Something Worth Reading: Toxic Employees Hurt More Than Superstars Help

One of the best articles I have seen this spring comes from the Harvard Business Review, entitled “It’s better to avoid a toxic employee than hire a superstar”. You can read it here.

Previously on this blog we’ve talked about toxic employees, the importance of engagement, and the value of high performers. It’s easy to get lost in each of these topics individually, but what HBR does well is capture the overlap of some of the factors involved.

Most notable from the article are:

  • The cost of a toxic employee on other staff exceeds the revenue brought in by a superstar.
  • Toxic employees tend to be productive and in many cases are high performers. They rarely fit the archetype we might have of a lazy underperformer being your biggest problem.
  • Toxic employees have staying power in many cases because of their performance and because they often also have the attractive characteristics of charisma, curiosity, and high self-esteem.

For me the most resounding quote I saw was:

“Overconfident, self-centered, productive, and rule-following employees were more likely to be toxic workers. One standard deviation in skills confidence meant an approximately 15% greater chance of being fired for toxic behavior, while employees who were found to be more self-regarding (and less concerned about others’ needs) had a 22% greater likelihood. For workers who said that rules must always be followed, there was a 25% greater chance he or she would be terminated for actually breaking the rules. They also found that people exposed to other toxic workers on their teams had a 46% increased likelihood of similarly being fired for misconduct.”

So what does this mean in the world of fundraising? For one thing it helps to explain why so many programs have difficulty or reluctance in dealing with toxic employees – they outperform their peers in a world where performance is everything. What happens when we reward that behavior, however, is the pattern of toxic behavior spreads to other team members, in many cases towards high performers who are otherwise good citizens of the organization.

Looking at this study it also occurs to me that we may inadvertently be selecting potentially toxic fundraisers during hiring. Our industry has been building a narrative of traits to look for in fundraisers that has high overlap with the qualities HBR has found are in abundance in toxic employees. In previous posts we have discussed what to look for in hiring, identifying potential, and evaluating fundraisers. While that advice still stands, it ignores one key component that we should look for in order to avoid hiring the confident, productive, yet toxic fundraiser: authenticity. Later this month I will spend some time elaborating on this key concept: how to look for authenticity, how to create an organization that fosters it, and how to leverage it for fundraising success.

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A side note: Many of you may have noticed that the blog has been on hiatus for a few months. This was due to a career move of my own. I am now back up and running. Please continue to comment, send in topic requests, and participate in the discussion.

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Principles of Training New Major Gift Officers – Part II

Last week we discussed two of the essential principles for training new major gift officers: understanding the donor perspective and clear definition of the donor cycle. This week we have three more. Beyond orienting fundraisers to the nature of major gift philanthropy, organizations must seek to broaden the aptitude of these professionals to work with their colleagues and adequately represent their institutions. Leadership can do this through offering:

A Deeper Understanding of the Functionality and Capacity of Central and Operations Teams

Hand in hand with providing fundraisers clearer expectations of what working with donors looks like, an organization must partner with these individuals to set expectations for working within a development team. New fundraisers must know, for example, when and what type of additional research will be most useful to them (early career development officers often will get caught in a desire to know everything possible about a prospect before meeting with them). The ability to partner with and utilize the skills of central development teams and operations professionals will give new fundraisers a leg up in their early years as well as lessen the burden of other team members in orienting these individuals to their own programs the hard way (when something goes wrong or a fire needs to be put out).

Opportunities to Practice New Skills and Observe and Learn from Senior Fundraisers

Learning means little without the ability for professionals to put what they have learned into practice. Any formal training session should, therefore, be paired with low-risk avenues for new major gift officers to gain experience in the realities of working with donors. Across the country there are now several institutions tackling this need in creative ways—whether it’s a virtual learning experience utilizing actors or avatars, structured “mock” meetings with close volunteer donors, or role playing in a workshop setting. This “practice space” gives new fundraisers two great things: the chance to get a feel for major giving conversations and valuable feedback from those working with them on what they did well and what could be improved.

Another great resource that many institutions already have lies within the existing senior fundraising team. Exposure to best practices by observing high performers in action can be a very meaningful point in developing new fundraising talent. This type of shadowing helps show novice development officers not only how to respond when a meeting diverts from the theoretical agenda, but also the depth and nature of relationships between an experienced fundraiser and high level donor.

Knowledge of Institutional Strengths, Histories, and Controversies

Your donors and constituents have typically been familiar with your institution longer and in more depth than your junior fundraisers. This gap has to be addressed directly. Donors and prospective donors will expect any development officer they meet with to not only know about their history as donors, but also have a decent grasp of the people, programs, and history of your organization. Whether this be previous controversies that the institution has survived or national championship teams and coaches, training a new frontline officer must include consistent and reinforced building of institutional knowledge.

