13 Aug 2020

Where Do Nonprofit Leaders Go From Here?

Summer is rapidly drawing to a close and Labor Day is approaching without our typical end-of-summer rituals.  No big barbeques with friends and neighbors, no back-to-school shopping sprees, and backyard socially-distanced cocktail hours are no longer novel.  Our zoom creativity is waning and virtual get-togethers have lost their luster.  As a result, you and your work team approach September feeling fatigued and un-refreshed.

The pandemic has required us to become quick experts in new fields, forced us to create scenario plans weekly, tested our resilience daily, and taught us a whole new lexicon along the way.  Unfortunately, we know this time of unprecedented uncertainty will continue to drag on for months to come.  Yes, this pandemic and our response to it, is a marathon not a sprint.  As the CEO, how do you maintain this pace, keeping your staff engaged and motivated and your Board committed and inspired? Here are some recommendations:

  1.   Recognize and acknowledge the herculean efforts put forth in the last few months.  Demonstrate gratitude to your staff and to your Board.  A strong partnership with your Board chair will be enormously helpful to you and your team during these challenging times.  Express appreciation to your Board members, specifically acknowledging the countless ways they have stepped up.  At the same time, make sure your Board is well informed about how your staff has successfully pivoted, highlighting both individual and team accomplishments.
  2.   Celebrate wins. Now is the time to help your staff members recognize what they have accomplished during these last few months. A look back from March through August, reflecting on small, tangible wins, will help motivate your team to forge ahead. Create a timeline that begins March 13th and remind your team members of everything that’s transpired since the last day they were physically together in your office.
  3.   Keep scenario planning. Set short-term, medium-term and long-term goals.  It’s important to zoom in (pun intended): What should your staff be accomplishing each week?  And zoom out: where do we hope to be in six months and one year?  How will we get there?  What’s in our way?  Share these goals and potential obstacles with your Board Chair to ensure your goals align with the Board’s strategic direction.
  4.   Clarify roles/responsibilities.  Everyone has been asked to take on additional job responsibilities during these unprecedented times..  Your staff members have adjusted how they work, who they work with and what they work on. They have also likely absorbed additional workloads as colleagues’ positions have been eliminated.  It’s never been more important to check in with your staff members, to offer support, and to ensure they’re clear about their responsibilities and able to manage their workloads.
  5. Prioritize action items.  Create road maps with specific, manageable action items.  Help your staff identify the concrete steps that need to be accomplished and make sure they have prioritized the work that get those items completed.  Now is the time to get granular and make sure your team members are aligned around the priorities and have the requisite tools and resources to be efficient.
  6. Eliminate non-essential work.   It’s also the time to help your staff back burner or shelve any work that’s not core to current and emerging priorities. While removing items from your team’s to-do list is appreciated, it can also feel like loss or disappointment when team members have devoted significant time to work that is now de-prioritized. Focus on the right work at the right time and remind staff that shelved projects will return in due time.
  7.   Communicate with clarity and consistency.  Coordinate communication with your Board chair and remember, the most impactful messages are disseminated jointly from you and your chair.  This is a great opportunity to underscore the mission and values that are at the heart of your organization.  Thank both your professional staff as well as your volunteer leaders, highlighting the importance each plays to ensuring your organization’s sustainability.  Your transparency about what’s going well, and about what’s keeping you up at night, will ensure that everyone is informed and has realistic expectations about what’s on the horizon.

Your leadership skills are being tested in new and uncharted ways.  Be proud of what you’ve accomplished and be sure to lean on your staff as well as your board.  When we emerge from this period, how will you reflect on your journey?

“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Lisa Hills is a seasoned organizational strategist and workplace expert who focuses on leadership and talent development.  She is the president of Hills Associates and a partner in Working Wonders.

To read what comes next on the board side of the house, read No Rest for the Weary: Where Do Nonprofit Boards Go From Here. At Working Wonders, we’ve got you covered, executive leadership, management, staff and boards. We love work, and we know work! Learn more at https://workingwondersforyourteam.com/

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