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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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

Two Sides of the Same Coin – Fundraising Talent Management Challenges

This blog has covered both challenges in talent management of fundraisers and of development operations team members. These audiences, while distinct in their challenges, can be thought of as two sides of the same coin.

As our the non-profit fundraising sector has evolved so has our demand for talent. We now are highly in need of two things in short supply: highly sophisticated frontline officers who can deliver big gifts and high tenure operations team members who can think and partner strategically.

Below is a table overview of the two categories.

talent management nutshell

What do you think? Have you seen other trends in the talent management of fundraisers or operations teams?

Something Worth Reading: Eleven Characteristics of Successful Fundraisers

IMG_4821On this blog we’ve touched on some international trends and what we’re seeing on the frontline, but today I stumbled upon a great find from our friends in the UK. This article, which is a recap of a presentation at the Institute of Fundraising convention, shows us some new emerging research on fundraising talent (consistent with what we’ve found before). Beth Breeze has been conducting a three-year research project at the University of Kent on fundraisers and success factors.

The full list of attributes is at the end of this blog post. However, what’s most interesting to me is the following statement by Breeze:

A lot of fundraisers said something similar; words like passionate, saying ‘it’s the best job in the world’ have come up a lot. It seems the only difference between major donors and major donor fundraisers is how much they have in their bank accounts.

We spend a lot of time looking at behavior and metrics that differentiate top performers from their peers, but sometimes we neglect this fundamental characteristic to even be an effective fundraiser in the first place: passion for the cause. The smoothest solicitation script will always pale in comparison to a less polished but 100% heartfelt appeal. Donors can sense who is being genuine with them and who is not. As salaries continue to rise dramatically and we pull in talent from the for-profit world it will do us well to remember to look first for that connection to the cause and then for strategic skills.

The 11 defining characteristics of Breeze’s study are also indicative of a love of people, community, and charity:

  • A high emotional intelligence, including being self-aware and aware of how others are feeling.
  • Formative experiences which mean they are comfortable asking – Breeze said fundraisers tended to come from backgrounds where it was completely natural to ask for help or to borrow a cup of sugar.
  • A tendency to engage with people and communities outside the day job – the study has found that 11 per cent of fundraisers sing in choirs and a fifth attend evening classes
  • A love of reading – the study found fundraisers were particularly likely to enjoy popular psychology books
  • An ability to read people and situations, and to understand body language
  • An enjoyment of giving – 87 per cent of fundraisers said they love to give gifts, and 32 per cent donate blood, compared to 5 per cent in the general population
  • A great memory for faces, names and personal details
  • An ability to be “Janus-faced” – fundraisers are charming, laid back and fun in front of donors, but ruthlessly well organised behind the scenes
  • A focus on organisational rather than personal success – fundraisers saw themselves as enablers and scene setters rather than visible leaders seeking recognition
  • A lack of egotism – Breeze said fundraisers understood that “the plaques are for donors, not askers”
  • A tendency not to describe themselves as fundraisers – Breeze said fundraisers rarely described themselves as fundraisers. She used the term “appreciation experts” to better describe what they do.

The article is worth a read and, for those of you in the UK, Beth is definitely a person to keep watching for new insight, trends, and strategies.

Side note: I will be with my colleague Josh Birkholz this week in Chicago, delivering the keynote session at the CASE Strategic Talent Management conference. If you will be there let me know! (cmegli@bwf.com or @ChelseyMegli on twitter)

Practice and Repetition Are Not Enough: Why Training and Coaching Are Essential Elements for Developing Effective Fundraisers

Shooting Free Throws (Narrow)In previous posts our TalentED team has emphasized the importance of practice and repetition in ensuring that fundraisers develop the skills and professional judgment necessary to achieve success as a major gift officer. I’m confident it’s now accepted wisdom that repetitive simulations and actual hands-on, in-the-moment interactions with donors are essential experiences in helping new gift officers master the art of fundraising—a process that includes discovery, cultivation, solicitation, negotiation and stewardship.

As vitally important to performance as regular practice is, a recent article from Inc. Magazine reminded me that repetition alone cannot guarantee long-term fundraising success.

