Culture – It’s Not Just About Your Staff Team

In my years with the YMCA I thought a lot about how to lead my staff team, how to build a healthy culture, communication strategies, accountability, problem solving, and more. I also thought a lot about how to lead and engage my Board of Directors. But I didn’t think much about the crossover between these two functions of leading a nonprofit organization.

In fact, I thought these two areas of my job were very, very different. Now that I have some distance and my thoughts have evolved, I see that there are more similarities than there are differences. I’m going to spend the next few articles looking at the similarities and what we can learn from them. 

I’ve written more than a little about building healthy cultures, leading a team, communication, and more, more, more. Go check those out, if you’re so inclined. 

One of the most important roles of a leader is to create a healthy culture for their team. In the nonprofit sector, we usually think that this means our staff team. Right? A healthy staff culture is crucial to delivering quality services, caring for our constituents, and ensuring our staff are nurtured. Logic would tell us that the same is true for our volunteer teams, and even our governance volunteers. 

Think for a moment about your Board of Directors. How would you describe the culture of your Board team? Are they uber professional? Super laid back? Well connected to one another? Eager to help? Something else? Take a moment to jot down all the words that come to mind when you are thinking about the characteristics of your board. 

Once you can describe the current culture of your board, I’d like for you to think about how that compares to the culture of your staff team and/or the agency as a whole. Are they similar or different? Are the similarities intentional or by happenstance? There is nothing that says they have to be the same or different. 

After you do a little work to define the culture of your board and how it compares to the rest of your organization, a good next step is to decide if what you have is what you want. This project is an excellent way to engage volunteers in defining and creating the board culture that is best for your nonprofit! Your Board Governance or Board Development Committees can dig into everything from the board meeting agenda or room set-up to onboarding and engagement of the volunteers. 

The skills and strategies that create a healthy culture for your staff are pretty much the same for creating a healthy board culture. 

  • Aligning values:

    • If your organization has not gone through the process of clarifying and understanding your values, that’s a great first step! If you have gone through this process, the next step is to consider how they relate to your board. The values for the organization do not have to be exactly the same as the values for your board. They can be the same, similar, or even different. It’s based on the needs of the organization. 
    • For example, an organization that serves children may have a very lighthearted culture among its staff. Perhaps the kids need a positive atmosphere. At the same time the organization may be helping children escape really horrible situations. In that case the board likely has some very serious topics to discuss. The culture of the organization may be light and fun, while the culture of the board could be serious and more stoic.
  • Decide the culture is important

    • The main ingredient in any healthy culture is to be thoughtful about the experience of those involved. By simply being intentional about the type of culture you want – you’re taking a huge step towards creating a great experience for your Board team. 
    • A healthy culture requires that the organization and its leaders decide that the culture is a priority. You cannot create a positive culture without first deciding that it matters. When it comes to culture, the biggest problem I see is that leaders ignore the importance of being intentional about this piece of their organization.

  • It starts at the top

    • When it comes to the staff culture, the Executive Director or CEO sets the tone. They define the values and decide that the culture is important. However, with the Board of Directors, it’s not just about the Exec, it’s a combination of the Exec and the Board President. Between the two of them they drive the culture. The Exec connects it to the operations of the organization, and the Board President is the one who sets the tone for the governance volunteers. 
  • Listening and Caring

    • Creating a culture involves listening to what is going on with the members of the board. And not just listening, but also genuinely caring about how the volunteers are feeling and what their experience is like. This is how you keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on. 
  • Communications 

    • Circling back to #1, once you have established your values, you should talk about them. All. The. Time. Talk about what they mean to the board as a team. Use them when making decisions. Include them in opening thoughts, plan them into board meeting agendas, and use the language as you work to create the culture you want and need. 

As mentioned earlier, a Board Development or Board Governance Committee is an excellent group to tackle this project. Their role is to ensure healthy board dynamics. If you do not currently have a committee focused on the growth, direction and health of your Board of Directors, consider starting one and making this their first initiative. You could even start it out as a task force, with growth into a full committee coming next. 

Would you like help evaluating the culture of your Board of Directors? Or, do you want to start a Board Development Committee of your own? Let’s visit! Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com, or schedule a Discovery Call today. Let’s connect!

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.
kim@athena-coco.com

What is the Right Culture for YOU?

Culture is a word that is thrown around a lot. Many people use it to describe work environments, businesses and organizations. Most people probably have a vague idea of what it means, but not necessarily a concrete idea about how you impact culture. 

In the past I have written articles on culture, which you can find here and here. Both of these are good, if I do say so myself. Today’s article is on the same topic, but I want to shift the focus just a little. Today we will look into how to create the right culture for your business. 

Not all cultures are created equally. They are not one size fits all. When people talk about a company having a good culture or a bad culture, what are they really saying? Simplified, if a culture matches your values and beliefs, you probably describe it as a “good culture.” Conversely, if they don’t align, you likely consider it a “bad culture”. The tricky thing is, everyone’s beliefs and values are different. 

This begs the question – how do you create a culture to fit everyone. And the answer is – you don’t. You create a culture that is right for your company. Then the culture attracts the kind of people who have values and beliefs that align with you and your business. Before we jump into creating a culture that is right for your business, let’s touch on what happens when you don’t work at your culture. 

It Is What It Is

If you do not intentionally create a culture, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have one. Rather, one evolves – unchecked. In this case, the values that emerge often come from the squeakiest wheel or the biggest personality. And that’s not always good. In fact, this is often how toxic, misogynist, and racist cultures come about. 

Without the clarity of company values – which are actively discussed and referenced – one person can start a culture where telling off-color jokes is the norm. Or a culture where the default mode is to complain about everything. Or one where backstabbing and gossip take over. Almost certainly, none of these are the values you want your company to be known for. But if these traits are emerging, it’s a guarantee that people both inside and outside the business describe your culture negatively. 

How To Get the RIGHT Culture

There are a lot of well-known and broadly studied cultures out there: 

  • Zappos is known for being weird, happy, and fun
  • Southwest Airlines employees are silly and empowered
  • Twitter staff are hardworking, smart, and passionate 
  • Google attracts the best of the best with tons of perks and benefits

What all these companies have in common is that they have taken the time to figure out what they value and how they want to be perceived. Then they keep these values and their identity alive. 

What Do You Value? 

There are several ways to determine your values. Everything from multi-day, facilitated leadership retreats to sitting in a coffee shop with a notepad. It’s up to you to determine the right method for your business. 

