Should You Stay or Should You Go?

It is inevitable.  You get the perfect job (or hire the perfect candidate) and now things are great! You like going to work, you feel fulfilled and appreciated, and you are earning a decent wage.  And then something changes, maybe the recession has hit and you are coping with a shrinking workforce due to layoffs.  Whatever the reason, your happy job, just became a struggle.  Whether this is due to conflicts with your supervisor, scope creep, budget failures, or another reason, it is important to know when it is right for you to find a new situation and when you should stay and work through the challenging time.

Now we all have had our ups and downs on the job, but when does it become too much to handle?  For those that know me well, they know that it is not in my nature to give up or walk away from a challenge, so I tend to persevere, but that does not mean that is always the right answer.  I don’t like hiring and training new employees, or being the new employee, but if someone is really that miserable being on my team, we will all be better off if changes are made.

This is an extremely personal decision, and only you can decide what is best for you and your family.  Ask yourself a few questions and try to understand the root of the feeling, but ultimately, you have to make the choice that is best for you.  Are you a valued team member? Are you willing to work on any of the problems?  Can you leave work at work or is it impacting your home life in a negative way? Are you past the point of logic and are too emotional to think rationally about work?

At the end of the day, life is too short to spend your time being miserable.  If your situation is that bad, it may be time to move on.  But also consider what made you happy about this job initially and seek that out in your next opportunity.

Whether you decide to stay and try to improve your work situation or depart and find a better situation, use these challenging times as a way to learn and grow as an employee.  Consider what might have improved the situation, what could have been done to prevent the conflict, and how you will make your next opportunity into a great one.  Use this as a learning and growing experience; do not make a hasty decision.  Then decide, should you stay or should you go?

Photo Credit

Appreciation – or – Have You Hugged Your Volunteer Today?

Appreciation and recognition are wonderful things. A little bit can go a long way towards showing your employees or volunteers how much you value them and how valuable they are to the team. I will talk directly about employees and volunteers, but this applies to contractors, donors, and even in our personal relationships. A little bit can go a long way!

I could not do my job without an amazing team that helps me out on a daily basis. Each of us has our role and some of us contribute more in certain areas than others, but we are all working together. How do we take time to show our appreciation for this support without interrupting the workflow? There are many simple ways to show your gratitude that won’t break the bank and will allow you to express this.

One of the tools we use at our organization is called ‘planned spontaneous recognition’ or PSRs. We use PSRs to frequently recognize and acknowledge the contributions of specific individuals. By planning a loose schedule of small gifts and recognizing individuals that have gone above and beyond in some fashion, you will have a prompt to stop and recognize your team. Setting a calendar reminder can be one of the ways to remind yourself.

Twice a year, minimum, we throw an appreciation party. This is a great way to show our team that we value their contributions. Food is one of the best ways to bring people together for a shared good time. It also helps us to feel as if we are taking care of the people that take care of us (in this case our volunteers). But we have found that it is not enough to just throw a party, spread the word and hope people come. A personal phone call with sincerely expressed gratitude can actually be more meaningful than any gift or recognition in public.

The point of appreciation is to recognize the contributions of others. Employees, both paid staff and volunteers, have individual motivators and therefore it will be impossible to find one gift that will be appropriate for all. Some are interested in useful gifts like a gift certificate to a local restaurant, while others will want a plaque or monument that shows their accomplishment to the world, for some recognition in front of their peers is important. Still others want more time or money. Finding out the right way to motivate your team can help keep you all on track to reach your goal.

I have heard from several volunteers over the years that so many places that they have worked have not taken the time to show their appreciation. This makes the volunteer end up feeling like simply slave labor! Nobody should feel this way, not a volunteer giving of their time and energy, and not a paid employee.

The type of recognition is not important, or rather the amount you spend is not important, and it may take a few tries to figure out the right way to acknowledge each individual. But what is most important is taking the time to stop and say thank you. Our employees work hard for us and when we acknowledge that effort, we are showing them that we value their efforts as well. So take the time out of your busy schedule to say thank you, give a token gift, or even just hug your volunteer. They will love the recognition and get a boost from your support!

