Your Organization”
- August 25, 1-4 pm: “Effective Techniques for Engaging Policymakers”
- September 22, 1-4 pm: “Engaging Your Team to Affect Change”
- October 20, 9 am-4 pm: “Funding Your Advocacy Efforts”
Monthly one-on-one conference calls with the instructor, Erin Skene-Pratt
Individualized organizational advocacy action plan
Upon completion of the program, you will have a customized advocacy action plan that includes specific objectives for building your organization’s capacity to advocate.
Registration is limited to 10 organizations. Organizations are required to assign a representative from the staff and one from the board of directors to participate in all aspects of the Institute. It is estimated that each participant will spend about 10 hours per month on this course. Organizations must be members of Michigan Nonprofit Association. The cost to participate is $100 per organization.
If you and a board member are interested in participating in the Institute, please request an application and submit by Monday, May 11.
Questions? Contact Erin Skene-Pratt, facilitator, at email@example.com or Thom Andrews, at ThomA@kpl.org
Around ONEplace, we joke that we don't have a slow season and that
probably applies to most nonprofits. As you well know, many in the
nonprofit sector are stretched thin. Even with a stuffed workload, most
of us are presented with opportunities to do more, either at work or in the community. Join this committee! Help plan the company picnic!
These opportunities present a specific challenge for early career professionals. We've been trained that taking on added work-related responsibilities shows our supervisors initiative and commitment. Plus, many post-workday activities, like volunteering, help grow your resume. Neither of these advantages account for burnout, or the potential to waste your time. As I've experienced both scenarios, I've made a commitment to myself to be more discerning. Before putting new things on my plate, I ask myself these three questions:
1. Will this commitment help me reach a personal/professional goal? If taking on a new responsibility bears so few benefits that you're really on the fence, or worse, could actively harm you, pass on it.
2. Does this have a fixed date of participation or is it on-going? Sometimes, new opportunities might mean significant amounts of stress, but also have a clear end date. For example, helping organize your neighborhood's garage sales might cost you three Saturday afternoons, but once the event is over, your schedule can revert back to normal.
3. Will this opportunity require that I use existing skillsets, or help me build new ones? This question is really helpful for me when I'm being sold on something that is "easy" or "stress-free." Whether you're trying to impress your current boss or future ones, if an activity seems simple, it will probably look that way on your resume.
There is no easy way to decide, but these questions allow me to think more deeply so that I can ultimately arrive at a thoughtful decision. Now I feel more confident about when and why to add to my plate.
As I approach my third anniversary as director of ONEplace, I’m still amazed at the foresight of those who created it. Year round professional development, free of charge for all nonprofits in Kalamazoo County – it’s quite a gift. Yet, there are many who still don’t know all that ONEplace has to offer.
I want you to help me change that. Here’s how:
1. Let’s get all your staff and board officers on the ONEplace email list. Every Monday, we send a brief email listing our upcoming events. Every month, our events address topics in fundraising, communications, management and leadership. Keep your team in the know. Sign up on our website or send me a list.
2. Give ONEplace 15’ on an upcoming staff meeting. ONEplace offers more than events, including many resources available online. We’ll do a brief presentation with time for Q&A to make sure your staff knows how to take advantage of all our resources. We’ll also hold a drawing for a stylish ONEplace mug! Let us know a good day/time to visit.
I’m grateful to the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Kalamazoo Public Library and others who make sure you have ONEplace as a resource. I also appreciate your comments and suggestions – so keep ‘em coming.
This week our county’s public schools enjoy spring break. While the phrase “spring break” conjures up a variety of thoughts and images, it also reminds me of the inherent, indisputable, scientifically-proven need for us to take breaks – to refresh, renew, and revive. So the question (or challenge) for you today is this:
How do you take breaks during your workday?
Whenever I ask that question, I usually get something akin to “I don’t have time to take a break” or “I can’t afford to take a break.” The truth is: you can’t afford NOT to take a break.
An article in The New York Times, a tome in Scientific American and even a post from Fast Company argue for the effectiveness of taking breaks. Support for taking breaks to boost productivity and quality of work is legion. But before you start searching for work-break-best-practices, let me offer this:
Find what works best for you.
Personally, I’m not one to take the 15-minute mid-morning coffee break or even the hour lunch break. What works best for me is a breaks-as-needed approach. I’ll take a minute to shut my eyes and take a few deep breaths. I look out the window and watch the clouds or marvel at the cloudless sky. I take a walk: if inside the library, I’ll take in the wonderful sights within our atrium; if outside, I’ll feel the warmth of the sun or the crispness of the air, and I’ll examine the status of the trees in Bronson Park (no buds yet).
My guiding principle on breaks is to take intentional moments of diverting attention to something other than my To Do list. They take my mind, body, and spirit to another space and I return refreshed.
So, employ healthy practices for yourself and model them for your colleagues. Spring for a break! You can afford it.