I’ll share one activity that leaders often find helpful. Think of the employee in your company who represents the image you want people to have when they think of you. List out all of the characteristics that make that person a great employee. Write down everything you can think of. Then add anything else you wish that person possessed. As you review this list, you will start to formulate an idea about what you value. 

Empowered with this description, start to write words or phrases that you would like your company to be known for. Between 3 and 7 is a good list. Take time to connect a statement or story to each value. Your culture should be starting to emerge. Don’t feel like you need to do this all in one sitting. Record your ideas, then let them percolate for a while. Come back to them and see if they still resonate, or if you want to add to or change them. 

One Size Does Not Fit All

This was stated earlier, but it’s worth repeating. Zappos, Southwest, Twitter and Google all sound like fun, cool places to work. If fun and cool is important to your brand, great! Go in that direction. However, many brands need to be taken very seriously. For others safety might be the most important thing they are known for. And others need to have a reputation of efficiency. Those values might not be as sexy as “fun” and “cool,” but they are just right for certain brands. 

Never Stop Talking About Them

Once you have clear values that are just right for your business, they need to be ubiquitous. They should be used in recruiting and hiring. They should be present in decision making and staff meetings. Your values should be posted throughout your facility and included in many, if not all, communications. 

It’s the talking about them that makes them real. Unless you want your values to be a “flavor of the month” initiative, you need to bring them to life. As the leader, you will want to memorize your values, and have several stories and antidotes demonstrating them. Celebrate values in action. Reward the behaviors you want to see. Own your culture by knowing who you are as a company. Be true to your values. And tell everyone about them. This is what will shape your culture.

While this process is simple, it’s not easy. If you are interested in working on creating a culture you are proud of, email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com. Let’s connect!

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.
kim@athena-coco.com

The Great Resignation and What to Do About It

It’s safe to say that businesses that employ staff are struggling right now. There are exceptions, but this is a very clear trend in staffing right now. The easy answer, that many like to point to, is the extra unemployment benefits that have been provided during the pandemic. I’ve heard it said that these benefits have made people lazy, and that they just don’t want to work. I think there’s a whole lot more to it. 

What I believe the extra benefits have done is give people options. Those who used to feel stuck in jobs they didn’t like, have had the opportunity to look for jobs with more money, more flexibility, and more happiness. They are starting businesses, going back to school, or using the financial cushion to find a job that aligns with their passions and values. 

Employees leaving jobs to pursue something new implies a few things:

  • They don’t believe their time is valued by their employer
  • They don’t feel fulfilled by their job
  • Their needs for flexibility and work-life balance are not being considered 
  • They are not happy

Recently I read a report on this very topic (shared with me from my fabulous friend and Coach Beth, Unlimited Potential). What I found most interesting is the connection between people leaving and manager burnout. It turns out, people who are stressed, overextended, and depleted, don’t make great staff leaders. 

In addition, many companies overlook training managers to be supervisors. Often new leaders are elevated to their position because they were good at their previous role. So now they will supervise others doing that job. What a tricky position to be placed in! Especially if the new supervisor has never experienced quality supervision themselves. 

When these two factors are combined it becomes pretty clear why people are leaving their jobs. And it makes it even more important for business leaders to be proactive about taking care of their people.

Right now, the struggling companies are searching for a quick fix to their staff shortage. Some are finding success with things like hiring bonuses and referral rewards. However, I don’t think these will fix the problem long term. In order to do that, leaders need to acknowledge the HUMAN in Human Resources. 

This means acknowledging the following and using it to drive decisions and policies:

  • Staff want to be respected and valued
  • Supervisors need to be trained on how to lead people
  • Employees at all levels should be able to find work-life balance
  • It starts at the top

Respect & Value

Showing your staff that you respect them and value them is a baseline for retaining them. Different positions in a company will be paid different amounts based on the level of responsibility, expectations, and the experience and expertise needed. That doesn’t necessarily make the people at the top of the organizational chart more important than those further down. In fact, businesses who lift up their front line staff for the valuable work they do interacting with customers, experience better retention. “Lifting up” means paying a respectable wage, valuing ideas and input, treating them with dignity, and actively seeking ways to make their jobs better. 

Train Your Supervisors

Some people are naturally gifted at leading others, but even those folks need guidance. Supervisors need to know company expectations regarding how to treat staff, boundaries, communication, and more. I believe the middle manager is often the most important role in a business. They are often young leaders rising through the ranks, and they usually supervise front-line staff who are representing your company to the customer and the world. Great supervisors will grow their staff and develop dynamic teams. 

Work-Life Balance

As presented in the report mentioned above, burnout can play a key role in employee attrition. Burnout is usually the result of a person feeling like they have more to do than they could ever get to, even if they worked 24/7. It is often exasperated by a lack of support. A Work-Life Balance culture is one that ensures:

      • Jobs are “right-sized” – roles are evaluated regularly to ensure the expectations are reasonable for one person to manage effectively. 
      • Staff are in the “right seats” – people are well matched with jobs that utilize their skills and knowledge. 
      • Balance is encouraged – employees know their health, well-being, family, and social life is important to the organization. 
      • Employee health is a discussion topic – leadership is interested in how employees are doing, but individually and as a team.

Leadership Sets the Tone

Companies wanting to improve staff retention by improving culture need to start at the top. Words are hollow if the leadership of an organization doesn’t follow suit. Those at the top can do more to retain staff than any policy or statement they could make. They do this by talking to staff at all levels to learn, grow and improve the company. They do it by role modeling, taking time for themselves and their families. And they do it by investing in their staff on a regular and ongoing basis. 

A while back I wrote about Self-Care for Leaders. This is a good place to start. However, if staff attrition and manager burnout is a chronic problem, it’s time for an intervention. Taking a good look at culture and supervisor training will not provide the quick fix some may need. But it will help create a long-term strategy for the kind of environment where everyone wants to work. 

Need help with creating an environment where everyone wants to work? Email me at kim@athena-coco.com to schedule a free 30-minute discovery call to look at how improving your culture and training your supervisors can help your business grow and thrive!

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.
kim@athena-coco.com

Communication Conduits

As I mentioned in last week’s article – communication is hard. Unclear communication obviously leads to misunderstandings. Unfortunately, it can also lead to hurt feelings, confusion, mistrust, and a loss of productivity. 

Two major communication pitfalls include: 

  1. The barriers to effective communication. 
  2. The components that make up an effective communication system. 

Last week I dove into the many ways that communication can break down due to internal and external barriers. You can think of this as the quality of the conversations that are happening. In this article we’ll look at structures that can be put into place to improve communication. This can be thought of as the quantity of communication occurring.

