corporate culture

Candice Schmitt, Director of People Operations at Team Rubicon,Talks About Corporate Culture with Denver Frederick

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 


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Candice Schmitt © teamrubiconusa.org

Denver: It is no coincidence that the very best nonprofit organizations also happen to be the very best places to work. And that is certainly true in the case of Team Rubicon. And here to discuss it with us is Candice Schmitt, the Director of People Operations at Team Rubicon.

Good evening, Candice, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Candice: Thank you so much. Happy to be talking to you.

Our mission is really dual purpose. We provide the service to communities that have been affected by disasters, by helping residents begin the cleanup process and by continuing their service after taking off their uniform.

Denver: Before we look at your corporate culture and work environment, tell us about Team Rubicon and the mission and objectives of the organization.

Candice: Sure. Team Rubicon is a veteran-led disaster response organization that unites the skills and experiences of military veterans, the first responders, to rapidly deploy emergency response teams. So that is the boots on the ground just as soon as the disasters strike. They’re usually there within 24 hours doing recon work and finding out how we can help building relationships at the local agency and seeing how we can best support them. And our mission is really dual purpose. We provide the service to communities that have been affected by disasters, by helping residents begin the cleanup process and by continuing their service after taking off their uniform.

Team Rubicon helps the veterans rediscover a sense of purpose, community and identity which is often lost after separating from the military. We’re really motivated by both of those things and I think it makes us a really unique player in the space.

Denver: Great mission. Well, some organizations might say they have a feedback culture. I know others describe them and they’ll say this, “Hey, we have a coaching culture or a data-driven culture”. What word or phrase would you use to describe your culture?

Candice: I would say our culture is truly like a family. And I think some organization say that because their employees hangout outside of work or know a lot about each other’s personal lives. And here, when I say that, I mean we communicate with candor and there’s an unspoken bond that exists among us. So, it’s a raw and honest and sometimes dysfunctional culture or community of people. And I believe, it’s a version of the camaraderie that exists in the military because we are such a military-centric group. But as one of our kick-ass civilian team member who can’t speak to, at first hand, to what the culture is like in the military, I can say it reminds me a whole lot of growing up in a family of six. So much love, so much chaos and yet you’d have it no other way.

Denver: Well described. What are some of the things that leadership does to sort of influence and shape the culture there?

Candice: I think the biggest thing that they do is they’re really just part of it. They’re just one of us. We’re a very flat organization. They’re approachable, easy to talk to and similar to how parents would in a household, like when they sense tension or a little bit of angst among the group, we all get called together to clear the air. They pave the road but then get out of the way for us and I think that’s how they lead by example and reinforce our camaraderie or culture.

Denver: Well, in every household, sometimes there’s a way of getting things done. And looking at your family, how does work get done at Team Rubicon?

Candice: This actually hits on a couple of our cultural maxims. First is our attitude and approach. And so, to those two things, we have a couple of things we see around here. One is everyone has a role and we know it. We know we can’t all be good at everything so we rely pretty heavily on our expert in a variety of subject matters. And sometimes, those experts are interns and sometimes, the experts are our C-suite staff. So, we pull in the people who know the subject matter best on the team regardless of their level. And we have an attitude that we describe as just gets shit done, whatever you need to do to get it done. We’re highly collaborative via in-person meetings, video conference, and we’re pretty motivated by a challenge. So I think, the combination of those things is really nothing that we don’t get done and we get it done just working together and removing roadblocks from each other’s way.

 

 

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Team Rubicon’s Cultural Principles © glassdoor.com

 

Denver: Well, you know an organizational culture is built around values. And so many values of organizations kind of either sit on a piece of paper or on a website. How do your values get animated, communicated and then reinforced?

Candice: We do have the piece of paper as well. So we have them codified  And within that document, we have more than just a list of our culture or values and what they mean but we also have a quote and a story to help bring that value to life for our staff. Our cultural values are not defined as the things that people possess when we hire them into our team but more the guiding stars as we make decisions in a highly autonomous environment. So these are, absent policy and procedure, we want these seven principles to guide your way. And so, we do have them documented. We have them on the walls of our offices. We have them in all of our conference rooms. So, they’re highly visible.

When we have new hires come on, they spend 45 minutes to an hour with our CEO and COO going over each of these principles and what they mean, what they look like in real life. So, following on to largely military stories or different events from history that reinforce these values. We use examples within TR’s history on where we’ve seen these values applied. They’re also built into our employee recognition programs so that we are reinforcing the behavior that we feel is consistent with these guidelines, again just so all staff really understands what they look like in real life. So the new hire orientation, they’re weaved into our programs and we always find a way to get them into content that’s presented at our all staff meetings. So, whether it’s just using the language or referring back to them, recognizing again, employees who really standout as those living by these guiding stars, we try and just make sure that they’re very much alive, active and referenced in everything that we do.

It’s the passion. Hands down, it’s passion. Everyone coming in, everyone going through our interview process, the folks I talk to who are leaving all say the same thing, the Wow is the passion. Everyone is here for something bigger than themselves. And that creates a really unstoppable force and an incredible energy that’s hard to describe. Nobody is here for themselves or the paycheck. It’s for something bigger than any of us can achieve individually.

Denver: Great stuff. Well, if I was one of those new hires, and let’s say I had been working there three months, and somebody were to ask me, what is the Wow of Team Rubicon, what do you think I might say?

Candice: It’s the passion. Hands down, it’s passion. Everyone coming in, everyone going through our interview process, the folks I talk to who are leaving all say the same thing, the Wow is the passion. Everyone is here for something bigger than themselves. And that creates a really unstoppable force and an incredible energy that’s hard to describe. Nobody is here for themselves or the paycheck. It’s for something bigger than any of us can achieve individually.

Denver: A lot of people in non-profit organizations leave those organizations because there’s just no clear road to advancement. There’s no place where they can go. What kind of things do you do to help promote the personal and professional development of an employee?

Candice: There’s a ton that we do. The beauty of being a small organization is we really have the opportunity to understand each person’s individual ambitions, skills, weaknesses for that matter. We do skills assessments to find strengths and how we can leverage them in people’s existing roles. Then we also have the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations whether it’s between people ops and our employees or employees and their managers to really dive into where they want to go and what it’s going to take to get them there. I’m actually really excited to say, in preparation for this, I just checked because I felt like I’d really been seeing a lot of advancement this year, and we haven’t even entered the year-end review cycle and we’ve already seen 21 of our 74 staff receive formal recognition of increased responsibility, increased scope and that’s through title changes, compensation increases, and just being recognized for really taking their role to the next level. We’re just at a point right now where everybody here really writes their own future. And for some folks, they’re really content in the role that they’re in and they want to continue to contribute in that way but for a lot of our folks here, they are looking for that next step and we offer certifications. We offer advanced education. But you have to come to us and tell us this is where I want to go and here’s how I want to get there. What do you think and it’s a really collaborative effort but when we’re very supportive of keeping our rising stars. We’re really excited about where we’re seeing people go and our future leaders really taking shape.

Denver: You also sound like you’re a kind place where people get a lot of feedback on how they’re doing.

Candice: Absolutely. We have the performance review process which is our formal feedback system and that’s every six months. However, we are, like I said, just like a family and that candor comes back into play here, we give feedback often in real time and very directly. It’s an environment that’s incredibly open to it and we’re very receptive and everyone, again, being here for something bigger than yourself, it’s very easy to redirect and apply that feedback because you know the impact it’s going to have is greater than just making you a better professional. It’s the ability to execute our mission with more efficiency and to be able to help more communities, more people, more veteran. So generally, feedback is given in real time and it’s just formalized twice a year and solicited twice a year but we request feedback or solicit feedback at all levels and we also do it as an organization from our employees via an employee satisfaction survey.

Denver: What role does technology and social media play in sort of joining the group together and promoting the workplace culture?

Candice: I think, it’s the same as anywhere else on this one, and word of mouth is actually our biggest asset. People who have touched the organization in some capacity, as a volunteer through the recruitment process, whether they saw us on- we’ve gotten a lot of media around our efforts in Houston so that has been pretty powerful but I think people are really drawn in by the mission and the culture that we display via social media. I don’t know if you’ve had an opportunity to see some of our videos.

Denver: I have.

Candice: But if you check them out, I dare you not to be drawn in.

Denver: They’re fantastic. They really are.

Candice: So I think, it’s really just a way to highlight our mission and that organically just draws in all the people we need.

Denver: In addition to the surveys that you use, do you use any kind of data analytics to measure employee engagement?

Candice: We’re not really doing much on that now to be honest. We’ve looked at it but we have, again, the small group really lets you dive in. Once I do that broader survey, it’s a 12-question survey, I can kind of dig in. People always raise their hand. We offer it up to be anonymous. People are always disclosing information saying, “Hey, I’d love to talk more about this”. So, we haven’t really found a need to run any analytics. We still have a pretty good handle on it at this size.

Denver: Sounds like you do. So, diversity, inclusion and equity is on the top of everyone’s list. But the places I’ve been, it is so, so very difficult to actually put into place. What have you done around that?

Candice: One of our advisory board members does this for a living in DC so they’re really high level, and he actually brought that up to us in seeing some of our social media posts, more centered around our member-base. Do we have enough diversity and inclusion within our member-base? So we held a sensing session earlier, I believe in April of this year, to see if it’s something that we need to put broader initiative around and by and large, people felt like we were very inclusive and welcoming environment. Then we listened to several stories where folks had seen different minority groups or women in leadership roles and all these things and were very impressed with what we are doing. So, I think it something we’re going to continue to monitor and always have, like you said, top of our minds just like everybody else. But, we didn’t feel like there was a need to launch any major initiatives on that and certainly, from a full-time staff perspective, we have a very diverse group and as we open new positions, we always check the pulse and make sure, “Hey, where could we do a better job diversifying?” and we keep that always in mind and balance it with getting the very best people in every seat on the bus.

Denver: It’s a work that’s never done. It’s always in progress.

Candice: Yeah. Exactly.

It’s that flexibility and adults-only mentality that people enjoy most about Team Rubicon.

Denver: What are some of the best perks there that the team really seems to like?

