Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Real Clients of the Nonprofit CEO – It’s the Staff – Here Are 29 Reasons Why

We can make an argument that the clients of the CEO are the people served, the community, the board or the supporters and funders. And they are truly clients from time tom time for the CEO. For me, however, the number one client is – staff. Here are my top 29 aspects that the chief operating officer or executive director must exhibit for the nonprofit or nongovernmental organization employing her or him.

  1. Listen to staff, board and community. There is a reason this is first. CEOs and other leaders have a tendency to always talk at meetings. Learn to be brief if it is necessary to speak. Learn to actively listen to others. Listening is more and demands more than hearing people. Take it all in – the words, the phrases, the inflections, the facial expressions, body movements or lack thereof, the context, the group in the room, the emphases. The worst line a manager can say to staff is “I have an open door policy.” No you don’t. You are always willing to arrange a suitable timely period to talk. Make yourself available in person when both of you can talk.
  2. Provide leadership and encourage others to lead as appropriate and as needed. You are not the only person in the organization who can provide leadership. Use and let knowledgeable staff to develop and provide leadership when appropriate.
  3. Maintain and translate an understanding of the organization’s mission, values, vision, ethics and culture. Stimulate the energy and focus of the staff about why the whole thing exists and their roles. Translate the mission, vision and passion to board, employees and volunteers
  4. Know what everyone in the organization is doing to further the mission and he vision. You do not need to know how they do it, but you should know what they are doing and why they do it.
  5. Guide the organization through though and good times. One of the most difficult times for a CEO is when she/he does not know the answers or a best guess about the future. In these hard economic moments the CEO has to find and look at the facts and make best judgments for the mission and vision of the organization. There is an old saying, make haste slowly. When facing decisions, which decision are you likely to regret the most; it may be the right decision to make?
  6. Relate and develop relationships between staff and board. Avoid being the funnel between the board and staff. Make room in terms of paid time for some staff to attend board meetings. If the board and the staff are to be working on the same mission and vision, why should the CEO stand in the way?
  7. Play a supportive role in downsizing. That is not a contradiction of terms. It’s your job. I don’t care what it is, freezing or reducing salaries and benefits, laying people off, closing offices, shutting down programs, reducing hours, giving some people lead time to leave their jobs – it is difficult. No one will feel good about any of the decisions. Morale will fall. Gossip will increase. Facts will be twisted. Lies will be created out of whole cloth. Know it in advance. During this entire maelstrom, the support you give is to stay focused on the mission and vision of the organization. Tell the truth. Tell the staff what the current situation is and what the future presents, no matter how bleak. You are dealing with human lives. Spend time with staff and their pain. See #1 above – actively listen and respond with understanding. They may beat you up, but the problem is bigger than you and you can be bigger than the criticism. Take the high moral ground. The attack may be at you, but not about you. It is about the bad decisions that have to be made. It is about the causes that may not be fully understood. But you have to do it. Often times not making a decision is worse than making a bad decision.
  8. Develop fair, equitable salaries and benefits comparable to similar employment in the public or private sector. In good time and in bad times this may be my most critical point about our sector. We have bought into the myth that people work for nonprofits for personal satisfaction and they expect lower pay and benefits. As the CEO you should serve your clients much better than this. Salary comparability studies should be made. They are not difficult. I do not mean comparing your staff with nonprofit staff elsewhere. I mean compare staff salaries to comparable public and private wages and benefits at the local, regional or state levels. That comparability may be your staff is being paid currently at fifty% of the other sectors...are you satisfied and proud of that? What about mileage? In many nonprofits staff account for 70% to 85% of the budget. Generally the only salary out of that which is closest to comparable is the CEO’s. Yes, higher salaries will mean fewer staff members. That is the way it will be. Fewer staff members may translate into fewer case numbers. It may increase the quality for those cases handled. We have to do something here. We are cheating the staff, lying to funders about what the mission really costs and ultimately in my view the public. I do wonder if unionized nonprofits are faring well on this point.
  9. Create good, clean, safe and appropriate work space, comfortable chairs, desks, file cabinets, desk top equipment, and comfortable and attractive public areas. Have accommodations for disabled employees and guests. I am not talking top of the line and hiring a decorator. I am talking about showing dignity and caring for the work area. Each employee should have her/his stuff. Paint sometimes can do wonders over a couple of weekends – yes, as work time if necessary. Some staff member or board member or volunteer may know somebody who can reupholster the chairs in the common areas for the cost of the material.
  10. Provide sufficient and appropriate equipment and technology. Computers, monitors, calculators, printers, copiers, software programs, and other technology should be available, maintained and upgraded for staff to perform their work effectively and efficiently. And staff should be trained on how to use it.
  11. Budget for periodic relevant and fair training for staff and yourself. Although not every employee needs to attend a training event annually, there should be budget line items for training and travel for more than the CEO and other top echelon people. There can be room for paying for continued education for licensed staff. But more than that, other training is available in nonprofit accounting, support work, dealing with difficult people, employee relations and more.
  12. Assure productivity, goals and objectives are being measured and being met or revised as needed. You should be receiving regular reports showing the key features – not all features – about how the organization and individual staff members are producing, whether they are meeting goals and objectives in a timely fashion and you should assess where there are weaknesses, strengths and where changes may need to be made.
  13. Oversee supervision and leave nothing to chance or favoritism. Do not assume the senior employee, the highest degree or licensed person or the most experienced are doing what they are supposed to do and with quality. Verify they and all staff are doing the job correctly, meeting contract or legal compliance and are timely with work and reports.
  14. Know where the money is and where it is going. Receive and review fiscal reports including originals such as bank statements and check books. Check frequently that separation of duties for fiscal matters is functioning. Look at cancelled and voided checks for number sequential, payee and amount with billings. Review all payroll material.
  15. Know and utilize the lessons from the past and be creative in the long run - your own and the organization. We all learn from the past. And for most of us we will repeat the mistakes from the past. This is a sensitivity you as CEO should exhibit and retrain yourself to avoid them.
  16. Spend time planning fiscally along with the goals, objectives and activities of the organization. Look at the books in the context of what the staff and the organization are doing. What are you spending the money on? Do you have knowledge about the cost centers of the organization and why the money is spent that way? Do the priorities match the expenditures?
  17. Lead by guiding, modeling, mentoring by following when others know more than you do. You do not know everything and you do not know more than your staff put together. You can model what expectations are with humility and grace and honor and silence for others.
  18. Insist on evaluation of all employees on a regular basis including you. This starts with you. Help your board develop a legally defensible annual evaluation system with timely written evaluations for all employees and a written annual evaluation of you
  19. Assure responsible hiring. Develop the written policies, procedures, forms and recordkeeping of written on recruiting, hiring, training, and firing, Develop written personnel policies and procedures.
  20. Offer staff opportunities for growth, development and promotion. This can look to be next to impossible for a staff of 25 or less but it is not. Employees need to grow in their jobs and their accomplishments. Find creative ways to do this in consultation with staff.
  21. Help create and maintain a cultural competent environment. Set the mood, the standards and the actuality for cultural diversity in the organization. Be sensitive and aware of activities that may create barriers to the diversity and those that encourage a natural environment for diversity.
  22. Foster mutual respect and problem solving among staff. Set the tone and the skills for respecting differences of opinions and convictions. Provide the atmosphere for staff to resolve their own differences before heading to you or a supervisor - or the rumor mill
  23. Encourage a corporate culture that fosters cooperation, initiative, creativity, partnering, honesty, open communication, behavior and change. A silent and an acknowledged corporate culture exists in every organization. Your task is to keep those two cultures carefully aligned for the results listed above.
  24. Recognize and celebrate organizational and individual achievement, workable innovation and results. A negative environment may be productive but not without its costs. That is also true for a positive supportive organization – too much time spent on creature comforts of staff will have its costs. The staff is not the reason the organization exists but they are your clients. Salute them for work well done.
  25. Consider openness to new forms of work including telecommuting, networking, communicating. These may help the organization function more efficiently and effectively. It does take time thinking and planning in order to save in the future. Consider these along with other ways to be a better program.
  26. Partner at the top level with similar organizations working on the same mission in the region, state, country politically. Small and medium sized programs can suffer from being alone, not connected to other organizations that share similar missions, visions and history. CEOs should spend time looking for compatriots for partnering for support and even political support. You can gain muscle for the clients of the organizations and for your organization about public policies and funding nationally, statewide or regionally. You are not alone, why act that way? You can perform advocacy. Learn the rules. See Resources below.
  27. Throughout the organization foster an understanding about partnering with other organizations. Lead staff to partner with others and to be aware of services and activities that can be used by the organization’s clients. Duplication is wasteful. Funders are looking for realistic partnering not just simple referrals or nice-nice between CEOs.
  28. Find time for reflection, soul searching, contemplation, silence. I have a spiritual sense of our work in the nonprofit world. Our work is above us and guides us. I am not talking about religion or any God. I am talking about spending time with your soul and the soul of the organization. Think about you. Where are you doing well and where must you grow? Find a silent period on the clock or off it, but find it for the organization and for you.
  29. Prepare for succession of staff, board and yourself. One of the most important concepts an organization’s people have to understand and live with is change. Staff and board members will reign. The great CEO -, and founding person – will lead for change. Succession planning at levels is important. There needs to be in place a process to develop corporate memory so that what is lost by the person is not also an information lose. It is very important that the board have a plan for your successor. That could be tomorrow. Plan for it. Plan on it.


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