A Survival Guide to Getting Written Up
Over the past several months, Sam’s coworkers and supervisor have noticed that he’s been missing deadlines and his work includes careless mistakes. Alex, Sam’s supervisor, has counseled him informally in their regularly scheduled check-in sessions, and Sam typically responds that he’s doing the best he can but will try harder. On a few occasions, Alex has asked if there is any additional support Sam needs to meet the demands of his job.
Eventually, Sam’s poor performance increases his colleagues’ workload and begins to impact the morale of Alex’s entire team. With few other options left, Alex presents Sam with a formal written warning and a performance improvement plan (PIP).
How Sam reacts to the written warning and PIP will likely determine whether Sam becomes a productive team member or joins the unemployment rolls.
As a manager for over 20 years, I’ve had the unenviable task of writing up staff members. I’ve seen employees who respond in a positive manner that results in succeeding in their current position - - - and even getting promotions. And I’ve seen employees respond in counter-productive ways that fast-track them toward termination.
Here’s some thoughts and advice from an experienced manager about being written up:
It’s possible to come back from a written warning and become a high-performing team member with a bright future. But it requires having a positive attitude, a willingness to accept responsibility, and a genuine desire to change.
Disclaimer: The author is not a lawyer and is not providing legal advice. It is always important to know your rights, and you should consult an attorney if you want legal counsel on a written warning or performance improvement plan. Also consult an attorney if you feel you are being discriminated against or treated unfairly in any way.
Strategic Planning Series Part 3: Mission, Vision, Core Values
This is the third blog post in the Successful Nonprofits’ strategic planning series and focuses on crafting powerful mission statements, vision statements, and core values. While each post is designed to stand on its own, you can read the other posts here:
Strategic Planning Series Part 1: Do you need a plan? Are you ready to plan?
Strategic Planning Series Part 2: The environmental scan
The United States Constitution opens with this mission statement: “To form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” While our forebears were a bit wordy in the 1700’s, the very first sentence is this mission statement for our nation’s democracy. And the first sentence sets out the reasons why the constitution exists.
As a result, this mission statement becomes the measuring stick that determines whether the Constitution achieved its purpose. Based on this evaluation, I think that our founding fathers sorely missed the mark on the entire mission statement when they agreed to the 3/5ths compromise, the 1808 agreement, and only giving voting rights to white men.
What is a mission statement?
In the nonprofit sector, a mission statement is simply a short, memorable phrase describing why an organization exists. As such, the mission statement should inspire action and guide decisions of the staff and the board.
Good mission statements start with one of two types of verbs. For the fellow grammar nerds in cyberland, mission statements most often begin with a present participle (a verb that ends in “ing” – like encouraging, building) or an infinitive (a verb preceded by the word “to”).
The best mission statements are incredibly short, most often just ten words or less. When I facilitate strategic planning, I challenge the work group to develop a proposed mission statement in 10 words or less. At first work group members are skeptical that they can encapsulate a mission in so few words, and this is especially true for organizations with long mission statements that are essentially one or two full paragraphs.
To help the most skeptical people understand the power of a short, memorable mission statement, I will typically share about a dozen short mission statements that inspire action and guide decisions.
Georgia Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Empowering People à Breaking Barriers à Thriving Community (8 words – including symbols)
SOJOURN: Advancing LGBTQ affirmation and empowerment across the South (8 words)
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta: To make kids better today and healthier tomorrow (8 words)
CHRIS Kids: To heal children, strengthen families and build community (8 words).
Georgia Lawyers for the Arts: To further creativity by protecting and advising Georgia’s artists and inventors (11 words)
The Humane Society: Celebrating Animals, Confronting Cruelty. (4 words)
TED: Spreading Ideas. (2 words)
Wounded Warrior Project: To honor and empower wounded warriors. (6 words)
Public Broadcasting System (PBS): To create content that educates, informs and inspires (8 words).
National Wildlife Federation: Inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future. (9 words)
The Task Force: Advance full freedom, justice and equality for LGBTQ people (9 words).
New York Public Library: To inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities. (10 words)
Zebra Coalition: To support and inspire LGBTQ+ youth (6 words)
What is a vision statement?
Now that we’ve fully reviewed the definition and purpose of mission statements, let’s spend some time on vision statements. The vision statement is also a short, memorable phrase but it outlines the desired long-term outcome instead of the reason for existence. Visions statements describe the world / city / region in which the organization has achieved its mission.
A food bank, for example, might have a mission “To end hunger in our community”, while its vision statement might be “A community without hunger”.
