Building staff loyalty starts with a good hiring process

In case you haven’t heard, DonorDreams blog is hosting for the second year in a row the Nonprofit Blog Carnival in the month of May. This year’s theme revolves around building loyalty among various non-profit stakeholder groups such as donors, employees, volunteers, etc. If you are a blogger and looking for the “Call for Submissions,” then click here. The carnival will be posted right here at DonorDreams blog on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Stay tuned!

In the interest of building momentum, we’ve dedicated the entire month of blog posts to this topic. We’re specifically focusing on what a variety of non-profit organizations are doing (or are looking at doing) to build loyalty.

Today’s blog post is from Nick Jones, who is the Director of Operations at Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus in Ohio.

Lead a Team; Don’t Manage a Group
Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus

By Nick Jones
Guest Blogger

bgc columbusMy first days (and those leading up to) as the Director of Operations for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus — an after-school program in Columbus, Ohio — were solely focused on what fun and engaging programs I could implement for the kids.My thoughts were consumed with:

  • Open gym basketball with the teens
  • Arts and crafts with the younger members
  • Interactive homework help session

I was excited about the opportunity to work with kids again, having just taken two years away from the field.

However, as a new manager, I quickly realized my time would not be consumed with facilitating a program for kids, but instead with our staff, who in turn worked directly with the kids.This was a painful realization, as my true passion was in building positive, developmental and long-lasting relationships with young people, especially those who need us most.

It was this realization, though, that was the first step towards building a loyal TEAM of professionals I now believe I have.

bgc columbus1Team vs. Group

Before moving forward, I want to make sure I emphasize the importance of the word, “team.”

In one of my MBA courses, a professor spent almost an entire class differentiating between “team” and a “group.” He explained that a team takes a long time to build. In fact, he said, many groups never develop into teams.

Here are two points I took away from that lecture:

  • A team is willing to praise one another as well as hold each other all accountable (it isn’t just the manager’s responsibility)
  • A team can have confrontations and disagreements among themselves. However, once it’s time to “hit the floor” and perform, everyone needs to be on the same page and drive towards one common goal.

Finding Your People

bgc columbus2The first step I stress to all of my managers in building a loyal team is the importance of the interview process.

During your search you will hire for the attitude you want as part of your team. Most important is making sure there are several levels to your interview process.

In the after-school and youth development sector, with most positions being part-time, we are often faced with the dilemma of being short-staffed and trying to maintain a substantive, safe and fun program for the kids. This, at times, creates “rush hiring,” where it is tempting to fill an open position with a warm body.

Of course, I have seen this fail repeatedly, as many “rushed hires” pass the initial smell test, but later show inadequacies in ability and non-commitment to the organization. This is why it is important to have a multi-layered interview process and allow several management-level staff members play a role in interviewing a candidate.

Your search process should include:

  • pre-screens
  • behavior assessments
  • practical experiences

A thorough interview process will allow you to gain a fairly solid picture of what the applicant could bring to the table as an employee.

I believe most important to this process is conducting behavioral interviews. Why? Because one’s past behavior is the best predictor for future behavior. Interview questions should begin with, “Tell me about a time when . . .

The interview process is the first step towards developing a supportive and trusting relationship with your employees.

 Acclimatizing Your People

bgc columbus3Once hired, make sure the new employee participates in an immediate on-boarding process and orientation to the organization.

  • Has (s)he reviewed your Employee Handbook?
  • Has (s)he seen her/his official job description?
  • Has (s)he learned about the organization, its history and its values?

It is important during the first couple of weeks to make sure the new employee’s manager spends as much time with them. Slowly acclimatizing her/him to the organization may be hectic, especially when you’re short-staffed, but it will pay off in the long-run.

It is also critical during this time to build a one-on-one relationship with the new employee as well as with the rest of the team.

  • Allow time for the new employee to shadow her/his  new co-workers
  • organize staff get-togethers (outside of work hours)
  • make sure staff meetings incorporate team-building activities

Whatever your process may be, it is most important to remember that consistency, communication and collaboration are all necessary actions for any on-boarding and orientation plan and for building long-term loyalty.

Retaining and Keeping Your Talent

bgc columbus4After the honeymoon phase and the initial adrenaline of starting something new, the “real work” is just beginning for the person managing a new employee. The staff manager has the unenviable job of figuring out how to retain talent and simultaneously build a team.

In my current role, most of my time is focused on staff development and creating a work culture that brings out the best in everyone.

I have tried many different things to engage our staff and make our organization a fun place. One of the first things we did was make sure that all staff had a role in defining our organization’s shared values. This effort was instrumental in establishing the process we now use for making all sorts of strategic and operational decisions.

To create a loyal team, your employees must feel a part of every decision. Employees need to know their voices are heard and valued, and that their ideas are considered.

Additionally, our organization’s managers develop their people through a strengths-based approach.Considerable time, effort and expense is taken to do this, and we’ve been able to learn the areas in which our people have the greatest opportunity for success.

Of course, we also identify areas of development for our people, which is how we focus on ensuring all employees are well-rounded and no one feels like they are being set-up to fail.

Loyalty is built when employees feel like their employer is as invested in their growth as they are invested in achieving the agency’s mission.

Finally, we ensure that our staff leaders operate with what Sean Covey describes as a “cadence of accountability.”

It is a requirement for our leaders to have a minimum of one, dedicated touch-point with each of their employees per week.

Our staff leaders work with their employees on creating a development plan, and the weekly touch-point meetings focus on the employee’s development and success.

Consistency in this regard makes an immeasurable difference in creating a loyal team.

Bringing It Together

shetland sheepdogWhile Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus allows each of our five programs to have its own identity, we strive for something that we call a “One Club Feel.” This, to me, is the most important part of my job and truest test of my success (or failure) as a leader.

I spend endless hours, days, weeks and months working to solidify a dynamic, diverse group of professionals to lead our programs. Most have come through past professional experiences or by recommendation from trusted colleagues, which makes the goal of establishing a loyal team a lot easier and attainable.

While it is great when my direct reports and program managers possess leadership qualities, frankly it  isn’t enough. The following is a short list of other things I work hard at doing when coaching them on how to coach their team:

  • identifying each leader’s strengths
  • investigating areas for development
  • developing a communication style and leadership style

In addition to coaching, our agency developed common goals and lead measures to which each leader is committed. While each staff leader has different numbers to reach, all leaders have the same goal and lead measures. This allows our management team to speak the same language when planning our staff meetings, staff trainings, and even our staff get-togethers.

Our dedication to coaching and planning helps us build loyalty and trust, which in turn has enabled our organization to grow exponentially over the past four years.

Rarely would I ever try to compare the loyalty of my beloved Shetland Sheepdog — Ollie — to anyone (or anything). However, if there are humans who are in the same loyalty-hemisphere as Ollie, then it’s our team!


If you want to learn more about what other non-profit organizations are doing to build loyalty among various stakeholder groups (e.g. donors, employees, volunteers, etc), then tune in here to DonorDreams blog every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the month of May. We will also publish the Nonprofit Blog Carnival on May 28, 2014 with a number of links to other non-profit bloggers who are talking about loyalty related themes.

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 May 8, 2014, in nonprofit and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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