We’ve seen data time and time again that says that newly hired fundraisers take 3.5–4 years to begin to produce real gift dollar results. For those who are new to the frontline, that ramp-up can take even longer. It’s in our best interest to accelerate this process with new major gift officers through strategic training and education, clear opportunities and exposure to donors and the team, and reinforcement and feedback.

BWF’s TalentED practice offers one-on-one coaching, intensive training workshops, and talent management counsel to help our clients recruit, retain, and grow a high performing fundraising team. For more information contact us at training@bwf.com.

Copyright © 2015 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.

Rethinking Fundraising Metrics

Data is increasingly driving the world of development. The ability to access and utilize data has changed how teams are shaped, how donors are engaged, and where resources are allocated. In addition, development organizations and major gift teams have rapidly expanded, and new data tools allow real-time fundraiser activity reports to evaluate fundraiser performance.

Simply tracking metrics to evaluate performance, however, will not always predict or measure real performance by these team members. Focusing on one key performance indicator (KPI) can lead to ignoring other meaningful activities and successes. Organizations that don’t reflect on the meaning and strategy related to metrics can inadvertently encourage inefficiencies and non-productive actions in development officers’ quests to meet their annual goals.

Additionally, organizations that don’t properly implement the use metrics to drive performance evaluation can create a disconnect between activity and strategic goals, causing managers to focus on tracking behavior over improving performance. According to BWF’s 2014 Survey of Frontline Fundraisers, approximately half of fundraisers believe that their metrics don’t reflect important activities. For those who have dual responsibilities (managing a volunteer program, leading a team, all while managing a portfolio, for example), there frequently are not concrete measurements for activities that make up sometimes over half of their workload. For others, uniform metrics do not adequately match the workload they face, depending on variance in the warmth of their portfolio, capacity of their prospects, or structural obstacles like leadership vacancies or lack of clarity on priorities that impede their performance.

Unintended side effects of poorly implementing three of the most common metrics in the industry are highlighted below.

Common Metric Rationale Unintentional Side Effect
Number of Visits Fundraiser performance is closely correlated with the amount of time he or she spends in the field and in front of donors. Development officers meet with the same donors repeatedly and do not focus time on discovery or solicitation.The quality of the visit declines, and few strategic objectives are met during meetings with prospects.
Number of Asks Fundraisers should be expected to ask for gifts consistently and proactively. Development officers ask too early in a relationship.Fundraisers ask for smaller than necessary gifts from high-capacity donors, seeking to get a gift on record over working for a long-term investment by the donor.

Cultivation activities are recorded as “asks” when a meaningful solicitation has yet to be made.

Total Gift Income
Raised
At the end of the year you look at what’s counted. Fundraisers’ primary responsibility is raising money. High performers can be penalized for larger asks that are closed after the fiscal year.Low performers can be rewarded by large gifts that come in on their own but are assigned to their portfolio.

There is a desire to “own” as many prospects as possible.

Credit sharing is misused to “tag into” large gifts, creating the impression of performance.

The answer is not to abandon metrics altogether. Many of the challenges described above can be mitigated through proactive management by supervisors and accurate and thorough reporting on metrics. Measuring performance and especially facilitating feedback sessions with team members on the interpretation of those results is a critical component of talent management. Metrics need to therefore:

  • Act as only one component of a larger system of understanding, creating accountability for, and evaluating performance.
  • Take into account a development officer’s tenure and portfolio composition.
  • Be created via collaboration between development officers and supervisors.
  • Be implemented consistently and reported on frequently.

Discussions about areas for skill and knowledge growth and training needs should go hand in hand with this process. This way, professional development can be targeted towards and influence the right activities by development officers.

BWF’s TalentED practice provides customized training and workshop programs to help grow the capacity of development teams. For more information contact us at training@bwf.com.

Originally published May 14, 2015

Copyright © 2015 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.

Evaluating Your Fundraising Talent? Here are a couple of quick tools to use

A large component of talent management revolves around it’s most basic question: who do we have? Answering this can be more difficult than we think. A full review of who you have on the team requires leadership attention and a commitment to follow up. In development, where we have many levels of leadership, roles and responsibilities, it can be especially easy to focus on one level of the team, while ignoring rising stars and performers elsewhere. Luckily we can borrow some tools from the business world in performance management. The first of which is the well-known 9-box, which is a tool for mapping out team members based on performance and potential.

