In episode 48 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Chyla Graham discuss:
Chyla Graham is a certified public accountant with over ten years of experience helping nonprofit organizations realign and thrive. Chyla started her company, CNRG Accounting Advisory, to empower more nonprofit organizations. To date, she has secured over $2 million in funding for several organizations and helped many more streamline to better serve their communities. Chyla credits flying trapeze for keeping her physically and mentally strong, and reminding her that you can’t succeed in life alone. Every trapeze artist needs someone to be “on line” holding the ropes. Chyla likes that metaphor for trapeze and for business, and her greatest pride is being “on line” for her clients.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Chyla Graham. 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 for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Chyla and I talk about why it is important for nonprofit leaders to get comfortable with their organization’s numbers, why you have to consider the wider context when you are looking at your organization’s financial statements, and why it is so critical to connect your organizational goals with your financial goals.
Welcome Chyla. Welcome to the podcast.
Chyla Graham: Thanks for having me, Carol. How are you doing today?
Carol: I am doing well. I'm doing well. We're supposed to have rain all day and all day tonight. So it's just an indoor day.
Carol: Yeah. So I like to start each podcast with a question around what drew you to the work that you do, what motivates you and what would you describe as your why.
Chyla: What drew me to the work was, I think I'd like to say it's like the convergence of several things. So I have always been interested in numbers. I'm an accountant. It is the thing I do. It's always the thing I've been interested in and, or I guess more so like the idea of money, like, Ooh, this is a cool thing. And I went from, I was a. So I'd be the one I, Hey, Carol, don't you want to donate $500 and that was terrible at it. Absolutely terrible, but loved learning more about the work nonprofits were dealing with that money. And so that led me to say, okay, well maybe that's where I want to go. And also seeing the idea of Enron worlds com I, all of that was happening while I was in college. And so I was just like, So this is the thing. And so it really made me more passionate about helping non-profit leaders get comfortable reading the numbers, asking questions about their numbers, because I just, I was just like, this could be any of you.
Carol: Yeah. And that, that comfort level with reading the numbers, just asking questions about them. I feel like. Very few people go into the nonprofit sector to manage money. Right. If, if they did, they would've gone into finance and they would've made a lot more money. Right. So they want to help people. They want to help animals, the environment, and some cause. So what do you do to help people get a little bit more comfortable about interacting with them, the money that flows through their organization, then the numbers that keep track.
Chyla: I am nosy. So I think by nature, I'd like, tell you more about why you did the thing. And so I try to get them back to explaining themselves not from an idea of like, I'm committed. I want to know why you went to Starbucks. I actually don't. It makes no difference to me why you went to Starbucks, but I want them to be clear on why they went to Starbucks. I want them to be able to understand that. And so for me, it's being able to say to them, Hey, let's go through your chart of accounts. So we do several things, like as energy, we do several things. We do accounting services where we help them. We do some of that coding, but most of our work, I would say most of our clients are actually in the consulting and education space where we're speaking. Just talk me through these reports as you read them. And in that way, trying to highlight for them. In their own words. What is the thing that works or doesn't work for them in terms of reading the financials? If they're like that, actually I have no idea what any of these pages mean. I just know I get it every month and I'm supposed to present it to the board. And so in that way, trying to dig in with them to say, oh, well, tell me what questions the board asks, tell me what questions you have every month, even though you get these reports. And so trying to help them say, oh, Let me put a list together or what are the things that come to mind? Because sometimes we just don't know where to start. And I think if we start with like, well, what is the thing that comes up every month? Whenever I talk to these people, it gives us a good entryway to say, oh, all right, well, how could I reframe this question? Or what else would I, should I look at to like, get an answer to this question?
Carol: What would you say are some of the common questions that people have whether they are comfortable reading the financial statements or not, or don't even know what a chart of accounts is?
Chyla: Yeah, I would say the most common question is, do we have enough money? It's really all that call that everyone wants. And I was like, is there enough money and context, man? I like to say financial statements don't make a difference if they're not in context or in relationship to something. And so, well, I don't, I don't know if you have enough money. What is your, what were you planning on having? So how does this compare to what you budgeted that might tell us? Do you have enough money? Because we can see how far apart you are or should we be comparing this to blast? If, like month to month things shouldn't change. And so that's the, we were like, Hmm, we have a lot less than we did last month. We don't have enough money. So I reframed it in that way to say like, well, tell me what it is that you're trying to find out. Because some organizations it's not about last month, it's more about last year because they are pretty cyclical. And so they're like, same time last year. How did that look? This is the indicator. And one of the things we started doing more and more is. I'm trying to help clients come up with their own benchmark of how much money per month they should. They, they have directed as their target. I know I liked them for like three to six months. It makes me feel comfortable, but maybe for their organization, they're like three. That's not, it's not a comfortable place. And then trying to say, okay, A thousand dollars, a hundred thousand thousand feels too small for this example, a hundred thousand dollars in the bank. And each month you're expecting to spend 50,000 you're two months worth of cash. And so just saying like, let's do simple math on this. We have this much in the bank. We know, we expect to spend this much each month, let's come up with that calculation so they can say, okay, yes, we have enough. And because two months is comfortable or no, we don't because two months is just not.
Carol: Your firm offers accounting services, but you, as you said, you're more in the consulting and coaching and you really focus on strategic financial management. Can you say a little bit about what that is and why it's important for organizations?
Chyla: Yeah, so I think I'll share it. She does financial management. After the board has identified some goals. Cause it makes no sense for me to say, like, these are your goals. If your board is like, well, you actually have a different vision in mind. So after your board has identified what the goals are for the next year, next three years, having a conversation about, well, how does that impact our finances? So sometimes we see organizations who say we need to expand our programs. We want to be in this many vocations, or we want to serve this many more people. And for me, that begs the question of what would it take to get there? Does it take more staffing? Does it take more computers? Does it take, like, what is it, what are the pieces? The tangible pieces that it actually takes to get there and help them build out. Okay. Is that a realistic plan? Because sometimes we say. Self included, guilty of being, I want to do all these amazing things and, what is the budget? Actually, maybe we should scale back accordingly. And trying to help them reframe that to say, okay, if this is the goal, what would it take to build the infrastructure we need to get there? Because sometimes it's not even about, we need more people, it's I need computers that don't die on me. I need something that's faster, stronger, whatever it is. I'm really trying to say that. Let's think that through and let's plan ahead. And if we look at your, if the fundraising goal, we want to raise a million dollars. Okay, cool. Let's look at your current trends to say, how do we manage those so that we can think of what are some times we should be, be heavier in the fundraising? Because we know from a cash perspective, we actually need this money to show up. And saying, let's plan that three months in advance, next week we will not have any money. I don't know who would have known this. And I'm really trying to say, let's just take a step back. Let's take, think about all the goals that we have, all the big picture items and make that a real, realistic thing and say like, Pencil bank. What, what do you have for me? And I find that that makes it a little bit easier putting those trends together because sometimes organizations don't, when I say we have an April development plan, I know we need to fundraise. And I just know I have to hit this number. When do you need to hit some of this number though? do you really need to emphasize in the first quarter of the year? And say like, okay. In March, I need to be talking to Petra. Has owners submitting all my grant applications that have X turnaround time because in June is where we see a real. We're short on cash and we want to know we've had those conversations already, as opposed to saying, I know it's May 31st. Would you like to write me a check for tomorrow? Thank you. that's what I think of as that's your CJ financial management. It's helping them see the big picture, helping them plan out. When do we need to start some of these activities, especially if there's not already a plan in place, because maybe there are more people involved that we need to integrate into this plan and help them think. That board member. I need to give them steps like this. It's not just like, oh, you can just fundraise. No, no, they can't. Well, not necessarily. Maybe they can. And really saying like, we need to build this out as a plan, as opposed to just like this morning, I woke up with this really great idea.
Carol: Yeah. It's interesting that you talk about stepping back and seeing the big picture, because I feel like. And in a lot of ways, that's the role of consultants for pretty much any aspect of the organization, whether you're working on finance or fundraising or marketing or operations, it's often, let's take a step back. Let's see where we are. Let's look ahead, look back where, where were we a year ago? And just helping people pause and have some perspective on what they're doing. You talked about how context is really important. And obviously every, every organization is a little bit different, but are there some key financial things that board members and staff members should really be tracking for the organization? You've mentioned cash as one. Yeah. What other things are really important?
Chyla I would say. Looking at the trends of when are there peak seasons in terms of revenue coming in, even if that's not actually fascist more of the pledges idea what, what are those timetables? And also on the expense side, what's the timing of things, because sometimes we. We assume we have to pay for something earlier or later. And that's just the piece that causes more stress and angst. And I have, I've worked in the non-profit environment. I've, I've been on all sides. I've been the auditor. I've been the auditee I've been, now in the consulting space. And being able to say, actually, I'm going to call up this vendor and say, can we make this payment on this day? And really thinking about it, to say, Hmm, are there payment arrangements we need to be making I've there's one organization we support where their board wants to know about accounts receivable, because for them they want to know, is there someone on here that we have a relationship with that us as a board member, this is the way we could support. And really thinking if it pledges something that your organization does and your board members are helping you get those touches, how do you delegate to them? And how can you help them say, AR is really high and we would love you to, this is the place that you can think about. They should also be thinking about the relationship items have to one another. I said, I was, I've been in the oddest space before, and I remember one client. We had a good meeting, there was not anything intentional, like miss dealings or theft. But their finance director was still overwhelmed. It was just like I'm just going to put in a number. I think this is how much we should have. I think revenue should be about here. And I like to think about what's the relationship between the numbers. really trying to say like, well, in theory, if our donations went up, we should either see an increase in. Well, we should see an increase in accounts receivable. One of those two things should happen. And really trying to say like, okay, I didn't see an increase. What does that mean? Where, what happened to this magical money that we received and really try thinking through what are those relationships, same for, if our expenses are going up, does that mean we either have a high account payable? The people we owe. we have a new loan. Do we have, or less cash? . Have you seen the movie? All the Queen's horses. Okay. I can't remember what city in Illinois, but it's about theft and mismanagement. And what happened is the finance manager for this city is a small, small town. I mean, I was taking out loans for. And it was said that it was going to be for rotor repair and all these things, but the people kept writing over potholes and she kept saying to me, that was a great indicator. You're like, well, if we were getting loans to do repairs, why aren't the streets repaired? Right. Right. And just making those, you didn't have to do a math calculation. You didn't have to say, I need to know how much meat, how much we borrow. Exactly. But you could say, even if we're not seeing progress, it'd be, see the people outside. Like we all know construction on roads doesn't necessarily feel like it happens fast, but do we see people working? No. Well, what happened to the money? And just making those types of conclusions or relations to say, I might not be able to do any fancy math or any quick math, but. This number feels like it should go up or down, or I should see we have new hires or I should see, we've got more supplies in the closet, something to say, like, these things tell us that this isn't just a made up number someone isn't just like, oh, that looked like a good route. It's actually saying like, oh yeah, we got a lot. I see where that load proceeds.
Carol: Yeah. it makes sense. What would you say are some. Differences in the finances for nonprofits. it's important for staff members and board members to understand. , different from a for-profit organization. Cause a lot of board members, they, they, and then they may actually be recruited right. For their, for their business background. But what are those differences that are important to be aware of?
Chyla: Yeah. the first one that typically trips people up is the name of. And the statement of activity for a nonprofit is the income statement for a for-profit business. And remembering that language is like, what are we doing? Is it an activity? How do we make money? We did a thing. We made money or we lost money. remembering like, oh, what did we, what does that mean? And then the same financial position is the balance sheet. it's at a point in time. On this day, we have this much happening. that is a really easy place that people were just like, ah, I don't really know. Another thing that I think people should be mindful of is the commitments to. From donors. in the for-profit world, we are typically providing a service or providing a product and we can say, hi, I did this thing for you. Please pay me. And in the nonprofit world, we are really exchanging goodwill. We were saying, would you commit to supporting this message mission? And sometimes we say, like, we ask people to commit a pledge. And one of the things I like to say. When should you record it? like in a for-profit you'd be like, listen, they said they were, they started that contract is their end. And in the nonprofit space, you have to say, let's take a step back. If this person was unable to. What would our next steps be? If your next steps would be like, we are going to Badger them, we are going to make sure we get that money. Great record. Yes. That is revenue. That is yours. But if you're like, you know what, it's not worth it to lose a relationship. Or if you feel like we would lose a relationship over this and just don't, don't record it because in essence you're, if you're not going to follow through on it, or there's no requirements to follow through, you would say, no, that's not. There are instances you could definitely say like, okay, maybe we'll put a little buffer. We'll say maybe we won't collect some of it. And those are things that are for-profit businesses. that's a similarity. A for-profit business would be like, I messed up invoice you, but here's how much I probably won't get. And a non-profit in some cases would say the same thing to say, like, we are committed, we are going to follow up, but we recognize some of this. We might just not get it. And so being able to see. Have some of those conversations say like, are we allowing for any of these sites and you have a business background to say, like, see the invoices aren't going anywhere. And I don't know who these people are, I can't call them. should we just have a conversation as a whole to say, what are our thresholds? What's our risk tolerance? So that. they can be good stewards. That's part of why they came into this. They're like, I've got a big background. I know what it takes to collect some money. And I know sometimes maybe it's just not worth it to say, like, those are some places that they could really chime in and be a part of and have like an engaging conversation. I think another difference is that trips up everyone, even if they're in the for-profit world, becomes the idea of donor restrictions. And what, what does that mean? What do you do? And don't the restrictions just mean the donor said, you need to use my money to buy, to build a gazebo. You can't use it for anything, but this was evil. And that that's a donor restriction that is saying, well, you can only use it for this thing versus. Something that's not restricted where there's just like, here's some money if you'd like to buy it. Cause those are those, great. Like you want to pay salaries also. Great. And being able to say like, well, what, what is that? And why does it matter? It matters because more and more. We're seeing what I'm seeing in grant documents and donor documents. If you don't spend the money for the specified rean, or by the specified time, you need to return the money. And it's always good to have a handle on, Hey, what's money that we might either need to spend by a certain time. there might be a time restriction or purpose requirements or we might think about, do we have to return. And should we not count right now? Those are, those are pieces. I feel like we are constantly changing and have a nice, high-level idea of how much of this might mean we need to turn back and how much of this we have to commit to a cause. In some cases it might not be relevant. I say, because Debo, because I've seen it, I've seen where people are like I'm donating $5,000 for it. Cause Eva, and then no one else. maybe money for it. Cause he wants to, we're like, that is not enough money to eat. Can you call that donor and see if we can get that money unrestricted? And those types of things are really good. I'll be monitoring.
Carol: Yeah. And I think just in terms of those grant timelines and, and the time restrictions, it seems like that's something where, if you're running up against it, reaching out to the grant maker and seeing, can this, can, are you flexible on this, this, this, or, do or die can be helpful. I mean, I think the other one, the other mistake that I've seen people make is to interpret non-profit as no profit. Well, yes. And, and really believing like, oh, we can't make any money. We can't have anything left over. what, what do you, what would you say about that?
Chyla: I try to remind them what would you do in your house at the end of the month? And then rent was due the next day. You, that wouldn't be a comfortable place. And thinking of your organization in that way, we don't want to go to zero every month because the next thing will arrive. And really thinking of it as you're not hoarding. You're not there. You're not necessarily saying like, ah, we're just building our reserves for no reason. Everything has a reason. And they're identifying that we're building our reserves because we want to launch a new program in three years. And , no, we're not spending it today, but we know it's going to come up because it's part of our strategic plan or thinking through like our staff gets, it has to get paid like every, every pay period, right? Oh yeah. We should probably have some money in the bank to do that. reminding them that it's not about. Hoarding of resources. It's more about what is the timing of some of the things that we have coming up to complete our mission and what do we want to make sure that we do so that it's not a surprise? That's the whole point of having to think about how much cash we have so that you can do the unexpected. And part of some nonprofits is trying to think of better ways to do that. And sometimes that doesn't come with any funding and you have to say, we need to have the money on hand. And reminding yourself like this is to do something that a funder doesn't yet see the value in, but we do know it's important. And just reframing. This isn't an arbitrary number. We're not picking three months for no reason, we're picking it because where it's, if something were to happen and we want it to still provide the services that we do, we would be able to, and our community wouldn't go without, because suddenly we, we didn't have it. getting beyond ourselves and beyond like what people might perceive us to do. I think that's where that comes in. People are like, well, they're going to see that we have so much money. They will see that you are responsible people and thought to save money for salaries and for program materials. That's great. I would love them to see what you are doing.
Carol: Right, right. Yeah. it's all, it's all about. What's the purpose and what's the goal? What's the strategy? at the end of each episode, I like to play a little game where I ask a random icebreaker question. I have a box of them. I always put out three before the interview and then pick one. what's something about you that surprises people when they first hear it?
Chyla: Usually that I'm an accountant
Carol: Say more, say more.
Chyla: That is typically the thing that people are surprised about, which I find amusing. More because I think I get perceived as very pernal and high want to have a conversation with you. And I'm like, I am, I'm definitely an introvert. Definitely. But I manage it really well. And I'm like, I can do the people thing. And I remember I used to have a quote. I was like, I've met my word quota. I can't talk to any more people. I think that piece has been the piece that, cause I don't tell people, I don't usually tell people work. What are you doing? I'm like, oh. That's a boring conversation starter. it's usually the last thing I share about myself. And that's typically something that I'm like, oh, I did not guess that.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. I've, I've met a lot of accountants that did not fit the stereotypical mold of whatever, whatever people perceive of as and it's great. It's great. Yeah, and I also, I also saw something recently where somebody described themselves as a social introvert. And I was like, I can relate to that because I get it a lot too. Like people aren't you talking to hell with all these people. Yeah. But then I need to recover. I'm like,
Chyla: Saturdays are typically my day. I'm like, you want me to do things with people? Well, they would, they would be in my house? No. Oh, absolutely. I don't know if I can, at least when I come to my husband, like I can, I can manage this. But otherwise.
Carol: what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you and what's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Chyla: We are doing webinars for our. Online course. So helping nonprofits get more money, greater impact by just being more transparent about their finances. I'm really just digging into, like, what does that mean? How does it look? Because people get scared. People get nervous. They're like, I don't know what that I don't want to do. I don't know if we should be transparent and you should. But helping them figure out what that framing looks like and what that means, because we've definitely. With our clients that we work with when they've been able to say, this is what we're doing with the money, or this is a thing that you're looking to build, we've been able to one, identify more resources available because wow, thank you for telling me what you were going to do. There's money available for that one thing. So that's that piece. And there's also just the idea of, there are some donors who just want that level of transparency and they're like, oh, you can tell them. Cool. Here's some more money. And so just being able to do that is really exciting. It's been a thing that's been in the works. I'm just like, oh, Kimmy. And I have to do it now. Oh, okay. So they interpreted to me 'cause like a sport infer and the food lever baker in me, it's like, I have a slice of cake that is ready. I'm like, you're going to do it. And then you're in a warm beer cake. So the caramel is nice and soft and runny. And you're going to be like, look, you've finished. The thing that you were really worried about. So that is what's out on the horizon.
Carol: So the, you mentioned the course, what's the, what's the course that you're offering. Yeah.
Chyla: So, well, the course itself will be about other sitting financial management from a nonfinancial perspective. So we'll go through the first year mission. Why? Because I feel like if you, if you forget, when you straight from that, it becomes really hard. You're like, why are we doing this again? And so just recentering your mission is in that conversation about budgets and finances and all of those things, and then thinking about your priorities. So how do we, how do we rank the budget? How do we think about the chart of accounts, all those things that indicate what matters to the organization. Then we go on to actually using some tools. And so I don't necessarily need anyone to become a bookkeeper or a QuickBooks expert, but being able to say, all right, I know what a bank reconciliation is and what I should look out for, because again, part of this is managing those people and just being able to say like, Where should this be? Or how could I reframe that question? Because sometimes it's hard to talk to your bookkeeper or accountant. Cause there's like, I don't know if he spoke the same language. I don't know what they're talking about and just giving them some tools to help frame that. And then finally, it's about storytelling. How do we look at the financial statements and rephrase some of the things? How could we show some things differently? So not changing any numbers, but just updating the presentations to something that's more. Palatable more understandable for the people who actually need to read them and make decisions based off of
Carol: That sounds great. That sounds like a really, really needed resource for the sector. So thank you for creating that. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It was great to talk to you.
Chyla: Thanks for having me.
Carol: I appreciated Chyla’s point that as a board member you don’t necessarily need to be a financial expert but you do need to pay attention to when things don’t add up. Not just literally the numbers – but when the narrative does not match what is in the numbers. A staff person says donations have increased but the numbers don’t match. The story is we have taken out loans for more staff but no one else has been hired. Where is the money going? Often it is about paying attention and asking the hard questions. And it is often because the people tasked with managing the finances are in over their heads – not necessarily because anyone is doing any malfeasance. Although of course that does happen in the sector and you certainly don’t want to be on a board when the organization gets in the paper for fraud or embezzlement on the part of staff or volunteers.
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 Chyla, 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 on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. Until next time!
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!
In Episode 42 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Marla Bobowick discuss:
Marla Bobowick is an independent consultant based in Washington, DC, has served as a Senior Governance Consultant for BoardSource since 2008, and is also a Standards for Excellence® licensed consultant. She has more than 30 years of nonprofit experience and a history of creative problem solving. Specializing in nonprofit management and leadership, she has extensive experience with board governance, strategy, and publishing. She has worked with nonprofit organizations of all types and sizes, including regional healthcare and social service providers, educational institutions (independent schools and colleges and universities), family and other private foundations, and local and national offices of federated organizations and professional associations. Previously, Marla was Vice President of Products at BoardSource, where she oversaw publications, online products, and research. During her tenure at BoardSource, she was an active consultant and trainer, developed educational curriculum, managed regional capacity building projects, oversaw the global program, and coordinated the annual conference. While at BoardSource, Marla managed Leading with Intent: A National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices. She was also a member of the working group for The Source: Twelve Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards (BoardSource © 2005). She managed “Governance Futures: New Perspectives on Nonprofit Governance,” a multiyear research project that culminated in publication of Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards (John Wiley & Sons © 2005). She is co-author of Assessing Board Performance: A Practical Guide for College, University, System, and Foundation Boards (Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges © 2018). Previously, Marla was an acquisitions editor at John Wiley & Sons, where she developed Wiley’s Nonprofit Law, Finance, and Management Series and the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fund Development Series. Marla holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Amherst College, a master’s degree in business administration and a certificate in nonprofit management from Case Western Reserve University. She is a past board chair of Maryland Nonprofits and a past board member Calvary Women’s Services.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Marla Bobowick. Marla and I talk about the misconceptions that people have about nonprofit boards and governance, why shared leadership and governance is important to strive for, and why boards needs to shift their focus from hindsight to foresight 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 for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Welcome Marla, welcome to the podcast.
