Embrace Risk in Hiring and Supervision

  • quick-tips [Icon]Quick Tips
  • Created: March 23rd, 2023
  • Last Updated: March 16th, 2023

“It is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.”

Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace

When you hire and supervise people, there are some risks you should never take. Don’t assume payroll will take care of itself. Don’t pay someone a salary you know is grossly unfair for the position. And don’t brush aside reports of misconduct without investigation. But hiring and supervision present important, and necessary, risk-taking opportunities. Hiring and supervision create close relationships, and interpersonal relationship will not grow if the parties involved don’t take some risks. Here are some ways to take meaningful risks in hiring and supervision that can help all parties grow.

Be vulnerable. This doesn’t mean babbling about yourself. It means that sometimes, when it’s appropriate, you share stories with your employees about times when you struggled, failed, and succeeded. This shows them they’re not alone in facing challenges.

Rethink your concept of risk in hiring. You may think your biggest talent risk is hiring someone who lacks experience or doesn’t fit in with your organization. But many people respond well to training, and great organizational cultures grow and evolve. The biggest risk you face is hiring too many people who are too similar—to each other and to you. Groupthink stifles creativity and innovation. To help combat groupthink, center your hiring process and criteria more in skills than experience—ask a candidate to walk you through how they would solve a problem your organization might face.

Talk less. You may feel like you achieved your role as a manager based on what you know. But now that you have this role, what you know is less important. What’s most important when leading others is how you make people feel. Experiment with talking half as often as you normally would in a meeting. Ask questions and listen. If you listen, you’re more likely to see what your employees need from you.

Ask the question you don’t want to ask. If you can’t see what your employees need from you, ask. Ask them if the way you give feedback works for them—even if it makes you nervous to ask that question. Listen to their answers. If they ask for change, deliver it if you can, and explain why if you can’t.

Take time to reflect. This feels impossible at the pace at which our organizations and initiatives move. It’s also necessary. Take “balcony time” away from your desk with no interruptions—even 15 to 30 minutes a week—to dream and vision the future of your team. And schedule time in your one-on-one meetings weekly or monthly for employees to reflect on their recent high points and low points. This is where learning happens.

Delegate more. It’s true, no one else will do a task just the way you would. Someone else might do a great job, but they might also struggle, stumble, or miss a deadline. And that’s fine. If you give your team members a chance to take on more tasks, you’ll discover new ways of doing things, as well as opportunities to give constructive feedback. And your employees will get the opportunity to try, fail, succeed, learn, and grow.

Get curious. Asking a question that doesn’t relate to the day’s task list or the bottom line could feel like an unnecessary risk or distraction. It also could lead you to more engaged, interesting, and productive relationships with your team members. Don’t probe into personal matters, but seek opportunities to learn more about the people who work for you. Ask them why they did a task a certain way, or what their favorite and least favorite parts of a project were. You won’t be just checking off a to-do item; you’ll build a foundation for a stronger relationship.

Mistakes happen. Let them. If you think you see an employee headed for a misstep, stop and ask yourself how big a deal that is. Might whatever upheaval will occur still matter in a few days, or a week? If not, your effort to head off the mistake might deprive your employee and your team of a great learning opportunity. Of course, you should never allow bigotry, bullying, or harassment. But if the mistake wouldn’t be offensive or hurtful, let it happen if you can.

Spend a significant amount of time with your employees talking about their strengths. Why would you want to invest time in talking about something that’s going right when other things might be going wrong? Because focusing on employees’ strengths empowers them, engages them, and helps them pursue new areas of growth. Employees who understand what they do well grow in confidence and take on new tasks. That helps the whole team.

Additional Resources

5 Steps to Retain More of Your Workforce

  • infographic [Icon]Infographic
  • Created: March 21st, 2023
  • Last Updated: March 14th, 2023

Nonprofit leaders understand that people are key to mission success. But the Great Resignation brought home for all employers the urgency to retain as many great employees as possible. No organization will ever have a 100% employee retention rate—many talented individuals will move on to new opportunities in time, as they should. But your organization can take concrete, practical steps to ensure more of your great employees stay with the team longer. Here’s how.

