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Attracting Older Workers to the Nonprofit Sector

The Chronicle of Philanthropy is reporting today that nonprofit agencies lag behind business and government agencies in attracting older workers:

Nonprofit groups lag significantly behind government agencies and businesses in their efforts to keep and recruit older workers, a new report concludes.

"Many nonprofit leaders, boards, and funders show little interest in developing programs to attract and retain older adults as experienced executives, staff personnel, or volunteers in new, more professional roles," says the report, which was issued today by the Conference Board, a business research and membership organization in New York.

The article goes on to indicate that the combination of increasing numbers of jobs in the sector, particularly in healthcare and social services, along with the higher turnover rates in nonprofits (3.1% on average) may be putting many nonprofits in a bind if they fail to do something about it. Some of my thoughts:

  • Develop work options that are attractive to retiring boomers--the 20-hour work week, working from home or having a more "mobile" presence in the community with lots of scheduling flexibility.
  • Take a look at your job design. Are there ways you could recombine job responsibilities to allow for more flexibility or to capitalize on an older worker's particular talents or strengths?
  • Create work that is engaging and has impact--Most boomers don't like "busy work." Try to design job opportunities that allow older workers to use their areas of expertise and that will keep them engaged and interested in your organization.
  • Work with other nonprofits to implement a marketing campaign designed to attract older workers to the sector. One thought is to sponsor some kind of "What Will You Do in the Next Phase of Life" campaign where you help people take a look at their interests and talents and then help them decide how they could use these in the nonprofit sector. Here are some resources that could help in developing a career plan.
  • Talk to people who are retiring. Find out what would attract them to nonprofit jobs. Have them help you come up with ideas and a marketing campaign.

A few things off the top of my head . . . 

Wikis in Plain English from Common Craft

Lee Lefever and Common Craft, creators of the great video RSS in Plain English are at it again. This time they've put together Wikis in Plain English, a 3.5 minute basic explanation of wikis that 1) shows the key features of a wiki and 2) makes it clear why wikis are preferable to email when it comes to working on collaborative projects. Check it out, especially if you're trying to explain to your coworkers the wonders of wikis.

Other Wiki Resources:

Introduction to Wikis from my Web 2.0 in Nonprofits Wiki

The Three Wiki Tools Recommended by Lee and Common Craft (I've used all three and they're easy, even for novices):

  • Wetpaint --has the most options for templates, so if you're looking for pretty, pretty wikis, then I'd start here.
  • PBWiki--my Web 2.0 in Nonprofits Wiki was created using PBWiki
  • Wikispaces--I use this one the most and have used it for both work and personal projects.

Beth Kanter's Posts on Wikis --Be sure to check out this post, which has some good basic links.

Wikipatterns--a great toolbox of "patterns and antipatterns" that will help you spur colleagues into using wikis and identify problems that may be hindering adoption and growth of wikis in your organization.

Learn more about wikis through this Learning 2.0 23 Things project activity.

From Managing Transactions to Facilitating Transformations

Today I was in a strategic planning meeting with a number of business people. At one point, we were discussing the changing nature of providing healthcare services to aging baby boomers. The VP of HR for one of the local healthcare organizations was explaining to us that they are moving to more of a concierge approach to meeting healthcare needs, with a focus on relationships and amenities, similar to what you would find in hotels. She explained that baby boomers in particular have come to expect a different quality of experience from organizations with which they interact and that is influencing how her organization thinks about its business. Then she said something that I thought was incredibly profound.

"We're trying to move our organization from being transactional to being transformational."

I wrote that down in my notes and thought about it all the way home. Since then, the implications of that idea have been swimming around in my head. Here's what I think it means for nonprofits. (Warning--very ill-formed thoughts ahead)

A transaction occurs when a customer makes a request--for a service, a product, etc. and someone responds to that request. Most of what we do on a day-to-day basis is engage in a series of transactions with various customers, both internal and external. We focus on orders, purchases, changes, additions, transfers and the recordkeeping required to keep track of those transactions. In "well-run" organizations, we are constantly trying to keep these transactions humming along. We try to reduce errors, reduce the amount of time it takes to process a particular transaction, increase the number of transactions we are able to get through in a day and so on.

When we focus on transactions, we are paying attention to particular business processes and activities and how to make them run efficiently. This is a distinctly left-brained, logical approach to the work of an organization. It's not bad to focus on making transactions go smoothly and pleasantly. But the reality is that if we are just about performing various transactions, this is work that could be done by a computer or, eventually, a robot. And it would probably be done better, faster and more accurately. It's also work that is less meaningful to most people. Who wants to do work on a daily basis that could be done just as well by a kiosk?