On a weekly basis I hear leaders and employees complain about the lack of communication in their company. This is almost always referring to internal communications between staff. Often this is not because of a lack of commitment to quality, intentional conversations. Rather, it’s because everyone is so busy, making it difficult to remember, or take the time to have those conversations. Once you are in a place where quality conversations are taking place, it’s equally important to establish conduits for regular and effective communication. 

Each business needs to decide who needs to know what information. That will be different for every single company based on the size, sensitivity of the information, culture, and more. This article couldn’t possibly explore all of the different scenarios for communication systems. Instead, I’m going to share some best practices that apply to most organizations. 

  • Direct Report Meetings

    On a regular basis, every staff person in a company should have conversations with the person they report to. This should be dedicated time where the supervisor listens, coaches, gives instruction, provides direction, and develops the relationship. 

Frequency varies based on the employee’s role, their experience, and their personal need for support. This is not a one-size-fits-all. I have had staff in similar positions, but very different meeting frequency. Some staff have a high need to process ideas or receive positive affirmations. Others like to be given marching orders and check-in when they come to a challenge. 

  • Regular, Effective Staff Meetings

    Most people hate staff meetings. This is usually because they are ineffective and a waste of time. Yet, this can be such an efficient tool for communication and driving work. If your staff meetings are a source of dread and frustration (or if you just want to make them the best use of time possible), check out this article. 

I want to be clear, a staff meeting should NOT be a time where everyone sits around and tells what they are working on. That isn’t what I mean by communication. Rather, all staff meetings should include a well structured agenda with components designed to provide appropriate communication.

  • Cascading Message

    Including this component in all meetings ensures that important messages and decisions are shared with the appropriate people. This practice can save a great deal of staff time. By using it consistently, you may reduce the number of people who need to attend each meeting. 

Dedicate a few minutes at the end of each meeting to determine what needs to be shared beyond the meeting attendees and who will deliver those messages. If necessary you can create a follow-up on those action steps in the next week’s agenda.  

  • State of the Company

    On a regular basis, company leaders should communicate to the whole organization about how business is going. A minimum of once a year is acceptable, quarterly is better. The entire staff team should know the current priorities and the progress being made. This is also a great opportunity to celebrate, recognize, educate, and build relationships.

  • A Two Way Street

    Quality communication includes gathering feedback from employees. While this can be built into Direct Report meetings and Staff Meetings, it’s a good practice to collect anonymous input as well. This is the best way to learn what staff are really thinking. Hopefully it goes without saying, feedback should not be collected if leadership is not going to address any concerns revealed. Collecting input and ignoring it is worse than not collecting it at all. 

Again, the above practices might not all apply to your company. But when it comes to communication, I always recommend implementing more, rather than less. You can always eliminate practices that are not effective or change things up down the road. 

While I’m on the subject of communication, I want to share a few practices for controlling email communication. Anyone who has email knows that it can completely consume your time and mental energy if you let it. The average employee spends just over 3 hours a day on email, and about two thirds of them are irrelevant! Multiply that by the number of employees in a business, and most leaders will be pretty motivated to make sure that the time spent on email is effective and efficient. 

  • Email Rules

    Critical conversations should not take place over email. Nor should sensitive information or important messages. Email is best for relaying facts, setting-up logistics, or sending out mass communications, like newsletters. A rule might be something like “Any email over 3 sentences needs to be switched to a live conversation.”

Leadership is responsible for creating an expectation for how email is used throughout a company. Telling people how to use email might seem petty. However, without established expectations, people will create their own norms. 

  • Email Coding

    Consider using a coding system for all internal emails. For example, the subject line might start with URGENT, THIS WEEK, FYI, or NO RUSH – letting the reader know how quickly they need to review the materials. With everyone using a similar system staff are better able to prioritize their time. 

  • Email Best Practices

    Here are a few more ideas on how to corral the email beast:

    • Train staff to be very selective when using cc:, bcc:, and reply all.
    • Discourage the drive towards a zero-inbox.
    • Provide staff with training on the lesser-known tools your email system provides. Things like automations, templates, folders, tags, etc. can save time and reduce busy work. 

Once communications systems are put in place, it’s important to monitor them. Otherwise, well thought out systems can deteriorate into annoying tasks. The intentionality of the structures put in place needs to be held high and team members need to be reminded of the purpose behind the process. 

Any business with more than a few people can improve their operations by focusing on communication. Quality communication involves clearly relaying messages back and forth. Creating systems for the appropriate quantity of conversations ensures the necessary communication has a platform. I believe any company that focuses on communication quality and quantity, will go far. 

Need help with creating a communication structure that works for your company? Email me at kim@athena-coco.com to schedule a free 30-minute discovery call to find opportunities for growth through improving communications. 

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.
kim@athena-coco.com

 

The Problems with Communication

Communication problems

Communication is hard. A large majority of problems are created from a breakdown in communication. And communication is at the root of many, many organizational challenges including stress, strained relationships, low morale, frustrated staff and clients, and more. 

As I see it, there are two major communication pitfalls. I’m going to discuss the first one in this article and you can read about the second one next week. These are:

  1. Barriers that get in the way of sending and receiving messages
  2. Lacking the components of an effective communication system

First up – barriers. In every conversation there are Speakers and there are Listeners. Someone has something they want or need to share. Someone else may or may not want or need to hear the message. For the sake of simplification, this article is going to focus on two person communication; however, the concepts extrapolate out for larger conversations. 

In a two person conversation, where one person speaks while the other listens, there are 3 opportunities for the intended message to become jumbled. 

  1. What is articulated:

    The Speaker has thoughts or ideas in their head, and they want to share them with the Listener. When they go to share their thoughts, what they are thinking might not be what actually comes out of their mouth. Some of the reasons this happens could be: 

    • They may lack the words to articulate the ideas
    • The Speaker might mis-speak
    • If stressed, they may become confused or flustered and have trouble putting their ideas into words
    • Body language that is inconsistent with the verbal message being sent causes confusion and misunderstanding 
    • An accent, language barrier, or speech impediment might make words hard to understand
  2. What is heard:
    Even if listening intently, the Listener may not receive the message correctly. The game telephone is a great example of this. In the game, the barrier is the fact that players are whispering. In regular conversations barriers might include:

    • Surrounding noises
    • Distractions – both mental or exterior
    • Volume or hearing problems
    • If the conversation is taking place over the phone or via Zoom, there might be technical difficulties
  3. Listener’s interpretation:
    Even when the Speaker articulates their thoughts accurately and the message can be easily heard, there are still opportunities for the Listener to receive the wrong message. Some of the reasons a Listener might not receive the intended message include: 
    • They might not know some of the words being used
    • Words mean different things
    • Personal biases may prevent the Listener from accepting what they are hearing
    • If they are not mentally prepared to accept the message they might hear what they want to hear
    • The Listener’s mind might wander or they don’t give the Speaker their full attention and therefore not receiving the entire message

Now, if the Listener switches into Speaker mode with inaccurate information, this cycle of miscommunication continues to grow and become more complicated.

