"How can we expect an organization to reach its full potential if we aren't ensuring that our staff are reaching their full potential?"
That's a really profound question, I think, especially for organizations that are built upon the knowledge and skills of their employees.
A few suggestions for positioning your organization so that it's more supportive of individual growth.
- Hire people who are interested in and working on their own personal and professional development. Hollender says that when Seventh Generation is hiring, they ask people about what they're doing to support their own growth. If a person can't answer that question well, then Seventh Generation isn't interested.
- Be more mindful in your daily work. Hollender points out that even organizations that are supposedly all about change still do their work unconsciously. He suggests that by paying attention to what you're doing and why you're doing it, you will be more likely to make changes that support growth. Hollender makes mindfulness about work practices a regular part of his staff meetings.
- Help staff identify and play to their strengths. We're very focused on helping people uncover and "overcome" their weaknesses, but there's much to be said for helping people play to their strengths. The best managers know how to structure work and responsibilities so that they capitalize on what their people do best. Then they help staff get even better at it.
- Make staff career and professional development planning a part of your organizational and evaluation processes. Every staff person should have a career plan that they regularly revisit and are working on. If they did, we might not be facing the current nonprofit leadership crisis.
- Encourage staff to develop and maintain portfolios of their work. Reflect on these portfolios as part of the evaluation process and use them to develop professional goals for the next evaluation period.
- Create and nurture a climate of learning. Make it clear that growth is part of your organizational culture by proving it through your practices.
- Encourage personal learning projects and and the tools and resources that support lifelong learning. Don't automatically block websites that you think aren't directly related to your organizational mission. Many staff will be using them to learn new things that could benefit you. Consider allowing staff to set aside a certain percentage of their time to devote to personal learning projects, as many of the best companies have tried to do. Frequently it's been from these projects that companies have found their greatest innovations.
I know. All of this feels like a luxury you can't afford. But to my mind, these are really investments in your organization that you can't afford to ignore. Most cost next to nothing--it's really about making time and being intentional in developing your staff. We have nonprofits that are entirely built on the idea of small investments in people creating big change. Why don't we see that the same thing is true for ourselves?