Candice: It’s a little bit of a different approach when you are in the nonprofit space and people are motivated by the mission and the passion that they have for that mission. So, I think what people would describe as the best perk of Team Rubicon are going to be our adults-only environment. So, it’s another one of our cultural maxims I’m referencing there. We expect everybody to treat each other with trust and respect and as long as you’re doing that, you know you have a lot of freedom, you have a lot of flexibility and autonomy and decision making authority, and I think people really enjoy that because it gives them the opportunity to have maximum impact on our mission and really maximize their investment at Team Rubicon. I think that’s probably the number one perk.

In addition to that, we do, as I spoke to earlier, make significant investment in development opportunities. So, whether it’s conferences or certifications, we’re really committed to having folks leave here better than they came and they are committed to leaving TR better than it was when they came. And I think that dual commitment really is a perk and in addition to that, we have the work from home flexibility, really flexible work hours. We do catered lunches, happy hours. We have gyms in our offices. So, all of that but I really think it’s that flexibility and adults-only mentality that people enjoy most about Team Rubicon.

Denver: And just speak, in closing, people are more worried about that and that has to do with the work-life balance. Because I know in organizations where your people have tremendous passion, there is also the danger of burning out. So, what are the things that you do to maintain that work-life balance among the team?

Candice: Absolutely. It is really hard to get people to step away. That passion is a double edge sword and we’re very aware of that. Our CEO calls staff together regularly to ask them when their next PTO, “When are you unplugging next? You’re going to need to take a week off by the end of the quarter.” In the nature of our business, it’s very hard. There are only certain times that we can really force people to do that and still keep the trains on time.

The military believes “You take care of us by taking care of yourself” and we really enforce that idea so we will force days off. We force people to unplug. We give alternate days off for those who are hourly]. We don’t want to see you stressed out. We do have track-free PTO so that folks can step away when it allows but we really are one of those workplaces that practices the integration of work and life. So, people are pretty free to come and go to take care of their personal life and I think by not forcing those really strict office hours and giving that flexibility, we can help ease the stress for those who just really have a hard time stepping away.

Recently, we had an all staff meeting to kind of reflect on how Hurricane Harvey from both an operational response perspective and a fundraising perspective may have changed the course we see around the future of Team Rubicon because it certainly has. And in that, when we recognize those who are exemplifying our cultural standards, we talked about the difference between when we talk about our quote “Gets shit done” motto or value, we put up there what that did look like and what it didn’t look like. And under what it didn’t look like, it was not the person who lived at our ops center 24 hours. You have to take care of yourself to be able to be productive, to be highly effective. We need everybody at the top of their game and that means at some time, you have to give yourself that mental and physical break. And so, we don’t recognize or give praise to the person who’s working round the clock, 24/7. We give praise to the person who put in the long day but then knew it was time to step away and take a break and cover down for themselves. And I think, that’s kind of what we do to promote the work-life balance or work-life integration as we refer to it.

Denver: And as you said, adults-only. Well, Candice Schmitt, the Director of People Operations at Team Rubicon, thanks for joining us this evening. Where can people go to learn more about the organization and the work that you do?

Candice: Absolutely. www.teamrubiconusa.org.

Denver: Thanks, Candice. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.

Candice: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

Jane Davis, CEO of Ability Beyond, Talks About Corporate Culture with Denver Frederick

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 


 

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Jane Davis © abilitybeyond.org

Denver: One of the very best places to work in a non-profit sector is an organization called Ability Beyond, which is headquartered up in Connecticut. And here to tell us what makes it special is their president and CEO, Jane Davis.

Good evening, Jane, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Jane: Thank you so much, Thanks for having me.

Denver: First, tell us about Ability Beyond, the mission and goals of the organization.

Jane: Sure. Ability Beyond is a non-profit organization. We’re in Connecticut and New York. And we serve over [03:21] people a year. Our mission statement is to discover, build and celebrate ability in all people. We serve people with disabilities of all kinds but mostly, folks with developmental disabilities, people that are on the autism spectrum, people with mental illness, and traumatic brain injury survivors. And we do that through employment services and through transition of services helping young adults go from school to work. We serve people in our family home. We serve people in apartments that need help with daily living. Family operate a number of group homes in Connecticut and New York and have a bunch of other services from certified special Olympics program and a bocce ball team, and service coordination. We do a whole plethora of services.

We have five offices but our main headquarters is in Connecticut, in Bethel, and our New York office is in Chappaqua in Westchester. Then we also have two sort of unique thing about Ability Beyond, and maybe we can talk more about them.

We have a rose farm in Gilford, Connecticut on the shore where we operate a business called Roses for Autism. We grow Connecticut grown roses there and that entire business is supported and a training ground for people on the autism spectrum of developmental disability. And we also sort of offset our cost thereby selling the most beautiful roses you can get anywhere and we ship anywhere in the United States at rosesforautism.com.

We also have a consulting service called Disability Solutions. I’ll tell you more about that hopefully because part of our inclusion, in adversity, nationally where we help corporations welcome people’s disabilities into their workforce.

Denver: We’ll before we get into the culture piece of it, why don’t you give us a word about that.

Jane: Sure. I’d love to. We have been providing employment services for people with disabilities for decades. So, we started in 1953. We’ve been in this business a really long time. Most people understand the value of work in a person’s life and it gives you a sense of purpose and helps people be a valued member of the society. So, we are really into helping people find jobs and we’re very good at that. We’ve been good at that for decades and recently, there’s been incentivizations for corporations to hire people with disabilities as part of their diversity programs and we thought, “You know what? We really know how to do that well. We know how to help corporations do that.” And we’re Medicaid business here, so we’re always operating at a loss. And we thought, “Okay, that might be a win-win for us. It can help offset our losses by offering consulting services but also help people with disability to find jobs across the country”.

So, we launched Disability Solutions and we have some great clients like American Express and Pepsi and Synchrony Financial and many others where we’re helping them figure out employment gaps that they have as a corporation and helping them hire people with disabilities into their workforce. And the business case behind that is that it helps meet the job-gap needs that corporations have and it really empowers the diversion and equality in the workplace. It gives you a more robust and inclusive culture and we also talk about the retention rate being improved and the hire rates being faster when we’re involved and we are hiring people with disabilities. And the buying power of the disability community and the loyalty there is also a huge sell for corporations. So, it’s been win-win-win-win-win for the companies that we’ve been working with and we’ve done all kinds of great work all across the country and consultants working for us across the country. It actually just went international because we were not too long ago in India, working with Synchrony Financial, and helping them figure out how they can meet some job-gap needs in India for the first time.

Denver: Well, that is an extraordinary breadth of services, not to mention, enterprises which help support those services. In order to be able to do that all successfully, you have to have a really engaged and motivated workforce. So, let’s turn our attention to the corporate culture of Ability Beyond. Some people describe their cultures as a coaching culture, a data-driven culture, feedback culture. What word or phrase would you use to describe your culture?

Jane: I think that we’ve had, I think something like six names for our organization in the last six years. We’ve changed our name multiple times. And the name that we have now, Ability Beyond, has evolved from other names. But to me, our name Ability Beyond, and our mission statement: discover, building and celebrating the ability in all people really does capture our culture not just for how we approach the services that we provide to the people we serve. Our job is to help them move beyond disability and find what their abilities are so they can move forward and be always moving forward. And it really, kind of, how we approach our business. We always want to be doing better. We want to be moving forward. Do we want to be growing and figuring how can we do our job better? How can we move our workforce and empower them more? So, I really think our Ability Beyond kind of captures the work that we’re trying to do and thus that feeling of moving beyond today.

Denver: Right. Never happy with the status quo as what it sounds like. Always trying to get better every single day. Talk to me a little bit about your core values and how you communicate and then reinforce the core values of the organization.

Jane: It’s funny that you’re asking us that now because we have the pillars of our business.  We have our mission statement. We have our values written down. We’ve had them for decades and we actually have an organizational objective this year. So, we have strategic things that we’re always working on and every year, we have organizational goals that we’re measuring against. And this year, in particular, we wanted to redefine our culture and our values and make sure that we’re defining them a little more dynamically and correctly and constantly. The values that we have here, I think right now, we have something like 12 or 15 values. They’re all right. They’re all great. We’ve got transparency. We’ve got excellence. We have all those words I think most companies have. So, we’re actually trying to define them this year as a team working with everybody – the people we serve, our families, our direct support staff to redefine them in a more dynamic way, a way that’s a little more us.

So, you have to stay tuned for that. But exactly how we’re writing it. But I love that we’re ready to kind of rebrand who we are and keep it a little more synced and dynamic.

Denver: Yeah. I hear you. It sounds you want to keep the essence of all those values intact. But just crystalize them a little bit better and animate them some more and make them a bit more contemporary and a little bit more up-to-date where people can relate to them better than they have perhaps and as always, part of what you just said a moment ago, we’re never being happy with the status quo but take all what you have, as good as it is, and always trying to make it better.

What would you say with the “Wow” of working at Ability Beyond is? When somebody comes to work there, what is the thing that, when they’ve been there for a little bit, they just say: “Man, this is something special.”

Jane: I really think that the “Wow” and the “Wow’ that’s kept me here for 33 years is that it is fun! The work that we do is really fun and I think the fact that our leadership team, our board, our direct support staff are focused on the work that we do and that’s the direct service to a person with a disability and there’s really nothing better than helping someone achieve a goal. Whether it’s small like relearning how to brush their teeth, to getting their first job, to transitioning to their first department or even helping someone end of life. It’s really special, special work. And to me, that’s the “Wow” factor. And I think our feeling of support of the organization and the leadership team here to support that work is the other part of the “Wow”.

Denver: So many people who work in non-profit organizations complain that there is no road to advancement. There is no place to go. What do you do to sort of help promote the people’s possibilities and invest in their professional and personal development?

Jane: I think we’ve got a really good answer to that. Most people in our industry haven’t even heard of it. People have heard of being a CNA. They get that you’re going to work in a nursing home or a hospital. Other jobs are a little more well defined. Most people in our industry kind of stumble into it. I stumbled into it because I had a choice between writing a term paper or volunteering in a group home. I never would have thought about working in a group home. Never would have thought about it. And then I loved it once I’ve tried it. So, most people kind of stumble into the job. They like it and then it’s really hard to see what your career path is. If you’re a CNA you might realize that, that makes you feel a licensed nurse, a registered nurse and work your way up that way.

And the other thing to know about our industry for direct support staff is that the national turnover rate is about 50%. So, for most organizations, half the staff that you hire in the first year are gone. And nothing impacts quality more than the person serving a person with disability not really knowing them or understanding them.

