Every organization has its own unique set of challenges that may warrant new ways of thinking.
Sometimes new hires feel pressured to hit the ground running the moment they enter the organization’s doors- but if they’re too hasty, they run the risk of making uninformed decisions.
You will be in a greater position to meet your hiring manager’s expectations when you set aside time to first understand the organization, community and environment that you are working in before you make or propose any significant changes.
Learning about what inspires and motivates your community
It may seem like an oxymoron, but by taking it slow in the very beginning of your tenure, you’re generating the fuel (or information) that you need to take action and accelerate the organization toward success. Yet this isn’t necessarily an excuse to be idle.
Because of the changing landscape of the nonprofit sector, leaders are forced to adapt and constantly seek out information, new tools and knowledge to improve services and prepare their organizations for bigger and better things. Whether you’re the CEO of an organization or chief program officer, this should be a priority. The knowledge you gain from your clients, staff, volunteers and stakeholders may aid in strategic planning.
Executives who are leading large supply chains such as food banks, for example, may already recognize the role that community plays in helping the organizations support individuals who are struggling with hunger and food insecurity issues. While it’s common to look to senior-level staff for information, there is a lot that can be learned from frontline employees too, including the truck drivers who transport the foods in the organization’s community. They see the families who line up at the pantries where the food is being distributed and may have an alternative perspective on the need and impact of the organization’s services. Their observations can help new leaders develop inspiring narratives about their organization’s impact, which may lead new donors and supporters to have a deeper connection to the organization’s mission.
When new leaders invest time in learning about their communities, they are in turn establishing a culture of connection within their organizations. It’s also an opportunity for staff and clients to get to know a leader on a more personal level. Remember, while you’re the chief professional officer of the organization, you need followers who believe in your ability and your organization’s vision to truly become an effective leader.
As DRG President David Edell wrote in his article, “The Secrets for a Successful First Year as a Nonprofit CEO,” it’s important that new CEOs recognize the importance of “attracting and retaining volunteers” and cultivating a community of people that are prepared to be supporters and “ambassadors for the organization.” To cultivate a community that is committed to standing behind your organization’s mission, you need to spend time learning about what drives them to contribute, and how you can best engage them as allies in your fight to make a difference in the world.
Understanding the key issues and trends in your environment
It goes without saying that learning about your community and understanding your environment are symbiotic.
To prepare their communities for future challenges and opportunities for growth, leaders need to be aware of key issues and trends that are disrupting the environment that they are working in.
From rising demands in services to government cuts, leaders who are working in the field of health and human services, in particular, must be prepared to tackle numerous challenges. Nonprofit organizations in this environment seek leaders who have the capability to help lead their organizations through a myriad of changes, including the prospect of minimum wage increases and the shift to managed care. Many of these organizations rely heavily on caseworkers and clinical staff. With staff salaries influenced by state and federal reimbursement rates in fee-for-services, leaders in this environment need to think long and hard about how to motivate and retain a vital part of this workforce.
Leaders are also expected to know how to “incorporate technology into their communications, marketing, and fundraising plans” so that they can improve their services, gain more supporters and stay on the forefront of innovation in their environment. It will be challenging for leaders to achieve sustainable growth if they don’t have an understanding of the trends and key issues that are affecting their organizations and the sector.
Using information to make informed decisions
Tom Pohlmann and Neethi Mary Thomas of Mu Sigma, a Decision Sciences and Big Data analytics company, points out that, “because expectations for decision-making have gone from “get it done soon” to “get it done now” to “it should have been done yesterday,” we tend to jump to conclusions instead of asking more questions. And the unfortunate side effect of not asking enough questions is poor decision-making.”
As you navigate your new community and environment, ask questions and practice active listening. Sincerity goes a long way in building meaningful connections and trust. Don’t wait for someone to come in and start offering information about your community or organization. Taking the initiative to learn all that you can about your organization and its people can be the roadmap to your success.