When It Rains, It Pours

As I sit here writing this, some much needed rain is falling on drought stricken California.  Over the last week or so, we have had scattered thunderstorms, often accompanied by torrential downpours and even hail.  We have had some nice soaking rains as well, but the majority of the storms have been incredibly dynamic.  Living in the high desert, none of us are very used to the rain, but after four years of drought I am grateful for every drop.

But this most recent set of rainy weather got me to thinking of that expression, ‘when it rains, it pours,’ and how true it seems to be.  This phrase is most often used to describe two opposite, but similar situations.  On the one hand, we use it to refer to when many bad things happen at the same time.  However, it is also used to describe overwhelming demand; ‘too much of a good thing’.

Just as with rainstorms in the desert, too much of a good thing can have negative consequences.  Demand at peak times can often overwhelm a firm’s resources.  Knowing this, how can we prepare ourselves and our team for these ‘storms’?  Individual situations will call for specific responses, but a few things can help you weather the storm.

  • Shore up your defenses- If you can anticipate the storm, you can reinforce weak areas in preparation. Anything that you can do to prepare, large and small, can help your team to feel that they can handle this storm.  Being able to increase your capacity in the short term can be difficult, but by strengthening your weaknesses, it makes it less likely that the ‘flood waters will break through’.  Preparing your team will empower them to be better equipped to handle it.
  • Keep your cool- Staying calm under pressure is essential for these challenging situations. As a leader, it is your job to keep your cool and be the example for your team.  Getting worked up will not change the outcome of the situation, except possibly for the worse.  Take a deep breath and prioritize your actions before rushing into things.
  • Increase your customer service- You may only be able to increase your output rate so much due to limited resources (i.e. limited cashier lines), but you can greatly improve your customer’s experience through the expanded use of customer service. Have more agents available in the appropriate area (phone support, extra agents working the lines, etc.) and you can increase customer satisfaction and, most likely, loyalty. Taking care of your customers should be a top priority during any crisis situation; without them, your firm would not exist!
  • Damage control following the surge- Inevitably, something will go wrong (if not multiple somethings) no matter how well prepared, calm, and customer service oriented you are. How you respond to this is just as important to how you handle the increased demand, or storm.  Without spelling out a complete guide, one of the most important things to do in any type of conflict resolution is to listen.  Listen to the complaints; let the dissatisfied customer or disgruntled employee get your full attention, and really hear what they are saying.  Don’t just immediately try to solve the problem, but try to understand it as well.  Clean up the mess left behind after the storm.

Sometimes, it all happens at once.  How you and your team prepare, react, and deal with any ensuing fallout will significantly change how these times actually feel.  Does it feel like you had a great, exhilarating, successful time despite the storm? Or was it an exhausting and draining experience that leaves you feeling like you have been through the ringer?  Whether your storm brings a nice, life-giving rain or a torrential downpour, how will you and your team weather it?

Dance in the Rain

What Mushing Dogs Has Taught Me About Leadership

I have worked for some great bosses and seen great leaders in action my whole life, but I think I have learned the most about leadership from observing and experiencing the joys of working with dog sled teams. If you are not familiar with this activity, I encourage you to try it. The dynamics and relationships that are involved are awesome!

For those not familiar with it, the ancient tradition of dog sledding involves working with a team of dogs to traverse snowy terrain, using a sled and a musher (the human ‘driving’ the sled). Traditionally, dog sledding helped make it possible to survive in harsh northern climates. Hauling heavy loads over snow and ice, dog teams ensured natives could travel farther for hunting and food and fuel gathering. I have had the pleasure of both working as a handler and caretaker for these amazing animals and mushing my own small teams of dogs.

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My team and I dry land mushing in the Glass Mountains.

I could go on at length, but I will try to break down my observations to a few key elements. To a certain degree, the musher and his team of dogs are like a leader and her team of colleagues. Some of the ways to be a great musher are the same ways to be a great team leader.