So, we worked with the University of Minnesota years ago and developed what we call the Pathways Program which has actually won national awards. Our Pathways Program is where a direct support staff can apply and then go through additional training, 30-hours of training, and class-work time and mentoring time and online training time and develop their skills, learn more about the work that we do and more about the different disability types or better ways to approach the job and when they finish that, they graduate and get a bump in pay and a bonus.

We’ve started with Level 1 which is direct support professional. When you come here, you’re not a DSP yet but once you go to the program, if you go through the program, then you become a direct support professional that’s graduated through Pathways and you can go on to mentoring and supervision or behaviorals or aging. Specialty areas that you might want to pursue within the organization and we try to map out literally a ladder for people so they get it. But it also helps them be more prepared to do their job better. If you’re more prepared, you’re going to be happier at work and we’re going to have a better result that’s meeting our business needs and needs that people that we serve. And we found it to be really, really highly successful. It’s a worthy investment. It took time and resources to develop it. It takes time and resources to complete the class and to find money for that bump in pay. But it’s brought our turnover rate, we wanted to hit 21 last year and we hit 17.6.

Denver: Which is compared to 50% on the national average scale. That’s dramatic.

Jane: Absolutely. And for the DSPs, the retention rate, it’s in the 90s. Generally, people that have gone through the program are so much more likely to stay. So, the more people that we have go through the program, the more prepared they are, the better our quality is, the better results for the people we serve and the better our retention rates are. And that also helps us save money. And then we can reinvest that back into more Pathways classes. So, it’s been a win-win for us and the people we serve and project support staff.

Denver: Well, very forward thinking. People always look at this as a cost. It really isn’t a cost. It’s an investment and at the end of the day, it saves you money and improves the quality of care.

You mentioned a moment ago that you’ve been there for 33 years so you’ve seen a lot of changes. One of the changes I’m sure you’ve seen has been this influx of millennials into the workforce. How has that impacted your culture?

Jane: I think a couple of things. One is we want to be known for a few things here are Ability Beyond and one of those is technology. We put a lot of investments into doing what we do more efficiently because the Medicaid system is so challenged, and our state funding is also challenging in both of the states that we operate in. So, we’re always looking for ways to be more efficient.

The other challenge we have is we have a workforce of 1200 but they are spread out through about 120 different locations in both states. So, we have a lot, a ton of small teams. Sometimes one person, sometimes six, sometimes 12 in all these different locations so communication and staying connected is a challenge for us. The great thing about that work forces that they embrace technology too. So, it made it easier for us to roll things out that help us be more efficient in E-systems. And this year, we’re launching electronic learning management system so it’s easier for our staff to go to classes and gain knowledge. So, it’s made it easier for us to roll off those kinds of initiatives.

On the other hand, it’s challenged us to do a better job with transparency, with engagement, and with staying connected with our workforce and throughout all these different locations. And it’s also challenged us to really embrace how we help people connect with purpose-driven work. This year, in particular, we’re looking at different tools for that in how to attract people that are purpose-driven and then retain people that are purpose-driven because they’re more likely to stay. They’re more likely to connect with the work that we do and the Millenials are into that.

TIP Squad

TIP Squad © @AbilityBeyond

Denver: That’s true. What are some of the technology tools that you’re looking at?

Jane: Well, some of it is kind of boring. Some of it is around how we – our electronic record for the work that we do and to help us get through Medicaid audit, so things like that. Our human resources information system may be a little boring to people but to help our workforce of 1200 get information they need at their fingertips has been great.

A lot of it is around, we call it TIPS. So, Technology Innovations for People. We coined that phrase here and that’s about direct service to the people that we serve. So, helping them be more independent through technology, it gives them a great sense of empowerment, help them be more independent. They’re less reliant on paid staff and when they’re less reliant on paid staff, it saves Medicaid system money. And we’ve been getting a lot of grants for the last couple of years to help people be independent and save through remote supervision and different tools to help them, prompt them to take their medication. We’ve been rolling out medication dispensers. All kinds of things like that that help people communicate, to help them be more independent, save the Medicaid system money and help us be more efficient and it’s really cool. We have what we call a TIP Squad which is the Technology Innovations for People Squad which is actually is run by our technology person, Laurie Dale, here. And it’s made up of people with different disabilities and people that we also serve who are testing technology for us and helping to roll it out for other people that we serve.

We’ve been Beta testing products in our industry like a product from a company called Nix Health which is an independent transfer system. Most of our workman’s comp injuries here are from helping people transfer into a wheelchair from bed. And their system, the bed actually transfers you from the bed to the wheelchair and back without touching the person. It’s an amazing piece of technology. Huge implications in our industry. So, we’ve been helping them test that specific to people with different types of disability for us. And, we’re working with MIT right now on an alternate use of a product. They’re testing a seizure watch and we are alternate use testing it for people with – we serve young adults with mental illness and most of them have post-traumatic stress disorders from, at least, in trauma histories. And the watch also helps measure biometric indicators that someone with PTSD will just say “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine” and then all of a sudden just…

And we’re alternate testing the watch to see if we can predict when someone is saying they’re fine and they’re really not and intervening before they get past the point of no return. So, we can intervene and pre-empt it. Really super fun stuff. We really want to be– with one of the things we want to be known for and in fact, people that we served have been speaking across the country and are working on a technology space and people can check out our website because we have a whole page on our technology innovations on our abilitybeyond.org website.

Denver: Well, you do very difficult and challenging work. How do you try to maintain work-life balance and what do you do to help people to avoid burning out?

Jane: It’s funny. I just learned this. I didn’t know this but I actually was just doing a podcast for someone else, Christopher Kukk from Western Connecticut State University here and he sort of has a theme around –– I’ll say it incorrectly but it is around kindness and compassion. He was talking about how empathy uses the same brain triggers, I guess, as stress. And he’s actually going to be coming and talking to our direct support staff about the difference between compassion and empathy and how to try and make sure you’re being completely compassionate with the people we serve without sacrificing too much of your own brain power and life force. So, we’re looking at ways to offset that. We’re always looking for ways to be supportive as we can to our direct support staff and really trying to find a balance of work-life balance with flexibility and support for that.

As our organization has evolved over time, at this point, our leadership team, almost three-quarters of us started as direct support staff… including me. So, that shift in our leadership team over time has helped really have a greater understanding of what our direct support staff who are doing the real hard work are going through. So anything we can do to support them, we’re going to try it.

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National Ugly Sweater Day 2016 © @AbilityBeyond

Denver: I bet. Let me close with this. Is there anything at Ability Beyond that nobody would know unless they work there? Something unique or quirky or some ritual that you have that really just distinguishes your place of work from any other?

Jane: We have a ton of rituals here. We have ugly sweater contest, and our annual barbeque, and our golf event, and our gala. We have a lot of ritual events and celebrations here. I will go back to what I said at the very beginning, I really think that what is unique about us is if you’re going to work here, we’ll want to support you. We want you to see your career path here. But you really need to embrace change because we are constantly sort of moving forward and looking for better ways to do that. And part of that is accepting change and that’s not always easy for everyone. But if you’re someone that embraces that and enjoys that, I think that’s really part of our “Okay, this is unique to us.” We’re always trying to move ahead in the work that we do and most of the time, it’s amazing and fun.  And it makes you really proud to work here and I know that’s what it is for me when we hear that a lot from our team and our staff that say they’re proud to work here.

Denver: Well, I can hear it in your voice and that’s a very nice sentiment indeed. Tell us about your website, the kind of information people will find there and what they can do to help support the work if they should be so inclined.

Jane: Well, yes. First, they should buy any floral needs, should be met through rosesforautism.com for sure. Go to that website in our link from abilitybeyond.org as well. We ship anywhere and we hope you enjoy our locally grown roses. They open all the way and they’re really fragrant and beautiful because they help support people with disabilities learn all aspects of the business and supports awareness of autism.

For corporations listening out there, disabiltysolutionsarwork.com is our consulting and you can learn more about that. Also, there’s a link from our website. And at abilitybeyond.org you can see what’s new. You can learn about all the services that we provide, more about our technology, our employment services and apply for a job there too. We’d love to have you. It’s fun to work here. You can work here.

Denver: It sounds that way. Well, Jane Davis, the President and CEO of Ability Beyond. I want to thank you so much for being on the program this evening. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.

Jane: Thank you so much.


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

Dave Newell, President and CEO of Nebraska Families Collaborative, Talks about Corporate Culture with Denver Frederick

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 


 

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NFC Logo © Heartland Family Service

 

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Dave Newell © Omaha World Herald

Denver: And in our continuing series, Better Than Most, today we are going to feature the Nebraska Families Collaborative based in Omaha. And here to join us is their President and CEO, Dave Newell.

Thanks for joining us, Dave, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Dave: Thanks for having me.

Denver: Why don’t we begin by having you tell us about the history of The Nebraska Family Collaborative and the goals and missions of the organization?

Dave: Sure. We’re a member-based nonprofit that was created back in 2009 in response to an initiative that the state of Nebraska was launching and we provide the ongoing child welfare, child protection services for the State of Nebraska for about 5,000 kids annually. We serve the greater Omaha area which is about two counties of the state and it’s about half of the child welfare population for our state. The greater Omaha area is really the only urban part of the state and that’s the part that we’re responsible for. And we’re nationally accredited as a network provider and we have about 50 agencies that are in our network and we provide the full continuum of care for the kids and families from home-based services to out of home services for all of those kids.

Denver: Fantastic. Well, you’re also considered to be one of the very best nonprofit organization to work for and I want to examine as to what makes NFC such a special place. Some organizations, they have a feedback culture. Others may say they have a coaching or data-driven culture. What word or phrase, Dave, would you use to describe your culture?

Dave: I would say it’s both data-driven and the feedback culture both internally as in regards to feedback and also externally would be how I would describe us.

It’s probably the most important thing because if the culture isn’t healthy, and in child protection, it’s very challenging to create a healthy environment because our employees experience a lot of secondary trauma. All the kids and families we serve have had very difficult experiences in their life and so as a result of that, even just sitting down and hearing their stories is a painful experience often times. And so, if we don’t take care of the staff, then they are not in a position to be caring and nurturing to the kids and the families that they’re working with.

Denver: In light of all your other responsibilities, I know you have a lot, Dave, how important is creating and nurturing the corporate culture for you?