So what would it mean for us to move from being transactional to being transformational? If we were transformational,

  • We would be more holistic, thinking about the entire customer and their experiences with us over time, rather than their experience with us at a particular point in time.
  • We would pay more attention to emotional issues and their impact on customers experiences. When we structure transactions to emphasize only efficiency or productivity, then we lose the "human touch" that really connects with people. This isn't to say that the human touch can only occur through face-to-face interactions, though. We can be more "human" even in our use of forms, the ways we communicate on our web sites and so forth.
  • We would focus on creating particular experiences for customers, evoking new emotions and helping customers to think differently about themselves.  The VP at our meeting today explained that healthcare to this point has been about moving patients through various transactions--doctor's appointments, medical tests, treatments, etc. But now her organization is putting more of a focus on helping patients feel empowered to navigate their way through a menu of services that feel less like moving through an assembly line of healthcare and more like people taking charge of their lives. This is transformational because it helps people to see themselves differently in relation to their own healthcare and their own sense of agency in their lives.
  • We would think bigger about what we do. To think about our organizations as being in the business of transformation means that we have to re-envision what we do. We have to think about what transformations we can help people achieve and how we can go about doing that. We have to back away from the day-to-day interactions for a while and think about the larger picture of what we hope to achieve (back to mission). Then we can look at how we structure our transactions and interactions with customers to achieve transformation.

This is one of those posts where I feel like I'm writing around something, rather than straight to it. I know in this very visceral way what I'm trying to say, but I'm not sure that I'm expressing it clearly or in ways that make sense. What I know is that the idea of moving from transactions to transformations is something that really appeals to me on a lot of levels. I think it would appeal to workers, too. When we talk about transformation, we're talking about work that has meaning. I don't think that we feel the same connection and sense of impact on the world when we see our work as a series of transactions. I think that both our customers and our employees want to feel that we're doing something that transforms.

I also see this as related to my thinking lately about ROWE. A results-oriented workplace requires us to have thought carefully about the results we are seeking. We need to consider those results, though, in light of whether or not we're going to be an organization that focuses primarily on transactions or one that focuses on transformations. Interestingly, one of the reasons that Best Buy is looking to implement ROWE in their stores is because they are moving to a more customer-centric, transformational view of the results they are seeking. True ROWE may require us to think far more carefully about results in terms of transformation at least as much as we think about transactions.

Normally I would save this post in draft and let it marinate for awhile. But this time I'm posting it, raw and unformed, as I think that the only reason I end up saving some of these is because I want to polish them up and make them beautiful before I share them. Kind of stupid, though, when you consider that one of the beauties of working in the blogosphere is that other people will often help you transform that lump of coal into a diamond if you'll only let them.

A Results Oriented Work Environment is NOT the Same as Flexible Scheduling

Last week I asked if your nonprofit was ready to stop watching the clock in a post discussing Best Buy's Results-Oriented Work Environment (ROWE). As a quick recap, Best Buy is now allowing a significant portion of its employees to work from home or other locations and to work whatever hours they need in order to achieve clearly-defined work objectives. Face time is no longer considered a requirement of most jobs and they are even looking to roll out the concept in their retail stores.

When I wrote the post, one of the questions I asked was if there's a difference between ROWE and flexible scheduling. I've come to the conclusion that there is a major difference, one that gets to the heart of some fundamental beliefs that many organizations have about work.

At many organizations, a flexible schedule is worked out on a case-by-case basis to accommodate life situations that workers may face during their tenure with the organization. It's commonly used to ease women back into work following maternity leave, to provide an employee with time to care for a sick family member or because the employee is dealing with his/her own health problems. Regardless, it's generally a solution that organizations will consider for employees who are currently "not serious" about their jobs because other life issues are intervening.

In the minds of management, people who need a flexible schedule are people who are not putting work first. This means that they are less likely to be considered for promotions, special projects, etc. In many cases, asking for a flexible schedule that allows you to work from home and/or to work "non-traditional" hours is a fast road to a career dead end.

ROWE is a completely different animal. Best Buy is starting from the premise that ALL workers would benefit from having the flexibility to get work done wherever and whenever it makes the most sense for them to do it. They are not assuming that people who want to work from Starbucks or from a den in their homes are trying to shirk work. They are assuming that these are people who are deadly serious about their own performance and are adult enough to know when they need an optimum environment for getting that work done.

While the content of flexible schedules is the same in both types of organizations--it consists of allowing workers to do work at times and locations that work for them--the CONTEXT for a flexible schedule is totally different.

In the first organization, flexible schedules are not the norm and they are based on a belief that the "best workers" are in the office, every day at specific hours. In the organization that embraces ROWE, however, flexible scheduling is part of the fabric and culture of the organization. It is based on a belief that the best workers will get their work done and that these workers NEED flexibility in order to operate at peak performance.

