Maybe I told you this story before. It’s about a friend of mine who was stuck in a middle management position and couldn’t get promoted. She finally went to her boss to ask why. Simple, her boss told her, your staff is holding you back. She went back to her office and thought about that. She thought about her staff:
- John, who wrote great reports but always missed deadlines
- Sue, who did good work but had a temper and sometimes lost it with senior management
- Abbe, who was the nicest person in the world but would not admit when she didn’t understand what she was supposed to do.
- Kevin, who said all the right things when assigned a task but never reported back to his manager about what he was doing and how it was going.
Her boss was right. While her staff had skills and added some value to the organization, with most of her staff, those skills and values were followed by a “but.”
Those buts didn’t just get in the way of their work—they, clearly, were affecting her entire career, and not in a good way.
My friend called a staff meeting and informed her staff that moving forward the baseline for performance was “excellence.” That is, she expected everyone to do their very best, and to rid themselves of traits-like missing deadlines, throwing temper tantrums, not admitting ignorance or not reporting back on what they were doing—that were getting in the way of excellence.
Over the next two weeks, she met one on one with each of her staff. She started by telling them what she valued about them, and then—where appropriate—pointed out what would no longer be acceptable.
One of her staff members resigned immediately. The rest acknowledged the truth in what she said and together they worked on improvement plans.
I’m not going to lie to you—it wasn’t easy. My friend had to commit to developing measurable outcomes for each of staff—and to regular follow-ups to ensure those metrics were being met. Worst of all, she told me, was to train herself not to let anything slide.
“I had to call my staff on everything. I tried to do it in a positive way—by focusing on our need to be excellent, and that missing a deadline, even by 10 minutes, wasn’t okay.”
By encouraging excellence, three things happened:
- The work product of her department improved immensely
- People on her staff were wooed away and promoted to more prestigious and better paying jobs.
- She stopped being a manager. In six months she was promoted to a Vice President position and today—a mere 7 years later—she is a Senior Executive Vice President, very likely earning more than the operating budget of your nonprofit!
By encouraging excellence, she made things better for her company, her staff, and herself.
Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity, build stronger boards, and be excellent in all they do. Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com and contact Janet for your free 30 minute consultation.