Dave: It’s probably the most important thing because if the culture isn’t healthy, and in child protection, it’s very challenging to create a healthy environment because our employees experience a lot of secondary trauma. All the kids and families we serve have had very difficult experiences in their life and so as a result of that, even just sitting down and hearing their stories is a painful experience often times. And so, if we don’t take care of the staff, then they are not in a position to be caring and nurturing to the kids and the families that they’re working with.

Denver: It makes an awful lot of sense. What are some of the things that you do to influence and shape the culture? Do you try to model certain behaviors through your actions?

Dave: In some respects, I try to be a servant leader and so one thing that I hear from our staff is I don’t have a designated parking spot which is actually not a big deal to me. But actually, parking at our location is at a premium. So, just even little things where I don’t consider myself any more important than the rest of the staff and so I don’t have a designated parking spot, I think most of our staff feel that I’m approachable and they can give me feedback on anything and that I’ll listen to it and if it’s something that we can act on, then we’ll do it.

One of the things that my COO and I do is, out of 6 mark with our new staff, we sit down with them and do a check-in and we ask them what’s working at the agency for them and what’s not working. And we’ve made a variety of changes over the years based on the feedback that we did at those six-month check-ins.

Denver: What are some of those changes been?

Dave: Sometimes it’s like a really simple thing. For example, all of our staff have smartphones but when individuals were in training, we were giving them smartphones late in the training process. And what we were finding is a lot of the critical communication that they would have received through their smartphones, our new employees weren’t getting because we haven’t given them the phones yet. This is an example and so, we said, “Oh, we need to change that.” So, we implemented giving them phones very early in the process so that the communication wouldn’t break down.

We, for a lot of our staff too as a result of feedback, we have changed training several times and we’ve now developed a mentoring program for the staff. We’ve changed our on-call system which especially for new employees who is kind of daunting and now the way we’ve restructured our on-call system, I think it’s much more supportive to the bulk of employees. And so, a lot of changes did happen as a result of feedback that we received.

I’d say the biggest one for me and for us is that we always want to put the kids and the families first in everything that we do.

Denver: Yeah. It really does pay to have your ear to the ground. Tell us a little bit about your core values and how you try to communicate and reinforce those values across the organization?

Dave: So, I’d say the biggest one for me and for us is that we always want to put the kids and the families first in everything that we do. And so, we reinforce that a lot of different ways. We have quarterly meetings that are for all of our employees but also open up to the community and we start each one of those meetings with what we call a mission moment where staff will share a story, a success story around a child or a youth or someway that we’re trying to improve the system for kids. And so, we start each meeting with that. Our board meetings are also started with mission moment where we’ll have different staff from the agency come and present to the Board of Directors and give a story about a child or family or system improvement that we did that’s resulted in better outcomes for kids and families. And then also at these quarterly meetings, I was talking about earlier, we do community recognition where we have partners in the community who help us achieve our mission and so any staff can nominate those people and tell their story about how they helped us support a child or family or improve the system. So, we try to build that in especially any of our meetings.

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Family Picnic 2016 © Glassdoor NFC page

Denver: Yeah, that’s great because I do know how sometimes people in organizations can get disconnected from the mission particularly people in the administrative roles and we certainly have done some significant things to make sure that doesn’t happen and everybody has that present in front of them at all times. You mentioned a moment ago that you are a data-driven culture. It’s one of the phrases that you chose. How does your organization use technology to improve the way you go about doing your work and what influence do you think it has on the workplace culture?

Dave: I think it has, here again, has a significant impact. So, I mentioned earlier that our staff all have smartphones and when they started, they didn’t. And so we have found that deploying smartphones to our staff, that has been a major improvement both for internal communication and external communication because a lot of the kids and families we serve, they often times communicate through text. And before, we just had kind of antiquated cellphones that were difficult to text on and not easy to work with. And so, we saw a major improvement with that. We are now in the process of rolling out tablets for our staff and a lot of the paperwork that they have to do, we’re going to be migrating to that being electronic where individuals and families can complete paperwork via tablet rather than paper. So, we’re excited about that, too.

Then as far as the data goes, there’s a ton of performance measures associated with our contract with the state. We have steadily made progress on all those. So for those, we gather up that data at whatever frequency we need to gather and some of it is weekly, some of it is monthly, some of it is quarterly and so forth, and we’re always communicating that back to the staff so that they can see, “Okay. Here are performance measures where we’re improving on and here are some that we’re struggling with”, and then having a CQI process around the ones that we need to improve.

Denver: So you have that dashboard in front of people at all times.

Dave: Yes.

Denver: What have been some of your efforts around diversity, inclusion and equity?

Dave: Starting at the board level is- when I started our board of directors was all Caucasian. And now as our board has evolved over time, we now have about of a third of our quarter, individuals of color. We are line workforce. We’ve done really well of nearing the local population as far as demographics are aligned. Workforce is very reflective of the local community where we need to continue to develop is in our middle management and upper management that we haven’t made as much progress. And so, we actively recruit people of color and we’re also looking internally of how do we develop our existing workforce so that they can move up the leadership chain of command and have opportunities at all level of the organization. So, we’ve made a lot of progress but we’re not where we want to be yet.

Denver: Right. And it sounds like just listening to you, you are never going to be happy with whatever the status quo is going to be.

Dave: No. It’s always going to continue to move forward.

Denver: It never ends in improving.

Dave: That right. Absolutely.

Denver: I speak to CEOs all the time who want to change the culture but they really just don’t know how to go about it or where to begin. What advice would you give to them?

Dave: I think the big thing is you just have to start and it is incremental and now I look back. I’ve been here seven years and we’ve made tremendous progress when I look back over a seven-year period. But especially during the early years, it went quite slow. And I think as we have gotten more solid and since we are a young organization, we have a much healthier culture today than we did seven years ago. But we had to start and we just had to pick something to work on and once we made sufficient progress on that, then you have to move on to the next thing. And I would say that the majority of our staff has been here all that time. I would say that the organization is much healthier than we were seven, eight years ago.

Denver: It sounds like from what you just said, don’t try to do it all at once. Just pick something that is important and focus on that and get it right and then just move on from there.

Dave: And then communicate it back to the staff.

Denver: Absolutely. Well, Dave Newell, the President and CEO of the Nebraska Families Collaborative, I want to thank you so much for being with us today. It was a real pleasure to have you on the program.

Dave: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure being on.


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Sesame Workshop

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 


Denver: And this evening, you’ll be heading up just north of Columbus Circle in New York into the happy and oh-so-joyful offices of Sesame Workshop. We will begin the segment with their CEO Jeff Dunn and then hear from other members of the Sesame Workshop team.

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Jeff: I think it’s the CEO’s number one job. I’ve often said to people – if you know well the CEO of the company, know who that person is, you can predict the corporate culture. Conversely, if you don’t know the CEO at all but you know the corporate culture, you can predict pretty clearly what the attributes and values of the CEO are because, over time, the CEO and culture get very closely aligned. Whatever attributes and values the CEO has and expresses and brings, and says “this is what’s important to me,” that’s what the company begins to absorb and take on and deliver on. So the CEO owns the positive and the CEO owns the not so positive. So I think a lot about it. I think about: what do we do to have the right culture here? How do we make sure that we articulate what we want our culture to be? And then, what are the things that we can do to try and deliver on having that culture?

Phil: I think one of the biggest surprises that a new employee will experience about the workshop culture is that we don’t consider our Muppets to be children’s characters; we actually consider them to be colleagues. Elmo is as real to me as Louis is sitting across this table. And I think it’s because when you work at Sesame Workshop, you can be walking by a conference room and the performer for Elmo will be in there perhaps reading a script or reading a storyline, and you’re just walking to the water fountain and you hear Elmo coming from across the hall, and you think, “That’s Elmo.”

Diana: I was given the opportunity outside of my regular responsibilities to head a communications group, which was a cross-functional group of people – different levels and different departments represented. The sole goal of the group was to help foster communications, both sort of vertically up to senior management as well as across departments. For me, personally, it was a great opportunity to take on a role outside of my regular responsibilities and get to work with different people, but most importantly, we, as a group really have the ear of senior management. I was very impressed by the fact that they really wanted to hear what people had to say. They wanted feedback about what’s working well for the organization, what’s not. They took it very seriously. I was often the representative, kind of sharing the feedback from the group to management, which wasn’t always an easy role to be in, but they would hear it and they would think about how they wanted to act on it and they’ve taken tremendous steps to really act on that. So I think that has helped foster a real sense of openness and transparency for the organization.

Estee: Because it’s exactly the same process. We get our work done the same way in every single territory, in every single co-production. We sit down as a team and we discuss: What are those features that we want in this new Muppet? Or what are the goals that we want to achieve in the creation of a new format? It was really incredible. The team around the table was so enthused by this because they were like, “You’ve been doing it for 40 years and yet you still ask the same question as you’re asking us where we are creating this for the first time in Afghanistan with our Muppets.”

Bridget: One of the things that I find so unique to Sesame Street is you’re going to have the world’s worst commute here in New York City and you can expect the subway to treat you horribly on a daily basis. You could come in and you could have had such a tough day already at 9:30 in the morning, and you walk in and you see a mural of Sesame Street in black and white with all the Muppets in color, smiling and having a great time. You look at that and you’re like, “How could anything in my life ever be bad?” It is just such a welcoming environment to step into the office every single day. And then when you go to your desk – everybody’s desks are covered in Sesame paraphernalia.

 

Jeff: Some of the things that I brought here was what we call “Ask Jeff anything” which is people get to submit anonymous questions before a staff meeting. The reason we make it anonymous is because people won’t ask you the things that they really want to know, particularly if it’s unpopular, if they have to stand up and put a face and a name to it. But if you allow people to submit them anonymously, then you really get to know what’s on people’s mind. If you answer them, and you answer them honestly and you make all that available to people on a regular basis, then they get to know what’s going on.

The death of any culture is the grapevine, and what you want to do is you want to prevent the grapevine from going off in a lot of different directions because information abhors a vacuum, right? So by allowing employees to ask whatever questions they want, and promising them an answer and giving them an answer…and we post all the answers, make it all public. It’s all public. Well, public, I say, within our company. People get to know what’s really going on here.