Marla Bobowick: Thanks for inviting me. This'll be fun.
Carol: So I like to start by asking folks what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you and what would you describe as your, why?
Marla: I fell in love with the nonprofit sector by accident. I love being involved with people who are absolutely passionate about what they do and believe in it and get to live and act and work their values and passions. And I wanted to be surrounded by people like that. And my passion is the nonprofit sector and making it work better, which is a little wonky, but that's what I do. Yeah. The most people, when they think of the nonprofit sector, I think they, they think of that direct, direct service or, or, working on the front lines, but there's so many layers and I've often felt that I was a couple layers removed from, from those frontline folks, but it's all important work.
Carol: Your work focuses on nonprofit board governance, which is obviously very key. What would you say is the most common misconception about nonprofit boards?
Marla: Of course, I always think there's more than one answer to questions like this, which is, I think it's two extremes. It's either the board thinks they have all the power or they think they have none of the power and same from the CEO executive director point of view. And so. Undoing that misconception because I really believe in a notion of shared leadership and a governance partnership is forcing people to challenge a lot of their implicit or explicit assumptions.
Carol: And where do you think those two extremes come from?
Marla: I think it's sometimes the language that, that we in the sector that state laws say that the board is responsible for the mission. Well, they can't do that by themselves. They do it with the community that they serve. They do it with professional staff who are on the front lines. So there's language that says the board is responsible for it. Sometimes unfortunately it's more egregious, I pay for it. Therefore I get to decide what our priorities are. And I think executives over underestimate they either manipulate or overestimate how much power they have because they control information. And so board members sometimes feel excluded or executives don't want to give them too much information because they'll get in the weeds. And that creates a tension that is counterproductive.
Carol: Yeah. And I've definitely always wondered about that aspect and, and been in organizations where I've seen those dynamics playing out where it seems like in the, the, the way that conventionally nonprofit governance. Is taught and the models that people are using currently, there is a lot of power in, in that executive director role of, especially around controlling information and what information is shared, what information isn't shared that, can, can lead to some not great outcomes. So I'm curious about what your perspective is on that.
Marla: So I feel like I walk into a lot of boardrooms and there's this hope. Assumption that there's a nice, neat line in the middle of the sand. That's a bright line that says on one side is what the CEO and the staff do. And on the other side is what the board does. And when I walk in and say, the reality is it's a fuzzy line. It moves sometimes depending on the circumstances of the organization, either as it grows and changes over time or on the size and shape and nature of the organization. And the goal is to know where the line should be and agree on it for your organization at the moment in time. No, when you cross over and know when it's time to go back to your respective sides and that underlying that is the. Every decision you can make the case that should really be borders should really be, may be management and to say, What's the sequence of the discussions and conversations and decision making, as opposed to thinking it's all one or all the other, and realizing that almost everything really has to be done in partnership or together in some way. And it's the process about how do you do that? That is the way through the mass to see where the line is and what to do on terms of what's management and what's board work,
Carol: Can you give an example of what you mean by that?
Marla: So strategic planning is a pretty classic one, which is, again, it depends, the board has a role in it. I think of the board as bookends. They should be involved in the front end, the back end, but board members and the board in particular, can't do strategic planning by themselves. They need information from the CEO. They need information from the field. They need information from the frontline staff, from constituents and stakeholders. And it's gotta be an inclusive process. And often the executive and the staff are the ones that filter and synthesize and frame that information for the board on a regular basis. And together talk about what's the priority, what's the shift, what are our goals and what matters most? And some of those things about what matters most are going to be based on client needs. Others are going to be based on organization. so the client needs in terms of which programs, where should we grow, where should we shrink? How do we rethink what we do? Some of them are going to be on Operational issues about size staffing technology. Inevitably, every strategic plan has to improve operational excellence or systems. And that's really the purview of the staff and the CEO. But when you get to fundamental questions about sort of, are we really a hunger organization thinking of a food bank or are we really a poverty or anti-poverty organization? Those are philosophical conversations that have to be had by everybody.
Carol: Yeah, I definitely see when I'm doing strategic planning, I want to see it as a partnership between board and staff, because each is bringing different information, different perspectives and to really have buy-in for what those final strategic goals are going to be. Staff need to be involved in those conversations. So what would you say is the key to having healthy governance?
Marla: You need magic. So I'm a big fan of alliteration as a recovering book editor, but I think there's a combination of, I used to say, it's just, you need good. You need clarity, real clarity, and sharpness of focus on what you're doing. You need great communication and information sharing. I always say this is a little of the Goldilocks approach, the right amount, not too much information, not too little and at the right time. And I started to add to that list. You need real curiosity to break out of old habits and maybe COVID has brought this to the fore, but I also think it is just part and parcel of words in particular need to be with. Ask good questions and then work together to find the answers and executives who have a lot of the answers, and sometimes think it's their job to give answers all the time. Need to be curious about what's behind board members, questions, interests, responses, as opposed to being defensive. And the last one I would add as context, which is what does the organization need now? And in the future, knowing where you've come from. And the, I did this somewhere else. And you hear that a lot from board members, and you'll hear that a lot from executive directors to say what fits the culture, what aligns with the organization's culture and purpose and mission. So that it makes sense for this organization now and going forward. And I always say the end going forward, because board work is often hindsight and I wish there was more foresight with it.
Carol: Can you say a little bit more about what you mean?
Marla: So board meetings often happen and you get lots of information and reports. That is all about what happened in the past. What happened last month, last quarter, last year, and not a lot about the, what you see coming up in the next 3, 6, 12, 18, 24 months. And so how do you use it? And that's, that's the reality of information sharing because there's nothing, there's no data on what's going to happen next, but how do you use the past to inform conversations about wow, we saw. But they need an X during the last six months. How do we pivot to make more of that available? What are we going to stop doing so that we can put more staff onto this program? And so I think it's that using the past to inform the present, as opposed to saying pat yourself on the back and say, Hey, we just did a great job on this, or, oh my God, we're having a panic. Because if something didn't work, we should beat ourselves up and slash the budget to say, let's really think about what. Coming ahead and short-term, and long-term.
Carol: Yeah, I think that's so important. Especially around the communications piece. Cause that could be so tricky of a kind, you want people to be informed. It's challenging to get people to read things ahead of time. So you end up with a lot of reports, but as you're saying, that's all looking backwards and so, how can. Boards, carve out the time to have some strategic conversations, get, sometimes I'll talk to folks about, what's a, what's a question that you can have a half an hour conversation about that isn't necessarily about making decisions today. But opening up so that you're thinking about possibilities for the future is right. None of us can predict the future, but by just having that discipline of trying to look ahead and notice name and notice trends, et cetera can, can help. And I think having some a couple of questions to frame that up really helps people have those conversations because otherwise it's like, okay, well, are we being strategic? We're supposed to be strategic. How are we doing?
Marla: One of the challenges is that people are so prone to asking, yes, no questions as opposed to open-ended questions. And there is a time when you need a yes, no. And up, down, vote on something. I think you learn more from the boards when you can ask them open-ended questions, which is what worked, what would work better? What would you do differently? What did we learn from this? Where there is no, yes, no answer. And you can then pull out the nuggets of information that can inform things. And so as opposed to saying, will you approve this or do you agree with this decision learning to ask open-ended questions creates more discussion. And I think the more board members are given a chance to have productive and constructive conversation and discourse in the boardroom and not be talked at or to. Is healthier. So one of the mantras, I think I can brag about board source on this podcast is that when we were aboard board source, our rule is staff. When we presented to the board you had five minutes of the hour-long agenda item. They had them on our board and came prepared, but they had the materials in advance. You framed the questions for discussion, and we gave the highlights and then it was a board discussion. And they would ask big questions and they would offer different points of view, but it wasn't. I gave the report for 20 minutes or half an hour that they already had read. And then ask them, do you agree with that?
Carol: Yeah, that's so important. And it's really like those almost as if the report is laying the groundwork or setting the stage for having that conversation rather than yeah. Being talked out and then going, oh, whoops. We ran out of time for any conversation about this. Yeah. So, what are some other things that you see get in the way of kind of, of good governance? You talked about those extremes of like either the board that you may have all the power and none of the power. What are some other things that get in the way of boards that are just being talked at by staff?
Marla: It’s people. Boards would be great if there was nobody on them, nobody staffing them. Right?
Carol: None of us, we have any work. If there weren't any people in home,
Marla: We get in our own way as execs and board members in terms of not listening in terms of having preconceived ideas in terms of. Presenting a defense or offense for something as opposed to a conversation. And so I think it's, and I think board members, on the one hand, there's this push for efficiency. We want to be efficient. So we're going to run through a bunch of conversations or meetings. Or we're going to try and cover so many things that then there's no time for conversations. So I feel like board members and execs put up their own barriers, they bring a lot of baggage or and preconceived ideas into their board work and their work together. That, to say, taking time out to pause And find a way to say what's how we should be as a board and spending time on board purpose and culture can overcome a lot of the usual frustrations that go around boards, but it takes time. And often people don't feel like they have time for what board, something many board members do. We'll say it is navel gazing. And many execs would say it's not going to make a difference. But taking time out to say, well, is this a good use of our time? What's the most important thing we talked about? What could we do differently at the next thing? I just came from a board meeting this weekend where we finally have turned around the board. We've restructured it. We've got new board members on and somebody complained about one of the agenda items. Like, all we do is talk about fundraising. So I said, what do you want to talk about next? And I think that was the first time that the board had ever been asked what's of interest to you. And I think that's a healthy conversation and let the board own some of it.
Carol: Yeah, I think so often when I talk to folks, the whole question of slowing down and taking a pause and stepping back and thinking about, well, why are we doing things the way we're doing them? Or, is this really serving us? Always comes up and then there is the pressure of, we just gotta get through this. We've got so many things on our agenda. Yeah, I, I, to me, when. When I was on board. And, and in charge of putting together the agenda, I was always fighting. Well, it was us fighting might be a strong word, but there was a struggle often between us having all these different things to talk about and then being saying, well, We're really not going to talk about any of them. If we just try to rush through it all we'll just end up having to come back to it anyway. So could we have fewer things on the agenda so that we could really dig into at least one of them?
Marla: Well, I think that's a silver lining for boards during the time of COVID, which is, many were meeting more often, less often, but they were all meeting differently than they used to. And I think it is forced. One of the most important conversations, which is what does the board need to talk about and why, and what do we not need to have as a board meeting on a board meeting agenda. So to hear a lot of reports that there's not a lot of conversation about is a waste of everyone's time. And yet it has value. I understand when you're in a board meeting, like people aren't thinking about the organization as board members on a day-to-day basis, and they want to know what's new and different, but finding a different way to convey that or a more engaging and interactive way to talk about what's happening at the organization so that when you are together with the board, with the average of whatever 15 people. You are using everyone's time to the highest value, which is what's. How can we add value to the organization and help the executive and help advance our mission? No. Be not a board, his book club. Let's just talk about what you did last month and how great it was, but you're not actually contributing anything of, of intellectual or strategic value.
Carol: So, what are some of the innovations that you've seen come out this past 18 months?
Marla: I have been surprised and shocked and pleased at being able to do some board assessment, evaluate self evaluation, work online with doing the typical online survey and then presenting the results, and creating it as a separate meeting. Whereas if we were always meeting in person, it was an all day retreat. There was a lot of drama and anxiety around, oh my God, what are we going to do per day? Is it worth it, but to kick off a conversation in an hour and a half or two at a zoom meeting and talk about it and then parlay it into full board discussion. So it's almost like deconstructing what were retreats? Definitely missed the in-person social networking that happens when board members are together. No one get this wrong, I'm all for meeting again in person. But I think the innovation of saying we can call an extra meeting for an hour and a half and use it as a listening to her, use it for a discussion that doesn't require action. Use it to dig into one topic. So I think that's the notion of focus. Out of it. I think there's just a lot. I think people have realized how much information you need and what's the best way to present it. Because I hear all the complaints and I haven't heard them lately. That board meetings are just a bunch of presentations. So when you work on zoom. You have to think about how much presentation, how many Hollywood squares can I see, how many, how much is too much PowerPoint. All of that is a test to be rethought. The strain honestly, though, is that it takes a lot more work to organize a meeting like that on zoom than to do it in person. It can take a lot. It can, it doesn't have to, but even as a consultant who does this all the time to plan and design interactive meetings, it takes more of a.
Carol: Yeah. I mean, it's been interesting to me where you talked about deconstructing the retreat. I've definitely seen the advantage of breaking up. I do a lot of strategic planning and break up those processes into a series of two hour or three hour meetings where you're really just doing one piece of it. You're starting out with that. Okay. So, I've, I've done all those conversations. I've done that assessment. I've got survey data, all of that. Let me share that with you. Let's make sure. But that's it that we're going to do today. We're not going to try to get to the very end in one day and have that marathon that people have had before. So I've really appreciated that, that focus that that can be brought.
Marla: I've done something similar with orientation and I did this before. COVID with an organization that is very small and. It's a national organization and people just can't afford to come together very often. And so a couple of years ago, we started a three-part session of orientation. One session about the state of the organization. One session about the work of the board in one session. Planning for the next year, board action planning that then feeds into organizational planning and budgeting. And we've been doing it in these three-part sessions now, I think for three or four years. And it really is like there, it compounds it, it gives people time to think about it. They tag it on to an existing board meeting, so they're not creating more stuff. It's worked really wonderfully and I've watched the board come along. And the conversation, even if the session, the content doesn't change much, the quality of the conversation has improved. And in the beginning they didn't talk a lot. And now there's much more back and forth. It's much less hearing me talk, but to have board member to board member conversation. So I think things like breaking things down have been, has been.
Carol: Yeah. And I'm even thinking, in terms of all those presentations what, what, might've all been written reports before, you could just record a brief, the, the staff or the, whatever the report is and have those go out beforehand. So you watch them while they're doing the dishes or listen to them while they're taking a walk, it doesn't have to all be written materials. So there's lots of different ways that you can deliver whatever information people need to have to have the conversation.
Marla: I'm trying to think of other innovations I've seen. And I think it just has to do with better reports. I've seen a, like little they're, more logistical and operational about better way board members are getting in the execs, I guess, are getting better at organizing board packets and materials and online handbooks and resources. And I think this is the nature of the pandemic, but I think it's a healthy thing. And I've seen other execs do this often when they're new, which is communication between board meetings. Assuming you're not meeting monthly, which I rarely recommend. But that, they're like, here's an update from the staff on what's happening on the ground because board members, especially during COVID and especially if you're doing frontline work, want to know what it’s like in the office or the quote office. What are you seeing? And so they don't have to be long emails, but a, like, here's three exciting things that happened this month. And yes, it takes some time from the exec to do that, but to be strategic about it and balance it between operational and strategic issues and need, and mission has, I think, helped some board members feel better connected. I've also seen some really savvy execs have coffee hour sort of, much more intentionally one-on-one with board members or an open house, like just call and ask questions, schedule time on a, like once a month basis for just whats. So people can ask questions because I think with all the uncertainty around, going back to work or direct service needs or increases or decreases in funding. It's just a way to ask questions without feeling like it's the formality of a full meal. Yeah, I love that.
Carol: There are lots of different ways to do that communication, that isn't all in the box of a board meeting, but what are the different ways that you can poke people in and not have it be onerous either on the board members part or on the staff part, but to keep those lines of communication open. So on each episode I'd like to play. A game where I ask one random icebreaker question. My question for you is what book have you read recently that you would recommend and why?
Marla: One of the things they did during the pandemic was a virtual book club with people I've been in book clubs with over the course of my life, and none of us are in the same city. So it's been a blast. My favorite book was Deacon King Kong by James McBride. I can see you smiling. Not everybody can do that on the podcast. So it is a historical novel, if you will. We'll about, I believe it was the sixties in New York city and it had the, the Italian mafia on the Irish cops and the black drug dealers. And The Bronx or Harlem or Brooklyn, I can't even remember, but it had the best characters.
Carol: Character names for sure.
Marla: Absolutely the best names. And so it was incredibly relevant to the world today and issues of social justice and community. And yeah, just a blast to read. He's a wonderful writer. And we had some fun conversations about it, we were joking about that. So if you haven't read the book, the burning question in our head was what was the cheese that was left in the basement by that was left for the community in the basement of the boiler room.
Carol: I do remember it now. I do remember it. Yeah, there was just so it set in, in a, in a housing project. I can't remember what borough of New York and just all the intersections of community and. These characters. Oh my goodness. Yeah. So Donald has great characters, but the story moves too. So yeah. I love that.
Marla: I want it to be a movie.
Carol: Yes. I think it would make a great movie. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you. What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Marla: It was amazing in the middle of the pandemic. I worked on a think tank research project about the principles of trusteeship which I did with the association of governing boards of universities and colleges. It's always a mouthful to say that and it really focused on what are the principles of would that make a great board member? Not a great board because the board is made up of a bunch of people. And as I said earlier, one of the obstacles to governance is people. And so it was really fun and amazing to tap into the wisdom of a bunch of college and universities per professor presidents and foundation executives to say what they had seen and to do this in the middle of the pandemic. When you thought colleges didn't even know if they were going to be open that semester. Folks, hundreds of volunteers from AGB we're on focus groups. And so really walking away with this sort of, how do you speak to the individual? I think it has made me realize how important it is to say, it's not just what a good board should do, but it's like, what can you personally do and do better as a board member and. I feel like that's a mantra that comes out in conversation, but not as explicitly as this project brought it into focus. And so really helping people see what you are doing to help or get in the way of yourself or others. Be part of a great board.
Carol: Is there a report or some summary of findings for that?
Marla: It’s coming. There is a big purple book that we did that has nine principles. They fall into three big buckets. I was a PI. Now it's a mandola because that sounds far more sophisticated than a pie. It was at Thanksgiving when we came up with a pie that has an inner circle of three pieces, which is understood by the government. Think strategically and lead by example or lead with integrity. And so that is what you as an individual should do. And then each piece of that pie has components built within it that get at your role as a. As a fiduciary of the organization. So you've got to uphold that they get a, what role you play on the board as a member of a team. Like not everyone is the captain or the center or the goalie. I'm a soccer fan. And then there is the, what do you do outside of the board and board work? That you do as a volunteer. So when you have special expertise or you show up on campus for an event or whatever it is that you're doing, that is not board work, but you do because you love the organization or you're passionate, or because you're a board member, but you have something to add that is not a governance function. And I think so. Yes, it came out as a book that you can buy from AGB. There is an article that I wrote for trusteeship magazine that I believe is free to anyone on the AGB website, agb.org. And the title is what board members are you? So it's again, it's speaking to you. And then there's a whole bunch of stuff that AGB is rolling out, but it really was this process of self-reflection and trying to make it and put it in the language that is accessible and not jargon. And that isn't shaming people or giving them commandments, thou shall do this, but that's say, we know this is hard and we know it varies from organization to organization, but there are some fundamentals that we think everybody should be capable of doing, or you shouldn't be on the board.
Carol: Awesome. All right. Well, we'll look for that so that we can put a link in the show notes, so, awesome. Thank you so much. It was great having you in love to have this conversation.
Marla: Likewise, thanks for including me and keeping up the good governance work. All right. Thanks.
Carol: I appreciated Marla’s perspective on how the work of governance is not always crystal clear about whether an issue or decision is in the realm of strategy or management. Those are two categories that are somewhat arbitrary and there is a gray area between them. Clear communication and trust between the board and the executive director and senior leadership can go a long way to make it safe for each group to ask the questions it has, get the information it needs and feel supportive of each other instead of so wary about whether they are stepping on each other toes or getting in each other’s lanes. The models may make it look super distinctive but folks need to realize that sometimes it is not. I also appreciated the point that boards needs to spend more time looking forward than backward. Too often so much of board meetings is taken up with reports – updates on work done by committees, staff, task forces, etc. Instead of using the time that everyone is together to have a discussion about a key issue – whether it is one facing the organization today or one that folks see coming down the pike. As much as you can get reports to people in another format than shared verbally in a meeting – whether it is a written update, a short video or audio message – there are lots of options to consider.
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 Marla, the full 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 it, please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. Until next time.
This episode is part of the Culture Fit project that Carol recorded with her son-in-law Peter Cruz. In this episode, Carol, her cohost Peter Cruz, and their guest Ariel Salome discuss:
Ariel Salomé thrives on challenging assumptions and limiting beliefs, reframing challenges into opportunities. She possesses the uncanny ability to constructively disturb the status quo to the point where it opens the floodgates of possibilities, leading to transformation. For the past 18 years, Ariel has served as a training & curriculum designer, DE&I practitioner and group process facilitator. She just returned to California from Washington D.C. where she managed National Science Foundation grant-funded projects in STEM higher education reform, supporting the development of STEM faculty leaders across the nation. Ariel is now known as the “Corporate Healer” as she coaches and develops the next generation of leaders in tech as the PM for Leadership Development at Lyft. Ariel is also the founder and space holder for METANOIA, a spiritual community of practice. Ariel received her BA in Sociology and dialogue facilitation training at Occidental College. She completed ICF comprehensive coaching certification and doctoral-level training in human and organizational development at Fielding Graduate University. Her research and practice include transformative learning, ontological coaching, and the somatic release of intergenerational and racialized trauma. She believes that the world’s greatest problems can find solutions when we show up as fully human and fully divine.