In the first organization, a flexible schedule is seen as a crutch for the "weaker" employees. In the ROWE organization, a flexible schedule is a tool that benefits all workers, particularly the strongest performers.

Why is making this distinction important? In part because I think that organizations interested in exploring the possibilities of ROWE must first be clear about some of their underlying beliefs about work and performance. Knowing if you see a flexible schedule as a crutch or a tool is an important first step.

I Wish I'd Seen This Site the Other Day

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Remember the other day when I was bemoaning my lack of blog ideas? This cartoon would have been perfect.

Via Aisling (whose art I greatly admire) comes this link to Dave Walker's blog cartoons. He provides the code for each so you can simply copy and paste into a blog entry. And they're free. Pretty cool.

By the way, this is a blogging reminder to me to not forget the other parts of my life (i.e., art, poetry, etc.) where I can find inspiration, ideas and resources. I tend to put my head down and focus on the same old things at times and it's good to get out of that box.


More On Facebook

A few Facebook updates:

  • The big Facebook story this week is their decision to allow outside developers to write programs on top of the Facebook technology platform, similar to the way that software companies can write programs that work in Microsoft Windows. This could have huge implications for Facebook users and create some really interesting opportunities for innovation.   Beth Kanter's NPTech summary for Friday includes some links to info on this development (scroll down a few paragraphs). You might also want to check out Money Magazine's article on the plan. This will definitely be something to keep an eye on in the coming months.

Getting Back Your Blogging Mojo

A few days ago, I was crying into my beer over a recent blogging dry spell. As always, both my feedreader and blogger comments have come to the rescue.

First, from fellow bloggers Tom Haskins and Bronwyn Mauldin. Tom suggests finding inspiration from other bloggers and clients, through books and other reading, and from re-reading your own blog archive. As I'm apparently very good at starting a series of blog posts and then moving onto something else before I've finished, that's a particularly good idea for me. Tom also points out that inspiration can dry up when we start to be too caught up in our own expertise, which reminds me that I need to go back to beginner's mind when I run out of things to say.

Bronwyn uses her process of "filling in the blanks" on current posts to find fodder for additional ones.

"One of the things blogging has done for me is force me to read more and more widely both within my field and beyond, in order to find new things to write about. I'm always on the lookout for little workforce details in otherwise unrelated stories. When I start tracking down those details and they turn out to be very big projects or issues, then I know I have something to blog about. I've found the best approach is 1) assume there's a lot more I don't know, and 2) find at least two sources for every fact. Along the way to filling in the blanks I often find fodder for additional blog posts."

Other ideas from my feedreader. From Lifehack, comes this post on How to Prevent Running out of Blogging Steam. It suggests that we run out of ideas due to a lack of inspiration, motivation or confidence and has fixes for each situation. Key ideas include:

  • Browse your feeds for topics/articles of interest to respond to.
  • Get out and do something in the area you're writing about--find your inspiration from the work, not just from what people are saying about it.
  • Write for your audience--find out what they want and need and go from there.
  • Build on existing ideas, either your own or others.

And finally, from Pro Blogger, Darren Rowse, these 20 Tips for Battling Bloggers Block. This is frankly an awesome list that really leaves me little room to say that I can't find an idea. Some of my favorites include:

  • Change your location--blog from a friend's house, a coffee house, anyplace other than your desk.
  • Put together disconnected ideas
  • Start with a need--what questions are you being asked most often? What were your biggest questions when you first began exploring your niche?
  • Collaborate with other bloggers--do a blog swap, invite a guest blogger.
  • Change your voice--write from a different angle or perspective.

One final thought I have on this. Be patient with yourself. Dry spells are an inevitable part of the creative process, especially if you're trying to do quality work. For myself, at least, I should know by now that creativity ebbs and flows and that I have times when ideas are everywhere and times when they aren't. It's part of the process. I have to stop getting stuck in that scarcity mindset that says, "Oh NO! I've run out of ideas and I'm never going to have another good one!" Better to relax into abundance and realize that I've always had to go with the flow and my mojo will always return. And luckily if I think I've run out of ideas, there are always other bloggers who come to my rescue. One of the beauties of the medium--that community of people who share your struggle.

UPDATE--Check out some additional ideas from Tom and Bronwyn in the comments section of this post.

Is Your Nonprofit Ready to Stop Watching the Clock?