Applying a Risk-Aware Frame to Your Nonprofit’s Most Impactful Decisions

  • quick-tips [Icon]Quick Tips
  • Created: March 16th, 2023
  • Last Updated: March 2nd, 2023

Many nonprofit leaders might not think about risk until a board member or committee asks them to or an unanticipated development or event disrupts operations. A risk-aware approach can help your nonprofit make better decisions in all aspects of its work. Bringing a risk lens to your work doesn’t have to be taxing or complex. Here are some simple approaches to consider risk in your nonprofit’s big decisions.

Establish your organization’s risk appetite. How much risk is your leadership team willing to take for the mission? What kinds of risks will leaders accept and reject as they pursue the organization’s strategic priorities? What risks are good bets for the organization? What decisions or actions are bad bets? Lead your team in a discussion of these issues. Your organization’s risk appetite will likely evolve over time, and likely vary based on the type of decision (e.g., client safety versus financial growth). Making it comfortable to discuss, debate and reconcile differences in risk appetite is time well spent. Over time, as risk appetite becomes a familiar topic, decisions will be easier to weigh.

Define and understand the problem you need to solve with a decision.

  • What do you hope to achieve with this decision?
  • Do you have all the information you need?
  • What are the potential (and actual) effects of the situation you want to address? How likely are they to occur?
  • What are the potential unintended consequences of the decision?
  • Who and what may be affected by your decision?

Identify and evaluate your decision options. Test your assumptions about the potential solutions. Ask a diverse group of people: What would it look like if this solution worked beyond our wildest dreams? What would it look like if this solution failed completely? How prepared are we to meet the consequences of either of these outcomes? What must we do to be better prepared?

Watch out for biases. Some common biases in decision-making include:

  • Confirmation bias: people are more likely to believe things that fit with their existing perceptions, which are shaped by their lens on the world (gender, race, class status, etc.)
  • Recency bias: people gravitate toward the idea most recently offered
  • Primacy or anchoring bias: people tend to remember the first idea they hear on a topic
  • False consensus bias: you believe the majority of people share your values and ideas
  • Optimism bias: underestimating the likelihood of a disruptive event or its consequences

Solicit a variety of perspectives. Groupthink presents one of the biggest risks most organizations face. When a decision will impact the community you serve, invite perspectives and ideas from that community. Before increasing sponsorship tiers, reach out to your top sponsors for feedback and insights. If a decision will impact your frontline team, invite frontline employees to the table to share their thoughts on the decision and options. When you invite affected people to weigh in before a decision is made and sincerely consider what you hear, you will cultivate priceless buy-in for the eventual outcome.

Solicit dissenting opinions and explore them thoroughly. Make sure you consider all credible alternatives. Seek information that might disprove the favored solution. This will help combat the biases noted above.

Know your data. Double-check sources for the projections and figures that support your preferred solution. Make sure you know which numbers are facts, and which are estimates. Separate what you know from assumptions and aspirations. Acknowledge what you don’t know.

Get prepared. Ask your team what you can do today to be more prepared if the potential opportunities and challenges you identified arise. Then ask what those preparation efforts might cost in time and money, and which ones are worth the effort.

Accept the possibility of failure. Any new endeavor could go awry. Prepare yourself and your team for that. If you’ve received meaningful input from a variety of people, including community members and frontline employees, and chosen your best course of action, commit to see it through as best you can.

Be willing to change your mind. New information may arise after you make your decision. If your team vets the information and believes you should change course, don’t hesitate. Adapting to your environment is part of being risk-aware, and knowing when to do it will come more naturally with time.

How To: Become a Menopause-Friendly Workplace

  • factsheet [Icon]Factsheet
  • Created: March 14th, 2023
  • Last Updated: March 14th, 2023

More than 50 million U.S. women are in the age bracket (42-58) when physical changes due to menopause often occur. Many of those women work in nonprofits, where they lead key projects and play crucial roles. The global economic impact of menopause on productivity and health care costs is estimated at more than $150 billion annually, according to Bloomberg. People who go through menopause can experience a wide range of impacts to their physical and mental health. That’s a major workplace issue. But many workplaces have never considered menopause in their policies, practices or health benefit offerings. Here are some ways nonprofits can become menopause-friendly workplaces and meet the needs of employees who experience menopause.

How To: Manage Remote Employees

  • infographic [Icon]Infographic
  • Created: March 9th, 2023
  • Last Updated: March 9th, 2023

Whether you’re managing a remote team for the first time or the 10th, these steps can help you build connection and work with team members to reach their potential–wherever they work from.

How to: Hire and Work with Neurodivergent Employees

  • quick-tips [Icon]Quick Tips
  • Created: March 7th, 2023
  • Last Updated: March 2nd, 2023

Neurodiversity is a concept that acknowledges and appreciates the diverse range of ways people’s brains function, including neurological differences. Those differences can include dyspraxia, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyscalculia, autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), Tourette syndrome, and others. Some neurodiverse people identify as having a disability, while others do not. Research shows that organizations that create welcoming environments for neurodiverse people may see benefits like more team creativity and innovation. Here’s a primer on practices for recruiting and working with people on the neurodiversity spectrum.

Share your commitment and demonstrate it. In job descriptions and on your website, share how your organization is making its hiring and culture more inclusive. State that your organization welcomes neurodiverse people.

Make accommodations in the application process. Provide an opportunity for applicants to share any support or accommodations they might need in order to complete you candidate vetting process, including interviews. Make sure the job description and application work with a text-to-speech reader. Ensure online applications can be completed in more than one session. Check that online forms and boxes do not move or lose their format when an applicant fills them out. Offer an option for telephone completion of the form.

Include essential information on job descriptions and forms, and word them clearly. Only include qualities on the job description that are essential to perform the role, and give detailed guidance about what information the applicant needs to provide on forms.

Offer interview options. If the candidate needs to prepare anything in advance, provide clear instructions, including a list of documents required for the interview. Share guidelines on what to wear for the interview with all candidates. Communicate how long the interview will take, including time estimates for each section. Provide detailed instructions on how to access the interview, including a map if in-person.

Consider the interview environment. Don’t wear anything with a strong scent to an in-person interview. Offer an interview environment that’s quiet, with minimal distractions like passersby. Turn your phone off. Don’t hold the interview in a location with overly bright colors (like bright orange walls). Avoid asking open-ended questions. Ask one question at a time.

Make your onboarding inclusive. Provide comprehensive information in advance in a variety of formats. Spell out workplace norms and requirements—work hours, how employees communicate with each other and their bosses, and your dress code. Consider whether you need to break up or seek alternatives to common social aspects of onboarding, like happy hours. Find out the employee’s preferred method of communication (written, spoken, images, etc.) and use it.

Manage individually. Always give clear, detailed, specific instructions. Spell out desired outcomes and deadlines, and don’t make assumptions about what an employee knows. Offer detailed feedback on the employee’s work. Focus on behaviors you can measure. Consider multiple ways of presenting information. Make changes slowly and involve employees where you can.

Consider the timing and approach of performance feedback. Positive feedback usually has the biggest effect if it’s given right after a task is performed. Corrective feedback, by contrast, ideally happens right before a task is performed again. Skillfully delivered corrective feedback helps employees learn new tasks and can decrease their anxiety about doing the task correctly.

Offer employees a full array of flexible work options. Opportunities to work from home and keep a flexible schedule can benefit workers across the board, but that’s just the beginning of workplace flexibility. Neurodivergent employees will have a variety of needs and preferences in their work styles, like all employees. Some neurodivergent employees might thrive on routine and want to work the same schedule every day. Some might need noise-canceling headphones to tune out distractions, or “quiet rooms” in the office. Be open to customizing an individual work environment, schedule, and approach that works for everyone involved.

Pair neurodiverse employees with a mentor. A mentor can provide not only work advice, but also informal insight into an organization’s culture and ways of working. Mentors can also help individuals form other connections in the workplace. Neurodivergent employees could also serve as future mentors or coaches.

Don’t predetermine growth paths for employees. Some neurodiverse employees may want to climb the career ladder; others might focus on mastering a skill they love. Work with all employees, including neurodiverse employees, to create career paths responsive to their goals and skills.

Additional Resources

Hiring Employees with Criminal Records: An Inclusive Approach

  • quick-tips [Icon]Quick Tips
  • Created: February 28th, 2023
  • Last Updated: January 11th, 2023

Many nonprofits seek to build staffs whose lived experiences mirror those of populations they serve. As part of that effort, some organizations hire employees with criminal records. Here’s what to consider to ensure you take an inclusive approach to recruiting and hiring employees with criminal records.

Set goals. Why does your nonprofit want to implement a “fair chance hiring” program that considers people with criminal records? How do you want candidates to experience your program? How will the program affect and amplify your organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts? How will you measure the program’s effectiveness?

Seek partners. City, state, and federal government agencies offer programs that provide workforce training for people with criminal records. Those programs’ expertise and candidates and your organization’s opportunities could be a match.

Don’t assume. Some observers might think a criminal history indicates a lack of work skills and experience. Many prisons require inmates to work. Job applicants with criminal histories may have learned a trade and workplace behaviors like clocking in and out while incarcerated. Ask applicants specific questions about their work experience.

Ensure your interview focuses on skills. This is one of the most powerful tools employers have to avoid discrimination. Questions and exercises in your interview should focus on whether the candidate has or can acquire the skills to do the job.

Know the law. Many jurisdictions bar employers from asking about arrests or convictions early in the interview process. Make sure you’re abiding by any regulations specific to the region where you operate.

Scrutinize your hiring policies. Online applicant tracking systems that use preset criteria to advance candidates might exclude those with criminal records. Review your hiring approach to ensure you’re not unwittingly excluding candidates with criminal records at any stage. If your organization runs background checks on candidates, federal law requires you to get their permission.

Weigh charges fairly. Consider whether you need to do a background check for positions that don’t involve specialized responsibilities, like handling finances or working with youth. If a background check reveals that an applicant has faced criminal charges, consider the person’s circumstances and the position. Weigh the facts of the person’s conviction history (were they a teenager who was tried as an adult, or did the applicant commit a property crime while in college?); how much time has passed since the offense; and the nature of the job you’re hiring for.

Consider an audit to see if your screening policies disproportionately impact Black and Latino candidates. In America, Black and Latino individuals are more likely to be incarcerated than whites, as mass incarceration has disproportionately impacted Black and Latino communities.

Explore assistance options for hiring applicants with criminal records. Some employers who hire candidates with criminal records may be eligible for tax credits or other kinds of incentives. And the U.S. Department of Labor created the Federal Bonding Program to offer Fidelity Bonds for hard-to-place job seekers. The bonds cover the first six months of employment at no cost to the applicant or the employer.

Additional Resources

How To: Create a Cross-Training Action Plan

  • quick-tips [Icon]Quick Tips
  • Created: February 21st, 2023
  • Last Updated: January 11th, 2023

Cross-training is an essential risk management function. It ensures someone in your organization can perform key tasks if the person who usually handles them is out of the office or unavailable for any reason. But cross-training has other benefits too: it can offer employees new challenges, help reduce staff turnover, and break down silos in an organization. Use the table and the tips below to create a unique cross-training plan for your nonprofit.

Find Out Where You Need to Cross-Train

Figure out which tasks of each job function in your organization need a backup (i.e., they are essential and someone else in the organization would need to do them immediately in the absence of this employee). Ask employees to identify their top 10 critical tasks and responsibilities, and complete a grid showing which team members have been trained to handle the task during an unplanned absence. Convene your team to share and discuss the draft grids. Here’s a sample cross-training grid to get you started.