As you can see, in the delivering and receiving of messages, there are so many opportunities for errors. Assuming that we communicate with the intent of being understood, it’s important to close the communication loop holes.  Here are some simple techniques that can help do just that. 

  • Send a Clear Message

    When in the Speaker role, give thought to the message you are sending. Think through the best way to state it. If it doesn’t come out right, try again. Once your message is delivered, ask questions to gauge understanding. 

  • Find a Quiet Place

    Especially for important conversations, make sure you are in a space that is appropriately private, has good sound quality, and minimizes distractions.

  • Reflections

    As a Listener, reflecting back what you have just heard can be a valuable communication tool. Reflecting is not “parroting” exactly what was said. Rather it involves sharing what you understand the Speaker to mean. If you understand correctly, the Speaker feels heard and valued. If you get it wrong, it gives the Speaker the opportunity to clarify their message. 

  • Seek to Understand

    Again, as a Listener, ask follow-up questions. Work to understand their point of view. If a message comes across that puts you on the defensive, feels rude or attacking, or has a negative slant  – ask more questions before jumping to conclusions. When conflict arises, it can often be tied to miscommunication.  

Ensuring messages are sent and received accurately is key to quality communication. If your company has more than a few people, ensuring quality communication is key to smooth operations. On a weekly basis I hear leaders and employees complain about the lack of communication in their company. That is what I’ll tackle in next week’s article. 

Need help with improving internal communication? Email me at kim@athena-coco.com to schedule a free 30-minute discovery call to find opportunities for growth through improving communications. 

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.
kim@athena-coco.com 

Wanna Grow Your Business? Grow Your Staff

Staff Success

Unless your business is completely run by robots or other automatons, you likely rely heavily on staff. Employees are probably the ones creating your product, communicating with your customers, delivering your services, and managing your processes. Your staff are your direct connection between you and your customers. They are responsible for executing your vision for how your business serves your customers or your community. 

In many businesses staff salaries are by far the largest line item in the budget. Yet, oftentimes things like equipment, inventory, and facilities end up getting much more attention and financial resources than the staff. Think of the time, energy and money that goes into maintaining a company vehicle. This important resource likely receives regular oil changes, preventative maintenance, and routine TLC cleaning. Imagine if the same amount of planning, time, energy and financial investment went into our people! 

When a company hits a wall in terms of growth, or a nonprofit organization becomes stagnant in the impact they are providing, it almost always comes down to culture. A stagnant business can be traced back to a dysfunctional, negative, toxic culture. Changes to other facets of the business may deliver short-term improvements. However, in order to make real progress for lasting growth and impact, the culture must be fixed. 

Healthy cultures boil down to two things: 

    1. How a company treats their people 
    2. A commitment to clear and honest communication

A business that masters these two components is well on their way to success. Obviously, attention needs to be given to financial management, quality processes, strategic planning and more. But without a healthy culture, those other things will only take you so far. 

Benefits of Nurturing Your Staff

There are hundreds of benefits a company can reap from lifting-up, valuing and honoring their employees. This article will not list hundreds of benefits. Rather, it will focus on a few key benefits that will help your business grow or your agency impact to expand. 

  • Staff who feel valued become loyal team members. Nothing beats a loyal staff member! Loyal employees do more for the PR and brand of your company than any marketing campaign ever will. When someone loves their job, they tell everyone. They attract customers, potential employees, and prospective donors for nonprofit organizations. That kind of messaging is genuine and captivating. Thus appealing to people who otherwise may have never given your business a second thought. 
  • Another benefit of loyal team members is that they work harder, are solution oriented, and care about the quality of work they do for you. These folk have a vested interest in the success of the business. They embrace the direction you are taking your company or the impact your agency is striving for in your community. Loyal employees do their best and work with the company’s interest top of mind. 
  • Supporting your staff looks good on you. Companies that invest in their employees, foster their growth, and help them pursue their career goals are companies that people want to work for. Recruiting, hiring, and training staff can be extremely expensive. Imagine if prospective employees came to you because they want to be part of how you grow your staff! Additionally, the level to which you respect your staff comes right back around. Want to be respected at work, be the leader in demonstrating what that looks like. 
  • Valuing your staff creates a positive culture. As stated above, how a company treats their staff is foundational to creating a healthy culture. And nothing fosters growth and increased impact like a healthy and positive culture. If growth and increased impact isn’t motivational enough, great cultures are fun to be part of and to lead. Since most people spend at least half of their waking hours at work, a positive company culture will improve the collective and individual mental health of the entire staff team. 

As there are hundreds of benefits to nurturing your staff, there are just as many ways to lift-up your staff. The best way to do this is to use your unique personality and leadership skills to genuinely value your staff. Still not sure how to get started? Here are some tips to get the ball rolling. 

Getting Started

  1. Listen. Take the time to listen to your staff. Fully listen. Approach conversions with a listening mind-set. There is no greater gift you can give someone than to listen to them with an intent to understand. You can read more about this topic here and here and here
  2. Build real relationships. Just like “Employees don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses”, staff also stay with bosses they like, enjoy being around, and respect. Listening is a great way to start down this path. Couple it with asking really good questions and you’ve got this one made! 
  3. Give them what they need. There are the basics. Workstation. Computer. Stapler. These are the obvious things – you give them whatever equipment they need to do their job. Beyond that – training and a safe environment to learn is also expected. What about those employees who need a lot of positive reinforcement? Or the ones who need to chat with you for a few minutes each day? And what about those who need to check-in regularly to make sure they are on track? Do you give them what they need? Giving employees these things (essentially your time and acknowledgement) may be challenging when you’re busy. However, when you think about the value of a loyal employee, it seems less like an interruption to your day and more like a crucial part of leading people.  
  4. The Golden Rule. It turns out that your company’s human resources are made up of HUMANS! Who would have thought? And do you know what humans like to be treated like? You guessed it – humans. This one is very simple. When interacting with an employee, think about how you would like to be treated in that interaction. This usually includes values like respect, dignity, caring, trusting, and maybe fun. If team member interactions can be tied back to company values, it’s even better. 