  • Know your team members- Get to know your team members as individuals. Each dog has a unique personality and skill set. The same applies to your team; get to know them as people. And this also applies to those that you already know well. People change over time and by staying current on who your team is, you will be able to use them more effectively (see below).
  • Build relationships with team members-If you take the time to get to know your team members, take the time to develop a relationship with them as well.   It is a lot easier to ask your team to pull you out of a tricky situation if you have a relationship with them. I have seen this many times with mushers and their teams. Those mushers that take the time to build relationships with the dogs can always get more out of a team than those that don’t. Perhaps the dogs are more open about it, they can’t help it, but it still applies to you and your team as well. The connections you have with your team will help you all work together to overcome obstacles and reach your goals.
  • Understand individual strengths and weaknesses- Know who your lead dogs are, your wheel dogs, your point dogs, etc. If you assign project tasks to your team, make the best use of your resources by using their strengths to your advantage. Pair a stronger worker with one that needs more guidance. Plugging your team into the correct roles can increase its effectiveness dramatically.
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Sugar’s fun and infectious attitude is great at the center of the team, keeping the team motivated.
  • If it’s not working, don’t be afraid to try something else- Sometimes a dog isn’t working is the position that you put them. Mix it up! Try them somewhere else. Be creative about how you use your team, and you can sometimes be surprised at the results. A new lead dog may stand out or someone may reveal hidden strengths. Don’t be afraid to try it or try it again if necessary.
  • Love what you do- Your team can tell if you want to be there or are just ‘doing your job’. Find some element of the project or the team itself that you can enjoy/be proud of/love. This will shine through to your team and can help energize and invigorate them. Just like with the relationships you develop with your team members, this small thing can have a profound impact on team performance.

Whether you are working with a team of dogs or a team of colleagues, these tips can guide you to be a better leader. For more information on the joys of dog sledding or to share a unique place you have learned leadership lessons, please comment below.

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Smiles all around! Sugar, Bear, and I skijoring and enjoying working together.

Keep the ‘Fun’ in Fundraising!

Generating funds is a constant concern for all businesses and for many non-profits this means holding fundraisers. Fundraising comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, from large-scale gala events to small ventures like a bake sale. Each type comes with different costs and benefits and it is sometime hard to truly understand the ROI for a fundraiser. How do you know if an event is worth it?

Let’s start with the basics; we need to generate money, so our out of pocket expenses must be less than the funds coming in. We need to turn a profit, in other words. Two of my favorite ways to keep costs low are to use volunteers and donated resources wisely. One of the largest hidden costs of fundraising is staff time invested in an event. It is definitely cheaper to use as much volunteer labor as possible.

And this includes planning, organizing, and running an event. You need a team to have a successful event; see if you can get part of your team to be free! Passionate volunteers can be your staunchest advocates to bring in potential donors to events as well. If they are invested in the event, they will want their friends to come and see it (and spend money!). Some of these volunteers will even want to help up until party time and then come and spend money too! This is clearly a win-win for everyone.

The second cost saving tip, using donated resources wisely, is much more subjective. Is there a supporter that can provide any of the needed services at low or no cost? Maybe a vendor will not donate to your silent auction, but will offer 50% off services for your event. Some of our events are strategically located because of our relationships and partnerships with local area businesses. This enables us to use our fundraising dollars more effectively. Being creative with the use of these resources can go a long way towards decreasing out of pocket expenses.

But the best qualitative way to reduce costs: make it fun! I know it may sound trite, but it truly is a valuable rule of thumb. If you are not holding a fundraiser that you would want to attend, why are you doing it? If you like to dance, throw a dance party or dance-a-thon or ‘dancing with the stars’ type event rather than a formal gala. If you are a bit of a gambler, have a charity poker or bingo night. In addition to making the event more enjoyable for you, chances are, your potential attendees will enjoy the change from the same old gala event. But the biggest return will be in the fun you and your team can have, planning a fun event.

It doesn’t make all the hard work go away; big fundraisers take a lot of work. But it will be more enjoyable to work towards a fun goal. Just as passion for your cause is important, passion for your event makes it much easier, in a way, to take care of the details. You will benefit! You will work more effectively and efficiently and thereby increase the ROI for your organization.

What are some of the fun and interesting ways your organization uses to raise funds? Try something new and plan an event that you will have fun attending!

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

I wrote earlier about how leadership can affect a team and its results, but how much does one individual contribute to the team? What happens if you have a team that works really well together, with each member feeling like an essential part of the whole, and someone moves on? Are any of us irreplaceable? While it is hard to lose a great team member, it is also an opportunity.

For some teams, especially small ones, it is hard when a team member is on vacation, let alone leaving the team! It is hard to say good-bye to a good friend, a good colleague, and a good team member when they move on, but how can this be a good thing? A new opportunity? But the person that is leaving is perfect! How can we replace that?

While you will never be able to find an employee or team member that is exactly the same as the one before, a vacancy is an opportunity that a good leader can capitalize on. By taking the time to decide what are the key skills needed for this position, evaluating those applicants with the appropriate skills, and most importantly, seeing the value that a new perspective can bring to the team, you can turn this opening into a valuable opportunity.

Besides having a great personality and being a team player, what are the skills and characteristics that distinguish your departing coworker? Take some time to make a list of these before beginning the search for his replacement. If you can pinpoint these, you will stand a better chance of being able to weed out candidates that will not have the required skill set.

It can be difficult to find someone with all the necessary skills that made your departing employee stand out. Making a list of the core skills necessary to fill the vacant role will allow you to prioritize and determine which skills you are willing to compromise on if a likely candidate is lacking in one area, but stronger in another. If the hiring process can be seen as an opportunity, your firm could end up with a great team member. The majority of the best candidates will have a particular area that they specialize in, or useful hobbies, allowing you to capitalize on these ‘bonus’ talents.

What useful talents might they have? We have found instructors that can write grants, administrative personnel that can teach adaptive sports, and trainers that can organize events. In a small organization, we all wear many hats and the addition of skills outside of those required for the job can be a benefit to the entire team. When replacing a valued team member, this can be a ‘silver lining’ that can help ease the transition.

This is also an opportunity internally for existing team members to expand their scope. Creatively using the talents of your team can lead to great results. Don’t be afraid to use an employee turnover situation as the catalyst for other changes that allow for maximizing the effectiveness of your team. Seek out your team’s hidden talents and share them below!

Leading Your Team

We have all probably worked on projects and worked with teams, often with the project’s success depending on effective teamwork. And I am sure we have all been on good and not so good teams. I have recently had some firsthand experience dealing with the fallout of the effect of teamwork on project success that have made me think of how the right leadership can drastically change the situation.

I want to share two stories, one where strong leadership created a team and lead them to success and another with a group of colleagues that was not a team. To be fair to all parties involved, irrelevant details have been changed. In the first case, a business associate had a sudden deadline requiring a team of competent laborers to complete a simple, but large construction project. Due to the ongoing drought and recession, this business had not been able to sustain workers and is down to a single man crew, the owner. He had no team to call upon! With a looming deadline that could impose costly fines and possibly legal action if he was unable to comply, the outlook was bleak.

By reaching out to all of his connections and making use of his existing relationships, he was able to gather a crew, lead them through this project, and complete it before the imposed deadline. By using the connections he had within the community, he was able to create and lead a team through a successful project. What had appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle became the catalyst to energize this leader into action.

In the second case, a friend was working to prepare for a big, companywide event. Several times throughout the preparation, I was called upon to offer assistance for jobs that he had been assigned that required more than one person. Always happy to help when I can, I offered the necessary extra set of hands and muscles for these tasks. When pressed, he finally told me that he really felt like none of the other members of his team were able to help him, nor would it occur to them to offer.

This astonished me! I have had the good fortune to be on many teams that have worked well together to overcome challenges, as well as those with weak links, but to feel as if there was nobody on your entire team that you could call upon was staggering! And then I saw it with my own eyes while helping him one day. To me, it appeared that the team members were all working as individuals, rather than as a cohesive unit towards a common goal. This included the head of the organization and the event director.

Perhaps these leaders were ‘empowering’ their employee/colleague/team member to solve problems on their own, but this was highly demoralizing to the individual. If one team member feels this way, there is a good chance that more do as well. If a team cannot rely on each other, who can they rely upon? Regardless of anything else, a leader should be aware of the team dynamics and be able to recognize a problem such as this and try to realize a solution. From an outsider’s perspective, it appears to me that the lack in the team was due, at least in part, to a lack in the leadership.

These contrasting situations helped me to realize how much leadership can affect the outcome of a project as well as the effectiveness of a team. What can we do as team members or as leaders of teams to achieve project success? We will discuss teams in more depth in future blogs, but building relationships with the team members can be the first step to an effective, successful, and healthy team.