My husband, like many Americans, is unhappy with his job. It is a job that combines impossibly high expectations with little personal control. There is a strong emphasis on "face-time" and productivity is measured by your slavish adherence to poorly thought-out metrics that emphasize process over outcomes. So it was interesting to find, as often happens to me when a problem is on my mind, this post from Ryan Healey at Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist. It's about Best Buy and its current experiment with ROWE--or Results-Oriented Work Environment.

In a nutshell, Best Buy has decided that measuring employees based on the amount of time they spend at work is a useless endeavor. So they have banished all schedules, mandatory meetings, and even the requirement that they show up to the office. Employees know what work needs to be done and their managers assume that because these employees are competent and responsible, they will get it done. If it's work that can be done over a cell phone or on a laptop in your bedroom, so be it. Feel free to do it that way.  You're a grown-up and we trust you to do the work. If you can't handle that, then we'll deal with it at that point. Otherwise, we're all happy.

According to an article in Business Week, since Best Buy adopted this approach, the results have been pretty amazing:

Since the program's implementation, average voluntary turnover has fallen drastically, CultureRx says. Meanwhile, Best Buy notes that productivity is up an average 35% in departments that have switched to ROWE. Employee engagement, which measures employee satisfaction and is often a barometer for retention, is way up too, according to the Gallup Organization, which audits corporate cultures.

ROWE may also help the company pay for the customer centricity campaign. The endeavor is hugely expensive because it involves tailoring stores to local markets and training employees to turn customer feedback into new business ideas. By letting people work off-campus, Best Buy figures it can reduce the need for corporate office space, perhaps rent out the empty cubicles to other companies, and plow the millions of dollars in savings into its services initiative.

So let's see, higher employee morale, reduced turnover, greater productivity, a re-allocation of resources from offices that serve little function to services that actually help customers. . . does this sound like something for nonprofits to consider?

This story really opens up several lines of inquiry for me:

  • What would ROWE look like in different nonprofit environments? Is it just an advanced version of flexible scheduling or does it become something more? Is it possible for nonprofits to untether their staff from their desks? This article in Money magazine says that managers have no say in employee scheduling and can only measure employees on the work they get done--could command and control organizations live with this? 
  • What are the practical/logistical implications of using ROWE in a nonprofit? There are a lot of things that would need to happen differently. There are huge implications for staff selection and assignment, management and supervision, employee evaluations and training, expectations, etc.
  • What would need to be done with technology to really make this happen?
  • What organizational culture changes would need to take place? In addition to all the practical considerations, what cultural changes would need to occur to support a move to ROWE?
  • What are the pros and cons? Does it make sense to go this route? What are the benefits for a nonprofit and do they outweigh any costs?
  • What are the barriers to implementation? The Business Week article, as well as the resources below, indicate that there was a lot of push-back on the concept from old-style managers who'd grown up in a workaholic culture. The experience has also revealed some ugly attitudes--most notably that some managers have a profound mistrust of and disrespect for their employees. It's also made visible an unspoken "rule" of many workplaces--that flexibilty should only apply to certain "types" of staff, i.e., the "professional" or exempt staff. Many managers felt that this couldn't work with hourly employees that they "needed" more guidance and structure to get their jobs done.

More on ROWE and Best Buy from:

  • Time Magazine--Good stuff on results and on the challenges Best Buy faced, particularly from "old style" managers.

And a related article from the NYT on "When Work Time Isn't Face Time."

This is something that I think bears further investigation. I'm also curious about people's reactions to this idea. Do you think it could work? Are there organizations where you think it isn't possible?

On Blogging Consistently

When I first started blogging, I was so full of ideas and things I wanted to say that my biggest problem was shutting myself up. Now as my blog approaches it's first birthday, I'm finding that I'm struggling with maintaining a consistent blogging schedule. Work intervenes, yes, but there are other issues at work as well, as Nate Whitehill points out in this post on blogging consistently.

According to Nick, serious bloggers are faced with several pressures:

  • Sticking to a schedule of regular posts.
  • Ever-increasing expectations
  • Catering to a larger audience
  • Lack of confidence

For me, the challenge right now is a feeling that I've written about so many things before. Nothing feels new right now--more of the same.

It all goes back to a blog's purpose, I suppose. If what I write here is for another audience, then I guess it's OK to feel that you're repeating yourself to an extent because your goal is to bring other people new ideas and resources. In this scenario, repeating yourself isn't all bad. But if your blog is for your own learning, then covering the same territory is less satisfying. It makes you feel stagnant. And the joy of discovering new insights isn't there as it once was.

I've always tried to find a balance here between pointing to new resources and having my own ideas and insights. Right now I seem to be coming up short on the latter. I'm not liking that too much.

What do you do when you start to feel that you're repeating yourself? How do you get yourself back on track to writing things that are fresh and new, rather than endless rehashes of what you've said before?