Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Best Places to Work: What Criteria?

There's been a lot of concern lately about whether the nonprofit sector will be able to recruit and, more importantly, retain talent to address what some have referred to as a potential "leadership crisis" down the road. Two constituencies that have been targeted for recruitment are "sector switchers" (people who've worked in the public or private sectors but are interested in nonprofit work) and young people., in fact, has just published (Viking) two excellent books for each of these groups on getting a job in the nonprofit sector.

Another strategy has been the creation of a "best places to work" roster that would help people (including those who already work in the nonprofit sector) discern which organizations are most appealing to them. The rankings/list (or whatever form the product takes) would be similar to those published by Working Woman (Best Places for Working Women to Work) and several others.

These kinds of lists/rankings serve several purposes, not the least of which is helping people figure out where they'd like to work. They also help to highlight "best practices" and provide an incentive for companies/organizations to incorporate those practices into their shops. But they do something much more. They devise the criteria by which organizations will be judged and this criteria, in turn, has the potential to serve as important drivers for cultural and systemic change within organizations.

That's why the criteria selected for judging the best places to work in the nonprofit sector is critical. That criteria, some say, has to go beyond the usual variables such as pay, benefits, family leave, and promotion policies to include factors that capture workplace cultures. Why? Because the latter is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to retaining workers and, especially, young workers, as Kari Dunn notes in her Social Citizens post and a response by Sean Stannard-Stockton on the Tactical Philanthropy blog.

Numerous studies and news reports have documented how young people--especially Millennials--are eschewing the old-school style of management, hierarchy, and "face time" that traditionally has been valued in organizations (including many nonprofits) and, instead, embrace a new workplace style. The latter includes an emphasis on collaborative decision-making, results, and "the leadership of the many." This is not the "yes sir, no sir, whatever you say sir," generation. This is the "excuse me sir, but I think there may be a different way of doing this"generation.

While some older folks in the sector may shudder or roll their eyes at this, they do so at their own--and their organizations'--peril. Young people who come into organizations with high hopes that there will be more collaboration, diversity, shared responsibility, and “doing”—and less talking, politicking and schmoozing to move up the ladder—will become disillusioned and run away to create their vision elsewhere. It’s no coincidence that this generation has become one of the most entrepreneurial in history, starting their own initiatives that embody a new notion of leadership—initiatives that focus on action, not position and on outcomes, not personal advancement.

Including criteria, therefore, that young people feel is important to their not only being interested in working in nonprofits -- but staying there to become leaders of them -- will be critical to whether or not nonprofits change in ways that will ensure this happens.

But there's another reason nonprofits need to pay attention to Millennials' leadership/workplace style: It reflects the changes going on in the larger world. Driven largely by technology, those changes are requiring that workers have the ability to work across cultural, economic, and geographic boundaries; are comfortable with technology and the transparency, fluidity, and speed that comes with it; focus on action and results; and recognize and use the assets of everyone with a stake in an issue.

These kinds of criteria are more difficult to measure, of course, but if we want to go beyond simply recruiting people to nonprofits to making sure that they stay, we'll have to start pushing nonprofits to change the ways in which they do business -- and in ways that will help ensure that they flourish, rather than wither, in this brave new world.

1 comment:

  1. Amen on this. The nonprofit workplace culture is, as you say, the key to retention. In my experience, the driving factor in staff exodus (my own included) was the practice of promoting a fabulous nonprofit professional to the level of his or her incompetency: management. I raised money like it was going out of style, but would have been a terrible VP because I lacked the knowledge--and interest--to effectively lead a staff of people. But time after time I worked for people who, although adept at their primary function (fundraising, PR, service delivery) clearly had zero ability to manage themselves (temper, time, etc.) much less a staff of 12.