Sharon was beaming in her cap and gown having just earned her dual Master’s in Nonprofit Management and Business Administration. From where I was sitting in the large stadium, I could see her mom in the section across from me, whooping and hollering for her baby girl along with the rest of her family. I was proud and honored that Sharon had invited me and reflective about our journey together to this proud day. We were sitting down for one of our one to ones, and I was asking Sharon about what she would like to do for next steps within our organization. Sharon had always been a strong performer and was the embodiment of delivering quality to both our clients and our team. Over time, she developed a strategic capacity that complemented her propensity for execution, and I was eager to expand her roles and responsibilities.
“Ty, I really think I’m going to go back to school to get my Master’s. I appreciate the opportunity to do other things, but I want to hold my plate steady so I can manage my education and still do a good job at work.”
Now I must admit, I wanted Sharon to learn and grow, but my initial thought was in this cool new role I had picked out for her that would help her meet an immediate organizational goal. I needed her expertise and capacity in new ways, and she was more than capable of coaching and mentoring other team members to ensure her transition was seamless. But this was important to her, and I had learned the hard way that when people do not have the opportunity to nurture both their personal and professional needs, you often lose them, either through turnover or through reduced performance. So I found another way to meet the needs of our organization, letting her keep steady at her existing capacity and pursuing her goal.
Most organizations share the value of DELIVER QUALITY, and most leaders understand that consistently delivering quality requires balancing the intersecting needs of their customers, organization and employees. Most companies, however, tend to weight customers’ needs more heavily and make tradeoffs accordingly.
Values- driven entrepreneurs must train themselves not to have a tradeoff mindset. When you manage with the assumption that, somehow somewhere, you must compromise needs, there is always a loser. You meet the needs of your customers at the expense of your employees’ work-life balance; you support the goals of your employee at the expense of a critical organizational need; you develop an organizational strategy that alienates your existing customer base. Instead, the values-driven entrepreneur sees ways to align the interconnected needs so everyone benefits.
Whole Foods Market captures this in their Stakeholder Interdependence Model. In their model, the value of Team Member Happiness actually drives Customer Satisfaction (i.e. meeting the needs of customers AND employees). In Sharon’s case, having the opportunity to pursue goals enhanced her motivation and increased her job satisfaction which resulted in sustained strong performance. When the values-driven entrepreneur is diligent about managing to the broader context of interconnected customer and employee needs, she creates the environment that allows her organization to consistently outperform the market.
Since the leader usually defines vision and strategy, organizational needs can quickly morph into the leader’s desires and preferences. This is even more true with values-driven entrepreneurs who are driven by passion and purpose and ideally have recruited people who share similar values and are attracted to his vision. Because of this, it makes it even more difficult to separate the organization’s needs from the values driven entrepreneur’s ideal state because the team will often be so compelled by his passionate view that they find it difficult to surface alternative paths.
When Sharon first started working with me, I often blurred organizational needs with my preferences. I had thrown myself into fundraising on behalf of our young people, but we didn’t have any backend infrastructure to support that work. When I looked at Sharon I saw a life preserver, raft, and compass rolled into one. Not only did she know exactly what needed to be done to create an effective donor experience, but she had done it for several years for multiple organizations. While we were new to her, in my mind, the role was not. And Sharon quickly proved that my belief in her competence was not unfounded.
Sharon saw it very differently. She loved the role, our team, and the work we did, but she was overwhelmed. There was not enough defined, I didn’t spend enough time with her as a manager, and she spent most days feeling very uncomfortable about the breadth of her role and the decisions that she had to make with little input from me or other team members. Although she had the technical skills to deliver everything I was requesting and more, she had yet to develop the confidence in her instincts. Since most of the organizations she had worked with were not in startup, process and policy were more defined than in our young organization. While Sharon had been given every opportunity to execute, it was usually within a defined structure. I was asking her to both build the strategy and execute.
Now I realized that building strategic capacity takes time and a willingness to deal with mistakes, but Sharon was worth it! She had so much potential, and I processed most of her pushback as her second guessing herself instead of expressing one of her needs as a new team member. That made me even more excited to give her the opportunity!
In retrospect, I get what was so daunting about pushing Sharon so hard, especially as she was trying to make her way and establish herself with a new manager. But at the time all I saw were my beliefs in the potential and capacity of my team and the young people we served. Sure we would make mistakes and it would be difficult at times, but every triumph and failure would bring us closer to providing access to opportunity. Every member of my team was there because they, like me, believed in our vision, our mission and in the talent of the young adults with whom we worked.
Other values-driven entrepreneurs may not feel that way about career pathways; perhaps for others it is the environment, or health and wellness, or delivering transformative technology. Whatever it is, as a values driven entrepreneur, being connected authentically to your passion and purpose makes you magnetic and compelling, which is a hefty responsibility because your team will often supplant their needs for yours, whether consciously or subconsciously.
Gratefully, Sharon was one of my best teachers on this phenomenon because a skill that she had already mastered was open and honest feedback. Because of her, I learned to own that I was responsible first and foremost to DELIVER QUALITY to my team, and that meant creating an environment that evolved with their needs as well as the business. John Mackey, in his book Conscious Capitalism, put it best.
“Stakeholders make up a company. They include all the people who impact and are impacted by a business. We must honor them as people first before treating them according to the role they happen to be playing. They all contribute to the creation of value, and it is therefore vital that they share fairly in the distribution of that value.”
He goes on to make the argument that team members create value and experience their organizations in multiple identities and perspectives, which makes them the most critical to organizational success.
The most important factor in delivering quality at all levels of the organization is simply the desire to do so without tradeoffs and with the belief that each part—employee, customer and organization—and the needs thereof are equally important.
Nevertheless, it is a constantly shifting equation that requires not just attention, but intention. Here are just few questions to ask yourself in order to DELIVER QUALITY at all levels of your organization.
- What are you doing to build and maintain a feedback culture? – People often feel like they have a feedback culture if they gather information and put it in charts and share it with others. But there has to be a structure and discipline to this from your team and your customers and the processes and medium may change as you grow and mature.
- Have you aligned roles with work styles? There are multiple tools for this from Myers Briggs to Strengths Finder. My favorite is Predictive Index because it marries the concept of people’s work styles with what they perceive they need to be in order to be effective in their role. It’s a powerful tool that even allows you to design future roles based on the styles most needed for success?
- Ask yourself – is this what the organization needs or what I want? - This is perhaps the hardest to answer and be disciplined about because there are many times where these do align, and your instincts to see what others do not probably led you to entrepreneurship in the first place. However, without a healthy dose of questioning and feedback in this area, you may passionately and proudly lead your team in the wrong direction.
- Are you building a team based on organizational life stage? – I’ve managed in everything from start-up to Fortune 500 businesses, and the path to a strong outcomes can be very different. People who were attracted to our organization when it was a start up darling may now be chafing as you move to more of a mezzanine stage which requires more processes and policies. Understanding the life stage of your organization and how it impacts the needs of your customers and employees will help you prepare your organization for continued success.
“I’m so proud of you!” I say to Sharon as I squeeze her tightly. Seven years later, she no longer reports to me, and we’re not even in the same organization any more. But she’s exuberant and has accomplished even more for herself than when she worked with me. From homeownership to continuing education to being engaged, she is building a life she is proud of both personally and professionally. What that has done for her and her family is undeniable, what it has done for me was a bit unexpected. Witnessing Sharon’s evolution showed me the power of an individual’s self-directed journey. A good leader has to have many qualities but being supportive of that journey, showing the desire to be there for it— for all my team members—is the quality I want to deliver most.