Sometimes They Just Want to Be Employees

For many organizations, increasing headcount is a sign of “making it”, of “scale”, but as my former CEO once said to me when I asked to be made the GM of their Shanghai branch:

“You really don’t want the job and manage an office full of people.  Stay in the field, make money, and leave the administrative headaches to George”

Being the founder of a social enterprise can at times be tough, as I mentioned in last week’s post about maintaining positive energy, and no where is that more true than managing staff.

Something I personally did not fully understand until I began the process of expanding an office of 3 core believers to 15.  IT was a time where I full began to understand the above, but more than that, it was a time a time where I (and my directors) began to realize that regardless of the mission, some people just want a job… and they need to be “managed”

Interestingly, it was a time that we had in fact been planning for, for quite a while.  We knew the platform had the potential to scale, and we were regularly seeking the advice of outsiders to understand how we should structure ourselves for the transition.  I had personally invested significant amounts of time into building the directors, who would manage their own teams, we created titles and org charts, and worked to refine job descriptions so that applicants would have a clear understanding of the position they were applying for.

Needless to say, things did not go exactly as we had planned, and it is not because we didn’t hire the right people, or the best people.

On paper we did, but after 6-9 months we began to see where our expectations, their capacity, and their passions began to diverge.  That, while they were capable project managers, when tasked, there was a disconnect in that we needed more.  We needed new hires to think, act, and CARE for the mission like we did, and they didn’t.  They didn’t because, as we came to spend more thought on, for some they were “employees” and for them our mission was a “job” .

Which was a problem because we were looking for owners.  Team members who would step up, take a piece of the organization, and run with it.  Versus perform well at their “job”, but not see the opportunity that existed for the organization to grow through them.  Which made the dream of creating  capacity and stability in the organization a little more difficult.  Until of course, we learned to weed out those who were “non-believers” and learned to attract (and retain) those saw the mission as one they shared as well.

A process that required us to rewire our culture a bit, and spend a lot more time looking for and hiring the “right people”.  A process that includes the following steps:

1) Resume reduction – Looking objectively at a resume, does the applicant have an aligned background, i.e studied / worked with the issues, or is the applicant a burned out member of the “traditional” work force looking to do “something good” for a year before they return to their former life?  This is an important question to answer because passion always fades and with limited resources to invest, the last thing a small organization should do is invest in people hoping they will be converted and will stay.  There needs to be a natural alignment.

2) Interviews – Perhaps the most critical part of the process is the interviews, and over time we have learned that it is important to take. our. time. with this process.  Phone interview first. Second round with a director and manager. Third round with a second director.  final round with several staff members.  All with the purpose to judge whether or not they understand the mission, are capable of doing the job, and what their long term staying power will be.  During the interview notes are taken, and prior to the next round a briefing of each candidate takes place.

3) Reference checks – This is an area that only was only recently something we needed to do as many of our hires were coming from word of mouth contacts, or were otherwise known to us previously.  this is itself a challenge as the organization may or may not be successful, and they may or may not be a good employee of the organization.  so, it is absolutely critical to call and find out about their work at previous employers.

4) Clear expectations and objectives – Spending time on the job description is important, as is making sure they speak with the person currently overseeing that role (if one exists).  Any ambiguity can become a source for trouble, particularly for those employees who are confined to their “scope” and do not make an effort to reach beyond that.

5) Honest Assessments – One of the hardest lessons that my directors had to learn was to make cuts early, before it is too late.  Being too accepting, and offering too many second chances, can come back to haunt you a year later when nothing has been accomplished, and sometimes it is better to start all over than to get that far down the road with someone who is a drag on the mission.  Particularly if they are someone who becomes a drag on the culture and is toxic to those around them.

For many social entrpreneurs, including myself, we are always under the belief that if we have a good mission, others will follow.  But in reality, that is not always true.  That as the “entrepreneur” one has a level of ownership for the organization that others may not, and for as much as one might want to think otherwise, some of the people hired simply want a “job” with an organization they believe in, relate to, or want to support for a period of time before their next “job”.  Sometimes it is a hard thing to accept, but organizations still have to create plans, processes, and fall backs, so that they are able to make sure they get the best from their employees… and that their employees have the best job they can find.  for it is there that greatness can be found, and maintained.  And it is there where employees can be turned into owners over time.

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