I’m puzzled. As a fan of management and leadership, I like to think that plans and strategies matter. After studying trends and doing analysis, it seems we should have a good read on things and be able to set a course of action that will lead to success. This however is what Daniel Kahneman calls, “the illusion of understanding.”
In his recent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he returns time and again to remind us that having a grasp of things is more a security blanket than a reality. Illusions of understanding are comforting and reduce the anxiety surrounding uncertainty. They also feed our need for order and fairness. But they’re not reality.
Kahneman says, “We all have a need for the reassuring message that actions have appropriate consequences, and that success will reward wisdom and courage. Many business books are tailor-made to satisfy this need.”
He goes on to say that for all our efforts, the data shows that we only do a little better (or sometimes a little worse) than chance.
So, at times, just when I think, “I got it,” I also realize that I don’t “got it.”
Perhaps it’s best to keep one eye on the long-term goal – that point on the horizon – while managing the current situation as it presents itself…without trying to figure it out, or “get it.” I don’t know. I’m still working on this.
You’re reading this right now. I’m glad. Part of my work is to study, reflect upon our work, find connections and insights, and then share them with you. It’s fun for me. But I’ll let you in on a little secret:
I’m writing at home.
That’s right. What you’re reading now was written over a couple of early mornings in my family room at home. That’s when I write. Why? I find the early morning a time of clarity and creativity. Plus it’s completely uninterrupted time.
Where do you find uninterrupted time?
In 2010, Jason Fried did a TED talk on Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work. For ten years, he posed a question to business people (both nonprofit and for-profit): Where do you go when you really need to get something done? Answers included “the porch, the deck, the kitchen…the basement, the coffee shop, the library,” or “Well, it doesn’t really matter where I am, as long as it’s really early in the morning or really late at night or on the weekends.”
You almost never hear, “the office.”
(Of course, there are jobs where the work can only be done in the office. Those notwithstanding, it plays on the perception of where we can “get something done.”)
In an attempt to reclaim quality work time at the office, Jason suggests No Talk Thursdays, emailing rather than stopping by another’s office, and eliminating unneeded meetings.
For me, it’s a matter of knowing how I best work and scheduling my week accordingly. Writing in the early morning is fun for me – I like to do it. I also need uninterrupted blocks of time at work, so we schedule those into our workweek. If your calendar is not fully in your control, ask for the time you need or at least understand and explain the time cost of an assigned project or task.
What else would you suggest? How do you manage your time?
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.
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?