In “4 Short Lessons on How to Learn a New Skill,” author Sims Wythe posits that individuals who pursue mastery of a skill must also possess or receive four other factors if their repetition to yield meaningful improvement: (1) motivation, (2) knowledge, (3) application of knowledge, and (4) unequivocal feedback:

  1. Motivation

To get better at a skill, we must first want to improve. As Wythe states, “the first thing you have to do is simply begin…. And now that you know you want to begin, you have to be willing to fail, to be frustrated, to be bored, and to be angry that what looks so easy for some is so hard for you.” Without these internal or external incentives for improvement, we are unlikely to apply the necessary discipline, exert enough effort, or tolerate the impediments.

What motivates fundraisers to improve? At the very least, our supervisors expect and require us to become more polished and increasingly productive. Hopefully, we also bring to the task our own personal pride and desire for success.  Nonetheless, even the very best fundraisers encounter obstacles, including objections and rejection by donors. It’s not an easy job—and these challenges certainly contribute to the rapid turnover among first-time major gift officers.

  1. Knowledge??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

For practice and repetition to make a difference, you have to be practicing the right things. As Wythe observes, if you practice your golf swing at the driving range every day of the summer but you have a lousy swing, it’s unlikely your swing will be any better on Labor Day. Wythe thus cites Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who advises that “…acquisition of skills requires a regular environment, an adequate opportunity to practice, and rapid and unequivocal feedback about the correctness of thoughts and actions.”

What does that mean for major gift officers? Your own ability to enhance your performance is limited. To get better, you need to observe effective fundraising in action, have access to resources that will inform you, and obtain feedback from other, more experienced fundraisers.

  1. Application of Knowledge

Practicing alone has limited value. You must also practice in front of others and in situations similar to those in which your actual performance will occur. For example, Wythe cites the process of becoming Practicing Piano 3a better public speaker: “the only proven way to become a better speaker is to rehearse under performance-like pressure…. It is hard to replicate real-life circumstances, but practicing your speech aloud to people who are familiar with your topic is—again—the only scientifically proven way of improving your speaking skills.”

For fundraisers, that means practicing the types of conversations that you must have with donors: getting the appointment, eliciting information, exploring interests, soliciting gifts, overcoming objections and making the close. As uncomfortable as it may be, live practice—and yes, even role playing—of donor conversations in front of other, more seasoned gift officers is critical to recognizing opportunities for improvement and identifying areas for further practice.

  1. Unequivocal Feedback

Once you begin performing the skills you’ve been developing and policing, it’s vital to evaluate your performance and to identify areas that require further practice and improvement.  Indeed, Wythe suggests that we all need a coach; however we cannot be our own coaches: “You can read all the how-to books you want, but then you have to implement those suggestions—which takes a huge amount of discipline that most of us don’tPracticing Violin 1 have—and then you have to be able to see around your own blind spots which, believe me, will take a lifetime.”

Of course, few fundraisers have the resources to engage a personal coach. Instead, that role should be filled by your supervisor and your peers, and ideally, your organization will offer on-site training programs or opportunities to attend off-site workshops.  But if your supervisor and peers don’t see themselves as coaches, or if you don’t have access to training programs, it is up to you to proactively seek out feedback and coaching: Ask your colleagues to provide the ‘rapid and unequivocal feedback’ Wythe says you need, or seek others to help fill that role. Just be sure that you enlist knowledgeable people who you trust to critique you without holding back.

It should thus be good news for both new and seasoned fundraisers that the imperative for pursuing a comprehensive approach to building advancement teams is beginning to be acknowledged and to be addressed. By applying tenets of “strategic talent management” to the advancement profession, fundraising organizations are increasingly looking holistically at the entire process of finding, training, developing, rewarding and keeping the best possible gift officers. And training, coaching and mentoring are core elements of this fresh, holistic approach to growing talent. In addition, consulting and support organizations (such as Bentz Whaley Flessner and TalentED) are also ramping up their offerings to help clients develop talent management strategies, provide training and coaching, and better understand the dynamics of creating and maintaining effective fundraising teams.

It’s good news, for sure. But don’t stop practicing!

