This is the third in a series of posts exploring the success of Senior Services of Forsyth County and the recently retired Executive Director behind this success, Richard Gottlieb.
A Team of Experts
Developing a strong internal team is necessary to build a strong, impactful organization.
After thirty-five years at the helm, Richard is clear that his success depended upon his ability to attract people smarter and more capable than he to work at Senior Services. He looked for experts. Experts in programming, experts in accounting, experts in human resources, experts in administration, experts in marketing, experts in fundraising. Go here to read about Richard’s journey in growing an organization from $15K in assets to $17 million in assets and here to read how he developed one of the strongest board of directors in North Carolina.
He was not ‘an expert’ in any of these things, but he was an expert in knowing what skills and expertise the organization needed.
A Leader’s State of Mind
What was his first step in doing this?
It wasn’t a big pile of money to hire the best people.
It was developing the state of mind that allowed him to do this successfully.
Sometimes young and/or struggling Executive Directors may be threatened by bringing in really good people. This can be mixed with a mentality that only they can do things ‘right’ and can be especially hard for founding Executive Directors and CEOs.
Another misconception is that nonprofit organizations should not pay well for good help. It is often an unspoken but strongly held assumption. Time and time again, I see my clients get what they pay for.
When a CEO has done so much on their own for so long, another insidious pattern sets-in.
When they write job descriptions, they’re not trying to attract the best people, they’re trying to attract anyone who will take the job. Job descriptions are not clear about specific desired outcomes and/or unrealistically require the person to do a million-and-one things. They do not provide the big picture context for why this specific function is critically important to the mission and vision of the organization. This does not attract experts, and creates a self-fulfilling prophesy that hiring good people is an impossible job.
Fortunately, Richard quickly realized the value of hiring well-trained, experienced staff.
It only took hiring his first true expert to see how much better they made the organization and his life. He began to value the skills of these employees – and wanted more experts on staff until the day he left!
Far from feeling threatened, he welcomed their expertise, even when it surpassed his.
In Search of the Sweet Spot: The Right Staff, an Appropriate Budget, Right Facility, with the Right Support
On some level, in the end, finding good people was still a challenge and a crap shoot for Richard.
He accepts that we all have our biases and personality styles–so recommends having multiple people involved.
I recommend clients review prospects’ strengths in three areas, 1) their cognitive abilities (their skills, experience, education), 2) their affective attributes (values, personal preferences, orientation toward the vision) and 3) their conative abilities (how they are wired to do the job – the Kolbe index measures this).
Over the first 25 years, as the agency grew, Richard organized an annual staff retreat. They would do an SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, obstacles, threats) and inevitably the discussion would fall into “If only we had this… We need this… We need more…” It was endless.
They were trying to match the infrastructure of the organization with output. That is, for a long time, there were not quite enough resources to match the level of services being provided.
Eventually they got to the sweet spot where the right staff was supported by an appropriate budget, in the right facility, with the right administrative support. Now, Senior Services has an IT person, an excellent fundraising staff, people devoted to HR, and programs with wonderfully dedicated professionals.
The right staff makes Senior Services extremely efficient.
Program staff can focus on programs and not worry about office supplies, computer problems or payroll. Someone else does the fundraising. The organization is able to hire people very specialized in direct service. This allowed people in operations to develop procedures and policies so things can operate smoothly. This focused staffing is critical for growth.
Can you start out of the box with this level of specialty and expertise Senior Services has now? Probably not.
But if you do not have this framework in mind as you build the organization, you will never get there.
Richard sees a bright future for the organization because now, after 35 years, Senior Services runs like a business.
He sees that in many organizations (both for-profit and non-profit), new employees are thrown into the deep end to figure things out on their own. It is inefficient, wastes time and energy, and hinders success. A good on-boarding process that steeps newbies in the culture and values of the organization is critical. A solid infrastructure allows people to help each other. Richard believes no one feels that she or he is in it alone.
Excellent Customer Service – A Key Value at Senior Services
Extraordinary customer service was a primary value for Senior Services, or Richard figured, why else should the community support them? Richard saw everyone (donors, clients, vendors, anyone who walked in the door) as a customer and a constituent deserving the highest level of care and respect.
He could not meaningfully execute on that value alone. The right person in the right position on his team made this possible and created a very low employee turnover rate. When each person can really focus on their job, everyone benefits.
Fair, efficient and productive – built on a compassionate response to a deep need in the community – that is Senior Services today. Richard worked to create this over 35 years
Even with very few resources, from the beginning, Richard had high standards. In the end, his standards and his vision for Senior Services served the organization and the community extraordinarily well.