Before closing this article, I want to be clear that I am not suggesting tolerating staff who are not a fit for your company, your culture, or the jobs you have available. I believe wholeheartedly in hiring slowly (to ensure a good fit) and firing quickly. Rip that band-aid off if that’s the right decision. Your job as the leader is to make sure you have provided everything staff need in order to be successful. If you are confident you have fulfilled your end of the bargain and it’s still not working out, decide and take action quickly. 

Need help elevating your organization’s culture? Email me at kim@athena-coco.com to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to discuss how I can help you create a culture that will grow your business and increase your impact! 

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.
kim@athena-coco.com 

 

Board Volunteers:

Culture matters

10 Signs You Might Be Leading a Toxic Organization

I’m targeting nonprofit Board Volunteers with this article. However, anyone can read it. I’m really not that controlling. The “10 Signs” are good for anyone in a business or nonprofit to understand and be able to identify. They are also helpful if you are considering joining a Board. 

As a Board Volunteer, you have many responsibilities to the agency you are leading. One factor frequently overlooked is your role in culture and organizational effectiveness. This is often left to the Executive or CEO. When the leader creates a positive, functional environment, there isn’t a need for the Board to give it any attention. Problems arise when the Exec or CEO has not created a positive culture and dysfunction begins to take over. 

It can be difficult for volunteers to know when things are “off.” The Executive Director or CEO may be unaware of the toxic environment they have created. Or, if they are aware, they certainly are not going to tell the Board of Directors about it. That’s why it’s important to understand what to look for. As you read this list, note which indicators sound familiar.

10 Signs of a Toxic Organization

#1 Poor Staff Retention

Staff are leaving. A lot. They may say it’s for one reason or another, but we all know that staff do not leave jobs, they leave managers. It’s also a bad sign if there are constant layoffs or firings. This indicates the lack of a strategic plan or vision. 

#2  Morale is Low

There is a lack of motivation. Staff are just “punching the clock”. This is especially disappointing in the nonprofit sector. Staff are drawn to an organization’s mission or cause. When there is poor leadership or a toxic environment, even the most passionate employee becomes dispirited. Additionally, while not the cause, low morale is often exasperated by years with no staff raises.

#3  Poor Communication

There are constant changes in communication, or it’s unnecessarily vague. Staff are confused. Often leaders will “talk out of both sides of their mouths”. For example, in one breath they tell you how great everything is, and in the next one they tell you how they need you to raise more money because of the desperate state of the agency.

#4  Cliques, Exclusions, and Gossipy Behavior

It seems like there’s an “in” group and an “out” group. There is an emphasis on who is considered important in the organization vs. who is not. Staff are talked about in a negative and unprofessional way. Private conversations become known by everyone.

#5  Supervisors are Ill Prepared to Do Their Job 

Any boss who uses tactics such as intimidation, humiliation, playing favorites, false promises, micromanaging, not communicating, unsupportive behavior, or any of the many other outdated and authoritarian methods, should not be allowed to lead people. Supervising staff is a skill and it needs to be developed and nurtured, like any other skill. You can read more about this topic here and here

#6  There is No Work-Life Balance

Sometimes staff have to put in long hours, including evenings and weekends. This is common in the nonprofit sector. Especially when delivering programs or events. However, when this is the constant, normal expectation, it’s unhealthy for the employees and for the organization.

#7  Constant Drama

There’s always an issue or crisis to solve. Problem solving is inconsistent and may seem random. What could be minor disagreements escalate and are blown out of proportion. Relationship issues are not managed professionally.

#8  Dysfunction Reigns 

There’s a lack of trust among staff and an avoidance of accountability. Decisions are not made based on what is best for the organization. They revolve around benefiting a few individuals. Transparency is lacking. Often despite the leader believing they are being very transparent.

#9  Staff are “Kept In Their Place” 

As a volunteer you may have limited contact with anyone other than the leader(s). Interactions between Volunteers and Staff are controlled or non-existent. Staff have very little authority.

#10  The Organization Lacks Mission, Vision, and Values

This is not to say that these statements aren’t written down somewhere. This means that they are absent from decision making, strategic discussions, and staffing practices. 

These three elements should drive the work of the organization and should be present at every meeting and in every key discussion. They need to be more than words on a wall. They need to carry the organization forward and serve as the compass for the work you do. 

If any of this resonates with you, I suggest you share these “10 Signs” with your fellow Board Members. Here’s a pretty version you can print and share. Ask around to find out if anyone else sees reason to be concerned. If so, it is your duty to take action. You owe it to the organization you are serving. The community and your constituents deserve the best possible version of your agency. Help make sure they are getting it.

Need help evaluating your organization’s culture? Or do you already know you have issues to address. Email me at kim@athena-coco.com to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to discuss how I can help you create a culture that will grow your organization and increase your impact! 

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.
kim@athena-coco.com

Developing Supervisors

About two thirds of American employees would forgo a pay raise if their company did this one thing. What is it?

  • Provide more vacation?
  • Increase benefits?
  • Hold weekly happy hours?

No, no, and no, it’s none of those things. 65% of employees say getting rid of their boss would make them happier than a salary increase. From that statistic we can infer that only about 35% of staff supervisors are very good at their job.

Many leaders find that supervising staff is the most difficult part of their job. And working with people certainly can be challenging for many reasons. 

  • People are all different – one size doesn’t fit all
  • People have varying degrees of professionalism and work ethic
  • People have lives and baggage they bring to work
  • People have opinions and minds of their own

It’s no wonder that supervisors struggle! Add to that the fact that in the role of supervisor you need to present yourself as an authority. A leader. And aren’t leaders supposed to have all the answers? Not necessarily. And that’s the topic of today’s article. 

It all Starts with Developing Good Supervisors

Having spent much of my career in the nonprofit sector, I can say without hesitation that I didn’t always do a good job of developing supervisors. On at least one occasion I have hired a new director, shown them to their office, gave them their list of direct-reports and sent them off to sink or swim. When you supervise people for a living, sometimes it’s hard to remember that it’s a skill people need to be taught. 

Forgetting, not taking the time, or not thinking it’s necessary to train staff on how to supervise is likely the source of so many bad bosses. Fortunately for me, I always learn more from my mistakes than I do from times when everything went smoothly. Here is what I have learned are the baseline skills any supervisor needs before they should be allowed to lead people. 

  • Good supervisors train their staff – not just what to do, but how and why

I touched on this a little in last week’s blog about internal communications. This topic is important enough to give more attention. Staff are not mind-readers. Can they figure it out? Yes, sometimes. They may be able to figure out what they should be doing. However, it’s the how and the why that will help them to be successful. It’s the how and why that will set any company apart from the competition. 

If a company makes widgets, it’s obvious that staff need to know what to do to make a widget.  Say the company prides itself on producing the very best widgets in the industry. There may be a special technique to making the very best widgets. This is where the how comes in. The supervisor will need to train staff on exactly how to create the very best widgets in the industry. Additionally, explaining the why will give the staff ownership and buy-in. If the company strives to be the number one widget producer in the world, how the widgets are made will play a big role in reaching that goal. The supervisor is connecting the dots between what the widget maker is doing every day and how it connects to the company’s global vision. 

As a supervisor, it is easier and takes less time to just tell staff what to do. It’s even easier to just tell them the what and the how. Really good supervisors close the loop to ensure staff feel a part of the bigger picture. Knowing why their actions have larger implications motivates them to take the extra steps to produce quality work. 

  • Good supervisors listen AT LEAST as much as they speak

Quality, thoughtful staff training will lay the foundation for a staff person to be successful. The next important component to supervising is to listen at least as much (if not more) than you speak. Once staff are trained on the what, how, and why, it’s time to shift to listening mode. Check for understanding. Ask what questions they have. Ask again, because they may not want to give a bad impression by not understanding instructions the first time around. 

In addition to making sure they understand their job fully, ask about their ideas for improvements. The company may think they have created the very best system for producing quality widgets. However, the people doing the work every day might have some great ideas for improving upon the process. Ask about efficiencies. Ask about quality. Ask. Ask. Ask. 

In a community I used to live in, the garbage men and women would go around and collect garbage by picking up the street-side dumpsters and physically dumping them into the garbage truck. This was time and staff intensive, as well as physically taxing. Deciding there had to be a better way, one garbage man designed an automated system that would pick up the street-side dumpsters and pour them into the garbage truck. He did the math and was able to show that investing in this system would reduce workman’s compensation expenses, enable trucks to operate with fewer staff, and warrant the company to expand its service. Leadership listened. The expansion allowed them to retain the extra staff no longer needed on the trucks, by growing to more service areas. 

Staff have great ideas. Granted, they have some bad ones too. Innovation and new opportunities come from discussing ideas. Good supervisors create an atmosphere where staff enjoy sharing their ideas – the good and the bad. 

  • Good supervisors treat staff like real human beings

Think about this. How do you like to be treated at work? With respect? Like you matter? As if the things you think and say have value and could help advance the work of the company? Well, it’s the same for employees. Gone are the days of people just feeling blessed to work for a company. Competition for quality employees is higher than ever. Creating an environment where people feel great about working for you is key to attracting and keeping the kind of people you want in your company. 

This means getting to know them. Find out about their family and their background. Supervisors should create opportunities to know what’s going on with their staff. They shouldn’t find out through the grapevine that a staff member is getting married or going to Australia or dealing with the loss of a loved one. Opportunities for personal relationship building should be built into staff meetings or one-on-one conversations. And supervisors need to listen closely during these segments. In addition to learning about the people who work for the company, supervisors will also learn a lot about what staff like or dislike about working for them. 

When developing a new supervisor, these are the basics. Creating learning opportunities where new (or not so new) supervisors can master these three things will start them on the path to success. Do leaders need to know everything? No. They need to know how to train their staff on the what, how, and why of their jobs. Beyond that, supervisors need to support and listen to their staff. 

I was going to move on to the skills that will take supervisors to the next level, but I think that warrants its own article. Next week I will delve into giving staff autonomy, the spotlight, and advancement opportunities. Isn’t it exciting to have something to look forward to!?!?

Want to create a culture where employees trust, respect, and enjoy their bosses? Need help cultivating good supervisors in your business or organization? Email me at kim@athena-coco.com to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to discuss getting started. Calm the Chaos with quality supervisors, so you can find time to focus on what’s important to YOU! 

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.
kim@athena-coco.com

Improving Internal Communications

Employees are Drowning in Information but Thirsty for Clarity and Purpose

5 Strategies for Improving Internal Communications

When a business or nonprofit is having problems it usually boils down to one of two things: Culture or Communication. Often it’s both. Unless your business does not rely on people, these are two areas that should be given a high degree of intentional thought. Without attention, culture and communication evolve on their own. And it’s usually not very pretty. 

I previously shared about culture in this article and this article, so today I’m going to focus on Internal Communications. Here is a formal definition of what we’re talking about:

A group of processes or tools that are responsible for effective information flow
and collaboration among participants within an organization.

I like to think of Internal Communications in more basic terms: 

It’s how people know what’s going on and what to do. 

Very simply, if you are not being intentional about informing your team members about what is going on and what they should be doing to help reach company goals, it’s going make reaching your goals difficult. Most small businesses and nonprofit organizations do not have the financial resources to invest in a Communications staff person. Therefore, this article is going to go over 5 tactics for ensuring quality internal communications. Before we get to that let’s dig deeper into why it’s important. 

  • First and foremost, leaders need to communicate their vision or the organization’s mission. Every time they are in front of their team they should be articulating their vision. As Yogi Berra said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” If you do not communicate the direction you are taking the company, there will be confusion – at best. At worst, your people may be actively driving your business in a different direction than you, simply because they don’t know where you’re going. I go into more detail on the importance of vision and vision sharing in this article.  
  • Staff training is a component of internal communications. This is important so that staff (or volunteers) know, not just what to do, but also how and why leadership wants the job done a certain way. Many companies succeed in training a staff person on what to do. Failing to explain how and why is similar to not sharing your vision. In those cases staff will come up with their own way of doing things.

My daughter just started her first “real” job. She’s helping set up for events and weddings. In training her, if they had just told her to set up chairs (what to do), she may have had them all facing the wrong direction. Or she may have put them way too close together. Or put them in socially distanced clusters. By clarifying the vision of how the event should look and the experience they want for the attendees, she was able to do her new job successfully.

  • Communication reinforces culture. Employees can smell a “flavor of the month” leadership initiative a mile away. If you want something to stick, you need to repeat it. Over and over and over again. This is how your values become a deep seeded, integral part of your company’s identity. They become your culture. 

If you are committed to vision (or mission); well trained staff; and creating a strong culture, read on for some simple techniques. 

If you read many of my articles, you will notice that several of the strategies I suggest starts with your mindset. This one is no different. As the leader you need to be committed – 100% – to creating a culture that is built on relationships, trust, and growth. If that’s not where you’re at, you are wasting your time reading my articles. 