Important Links and Resources:
Ariel Salomé thrives on challenging assumptions and limiting beliefs, reframing challenges into opportunities. She possesses the uncanny ability to constructively disturb the status quo to the point where it opens the floodgates of possibilities, leading to transformation. For the past 18 years, Ariel has served as a training & curriculum designer, DE&I practitioner and group process facilitator. She just returned to California from Washington D.C. where she managed National Science Foundation grant-funded projects in STEM higher education reform, supporting the development of STEM faculty leaders across the nation. Ariel is now known as the “Corporate Healer” as she coaches and develops the next generation of leaders in tech as the PM for Leadership Development at Lyft. Ariel is also the founder and space holder for METANOIA, a spiritual community of practice. Ariel received her BA in Sociology and dialogue facilitation training at Occidental College. She completed ICF comprehensive coaching certification and doctoral-level training in human and organizational development at Fielding Graduate University. Her research and practice include transformative learning, ontological coaching, and the somatic release of intergenerational and racialized trauma. She believes that the world’s greatest problems can find solutions when we show up as fully human and fully divine.
Important Links and Resources:
I am Peter Cruz and with all as always with me is
Carol Hamilton: Carol Hamilton, or you want to be here with you Peter and Ariel.
Ariel Salome: Great to have.
Peter: So just as an introduction, Carol has already mentioned our guests' names. So Ariel, tell us a little bit about.
Ariel: Hi, everyone. Thank you for having me. My name is Ariel Salome, and I always liked to lead with who I am, what I love, what lights me up and what I have to offer to the world. So I eliminate pathways for leaders to embrace their full humanity. Which in turn gives them the permission to give others around them to do the same thing. I craft experiences that turn on light bulbs and produce aha moments, but ultimately I'm a healer. So leaders are no longer called to be on blockers and closers, but the holders and the keepers of the mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing of their teams. And I believe that the world's greatest problems, including systemic oppression can find those healing solutions. When we show up for each other as fully human and fully divine.
Peter: Wonderful. How I guess to start us off is how it sounds like it's going to be a very lengthy answer and response, but how has 2020 impacted you.
Ariel: Well, 2020 has actually been good for me. Yeah. I, I, anytime I interact with my team, anyone that I have contact with is as you can tell from my introduction, fully human and fully divine, I advocate that we always show up in our full awareness of who we are as creators and as human beings. And so I just see this as an opportunity for consciousness and the expansion of consciousness. And what that means is that there are so many things that have been beneath the surface, just kind of bubbling, almost like a volcano. So 2020 was that push to get all of the lava to kind of pop out. Scary, right. Nobody wants to be overtaken by the hot magma coming from the center of the Earth's core. However, it's a natural process. It's a cleansing process and. The study, all climates are environments that have volcanoes such as Hawaii. there's a really, there's a beauty that really evolves after the cooling of the magma. There are particular plants, floral, and fauna that thrive in that environment. And I see this as a kind of evolution. So for me, I've landed in my career at a tech company. I worked for Lyft. I am the program manager for inclusive leadership. I also have my own coaching and consulting firm amid a NOAA experience. And I've had this kind of transformation of my own. So 2020 has been great. And I just see it as a healing opportunity for us as individuals and as a collective.
Peter: Yeah. It's certainly there, there certainly has been instilled, like, I think this is one of the first. Like I guess I've only been alive for like 31 years, but like in the mind, short time, just seeing how you're actually witnessing a lot of change and you're like in the action, you're actually being a part of it. Like, these are the things that people will read about, decades from now. So it's interesting, but also very foreign and unique and uncomfortable at times to be a part of it, like trying to question what you can do as an individual who may not be working in some of these professional spaces or, if you are a kind of a quote, unquote cog in a wheel at an organization. Like what can I do to try to steal the change? For those people, we will talk about like, I think leaders in those spaces. But for people who are kind of. Active members of the change, but may not have the power to instill it. What has been your experience with them? Like what are some words of wisdom for those people?
Ariel: Yeah. So let me clarify this. I actually think that everyone is a leader, so it's not just about where you sit in an organization, but you're the leader of yourself first. You're the leader of your family? You're the leader. Non-positional leadership is just as important as positional leadership. We all have a part to play in this kind of evolution. I love Benjamin Zander. He's an orchestra conductor, and he talks about leading. Any seat bets are in. So we know that in the symphony, those who are in the first chair I played the violin as a child. And so, being that first string is what you are in, in the first seat is what you aspire to.
But everyone in the orchestra has a part to play that is very critical and important. So it's really, I like to say, if you, if you bolster your own. Of self first, right? Where do I fit into this macrocosm of society and all of the societal ills and the structure that exists, where is my place? And I say that it just starts with education, educating yourself, enlightening yourself, and then. Spreading your own personal gospel after. Yeah.
Carol: And I loved how you described it. Kind of 2020 is the metaphor of the volcano and what's been bubbling underneath for a long time. And for some folks that. The question for 2020, why's why now? Why, why did it take y'all so long to have some awareness of what's been going on for a very long time. But there've been folks trying to do education and trying, building kind of a I don't know it's in some ways, like getting people ready to then this outside, I don't know. It's not really outside, but all these forces coming together in a particular moment, allowing company difference. Whoops. They want my pen allowing something different to happen. But yeah, it's been building for a long time.
Ariel: Yeah, there's a, there's a concept part, the law of diffusion of innovation.
And I believe Daniel Pink's book is the tipping point, or is that Malcolm Gladwell? I'm not sure it's one of them, but the whole point, the whole point is there's a scale by which people you have early adopters, and then you have the great majority. And I think we've just reached that majority. And so we're starting, we've seen the tipping point.
And now the rest is kind of like waiting for people's old ways to kind of die out. And with this, the oncoming generations to really carry these messages forward, because I think that the whole, the next generation of. And just like beings are gonna, Ooh, I do not feel like the amount of I guess I think because people who are, I guess, a little more resistant to the change will just feel like they're just overwhelmed with this wave and this rush.
Of change because I think the generation below me, like generation Z, like they are far more with it than I ever was at their age. And, they have the vocabulary, they have the quote unquote arsenal and, and I think, with millennials and gen X, so like as they're, I guess we're moving up in these organizations as well. So, and if we're trying to, I guess, More receptive to feedback. I think that's always something that I faced when I was an employee talking to someone much more senior. It's just that open door, that flexibility, that, that, that kind of desire to change and leave something better. Wow. I'm going to do my best to like, try to instill that change. Probably going to feel at a place because of what I've been used to in the professional landscape versus what everyone who's going to be coming up in their workforce. You mentioned how we all have different roles in this for people in regards to diversity equity inclusion, who may be part of the majority. And I think allyship and co-conspirator ship or terms that have been thrown out there. How, how can they act on their desire to be one of those people, but not knowing where to start?
Ariel: Yeah. Yeah. I like to say that it begins with cultivating courage. There's this level of like a zero F's that you have to give. And I like to consider myself to be a status quo disruptor. And I think if we take on that persona, if you will, to be a status quo disruptor, and just be like, you know what? This is. And it comes down to meetings. When you hear, interrupting emails, I've done that at previous employers, I've seen, I've been CC'd on emails and I've interrupted language that wasn't inclusive. I've been in meetings and I'm like, Hey, I haven't heard from so-and-so. Let's make sure everyone has. When I do leadership trainings for lifts and we do a word cloud in the beginning of our inclusive leaders training is where who's in the room and who's not in the room. So yes, of course, I'm going to keep referencing leadership because my personal philosophy is everyone is a leader and I do leadership development. However, Just for the everyday individual contributor. Who's not a people manager, just that, like I said, taken on that persona of like, if I see something I'm going to say something and, and it's, it's safer to do so now than it ever has been before. And learn. Go ahead.
Carol: What were you saying about stepping into courage and building those muscles for courage, because I think one of the I mean, one of the cultural values in, in white culture is being polite and, being conflict avoidant and skirting around the issue. And so you, you're having to step into something that's kind of counter cultural and, and. But I think it is in those small moments, right? I mean, there's so much culture. We talk about culture is kind of this big thing, but it's really made up in all of those small moments, interactions between people. How are you showing up? And so it goes back to that, each person can be a leader if they're thinking about how they're showing up and, and it may not be calling people out, it may be asking, asking that disruptive. It interrupts the kind of just status quo, normal, how we might go about.
Ariel: Yeah, absolutely. And we've witnessed that this week as a country, as a global community, when Meghan [Markle] and Prince Harry came forth to share their story, it took a lot of courage and it also showed like, this is real, you know? Yes. And everywhere. We have this culture of silence, because that's just the way it's been. I mean, if that wasn't one of the top themes of Megan's experience was this is how it is, everybody's gone through it, you know? And it's like, Does it really have to be that way, especially for those who like pledged awardees and fraternities I've always thought like, well, why do we have to keep doing it?
Carol: Just because it was done that you can't, we have the hazing and sororities and fraternities hazing in professions.
Ariel: Exactly. Yeah. Well, I had the, I had to do that. XYZ entry level person. So you got to do a hazing theory. Yeah. I just came from five years working in academia and higher education. The process of obtaining a PhD and becoming a tenure faculty member is just as fraught with hazing as ever. So with all of these, right. That's a theme that we're seeing. So why can we just ask ourselves why? And is there room for something else?
Peter: Yeah. And what's, it's like this history of modesty within like kind of like white supremacy culture, like. What do you, what are some, I guess, I guess maybe I'm asking for like a free lesson here, a pro bono lesson, but like for, for younger people of color who had to assimilate into these like institutions, how, like, what are some recommendations for them to like, kind of shake it off and, have, I guess the courage and build that stuff when they've kind of been beaten down.
Ariel: Yeah, I would say that. One tip, I would say, is find community and find your safe space. I have been fortunate to land in a place at Lyft that values people being their authentic selves and being able to bring their full selves encouraging, if you're in a position of leadership or an influencer in any culture, can you. Can you create a space or a safe for everyone to be themselves, to disagree on something and to move forward? I also, I also would suggest, imposter syndrome, I just came out of a lovely with Dr. Chayla white Ramsey taught. She taught imposter syndrome for the forum. Great, great group in a network of women who are teaching career development. And it's, it's a pastor syndrome is a really high experienced psychological experience for people of color. And then we also in whistling Vivaldi, the author talks about what it means to have a stereotype threat. They kind of all fit in the same category of what it means when this perception of who you are, because you're a member of this group that's underrepresented or that's melanated, or that's clear that, this. Somehow going to impact how you're able to show up, but how can you challenge even those internal narratives that because you don't quote unquote fit in one way that I did this for myself personally, because I am a spiritual mystic. And so I infuse that in everything that I do. So it's really hard to give an answer that does not have some type of spiritual undertone.
So I'm really big with affirmation. And one thing in my early twenties, when I was having a difficult time finding my place in my work style, and how to lead and how to build teams. I said, I bring value wherever I go. And I just kept saying that to myself because I was receiving these messages. Like you're not valuable, you're creating problems, there's chaos around you. And I was just like, you know what? That's not true. I'm not going to receive that near. I'm going to receive this narrative. I am going to create a narrative that I create value wherever I go. Another message that's pervasive. I don't know how this shows up in other ethnic groups, but from those particularly who are descendants of the enslaved Africans who were brought to America is this notion of you have to work 10 times harder to get half of what, the predominant group. I challenged that narrative. I was like, that's not true.
If I show up and do my best, I'm going to be rewarded. Now, a lot of people would be like, oh, you can't say that you're disregarding the experiences. Yes, they are very real experiences. But in our process of acknowledging that we are also divine beings and we have the power to create and shape our world, our world through our thoughts, actions and our. If I continue to tell myself, I don't have to have this pressure of doing 10 times the work of someone else to get half the recognition. I'm just going to be the best at being me and people are going to see it, the period. And that's, that's how I live.
Peter: Yeah. I mean, I remember like just some still, I guess, relatively new and relatively young and just like the workspace. Cause I'm probably going to work for another 50 years, but I mean, in words of affirmation are a big thing that I think we all struggle with, especially like when you are part of a minority because you're getting that culturally from your family, like you shouldn't, you need to do this and that and this and that. So you're like, okay, I need to confine that way. You get into the workforce and like, whoa, you're you only have so few doors open to you and your, your comments about your tone about like,
Ariel: Oh yeah. I had a conversation with someone and, and about tone. I was like, oh, I am an African indigenous woman. Yeah. Like that's the story of our life. They're like black women are sassy, they have a chip on their shoulder. I'm just like, that's your narrative. And I don't subscribe to that narrative. And I've had instances where I've been penalized because of someone's perception of being this tall five foot, 10, 200 plus. black women and I'm just like, this is just not the place for me.
Peter: Yeah, exactly. I definitely felt that as well. They're just by your appearance, just like how you, like, what role you'll play within the organization and whether or not you're serious. Like, I, there have been like, cause I'm like six, two was two 50 and like a Puerto Rican man. So, in the summer I get darker. So it was like, people would just, I think I'm a very intimidating presence or, maybe I'm authoritative or maybe like, people don't even want to ask me questions or do anything Slightly, but then it's like my whole professional career has been to dismantle that that's a burden that we have to live with. It's like, no, like all judgements that you may have are just like, no, no, that's not, that's not true.
Carol: I wanted to follow up on one thing you mentioned, you've mentioned stereo threat, a stereotype threat. And I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit more about what that is and how that shows up.
Ariel: Yeah. So stereotype third is a concept that was developed in, illuminated in the book whistling Vivaldi, and the author studied what occurs for underrepresented groups. I believe he was, excuse me. I believe the author was studying African Americans. I'm not a hundred percent sure. But what happens when they sit down to take a test? So if there's a stereotype, let's use the model minority myth. So Asian Americans are told like, oh, they're good at math. So if someone keeps telling you you're good at math, you're good at math, your brain will actually trick you into believing like, Hey, I'm good at math. So the converse of - and let's clarify, we know that that is a myth and that is not for everyone, but the way that our brains work psychologically, we tend to internalize those messages that have been fed to us from the time that we pop out of our mother's womb, and we enter into the world. These messages subconsciously fit with us. So if the message that women or other minority groups are not good at. That way, or if the, even if the teacher, if the student has perceived that the teacher doesn't even think that they have capability, that impacts testing scores. So that's a stereotype threat. So it has nothing to do with someone's actual innate capability, but those subconscious, the subconscious reception of those stereotypes can hinder academic performance.
Carol: Internalizing those oppressive messages. And I guess one, one kind of slight window of hope that I think about is that given that, that all of these cultures and all of these messages, all of these systems were made by people. Then they can be made into new things and that, so I think starting to uncover that, actually this isn't just, it isn't, it doesn't just exist kind of beyond us, where we're either helping to perpetuate or trying to dismantle any of these systems, any of these ways of thinking in everything we do.
Ariel: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Peter: I think I only have one more question. So the question we ask every guest is: as the workforce had to shift in response to COVID and that vaccinations are being rolled out, so they can only have one, it's only safe to assume that there will be a return to normalcy, so to speak. What are you most looking forward to and optimistic about the post lockdown world?
Ariel: Hmm. That's a loaded question. That's a lot. I actually want to add something to a question you said. When you talked about what can people who are allies and co-conspirators do take another step. So here we go. Another step that allies can take is to normalize, calling out social identity, because what Carol has illuminated earlier around, what is the culture of whiteness? And what are some of them? Old ways that have been passed down from generation to generation are the silence or the hushing because as Carol said, it's being polite. It's not polite to talk about racism, not polite to talk about identity. So if we, I am Irish American. My family has been in this country for X, Y, Z numbers of generations. Or my family comes from Russia. My family comes from Italy. Right. And to embrace that within yourself. So call out like, okay there's this thing called whiteness. And I am a part of it because I don't call white people, white people. Just philosophically, fundamentally, I like to tie people to a land into a nation because that's who we really are. Whiteness is a social construction and it just so happens that people who do not have melanated skin get swept up into this construct of what it means to be white.
But we, there are European Americans. There are people who have. Just as there are people who have origins here in the Americas, the indigenous people, the tribes of those who are also nameless. So if we normalize, I am and I am X, Y, Z, queer black differently. Et cetera, et cetera. I'm Muslim, I'm Jewish, I am, all of these things; because colorblindness is at the root of it is an eraser. You're just erasing people's identity to say, oh, I don't see you because you're just a human. I was like, well, our brains are not set up to work like that. So normalizing calling out an isolating social identity is one thing that you. Find comfort with, and then celebrate, celebrate the differences because diversity is an excellent thing. Diversity is a beautiful thing. And some studies show scientific studies, mathematical studies show that when there are people from different groups who are together, you're going to find different solutions.
Peter: So it's like step one, normalized difference, and then go on to the next.
Carol: All right. Well, and I think it's beyond that, because what I've observed is: it's very easy for someone who is not white, just to name their identity first and foremost, as whatever group they are. Part of that is not white. It is not typical for white people to say I'm a European American. First it says, I don't know something that you can't see. I'm someone who grew up in this place or I'm the sister of a person with a disability, I'm many things that I have to tell you about that. I do not name the first thing that you can say, which is that I'm white. Absolutely. And I think that is what would be different if white people, also people of European descent in America started saying that first.
Ariel: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because we tend to that and that's the function of whiteness is that you don't have to think about what's your right. So you start looking and searching for all these other things. Like when we do this activity people are like, I'm a hiker, I'm a cook. I'm like, yeah. Right. Well, that's not really a social identity, but. Cool. Hey, you know so yeah, you start searching for all these other identities because it's invisible and privileges are invisible. That's what is created to do,
Peter: I think that's it.
Ariel: What was your closing question?
Peter: Oh, I'm just looking forward to the graft or mystic about anything. If there's something to look forward to, if not, then that's also fine.
Ariel: Well, one what I'm looking forward to moving forward, moving on from this point. The evolution and expansion of our consciousness as a collective. So go back to the volcano metaphor, or actually to use a metaphor of the purification of gold. Gold has to be heated so that all of the impurities can rise to the top and to be swept up. And so we're seeing, the, the, what has been impure in our thinking has been impure in our culture, our ways of living, how we're treating one another based on socially constructed identifiers. Like it doesn't mean. So I'm looking forward to the next generation's innovation. I'm a part of a conference that's coming up and this conference, or, and I shouldn't even call it.
It should be called an unconference, but the organizers of this event, the innovation that's coming out. We're not going to be virtual. We're going to be virtual, but we're not just going to sit in a zoom meeting and listen to people talk all day. I mean, the innovation that's coming from these ladies shouting out facets is absolutely amazing. I am so excited just to see what Springs forth from the collective, life is not going to be the same. So it is the beautiful and perfect time for innovation and evolution. If you, anyone who studies any astrologers, are telling us in terms of where the heavens and the stars and the planets are aligned. We're in the same position as the world was when we came out of the dark ages and went into the Renaissance.
Carol: Well, let's hope that this brings around a sauce.
Ariel: Pretty good.
Peter: But really the roaring twenties again. Well, thank you so much, Ariel. It was a pleasure having you. Thank you for having me hope to have you on sometime in the future. I think things are ever-changing so hopefully there'll be another new perspective that you could have, or a new thing that we could have your perspective on later.
Ariel: Yeah. Alright. Thank you so much. Thank you.
Peter: So again, thank you to Ariel. I think one of the things that I took away from that conversation was how, regardless of your position with an organization or company, you are a leader and you play an active role in. And installing change whether it's voicing up from, responding to an email, seeing some, it's kinda like that, that subway attitude, if you see something say something. So that was a very big takeaway from me. What about you?
Carol: And I think building on that, it's just thinking about for each person kind of what's their sphere of influence. So it could be with their coworkers, could be on their team. And write either you're kind of playing along with the system or you're, you're asking questions and, and helping people, perhaps he sees things a little bit differently questioning, the kind of commonly accepted norms that maybe aren't even that are so, so normalized that people don't even see them. So by asking some questions, you can help, help lift those things to the, to the surface from under the.
Peter: Yeah. It's like a, if, if you're naturally inquisitive, then the current work landscape is keen for like, it's just ideal for you though, because people get tired of people asking too many questions.
Peter: That's true, but that's not gonna just be like the old regime trying to instill its power, just like. Be quiet. Yeah. But yeah, for our audience and our listeners, if you have any questions that you'd like to send us for Carol and myself to answer and our guests of the week please feel free to send those to culture fit email@example.com.
And that's it, have a good rest of your day.
Carol: All right. Thank you so much. Thanks for listening.
In episode 33 of Mission: Impact, Carol, her cohost, Peter Cruz, and their guest, Stephen Graves discuss diversity equity and inclusion in the health care sector. This episode is a release of a podcast Carol planned to start with her son-in-law and has many transferrable ideas and concepts to the nonprofit sector. We talk about:
Guest bio: Stephen Graves
Born in South Carolina and raised in the black Baptist church, Stephen had an insatiable curiosity to understand the South’s nuanced history related to race, his place in that story as a black man, and how the Christian faith could be used as a tool to heal or a weapon to hurt. This curiosity set him on a personal exploration, which turned into a professional journey as he pursued and earned a Master in Health Administration from the Medical University of South Carolina. Throughout his career in healthcare and in diversity, equity and inclusion, he has led initiatives centered on addressing health disparities, improving language access, and increasing cultural humility among teams. He has been fortunate to collaborate with healthcare providers, faith leaders, high school and college students, and business leaders in helping them to create welcoming and inclusive cultures where all can thrive.
Cultural humility: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaSHLbS1V4w
Tuskegee Study: https://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/ethics-articles/The_Tuskegee_Syphilis_Study_and_Its_Implications_for_the_21st_Century/
Racial biases about Black people and pain: https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/how-we-fail-black-patients-pain
Stephen Graves: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sggraves/
All In Consulting: https://www.allinconsulting.co/
Peter Cruz: https://www.linkedin.com/in/peterjcruz/
Peter Cruz: Hey, everyone. Welcome to culture. Fit the podcast where we do our best to answer your equity inclusion questions. That'll help you navigate the professional landscape, especially when you are not a culture fit. Peter Cruz
Carol Hamilton: and I'm Carol Hamilton. And today on the podcast, we're going to be talking to Steven Graves and looking at diversity equity inclusion in the healthcare practice.
Peter: It's a great conversation and I hope you enjoyed the episode.
Stephen Graves: Hey Carol,
Peter: How are you doing Carol?
Carol: How are you doing Peter?
Peter: I'm doing all right. I had a good night's sleep because it's like 16 degrees over here. And when it's really cold, you just sleep real hard. So I didn't move. Not one time. So I'm well rested and well-prepared for today.