Create a Superstar Fundraiser in 2015

Originally published December 10, 2014

If there’s one theme to emerge from the conferences, research topics, and discussions of 2014 across the world of development it’s this: it’s very hard to find and keep talent. Demand exceeds supply, and competition for a shallow talent pool is only going to increase if trends continue. Development programs must start to look inward to create and build their own talent pipeline.

This process should involve looking at your staff, enhancing culture, growing team strengths, and setting priorities.

Ultimately, however, outcomes along the front line will be made by a handful of exceptional fundraisers. Elevating even one more individual to that tier of performance can dramatically impact your overall results.

Below is a brief overview of a process that development leaders can follow over the next 12 months to transform a high-potential individual into a high-performing fundraising star.

Find the Right Footing and Foundation
There is a core set of knowledge and expertise fundraisers must have to be successful. Make sure your team members have a firm foundation in the science and art of fundraising. Evaluate and create a plan to deepen their knowledge and grasp of critical areas, including:

  • Major donor types and motivations.
  • Giving vehicles and types of giving.
  • Institutional culture and priorities.
  • Portfolio management and optimization.
  • Strategic solicitation, and matching big ideas with high-capacity prospects.
  • Trends and new tools in development.

Get Moving
Part of what sets star fundraisers apart from their peers is the ability to manage time effectively and maximize their time out of the office meeting with donors and prospects. Focusing on growing an individual’s performance should include immediate, intermediary, and long-term action items. That way he or she can have clear avenues to put theory into practice in all steps of the process. Integrating all learning, mentorship, and self-development into existing responsibilities and activities will solidify knowledge and deepen understanding more readily.

Look for the Heart of a Star
When talking about growing your own superstars, focus on finding individuals who have the right qualities and potential to become your future highest performers. Look for individuals who:

  • Seek out challenges and new opportunities beyond assigned top prospects and goals.
  • Can speak and connect with people of all backgrounds and personality types.
  • Are inspired by your organization but have room for growth.

Perfect Technique and Strengthen the Right Muscles
The best athletes, musicians, physicians, and executives all have one thing in common: they practice a lot. More often than not that practice includes focused coaching and mentorship. Fundraisers, likewise, become more effective the more targeted practice they are able to have. Build a performance plan that not only increases classroom learning and expectations but allows for practice, shadowing, mentorship, and coaching by existing stars on your team and experts in the field so that your professionals can try new techniques and receive guidance on how to refine and hone their own personal approach with donors.

Guaranteeing a feedback loop during this process requires that managers and directors must be actively engaged and protective of time for the skill and strategy growth of the individual.

Foster Leadership and Collaboration
The biggest gifts require collaboration and multiple contact points, and often our top performers are expected to be team leaders as well. However, content areas for skill building often leave out collaborative strategies and good leadership and management. Similarly, we often wait too long to give individuals leadership opportunities. Leadership should be developed well before a promotion.

Part of what makes a fundraising star is his or her ability to lead internally as well as produce externally. In order to transform individuals you must make sure that they are given opportunities and tools for leadership. Find or let your team members identify new projects or initiatives in need of an owner. Include leadership skills and management in your expectations and performance evaluations of your team. For individuals to become leaders, they must understand their own management style and approach with peers, direct reports, and contacts across an institution and be able to translate that into success in actual programs and projects.

Focus on the Future
Developing the skills and improving the outcomes of performers is only as effective as your ability to retain them. Any program, formal or informal, that you develop must account for and incorporate the personal and professional goals of the team members involved. A curriculum for 2015 should, therefore, be focused on improving and multiplying fundraising results for the next 12–24 months AND act as a stepping stone for your fundraisers’ own ambitions for the next 5–10 years. Taking the steps described above helps communicate to your performers that you value them and their growth. Don’t shortchange your results by neglecting to communicate that you have a plan and place for them as they grow.

There will be valuable members of your team who may not be ready for the next step. That’s okay. As you work to grow your fundraising stars, keep these folks in mind—team building and performance across the bell curve should be a parallel priority for talent development this year.

It’s not an easy task, but, as the saying goes, something worthwhile is rarely easy.

BWF’s TalentED practice partners with non-profit clients to create superstars through competency-based, one-on-one coaching by seasoned experts. Contact us at training@bwf.com to learn more about coaching, workshops, or our talent management services.

Copyright © 2014 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.