Alright, it looks like you’re still reading, so let’s dig into some techniques you can implement, right away, to improve effective internal communications. Since I work mostly with small businesses and nonprofits, it’s important to me to share strategies that can be implemented without a great deal of expense or dedicated staff time. I understand very well that budgets are tight and everyone already has a very full plate. 

1. Staff Meeting structure
No one likes to meet, just to have a meeting. That’s a waste of time and only increases frustration for busy people. We will get to ensuring your meetings are purposeful in strategy #2. Before that, let’s look at the value of a staff meeting structure. If your meetings are regularly scheduled, have an intentional agenda, and start and end on time, these can be the single most effective communications tool in your toolbox.

A strong staff meeting structure gives staff the support of knowing when they will be informed about important company information. It allows leadership to hear from other team members. It provides a team building, problem solving, and education platform. If the words – staff meeting – elicit fear or dread in your company, they are not being used as effectively as they should be.

Every company will have a different structure for their meetings based on size, number of departments, geographic locations, and more. You need to decide what is right for your teams. At a minimum, I suggest the following:

    • Weekly 90-minute leadership team meetings
    • Weekly meetings for next level/department leaders
    • Monthly meetings for part-time or front-line staff
    • Quarterly all staff meetings
    • Regular one-on-one meetings between supervisors and their direct reports

Based on your needs you may add in additional layers or configurations. An annual meeting might be right for you and your business. If volunteers are part of your operations, they should be included in you meeting structure.

2. Plan for outcomes
Building on the staff meeting plan, it’s not enough to have a structure in place. It’s what you do with it that counts. I’m sure many businesses have regular staff meetings, but communication is still lacking. 

Here is where the mindset piece comes in. Meetings are dreaded when there is no agenda, no expected outcome and no plan. So much time is wasted because people are brought together for staff meetings where everyone just goes around and shares what they are working on. Sometimes this is valuable, usually it creates a slippery slope of disengaged employees. 

When planning your staff meeting structure, think about the purpose for meeting and bake that into the agenda. ALWAYS have an agenda. If building relationships between team members is important, include time for that. Is communicating project status important, put it on the agenda. Have problems to solve and issues to resolve, designate plenty of time for that. Again, every team is going to have different needs. Here are my suggestions for agenda items:

    • Transition (from pre-meeting work to meeting mode) – this could be a “good news” sharing, opening thought, or other openers
    • Announcements
    • Review “to do” list from previous week/project updates
    • Company updates – what are we hearing from customers or staff?
    • Issues – identify and solve problems
    • Create and review “to do” list for next week
    • Cascading messages – what needs to be shared with other teams or staff?

As I stated before, effective staff meetings are your most powerful communication tool in your toolbox. It just requires structure and planning. 

3. Staff training system
When training your staff, pretend that the new person is starting their first job ever. This is not because you’re assuming that they are stupid. It’s so that you make sure you consider all the things that will help them to be successful. When you have worked for a company for a while – all the things – become second nature. Those things might not seem like something you need to explain to people. That’s because you live it every day. 

Take the time to consider the what, how and why of each position. Include that in the training. Assuming you are not the person training every single team member, make sure you put the same thought into preparing those staff who will be training others. Ensure that they know and are committed to training the what, how and why as well. 

In addition to training new staff as they come on board, regular on-going training will help reinforce expectations and culture. Your Quarterly Staff Meetings can be very effective in delivering mini-trainings and keeping everyone’s skills and understanding sharp. 

4.  Consistency and reinforcement
Stating things over and over can be annoying. Some leaders feel like saying something once should be enough. However, we have all heard the marketing adage: It takes hearing a message seven times before consumers are aware of it. The same goes with internal communications. This is why leaders should share their vision/mission and values every single time they are in front of their team. Quarterly Staff Meetings are a great conduit for leadership messaging. 

In addition to verbal communications, consider reinforcing messages with visuals or social media. Posters, flyers or social groups can be used to amplify the importance of strategies, reinforce processes and systems, and to communicate initiatives or changes.  

5.  Ramp it up during change or crisis
Anyone who was part of any organization when the pandemic hit in spring of 2020 knows the importance of internal communication. Were staff kept informed of how the global changes were impacting the company? Was everyone clear on changes that were being made and why? Did all team members have the information and resources to feel competent and supported in their role? Crisis tends to shine a very bright light on the quality of internal communications. 

During a crisis, having a staff meeting structure in place isn’t enough. Consider adding weekly or even daily calls to bring everyone together. Even if there are no new updates, your people need to hear from you and connect with each other. Increase your one-to-one conversations with your direct reports (and expect it from everyone else). Even a 5-minute conversation will do wonders to help your staff to feel connected, included, and valued. Send out weekly communications with status updates and talking points. Your staff will be asked questions. Make sure they are well prepared to give good answers. 

“We don’t grow when things are easy, we grow when we face challenges.” ~ Joyce Meyer 

These same principles apply when you are driving a change process in your organization. If you’re implementing a change: plan it intentionally; repeat yourself on the what, how and why; and ramp up your communication throughout the process.  

Bonus!

I have two last “bonus” points that I want to make. First, while this article is largely about leaders communicating to the rest of the team, internal communications are about both speaking and listening. Opportunities to gather feedback both formally and informally is equally important to a healthy internal communications system. Truly listening, then processing the thoughts, ideas and concerns of your staff will create a culture where they want to do the same for you. 

Second “bonus” point: internal communications improves external communications. When your staff feel informed, valued and respected, the positive external communications they will spearhead are public-relations gold. Organic positive conversations about your business are priceless and cannot be manufactured or bought. Committing to a strong internal communications game will elevate your external communications without you having to lift a finger. Additionally, handling internal communications well during a crisis, will amplify trust both within your team and in the larger community. 

Need help creating an internal communications plan that is right for you and your team? Email me at kim@athena-coco.com to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to discuss getting started. Calm the Chaos and improve internal communications so you can find time to focus on what’s important to YOU! 

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.
kim@athena-coco.com

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion: Three Simple Steps to Get Started

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

There are many voices out there on this topic. Many are going to be more qualified than me to speak in-depth on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. In this article I will be sharing my perspective along with some thoughts on how to start these conversations in your workplace, or even in your family or friend group.