Carol: Today we do have a guest. Our guest is Steven Graves. How are you doing Steven?
Stephen: Good. Glad to be here.
Peter: Could you provide some background information on yourself?
Stephen: Yeah. I'm Stephen Graves. I'm a native of a small town in South Carolina, upstate South Carolina called Greenville. In between Greenville and Columbia I started in the healthcare profession dating back to when I was in college interning at a disabilities and special needs facility. Also pursue my master's at the medical university of South Carolina down in Charleston, South Carolina. So I had to have about a decade of experience in the medical field. And just really glad to be here today and have a conversation with you all
Peter: glad to have you for sure. I mean, you're our inaugural guests, so without you, the show actually wouldn't be possible.
Stephen: Oh, wow. That is a privilege and an honor pressure too.
Carol: No, no pressure at all. And Steven, I think, as you've been in that field, you've also stepped into specializing more closely in diversity, equity and inclusion. Is that correct? Is that right?
Stephen: Yes. Yeah. I've been doing the diversity equity and inclusion work. Like I said for the last 10 years, I really opened my eyes during my time at the medical university of South Carolina working with a limited English professor. In communities trying to make sure that they have access to translators interpreters, and really just making sure that those services meet and exceed their expectations to improve the patient experience. I was really blessed and honored to be around some great folks, great mentors at the MUFC community. And it just really opened my eyes to the disparities that are in healthcare, in the medical community and understanding how we can. Address those to have a more equitable society and make sure that everybody's living to their full potential as far as their physical and mental health is concerned.
Peter: Hmm. Great. And this is coming this first, like my question, like it's coming from a place of ignorance because I don't know anyone else who works in the medical field. Especially in diversity equity inclusion. Is there, what are, where are things that are similar? From the medical field in DEI that are, that exist in nonprofit or corporate spaces. And then if there's anything that's unique to there, can you like to shine some light on those?
Stephen: Yeah, that's a good question. I think the similarities are that in order for shifts to be made in order for real change, transformational change to happen. You've got to have senior leadership commitment. Whoever is at the top of the organization has the most power. They have the most influence. Oftentimes they can control where energy is being in place, where resources are being placed. So the one similarity, the main similarity is really around that senior leadership commitment piece. I think another similarity is also around being. Data and evidence-based driven, right? So a lot of times the mistake that people make in this particular aspect of diversity equity inclusion is because there's such an emotional tie and pull to it with feelings and it can trigger a lot of people. People don't take a logical, maybe rational and evidence-based approach. And I think whether you're in the nonprofit space, whether you're in the corporate America space, whether you're healthcare like myself, You still need to be driven by data, right? Collecting what we call real data, race, ethnicity, and language, data, collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data. So that's another similarity. And in terms of collecting that data, and then a third similarity would be around using that data. To sit and drive real goals in terms of what are going to be some realistic goals that we can measure and they can help us chart our path forward. I would say the main difference in healthcare is that you are literally talking about life and death, right? Yeah. A lot of people in other spaces can say, okay, well, this is nice to have. But if you don't have the right type of language, access programming in place, or an effective language access program, it can literally be a life or death situation. There can be some dire consequences if you're not focusing on equitable outcomes, I would say that would be the biggest difference when it comes to working in this space in healthcare lands versus any other field.
Peter: Thank you. I think that last bit does stand out for me, it being about life or death. I think that probably because my professional experience is all in nonprofit, like youth focused, youth empowerment and because it doesn't have to do with life or death, it provides that opportunity to. Second guests like to prolong and like to require more patients because the senior leaders have the option to just like, maybe test it a little bit, but then if it doesn't feel like it will succeed. And, but does that mean that things, decisions come quicker in, in, in, in the middle of the profession?
Carol: The huge organizations that you're dealing with as well. I mean, huge systems with so many people and that, that, that makes the complexity even, even more so.
Stephen: Exactly right. When you're talking about a large health system, I've worked in health systems ranging from 8,000 employees to 25,000 employees. So it takes a long time to normalize this across the landscape. If you will, when it comes to that large healthcare. There is a higher sense of urgency, I would say right now, based on the events that happened last year, I think America's having a reawakening and that's happening in the medical field as well. Thinking about the COVID disparities related to the pandemic black and brown communities being hit harder than other communities of color and white communities. When you're thinking about that, the sense of urgency has elevated recently, those same barriers when it comes to that bureaucratic nature of the hierarchy is still there. And that's unfortunate, but I think, again, I'm hopeful and optimistic that right now there's going to be a shift that happens as a result of occurrence.
Carol: And I can imagine that that sense of crisis, actually, it could be helpful and it could also be a hindrance of, oh, we've just got to focus on COVID right now. We can't focus on those, those other things going unquote. And I imagine that plays out as well.
Stephen: It does, it does. And, me being able to prioritize the advice that I would give to leaders when it comes to that resistance, right. In terms of saying, okay, we got to put this off because there's other priorities saying, Hey, these are priorities within priorities. Right? So wherever the conversation is, whether it's around COVID, whether it's around your EHR, electronic health care, right. There's going to be a lens of diversity, equity and inclusion within all of those priorities. Maybe you're building and expanding your practices, expanding a wing, getting your hospital. You've got to have some consideration for, okay, how are we going to make this accessible, right, for a person with disability? How are we going to make sure that language signage is translated in a way that folks who don't speak English as a first language can understand? So these things are going to be embedded, right? Any initiative, any project that hospital organizations are going to be working on. And that's the case that I always try to make when it comes to prioritizing this work.
Carol: And you mentioned data and evidence driven. Can you give us an example of how that's been helpful and bringing that perspective or bringing that evidence to the team.
Stephen: Yeah. So a lot of the organizations that I've had the pleasure to work inside of and consult with survey, right? So doing engagement surveys and really asking some core questions around inclusivity and inclusion saying, do you feel respected? In the walls, these hospitals, do you feel there are patients who are racial, racially, diverse, ethnically diverse, linguistically diverse. Do you feel like they're being respected, being treated the same, that data can provide a baseline and it can really be useful and valuable to getting you some really great information that you can build off of. So that's one part of the data collection that I'm referring to. Another aspect is looking at patient experience scores, right? So this is something we all can relate to, whether you're. Inside of the healthcare system, or you are receiving services as a patient, everybody can either deliver, how their experience was, or we're going to hear how the experience was on our end as healthcare providers. That data can be stratified sorted by race, by ethnicity, by language, by age or all of these different demographic factors. And you can realize contrast, and you can see those contrasts and that data. If again, if the organization's willing to make that commitment, to look at their data differently, to see, okay, there's a difference because different, yeah, this exists and that takes a little bit of commitment and it takes a little bit of discomfort to look at that and say, White patients are having a much better experience when they're interacting with their nurse at bedside than a black patient is. So those that, that type of data will really help tell a story and validate for the, the nonbelievers, if you will, this work is so important.
Peter: Speaking of non-believers. One, one question that we were going to ask you is the anti-vaxxer community. How has that, especially over the past year during COVID, how has that impacted I guess the increase of people coming into the hospital. And is there a community that exists within the staff? The medical professionals that are also anti-vaxxers.
Stephen: Yeah. I would say that when it comes to anti-vaxxers and those who may be a little bit reluctant to take the backseat, it depends on the communities that you're talking about. Right. So we're talking about black and brown communities. There is an understandable and rightful way of having a district. Yeah, the medical community, right, because of history and because of what we've seen, not only in the healthcare space, but in all of our institutions across America. So the medical community as providers and professionals who have done significant harm over the last, however, a hundred, many years to validate those concerns and those anti-vaxxers, if you will. Yes, whether it's a staff member of color, whether it's a patient of color, I've seen it on both ends. And what part of the work that the medical community has to do is to regain trust of those communities by engaging more effectively and more creatively to make sure that, Hey, we are here for your best interests at hand and alleviating those concerns. But yes, there's definitely. That reluctance piece when it comes to the backs of nations, whether it's, staff members, black staff members of color, or folks, out in the community. Yeah.
Carol: And can you say more, a little bit more about that history of the, that really drove that distrust?
Stephen: Yeah. So I would say, dating back, you can Google the Tuskegee experiments, right? You can think about how women of color are right. Who were pregnant or how they've been treated. So there's a deep history and examples in terms of that level of distrust. And I would say going back to that language access piece, there are some, really Keystone cases in terms of capstones that this suggests okay. One word was mistranslated, right? One word was misinterpreted and it led to a misdiagnosis. It led to the wrong arm being amputated, the wrong leg being amputated. So there's several and numerous examples of that distrust that has been building over time.
Peter: Yeah. And I would also wonder with being that, I guess the white community is more of an individualistic community and people of color tend to be. You know more of a collective so to speak. And if one, one patient has a negative experience, it will already create the whole narrative for their entire community about whether or not they will even, if I'm not feeling well, whether or not I even go to the hospital because they mistreated my friend, they mistreated my mother, they mistreated whomever. Right. So that's that, yeah, that, that, that data that you mentioned earlier is so much more signal, like as equally as significant as it. About the historical context, I would say as well, right?
Stephen: Yeah. That data is current too. Right. So if you think about as recent as five years ago, I won't say the school, but there was a medical school and the students, the white medical residents actually thought that blue, black people's blood coagulated. And they literally thought that black people's skin was thicker and that led to a misdiagnosis and mismanagement of pain and, and under-valuing pain management and prescribing for pain. So the data most currently, and most recently it provides more than enough evidence to focus on communities of color and ensure they have equitable care. Yeah, that data piece is huge.
Peter: I'm looking, you mentioned this, but looking at the past year what we were, we've spoken a little bit about the experience for the patients or potential patients or the community for the medical professionals. How has that last year been? In regards to DEI being that there was like an increased sense of it.
Stephen: Yeah, depending on the communities, right. That you're speaking of within the medical community. Right? So the black and brown professionals in the medical field who I've had the opportunity and privilege to work around, they're saying, okay, well it's about time, right? It's about time, that we're having these conversations, right. It's long overdue. So that's by and large, the sentiment that I've heard from communities of color, when it comes to the white profession. There are some who they're on board, right? How can I be an ally? How can I do better as a provider to better serve my patient? But then of course you have those who are saying, okay, we're just one race. We're the human race, right. Or I'm colorblind. I don't see color, right. And you're thinking to yourself, okay, that's well intentioned. There's some blind spots there. Right. And then, Very far end of the spectrum. you have those folks who have been in the medical field for years, right? Maybe 30, 40 years. They just were not trained this way. Right. They didn't, they weren't trained to have any sort of cultural humility when thinking about the patients, the diverse patients that they're serving. So they have a mindset in place that they develop over time and then, develop a sense of their training that they really have to think through and say, okay, what, what do I need to uncover? What can I start getting curious about to be a better provider? Yes, definitely a range across the spectrum in terms of the response to the DEI efforts and the need for DEI efforts.
Peter: Hmm. I have just one more question. Really Carol, do you have any other questions right now? Okay, with all you've experienced the past four years, right. With administration, do court like that, connected with the pandemic and how people have interacted with Medicare and the medical systems. Are there things that you are optimistic about with the change of administration in regards to the medical profession? Cause I know that people think it's a very, it's a clean slate. A new president. We're all good. Now we got the right guy in office. It's no worries. Like we're all good. Right? We're all family. I'm colorblind and we love each other now again is that, is there any optimism moving forward? Any like short-term goals or long-term goals?
Stephen: I’m optimistic about, from what I've heard from the new administration that has entered is that they are reliable. They are going back to that data-driven evidence-based piece, or they're not saying things that may not be true or may not be validated with data. So I'm looking forward to hearing facts from scientists. Medical experts. And if they don't know the answer to something, I don't know the answer rather than making something up or forecasting something that's not true. Right. And not to get too much into my learning series, but I'm looking forward to not being told to inject our stills with Clorox or other, you know substances that may not, that would probably be harmful to us. So I'm looking forward to that. I'm also optimistic about the focus on disparities. Right? So I think one of the things that I saw coming out of this new administration is a task force. That's going to be developed for health disparities, health equity, especially, during the as we continue to navigate COVID right. So I'm optimistic that there's going to be a renewed focus on communities of color, of being a black man myself. I think that that's critically important. So there's a lot to be optimistic about and, just on a general level, I mean, I'm just looking forward to not being as exhausted. Right. So, and I think that goes for everybody, right? No matter what party you support, I think, everybody can attest to the last four years that it was just a level of exhaustion, whether you were defending the former administration or whether you were radically opposed to the former administration. Well, we can all agree to his bit. It will just be a lower temperature if you will, when it comes to what's happening in DC and how it's affecting our world.
Peter: Yeah, it is, it is, it is wild to think that facts were political.
Carol: We don't have to defend facts as a partisan issue. Oh my goodness. Yeah. Yeah. But I think, as you said, it's a long overdue this, this reckoning that we're having. And as. as groups come together and start really digging into the data that's there. And many people have already researched these things, but bringing it all together into light and to light to the general public through the press, I think it should hopefully move things along.
Stephen: Yeah, that's that, that, that is, I'm definitely hopeful. again, with the information, I think that, the. No, not having so much misinformation floating around. I think that'll definitely go a long way.
Carol: All right. Well, yeah. Thank you so much.
Stephen: All right. Yeah, thank y'all for having me. And I was glad to chat with you all today.
Peter: Thank you, Stevie. Hopefully we'll have you back at some other point, looking forward
Stephen: to that. Thank you. Yeah, that'd be fun.
Carol: So I was particularly struck by his CA our conversation about the mistrust of the medical profession and, and you named folks anti-vaxxers, which I often think of as, as white people who are afraid of vaccinations for their children, because of conspiracy theories around autism and, and lots of misinformation there. I think that history is something that I think a lot of white people are not aware of. And yeah, it's steep and it's going to take a long time to correct.
Peter: Yeah. And hopefully we're on being that, as we mentioned, that facts are now political. Like, I hope that that starts to deteriorate at some point soon so that this will, less of them are no longer political facts and are no longer political and the appropriate people are vaccinated appropriately, appropriately. I think a part that stood out to me was the idea of, and it's something that's open-ended is how do we regain the trust of those communities that have been negatively impacted? I feel like that exists everywhere in every single organization, nonprofit or corporate. How, how do you make sure that people are open and are receptive. That, that seems to be like an ongoing conversation and ongoing dilemma because of how deeply rooted and systematic our racism is or sexism or homophobia is and how ingrained that is and in our culture. So I feel like we'll, we'll probably touch on that in every single episode.
Carol: Yeah. And I don't think it's even real. Right. It's it's it starts to. Yeah. Trust.
Peter: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Well I think that's it for this week's episode. So if you'd like us to attempt to answer one of your diversity equity, inclusion, questions, or scenarios for us and our guests, please feel free to send those to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carol: Look forward to seeing those emails. So culturefitpod.gmail.com.
Peter: Yeah. One of those, try them. Try both of them. Somebody. All right, we'll see you next time. All right.
Carol: Thank you so much. See, talk to you soon.
In episode 27 of Mission: Impact, some of the topics that Carol and her guest, Carlyn Madden discussed include:
Carlyn Madden helps nonprofits find new leaders. She is the CEO of Good Insight, a national executive search firm and governance consultancy that focuses on small nonprofits. Good Insight is committed to becoming an anti-racist search firm and she is a sought-after speaker and adviser on the nonprofit workforce’s generational and demographic shifts. She comes to this work through philanthropy, beginning her career at The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, where she managed a portfolio of grants that spanned education, the arts, human services, and the environment.
Important Guest Links:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Carlyn Madden. She is the CEO of Good Insight, a national executive search firm and governance consultancy that focuses on small nonprofits. Welcome to Mission Impact, 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. Carlyn and I talk about why smaller organizations can benefit from the support of a search firm for their leadership searches. She describes some of the newer good practices to ensure that a search is equitable. We talk about how to avoid being an accidental interim executive director and what aspiring executive directors can do to start now to get ready for a future leadership role
Welcome, Carlyn. And it's great to have you on the podcast.
Carlyn Madden: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Carol: So I love, I like to get started just by asking a question about what drew you to the work that you do, what motivates you and how would you describe your why?
Carlyn: Yeah, great question. So, I started my nonprofit career in philanthropy, which means that I have a bird's eye perspective on what happens in the nonprofit sector, particularly with community-based organizations. And so after being in philanthropy for almost a decade, I started consulting and did a little bit of everything for a while and saw a number of my former grantees and clients go through adverse executive transitions. So some of the organizations, unfortunately had founders pass away, unexpectedly. Others had hired the wrong person and really the organization took a nosedive. And so as I was building my own consulting practice, I kept being a sounding board for the boards of these nonprofits and thought. Gosh, I think I have a different vision for how organizations can tackle this and started designing a executive server executive search services that embedded a more racial equity approach to the work and started rolling that out in 2018 and have been really fully focused on that in the last few years.
Carol: So, Yeah, it seems like there's, there's been a body of work around leadership transitions that probably started, I don't know, maybe 20 years ago. And it's been the standard of how you do things. So I'm really curious to hear more about, what, how, how you were seeing and how you are approaching those transitions differently.
Carlyn: Great question. there was an interesting article a couple years ago, maybe, and Carol, I'll send this to you so you can include it in the notes, from Jeanne Bell who talks about, I think it's called hire by hire and talks about, some of the survey data on executive leadership in the nonprofit sector has not changed in the last 20 years, right. The demographics have not actually changed. And so what is required is are the conditions of executive search have to change. And so while the model that you're talking about, the last 20 years, it's called executive transition management and they talk about, How does it prepare pivot and thrive or something of that nature, that Don Tevye and Tom Adams and Annie E Casey foundation and Compass Point, all of these organizations came together to design this model, which is an effective model at the base of it. But the conditions around the model have changed. And so things that we do that are a little bit different or, or, a lot of my colleagues are starting to do the same, but we're, we're very firm in this. Salary transparency for all of our clients. I'm really thinking about building, not thinking actually building out networks multi-racial networks, leveraging affinity groups, having open exchange with clients, recognizing that often leaders of color don't have those sponsors or, when we are reaching out to folks saying who do you know in this space, that would be a good executive director. Because there are so many white people in the sector in top leadership roles, our networks are very homogenous. We know that I'm a white lady, you know where this is it podcast, but I'm a white lady. We're two white ladies talking to each other. but our networks are very diverse.
And so we have an open door policy that anybody that has questions about a search can call us, can talk to one of our associates about their interest in the role so that they can really prepare their materials to be successful in front of that transition committee. We're also coaching transition committees on what are some best practices. So if a transition committee is hiring an executive director and says only executive directors can apply for this. Well, what we know to be true about the field is that there are fewer executive directors of color than white executive directors. And so we're already starting to limit the pool.
Some like even subtle things, right? How are we, how are we gender coding? Job descriptions. We know the studies say not just in the nonprofit sector, but HR writ large say women are less likely to apply to a job that is masculine coded. So if your job description says things like. Aggressive goal achievement. Yeah. women, or, women read that as like, well, can I aggressively achieve goals? So we use words like collaborate, not compete, thinking really about gender coding there. So it's a really cool tool. And again, I'll send this to you. You can include in the notes that will read your job descriptions for gender coding and tell you if it's a feminized or masculinized job description, which is really neat. We also avoid militarized language, like execute. We don't say execute, we say implement. And we don't say targets. We say focus, all of these sorts of things that are really subtle, but affect how people are receiving a job description and think about themselves in that position.
Carol: And it seems like, you, you are, are really focused in, on the search phase of that transition.And what misconceptions do you think, you've seen that people have about working with someone on S H working with an outside party to support that search process?
Carlyn: Gosh, I think they think it's really expensive. Right. Like most of my clients are under 5 million. That was the area that, so while I was at, I was at a regional foundation called the Cambridge foundation. I had a portfolio that covered indications with domestic violence survivors, homelessness, and the environment just like a broad generalist. But the thing that they all had in common is that they were relatively small, right. There are under 3 million and we say our ideal clients are under five. And we say that because they don't have, HR apparatus, right? There's not a strong internal system, multiple people they're really helping develop out job descriptions and search services internally. There's no internal strategy around it. So yeah. Our clients are best served. When they're small, we provide good services to small clients, but small clients also lack fewer resources. There's a reason that they're small. And so boards often think that they can do it themselves. But again, what do we know about boards? Many of them are predominantly white led. So we look again at these imaginative networks. they don't have the time to, to do the search themselves. So they're not communicating back to the candidates. And so people don't know where they stand that affects the organization's reputation, all sorts of things like that. So I think a common misconception is that it's really expensive and it's not worth the cost that they can find the executive director themselves. That might be absolutely true. However, the ability, particularly with long tenured and founder transitions, long-tenured executive and founder transitions, is the ability to have a partner that understands where the organization's capacity is.
Can explain that clearly both to the board and to candidates and finding a candidate that doesn't just check all the boxes, but really can meet the organization in this exact moment in time is really crucial. So one of the things that we also know is implicit bias is a big thing. We all carry implicit bias. And so you'll receive a resume from somebody and they'll be like, well, they worked at all the right organizations to successfully lead this nonprofit. But maybe they didn't hold the right roles in those organizations. If you are preparing to launch a capital campaign and somebody has come from a competitor organization, but only worked on the program side, they're not going to have necessarily the skill sets necessary to. Be able to launch that capital campaign that's not going to be their area of expertise. So what we help our clients do is really hone in on the key skills and hire for skills and capacity for that organization's next chapter and boards just don't, aren't going to necessarily understand where the organization is in its life cycle and what's next. And because we are experts in the nonprofit sector, we have a clear vision for that.
Carol: And you talked about, I think, one of those really hard transitions, from a founder and, and how you witnessed, a number of specific examples where that, where that didn't go well, what, what have you seen a transition from, from the founder? Go better or go more smoothly?