Last week, several gathered at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation to hear Gloria Johnson-Cusack. She’s Executive Director of Leadership 18, an alliance of CEOs responsible for leading some of the country’s largest and most respected nonprofits. During her time with us, she asked each of us to respond to a rather provocative question:
Why do you do what you do?
It was a good question. It examined your deepest motivation, that thing that gets you up in the morning and drives you to take on the difficult tasks. It grounds you and guides you. It’s your still point, your North Star.
My answer? I’m on a quest. Three years ago, I revisited Jim Collins’ Level 5 Leadership (Good to Great), and since then I’ve wondered how ONEplace could structure a program to develop it.
Level 5 Leadership is defined as a paradoxical blend of intense professional will plus extreme personal humility. While passion often drives will, Collins (and others as well) comes up short as to what develops humility. His best advice is “to begin practicing the other good-to-great disciplines” and Level 5 will come about.
I’m convinced that “leadership development is ultimately personal development” (The Leadership Challenge). It involves building discipline, fortitude, compassion and resilience. It’s not found in a series of workshops, classes or books; rather, it’s a challenging path that travels through forests, rivers, mountains, deserts, and more.
Again, Collins says:
Our research exposed Level 5 as a key component inside the black box of what it takes to shift a company from good to great. Yet inside that black box is another black box – namely, the inner development of a person to Level 5.
Gloria wrapped up the exercise by asking if any of us were surprised by what we heard ourselves say. Personally, it was not so much a moment of surprise as it was a moment of clarity.
What about you: why do you do what you do?
This month we spent time with Von Washington, Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations with the Kalamazoo Promise. We learned his thoughts on service, caring, and the power of a collaborative community.
Tell us how you got to where you are today?
I did my undergraduate work in Communications and Theatre at Western State University in Colorado. After playing some basketball, I returned to Kalamazoo and studied Educational Leadership at Western Michigan University. During my years in public school education, I spent 14 years as a varsity basketball coach and held several other positions including Media Specialist, Children’s Librarian, some administrative positions, and Principal of Kalamazoo Central High School. After 22 years in public education, I did economic development work with Southwest Michigan First and then, in July 2013, accepted my current position as Executive Director of Community Relations with the Kalamazoo Promise.
What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?
Giving and caring: these are the two easiest words for me to describe Kalamazoo. The philanthropic and service focus here is unique among other communities. “Service” in Kalamazoo is primarily expressed as caring for those in great need.
What guides or principles do you rely most upon?
Service to others. How can you reach out to someone to help make their life better? Give them a smile and greeting. Offer assistance or a cup of coffee. What can I do to help relieve their stress? It’s something I just do – it’s in my DNA. For others, it may take more intention. I think if we all adopted this type of approach it would transform our community.
Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?
There have been many in my life who have served as change agents. When I worked in the public schools, Janice Brown (superintendent at that time) saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. It was important to me that she saw this at that particular time. As I made the shift from public schools to economic development, Ron Kitchens (Southwest Michigan First) showed me how to apply my skills and abilities in other areas. Together, these two experiences are invaluable.
What has been one of your biggest learning moments?
When Kalamazoo Central High School entered the competition for President Barack Obama’s first Race to the Top, we were all in learning mode. It took strong community influence to pull this together, and the community stepped up to support the students and the school in a special way. Even those who otherwise might not support Kalamazoo Central offered their support. The experience taught me the power of collaboration and the power of a strong message. We did it.
What’s an average day like for you at work?
I have very few average days, and that is by design. My goal is to fill each day with learning, and I cannot do that by sitting still. So, I’m on the move, visiting people and learning about their lives. I want to learn all I can about this community, its people, and their stories.
What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?
In my work I see great need and many problems that are not easily solved. The Kalamazoo Promise scholarship is but one piece in a puzzle that each family must put together. I want to fill the gaps in those puzzles but you can’t do it fast enough. It’s painful to think how long it will take to fully address problems. It’s tough for me.
How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?
I strive to stay up on social media. It’s a requirement when working with students (and with my own children). At minimum, I hope to stay level with the average young person, but it’s a constant struggle. I do know this: if you want to be grounded, get around young people and ask them what’s going on. Seek out their ideas and suggestions. Their learning environment is ten times different than what I experienced when I was young, so it’s critical for me to keep connected to young people.
What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?
The nonprofit sector is a great way to go. Many organizations are doing great work in our community, and there is room for you to be part of it. How? Lead with your heart. To make a significant impact, you must lead with your heart. It keeps you real and places your unique and authentic contribution in the mix. Many have said, “If you love what you’re doing, you’ll never work a single day in your life.” I love what I’m doing, and I wish that for others.
What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?
I love watching basketball. We’re a basketball family – my son plays for Western Michigan University and my daughter works with the coaching staff of Michigan State University basketball. I enjoy fishing and boating. I also enjoy the sun and being outdoors.
I offer my vote of support for the work that ONEplace is doing to develop emerging leaders. I enjoy my role as a Leadership Academy mentor and appreciate the community’s support for building our future community leaders.