I had the honor of serving my community through the YMCA for several decades. The work I lead and was involved with was important and impactful. One initiative from the YMCA of the USA that I have been very impressed with, and have carried with me throughout the years, involves their work on Dimensions of Diversity. This work has resonated with me because it goes far beyond gender, skin color, and age. Those are big and often obvious categories, which over-generalize who people really are. Generalizations are necessary for studying trends, creating non-discrimination policy, and supporting marginalized groups; however they create problems when we use them to lump all people together. 

While working with a client recently, she shared her story of being a young black woman who excelled in the violin. For a long time she felt like an outcast. “Black people don’t play in the orchestra” was something she heard and felt on a regular basis. In discussing her experience she used this phrase:

Black is Not a Monolith 

Having only heard the word “Monolith” recently in relation to the one discovered in Utah last summer, I did a bit of research. Apparently it’s a phrase that’s been around for a while, and has resurfaced with the release of Lena Waithe’s Queen & Slim. While I have not seen this movie, it sounds like the phrase is used to express the fact that all black people are not necessarily from the ghetto. Essentially, black people come from all kinds of communities and backgrounds. When you think about it, that doesn’t seem like something that needs to be stated. However, it’s human nature to try to categorize and simplify things we don’t understand. 

 In talking further with this client, she shared with me that she was from a small town. She told me her town “only had four high schools.” This is when the complexities of diversity really struck me. My town had exactly one high school. In fact it had exactly one school of any kind, Kindergarten through 12th grade. In the years since I graduated they have added a preschool. Still one school. As a member of the tiny little Generation X, my graduating class had 26 people in it. 

This started me thinking about other personal experiences where the diversity in our backgrounds was very striking. When I worked in Chicago one of my staff, a woman in her 40s, had never had a drivers license. Or a car. She taught me how to use the bus and the L – explaining routes, lines and transfers – from memory. Growing up on a farm I wouldn’t have been able to participate in afterschool activities, have a social life, or a job without a license and a car. It was unimaginable to never have a car or a license. Growing up the way she did, she couldn’t believe I’d never used public transportation. 

These experiences and reflections keep bringing me back to the Y-USAs Dimensions of Diversity. Looking at one dimension of a person and defining them by it is part of our society’s problem with embracing diversity. It leads to limiting beliefs and stereotypes. All black people are fill in the blank. LGBTQ+ people never fill in the blank. People living in poverty are all fill in the blank. Women just aren’t meant to fill in the blank. None of us should be defined by one aspect of our identity. Least of all marginalized groups. 

Today, many companies and organizations are in the position of knowing they need to “do better” with diversity, equity, and inclusion; but they might not know where to start. This is understandable; it’s a huge, complex and often controversial topic. I’d like to offer you three simple steps to get you started. These can be implemented with no cost, no additional staff or resources, and very little change to your operations.

  • Mindset – leadership commitment

First and foremost, the leadership of the business or organization needs to be genuinely committed to shifting the culture. The top leader especially, but also the leadership team needs to believe in the importance of celebrating diversity, valuing equity, and driving inclusion.

In order to ensure that you are ready for this, it will likely require some challenging conversations as a team. The discussion must go beyond: “Is everyone good with this?” Each and every leader needs to be committed to driving change, supporting difficult conversations and situations, and being an agency-champion for this transformation. If every single person isn’t 100% on board, the leader has a decision to make. Does she/he postpone this initiative until the timing is better or do they make the changes needed to create the leadership team that will move the company needle on DEI. 

  • Commitment to understanding

As you begin your initiative around Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, one of the first tenements to establish is the commitment to understanding where people are coming from. Impressing upon staff the importance of listening and being open to understanding the journey their co-workers are traveling is key to building your foundation.

It doesn’t matter what other people think about Meghan Markles’ skin color. If she identifies as black, that’s a dimension of who she is. Self-identification is up to the individual and it doesn’t matter if other people agree with it or not. Supporting DEI means accepting others as they identify, and striving to understand.

The leadership sets this expectation and supports staff as they work to learn and grow. They also watch for those team members who are resistant to this change and take action with anyone who is not a match for the culture they are trying to create.

  • A little bit of time in each and every staff meeting

The first two steps are really about mindset, setting the tone, and creating a culture. This one provides action items you can take and use right away.

The most valuable communication tool that leaders possess is the staff meeting. If your staff meetings are not important, engaging, effective, and driving communication and culture, consider reading this. Incorporating mini-activities into your team meeting (and every other staff meeting in your company) can start the exploration of diversity, equity, and inclusion with the broad base of your business.

Hopefully your staff meeting includes some sort of a transition or opening. This aspect of your meeting is meant to help team members shift from whatever-they-were-doing-before-the-meeting to full-on-meeting-mode. Good things to include in this phase of the meeting are things like:

  • An opening thought
  • Check-in
  • Company headlines
  • Celebrations

In order to get everyone thinking about the diversity of their team, consider adding a “backstory question.” This tool can be fun, but at the same time it helps everyone to start to understand more about their teammates. If time is tight this activity can take as little as 2-minutes by doing it “whip style.” Or if you want, you can add a reflection component to dig deeper.

Here’s an example:

  1. Have everyone go around and share what their first job was and something they learned from that job that they still utilize today. If you have 10 people in the meeting, this will probably take 5-minutes at the most.
  2. Those wanting to dig deeper can pair people up (preferably connecting those with the most differing first jobs, like walking beans with interning at a magazine).
  3. Have one person spend 2-minutes asking the other person questions about their first job.
  4. After their time is up they switch roles.
  5. You can close with a group reflection on what they learned about other people that may have surprised them.
  6. Doing the full activity will take a maximum of 15-minutes.

Here’s a list of ideas of backstory questions you can use to get started:

  • What was your first job? What did you learn that you still use today?
  • How did you get to school when you were little? How was that the same or different from other kids at your school?
  • What’s the first team you remember being part of? How did that experience shape you?
  • How many kids were in your family? Where are you in the birth order? What does that say about you? 
  • What was your favorite subject in school? How have you carried that with you? 
  • Share about the kind of home you grew up in? 
  • How did you decide what you wanted to do for a living? 

As time goes on your questions can progress towards being more probing. Another idea is to have volunteers come up with questions for the next meeting or create a sub-group of volunteers to work on questions and activities.

As you and your team become more comfortable exploring diversity there are many more activities you can incorporate and initiatives you can drive. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. Hopefully these simple steps can spark the beginning of your journey. 

Need help creating a plan that is right for you and your team? Want an outside resource to facilitate crucial conversations around DEI? Email me at kim@athena-coco.com to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to discuss ideas that will help you get started. Calm the Chaos and create a great culture so you can find time to focus on what’s important to YOU! 

 

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.
kim@athena-coco.com