Carlyn: Well once they’ve decided that they're going to transition, they do need to identify what the date is of that transition. So, whether that person is leaving in a year, six months, three months, all sorts of, it doesn't, it doesn't matter. But having a firm date in mind and working backwards from that with some succession planning, Carol, I know succession planning is also an area of topic that you care a lot about too. And then the organization can make a decision. Is that executive director going to be the person that hands over the keys, or is that person going to need to use an interim executive director in order to facilitate that transition? And we're dealing with people. So every person is different. Every organization is different because of that person. I can't say there's one right way to do it, but often an interim executive director after the founder is a good idea because. This person can help steward and steer the organization's operations and help clean up. it's not like there's a mess necessarily, but, but be able to implement some new systems, be able to identify if there are staff members that need to be promoted. If there are staff members that have outgrown their positions, they can do some of that quote unquote dirty work before the next executive director comes in. We commonly say there's this accidental interim that often follows a founder, somebody that is in that role for about 18 months. And you don't want that. You want the next person to follow the founder to be there much longer term, maybe not another 30 years, but five, 10 years be able to take the organization through its next cycle of, of opportunity. And so you need somebody in there for six months to a year, maybe even 18 months in order to make sure that all the systems are go and the fundraising relationships are strong and, All of the things that, that next executive director would otherwise work on and take up a lot of time, rather than being able to implement a bigger vision for the organization.
Carol: And I could imagine, as, or as organizations are becoming more aware and centering, equity and racial equity that. an unfortunate offshoot of that might be that, they rushed to hire a person of color where they've, where there's been a white founder. And then just because of all the founders and plus many other things, that person becomes that accidental, inner, accidental interim. And I'm, I'm just it. I can imagine that it could have an even greater detrimental effect on that person's career than it might be. For a white accidental interim.
Carlyn: Yeah, it's a good point, Carol. And again, we're dealing with individuals so individual by individual basis. Certainly. but I have seen some very specific scenarios where. That has really torpedoed somebody's career, women of color's career. and then she had a successive accidental interim tenure. And then, as people are reviewing a resume, well, why was so-and-so there for just nine months? Well, so-and-so walked into a really terrible situation, but it's hard to communicate that to, a set of board members that are thinking about, gosh, are we going to take quote unquote, a risk? It's like, you're not taking a risk, but. A resume does not show a holistic vision of who a person is. And that's really unfortunate. So it's a good point. It can be very detrimental, particularly for women of color who are already up against it. A lot of implicit bias that comes up during the hiring process.
Carol: It almost reminds me of that. I don't know. What did they call it? The glass cliff? Not just the glass ceiling, but the glass cliff of being offered, women, women of color, especially being offered the impossible job. Yeah. And then people wondered why they couldn't complete it.
Carlyn: There's a really interesting, I can send this to you so you can share, really interesting podcasts and possibly a company article. And I think it's from Forbes or possibly a fast company that talks about this in the for-profit sector. but this exact same thing where women are called in to clean up a mess and then have an impossible job ahead of them. And then their performance is managed in a way that. Is not commensurate with the, with the opportunity ahead, right. Or the challenge ahead. So I think it's a very good thing to be thinking about that glass clip. And what does it mean to take over, particularly from a founder who is doing more than an executive director, would traditionally, do you have to reshape that role?
Carol: Yeah. And I think for any role, an executive director or any role when an organization is looking at a job description, especially if someone's been in the role for a long time. and of course a founder has, has its own particular set of circumstances or, or impact on the organization. But, anytime someone's been in a role for awhile, though, if the organization has done a good job of maximizing that person's strengths, the role starts to morph into what works for that person. And then you have to separate it from that person and think, well, what do we need from an organizational point of view? And what is realistic? What, what can really one person take on, how do you help boards walk through that process? So it isn't, and, and identify what those really key competencies are. It's not necessarily something that most people think about on a day-to-day basis. Yeah.
Carlyn: That's a great question as well. So it goes back to the, again, to the common misconceptions about why use a search firm. Versus being able to self administer a search. One of the things that we do for all of our clients is stakeholder engagement. So on the front end, we are not just reviewing key documents to get a sense of the lay of the land, or what does the last audit say and all of those sorts of things. But also we are surveying board members, key staff members from membership associations, the actual members of the association, key volunteers. Possibly even program participants, we're talking to funders, we're doing surveys. We're doing one-on-one phone calls. We're doing listening sessions. It’s just going to depend on what the organization's needs are, how recently they've done similar things. And we're trying to learn what was. What was really stellar about the last person in this position? What were some of the key achievements? What do you think is next? What's on the horizon? What hasn't been paid attention to that needs to, often staff culture is a big piece. I think we're really going through a. Tumultuous time. Rightly so.
In my opinion, where staff are much more vocal about what they're going to need from their next leader and what hasn't been happening, particularly in the equity piece, the racial equity or gender justice, or whatever, these different, different elements that affect images, visual organizations. And this is their time to be able to lift and surface that. And for the board to be able to hear that in an objective way, that's not the, The theses banged on the front door that says, we're demanding change or we are unionizing because our rights are being infringed upon. but enables the search firm to play this intermediary buffer zone and then communicate between the two parties about what are the needs of the organization. What's surfacing? We'll also hear from funders or other key stakeholders. What role does this organization play in the community and what, what gaps exist? So are there things that the organization could be doing that it's not, are there needs of the community that aren't being fulfilled? So it's the chance to do a, I even hate to say it like mini strategic plan, to really understand what are the opportunities ahead, what are the challenges that exist at this organization? And then we can effectively communicate reality to the potential candidates so that the board is choosing a candidate that can deal with the circumstances ahead.
Carol: No. I mean, the way you described it, it really is, essentially a mini strategic plan because all those stakeholder engagement is, is key to, any, any strategic process. And the, the, the timeframe may not be quite as long. To really help the board identify, what is this moment in time? Where are we in our life cycle? and then, what do we need from the person immediately? And then in the, in the short to long-term.
Carlyn: Yeah. And it also has helped them actually in conversation with a client that I've had over the number of years and their founders transitioning. And, we were talking about like, What's his pet project, right? The organization has been shaped around his identity and in many ways it's been really successful. His vision has helped propel this organization to really incredible Heights in a very small period of time for a period of time. But there are also things that are pet projects and the board. Recognizes it to some extent, but not necessarily the full extent. So that was the focus of our conversation yesterday, but it was really helpful just to identify, like there are some things that only he can do and only he wants to do. And so the next executive director might even bring their own pet projects and that's okay. But what is essential to the mission of the organization and what would be nice to have, but it's not urgent.
Carol: Yeah. I feel like so many of my conversations come down to that. What's truly essential and what's nice to have.
Carlyn: I think the pandemic has helped us get clarity around that. Hopefully as well, maybe not complete clarity, but.
Carol: At least realizing that that would be a good thing. If we can, if we can identify with the essential items, what mistakes do you see organizations making when they, when they're managing these later leadership transitions?
Carlyn: It’s all about timing. It's all about timing. So I'll often talk to people. That'll say. We're looking for the next person to be here by our gala, which is about two and a half months. And, yeah, I'm going to announce them there. Well, that's going to be tough if, if we work together, that's going to be tough. I'm not saying another search firm couldn't do it, but you're not going to have that stakeholder engagement. You're not going to have that reality check. You're not going to have that candidate care that comes through the process so often. Particularly for executive search at executive director or CEO searches boards are unaware of how long the process is actually going to take, which is usually about four to six months and most often six months. and that's from initiation to. Nope start date. So it's not necessarily from like, I, starting the search, the actual recruitment process to the offer, but that's from the stakeholder engagement to the person, actually walking in the front door. When you're dealing with executive directors, they need at least a month to be able to exit their organization and particularly, it's such a. It's going to sound funny to even say this, but it's a really tight job market right now. Like there are people who are very eager to depart their job and there are people that are very eager to hire new people.
I think I've never seen so many calls that we're getting that are going through executive transitions. I think it's a little bit of the baby boomer retirement. People are excited for new opportunities or maybe executive directors are exiting to take care of elder parents or child care. They scale back. They're so burnt out. And so it's just, there's a lot of things that are going to be floating around the market. So if you're an aspiring ed, this is your time to shine. But, if you're a board member, know that that is going to be very competitive to get the right person. And so you might walk away with the perfect person, but you might be offering it to a couple of different people. We've had a couple scenarios just in the last few months where someone's accepted a job offer, been in the situation where they're. They're negotiating parallel job offers, and you have to be willing to make some, some adjustments to your timeline, to the amount of money that you have on the table. All sorts of things. People aren't just thankful for a new job. They are careerists that are really thinking about how this fits into their personal and professional trajectories.
Carol: And what would you say to those aspiring executive directors? What are some things that they might start doing now to prepare themselves and help them be well positioned to apply for a leadership role?
Carlyn: Yeah. As much as somebody can do to shadow. The development function of an organization. So if somebody is looking to ascend into an exhibit creative director role, the board is paying close attention to how much fundraising experience they have, or what is their external facing experience? I think, unfortunately, and I say this as an introvert, extroverts are rewarded in a search, right. Somebody that can come in and really wow. Somebody, but research shows that introverts are actually better suited for executive director positions or leadership positions. So don't take that. But even introverted people enjoy connecting with others and, Thinking about the fundraising functions of an organization are going to be really key to aspiring executive directors. So even if you are not a development director, looking to move up, if you're a program person, we'll have you start shadowing, start having conversations with fundraising colleagues so that you understand the soup to nuts fundraising process, join a board so that you get hands-on experience of soliciting donations. Those are going to be key for you to be successful in an executive director interview. I tease, I have a colleague that works in a fundraising space and I was like, whenever you're ready to do something like an Institute for fundraising, like a three-day long weekend seminar to help fundraisers understand fundraising too. Do executive director positions. I was like, I will invest in that idea. So anybody has an idea you can call me. I will invest in that idea because it is so important. And it's, it, it really is lacking, unfortunately, in a lot of, a lot of potential, really awesome executive directors. And it's hard to change the board's mind around that because fundraising is so essential to an executive director position.
Carol: And then, once the search process is over, the person has accepted the role, what are some things to help set them up for success?
Carlyn: Yeah. So one of the things we do, bi-fold our onboarding plan with the transition committee and some staff members, so that there's 90 days worth of activities that are happening for that person. Now we can all remember an occasion where we've walked into an office and so much just like. Glad to have you, you sit here. Well, we don't want that to happen. We want everything to start off on a good foot, particularly for those executive directors. So, what are the technology needs that they're going to have? What are the key people that they need to meet in the first few weeks? How are they? Let's go ahead and set up meetings with the board members. That's all done for them. They like to walk in, they open their calendar and they're like, great. I’ll meet Jim for lunch next Tuesday. And Jill and Joanie are going to have a happy hour, blah, blah, blah, have all of that. Go ahead and set that up for them. So that it's really clear what they're supposed to be working on. how they're going to communicate what the organization's communication is to the community about the arrival, blah, blah, blah. And then what we also do is 30, 60, 90 day check-ins with both the incoming executive director and the board chair. And we do that for two reasons. One helps us transfer all of this great knowledge that we've received about the organization, through the stakeholder surveys, through people's individual perceptions of the organization, as we're going through the candidate process, tricky board relationships that you might need to navigate, all the things that we've, we've learned. As well as for the board chair, it helps us understand if there are hiccups along the way with that executive director so that we can bring in resources to course-correct if we need to, or if at the end of 90 days, things look like they're going to go sideways, it allows the, the board chair to understand what their options are. And if we need to replace that person, we can always go back to the candidate pool before starting a search. Good search firms are going to give a guarantee of their work that they'll replace the NEC the executive director within a year. we have not had to do that, but it's inevitable it's going to happen. And so, our guarantee is after a year, if within a year, somebody either resigns or is fired, we would start a search for free and. That 90 days helps us do that on the earlier side than like 360 days into that person's tenure.
Carol: Well, at the end of each episode, I like to play a game where I ask a somewhat random, icebreaker question. And so, if you were right, if you were to write a book, what would it be about,
Carlyn: Oh gosh, I mean work is such a big part of my life. I'd like to think I would write like a non-work book. Right. But so if, if I had to write a work-related book, I think we would really feature some of the great nonprofits that we're, that we're working with and use that as case studies. I think there's so many lessons to learn about. The executive search process, but the process happens in a vacuright? We don't get a lot of information about what's happening behind the scenes. Other than an email to say so-and-so is leaving and look so-and-so has arrived. And so what are some of the dynamics that are happening in nonprofits today and what are the different things that are needed that are different than 20 years ago? So what's the contemporary viewpoint on executive search might be my next book. We'll see if I can find time.
Carol: All right. Well, we'll look for that in bookstores.
Carlyn: Coming to a bookstore near you, coming to a bookstore and meeting you.
Carol: And, what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you. What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Carlyn: It’s been, it's been a really interesting spring into summer. I mean, we're getting so many requests for searches, which is great. so we're building the team, so we'll have two new hires coming on this summer. and so thinking about how we build a team that represents the type of placements that we want to make. So no differentiating, and the nonprofit will only work in the nonprofit sector, but who are people in housing who are people in community development and all of those sorts of things that we're building those skills into the team are looking at racial diversity of our own team. we're looking at gender diversity, age diversity, all of these different elements for us so that we can serve our clients. Well, And I think we're really in just the beginning of a big way for executive transition. So we're trying to wax a surfboard and swim on out and get ready for the wave.
Carol: Sounds great. Well, thank you so much.
Carlyn: Thanks so much, Carol. I appreciate it.
Carol: I appreciated how our conversation about how too often people of color, especially women get handed a “glass cliff” assignment in leadership. This could be succeeding a founder or being hired to turn around an organization. These glass cliff assignments not only serves to hurt the individual’s career, they really do a to the sector more broadly. As organizations prioritize racial equity in their hiring, they need to do the work that ensures that their focus on equity is beyond just the hiring process. That they are doing the work internally to ensure new leaders of color have the resources they need to succeed in their roles and they are not being expected to do all the work of anti-racism for the organization on their own. 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 Carlyn as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Nora Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. Until next time!
There is a brief discussion of police brutality in this episode around 16 minutes in.
In episode 14 of Mission: Impact, some of the topics that Carol and her guest, Keisha Sitney, discussed include:
- Why leaders need to be role models for their staff and lead by example
Keisha Sitney is the Chief People Officer for The Y in Central Maryland and the founder of Golden Key Coaching. She works to ensure the people strategies and resources support and match the strategic priorities of the organization. Keisha is an executive leader who has been with the Y for 30 years, both at the national and regional levels. With in-depth experience in coaching, talent management, strategic visioning and planning, and facilitation, Keisha has served in operational roles at the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, led the national multicultural leadership development movement as well as served as an internal consultant for C-Suite leaders from Ys across the United States. She holds a Master's Degree in Organization Development from American University and a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Howard University.
Carol Hamilton: Welcome Keisha, great to have you on the podcast.
Keisha Sitney: Thank you. Thanks for having me, I’m really honored to be here.
Carol: I want to start out by asking, just to give people some context, what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and how would you describe your work?
Keisha: Well, I have worked for Y the organization for [30 years and I’m] celebrating my 30th year there. And being only 35, it's hard to fathom that I've been in that place 30 years. But in all seriousness, I really enjoy helping people to reach their potential. I think that I started off working with young people, and directing childcare centers, and doing team programs and things, and after decades of operations, I really found that my passion is for the people, the associates, the leaders that are doing the work and helping them make sure that they feel equipped, that they feel energized, that they have all the tools and resources, that they have the confidence to do the work that they're supposed to do. Nonprofit work can be grueling, and sometimes we may give and forget that we have to also pour in to ourselves. So that's a part of my why is making sure that people are able to pour into themselves?
Carol: Yeah. What are some ways that you help people do that?
Keisha: Well, I think that a lot of it is in coaching and reflecting and going through and finding ways to reflect on situations: ‘how did I respond to this, how am I going to do this differently in the future?’ I think that that emotional intelligence and self-awareness is really key. We can get so caught up in the doing of the work, and I find myself telling leaders all the time through our organization: the work is not just the work, it's not just the tactics and the processes. It's how we get things done. It's who we work with in order to move things forward. I think that a part of that is how we are aware of our own selves and how we impact that. So it's important, that critical part of leadership, in my opinion.
Carol: I don't know if leaders are always aware that the folks around them, their staff, are paying very close attention to everything that they're doing. And oftentimes, leaders are relying on what they're saying or what they're communicating in an email, but what they're doing, that is always more powerful, for people to watch behavior and, start to unpack, and doing that reflection so that you can think about, ‘okay, well, these are the things that happened.’ someone's telling me what they saw and that they made some interpretation and it maybe wasn’t what I intended, but that was the impact it had. So it's really key to always remember that, as a leader, you're in the spotlight
Keisha: Yeah, you're accountable, regardless of your intent. Maybe the impact is still being impacted. When you're mentioning leaders and people looking up to you or watching, how do we take off? How do we use it, how do we sharpen the saw? How do we develop ourselves? We tend to say, ‘Oh, we're going to send them to training or we're going to make sure you use your leave,’ but then, ‘Oh, well, no, I'm so important, I've got to work. I've got to be here’ or, ‘call me, I know I'm on vacation, but I'll still be a participant in that meeting.’ And it's risky to, to be the person that says ‘I'm scheduled for leave during that time. Can we reschedule that? I really want to be a part of the conversation, but I've scheduled this time and it's really important to my family.’ Not to say that as a leader, sometimes you don't need to just be there. If it's something that's come up, that's an emergency, but every emergency isn't an emergency. So I think that leading by example and taking care of ourselves and our families is really critical. And it's something that I constantly work on. I can't say I've got it down pat, but it's something that I strive to improve every year.
Carol: Yeah, those are hard boundaries to keep, even when we know that's in our belief, I know that's certainly what I believe and I try to do for myself and then to demonstrate to others. And I have the luxury of being an independent consultant. I used to give the explanation of why I'm on leave. Now I simply say that I'm not available. It's a little easier for me to do that without someone having access to my calendar, et cetera, but it's still hard to maintain those boundaries, and even if you're working, just keep some time for thinking and for analysis, for stepping back and not being in meeting after meeting after meeting as leaders are so often in. Especially now, in COVID, the day can never end sometimes. But I think being aware of what really is an emergency, when is it really critical, and when is it not so that you have those reserves when those emergencies come up.
Keisha: And one thing that I try to remember is, as women, and leaders, and moms, sometimes there's a thought you're supposed to be super-woman or super-mom, and I don't try to ascribe to that. I try to remember that, I'm juggling a lot of balls, but. Every ball is not a glass wall. So, there might be some things that I can let drop and they're going to bounce back and I'll just pick them up wherever they are. Or maybe I can pass it to someone on my team or something like that. But things like my children, or my husband, or my health, those are glass balls that I can't get back. If I drop them, they're shattered. That's been helpful for me to prioritize those things that'll be fine until next week, but this is the priority and takes precedent, so I need to calm myself.
Carol: I love that image because we so often hear ‘I'm juggling a lot of things,’ but remembering that all of those balls that you're juggling don't have the same impact and are not all precious in the same way. You don’t have to be the one juggling all of those things, and you can pull other people in, help them grow by giving them a stretch assignment that you may be in charge of, and maybe it can really help their development.
Keisha: Exactly and people want to help. They want to come through for you. So I think it isn't for us to share those opportunities with others and prioritize for ourselves.
Carol: So, part of your work has been working on building a more multicultural increasing equity within the Y. What would you say has been missing in past efforts to address equity in the nonprofit sector? I mean, there are a lot of organizations that are trying to address that in the outside of their organizations, but I'm talking about inside organizations.
Keisha: We have to start with ourselves internally. If it can't be just a process or a policy, or procedures, we have to start as individuals. We come to work with our own beliefs, the way that we are raised and how we see things. And we are all born with biases and it impacts how we show up and impact how we treat others at work. What we value, who we value. Knowing where people's ideals come from and why they make the decisions they make, or the way they behave. It's helpful in us being more empathetic to one another. I feel like the conversations that are being had nowadays, with the pandemic of coronavirus and COVID-19, and the epidemic of racism, people aren't able to ignore it. I think having these uncomfortable conversations, leaning into the discomfort, and committing to doing it again and again, is what's going to make the difference.
I've led multicultural leadership-development efforts at a national level for our organization. And there were some times where I felt like we were just teaching the diverse leader how to be within this larger structure that is not necessarily welcome. So, teach you - as a person of color - to straighten your hair, to get in, get the interview, say the right things, and do all those things. But how do we change the system so that it doesn't expect me to conform in order to be successful, that I can be valued for. However, if I choose to wear my hair this way, and I know that sometimes it seems like a small thing, but those small things, they just add up and there seem to be many ways where, as a woman of color, I felt like I haven't always been able to bring my whole self to work. So I do think that it's important that we allow folks to bring themselves, and their culture, and their beliefs, to work and not have to hide who they are.
Those conversations are key. And in that leadership development that you're talking about, it's essentially like we're refining code switching or refining, basically teaching whiteness. I feel like that's probably replicated across not only programs within organizations, but many, many programs that are offered as not capacity-building, but just different levels. So that's essentially what the program is about. How is that really helping us get to equity. We need to teach white people to be okay with people who are different. I know that there's a lot of books and things talking about being anti-racist. But we have to continue to just work on dismantling the systems. It's not just teaching one group how to be, or how to respond. It's educating ourselves on how things got to be the way they are. And they didn't just start with us here. Here's the impact of those things, here's how this group might've benefited from these laws and these systems. And then here's how this group may not have benefited or how they might've been kept back as a result of those. And then getting people to make change, how do we bring it to the forefront and then start to dismantle it. But it's in the long haul. It was built over time and it won't be dismantled overnight either.
Carol: Yeah. And it's interesting. I was listening to one of Brené Brown's podcasts, she now has two, and I'm not remembering who the person that she was talking to was, but the person she was interviewing was talking about how, when organizations try to start working on diversity, equity, and inclusion. They'll often go to the policies, the practices, and she described that, as the transactional part of the work. And that was interesting to me - because so often it ends up being posed as somewhat of an either/or of either you're doing transactional, or you're doing transformational and what she was saying, which I found so interesting was you have to have both. So you have to deal with all those practices and systems and how that's all embedded in the code of how we work. That's not enough, it's not sufficient. You also have to work at the relational level and then other work. We're trying to come at this from a conscious part of the brain that actually is not triggering a lot of this. That so much is about the unconscious bias that we've been taught over years. And how that's embedded in our limbic system.
Keisha: It is. We have to do something to consciously stop it and be aware that, ‘okay, this is what I'm thinking.’ This is what I'm hearing. This is what I'm saying, what I'm replicated. I found that one-on-one conversations have also been very, very helpful with - and I can't speak for every person who's like me - but I can tell you how this impacts me. I can tell you how this impacts my children. I can tell you how this impacts my family, and it's exhausting to share. There have been times when I'm like, ‘I'm tired of educating everyone else. I'm just going to do me.’ I've got to preserve myself.