Cheroc: I was instrumental in naming the conference rooms after characters and naming the printers after characters, so we try and keep it fun here at the office. I’ve worked in a few other places, but Sesame has the perks pretty much nailed down. Not many of them have changed. They’ve gotten better. I don’t feel that any of the perks have been taken away, but we’ve got amazing benefits here – from the 401(k) to having off the between Christmas and New Year’s and the amount of PTO days you get and just understanding when there’s family emergencies or bereavement to the maternity leave.

I’ve had the opportunity of being out on two very generous maternity leaves while here at Sesame and all of my friends and family are just like, “How does your company allow you to be out for so long?” But I think it speaks to the mission and how important family and children are to Sesame Workshop.

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Janelle: One of the questions that came to mind for me was how are decisions made, and I’ll say that for me, that has been one of the biggest surprises and delighters for me joining the workshop pretty recently. If I had to boil it down to one word on how decisions are made, I would say collaboratively or inclusively would be the words I would choose. There have been huge initiatives that have been put out company-wide based on upward feedback, and Jeff, our CEO, implemented some of these initiatives.

Philip: “Here I am just a few years into my career and I’ve booked a meeting with the United States Ambassador to Bangladesh.” I think it’s important for any employee to feel like your employer trusts you to go out and do the business for the organization and the brand. I have seen that with a lot of my colleagues and I think a lot of people at Sesame Workshop appreciate that type of trust and respect.

Louis: I was asked to be part of the Principal for the Day program, and again, I didnt even realize that we participated in that, but one of the chief executives actually asked me if I would do it. I said, “Well, sure, I’ll do it.” They said, “You could pick whatever school you want.” 

So I went to my elementary school and actually brought with me Elmo and Ernie. Im not allowed to do the voice or anything like that, but I snuck a little bit of Ernie only because of this little boy–Ive met a lot of children on the spectrum of autism and this little boy was brought from another school by his mother. He loved Ernie but she didnt know he was going to be there, so she went and got him and brought him to the school. And I said I have to do a little bit for him because this is his favorite character, so I did Rubber Duckie and things like that. The kid looked frozen. He didnt respond. He was a non-verbal child on the spectrum. Later on, I got a letter from that woman. Im trying to find that letter. She told me that for the first time, her child started to speak. He didnt put sentences together, but he started to talk about Ernie — “Ernie talked to me!” — and he just kept on. She didnt know what do herself because it was a miraculous moment. So talk about a wow factor.

These characters have impact on so many people, from children to adults. I know its going to be a long story, but it gives me chills every time I say this. One of the most amazing moments in my life in general, but it happened through Sesame Workshop.

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Denver: I want to thank Elizabeth Fishman for helping to organize my visit and to all those who participated in this piece –  Jeff Dunn, Bridget Miles, Louis Henry Mitchell, Estee Bardanashvili, Cheroc Slater, Philip Toscano, Diana Polvere, and Janelle Petrovich. If you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, you can hear this again, read the transcript, and see pictures of the participants and the offices of Sesame Workshop. 


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Kessler Foundation

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 


Denver: And this evening, we’re going to go across the Hudson River and over to West Orange, New Jersey to an organization that is on everybody’s best places to work with year in and year out. It is the Kessler Foundation. We will begin the segment with their President and CEO Rodger DeRose, and then hear from the other members of the Kessler Foundation team.

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Rodger: I think the other area that is so important is if you manage your organization with a real human element– where you are human first and manager second, it really shows in the culture of the organization… and how you address personnel issues, for example, that are going to live with the organization for a long period of time. Every organization has to release somebody at some point for not meeting the performance metrics. How you release that person, for example, says a lot about the organization. If you do it in a very dignified way, in a way that allows an individual to leave with grace and dignity, it says something about the organization. And that as that person leaves, that you continue to have a very meaningful discussion or relationship with the person, so that it’s a positive relationship as opposed to a negative one. That translates to how people view you in the marketplace.

Sharon: My review is coming up next month but Anne sits down with me on a bi-weekly basis and provides me an hour of her time and we normally sit there for two hours. And she provides that time for me to talk to her about anything that I want to talk about, whether it be how do I figure out something? What’s going on with the organization? Where does she think we should be going? She’s invested her time in my development and my understanding the organization and she tells me every two weeks, “You’re doing a great job!” which really helps me as a person to know that I am making a difference, at least she thinks I am making a difference, and it’s a good quality to have in a boss because they are invested in you. But it’s not just her and time that she is investing. She is investing her time in me allowing to grow with the organization and to think of ways to help the organization grow.

Raza: And I think what’s been most significant for me and kind of has provided the base wild factor is the tangible impact and the hands-on role that the senior leadership plays in making sure they stay involved, making sure they stay aware with what’s going on within the organization, and the fact that they try to be personally invested in the work and the mission of each individual employee. So, I was pretty impressed that some of the senior administration, they actually know exactly what I am doing, when I am doing it and they take a vested interest in what we do.

Nancy: So, the mud run, this was our third year doing the mud run together and the team has gotten bigger every year and everybody, it seems to be more fun every single year. And that’s not the only event that we do. We do other fundraising walks. We have parties. We do a lot of things offsite just because we enjoy being together. And I think that that really makes a tremendous difference in how we work together during the work time.

Laura: One of the activities that I wanted to mention that demonstrates the transparency here at the foundation is the employee focus groups that Roger holds. So, basically, he takes an employee from different departments. I guess he has some type of formula for choosing who comes and then he sits down with them for about an hour, an hour and a half, and we’re able to openly discuss our experiences at the foundation, any issues that are evolving if any and he wants to actually hear from the employee. So, it doesn’t matter what level they’re at. They can be at a lower level or upper management level and we’re all sitting together at a roundtable discussing the issues. He also allows us to propose resolutions. So, we’re learning where each department is, what the activities are that they are doing, and he’s really taking into consideration everybody’s opinion and experience and I think that’s as transparent as you can get.

Chris: At Kessler Foundation, a lot of the supervisory staff and a lot of the bosses, they really encourage their employees in my position, in particular, to forward their career and to forward their knowledge. They want them to go on to get some kind of education. That’s why one of the plans that we offer at Kessler is a tuition reimbursement plan for a lot of the people who might be interested in going back to school. So, I have the good fortune of taking advantage of that this Fall. I talked to my supervisors at Kessler and I said to them, “Look, I am interested in applying for school but I still want to continue to work here while I go to school.” And they worked with me and we discussed what research studies I could still continue to be on and what research studies I’d be able to stop being on and how I’d work my hours throughout the week.

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Ameen: I think what makes Kessler Foundation the best place to work, just bottom line, coming here, you’re going to be a better person. You’re working with some of the leaders of the field — leaders in stroke research, neuroscience, you name it. You’re with the cream of the crop when it comes to education-wise. Then you meet some of the people, the people themselves are so like a wealth of knowledge themselves. A lot of participants I talked to, they really leave an impression on me, makes me appreciate things even more. So, being here, you’re going to be a better person regardless whether it’s scholastically, whether it’s intellectually, or whether it’s on a humanitarian level or – you’re just going to be a better person.

Trevor: In turn, I’m going to address the question of how decisions are made. So, I think, Roger is open to, I guess, all the time, he comes across as a very easy laid back guy, but he’s tough. But he is open and receptive and at first, he may say no but if over a series of time, if you make your point, he is willing to change his mind. He also, with different things, I don’t want to give specific examples but he handles everything by a case-by-case basis. There are many organizations that will handle things just as one blanket way and he’s open-minded enough to realize that each situation is different for individuals and what may be appropriate for one individual or really is best for one individual and go with that, and then have to deal with any ramifications as in other instances. So, he’s easy going yet tough but also very open-minded.

Sharon: The other thing I wanted to talk about was the communications. When grants are awarded, Roger personally puts out an email to congratulate the scientist who has achieved that award because it’s not an easy process that they go through, which Nancy can easily talk about. And it helps everyone in the organization know what’s going on. And all that flooding of emails that come back from people congratulating them on receiving that award because each of those scientists knows how hard it is. It makes us, as the rest of the individuals who aren’t necessarily involved in that process, feel as though we’ve helped in some way.

Samantha: One of the things I love about working here is that I feel like my hard work is really noticed and my research manager will tell me when she sees me doing something she likes or if my recruitment numbers are high, they let me know. I’ve actually had Roger tell me, “Thank you. Thank you so much for all your hard work,” and that’s pretty amazing. Most of my friends don’t know the CEOs of their company. They’ve never met them. They might not even know their names. But Roger really takes the time to get to know us and he appreciates our hard work and he tells us. And sometimes they’ll give out a little Visa gift card, a little bonus, which is a small gesture but it really goes a long way in making me feel appreciated and I really love that.

Nancy: And I generally know what to expect but he always surprises me and there’s always something that I didn’t think of or I didn’t notice, some place where I can improve, and I find as an employee that, that review is extremely beneficial. I also enjoy it as the supervisor because I think it gives me an opportunity to provide the feedback in a constructive way but also hear what the scientists that worked with me, how they feel they’re doing and where they want to go in the future. So an important part of our employee reviews is goal setting, and it’s not only goal setting in terms of what the lab goals are or what the grant goals are, but it’s also goal setting in terms of what the employee’s goals are. So, yes you want to accomplish this in terms of your line of work or in terms of your position in the lab but what about your professional development? What else do you want to learn? What else do you want to do? And let’s set that as a goal and make sure that in the next year you do that. So, I think the employee reviews are fantastic.

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Denver: I want to thank Susana Santos for helping to organize my visit and to all those who participated – Ameen DeGraffenreid, Raza Husein, Trevor Dyson-Hudson, Laura Viglione, Christopher Bober, Sharon Cross, Samantha Schmidt, and Nancy Chiaravalloti. You can listen to this again, read the transcript and see pictures of the participants and facilities simply by going to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, and waiting for you there will be a link to my full interview with Rodger DeRose, the President and CEO of the Kessler Foundation.


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of One Acre Fund

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 

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Matt Forti and Denver Frederick

Denver: And this evening, we’re going over to Broad Street in Lower Manhattan to meet some of the staff at One Acre Fund. One Acre Fund serves smallholder farmers in Africa and works to help make them more productive and prosperous. We’ll begin the segment with Matt Forti, their Managing Director and a recent guest on The Business of Giving and then hear from members of the team.