Critical TaskBack-up staff or contractors trained to do this and prepared to step inPlan to fill any gaps,
including deadlines
Example: review contracts submitted by the program team before execution; focus on key provisions such as indemnification, scope of work, and insurance requirementsExample: 1st backup – Senior Accountant; 2nd backup – External legal counselExample: Deliver a contract review workshop to at least 2 members of the Executive Team by 12/31

Build Your Cross-Training Approach

  • Once you have your grids, and a sense of where you need to train, consider how your cross-training plan can best serve your nonprofit’s major goals. Do you need to prepare for unexpected absences, to support staff development, to reduce disruptions when staff are taking vacation, sick leave or PTO, etc.?
  • Determine which tasks most urgently need a backup now, and which you could schedule training on later.
  • What interests have employees expressed in learning skills and tasks of a job function other than their own? Match job functions with employees interested in learning them.
  • Figure out how long might it take an employee to learn each job function.
  • Ascertain whether a written list of steps to perform the tasks of job functions exists. If not, can you create one as part of cross-training?
  • Determine what incentives you can give employees to cross-train on new skills (bonuses, time off, etc.)
  • Figure out how you will give employees time and resources to cross-train their peers and to learn new skills.
  • Decide how you will gather and implement employee feedback on your cross-training efforts.
  • Make sure you have a plan for how your nonprofit’s leaders will model the behavior you seek. What will leaders cross-train on?

Refine Your Plan

As you begin cross-training, note wins and challenges. Adapt your plan as you go. A plan that works well for one stage in your nonprofit’s growth may require major changes as the organization transforms. But if you have key tasks covered no matter what happens, you’ll be ready to tackle change.

Additional Resources

How to Build Your Nonprofit’s Resilience

  • quick-tips [Icon]Quick Tips
  • Created: February 14th, 2023
  • Last Updated: January 11th, 2023

A resilient organization has a strong foundation to weather adversity and bounce back better. With forethought and planning, all organizations can become more resilient. Here are nine ways to do it.

  1. Don’t rely on one source for your organization’s essentials. Have multiple sources for your nonprofit’s key supplies and services. If your nonprofit is small and parceling out its work isn’t efficient, price some alternative suppliers and confirm whether they would work with an organization of your size and type. Make sure that information on the current supplier and alternative providers is available in multiple places and accessible to team members who might need to use it in the future.
  2. Build buffers into your organization’s operations. If your nonprofit uses any type of supply regularly (think gloves in a food-service environment and bandages/gauze in a health care organization), stock up on extra supplies that will be accessible should customary supply chains be cut off. Rotate the extras into your stock before they expire. Review inventory on a regular basis and order more when your back up supplies are running low.
  3. Strengthen your cybersecurity. All nonprofits possess valuable data that presents a tempting target for hackers. Take these simple, free or low-cost steps to strengthen basic cybersecurity practices at your nonprofit, and carve out time for these six must-do tasks to ensure you’ll be ready if and when a breach occurs at your organization.
  4. Explore ways to hasten decisions without downside impacts. Over time, especially as nonprofits grow, decision-making becomes more burdensome and time-consuming that necessary. Form a small team to explore ways to increase the efficiency of decision-making without sacrificing decision quality. Commit to test, learn, and adjust as needed.
  5. Empower your team members to make more decisions. Clearly communicate which decisions employees and managers can make, who gets input into the decisions, and who doesn’t. Spell out what kinds of decisions your team can make quickly, and which ones require more deliberation.
  6. Hire and promote adaptable leaders who go beyond just reacting when a crisis or disruption occurs. Adaptable leaders can adeptly evaluate situations to change course quickly, coach team members through the adjustment, and foster new behaviors and capabilities on the team.
  7. Invest in top talent. Shape your budget to offer the most competitive pay and benefits possible. If you hire and retain great employees, they will help your organization adapt and innovate in challenging conditions.
  8. Regularly share how one team or employee’s work fits into the full picture of the organization. The better employees understand how their work supports an organization’s ultimate mission, the more engaged they will be in the tasks and activities that bring the mission to life.
  9. Pause to reflect and learn. If an organization constantly races from one must-do initiative to another, when crisis hits, you won’t know what’s working and what isn’t. Organizations that periodically take time to pause and reflect on successes and failures can make quick, smart decisions about capacity, capabilities, and changes in direction.

Additional Resources

Sample Resilience Plan Agenda

  • template [Icon]Template
  • Created: February 7th, 2023
  • Last Updated: March 13th, 2023

Maybe you’ve taken the Resilience Quiz or perhaps you’re making it a priority to develop ways that your organization could add resources to better adapt and react to unexpected situations. This sample agenda is meant to inspire your team’s next Resilience Planning meeting or workshop.