Diversity fatigue is a real thing. I’ve found relationships that are important to me and I've really tried to develop those, whether it's professionally or personally, but by sharing, this is the impact of this. When I hear of another police killing a black person, I think about how that could be my son who is 17 now, who's 6’ 4” and it could be my daughter, who's 17 and just a black, young woman. It could be me, it could be my husband. And sharing conversations with folks. One of my colleagues said, that really hit me when you talked about your kids and my kids, because it's always, that's that family over there, but it's like, we have these things in common, but yet our kids can be doing the same exact thing and mine will be killed and Rose’s will not. So I think that that's one way that I've tried to personally make connections with folks and help them to see things in a different light.
Carol: Yeah. I appreciate that. And I appreciate what you're saying, that there are just sometimes when I'm not going to engage. I need to preserve myself.
Keisha: Yeah. I can't always engage in conversations, and it's not always fruitful. There are some folks who, it doesn't matter what you say, and I'm not willing to sacrifice myself for those types of conversations.
Carol: Yeah. And sometimes I find it can be helpful to identify some bright spots, or people who are operating under those same circumstances or constraints, within the same context, but somehow are having better results. In your work, have you encountered some of those bright spots because I think that that's a place to start working from.
Keisha: Yeah. I mean, I've encountered quite a few bright spots. We have a movement of leaders of color throughout the national Y and we call it our multicultural leadership development. It's mentors, coaches, and supports. And we've created safe spaces, similar to the employee resource group models where you have groups of people who may be able to come together and work on policies. You've got the affinity groups, those types of things, but ours is more of a mixture. Not just African-Americans with African-Americans. So you might see African-Americans, Hispanic, Latinos, and Asian Pacific Islanders. There you might have indigenous folks of which we need to improve our numbers versus nationally as an organization with regards to leadership, reflecting the communities we serve. But for those of us who are members of those communities, finding the commonalities and being able to support one another, educate one another, and to be with one another, and developing our own cultural competence, just because you're a person of color doesn't mean that you're going to be culturally competent as well.
The things that we're asking from other groups that we should be able to model those things as well. So it's definitely been a great support system. And we've seen a lot of folks who've been able to engage and advance their careers within our organization. In connecting the dots where they're not just at one small organization, that they can be connected to our larger network of organization. So really a lot of success there. We have seen some increases in our numbers nationally of leaders that are at the top level, in the C-suite CEO position that are of color. But then we've also had some challenges that go on the other side of it. We've done a lot more work on bias and undoing institutional racism. Anti-racism work, a lot more equity work and looking at the systems. And I don't think that that's something that, as national non-profits, a lot of us do. Recognizing that we are a part of those systems that we talk about, a part of this country. We have the same kind of history as we've evolved in these 175 years that our country has evolved. So, I think we're doing a lot and there are a lot of folks who are committed to it. There's much more to be done.
Carol: Sure. Sure. And for the Y particularly, you're a federated system and that can - I'm guessing - make it particularly challenging, but there are many other national organizations that are set up that same way. Can you just briefly say what a federated system is, and then maybe talk about how some of this work has either been able to move forward or, or been challenging.
Keisha: Sure. We're federated meaning each organization, each Y, is its own independent 501 c3. You're all members of the national YMCA, and there are some guidelines that we need to adhere to in order to be a member. But we each have our own boards of directors, our own financial leaders, those kinds of things. And we can make our own decisions. There are a lot of benefits to that because the work that's happening in each community is different. So we don't have to be bound by some national perspective or priorities that are not appropriate for our community. The benefits of being a larger, federated organization, our brand is something that's recognizable that we work hard to have some things that we say are in common and that when you go to a Y, no matter where you are, that there should be these types of things. For us, that healthy, living youth development and social responsibility are three of our big core areas that we do our work.
Carol: So there was a second part to that question. I'm just also wondering, with that federated system, there's also the autonomy of each organization. So, trying to move forward, something at the national level may take longer because you essentially have to persuade or pull in every organization within the system.
Keisha: We're a very diverse country. We have, in some ways, a lot of division and something that we all believe in. And then there are some areas where we're not all on the same side and our organization is not any different from that. so for us to all rally around the same thing, it is not always very easy. It can be painstaking, but I know that there are some things we do believe in equity and inclusion as a national organization. We believe in the safety of children and young people. And there's just certain things that are no-brainers for us. But how that gets implemented in each area is sometimes very different and can be difficult. I'm not speaking on behalf of our organization nationally. It is an area that I've seen that, when we’ve pulled together, it's very impactful.
Carol: You've actually developed your own leadership model. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what you've found wanting and other models that spurred you to create your own?
Keisha: Sure! Thank you for asking about it. It's interesting because I've coached leaders for many, many years, and also had a lot of focus on learning and development. I feel like we tend to highlight leaders who seem as if they arrived; as if they just showed up and they were perfect, these flawless leaders and I've done presentations, and I've done a little riff on Beyonce’s flawless music. We don't really highlight leaders who mess things up or who are learning. When I see someone who's in a position that's at a high level I think, ‘man, how do I get there?’ I don't hear about the times that they failed four times, that they were rejected for six other positions that they've gone for, you just get to see where they've shown up. So I really try to encourage my colleagues to share some of their failures, some of their flaws so to speak. The model is that leaders are flawed and they are not perfect, but we do learn from things. So the [idea is that] we're failing forward. Everyone makes mistakes. And how do we utilize those to propel ourselves and our learning, or whatever it is that we learned from those failures. Then maybe we prevent some of the failures in the future, or maybe they'll be a little smaller. But recognizing that all of us will fail at some point and how we fail forward? the lesson for lifelong learners that we constantly have to sharpen that saw, we have to learn more. Part of it is reflecting and getting better, learning about what we do and how we can improve, learning about our field, our craft, just continuing to [learn]. There's no point where you've just arrived so we need to always be lifelong learners. The A is for authentic! I think authenticity in leadership is very important for us. If you want people to follow you, you want them to trust you. People don't want to follow someone who doesn't seem genuine. And a part of that authenticity is [admitting] that, you’re not always right. I may not be perfect, but sharing more of our why, our story, why we do things or what's motivating our decisions and things like that. Sharing a little bit of a vulnerability. So if we were to talk about Brenè Brown, vulnerability is just super important. So I think that that's all tied to authenticity. And then the W is for work. You can't be a leader without doing the work. You’ve gotta roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty. I do believe in working smarter, not harder. I'm not going to try and take the hard way, but in leadership, you definitely have to put in the work wherever it's needed. That's my model: leaders of LAW.
Carol: I love it. I think it was one thing - I don't think much goes viral on LinkedIn - but this one probably did where someone actually wrote their failure resume. Yeah, so when you write your bio for when you're speaking or whatnot, you rarely include: “and right before I got that job, I was the runner-up for four of them.” [You don’t include] where you were laid off here, or where you got restructured out of that job at that. We're resilient. Those are the things that we need to reiterate that, especially with this generation coming up and I hate to sound like the old person in the room, but you want folks to know it's okay, you gotta be resilient. We don't know what's going to happen next, then COVID, and what this next iteration will be, but we will band together. We will be resilient. We'll make it through and figure it out.
Keisha: Yeah. And I think folks have a lot more resilience than they realize, and it's part of it. It's looking back and seeing, ‘that kind of sucked at that time, but I picked myself back up and got back on the horse’ or whatever and [you need to] try it again. And I think just the way our brains are wired, we learn so much more from those failures than we do from all those successes. So, we have such a negativity bias that those are definitely more memorable. But then not only keep it as our own private learning, but I think what you're saying is, for leaders to actually share those with the folks that they're working with so that folks really know that it is okay. We don't want to make a lot of mistakes. Nobody wants to make mistakes. But on the other hand, if there's a culture where making mistakes is punished, then it just has so much impact on folks willing to take risks. That has to be there for innovation [so it] can really have a chilling effect. So yeah, pretending that you're perfect, it's exhausting for the person who wants to work with that anyway. It's not realistic. It doesn't have to be perfect. We're not expecting it to be our final product, but you're going to put this bad boy out, see how it works, and we'll fix it. We'll continue to hone in on it.
Carol: So, you allow people to be okay with, like you said, innovating and we don't want to make huge mistakes, but we know that's a part of the process. Then we can build our confidence in knowing that it's a part of the process that I may stumble.
Keisha: Yeah. And I think, also for organizations to look at who's allowed to make those mistakes within the organization and who it has higher consequences for. And I'm sure in most cases there's probably already research that shows this, but the more male and white you are, probably the more you can get away with. Yup. Very much so. And I didn't necessarily see it myself. Being in HR, coming from operations in so many places that I'm really drawn to making sure that we're consistent with how we handle those situations. Like you said, are we doing the same thing if the person is white and male that we would have done if they were young and female, or a person of color, or something like that. It’s super important that we have that consistency.
Carol: Yeah, well I want to shift focus a little bit. At the end of every episode, I do a little game where I ask a random icebreaker question. So, what is one family tradition that you'd like to carry on in the future?
Keisha: I created a family tradition of cookie baking for the holidays, and I'm not a person who cooks nor bakes. So it was interesting for me to come up with that, but I just love the idea of my children coming together, and having other cousins over, and us getting flour all over the place and making cookies from scratch. It's just a great way to set the holiday season off. It's a big mess, and every year I say, ‘why am I doing this?’ but I'm really trying to figure out how to do it during COVID. I'm like, ‘okay, pass out flour and it could be making an idea, or you do something via zoom. It's definitely one of the traditions that I hope my children pass on and that they continue to do it.
Carol: All right. Well, thank you so much. I hope I get a box of cookies.
Keisha: You may not want them! They've gotten better over the years. Like I said, I'm not a baker but, fail forward! I've gotten much better, but I've been failing forward for some years.
Carol: All right. Well, thank you so much.
Keisha: Thank you. Appreciate you, Carol. Good to talk to you.
In episode 12 of Mission Impact, some of the topics that Carol and her guest, Elizabeth Woolfe, discussed include:
- The importance of an interim director for organizations
- The process of transitioning and the strain that puts on an organization
- The importance of having a plan in place for when your leader leaves
- Growth mindset with Boards
- What the role of the Board and the role of the staff are in an organization and how those differ
- The importance of taking breaks for yourself
Elizabeth Woolfe is a lifelong nonprofit professional with expertise in affecting strategic change and facilitating growth for organizations, as well as in assisting boards and organizations through transitions. She also has strength in building philanthropic relationships between nonprofit and for-profit companies, facilitating collaborations, and program development. Her particular areas of interest are interim leadership, management of organizations and boards, strategic assessment, organizational development, board functionality, and relationship building.
Carol Hamilton: Welcome Elizabeth. It's great to have you on the podcast.
Elizabeth Woolfe: Thanks. It's great to be here and please call me Liz. It's shorter.
Carol: That’s true! So, what drew you to the work that you do? What's the why, what motivates you in the work that you pursue?
Elizabeth: Well, my usual answer to that is that I've spent my entire career, except for one very brief foray, in the non-profit space, and I generally view that as a calling, I don't know that I ever questioned it.
I think from early on, I had a desire to do things that helped people and to do work that seemed - whatever this word might mean to people - meaningful. And I was never pulled in any other direction, but to do that work. It was a path that manifested itself and I followed it. Once I got the hang of it, I was able to make decision after decision to stay on that path. I just don't know that it was ever a real decision to embark upon that.
Carol: That's interesting. Cause I started out my very first job working for a small business that helped people get on talk shows. It was this very interesting little niche that I was working in and found that I was pretty good at that promotional aspect of getting our folks on shows, but after leaving that, it was a conscious decision for me to move into the sector because I thought, if I'm going to use these skills to promote causes, I want to promote causes and support things that I really believe in, and help people in a way that I think is really functional, away from ‘whoever pays the bills is who you’re going to promote.
Elizabeth: I used to call that the dark side. There were periods of time where I had this thought that, ‘oh, I will go to work for an agency or a for-profit company that has a foundation or something like that.’ And I would play around with that and I would maybe look for different positions and maybe go on an interview. But I would walk out of the interview going, ‘I don't want to do that. This doesn't sound like a fit.’ And without really questioning it - my company is called intuition consulting and it was named that because I feel strongly about following your intuition. And it's something that I recommend to others, but I also take my own medicine and do for myself. And I guess I was not questioning it because I just did that from the start.
Carol: So feeling that alignment, which is great. You serve as an interim director for organizations as part of your work. What would you say organizations gain by engaging an interim?
Elizabeth: Well, the transition period in an organization, especially when they're losing a position like a founder, it's crucial to build in some space where everyone can experience what that feels like before embarking on the next phase of their existence. So I can say that I do a lot of interim work as the interim, but I do a lot of transition and succession planning with organizations. And I almost always recommend that they consider hiring an interim for that reason, especially with a founder that might have been with the organization for a very long time, it's a big change. It's like when you bake cookies, or when you make pancakes and the first pancake just doesn't turn out well, if you hire someone too quickly, that first pancake just might not turn out that well, and that's unfortunate because then the organization is once again plunged into a period of transition, which is not really healthy or something I'd recommend. I think interim work is extremely interesting, and transition work in general is really important to understand with organizations, especially small or mid-sized organizations that require some degree of stability to anchor them with many of their functions.
Carol: I think taking that time, And, and it's hard. I think often, organizations want to jump to find that new person as quickly as possible and be on to the next thing. But you don't want the new person hired to be an accidental interim - almost like a rebound - executive director. I think that taking the time to have the organization experience a different style of leadership is important. It seems like organizations can also deal with things or have harder conversations with the organizations to get them ready to set the next person up for success.
Elizabeth: The statistics about new leaders following a founder coming in and not being successful are really shocking. So the interim can be that bridge very successfully for all of the reasons that you just outlined. It's like a palate cleanser, it's a good thing to try.
Carol: What are some of the things that you observe organizations experiencing when they go through those transitions?
Elizabeth: Well, I've managed a few big transitions with several of my clients and I think the most important one is really what the trickle-down effect is. It's not really just where it's happening, it's in every relationship that the organization has. I think oftentimes that's a second thought or maybe not even thought of by the board, or by the departing leader, or by whoever is left to understand that everyone who interfaced with this person is affected by this person's departure. I'm focusing on a founder or a CEO, just because that's really the most formative of those relationships, but when you have relationships with funders, when those people have those relationships that are very closely held, there's a lot of insecurity and instability that can affect the organization adversely if it's not handled correctly. Oftentimes, that's the best reason to have an interim because that person can focus on those relationships. Otherwise it's a board member, or maybe a secondary staff person that might not be as comfortable relationship-building and relationship cultivating as the leader was, and it could be really debilitating for the organization.
Carol: So, what are some things that you would say help those major transitions go better?
Elizabeth: Well, I think giving it the necessary amount of time [is important]. It's not a quick process. I usually say from start to finish, the succession-building process should be very conscious, and it's not a question of, ‘we want to get rid of our leader.’ It's really more, ‘we want to prepare for the eventuality that we may have to replace this person for whatever reason.’ There are good reasons, and there are not-so-good reasons. There are things that can be planned for well in advance, and unfortunately there are emergency situations that come up that, if you have no succession plan, even a rudimentary one can be even more upsetting and more traumatic for the organization. I think that this is always something to consider and that it builds in that amount of breathing space so you can say, ‘oh, wow. Now here we are at this crossroads, but we've planned for this. We know that we can manage it using these steps, whether we use an interim or not.’ Replacing someone doesn't take five minutes and I almost always recommend using a search firm, especially for a CEO or any C-suite leader, because it's almost impossible to manage a search at that level and continue to do regular necessary work. With one of my clients, the entire process from start to finish took eight months. That was not an unusual amount of time, it was pretty much the norm. But, if that were without an interim and without a search firm, it would probably take twice as long.
Carol: So, thinking about always keeping succession planning front and center, what are some of the things that need to be part of that succession plan, and what are the elements that organizations can do when it's not an immediate need?
Elizabeth: Well, first I have a really good idea of what that position is and what it does from the very tiny day-to-day to the bigger picture, where does this position sit in the organizational structure? Obviously a CEO is normally at the top of the organizational structure but, in reality, what does this person’s responsibility involve? Do they manage all of the external relationships with funders, or is that something that is co-managed or taken over by a development person, or someone else? Those relationships are really key, as I said earlier, and I think what's really important is an understanding of how engaged the board is with the organization and with that person - usually the leadership - what kinds of relationships do they have and can that relationship be managed in a different way? Once you identify where all of these succession-related issues lie, what's most important, is really a thorough understanding of what the connections are. It's always nice to be able to say, ‘under these circumstances, this is the protocol we will follow.’ You can create that. In real life, things happen and times are crazy. I know an organization that just had their CEO announce that they were retiring in January and, this person would stay until they found a replacement and then COVID hit. All of that had to be rethought, because it wasn't really the right time for there to be another major transition, which is fine, and luckily, the CEO was able to say, ‘yes, I will postpone my retirement for at least another six months.’ You have to be flexible and nimble and many smaller and mid-size organizations are capable of that, which is the good side of things.
Carol: I think having a plan sketched out, you may not follow it exactly, but you're not starting from scratch and you're not having to think through it all as you're also having to start doing it all. Also, I think a lot of people, when they hear succession planning, they mistake it for ‘I need to identify who I'm grooming as my successor.’ and it really isn't that, necessarily.
Elizabeth: No, it can be part of it. I mean, if it's an organization that has a leadership pipeline, it could be that, and most often in larger organizations, yes, that is more typical, but in smaller organizations, there's not enough people working there for it to really be an appropriate way of organizing succession. And I encourage organizations to have a running list of people that they have in their orbit. That could be either someone that they consider in a search, or someone who they would consider to be part of a search committee who knows the organization well enough and who's connected enough to the work that is done there, that they could be helpful in identifying who could be next. It's nice to have an advisory group at the ready in case they are needed. Sometimes some of those people could be appropriate candidates.
Carol: Right, So we've talked about boards a little bit, a unique aspect of nonprofits is the role of a board in the governance of the organization. What are some common mistakes that you see boards making maybe in dealing with succession or more broadly.
Elizabeth: Do we have longer than an hour? I could go on for days with that. Boards are one of my favorite things and that isn’t always an easy thing to say. I do actually enjoy board work. It's so interesting and multifaceted, and as you say, it's an integral part of a nonprofit, or it should be an integral part of a nonprofit’s organization and functionality. Specific to succession the board is really key and it's a time where I've seen boards really rise to the occasion which is great. And I've also seen boards that can't, and it's not over succession or transition. It's really a deep-seeded functionality or dysfunctionality as the case may be, but that situation of change exacerbates one or the other, or brings it to the forefront. To go general, boards have a great deal of responsibility. If they choose to exercise it, if they don't choose to exercise it, the organization can still function, but the board does have, at a minimum, a set of responsibilities in terms of guidance and in terms of advising. And some boards go a lot deeper and some are more strategic, but at the very least, they are more objective eyes on what the organization does, and what direction the organization is headed in, and how well the organization fulfills its mission on all of these different levels.
Carol: You talked about founders and oftentimes a founder will be a very dynamic personality and all of that is what helped them create the organization and then build something, which then creates the dynamic of a board that's really following that person and not necessarily in a real partnership. So when that founder leaves and they have to step up, it's not the way that things have been done in the past and can be harder. And that makes that transition particularly fraught.
Elizabeth: I couldn’t agree more. That's so common, and I think if [the board] doesn't view themselves as ever evolving, then they don't ever get to the point where they escape that, regardless of what happens on the leadership side, even when a founder leaves and new leadership comes in. If the board is still firmly entrenched in what used to be, they're not going to be as effective. That can be a real recipe for disaster, because then you have someone coming in new and fresh as a leader who wants to take the organization to the next level or in a different direction, and the board is stuck. When I do board-coaching and board-development, it's really to view boards on an ever-expanding continuum, where they go from this working board as they commonly are in the very beginning, and very much like sheep following the leader to something that becomes more appropriate for a later iteration of the organization where they become a governing board and it's a completely different set of skills. That's why board rotation, board transition, and cultivating new board members is so important because the people that are present at the birth of an organization are not necessarily what the organization needs 5, 10, or 15 years in. And sometimes, you'll have that very dynamic leader that everyone's following, and in other cases, it may be a group of people around a kitchen table. So they've always had a collaborative relationship, but then when they do bring on staff, everybody's been so involved [that] letting go and allowing staff to start doing the work that they need to do, that can be challenging. At the same time, I think that boards have an opportunity to then look at other ways to be involved in the organization besides being on the board, [although] when it's small, that may be the only volunteer role and that board does everything, as a working board, or volunteer board, or in an all-volunteer organization, but then to start differentiating, what we actually need from a board member and if you want to be involved in this organization because you are very excited about and passionate about environmental issues, but you really love getting your hands dirty and doing that stream monitoring, then it's fine. Go do that. It's hard for people to then say, ‘well, but we've always had all those people on the boards. We do it differently,’ or worse that this is what we've always done, it's not successful anymore, but this is what we've always done. So we're just going to keep banging our head against the wall because this is all we know. It's very hard to crack open that door and say, ‘look, there's a whole world out there for you. You could be this, and you could be this, and you could be this, except for the fact that you're looking in your rear view mirror, or living in the past. I've experienced all of the scenarios that you just went through. Some in my consulting life as a CEO myself, and also as a consultant and as a coach, and they're all very big and hairy problems. Every board is different. The chemistry is different, the environment that they're in is different. So as a consultant, you have to visit that with fresh eyes all the time. That's why I always say that even the incremental successes are to be celebrated because boards are so hard to move. And it's very rare that you find a board that welcomes this ongoing change and development with open arms. It's much more the case that they are really change-averse and, even when they understand the rationale, they are so terrified to let go of it. It's fascinating, really.
Carol: I'm curious if you had someone who was thinking about volunteering on a nonprofit board, what's important for them to understand as they step into that role?
Elizabeth: Well, I think unless they've had previous successful experience, there's a lot of people who come to a board, and they've been on a board before and it may not have been a healthy board and they carry all of this baggage with them. So their expectations are very different ‘cause they either want it to be the same, ‘cause they don't know any better, or they want it to be different because they do [know better]. Depending upon where they're going, that may or may not be the case. I like to get them all fresh when they haven't been on a board before and mold them to what they should be. Those are the most successful ones. But I think in terms of advice, always be aware of the fact that, even though there is a line between what the organization does day-to-day: their programs and how they execute them, and what the board's responsible for: the governments, and the guidance, and the strategic-level stuff. Be aware of that difference, but also be aware of where the gray area is, where those two things can meet and really be productive. Because you can't be too far apart, but you can't be too close together.
Carol: Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by that?
Elizabeth: Sure. So it's really a question of keeping the board from micromanaging what the day-to-day of the organization should be. In other words, the board should be responsible for this 35,000 foot view of the organization. What is the strategy that they're going to implement moving forward, how are they going to execute it in the bigger sense? It's the program staff and the CEO and the development staff's responsibility to mold that out of the lump of clay that they're given and make that into programs, [and figure out] how much they have to raise in order to do them, who's going to run them, who they’re going to serve, and how they’re going to measure their success. There's a big difference within those two worlds, but where they peacefully coexist is in having these kinds of conversations of translating what this strategy is. So we want to get to this, we want to serve this many people, or we want to execute our mission by creating a program that brings an awareness of what we do to more people. That's it for the board. They can outline that strategic framework and hand it over and have really productive conversations about what that means. But once that happens, they don't need to be on top of the program staff saying, ‘well, what does the program look like?’ ‘Who's going to teach that?’ ‘What days are you going to do it?’ That's not the board's role.
So, every episode, I play a game at the end where I ask you a random icebreaker question. So... if you could have any celebrity to be your best friend, who would you pick and why?
Elizabeth: It's either Oprah or Bruce Springsteen, but I don't think I'd be able to talk if I were with Bruce Springsteen, Oprah, because, well, first of all, I've looked up to her and, and followed her for so long.
I feel like I am already her best friend, although she doesn't know me. We read the same books. I almost always read - even sometimes before she picks them - from the book club. We have a lot of common interests. She's funny. She likes all different kinds of food. She loves to travel. She's really interested in helping people. I just think we have tons of things in common and would make great best friends.
Carol: That's awesome. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you? What's emerging in your work?
Elizabeth: So right now I'm right in the middle of a little interim CEO gig that I'm doing for one of my clients. That will be concluding at the end of October. Then I'm hoping to take a little bit of time off because I need it and deserve it. And I think self care is very important. I always encourage the CEOs that I coach to make sure that they take good care of themselves because it's not an easy job. It's sometimes a very lonely place. So I would hope that I will be able to do a little bit of work, but a little bit of relaxing between the end of October and the end of the year. As far as next year is concerned, it's really interesting because I never really know. And for 2021, I really, really don't know because nobody can predict what's going to be happening anymore. So I am keeping myself pretty open and not letting that freak me out at all. I’m figuring that whatever comes along will be something that I will be able to consider and I’m not worrying too much about it right now. I don't think stress and worry really get you very far and I've trained myself to really not worry about it.
Carol: That's great. So how can people find out more about you and get in touch?
Elizabeth: So, my website is intuitionconsult.com, and I'm pretty easy to find on LinkedIn. I'm very interested in connecting with people for all different kinds of networking and mentoring-type things. I would encourage whoever wants to talk to me more to please reach out.
Carol: All right. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate our conversation.
Elizabeth: Thank you, I had a great time.
In episode 11 of Mission: Impact, some of the topics that Carol and her guest, Nyacko Perry, discussed include:
Boardsource 2017 research on the demographics of nonprofit boards. Leading with Intent.
Nyacko Perry utilizes a systems-thinking approach to assist individuals, community groups, and organizations, in creating more inclusive cultures. Her decade long career as a transformational change agent includes national and international facilitation with non-profit, corporate, and government agencies. Nyacko is the founder of Yin Consulting, a collaborative focused on personal, organizational and systemic healing.
She is the Organization Development Partner at the much-anticipated Comfort Kitchen, a restaurant, community meeting space, and a food incubator dedicated to fostering collaboration, cross-cultural understanding, and community engagement. Nyacko also serves as a member of the Advisory Board for the Action Boston Community Development, Inc. Roxbury/N. Dorchester Opportunity Center. Nyacko holds an M.S. in Organization Development, with distinction, from American University. She is also a 500-hour professional level yoga teacher, an Afro Flow Yoga® certified teacher, and weaves her mindfulness expertise into her consulting work.
Carol Hamilton: Welcome Nyacko, it’s great to have you on the podcast.
Nyacko Perry: Thank you, Carol. I'm excited to be here.
Carol: So, give people some context, what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say is the journey or the path that got you to where you are now?
Nyacko: That is quite the question. Just for background, I do mostly organizational healings. I'm interested in the wellbeing of people at work, and ultimately doing a process of healing. So addressing and having accountability around some of the past experiences, and making a path forward so that people can feel safe and be the most productive people they can be at work. What brought me to that is quite a journey. I come from a yoga background to start. I was very invested in healing in that regard. Healing for myself, and first for taking care of myself, taking care of my body and my mind, and that quickly grew into ‘how do I facilitate this for other people?’ So I've been a yoga teacher for several years, and after being a yoga teacher for several years, I left and became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana for two years. That experience was the most eye-opening, incredible experience of my life, both exciting and awesome, but also painful and different. Through that experience, I was working with a lot of Government Agencies. I was based in a local village and there were three local schools that I was supporting with what we would consider life skills, which were mostly around the spread of HIV and making sure that the curriculum invested in that and making sure that the students understood what HIV was and how it was transmitted and so forth.
Through that experience, I found that one, I fell in love with my community. I also got rather disillusioned from some of the institutions that were located there, both the nonprofits, as well as some of the government agencies I was working with. Unfortunately, their approach was ultimately, numbers, very numbers based, very centric towards, ‘you know, what are we doing and how is this making us look good?’ and it really didn't resonate with me. So I had a big internal process going on because I felt like there's so much potential to do our full work if you are in collaboration with the community, if you are really acknowledging how they want to go about their own process of doing this powerful change within their system. I became very interested in that, both during my Peace Corps service, but then afterwards, of course. so after that time of being with them, I thought, ‘okay, more so than actually doing direct service, I'm very interested in the systems that hold this direct service. So, that's where I started and looked into the American program that I believe we both did Carol. Then, going through the master's program became very interested in how to bring back this healing component and this idea around people's wellbeing at work. So all of these different parts of my identity and my experience came together through the master's program. I actually had the pleasure of thinking about a theory around organizational healing from the lens of the chakra system. The chakra system is basically energy centers that live within the body.
They're known in yogic philosophy, they're also known in African practices and traditions as well. I was very interested in considering organizations to be human systems, then how do we apply all of these theories we have about the human experience in the context of work? So that's how I got into all of the things that I got into.
Carol: That's awesome. Say more about your organizational theory of healing and, how do you define that, and can you dig into a little bit more about how the theory shows up when you're doing work with groups.
Nyacko: Absolutely. For me, I'm a very feeling person, so the first thing that I do when I go into an organizational system is I'm like, what do I feel inside? Do I feel tension? Do I feel joy? Do I feel like apprehension? and so I very much come from an emotional place and healing. What I consider healing is being in touch [with] emotions, but healing takes many, many shapes and forms. So from my perspective, it's really about accountability. I think that's where healing can truly come through. So if an organization gets data that says ‘actually you have been unfair or you have done some things that have caused harm,’ acknowledging that, and really making that be part of the next strategy. [Saying,] we've heard you, we're going to make shifts. We're going to acknowledge what we've done that has caused harm. We're going to actually make some shifts and involve you in that change process. That's what I consider to be healing, but what I've noticed through the work is that every organization will bring about healing in their own way. For some people, healing can be messy, it can be tough. It's where the leader, for example, has to really take in all of the feedback, and sometimes that within itself is like, ‘ah, that hurts.’ or, I had no intention of doing that. I think this is something that happens all the time where the leader has a very different experience from those that are on the lower levels of the system. I didn't realize that making this pay cut and making this particular shift had an actual emotional effect on your life and your ability to come to work and to thrive. I didn't realize that.
So there's a lot of acknowledging what's gone wrong, but it can honestly be a messy process I've found, but I think for me, it's really about how we create a safe container where people can be honest, and that is usually the first step in a system. A lot of times when I go in, it's very clear to me that nobody's going to really say how they feel, because there's such tension, there's such a tightness and so I open the floodgates, but then the floodgates are open and who knows what could happen. Usually it ends up pretty well.
Carol: Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by creating a container?
Nyacko: Yeah, even in how I practice. So if I'm leading a group, the first thing I do is a check-in. For some systems, that's very normal behavior, checking in [with] ‘how is everybody?’ and when we're checking in, we're not just checking in on ‘how was work today,’ but [also,] ‘how are you?’ and from a facilitator perspective, I want to understand if somebody is coming in with stress, with some tension, with something that's going to influence how they're showing up here. So that gives me more of a background of what's going on.
So, one thing is check-ins, which for some systems is radical transforming where people are like, ‘wait, you're asking me how I am versus how productive I was today?!’ It can be a jarring shift. So I think that that's the first step for me in terms of setting a container. Starting with, of course, the check-in, but also in how I'm holding the space.
I'm not intending to be an authority when I hold space, which for some people is difficult. Because they're like, just tell me what to do and also, this is what I consider to be presence, you know, you're a boss and you come in and you tell us how to do things. So I come in with a radical, different way, which is: ‘hi, I'm here. I'm interested in how you feel.’ I want to support you in this process, I'm not an authority, I hope you feel safe here. So that's how I show up and that really opens where people are like, ‘oh, whoa. I can talk to her,’ especially when it comes down to the data collection process, I tend to do very well in that area because people feel more comfortable with how I show up and how I hold space.
Like I was saying, there is this other extreme where for some people they're like, ‘I don't get it. Why isn't she doing it how I'm used to seeing,’ not to mention, I also don't always look like what people consider a consultant. They're like, ‘Oh, wow, you're young and black and have all these other parts of your identity that I’m not sure about. How do I make sense of you?’ I think that's also a strength that I have. I look different, I represent something different, I show up differently intentionally, and that helps to set a container for people to feel safe.
Carol: You talked about the messiness of the process. I think too often, people are lulled into the idea that if they do this seven-step process, we're gonna manage change, it's going to happen exactly the way we want it to. I often cringe when I hear the word change management, because to me it creates this illusion that it’s all manageable. Certainly you create processes to help people move through it, but it doesn't mean that it's going to be easy. There might be uncomfortable parts, but those are necessary if you're really going to dig into the real issues that organizations face.
Nyacko: Absolutely, it makes me think a lot about Bridges theory. Just that in between when you're trying to mitigate the change process, you actually have to consider that there's this in-between from what you were, to what you're going to be. That middle space is going to determine whether or not you're actually successful and you need to use it, work on that, and think about how your employees are actually talking and feeling throughout this change process, especially for those that are like, ‘oh, we just let go half of our staff and we're merging with a totally different company and we have to completely change our culture.’ There are two cultures that are somehow supposed to merge together. There's going to be so much messiness, and even just acknowledging that and holding space for that in-between, is so necessary.
Carol: Yeah. That theory that you mentioned, William Bridges does a lot of work on transitions. When I'm trying to explain that to people, I often say that in our American, White-dominated culture we always want to be onto the next thing. So we want to go from point A to point C and forget this in-between space where we're not quite there, not quite here, not where we were, but not quite there yet. I think everyone's feeling that right now in the midst of the pandemic or in this massive in-between space and the discomfort that that creates with folks.
Nyacko: Yeah, it's quite eye-opening for all of us and even organizations, how they respond to the pandemic, and it seems like there has to be more attention to the employee experience outside of just how they are in terms of productivity, but how are they?
Carol: You talk about how radical that can be, to ask folks how they're doing. I was talking to a colleague at the beginning of the pandemic and she said, ‘my boss is suddenly incredibly vulnerable, and I don't know if I like it.’ This is very not normal! Many believe - if they're not in the sector - they have this idealistic notion of the nonprofit sector that it's shielded from dysfunctional culture and dynamics because of the mission focus and because of that good intention and trying to create change or good work in the world, but in my experience, too many organizations have very admirable missions for change that they want to see. Yet the values that undergird those missions just don't show up inside the organization and how they're treating people. What have you observed within nonprofits that you've worked with?
Nyacko: A lot of what I'm seeing is the people that are doing direct service are having a really challenging time - especially around their income, more often than not, they're the least paid person, but they're the people that are dealing with the direct work. Then there's a whole disconnect between the direct service people, and the people that are really high up. The other disconnect in that area is race. Race is something I see very quickly, it's like direct service. That's where all the people of color work, and then as you go up, it's just all white. I find that disturbing, what is that about? Then also in terms of who they serve, more often than not, it's people of color, people that represent a disenfranchised identity, and that's not reflected in the leadership of nonprofits. So, there's just this huge disparity and disconnect that I don't understand and I feel troubled by.
Carol: Yeah and it certainly mirrors our wider society, so it's not like the sector at all is separate. It's all within those systems. So can you say more about how you see that culture of white supremacy showing up within the sector?
Nyacko: Yeah, it's this idea of helping. This idea of who we think needs help, and more often than not the people who need help are people that represent disenfranchised identities. Why is it that we don't have those [identities] represented in leadership? I see a huge problem in that, but honestly, my friends that are in nonprofit, when I've worked in nonprofit, it's almost like it's normalized where the whole board is white, the whole leadership is white, [so] they don't know what's happening. They're not connected to the actual experience of the people that they're serving, but they get to make the most important, most drastic decisions.
The people that are closest to the pain should be closest to the access and closest to helping to make decisions - and I'm pulling from my congresswoman, Ayanna Presley - that's the thing [that] people who are representing the identities should be a part of the solution and should be a part of making those major decisions. I rarely see that, and I think we know statistically, it's not there. I think it's like 0.05%.
Carol: Yeah, I don't know the exact stats, but I definitely know I can look them up. BoardSource has done a lot of work on this and [on] measuring and calling for more diversity, and the needle not shifting since they've been measuring it for the last 15-20 years or so. Do you see places where that isn't the case though, where those dynamics have flipped?
Nyacko: I mean, probably occasionally but it's also in our structures. Like our structures in general, our businesses are based on white supremacy. All the way from our educational systems, our business structures. I was listening to the 1619 project, I don't know if you've listened to that, it's an amazing piece by the New York Times that really looks into the history of slavery, and also the legacy of slavery. One major piece is that a lot of our business structures are based on how the plantations were run. They had very complex systems. They had middle management and ideas about productivity, and reports about productivity, how to best feed a slave and have them be as efficient as possible. They were extremely successful in that. So much of our wealth in America is based on that piece of our history. So when I think about structures in general, it [makes it] difficult to live in society and to work in any system. The rationale that I tell myself is that I'm here to dismantle and to support the transition and the change. I think it's very important to acknowledge where our structures come from, where our nonprofit structures come from. If these parts of our communities weren’t disenfranchised, we wouldn't have a use for nonprofits. So how is this an industrial complex? How is it that we're dependent on people being in need and perpetuating that?
Carol: Then [there’s] the sector being dependent on the little bit of wealth that is put into foundations and then the little bit that they give out each year. Where did all that money originate from? Here we are in a field in terms of organization development that wants to be of service and wants to help. where do you see, you know, how do you see, doing that in a way that does heal rather than doing harm?
Nyacko: Step one is acknowledgement, but that's the trickiest part. That's the part where, for example, when George Floyd was murdered, so many people, so many organizations, wrote these very blanketed responses, and there was no accountability in the statement. There was nowhere where we wanted to acknowledge what role we have played in perpetuating this system, and the steps that we want to make to dismantle it, to make some shifts within our organization. It's rare that we see that.
We have seen it in some circumstances, but more often than not, there's a resistance that you've been acknowledging it. It's almost like “la-la-la-la, we're good.” When really, just name it. Name it and start there. I think that's step one, and then once that's open, involving everyone in your organization in the process. Knowing that more often than not, the leadership is not fully aware of all of that goes on in the organization, [and] is not fully connected to the people that are being served, lifting up the voices from the rest of the organization, as well as lifting up the voices of people that are being served by the organization and bringing those voices to the forefront and allowing them to help direct
whatever change process you're planning to make, I think that that's the first step in healing.
Carol: So you also work in the food industry as a partner with a Comfort Kitchen. What type of type of change are you trying to make in that space?
Nyacko: First of all, background. Background on Comfort Kitchen - and I know they're going to read a little bit - my husband has been in the food industry for - I should say my spouse - has been in the industry for the last 15 years. He’s also an immigrant from Nepal and he had a terrible time of being someone that has an MBA who’s fully prepared to bring all of his skills to whatever business he was working for, and just being constantly demoralized and disrespected throughout the process. This is not a different story - this is the story. The industry is interested in exploiting people and chooses to target the most vulnerable individuals. So, 70% of restaurant workers are immigrants. and then a large portion of those are undocumented. So it's really vulnerable people that ended up working there. There's a lot of systems that will choose to exploit that. The whole design of the restaurant industry makes no sense. It's not actually a sustainable model, and that's why, when we saw the pandemic hit, most restaurants cannot go two weeks, let alone months, without generating any revenue. It just doesn't work. That's because the margins are small because it's almost impossible to get healthy food that comes from a sustainable source, and to pay your employees well, and actually sell your food at a fair price to your consumer. That's rare to see.
So, we would like to try and see if we can build something that is a little bit more sustainable on many levels. [Obviously,] the financial element, but also in how we engage with each other and how we engage with the community. So we're going into a community that I love called Upham’s Corner. It's right up the street from where I live and have lived for many years, and it's a community that has a lot of life. It has a lot of diversity. It's actually one of the most diverse neighborhoods in America.
So there's such a need to bring some love and be like, hey, we're here, we want to engage with you. Also with that comes the incredible cultures that are represented. So within my team: my partner is from Nepal, our head chef is from Ghana, his partner is from Portugal, and then we have a teammate from Ethiopia, and then second-generation Nigerian. So we're bringing a lot of different cultures to share within a neighborhood that's incredibly diverse as well. So a big focus for us is cross-cultural understanding. How do we start to see that actually all of these experiences are valuable, important, and also have similarities. One big similarity that we're finding is spices. Because of colonization and the spice trade, but you will find a lot of similar spice profiles across the world. So that feels unifying to us and really what is the forefront for us in terms of our menu and in terms of what we talk about. So what we're trying to do is we're trying to shift it off. Ultimately, because of the pandemic, huge shifts had to be made, and one major part of that is that we are developing a much smaller team, and that's so that we can be sustainable and do things differently.
Carol: Well, that sounds awesome. So, in each episode, I play a little game where I just ask one random icebreaker question. So I've got one for you here. What's the best compliment you've ever received?
Nyacko: Last night I had a friend over, and she said that I'm very smart and smart in a way that most people don't understand, but she gets it and she sees it. I have really struggled with my intelligence just because I have a learning difference. and so I've gotten messages throughout my life that [I’m] not as smart as other people are. Which are all stories, but when you're young, that can be very much embedded in the way that you think. I love to receive compliments around my intelligence, that feels really good. Thanks for asking.
Carol: Yes, absolutely! Without a doubt, you are incredibly insightful, smart, intelligent, and delightful.
Nyacko: Thank you very much!
Carol: So what are you excited about? What's coming up next? What's emerging in your work?
Nyacko: I mean, my consulting work is going well, especially because I think people are aware they need to tap into their emotions and address some of these past harms and make some transitions. So [I’m] definitely feeling busy in that regard, which feels really good.
Also we have a project coming up called All-In Consulting. I know you've probably mentioned it in other episodes and the other times that you've had people on, but I'm very excited about that. This idea of having a collaboration of people that are committed to doing specifically DEI differently - diversity, equity and inclusion - differently.
That to me feels like home. I feel like I'm at home in our network and our communities. So that is very, very exciting to me. Then Comfort Kitchen is coming, we have a ways to go, but 2021, probably around March-April is when we're thinking. So just plugging away on that as well and excited because I'm going to take my first vacation next week.
Carol: Awesome. That is part of personal organizational wellbeing that people take time off, prioritize that and really unplug. I'm a big believer - maybe ‘cause I grew up in Europe, I'm used to longer vacations and I think that's a way to go. Thi American idea that you can get away with as little time off as possible, it's just not living. It doesn't work. So how can people know more about you and get in touch?
Nyacko: Sure thing. You can check out my website at yinconsulting.com. That's Y-I-N consulting dot com. You can also learn about Comfort Kitchen, we’re email@example.com. Then if you are an Instagram person, comfortkitchenBOS is our name on Insta. So you can check us out there as well.
Carol: Alright, well, thank you so much. It was great having you on.
Nyacko: Of course. Thank you, it was awesome.
Episode 10: This week we’re talking to Heather Yandow.
We talked about:
• What gets in the way of nonprofits hiring consultants successfully.
• Why an RFP process is often not the best approach to having a great experience with a consultant.
• The trends we are observing in this time of disruption.
Scenario Planning: An article describing the process from MIT Sloan management school
Heather Yandow brings more than 20 years of experience as an outreach coordinator, coalition leader, project manager, and fundraiser to Third Space Studio. She helps organizations with strategic planning, board development, change management, leadership development, and going from good to great. She has also served on the Board of Directors of Democracy NC, ncyt: NC’s Network of Young Nonprofit Professionals, and the Beehive Collective (a giving circle). She is also the founder of Nonprofit.ist, an online platform for nonprofits to find the consulting expertise they need.
Sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting. http://www.gracesocialsector.com/
Learn about the Effective Online Facilitation, 4 week group coaching program.
Carol: Welcome Heather. Welcome to the podcast.
Heather: Thanks so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be here.
Carol: So just to give people some context. Can you tell me a little bit about what drew you to this work and describe your journey?
Heather: Yeah, so I started this work when I, when I kind of dig back into what really prompted it, I think about my parents always engaged in the community and that's just what I knew to do. So when I went to college I was really engaged in lots of different social activism there. I was part of the environmental group on campus. I helped to start a feminist group on campus and really loved that and thought I was going to be a math teacher.
