This month’s Armstrong McGuire blog posts have revolved around staff issues and, in the spirit of gratitude that we just celebrated last week, I want to admit that I’ve been blessed and honored to have some terrific staff throughout my career. I tried to thank them by being a good supervisor, but it’s a tough job and none of us get it right all the time. So today I did what any curious person would do; I called a former assistant who had worked for me for several years before I came to Armstrong McGuire. She was the best assistant I’ve ever had in so many ways. I wanted her insights on what makes a good office environment so that I could share them with you. True to her nature, she was generous with her time and thoughts.
My basic question was “what makes a good supervisor?” Much has been written about recruiting, managing and motivating employees, and a lot of it is valuable to read and to re-read. Over the last several months, for example, I have been engaged in a recruitment process for a client and one applicant said managing staff can be boiled down to a formula “Respect + Responsibility = Results.” Catchy and truthful, but I have been wondering what it looks like from the supervisee point of view.
I told my former assistant that I considered her the “gold standard” of development office support staff. After she finished blousing on the phone (yes, I could hear it!), I asked her what it would take for an organization to attract and keep someone like her. She said that first of all, she had to believe in the mission of the organization. Do we sometimes forget that mission should and does motivate staff at all levels of our organization?
Realizing that prospective employees are interviewing us during a recruitment process, she mentioned other issues she examines when considering a job change, including:
- Office dynamics. How do the interviewers greet me? Am I welcomed and introduced to those not in the interview process?
- Leadership. What is the executive director like? Who makes final decisions? How are priorities communicated from the top?
- Previous staff. What was the experience of the person who just left the position? What are their insights into issues that might arise?
- What can I add to this organization? Is it really a fit for my interests and skills?
- Sense of team. How do interviewers interact with each other? How do they answer my questions? Do they support or contradict each other?
Of the many things my former assistant listed, you will not be surprised that open communication was on top of the list. She mentioned, in particular, our regular Monday morning meetings. I have scheduled weekly “check in” meetings in several positions and I had felt I needed them as much as anyone else on the team. They transitioned me from weekend back to work, helped me look at the coming week and its goals, focused me on the calendar and helped remind me of “to dos.” Over the years, I was never sure what the team thought of these mandatory Monday morning meetings.
My former assistant said she also liked them. She found them useful reminders that we were all on the same team, aiming for the same goals and we all had different roles to play in achieving the goals collectively. She liked the fact that there was a time set aside in the week for all of us to put issues on the table that we needed to address in the coming week, or longer term deadlines we needed to be aware of. Nonprofit offices tend to be fast-aced operations, so sharing the latest updates with each other regularly is critical.
She also liked my “open door” policy. She appreciated being able to pop in and talk about an issue that had just come up. We agreed that, for example, when it came to a donor conversation, she was not coming to me for the answer; rather, we brainstormed together to get to a good solution. The nugget here is that we as supervisors don’t always have all the answers and it’s empowering to our staff to include them in a process of finding solutions.
I asked her to address the tension between getting the work done and ensuring all team members are satisfied, inspired and well recognized. She reminded me that not everyone has the same needs. “People are different,” she said. “They need different amounts of time and attention and have different skills.” She reminded me that we supervisors need to recognize variability in not only our employees’ strengths but also their limits. But the most important element is making sure everyone on the team feels they are headed in the same direction and that you, as their leader, have their back. Common goals and trust. That is so simple and, sometimes, so hard.
As you consider how to recruit, manage and motivate staff, it might be helpful to do what I did and ask some questions. I learned a great deal from my former assistant who was generous and gracious with her time. Join the conversation and let us know what you hear.