We launched the Great Rethink back in April, to explore sudden and deep changes impacting the job market. The past several years have seen relentless headlines about mass resignations, record worker mobility, higher salary demands, and a tight labor market.
But at Aspen Leadership Group, we weren’t merely interested in the fact that millions of people were resigning en masse. We wanted to investigate and capture the why of it. People weren’t just changing jobs for higher pay. They were fundamentally rethinking their relationship to work and taking action to make changes – often big, deeply personal, dramatic changes in their careers and their lives.
The first issue we chose to tackle was “Workplace,” investigating how the evolving Workplace is affecting hiring, retention, and team management. As part of this exploration, we have been fortunate to interview philanthropy leaders, who have added important practical insights. One of the most powerful of these comes from Jake Logan, of The University of Texas at El Paso, who said: “We are forever changed as an industry, and I’m not sure there’s any going back. I also think it’s a good thing and was long overdue…”
We would agree. Whether or not an organization adopts a flexible Workplace model, the fact of hybrid/remote work is here to stay. During the pandemic years, many non-profits enjoyed their best fundraising ever. Thus, flexible Workplaces are not something to be feared; they are not an impediment to success; they have proven to be an invaluable tool for the improvement and advancement of our profession.
In the spirit of this permanent shift, we can offer some key action items and strategies for employers and job candidates – lessons learned from thoughtful conversations and personal reflection.
“In a market where there is a lot of competition for talent, allowing for flexibility can help get the right leaders in place. In turn, those leaders can decide how best to build their own teams. With enough runway and resources, they can build the right team to deliver results.” Benita Hussain, Chief External Affairs Officer at American Forests
FOR EXECUTIVES AND ADVANCEMENT OFFICERS
1. Expand the candidate pool by expanding Workplace flexibility.
We have heard consistently from employers that hiring is harder, and that non-hybrid/remote jobs are not getting traction in the marketplace. Candidates are reluctant to consider positions that offer no Workplace flexibility. And we have seen at ALG that, in very practical terms, the more flexible the role, the bigger the candidate pool.
Not every institution is ready to offer such flexibility. But every institution will have to deal with the changed preferences of candidates, who feel that they have proven themselves fully capable of making their maximum contribution in a hybrid/remote environment, and that they have earned a better work-life balance than they were able to achieve in full-time, in-office roles.
2. Design a flexible Workplace that reinforces culture.
Leaders who have been successful implementing a flexible Workplace model have pointed out that Workplace rules need an anchor – not flexibility just for flexibility’s sake, or making people show up in the office for the sake of being there. A requirement to be in the office should be a deliberate decision, i.e., that those in-person days and activities are meant to accomplish specific goals related to building the culture. Coming into the office simply to sit in a cubicle and stare at a computer screen makes little sense to anyone anymore. Likewise, remote work has to be structured to reinforce creativity, self-direction, and other key aspects of individual performance while still contributing to team performance. There has to be a why attached to Workplace flexibility to make the most of time in the office and time working remotely.
3. Set policy not just by department or team, but by individual position.
Leslie Miller of the The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts put it best: “Just as a practical matter, I don’t know that it is actually possible or even helpful to offer the same thing to everybody, because everybody’s job is so different.” One-size-fits-all Workplace policies are seldom an adequate solution. And while evaluating each role for its hybrid/remote potential may seem like a lot of hard work (and it is), we believe the work is worth it. Ultimately, it may help build a more energized team, in which each member is empowered to work where and how they function best for the role they’re in.
4. Rethink success metrics toward more holistic measures—for current staff and in hiring.
According to Benita Hussain of American Forests: “We believe that the character, skills, and qualities that we’re looking for in people can serve as a proxy for whether or not we can trust someone to be effective in a hybrid or remote role.” While statistics are easy to measure and even deliver (e.g., number of emails, phone calls, etc.), the shift to hybrid/remote work has raised the emphasis on other success metrics. Many advancement leaders we’ve spoken with emphasize that their culture is what has made them successful during the pandemic. And that a successful culture is as much defined by the holistic goal of moving the organization and its donor relationships forward, as it is by numbers on a spreadsheet.
5. Push trust and empowerment down into the organization – trust in leaders to manage their teams; trust in staff to do the work.
One of the most important elements of success in a flexible Workplace, and perhaps one of the scariest, is pushing decisions on Workplace flexibility down into the organization. Letting managers at all levels manage their own teams – in a way that best suits the roles and responsibilities of individual team members – can feel like a daunting proposition. But that’s exactly what we heard was most helpful—not just in adapting to a flexible Workplace model, but in maximizing its potential for recruiting top talent, retaining staff, and enabling them to make their best, most impactful contributions.
“For those candidates looking for new opportunities, flexibility is great. But so is working for a company that invests in their employees and offers opportunity for growth. Ultimately, you’ll want to be part of an organization that you care about, one that values you and what you bring to the job.” Jennifer Dunn, Chief Development Officer, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
FOR JOB SEEKERS/CANDIDATES
1. Be flexible to expand your opportunities.
Just as employers can unnecessarily narrow the candidate pool with too little Workplace flexibility, so too can candidates unnecessarily narrow their career prospects by eschewing in-person roles. There are still a fair number of advancement offices that require – and expect to always require – in-person employment. While this may not be your ideal, if an organization meets every other requirement, moves your career in the right direction, aligns with your values, and you click with the team, then the opportunity may be worth considering. Likewise, if the only reason you’re considering an opportunity is for its hybrid/remote Workplace, then there will little to keep you there over the long term – potentially opening you up to the dangerous game of job-hopping.
2. Be understanding of an employer’s limitations.
There are a lot of considerations that go into developing a remote work policy, and some institutions just can’t be as flexible as you – or maybe even they – would like. One key issue is equity: the difficulty of offering a new employee something that current staff aren’t getting. Another limitation may be the difficulty of a hybrid/remote advancement staff working with diverse local constituencies (e.g, on-campus higher-ed faculty, event staff in the performing arts; local environmental or social justice constituencies). Depending on your chosen field, you may have to be understanding and accepting of the demands on those types of organizations, and how they work.
3. Consider the career implications of hybrid/remote work.
As the hybrid/remote Workplace is new territory for many employers, we have yet to see the impact Workplace flexibility may have on career development. We do know that it can be difficult to learn important skills when you don’t have a chance to observe more experienced executives first-hand. And developing close, collaborative personal relationships can be harder over Zoom than in person. So, when considering any hybrid or remote role, it’s important to explore how team dynamics are built, how mentorship works, how job performance is evaluated, and how career advancement opportunities are decided.
4. Vet the culture.
A key aim of Workplace flexibility is to build a culture of respect and empowerment, i.e., empowering staff to work where and how they can make their best contribution. That often means staff need to be self-starters and highly motivated to do independent work. It also should mean that supervisors and executive are open to receiving the contributions of their empowered staff – i.e., that creativity and innovation are welcomed. Not every candidate is suited to every flexible Workplace, and vice versa. There is an important cultural element to be vetted as part of the search and interview process.
5. Be mission driven.
As employers put more trust in their staff, and offer more autonomy and empowerment, the flip side is that they expect more – especially on mission alignment. They are looking to recruit people whose passion for the mission make them trustworthy partners, staff who can be trusted to leverage this newfound Workplace flexibility to its greatest potential in moving the organization forward. Therefore, it’s in a candidate’s best interest to explain to a potential employer the contributions they can make, and to the find those opportunities where personal values and organizational mission are complementary.
“The idea of a ‘great rethink’ speaks to me deeply. Coming through the pandemic, I was processing the world around me in new and increasingly complex ways. It became a process of getting deeply aligned with my values. And to me that was a really wonderful exercise to go through, to get very clear on. Above all else, I asked myself what was driving me to show up both as an individual person and as a colleague every day.” Liz Balcom, Sr. Director, University of California, San Diego – Rady School of Management
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Ron Schiller, Founding Partner, Aspen Leadership Group
Anne Johnson, VP and Senior Consultant, Aspen Leadership Group
Don Hasseltine, PhD., VP and Sr. Search Consultant, Aspen Leadership Group
Coming on August 17… a final Workplace Q&A, this one focused on the performing arts and featuring Marlah Bonner-McDuffie, Vice President of Development for the League of American Orchestras, and Giuliano Kornberg, Executive Director of Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera – this will be the first in a series of arts-focused Q&As, which will appear quarterly over the rest of the Great Rethink series.
Coming on September 7… We launch the next module of the Great Rethink series, on the topic of Inclusion, which will run through December – ALG Founding Partner Ron Schiller explores the potential and promise of true inclusion, and kicks off the series with an urgent call to action.
Coming on September 21… a Q&A with advancement leaders on the broad topic of Inclusion – where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed – moderated by Ron Schiller.
Coming on October 5… an Inclusion piece for employers, written by ALG’s Steven Wallace, VP and Sr. Search Consultant, and Jeanette Rivera-Watts, Search Consultant, who share their front-line experience with hiring organizations: their challenges, insights, experience, and guidance related to Inclusion.
Coming on October 19… an Inclusion Q&A moderated by ALG Search Consultant Clare McCully, who will interview advancement leaders specifically with an eye toward inclusive recruitment and hiring.
Coming in November… an article and Q&A specifically geared to candidates, delving into how Inclusion initiatives inform today’s hiring process.
Coming in December… practical action items and behavior changes – from three authors from our Inclusion module – aimed at helping job seekers and employers make the most of the today’s Great Rethink of Inclusion.
Coming this Winter… a new Great Rethink module on “Value”.