I studied mathematics and thought that was my path. And then really started thinking about what if I could do all of this fun activism stuff as a career, and got really lucky and found that the statewide environment, because C group was hiring what they called it at the time an outreach coordinator, which was basically doing a lot of the same stuff I had kind of trained myself to do while I was in school.
And I did that work for a couple of years. And then they offered me to be the director of development and communications. So I got to move into that position and got a lot of great training and support and learned really how to do the fundraising. After seven years of doing fundraising, I still do it in my volunteer work, but decided I didn't want to do it full time.
And that's when I transitioned into being a consultant. And so I've done that work for about 10 years now. And I do strategic planning, leadership development, meeting design and facilitation work.
Carol: So funny that you said your original idea was to be a math teacher. Cause my first notion was that I was going to be a history professor and then did my senior thesis in college and discovered as I was in the archives of the library, reading these, I did a thesis on women, kind of the parenting things that were told to women in Germany, in the late 1800’s. And so reading these old magazines and discovered that I had a wicked allergy to mold. And so spending my life in archives was not going to be my future. So then I had to figure out what's next.
Heather: I love that. Yeah. It's one of my favorite questions. When I meet people who were in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, what did you major in? Because most of the time, people are not doing the work that they studied to do, particularly folks like us who were in nonprofits or as consultants.
Carol: I did discover anthropology in the last year and I feel like what I do now is essentially applied anthropology. All the, you know, Interviews that we do with people and the discovery and kind of seeing how groups work and seeing how culture shows up in organizations. So that's the connection that I have.
Heather: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Carol: So one of the things that you have started recently is an online platform to help nonprofits find consultants. And I feel like nonprofits often struggle when they think about hiring consultants. What do you think gets in the way?
Heather: I think a couple of things get in the way.
One is just not knowing where to find people. So I actually started nonprofits just in part, because I get a lot of requests from past clients and friends asking who do you know that does X, Y, and Z. Who do you know that has a background in mergers that also knows a lot about land trusts. Well, that's a very specific subset of people.
Yeah. So if you're a nonprofit leader, you may have a few connections, but you might not have a broad enough network. So you can find the right person who can really help you. Of course cost is often a barrier for organizations. And sometimes organizations that are new to hiring consultants are a little bit surprised by what our fees are that we are a lot of times covering all of our costs and those fees.
So you're paying not just what you might pay somebody for a salary, but you're also paying for our benefits and our office space. And all of those overhead costs are included. And then the third piece is that I think organizations often aren't really clear about what they need and why before they get into a first conversation with a consultant.
And sometimes I’m wondering whether I find that in those first conversations if the group feels like they've already decided what the solution is going to be.
Carol: They think that they know exactly what the challenge is and they think they know what they want. That also can be a challenge and, and having those first conversations gives you an opportunity to essentially kind of find the answer together, if you will.
Heather: Yes. Yes. I find that too. If I am sent a request for proposal and there is an 18 month timeline already sketched out with all of the different pieces that they want to include and they've really already mapped it all out. In some ways you're voiding my expertise.
I come to this as somebody who understands how to design processes, how to lead groups through difficult decision making, how to set up action plans. So I like you really to partner on that and to co-design. And part of that is really asking questions to get underneath. What, what is the real issue here?
So sometimes what we find with organizations, what I find is that. They ask for what they know they can pay for. Right. So we know that right. You can hire somebody to do a one day board retreat. And when you actually, when I get into conversation with somebody about that work, what I discover is they're having significant problems around accountability.
Or they've got some folks on their board who they just need to say goodbye to, or they've got some other really big culture problems and they aren't necessarily dealing with those head-on. They want to bring in an outsider, which is me to talk to them about what their roles and responsibilities are.
Maybe I do a little bit of assessment and to hope that that magically solves the problem. So, I see that with strategic planning. I see that with fundraising planning, all of that, these things that people know they can search for and find people. And so I often want to ask, want people to ask and consider before they come with those kinds of requests.
What's the real challenge you're trying to solve? What's the question behind this fundraising that, that clarity that you're talking about, but even if they don't have it going through the process of you know. We would be asking questions there and that helps a thinking process and helps kind of uncover what else is going on.
Carol: And I think even with those simple requests, can you just come facilitate our board retreat? I think there's often a lot of misunderstanding of, you know, just kind of thinking they're hiring a person to just show up on the day and make some magic happen. And of course, in order for that day to be a productive one, you know, you have to spend some time with the group talking to people, doing some upfront discovery so that you are designing a retreat that meets their needs, not just a generic retreat that's not helpful and not a good use of people's time.
Heather: Yeah. I have a great relation with an organization I've worked with over a number of years, four or five years ago. I did a board fundraising training. It was really well received. Folks had a great time. We did a little bit of role play about how to do a major donor ask, right everything. When I left that day, I thought that was a great retreat.
Well, they called back three years later and asked me to come do another training for their board around fundraising. And as we got into the questions I realized but they were still having the same issue as they were before I did the training. And so, because I had a good relationship, I finally had to say, I don't think the problem is that your board doesn't know how to do that.
I don't think they want to do this. And that's a different kind of challenge and a training doesn't always solve that challenge. It's like a board retreat doesn't always solve a challenge or a strategic plan isn't going to suddenly make your founding executive director share power. It can help. Certainly they can be designed in ways that help, but sometimes it's really scratching and getting into the what's the real issue here? What's going on.
Carol: Although I do think some of those processes help open the door and give us a safe kind of a safe place to start. So I was working with a group recently that, that did have that founder challenge and, and we were working on a strategic plan and ended up with one and I think, you know, going to give them a good one framework to move some things forward.
But the biggest thing that I think it did was create a space where an outsider could compile all the information, talk to everyone back what they said to, to me around these are the things that aren't working. These are the things that are getting in our way and help them have a tough time conversation about what are the roles?
What roles do we need to have on staff? What roles do we need to have with the board? Not to say that it's actually, as you said necessarily going to solve that problem, but I think it at least opened the door to where, before that all those conversations were probably happening, you know, pre COVID in the parking lot after a meeting or, you know, when somebody bumps into each other, you know, downtown or whatnot.
So it at least gets, yeah, it gets it started up what needs to be probably a much more drawn out intentional process that it's not, you're going to do a strategic plan and it's going to have solved all of these other challenges.
Carol: Absolutely. So with that instance where you did the training and you know, and, and that's often what folks will often ask for that, thinking that well, if we just get people to learn how to do the thing, they'll be willing to do it. And especially around fundraising that, I mean, I'm not a fundraising expert, but I certainly see that that can be very intimidating to folks. So when it was actually about not wanting to do it, what were some of the things that you did with the group to help address that challenge?
Heather: Well, then you've got to dig a little bit more into what's behind that. Not wanting to do it. And so some of that can be sussed out through some interviews. Some of that is, is some group discussion. One of the best discussion tools for that is actually something Kim Klein is a great fundraising guru, I saw her do, which is a comparison of how we feel when we give money and all of the positive emotions. Right? So when you're able to make a donation to a cause you really care about how does that make you feel? Lists all these great emotions. And then when you ask someone ready to make a donation to a cause that they really care about, how does that make you feel?
And oftentimes those are some that have really negative emotions. We have some, we have some shame, we have some anxiety we might have. It's around that. And so then comparing those two and really talking about why those are different and, and where that difference comes from. And, and there's a lot of anthropology, there's a lot of cultural feelings about money and who has it and who can talk about it and how they talk about it.
And so really getting folks to, to grapple with that and think about how their own formation around money happened. I think the last piece is making the why really clear. So sure. Board members understand why it's critical for them to do this work. Sometimes I see where organizations are kind of a victim of their own success.
So if you've got a super competent executive director and a great development director, and the board says, you know, next year, we're going to raise $5,000 and there's some support around that. And the board just doesn't do it. They only raised $3000, nothing happens and there's no accountability and the organization doesn't shut down.
Well, then the board really has not much impetus to do that really uncomfortable thing and actually raise the $5,000. So sometimes there's just getting really clear about this, and there's a number of ways to, to build a little bit more heat into the system, to get folks to move into that place that they think is going to be uncomfortable. And a lot of times folks understand once they get there, it's not.
Carol: So with the consulting, hiring practice, what would you say are some mistakes that you think organizations make when they, when they're first doing this? Or you know, even if they've done it before, what gets them, what mistakes do you think are the key ones?
Heather: So one of the key ones we've already talked about is really kind of prescribing the answer before you really understand the question. So you already figured out the process, but you don't really know the true why behind it. The stake that I see is not having all of the people in your organization bought in to both your definition or construction of what you want to address.
And that there's a need for outside help. So if you think there's a problem with accountability on your board and folks really getting things done, your board chair needs to agree that that is true. And most of your board, hopefully, but at least your board chair and your board chair needs to, we need outside help.
Because the last thing that I, as a consultant, want to do is walk into a board meeting where I am not wanted and they don't think they need me. That is not setting anyone up for success. So making sure that all the players involved in that could be staff, board, community members, that we all have a clear and shared understanding of the challenge and the need for help.
And then the third thing I would say is that not allocating enough staff resources. And I guess organizational resources in terms of time and attention. So sometimes there's a belief that if we hire a consultant, they're gonna magically go off into their office and create the most beautiful plan that ever was created and come back and present it to us and we're going to approve it and everything's going to be different.
And in reality, all the projects I do require significant involvement by members of the worker. Patient, whether that is one-on-one yeah. Time with an executive director, time at a board meeting, background information from staff. There's always a need to get their attention and their time and to really have them be part of the process.
So if an organization is at the same time, as we're doing a project, going through a capital campaign, hiring a bunch of people. If they work on elections and it's an election year or a census year, they just don't have the bandwidth. And so really thinking about how to stage those projects so that they can give it their full attention.
Carol: Right. Cause the project and the plan and it all needs to be the organizations and I, I go to the point of actually saying no, I'm not going to write your plan for you because if I do that, it's my plan. You know, even if you've been involved in all the conversations and in the meetings and it actually reflects all of your input.
Just that act of actually doing the draft yourself makes it yours and you have more commitment to it. And, and clearly involving people. Throughout the process ideally builds that buy in, but yeah, it really is about it being the organization's plan and you're helping them walk through a solid process to get some good outcomes, but it's gotta be, yeah, it's not about, can you go cook us up a strategic plan and come back. That's right. Deliver it.
Heather: Do you have any that you'd add to that list?
Carol: I have one and then it went, it's gone. It's flown out of my brain.
Heather: It'll come back.
Carol: It'll come back. Yeah, I think the whole RFP process can also be really problematic because I understand the need to kind of get a couple of different people responding, but even there you, you can still have had conversations with multiple consultants, ask them to put together a proposal based on the conversations without having to go through the strict process of an RFP which I usually think ends up with a different, with a better outcome.
Heather: Absolutely. I am anti RFP all the way. I think there's real value in an organization. Getting clarity on, as we already talked about what they need, how much money they might have when they want to do the work. But the process, particularly the very structured. So we put it out on X date. You have until a week later to send us your questions, we will compile them and answer them.
We will not be getting, having any conversations in advance of you submitting this proposal. Then we might do an interview or we might just pick you based on the proposal that tends to, to not produce the best results, what you get. There are the people who write the best proposals. It's like applying to college or applying to a job, but only ever looking at the resume.
And it doesn't actually tell you what you want to know. And so much of the work that we do as consultants is really about. Does our ethos match our culture, does our vibe match, you know, so you talk about, and I believe this too, that it's the, it is the organization's work to do, and we are there to create the container for them to do it well.
Well, that's a real ethos. And if you, as an organization's leader, don't have that too, then that's something we need to assess out early on in the process. So having those conversations and I agree, you know, you can have conversations with five people. It's probably gonna take you less time than developing an RFP, reviewing all the proposals, doing interviews, just pick five people and have conversations and see what happens.
Carol: Yeah. And how would you say, how would you advise Executive directors or board chairs as they're kind of going into this process of the kinds of things that they would want to ask consultants or the kinds of things that they need to be looking for as they, you know, not just the proposal, but getting into those conversations and, and maybe even if they do the more formal interview process, what are the kinds of things that you would say are important to pay attention to?
Heather: So I think if you, if you've worked with a consultant before, I think back to what worked well for you in that relationship and what you might have wanted to see differently. So if you're really looking for a consultant, who's a fantastic project manager and keeps you on task. Are you looking for a consultant that's really good at conflict management and having hard conversations, thinking about those things that are almost in between the lines of the official work that you really value in a partner.
Another piece of that is kind of organizational values and what are your consultant's values and are there pieces that overlap there so that you're really on the same page about why you want to do the work together. And then the last piece, I think sometimes I get asked for examples of work product.
Which is really challenging for me to provide. So what I often say to people is the work that I do, to transform organizations, so talk to people about what they do experience with me, and what's different about their organization after their engagement, that's the work product. So I think asking around the questions around who have you worked with.
Where, where you'd be doing similar work. Who can I talk to really getting and checking those references? Vibe values and references basically.
Carol: Yeah. So it's essentially kind of thinking through and listening for a fit when you're having those conversations. So are the questions that the person's asking you, helping you are you further along at the end of the conversation in thinking about the challenge that you're you're describing than you were when you began, and that would be well, that's the kind of shift that you want to, you're there to try to create.
Heather: Yeah. Yeah. You absolutely want somebody who is helping you think through. I also think in a lot of ways you want somebody who is going to show up as a partner. Who has, who brings expertise, but who really wants to be there with you walking alongside you. So this is obviously reflective of my own work as a consultant, but I build out free engagement to fit the organization.
I have things that work well that I bring into lots of engagements, but I don't have. Here's the strategic planning package and I'm just going to put it on top of everything I do. So I want to ask questions to know more about you as an organization and what works well. I want you to know that I'm going to be experimenting as we go and learning about you and shifting up.
The way that we're going to do the work in order to really meet your goals. And, hopefully you're okay with that. If you're, if you're an organization that's super regimented, we're not going to work well together. And I can tell, cause if you send me a 15 page RFP, we're probably not going to work well together. I'm probably not going to apply to that.
Carol: Yeah. So once you go through that hiring process and you've decided on something, what would you say are some things that are important as an organization starts to work with a consultant that can help make that be a more productive process for both parties.
Heather: Yeah. A couple of things. One is it's always helpful for me as a consultant to get some of the basic background information. So obviously I've looked at your website, I've read your RFP, or we've had a conversation, but grant proposals or reports are useful budgets. Honestly, tell me a lot about the organization and where you spend your money and what your activities are.
Annual reports, just those things that can get me kind of up to speed on the work so that I can ask better questions. The second piece is I think having a good launch meeting. Often that is with a small team, particularly if we're doing longterm strategic planning work, or even planning a training for staff, who's the two or three folks who are gonna come together and help shepherd this work at that meeting.
I often review the scope that I put together in their proposal. And we adjusted as a team here was my idea. And now we're actually in it. Let's figure out what we need to shift. Also sometimes in that very beginning phase, just having one on one conversations. So as an a organization figuring out who are the few people that we want the consultant to talk to, again, to get a better three 60 view of the challenge to really, and the players to make sure that they are leading off with a really strong background.
Anything you would add?
Carol: Yeah. So that's good cause sometimes I think people want to put every important stakeholder on that strategic planning committee. And I think that's a nice way to do both and to make sure that you're getting the input from all those important stakeholders. And, and there may be other ways that you're doing that as well.
But then also having a small enough working group that it's easy to. Set up meetings and there's momentum and things keep moving. So it's kind of nice both. And yeah, I think just sometimes people jump into the work they're so intent on you know, What the challenges are or whatnot, but I think just taking a minute and oftentimes this will come from the consultant just talking about how you work together, what works for you?
Do you have any pet peeves? What's your style? How do you like to communicate? You know, is it email? Is it a phone call? So that those things can fit together and just being explicit about those things, which I think so often people skip over can really help kickstart a good, a good process in the end, because this is a relationship, particularly with whoever the organizational lead is.
And he was a consultant. So I'm thinking about how to, how to make sure that relationship gets off onto a strong footing.
Carol: So right now we're in a you know, things are so uncertain. A lot of planning processes have basically come to a halt or people have canceled. Maybe they had a retreat coming up. What's your sense of whether people can or can't or should how, how they might approach planning when, when there's so many unknowns at the moment?
Heather: Yeah, it's a question that I hear executive directors really wrestling with right now. In fact, I was just on a call with a group, a peer support group this morning, and an executive director shared that their strategic planning consultant had said to them in March or April. They were trying to finish their plan.
That, that had been in progress for six months and feeling really guilty because they hadn't. And the consultant said right now you've got a circus. You can no longer focus on building the plane. You are dealing with really rough weather. And when you get to a place where you feel like you can fly the plane more easily, you can start building it again.
And so they have actually at this point, given the kind of work they do been able to stabilize and they have are coming back now to that strategic planning. I think for a lot of organizations, what would have been a longer term strategic plan is looking much more short term. It's looking so the end of 2020, maybe to the end of 2021, depending on where they are in the world.
So shortening timelines, not doing future planning when you're still in the midst of crisis. And then I also am seeing organizations use scenario planning a lot more, a tool that's been in our toolbox for a long time, but this is a time when it really matters. It really is, you know if you work in the school system, you have a scenario for, if kids go back, if kids go back for two weeks, if kids go back for a whole semester, and if you run an afterschool program for kids in schools, You've got a button you've had to have all of those different scenarios and having those planned out so that when it switches, you've got a plan that you can pull off the shelf.
We've already had some of those discussions.
Carol: Can you just say a little bit more about what scenario planning is for folks who might not be familiar with it?
Heather: Yeah, I think. Various standard definition would be thinking about creating kind of a matrix of scenarios. So you would think about what are a couple of different unknowns in your community that have a high chance of impacting your organization.
So I did this work a few weeks ago and the two variables we picked one was about how people were going to feel about the economy. Were they gonna feel like it was going down and hilly, going to feel like it was stabilized or maybe even going okay. The other axis we picked the other trendline we weren't sure of was, are we going to be kind of open or closed broadly?
Right. So are things going to be really open and we're going to be kind of back to normal or are we going to be quarantined or in our houses working from home. So in a very traditional scenario planning, you would actually put those on one, on an X axis and one on a Y axis. And now you've got four to five scenarios. What happens if the world is open and everybody feels really good about the economy? Well, bars and restaurants are totally full. Everybody's excited. Right? What happens if people are feeling really terrible about the economy and we're still all at home? That is our Netflix bucket, right? Like people at home with Netflix and cooking, being at home.
So figuring out those areas, whatever those are for your organization and then planning for each of the four, I'm really thinking about what might be true for us in each of those four scenarios. So that's a very traditional example in the school example I gave, there were the school system in North Carolina where I said we have an, a, a, B and a C, and we're going to pick one of these three.
So they've done that work already creating those scenarios for you.
Carol: So, what are some other trends that you're seeing right now, since you work with a lot of consultants across the sector and they're working with lots of clients. So I'm curious to hear from you kind of, what are some of the current trends that you're seeing in the sector?
Heather: So one of the trends I'm seeing is organizations, particularly 10 staff and under. Really saying, I'm not sure we need an office. We need the conference table. We need a conference room every once in a while. We needed a place to start our stuff, our swag, our records, but we don't need it. I need an office space, particularly in places where folks are traveling significantly to get to a centralized office.
And they've discovered that they can really do a lot of that work online. The second trend I'm seeing is that as kind of stress levels have risen, I have certainly seen particularly executive directors dealing with more burnouts and more burnout in their staff and just all of the challenges that come from having an overwhelm.
They’re anxious. That's maybe dealing with kids at home. So there's a lot of shifts in how people are thinking about paid time off leave alternative options for staffing organizations, but there's just this kind of increasing humanity that is coming out of this crisis. And then the third thing that's kind of related to that is I'm just hearing more and more chatter about how the kind of traditional nonprofit structure isn't working for people. And some of that is the board's not showing up well right now either micromanaging or being absentee, some of it is that we're throwing out lots of, of, of old norms that aren't working for us. And so some of those nonprofit norms are going to get thrown out, but I'm seeing a kind of increasing conversation about that piece as well.
Carol: Yeah, I'm thinking about that, but not really sure.
Carol: Cause it also feels like it's so embedded in, in all the systems the many, many systems that aren't working right now and, and the nonprofit sector has a lot of those assumptions built into. So yes. So at the end of every episode, I play a little game just to kind of shift things up a little bit.
So I'm going to ask you a somewhat random icebreaker question. And I had picked out three out of the box before, before we got on. So based on your scenario where if I, hopefully we won't be stuck in the, the economy is tanking and we're all forever and ever, but with that, what's your most recent, a guilty pleasure in terms of maybe binge watching a show or, or something.
Heather: Oh, well, My favorite. I don't know if this is a guilty pleasure, but in May I bought myself a blow up pool from my backyard and my absolute favorite thing to do. And I might do it this afternoon. If it doesn't rain, I will get in the baby pool with my Kindle and a glass of wine at the end of the day. And that just makes me so happy.
And I read a book that has no redeeming value. That just is pure floss and it's fantastic.
Carol: I don't think you need to be guilty about that. That sounds like a lot of fun. What are you excited about? What's coming up next for you kind of what's emerging in the work that you're doing.
Heather: Well, one of the things I'm really excited about in the nonprofits world is that we just launched a learning series for consultants around how to better incorporate race equity into our work.
And so I was sitting on a zoom with 50 consultants who are all trying to figure out how do we do this work better? How can we be in the work with people helping to raise these issues, helping to have careful conversations. So I'm really excited about that series and about the shifts that are coming for myself and my own consulting work and for hopefully lots of other people in those conversations.
Carol: That's great. And how can people find you? How can they can get info?
Heather: Yeah. So if you are interested in the consulting work I do, my company is called Third Space Studio, all spelled the thirdspacestudio.com. And if you're looking for a consultant or accountant or coach or other expert, you can find me at https://www.nonprofit.ist.
Carol: And we'll put all that in the show notes. So people will be able to get the links. Well, thank you so much, Heather. It has been great talking to you.
Heather: Thank you so much for having me. This was really fun.
I am Carol Hamilton, nonprofit consultant and podcast host. My passion is helping organizations cultivate healthy, inclusive cultures that live their values, fostering learning, creativity and results. Find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting and download free resources.
Grace Social Sector Consulting, LLC, owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of the Mission: Impact podcast, with all rights reserved, including right of publicity.