Matt: I think some people equate nonprofits with just good-hearted people out there delivering services. But we really want to borrow from the best of the business world, which is really about good professional development and training. No matter what level you’re at at One Acre Fund, you’re probably going to be spending at our organization 30% of your time in some kind of a formal training program. It’s a leadership accelerant program…

Jillian:  What it means, first and foremost, and which we’ll see in every email signature and every document that comes across your desk, is “Farmers first.” That means, everything that we do, we’re always working toward this number one goal of putting farmers first. The values that go into that, like I said, they’re kind of everywhere in the organization.

Some of the main ones we talked about are humble service, so really making sure that we are meeting the farmers where they are. Most of our staff actually work in the field right alongside our farmers. Even our staff in the US office get out to the field at least once a year to make sure that they have a real connection with the farmers that we are serving.

Ross: One Acre Fund really stands out in terms of feedback comparing to other nonprofits I’ve ever worked with. It’s a pretty fundamental thing to know what’s expected of you and where you stand with your managers, and so One Acre Fund does a good job of creating a culture of feedback. The main mechanism for this is the check-ins we have either each week or every other week with our managers, and it’s a space where we check in on sustainability and workload, problems solved through our current projects, and also this key: Dedicate time to big picture thinking. That’s where a lot of the innovative ideas for our teams and for organizations come out of.

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Dave: I thought that broadly applies to our sort of GSD attitude, Get Stuff Done, and then specifically, how that GSD applies to input delivery.

Where the GSD comes in is we have truck breakdowns, we have farmers that live in areas that just don’t have access to the one, the services that we provide, but many, many other services as well. So when it comes to our input delivery, when we say we’re going to get inputs to a farmer on a certain day, it happens. We don’t call a farmer up or send a messenger to say, “Sorry, your inputs are going to come a week from now, a month from now.” They come the day that we say they’re going to come, and that’s how we build our trust.

Emily: The data that we get from this really allows us to tackle different areas that may contribute to an employee’s life cycle at One Acre Fund. We’re able to make better decisions regarding retention, better decisions regarding work-life balance and personal sustainability, and we’re able to implement new programs that really ensure that employees are going to stay with us for a long time and have a successful career at One Acre Fund.

I don’t know of any other nonprofit that uses that type of data to make those decisions. It really ensures that all of our people decisions are grounded in metrics and that we’re able to assess our projects going forward.

Briehan: Four times a year, people have career chats with their supervisors, either informal coffee chats, which you’re reminded and encouraged to do, or a 360 review that we do twice a year as part of our annual evaluation cycle.

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We also have a formal mentorship program to make sure that staff members have access to mentors that they can talk to about their career challenges and their paths that might be available to them.

We also have trainings around the kind of subjects that we feel like are really important to growth. Things like how to delegate efficiently, on how to hire effectively, and even trainings around how you can identify what it is that you want from your own career path, either within One Acre Fund or even if that path were to take you outside. That’s something that we really feel like as we face this incredible challenge of ending poverty, we are able to make sure that people are growing and taking on as much as they possibly can.

Dave: We have people in Kenya, New York, Seattle – we’re kind of all over the place, and we all come together on a big conference call around a different topic every month. And we really dive deep, and everybody prepares to learn about that topic in advance. On the call, it’s sort of like a pop quiz, you know, call out someone, “What would you say about X, Y, Z?” What that does is really kind of build the culture of, “You need to know what you’re supposed to know” sort of a thing. I think that’s a little bit unique. Can be, I guess, high pressure at times, but it really forces you to understand the nitty-gritty of what you’re supposed to communicate externally.

Ross: The model is very scalable as well. We’re able to move from districts and scale the same unit out within countries and to new countries. But having data around what works when we do technology trials and what our impact is, is also really important for getting donors and other supporters onboard. It really is this excitement from donors and other organizations that have enabled us to mobilize our efforts and serve so many farmers.

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Jillian: Our people teams in general were allowed to really dig in to certain specializations, so whether it was people support or people data or recruitment. And that allowed us to establish stronger relationships with people in different departments so that we could provide better support to them. That also allowed us to really kind of flex these team building muscles, provided me with an amazing management opportunity where I got to work with individuals on my team, with senior leaders in the organization, and really helped build up our team, and then in turn, I’ve been able to provide that opportunity to the people who have been working with me.

Thea: And one thing that I really love about our office space is that even though we are in New York City surrounded by concrete and brick and glass, when you’re in our office space, you really feel connected in many ways to the field and to the farmers that we’re serving. In every single room, there are photos of farmers who are clients of One Acre Fund working in the fields with the crops that they are producing.

Emily: I want to talk about one of my favorite rituals at One Acre Fund. Whenever I go to the field, I try to attend a farmer meeting or a field officer meeting, and one of my favorite aspects of attending these is that they always start out with a song. Often, a dance accompanies it too. But in every meeting I’ve been to, there’s a song about One Acre Fund in the local language or just a really joyful expression of working with One Acre Fund and working with farmers. So that’s one of my favorite things about attending meetings in the field.

Denver: In addition to Matt, I want to thank all the others who participated in this segment: Jillian Joseph, Ross Miranti, Dave Betts, Emily Laser, Briehan Lynch and Thea Aguiar. If you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, we’ll have this podcast, a transcript and pictures of the participants in One Acre Fund offices and we’ll put up a link to my full interview with Matt Forti, the Managing Director of One Acre Fund.

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The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Bridgespan Group

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 

Denver: One of the very best nonprofit organizations in the world just so happens to have one of the very best corporate cultures. It is the Bridgespan Group which helps mission-driven organizations and philanthropists to advance their learning and accelerate their impact. Their Boston headquarters is in Copley Square and I visited there recently to hear from the staff about some of the unique and exceptional aspects of their work culture. 

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Derek: When we engage with our clients, we engage in what are called case teams. So there is typically a partner that will manage the main client, and then there’s a manager on the case, and then there are a number of consultants or associate consultants. And the case team will also be supported by operations teams and marketing and knowledge and different pieces as well. But in that core case team, really the essence is that you’re able to split up the work that you’re doing and give people ownership over different pieces of that work. And that case team will typically extend over the course of six or eight months of the engagement, and then you’ll go your separate ways and then maybe come back together when you’re on another case with another client.

Jen: I mean I really believe since day one that our leadership team walks the talk. You see it from the compassion and kindness and generosity even in terms of just giving people credit for the work that they do. So you’ll see at company meetings, Jeff or one of our leaders will stand up and talk about an important meeting that they were at and he’ll give credit to the junior person in the room if they’re there. Or when he comes back and he’s telling a story about the great work that someone perceived that Bridgespan did for them, he gives the credit to the team and he’ll name the people in the room. And I think that really sets a standard and I think people feel really good about that.

Mandy: I also have found it to be an incredible opportunity for personal growth. So I didn’t know much at all about the world of consulting before I entered it, and it just has turned out to be a great fit in terms of stretching me and pushing me to play different roles that I’ve played here at Bridgespan to interact with different organizations, different kinds of leaders; to be stretched but in a way that we’re being supported and coached, so I’m not being thrown out to dry by I am being pushed to see what I can do, to see what I can achieve.

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Sridhar: That change, that dynamism, I think, creates an organizational culture, where to some degree, there’s this sense of dissatisfaction with the way the world is and trying to do everything you can to change it. So the famous Robert Kennedy metaphor, “ripples of hope,” echoes around this place, that everyone sees their work as being those ripples of hope. And they want to see those ripples be bigger and bigger over time. And so there is this sense of dissatisfaction of continually pushing to the sense of how can we do this better, how can we make an even greater impact than what we did before? That is both challenging, that is dynamic, that is at times stressful, but also incredibly motivating, incredibly enabling and empowering, and ultimately is the reason why we do the work.

Rayshawn: I think another thing that really resonates for me is the mission of the work we do. I know that whether I am working however many hours in that week, it’s going to be for a client that I care about, it’s going to be with people that I care deeply about, and it’s going to be pushing towards a mission that I feel deeply aligns with my personal mission. As Mandy mentioned, being able to align with work that is really focused on breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty is really exciting and not something you get to do everywhere.

Mandy: One of the ways that we think about growth at Bridgespan is about the formal training we give. We also provide a lot of informal training on-the-job training in the context of our case teams, in the context of peer colleagues or mentors. But the formal training is something that is really unique in that we’ve been able to take, in my mind, the best of two worlds. So we are able to benefit from the excellent training that Bain & Company, which sort of incubated us in our early days and is still a very close partner. They enable us to send our staff to their trainings, their consultant trainings. So essentially, our staff are able to access sort of world-class training, very tailored to the consulting skill set and common challenges. And we have a complimentary suite of Bridgespan training, so the areas in which the tool kit is different or where we diverge from how Bain does their work, we’re able to provide that. But that combination is just an incredible value from my own personal experience, from seeing, at this point, hundreds of people over the years go through Bain training. It’s a real asset and one of the ways in which we help people grow.

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Rayshawn: We’ve also got a phenomenal annual review process where people are receiving input from their direct supervisors. People are also receiving input from their direct reports, and all of that comes together. I’m an associate consultant and what happens is all of the partners and managers actually get together in a big room, which is a fish bowl, so  you know when they’re all in there, and they talk about, “Here’s what this person is doing well. Here’s what this person needs to continue working on.” Then you’ve got a consensus reviewer who pulls all of that together and delivers the message to you. So, not only do you have a lot of people thinking about this really intently, but you’ve got somebody that’s able to say, “Here are the key messages you need to hear,” which makes it so much easier than focusing on “here’s what I need to do to improve.”

Jen: There’s a variety of ways of being involved at Bridgespan, and we have what we call Extra 10% Committees and you can join as many as you want. Generally, people join one or two. But it’s extra 10% because it’s really like you get your job done and then you come join this committee and pitch in to the culture. But I’m on one that’s called “The Way We Work,” and a lot of that has to do with how we work in this open design space and making sure that all seating is equally desirable and accessible, speaking into the whole non-hierarchical atmosphere we strive to have here.

Sridhar: And so I think we’ve made conscious organizational investments to increase the amount of communication, increase the amount of collaboration in part because our theory of the way the work happens is that it does not happen by an individual themselves. It happens with all of us as teams. It happens as an organization. And so that culturally is important to who we are. It’s culturally important. I think to folks who succeed here, succeed within that kind of construct. They’re able to be collaborative. They’re able to work well with their colleagues, to share, to learn. We’ve got about 30 whiteboards on wheels that get wheeled around left, right and center. Things get drawn and erased all the time. That sense of creating something through a collaborative environment is quite important.