9 box

An alternative method for categorizing performers can be completed through focusing strategically on current performance and answering key questions relation to the attrition risk and next steps of each team member in a category. A sample visualization of this process can be found below:

rating performers

The visual above can further be applied specifically to development, refining the definitions of the behaviors that merit a ranking of 5 versus 4 versus 3, etc. In my work I have spent quite a deal of time building out a full 1-5 competency matrix for frontline fundraisers, breaking out key competency areas and levels of performance against which managers can evaluate development officers. It has been incredibly interesting and challenging, but the increased clarity pays off as medium and rising performers now more clearly can see what they have to do differently. An excerpt of the model (which has five major competency areas, with 4-5 sub categories each) is below:

compentency excerpt

Why Fundraisers Leave—Differentiating Retention Strategies for Your Front Line

Originally published February 26, 2015

Fundraiser recruitment and retention is a hot topic in our industry for good reason: the demand for talented fundraisers far exceeds the supply. Development shops of all shapes and sizes are struggling to keep the talent they have. However, how we think about retention may be misguided.

There are a few key trends to consider:

  • Most fundraisers believe that their salary and benefits packages are competitive.
  • Less than 10% of front-line fundraisers are actively looking for a new job.
  • Management and leadership largely shape how satisfied or dissatisfied team members are.

The trends listed above are about fundraisers in general, but there are several layers to how front-line fundraisers become engaged in your organization and vulnerable to poaching over time.

BWF studied how front-line fundraisers differed in their engagement based on their tenure at an organization. We found that retention strategies are better differentiated based on how long someone has been a member of the team, largely due to the following three trends:

Newcomers to the Team Need Time and Guidance to Adapt

Fundraisers with less than two years of tenure at an organization had slightly higher dissatisfaction rates and lower rates of high satisfaction than their peers who had been there at least two years(24% of those with <2 years reporting being very satisfied versus 36% of those who had been there 2–5 years). The top reason for dissatisfaction? Office culture. Regardless of whether newcomers to your development program are experienced professionals or novices, they are coming to an office with different values, relationships and approaches. Learning how to navigate a new institution and find your “fit” amongst a team is a top obstacle for new hires.

Team Members are Most Vulnerable to Poaching and Most Costly to be Poached Between Years 2 and 5

After the first two years, we can assume that newcomers who might have been frustrated with culture have either adapted or left. Fundraisers are then finding their stride, bonding with team members, progressing beyond a discovery-heavy portfolio, and seeing their first big successes with your donors. On average, their satisfaction increases. This is also the performance “ramp-up” period for fundraisers (our data show that portfolio performance grows slowly in newcomers through year 3 and then jumps dramatically). The institution begins to receive a healthy return on its investment during this period.

However, this is a period of high risk for losing your team members. Even though only 6% of this group is actively searching for a new position, nearly 30% are passively open to opportunities when they are approached. And after 24 months at an organization, fundraisers have a long enough time period on their resume to avoid raising eyebrows. Be assured that they are being contacted (27% report at least 10+ instances of contact about new opportunities in a year-long period). This can also be a period where team members become disillusioned, pointing to leadership and unrealistic expectations as primary causes of dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction Increases as Fundraisers Gain Tenure

Across stages of tenure, there is one more interesting trend: those with over a decade of experience at an institution have the highest dissatisfaction rates. High tenure fundraisers are more comfortable with your office culture and accustomed to the expectations placed upon them. They are, however, equally familiar with any dysfunction in your development office, particularly if there is weak management and leadership. Frontline fundraisers who have been at an institution over 10+ years may now have limited management oversight but bigger responsibilities and are more acutely affected by mismanagement than their lower tenure peers.

Source: Bentz Whaley Flessner Front-Line Fundraiser Study, 2014.

So What Does This Mean for You?

Here’s how you can hone your retention strategies based on these findings:

  • Focus on easing the adjustment to a new culture and institution for new hires.
  • Create growth and leadership opportunities before formal promotions.
  • Improve transparency in expectations during fundraiser performance ramp-ups.
  • Foster ownership of institutional and management improvements amongst high tenure team members.

BWF’s TalentED practice partners with non-profit institutions to optimize fundraising outcomes through customized team and skill-building workshops, talent management and learning development program assessments and planning, and thought leadership and research on the talent crisis in development. To learn more about how you might better find, keep, and grow your talent contact us at training@bwf.com.

Copyright © 2015 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc

When is turnover healthy? Four instances where “losing” frontline talent isn’t such a bad thing

We have a healthy fear of losing talent in the world of development. For the frontline in particular, is difficult to find and fill open positions, incredibly expensive to lose someone on the frontline, and disruptive to relationship building with donors. This blog has spent some time talking about recruitment and retention strategies, tips for growing your own high performers, and data and trends behind the the world of fundraising talent management. In this flurry of trying to find, engage, and grow talent we can begin to fear losing any team members above all else.

Yes- having turnover is expensive, but there are a few instances when change doesn’t have to hurt, and in some cases attrition can be healthy for your overall team. Below are four scenarios where there are benefits that come with the “loss” of a fundraiser.

ursula 1Scenario 1: “Ursula the Underperformer”

We’ve talked before about how 20% of our frontline team bring in 80% of funds, a ratio that is fairly consistent across institutional types and structures. We’ve also discussed the 3-5 year “ramp up” period of fundraiser performance. Losing high performers is rough and the loss of potential high performers can be equally detrimental long-term. What we shouldn’t be afraid of, however, is losing or changing the circumstances of our lowest performers who have remained at the institution for years without ever achieving that “ramp up” to strong performance. This doesn’t mean that we should expect development officers in charge of smaller programs to raise as much money as their peers in big priorities and principal giving; rather, we should be looking for those Ursulas who don’t meet the expectations appropriate for the capacity of their portfolio and appeal of their programs. If you have a frontline fundraiser who has been with you for 5+ years and still is not producing meaningful gift commitments then chances are:

  • They are already disengaged from the institution
  • They lack the skill set or strategy to cultivate a meaningful pipeline within their portfolios over time
  • They are unlikely to improve on their own
  • They hold a mid-level position that could be better filled by rising talent

CarlScenario 2: “Culture Conflict Carl”

We’ve worked with hundreds of non-profit development offices – higher ed, healthcare, conservation, human interest, international aid, etc. Even across like institutions there are distinct office cultures that influence the type of management and nature of engagement of employees. In many cases you may have a “big hire” or newcomer who comes from an organization that was very different culturally. For example, your shop may be very data-driven and transparent with all activities tracked, reported and analyzed while you may have Carl, who works best in an office that uses data to bookend activity but not drive it. This is not an insurmountable hurdle to overcome, but there are likely to be some hires where the cultural fit just isn’t there. When this happens:

  • The employees described above are equally frustrated (for frontline fundraisers who had been at an organization for 2 years or less – office culture was a leading cause of dissatisfaction)
  • Team dynamics suffer and cooperation declines
  • Forcing a fit can lead to an office’s cultural values become more imposed (and thus more negatively perceived) than naturally occurring

debbieScenario 3: “Debbie Downer”

We’ve all seen this person in action. They generally aren’t happy with many things about their job whether it be management, processes, other team members or institutional leadership. What’s more is that these individuals complain and seek others’ condolences. Negative presences like this contribute to several toxic trends within an office:

  • employee disengagement (and the attrition rate) spirals downward
  • discussions become grievance oriented rather than solution driven
  • other development team members acquiesce to and avoid confrontation with these individuals even when it is not the best overall choice

The negative impact of only one or two Debbies can be felt across an entire office. The hard part of this one is that Debbie might be a high performer. She may be able to bring in gifts and it is a real risk to see her leave looking at sheer numbers alone. However, ultimately keeping her around becomes the choice of keeping one performer at the expense of the happiness and productivity of the larger team.

loganScenario 4: “Lone Wolf Liability Logan”

Human Resources tends to get quite involved when employees become actual legal liabilities, but there are employees who pose other liabilities that you should be conscious of and proactive towards. This is generally the type of individual who adopts the “lone wolf” mentality at the expense of other team members, programs, or initiatives. You can spot a Logan on your team because he:

  • expects to be exempt from new procedures or protocols (eg: keeps his own excel spreadsheet of his portfolio despite all other fundraisers using your database)
  • can drop the ball with donors and prospects who are not viewed as a “high enough” priority or will pursue gifts from prospects despite other active gift discussions being in the pipeline
  • facilitates and encourages other “lone wolves” across your faculty, program staff or institutional leaders

Logan, like his counterpart above Debbie, may produce results. Your objective when deciding whether to keep any of the four types of individuals above should be to make the conscious choice based on what the individual’s value-add is to your organization and be honest about what negative attributes he/she may take with her when he/she leave.

 

For the four above examples we are making the assumption that much of the turnover we reference below isn’t a deliberate severance or firing by the institution. We know that most fundraisers are constantly being recruited away. Healthy turnover can be encouraged by organizations through simply not actively trying to counter and outweigh the external offers that are available.