In the fall of 2012, we started our LaunchPad Fellows program--essentially the first “staff members” we welcomed into YNPN after me.
About a month after the Fellows came on and we were off and running, I started to notice something that was heartwarming at first: our Fellows were really appreciative! I’d get these awesome notes from them that said:
“Thanks for sending me that follow up article about [topic we’d discussed]!”
“Thanks for listening to me vent this morning!”
It was really sweet! I would think to myself, “Awwww, these Fellows. They’ve been raised so well!”
Another month in, though, just after we finished our first round of the quarterly check-ins, the thanks were still coming:
“Thank you for taking extra time to help me figure this out!”
“Thank you for asking me what I thought. And actually listening!”
“Thank you for telling me that I did that well!”
But my reaction slowly started to change.
Look, I’m not naïve. In the first place, YNPN is an organization that focuses on personally and professionally developing young leaders. We were founded because young leaders knew that this development was important and they weren’t getting what they needed from other places.
Second, I go to conferences and sit on the panels all the time where we talk about how we have to be better at developing younger leaders. I champion the research (#fundthepeople!) that says we have to invest more. I read the blog posts that make the very clear case for how we can do better. I’m clearly aware that we have an issue when it comes to investing in talent.
But seriously? “Thank you for asking me what I thought. And actually listening.” ???
We, of course, want YNPN to be known as a great place to work. And it is! (Most days :) ) But we don’t want YNPN to be known as a great place to work because the people who show up here have dragged themselves across the professional desert and have finally found their way to the oasis that is our organization.
If you’re like me, those lists of the “Top 10/50/100 Best Places for Trish with Ebony & Michelle, two of our Launchpad Fellows, at our February retreat.
There’s often the fear of too many cooks in the strategic kitchen but we’ve found that we can either invest time on the front end and figure out the best ways to facilitate appropriate engagement from everyone in our org. Or we can invest time on the back end getting our team to buy into the vision and plan we developed off on a mountaintop somewhere. We’ve chosen the front-end strategy. So when the board has an in-person planning meeting, the Fellows and staff come too.
Granted this is a bit of an organizational luxury given that our bench isn’t so big - we have a staff of two full-time folks, three Fellows, a couple of awesome contractors, and a board of 15. Still, I can see this remaining a central part of our culture even as we grow in size. We’ve learned that our strongest ideas and strategic plans are shaped in spaces where folks from all levels of the organization are around the table. And the level of investment in carrying out those plans is incomparable.
One of the images from Jamie's onboarding package. This is the commitment YNPN shows to welcoming new staff.
4. We’re serious about onboarding.
I had an internship my junior year of college where I showed up in the office, my manager met me at the door, took me to my desk, and gave me a piece of paper with 3 or 4 assignments. Then she left. Within 30 minutes I had a question...and I had no idea where my manager’s desk was.
I think often about that experience whenever we plan out an onboarding. We have a great track record of hiring folks who are smart, committed, and creative with a good amount of skill and even more potential. We’ve learned through experience that they’re ready and willing to contribute amazing things for the organization, but only if we help them get a feel for the space within which they have to create-- both in terms of workplan and in terms of culture. So our onboarding plans are extensive--intensive at first and then additional meetings and readings stretch out over the first several months. But it’s all aimed at helping create a sense of deep context for team members while allowing them space to do their thing.
5. We ask folks what they need to be successful and we try our best to provide that.
Each year we do set aside resources in our budget to pay for professional development for team members. Our staff and Fellows do a good job of taking advantage of the fund--signing up for webinars or attending conference that they think will help them with their work. But, honestly, when we ask our team members what they need to be successful, the vast majority are things that don’t cost anything at all. “I need you to let me know as soon as possible if I’m going in the wrong direction.” Or “I need you to introduce me to people who know how to do this thing I’m trying to do.” Or “I need to do my hours from really early and stop by mid-afternoon because that’s where my energy is best.”
And usually it’s not the thing itself that seems to have the most impact on their success (though we make a solid commitment to doing what we say we’re going to do), but the fact that we cared enough to ask.
By the way, all the little and big things that we’ve put in place to create an environment that people love--I didn’t make any of it up. When I stepped into the role as the first Director of YNPN National and had the opportunity to start solidifying the culture of the organization, I only had to rely 10% on my instincts. The other 90% came from almost 20 years of experience being managed and developed by incredible, passionate, brilliant individuals from my RA job as an undergrad to my last gig at the Building Movement Project.
These folk, each in their own small way, helped me form my basic philosophy for what the field now identifies as a whole body of practices known as “talent management.” Basically it’s this:
If you believe that your organization’s mission matters, then the people who carry it out matter too. And you should treat them accordingly.
(For more on YNPN’s internal Talent Philosophy, check out this report from last year’s LaunchPad Fellow for Talent Management, Betty Jeanne Reuters-Ward.)
After almost 8 years of engaging with the network as a volunteer, Trish Tchume is proud to be serving as the first-ever Director of YNPN National.
When not dreaming up various ways to harness the power of emerging nonprofit leaders, Trish likes to help her fellow New Yorkers find their inner voice as a volunteer story coach with the Moth and regularly takes her life into her own hands biking and jogging through the streets of NYC. She equally credits her rich Jesuit education, her strong Ghanaian roots, and a severe case of middle child syndrome for her commitment to engaging as many people as possible in the important work of building a just and equitable society.
You can contact Trish at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @ttchume.
Huddle icon from Andrew McKinley via the Noun Project