Mandy: I’m proud of the way in which Bridgespan strives to be an inclusive organization. So over 50% of our partner group is women. That’s unusual to look at any senior partner group at a professional services entity and see that. We’ve scored 100 on the HRC corporate equality index since we’ve been participating, which is on the order of 10 years or so we’ve been doing that. We have well-established group has for folks who are part-time, who need to spend some time with family, need that flexibility at some point on an ongoing basis in their careers. And we’re deeply focused on building our diversity along racial and socio-economic lines, both in terms of certainly the demographics of our staff, bringing diversity of thought and experience, but also increasingly on how we think about that diversity in our work.

Rayshawn:  One of the things I’ve really appreciated about Bridgespan is that we have been completely transparent about the fact that we’re on a journey here. We don’t think that we are the best in the field when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. But what we are willing to say is that we are working really hard at this and we’re willing to be uncomfortable with the fact that it’s going to be hard to get there. And being uncomfortable in that way is a hard thing to do and it takes not only folks raising their hand and saying, “I want to work on this,” but it also takes people in senior leadership actually modeling the way and being able to say, “This is something we care deeply about.

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Denver: I want to extend my thanks to Liz London who has been a real good friend of the show for organizing my visit and to those who participated, Jen Driggs, Derek Brine, Mandy Taft-Pearman, Rayshawn Whitford and Sridhar Prasad. You can listen to the podcast, read a copy of the transcript, and see pictures of the participants on the Bridgespan offices simply by going to denverfrederick.wordpress.com


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of the Partnership for Public Service

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 

Denver: There is a nonprofit organization based in Washington DC called the Partnership for Public Service whose mission is to see that the federal government works better for all of us. They’re also one of the very best places to work and we’ll find out why starting with their President and CEO, Max Stier and then hear from some of the members of the Partnership team.

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Max: I remember working for a prior boss myself at HUD and there was a conversation around public housing and concerns about how people believe that people in public housing were not taking care of it well. My boss then spoke up and said, “How many of you here has stayed in a hotel and left all the towels on the floor? How many of you have rented a car and treated it in a way that you would never treat your own car?” His basic point to all of us was when you own something, you treat it better. And that is true for organizations as well. And so I believe that one of the things I want to see fostered here is that sense of ownership. When people own the place, they will treat it better, they will enjoy it better and we will all win.

Georgia: For example, that’s things like a public speaking workshop where interns can volunteer to come and present to the rest of the group and then get really, really spot-on feedback from one of our most seasoned VPs who’s there leading the exercise, not only giving general pointers but really listening to people’s style and helping them understand what they can play up than what maybe they need to refine a little bit. And again as an intern, that’s something that’s so thrilling to get that kind of feedback from that level because if you get buy-in from somebody like that, you’re ready to take on the world.

B6076B91-9EBF-4795-A40C-E4081EEE7BB9Amiko: There are things like that that we certainly look for and it is going to be the right fit for somebody but I also want to highlight it from a cultural fit, there’s also this willingness and acknowledgement that we want people to enhance their culture. So it’s not just the people who fit in a particular mold but who will help us improve what we do and have this willingness to bring different ideas and help us grow and sometimes that’s asking tough questions and helping us to think about how we might do something differently or better.

Ella: This is the first place where my supervisor has ever asked me, “What can I be doing for you? What are you really interested in learning in? What do you really wanna be doing?” And also seeing those opportunities and also had my supervisor email me really excited saying, “Hey! There’s this great project I heard about, you are the first person that come to mind. Not just by me, but by several people at this organization. So let’s get started on it. I think it be a really great opportunity.” And knowing that both my direct supervisor here as well as just other folks at the organization having my best interest in mind –again, not just to succeed but to get different experiences that I want — really make an enjoyable place to work.

Brandon LardyWe get it from the values awards every month or every quarter now that we do them where we go through and we recognize people for the really good work that they’re doing and how they are embodying the values of the Partnership. So I really think that we get it constantly everyday we’re hearing about what matters to the organization. We’re hearing how we fit in the organization. And how the values really transcend through all of our work.

Laura: I think this is the only place where I’ve ever seen an intern giving a presentation at a big round table event that he sort of helped plan and also the CEO doing kitchen duty. I think that Partnership lets you actually have an influence in their reputation. So right off the bat, I was put in projects where I was interacting with some of our corporate partners or the transition teams. And I think it’s pretty surprising that someone in an entry-level job is given so much trust in the Partnership’s reputation. And I think the flatness of the organization really helps make it a very productive place to work. No one is saying what they think their superiors want to hear in a meeting. No one’s afraid to raise ideas; it’s really I think what allows for the most conducive work environment.

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BrittneyAnd on my very first day, our Vice President of Leadership and Evaluation sat me down and talked to me about our team and what my role would look like. And he said something that really struck with me and that I thought kind of embodies the Partnership culture and there was something really different than the experiences that I’d had at other organizations. He said that, “If there was ever a time and when there is the time, when you’re ready to do something different to take another step, whether that is something here at the Partnership or elsewhere, that I’m going to be here to support you.” For someone on my first day to be talking about what I might be doing later on or potentially leaving, I thought that that really showed that he was invested in me and my success beyond just what I was able to contribute to the team.

Andrew: I see leadership here having a very powerful cascading effect across the organization. A few examples, one; Max is always asking for feedback. Open book; he wants to know what he can do better, wants to know what’s going on, not trying to hide behind anything or pretend things are going well when maybe they could go better. And that happens across the organization. My boss, who’s one of the vice presidents here, he asked me for feedback personally. We’ll go out to lunch at quarterly reviews and yes, it’s about my experience and my review. It’s also how can he do better and he has very specific questions that he’ll ask me then I go ask my direct reports. And so we’re having these exchange rather than this kind of top-down we’ll-tell-you-what-to-do. It’s how can we all continue to make this place better. It’s sort of to the point of ownership too, I think.

Ella: We really talked about how the Partnership emphasizes bringing your authentic self to work. And not just who you are in a work environment but everything that makes you you and bringing that to the table. We are not an organization where to be successful, to do good work, to be able to interact with different customers or external stakeholders or internal stakeholders, you must meet this cookie cutter image that sometimes other organizations strive to get employees to fit in. We really value everyone bringing that authentic self to the table. And part of the way that I think our culture are really enables us to do that is by really having an emphasis that belonging matters; that making sure that every part of you, what is important to you

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Brandon: I remember at one point our VP turn to me and said, “What do you think about at the time we were talking about our cornerstone project: Best Places to Work.” I just looked at her like: You really care what I have to say? I’ve been here for probably two weeks at that point. I think it’s really refreshing. It really helps you feel like what you have to say matters and leadership really does want to hear what you have to say. And that does, at the end of the day, help you feel included, helps you feel like you’re actually contributing to the organization. It helps you feel like what you’re doing actually matters and it really makes it a joy to get up everyday and go in to work.

Max: The sense of culture to me is so important and baked into everybody here. So I’m learning from everybody. Everyone is adding to our culture and keeping track of our culture and helping that culture grow. Again, it’s sort of the shark that allegedly drowns if it doesn’t keep moving forward. We have to continue to get better. But I think, again, that sense of being proud of everything that is happening around us whether or not we directly contributed to it or not. In fact, when we haven’t, to be able to see something amazing occur is even better.

Laura: I’ll just talk about the one thing that I think makes the Partnership very unique and that’s the nature of our work relationships. I don’t think of my colleagues as colleagues. I think of them as friends that I happen to work with. And that just goes to say that my work friends are my best friends. A whole bunch of us started at Kickball League and hang out at that and I always see them outside of work maybe more than inside of work when I’m like focused in my cubicle working. I think that what that really does is energize you and that’s coming from someone who’s an introvert, it still very much energizes me and makes me want to come in to work, enjoy work and be my most productive self.

Denver: I want to thank all those who were good enough to participate in this segment: Max Stier, Andrew Marshall, Brittney Vevaina, Ella Holman, Brandon Lardy, Georgia Haddad, Laura Pietrantoni, and Amiko Matsumoto. The podcast of this piece along with the transcript as well as pictures of the participants and the offices of the Partnership for Public Service can all be found at denverfrederick.wordpress.com

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The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

 

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP)

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 


Denver: For this edition of Better Than Most, we’re going to head up to Cambridge, Massachusetts in the shadows of Harvard University and to the offices of The Center for Effective Philanthropy or CEP. We’ll start with their President and CEO, Phil Buchanan who will tell you about the organization and then hear from members of their staff. 

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Phil: We were created about 15 years ago and our focus is to help foundations get better. We do that through the purchase of data and insight, through research on issues like foundation strategy, foundation performance assessment and then through assessment including feedback loops. Because if you are a foundation, you live in a bubble of positivity. Everybody tells you what they think you want to hear and one of the roles that The Center for Effective Philanthropy plays is to help provide candid comparative feedback that will allow foundations to understand how they’re really being experienced by grantees and others with whom they work.

Grace: When I first joined CEP, one of the things that I noticed was this ritual that we have before staff meetings which is called Shout Outs and now we called it Thank Yous and it’s basically five minutes where it’s an open time and people can say, “You know I just want to shout out to my colleague, Ethan. Ethan I really needed help with something this week and you really stepped in and I couldn’t have done it without you. So, thank you!” And everybody kind of cheers and claps and you know there’s nothing cynical about it. It’s very genuine and just a super encouraging time and I love that about CEP. I’m so glad that that’s been a part of our culture and continues to be. Another thing that I really loved about CEP is we’re really thoughtful about a focus on the employee. I’ve felt this deep sense of being really cared for since joining.

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Charis: I really appreciate how CEP strives to glorify hard work but not overwork and I see work life balance being emphasized at all levels of the organization. About a year ago at staff retreat, so our President said, “You know, if one of your colleagues can leave the office at 5 PM, you should high-five them on the way out.” And that image stuck with me during my time here at CEP. So, whenever I feel that I finish my work and can leave early, I feel I’m contributing to CEP’s culture.

Alyse: We’ve also done a lot to make sure that we are not accidentally bringing extra bias into our process. So, things to remove implicit bias throughout the process include masking pieces of resumes, making sure that people are able to complete assessments before our folks meet them, so we can understand skill level without allowing bias of interview to creep in and things of that nature. So, I think that has helped us to be a stronger organization and make sure that we’re bringing on folks from a variety of backgrounds that would be good contributors to our organization.

Grace: The other piece that I think we don’t talk about a lot but I think is actually very unique to CEP’s that we each do have a professional development budget of $1,000 a year to use and I think that is a really special. I think that it really speaks volumes to how committed the organization is to each of our individual development and I’ve had many really helpful conversations with my supervisor about how I can grow both here at CEP and to reach my sort of broader career goal as well.

Ethan: So, you’re paired with someone who’s your mentor, who is on a different team from you, so it’s someone that you may not be interacting with in your work every single day and someone who has a different perspective on the work that CEP does perhaps than your colleagues directly on your team do and it’s a time where you can go out to get lunch or coffee twice a month for your first six months and it’s a time where you can really talk about anything.

Charis: I think what says a lot about an organization’s culture is what people do when things go awry and the senior management here at CEP are very transparent. They try to be as transparent as possible about the decisions that are made but they’re also transparent when there is a personal difficulty for example, about what they cannot be transparent about and I really appreciated being on the receiving end of that transparency because it removes any unnecessary fear that I have about my job and my role and expectations.

Chloe:  But, here at CEP we actually have a culture document that dictates how we think and talk culture both internally and externally including in our hiring process and the way that that was developed was not sort of unilateral from leadership saying here is the culture that we have but it was across organizational task course that defined all of the different sort of metrics by which we judged whether we have the culture that we want or the culture that we sort of aspired towards, so that includes everything from sort of how mission-driven are we to work life balance as others have mentioned to how transparent we are in our communications. So, we’re very clear about sort of what we’re hoping to get out of our culture, so we’re not just talking about sort of interpersonal relationships when they think about what makes CEP special.

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Ethan: Something, again I didn’t fully realize until I entered the working world is that you spent a lot of time with the people you work with, more so than your roommates, than your family. So, it’s really such an important thing that you enjoy each others company, you care for each other, you respect each other and you have fun together and I think that really comes through at CEP.

Charis: The first is the way that window cubes at CEP get allotted. There’s a row of cubes along that have the best window view and whenever one becomes vacant, we run something like a lottery for who gets to sit there and instead of defaulting to tenures saying the most senior person gets to have the cube, what we do instead balances both tenure and also allows a lucky newcomer to have a wonderful cube experience. We put one ballot for every year that you’ve worked at CEP, so the longer that you’ve worked at CEP, the higher chances you have of winning the lottery. It opens up the opportunity for someone who just joined to also have the experience. So, that’s one quirky story that gets add the balance that we strive to have at this organization.

Chloe: So, not only am I giving feedback on people I’ve managed on a project but there are allowed to get feedback on me and that’s actually encouraged and I found that having that sort of critical mass of feedback from people I’ve worked with in different capacities has been so valuable to my own personal growth because everyone has different perspectives on where I could improve, what my strengths are, what my opportunities for improvement are and I think that that’s been so crucial in something I didn’t realize was so important until I was sort of enmeshed in their culture.

Kris: I think what’s pretty rare in my work experience and it’s going to happen this week I think, so the President of the organization will ask us to actually watch him to give his presentation and provide feedback and critique and takes those things to heart and my change what the presentation entails and I just think that’s very rare to have that type of not only top to bottom but bottom to top feedback and I think that’s a great thing that we have here at CEP.

Alyse: For example, there was a staff meeting once where Phil, who’s our President and another employee came in to start the staff meeting by juggling and singing Oh Canada because they’re all from Canada which was an unusual way to start a meeting or when one point, we were doing a staff retreat and said, “Does anyone here have any special talents they can share?” And one of the staff people said, “I can read palms.” “Great! You can read palms.”, doing that to break time, so things like that. You’re just sort of free to be yourself and to be silly in the workplace at the same time that you’re not doing important work.

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Denver: I want to extend a special thanks to Alyse D’Amico who organized all of this and to the others who participated as well: Grace Nicolette, Ethan McCoy, Charis Loh, Chloe Wittenberg, and Kris Sanda. Now if you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, we’ll have the podcast and transcript there, pictures of the participants and the CEP offices as well as my full interview with their President and CEO, Phil Buchanan.


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of City Year

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 


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Michael Brown ©cityyear.org

Denver: Today’s visit will take you to Columbus Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts in the headquarters of City Year. In 28 communities across the country, City Year brings together diverse young leaders to service AmeriCorps members who work full time in high-need schools to help students succeed. You will first hear from their co-founder and CEO, Michael Brown, and then from members of the staff who, as you will soon learn, feel very passionate and emotionally-connected to the work that they do. 

Michael: When Robert Kennedy said at the height of apartheid in South Africa that “every time a man or woman stands up for an ideal or acts to improve a lot of others here, she sends out a tiny ripple of hope that can create a mighty current that can wipe away even the highest walls of oppression or resistance.” What we’ve done with that with our corporate culture is the very first agenda item of every meeting.

  1.  Ripples. No matter what’s going on, no matter how hard the work is we start with ripples. What’s out there that’s inspiring us, is there something that the corps members have done. What that does is that just puts you on the mood to tackle hard things. The core of our corporate culture is to be prepared from an idealistic spirit to do really hard things.

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Jennifer:  I feel like every single person I interact with here at City Year is laser beam-focused on delivery the best possible service we can to the highest need schools in this country to make sure that every kid we serve gets the supports they need to be successful. That is an incredibly unifying force even though, “Wow! We are so diverse at City Year.”

Charlie: A couple of things I would mention, our values drive everything we do, our values come to life in our work, in our schools, in our communities across the country, across the world. Erin mentioned belief in the power of young people. I’m also interested in the belief in the power of old people, given my age. But we have 10 values, two others I would mention. One our service to a cause greater than self and starting there, the other is students first, collaboration always. We feel like our values and the stories that represent our values really helped guide our daily actions and our work and motivate us, so I am really excited about that.

Jamaal: What I appreciated the most about my City Year experience is that it gave me a common language to connect with people who thought like I did and those who didn’t think like I did, but we’re all committed to making sure that the communities, the schools, and the students that we were working with were going to get everything that they needed to be successful.

When I think about the cultural pieces that stick out for me, especially from my lens, I think about level 5 leadership and I think about how we strive to build young adults who are socially conscious, who are aware of their skills and their areas of development and are courageous enough to step into positions that they made initially beyond comfortable with but will grow into them.

Erin:  We’ve committed to embodying a culture of idealism at the office space and I had the opportunity to give a tour to someone who just had a meeting later this afternoon at City Year and was visiting the offices and it’s always really great to see our office through the eyes of a new person. We have a lot of our logos, our values, our culture points, a lot of our founding stories which are parables and descriptive stories that have some moral or ethical implication that we can draw at time of need and at times of indecision. Right now I am staring at one about Stone Soup and it’s really moving for people who are used to various sterile office environments. It’s something that seems so simple to all of us here in the office because we’re around it everyday but the colors, the blues, the reds, the yellows are all really vibrant and really energizing because our work is hard and we need every little bit of energy that we can get and I draw a lot of it from our office space.

 

ChandI’m going to talk about something that people may not know unless they worked here and that’s the CY Mindful Community (CY standing for City Year), and that’s something that’s pretty unique about our culture. We focus on doing meditations Tuesdays and Thursdays or any sort of brain break related activities. I’m part of the leadership team group for it. We get together at the beginning of each month and plan what we want to do for the community. Anyone and everyone is welcome. 

Erin: We close those meetings with a spirit break,  which everyone gets up, you all put your hands in the middle and if you can’t reach the middle, you out your hand on the shoulder of your colleague to make sure everyone’s connected, and you think of a word that either symbolizes or inspires and sums up the meeting or sums up the work ahead, something like collaboration or students first is a good examples that you could use. For my team strategy and growth, it’s SNG and then you say the word and it’s a way to end the meetings in the same way every single time, but also to cap it off in a really symbolic way to have that inspiration to move forward.

Virginia: Another thing we share is joys and appreciations. We start our meetings that way, we start our days that way and we end our days that way. There’s a balanced when thinking about being in that challenging environment continually that you’re still focusing on the small wins, both with students in the schoolhouse but then also with each other and appreciating each other for the work that we do. I think that balance is really key for me and that’s something that’s is really important in our culture is that balance that reminds you no matter how challenging your day was, there’s still something to appreciate or to find joy in. That’s still a really big piece for me.

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Grace: I’ve had a one-on-one with my boss. Outside of any performance management meetings that we’ve had, I’ve been able to have those meetings with my boss to figure out what are your long term goals, what do you want to get out of this job, what elements of this job do you enjoy and want to do more of and how can we provide you additional leadership opportunities to build on what you’re doing here and why you want to be in this role or what role as you see yourself in in the future.

Jamaal: When you have leaders who are as accessible and open to answering your questions, to providing you with the perspective needed to sometimes say, “Okay, I understand why this decision was made and now I can see myself moving the work forward,” I think it’s another piece of our culture that’s really unique and special. I sometimes take for granted how other organizations don’t have leaders who are as approachable and accessible.

Grace: Our CEO, Michael Brown, this year did something different where he put together a campaign to fund raise and pack packages that will be sent to every single City Year team across the country. Michael led these efforts, helped to fund raise. Our senior leadership team donated half of the funds for this entire effort to put together care packages for all 314 schools that City year serves our across 28 cities across the entire country. It wasn’t just the funds, but it was also the amount of time it took to organize that, the amount of time it took to put that together,  and I think that is a perfect example of their leadership and leading by example when it comes to the work that we do.

Charlie: We do have a pledge that our corps members say on a regular basis, that maybe I can call on Jamaal to do it with me right now, the City Year pledge. I call on Jamaal because he was on the dean’s council, so I can do that–10 years ago. “I pledge to serve as a City Year member to the very best of my ability, to honor the rules and expectations of City Year, to respect my colleagues and the people and the communities we serve, to provide excellent service, to lead by example and be a role model to children, to celebrate the diversity of the people, ideas and cultures around me, to serve with an open heart and an open mind, to be quick to help and slow to judge, to do my best to make a difference in the lives of others and to build a stronger community, nation and world for all of us.”

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Denver: I want to extend my thanks to City Year CEO, Michael Brown, for allowing us to visit their offices to Tina Chong and Jennifer Merrill for organizing all of these and to those who participated: Chand Jiwani, Erin McIntosh, Grace Boal, Charlie Rose, Virginia Bette, Jamaal Williams, and Jennifer Jordan. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com for this podcast, transcript and pictures of the participants in the office City Year.



The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving