vom_marlowe (vom_marlowe) wrote,

OTW: Some experiences on non-profit management and org management, Pt 2, People Skills

People Skills.  It's all about People Skills.  (Hey, I had to get in a fandom reference somewhere.)

This is Part Two. 

From my observations of the OTW fiasco, I have to say that they appear to lack even the most fundamental organizational management skills.  Uh, sorry. 

Somewhere in my job description is a phrase like 'recruit, train, and maintain a staff that does XYZ'. 

One thing that outsiders often don't understand about management is that a manager's job is not to do the work.  This is the number one problem for people who are promoted to management from below (because they were good at doing XYZ, they get promoted to managing XYZers).  Managers are not supposed to do the work.  Let me say that again: Managers are not supposed to do the work.

Managers are supposed to help their people do the work. 

The skillset for doing XYZ and managing people who do XYZ is completely different. 

Let me explain. 

Let's say that somebody is great at coding.  They get a bunch of coders and start managing them, but things fall down and it turns out there aren't enough coders.  The first step a Peter Principle manager will do is to pick up the code and start working on it.  The first step a managing manager will do is start making a list of skills and abilities that are wanted in new coders. 

One thing that continues to surprise me about OTW is that I keep hearing from anonymice that the A03 needs Ruby coders.  I had no idea that they needed Ruby coders.  I go to the Archive semi-frequently, I read the Yultide admin posts, I read around the LJ/DW circles, and yet I've never, NOT ONCE, seen an advertisement for experienced Ruby coders. 

I find this baffling. 

The volunteer sign-up form at OTW does not have a great big ticky box that says: Click here if you are an experience Ruby Coder and we will put you in touch with a way that can help the Archive!  Nor do they even have a set of boxes to enter skills or check-lists for topics of interest.  I've never seen a position description for a volunteer position (and if you don't have a position description, how can you know if someone meets it?  You can't.)

When I recruit, I have a list of things I need, a list of things I want, and a list of deal-breakers. For example:
Good verbal and written communication skills

Knowledge of information systems

Felony conviction

Like that.  Naturally, I have much longer lists, but this is just an example.  I also have a list of duties and tasks for the position, such as "Assist patrons in locating information for their scholarly work, using databases, catalogs, and in-print materials."

If someone doesn't like to work with the public, or can't work with the public, then I do not hire them for that job. 

Let me say this again, because it's important, If someone can't work with the public, I do not hire them in that position, because dealing with the public is a required

It would be like deploying mounted cavalry in a sea battle.  The horses are splashing around in the foam and the navy boat of the enemy kills them.  That is not the fault of the cavalry.  It is the fault of the commander. 

In order to effectively deploy people under you, you need to know:
1. What you need (position descriptions, requireds, preferreds, deal breakers, etc).
2. How to recruit such individuals from your community (via advertising, word of mouth, etc)
3. A way to get recruits to list both their strengths and weaknesses (via forms, interviews, references, etc)
4. A way to review the pool of recruits against the needs of various groups or positions or tasks (ie. hiring experts, and yes, these are volunteers, but it's the same thing)
5. The ability to tell people what to do and what not to do, and stick to it.  I have had several employees who are not good at something.  I mean, they try but they suck.  Everyone has shortcomings--it doesn't make them bad people!  But I balance strengths and weaknesses against job tasks and then I do not give the jobs to the people who can't do it, and if I they volunteer to do it, I tell them no.  That's really important.  
6. The ability and/or process to review the expectations against what is happening, and correct course in a socially acceptable and relationship building (rather than destroying) way.  Sometimes people think they're good at something, but they aren't.  You have to be able to tell them that in a way that they can hear, and either get them improved skills, or move them to another tasks, all while keeping things upbeat.

One of the quotes in NN's post about her role and her board application is 'letting the work speak for itself'.  This is wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  And absolutely indicative of someone who is not manager-focused in their skills.  Why?  Because being a board member is about managing an organization of people.  The appropriate focus for a manager is, "Letting my people and my people's work speak for itself."

Because a good manager has, in the end, not done work herself.  She has facilitated other people to do work. 

If my employees were saying the sort of things that NN's volunteers were saying, I would not be writing this post, I would be busy signing up for a class in Management 101.  Or crying in the bathroom, if I was honest.

One of the toughest things to accept, as a hardworking person, is that you must at some point rely almost entirely on other people to get things done, if your organization is to succeed.  If you wish your org to grow, it must outgrow the work of one person.  Or even of three or four people. 

In order to retain good people, you must make the work environment welcoming.  One traditional way to make a nasty work environment welcoming is to raise the salaries.  I've done really shitty work before, and I wasn't there out of the goodness of my heart.  I was there because they gave me a big fat paycheck. 

I've already talked a bit about why retention is important, but I'll also add another reason.  In general, there is a pool of people in any given community that can do a task.  The more specialized the task, the fewer there are.  Many of these people know each other, because they're all working together or go to societies or took classes or what-have-you.  If your org gets a rep for being a good place to work, you will get more applications.  If your org gets a rep for being a bad place to work, you will get fewer. 

In volunteer work, there is not a static constant of people who are willing to join any organization.  In a new org, you might get a whole bunch of volunteers the first year and fewer the next, because your successful campaign reached most of the potential volunteers.  You will get a trickle of others as those who wanted to volunteer last year but couldn't because they just had a kid/were broke/were on the lam from the cops/whatever.  But eventually, you'll have tapped out most of the people and this may well happen early on.  What you get after that is a sustainable level of people who become available, or graduate with the skills you need, or what have you.  This is probably smaller than your first couple of years. 

It is dangerous to use things like overall number of volunteers total as a judge of whether there is a burnout problem, is what I'm saying. 

In my experience, people become unhappy employees for three main reasons:
1.  Lack of appreciation (money, praise, public recognition)
2. Insufficient resources to do a good job that they can be proud of (the resources in question are usually time, skills, coworkers/manpower, and software/hardware)
3. Being told by management to do things in a way that renders their task undoable and having management not listen. 

For example, one of the cardinal rules of my workplace is that the person on the front-line of a customer service interaction did the right thing.  When I am called to the desk, (as in, can I speak to your supervisor), I always always ALWAYS back up my employee.  I may find another way to help the patron, but if my employee says, "I'm sorry sir, but library policy forbids users from accessing this journal from home," then I say, "My employee is correct.  Library policy forbids this.  As a manger, I am granted the ability to work around this policy on a case by case basis, but my employee was absolutely correct.  You can't access this journal from home.  However, I can help you print out a copy here that you can take home."  Or whatever.  I never, ever ever EVER say that my employee was wrong.  Why?  Because I trust them and empower them to do the right thing.  I also power my employees to say, "I don't know.  Let me find out."  That means if they don't know a policy, they don't have to make one up. 

You know how much social capital this gives me?  A ton. 

That is a concrete example of appreciation and trust. 

Let me give you an example of #3, from an ugly temp job I worked, years ago.  The temp team was supposed to print out these special forms, 1000+ of them, lest the company be fined.  However, we'd run out of printer ink.  We went upstairs to ask for more ink and were told, "No, you're using too much ink.  No more ink for you!"  We wanted to print the forms, but they wouldn't give us the ink.  We tried to explain that we needed the ink, but they said too bad tempies, suck it.  And so we sat down in our office, fuming, and did not print.  The company was then fined, and the managers from outside came in and yelled at us.  As soon as I could, I fled that job.

Sometimes resources are things like ink or software (I was once assigned the job of doing a newsletter....in Notepad), but more often the lack of resources is time, skill, or additional help. 

Nobody wants to do a shitty job.  Or very few, anyhow.  But if you ask for help, get denied, and want the work to succeed...what do you do?  Throw yourself on the job as much as possible and then cry when it fails and then become bitter when everyone you were trying to help hates it. 

That is not a failure of the person who tried.  It is absolutely a failure of the project manager. 

Sorry, but it is. 

I have an old skool management philosophy.  Whatever my people do, I am to blame.  I put them in that position and if they screwed up, it's my fault for not anticipating that they were in over their heads.  If I blamed my people, I'd just keep flipping through people, looking for a rockstar.  If I blame myself, then I have to ask the hard questions, like, "Why did I assign this task to this person?  What methods did I use to judge their skills?  What kind of checks and balances were in place?  What feedback could I seek out next time?"  And so on.  

This is why it is so important to be able to do say 'no'.  No, we can't do a project under that deadline.  No, I don't have enough people to get this done.  No, the software won't support that feature.  No, I won't ask my people to dress up like SpongeBob Squarepants (real example, sadly).  No, no, no. 

If you cannot say no, you cannot manage effectively.  Period. 
I have to take a break now, but is this helpful?  Does anyone have questions?


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