I’ve often felt that effective vision statements can almost always start with the same words and the same deep voice as movie trailers: “In a world where no child is hungry”.
When facilitating a strategic planning process, I almost always challenge the work group to propose a vision statement that is also ten words or less. As with the mission statement challenge, I also provide about a dozen examples of short and pithy vision statements,
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta: Best care . . . Healthier kids (4 words)
C4 Atlanta: For Atlanta artists to make a living making art (9 words)
Georgia Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: The Center of a thriving community (6 words)
Georgia Lawyers for the Arts: An environment where all artists and inventors have access to essential legal services (13 words)
Human Rights Campaign: Equality for everyone (3 words)
Innovative Solutions for the Disabled: Healthy, functioning families à Successful children
Oxfam: A just world without poverty (5 words)
Habitat for Humanity: A world where everyone has a decent place to live. (10 words)
SOJOURN: We envision LGBTQ inclusive communities inspired by Jewish and universal value. (11 words)
United Way: Greater Atlanta is a community where all individuals and families thrive. (11 words)
Zebra Coalition: A community where all LGBTQ+ youth feel safe and empowered
What are core values?
Once the work group has proposed new mission and vision statements, it’s time to draft core values for the organization. The core values are typically 4 to 7 value statements that further guide an organization’s planning, decision making, and operations.
The core values are often intensely personal to the organization, and this is a great place to add all the additional words and ideas that wouldn’t fit into the mission and vision statements.
Core value statements can be as simple as a list of single words, like Bright Horizons’ core values of Honesty * Excellence * Accountability * Respect * Teamwork. And they can be a paragraph each. I really appreciate Project Open Hand’s Core values:
We put our mission first.
We honor our staff & volunteers as our most valuable resource.
We pursue innovation.
We embrace diversity.
We act with integrity.
We pledge accountability.
With a complete environmental scan and a proposed mission, vision, and core values, the organization can begin drafting an initial strategy and direction.
But you are also probably thinking: “Wait a minute, Dolph, this seems like a whole lot of work that needs to be done before we begin working on the strategy. Why don’t you share who will be doing all of the work?”
And that would be a completely fair question.
Neither the environmental scan nor creating the mission, vision, and core values should be tasks completed by just one or two people. This critical strategic planning work is best done by a Work Group that includes board, staff, and perhaps a couple of community leaders. In Part 4 of this series, we’ll discuss the role of a work group, the amount of time work group members typically commit to the process, and how to recruit these important leaders.
This post is the second installment in a series about strategic planning. The first post focused on determining whether you need a new strategic plan and if your organization is ready to actually begin the planning process. You can read that post here.
Once you are ready to roll up your sleeves and begin a strategic planning process, it’s a good idea to understand the four distinct: The environmental scan, drafting the initial strategy, board feedback, and finalizing the plan.
These stages are used by almost everyone – from consultants who facilitate strategic plans to boards that choose a boot-strapped, do-it-yourself planning model. While every consultant has their own term for each of these stages, they don’t vary much from planning process to planning process.
This post dives into the first stage of the planning process: The Environmental Scan.
Designing Your Environmental Scan
Strategic planning typically begins with the environmental scan, which some consultants refer to as information gathering or even “unpacking the organization”. The environmental scan reviews your organization from a number of different perspectives and usually involves compiling and analyzing several years of programmatic, financial, and fundraising data to help identify existing trends in each area.
Understanding the data trends is critically important to the planning process. Through this process, some organizations have found that:
Once a general trend is identified, we can determine what additional research is necessary to understand the trend’s underlying causes.
The environmental scan also typically includes gathering feedback from internal and external stakeholders (some consultants refer to stakeholders as constituents). Organizations can collect this information using various tools, including online or paper surveys, phone interviews, in person conversations, and facilitated focus groups. As with all individual data collection efforts, planners typically obtain more information using higher-touch and more time-consuming efforts like phone and in-person interviews.
Identifying Your Stakeholders
When I help organizations conduct an environmental scan, board members and executive directors are often surprised when the stakeholder brainstorming session results in a list of 75 to 100 people. We typically brainstorm 4 to 6 stakeholders representing the following constituencies: clients, staff, former board members, major donors, foundation funders, institutional funders, organizational partners, the civic and government sector, related associations, and of course all current board members.
In nearly every stakeholder brainstorming process, someone will ask “how do you define a stakeholder?” My definition is simple: a person or organizational representative that will be essential to the successful implementation of our plan.
Once we have a thorough list of stakeholders, we will help create an outline for a structured conversation. Some consultants refer to this as an interview or assessment tool, but I prefer to think of this as a conversation with a stakeholder. We have an outline of the items we hope to discuss, while remaining open to the conversation going in other directions as well. Typically, this less formal structure provides a higher quality of feedback from your stakeholders
You can download a sample structured conversation tool to use for your own strategic planning process here.
In my opinion, no environmental scan is complete without a board evaluation. Conducted by an independent person who is not on the board or staff, the board evaluation should assess the board in several areas: recruitment, orientation, participation, and adherence to organizational documents like the bylaws.
The board evaluation should also offer comparative data so that the governing body can understand how it benchmarks against similar boards. Additionally, it never hurts to give individual board members their own results on attendance, committee participation, giving, and fundraising, with a comparison to the board’s average performance in these areas.
Environmental Scan Results
By the end of the environmental scan, the organization should have a complete assessment of their strengths and challenges; understand the factors that have shaped the organization in recent years; and be prepared to consider future opportunities.
Before considering these future opportunities, the organization will want to revisit its mission, vision, and core values. The next blog post in this series will focus on the next step.
This is the second part of the post on outsourcing. Part one includes the 4 types of tasks nonprofits outsource and the 5 key benefits of outsourcing them, you can read that post here.
Questions to Ask When Outsourcing
Successfully outsourcing a few core business functions requires that a nonprofit carefully determine its own needs and the contractor’s capacities. You will likely solicit proposals from prospective vendors and conduct a rigorous vetting process.
When you meet with prospective contractors, a few questions to ask in this process include:
Will we pay a flat amount each month or by the hour?
Paying a flat amount each month helps with budgeting and often with cash flow, but it also limits the additional tasks you can ask a contractor to perform without having to renegotiate a contract.
What is the specific scope of services?
A clearly outlined scope of services will eliminate the possibility of many future disagreements. If a prospective contractor says “I will manage all of your grant writing”, ask for clarity on what tasks are involved. Does this include the grant calendar? Attending RFP conferences? Writing the proposal? Assembling the final proposal? Sending the proposal to the funder? Writing thank you letters? Tracking funder deadlines? Writing grant reports? Etc.
Who else have you done this work for?
It’s best to find a consultant or contractor with more than just nonprofit experience but experience within the organization’s field. As part of this question, be certain to obtain and check references.
What relationships will you bring to our organization?
Each contractor is an opportunity to expand your organization’s relationships with funders, vendors, constituents, and even other organizations. Ask who they may know and how you can leverage the relationship.
What happens when you . . .
Take a vacation? Retire? Experience a significant demand for work? Specifically, the nonprofit needs to feel comfortable that they will have continuity and consistency. Often a firm can provide this level of continuity but a sole practitioner with a strong network can provide a similar assurance of continuity.
What steps do you take to meet the legal definition of a 1099 contractor? *
The Federal Department of Labor and many state departments of labor have been cracking down on employers that incorrectly classify individuals as contractors. While this article isn’t designed to offer legal or accounting advice, be certain that the firm or contractor meets the legal definition of a contractor, and ask a pro bono attorney who specializes in employment law to review the contract and verify that it meets the criteria.
About the Author:
Read Dolph Ward Goldenburg's Bio
Elephants In Hiding
Going on Safari in Africa is an amazing experience because you get to see animals outside of a traditional zoo setting. You can see prides of lions enjoying a nap, troops of hippopotamus wallowing in muddy water, and herds of elephants.
On my first safari, I was surprised how often elephants hide. These are big animals – typically weighing over 13,000 pounds and standing over 10 feet tall. They are the “gentle giants of the jungle” with no real predators, but they often prefer the comfort of not being fully visible.
I snapped this one photo of a hidden elephant:
And I thought about the hidden elephants in the organizations I have worked with. Sometimes, the hidden elephant is the staff, board member, or volunteer who does amazing work but never seeks accolades or recognition. They work quietly and relatively obscurely - - - and they are the unsung heroes of the nonprofit sector.
Who are some of the hidden elephants in your organization, and how can you recognize them?
Of course, organizations also have “bad elephants” hiding as well. In order to sustain themselves, elephants eat 2000% of their weight every year (that’s over 120,000 pounds of foliage every year). Consequently, they can easily turn savannas into grasslands, cause erosion, and harm biodiversity.
Most organizations also have these hidden “bad elephants”. People who are often unintentionally but quietly doing a lot of damage. Perhaps the person is passive aggressive, quietly starting fights between others. Or perhaps the person is underperforming. And truly aggressive, anti-social elephants must be removed for the good of the herd and the organization.
When you look closely, do you have any destructive elephants hiding in your organization? What can you do to remove them or eliminate their ability to cause damage?