Seinfeld, silver medals, and your employees

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Today, I am focusing on a post that John wrote a post inspired by a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up comedy piece about winning silver medals at the Olympics. He talks about a research study that shows that Olympic athletes who win a silver medal are significantly less happy than bronze medalists. John, of course, goes on to talk about expectations and performance in the workplace.

John’s post got me thinking about many of the jobs that I’ve held in various non-profit organizations.

While I loved all of those job and experiences, the general memories that stick with me are:

  • Good is good enough
  • Don’t worry about cutting that corner
  • It is understandable that the outcomes and impact data aren’t what we hoped because we’re making do with less

For those of you who know me personally, you know that I am a results-focused person who constantly strives for the gold. So, it might come as a surprise to you that in spite of all the glowing performance reviews I always felt like the silver medalist.

Now I already know that some of you are rolling your eyes and chalk my observation up to unrealistic expectations on my part. While some of that might be true, please stick with me because I think it is more than just that.

Dan Pallotta speaks to this issue a little bit in his new book “Uncharitable“. He points to the lack of resources in the non-profit sector and highlights what he believes is ineffectiveness in many instances and failure in others. For example . . .

  • With so many non-profits focused on raising money for cancer and AIDS research, why hasn’t it been cured?
  • With so many church food pantries and non-profit food banks, why is child hunger on the rise?
  • With so many after-school programs for kids, why are academic achievement test scores still so low?

Non-profit sector employees are a special breed. Most studies that I’ve read show that these individuals are more motivated by “mission” than by a paycheck. They want to save the world and they are passionate about what you are trying to do.

So, when we tell these people that “good is good enough” or “cutting corners is acceptable and understandable,” aren’t we contributing to our own demise and helping them feel like silver medalists?

Again, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that you put an expense line in your agency budget for party supplies to make everyone feel like a gold medalist. Of course, I do hope that you’re demonstrating your appreciation for what those people do for you from time to time.

What I am suggesting is that your agency will benefit greatly if you start rightsizing your expectations. While talking about your organization’s mission and vision is important, I encourage you to put it in the context of today.

For example, talk about working towards the elimination of hunger with the focus being on helping one more more kid put food in her belly today.

Perhaps, we can reduce employee turnover AND donor turnover if we adjust our expectations, place our outcomes and impact data in the right context, and stop telling our employees that “good is good enough”.

Do you know how many of your employees feel like silver medalists? If you do, then please share with us how you know. What do you do to make your employees feel like winners rather than a runner-up. Do you know your employee turnover rate or door loyalty numbers off the top of your head? Do you share those metrics with your board and set goals against those benchmarks?

Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on August 17, 2012, in Fundraising, leadership, nonprofit, organizational development, resource development and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I think the feeling of being the Silver Medalist is all in perception. If we want to change that feeling, we need to open peoples’ eyes to show them what else is out there. It has been really evident to me when changing jobs from a small organization to a really huge one. The challenges are more similar than I ever thought they would be in some ways and completely different in others. What is consistent is that people give their all, but some still feel as if they are falling short.

    I do my best to change perspectives so that they are realistic instead of focused on the one gloom and doom feeling/message of the year *cough* money, economy *cough* But through this journey I have been on, working in the non-profit sector since I was 16 years old, I have learned that the only perspective that I am 100% in control of is mine. It’s not always easy to see the glass half full every single day, and some days it is empty. When my glass is empty, in a non-profit organization nobody is going to arrive with a perfectly chilled bottle of Voss water to re-fill it. It’s my job to get up from my chair and walk to the water fountain to fill it myself. Typically, on my way back from the water fountain I find that the organization looks much different when I’m away from my desk/computer/financials spreadsheet and voila… my glass is full again because I changed my line of vision.

    I also don’t feel like the Silver medal is a failure. I do feel that it’s important for us to make sure that in our viewpoints and perspectives we celebrate and enjoy our swimming-like Gold medal moments while we’re still working towards that overall gymnastics-like Gold medal.

    • Sarah . . . your comments are spot on and I love your perspective. Thank you for sharing! However, I still think there is something to this silver medal mentality. I encourage you to click through and read John Greco’s post. There have been actual studies on this kind of stuff, and I think NFP leaders really need to seriously think through how they frame and communicate with their employees and donors. Too much focus on VISION and not enough on today’s opportunities/challenges/successes can set the agency up for failure. I dunno . . . maybe I’m wrong which is why I ask folks like you to weigh-in with their comments. Again, thanks!!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: