Thursday, February 25, 2016

Trust me, I'm a professional

Sometimes, all you want to do is to actually do the work you were hired to do.  Am I right?  Of course, I am.  I know this and you know this.

Well, why don’t we? 

Sometimes, the people in charge want to tell you how to do the work that you were hired to do.  Crazy, I know.  Then there are committees, meetings, more meetings and then you have to present a plan (perfectly formatted, of course) and then discuss those plans and that requires; well, more meetings.  You plan, you get approvals, you stress, you stress some more.

Days go by.  Weeks go by.   Seasons change (well, maybe not in California).  Baseball has played a whole season including the post season and you still haven’t launched your project.

I hate that.

You have no idea how much I hate that.  Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating some (not about how much I hate that, just about how long things take).  Then again…

I’m not saying all meetings are bad, but there comes a point when it’s time to let talent shine and let people get after the work that needs to be done.

One of the great things about where I work today is that the people who hired me, actually trust me.  Imagine that.  They hired me because I have a certain set of skills and experience that will allow me to be successful.  They believe I know what I’m doing.  It’s a cool concept, right?

Now before I continue, I want to say that this post isn’t necessarily a reflection on my past employers.  So, before anyone assumes anything, please keep that in mind.  If the shoe doesn’t fit… it doesn’t fit.  

Here’s the thing.  When you are in the midst of a project and you’re going through all that stuff (meetings, more meetings, stress, etc.), you begin to think it’s the norm.  You figure this is the way business is done.  You get to a point where you are afraid to move forward because you fear if things go wrong, you’re going to pay for it.  Guess what?  You probably will.

I once heard a story about what happened when Coca-Cola launched NEW COKE.  NEW COKE failed miserably and the guy who came up with the idea was fired.  If you think the story ends there, you’re wrong.  The smart people at Coca-Cola decided to bring the guy back.  Why?  Because they realized people shouldn’t be punished for trying new things.

I probably over simplified that story, but you get the idea.  Imagine not being able to present your ideas because of the fear of failure. 

That kind of fear can paralyze us; especially, if that fear resides with the people in charge.  It always starts at the top.  Always.  And it filters down. What’s that song by The Kinks?  Paranoia, need destroyer. Paranoia, they destroy ya'!

That’s not an issue here.

We recently took delivery of some predictive modeling and wealth screening results from Blackbaud Target Analytics.  The data came back to us at the end of December.  Our consultant delivered the “deck” in the first full week of January. Our IT team had the data loaded into our Raiser's Edge data base the same week.  By the middle of January, I had identified and assigned major gift prospects for our major gift officer.  By the second week of February, I had identified and assigned principal gift prospects for our vice president.  Not only that, we vetted these lists with development colleagues, the founder and the chief executive officer. 

When the first list was finished, I could have cried tears of joy.  I knew what just happened was significant.  It was monumental. I knew this would serve as the launching point for our major gifts program.

Needless to say, I was fired up.  No; really, you have no idea just how fired up I was.  Think “Rocky” dancing on the top of the steps leading to the capital in Philadelphia.  Imagine
Tiger Woods pumping his fist after sinking a winning put. 

That was me. 

Okay, maybe not exactly.  I didn’t actually walk around doing any of those things, but I was feeling that way on the inside.

How did this happen so fast?

I have great colleagues and tremendous leadership around me.  They let me, be me. They let me do the work I was hired to do in the manner in which I saw fit.

You see, some of us need autonomy.

Some of us need the freedom to just do our work. We absolutely despise being micromanaged or slowed by red tape, bureaucracy, fear, or control-freaks because that prevents us from thriving. Nothing stifles creativity and/or production like a lack of autonomy.

Give the right people autonomy and watch what happens. 

I know I work harder and faster when I’m doing what I think is best and not what someone else wants me to do or even worse - demands me to do.  If I have questions, I’ll ask.  If I need help, I’ll seek it.

That’s what happened here.

I grabbed the data.  Who am I kidding?   I embraced the data!   I segmented the data.  I analyzed it.  I made it my own.  I dug and I dug some more. 

Then, I developed a list of prospects to share.  I presented that list on the spreadsheet.  I didn’t do a power point presentation.  There weren’t any mini bios with color pictures that would have taken weeks to complete.  No show.  No bells and whistles.  Just good clean data delivered with enthusiasm.

I didn’t do any of this alone.

When I needed to append any of the data – our IT team provided me with what I needed and they did it within hours, sometimes even minutes.  I didn’t have to fill out a request form (an email was sufficient).  I didn’t have to wait two weeks (or longer).  I simply asked and I got what I needed.  My request didn’t go into a black hole without any idea of when I would get my results.

When it came time to vet the names, a list was sent out.  People responded.  They responded quickly and gave great input and insight where appropriate.  Nobody told me they didn’t have time.  Nobody complained.  They just did it.  Nike would have been proud. 

This is what happens when you have great leadership and everyone feels like their jobs have meaning. 

When we are engaged in a cause that is important to us in some way, we feel energized and we give it our very best effort.   All I have to do is look around me and I can’t help but be engaged.  I'm surrounded by great people who are all energized and committed to the cause.

When we do work that has meaning, we feel a sense of significance.  We strive to accomplish great things.  We all want to do great work.  All we need is the opportunity.

At this organization, we take our cues from our volunteer base who resemble passionate soccer fans.  They’re driven and so are we.

Maybe you’re sitting back and reading this and thinking… “Yeah, right.”  I see you with your arms folded staring at the screen.  Keep reading anyway.

Maybe you’ve experienced this kind of environment yourself and are happy to see it exists elsewhere.  I don’t know. 

Okay, maybe I do know because I’ve had these conversations with many of you.

Well, I’m telling you the truth.  Great organizations have great leaders and great people.  I admire the people I work with and work is so much better when that’s the case.  We trust each other.  We pull for each other.  We get things done together.  I don’t know how any organization can be successful without that kind of culture.

It’s amazing what happens when you are surrounded by positive people.  My colleagues bring out the best in me and I love them for that.  I hope I’m doing the same for them.

When I look back at some of my past failures (yeah, I’ve had some) – I realize that in some cases, I was destined to fail.  I’ve been places where the culture was so bad, the environment was toxic.  Instead of looking out for one another, people looked out for their own interests instead.  That doesn’t work in team sports and that certainly doesn’t work in business. 

There’s an old saying “culture eats strategy.”  It’s true.  If you find yourself in a toxic environment; run.  Run as fast as you can because the cost will be too great if you don’t.  You might think you can overcome it all and maybe; just maybe, you can.  I’m not that person.  I didn’t always know that, but I know it now.

Sometimes the lure of what you get from a job (nice title, more money, etc.) blurs your judgement when evaluating opportunities.  You look at a situation and think, yeah – it might be bad, but the money will be good.  You tell yourself, “I can overcome.”

Again, I’m not that guy.

That doesn’t mean I’m afraid of a challenge.  Quite the contrary.  I’m afraid of not being able to be myself in the face of challenges.  I also need to know that I can count on my colleagues.  After all, it’s all about the people you surround yourself with.  It really is, but more about that in my next post.

So, we’ve taken the first of many steps in building a major gift program here.  I can’t wait to see the results. 

I wish that every project I’ve ever taken on went like this one has so far. 

I’m lucky to be where I am.  You could even say I’m blessed.  I am so thankful that I found this place and that it found me.  I know I will have the opportunity to do great work.  I know that opportunity will come with great collaboration and with people who trust and genuinely care about each other. 

I’m told by friends and colleagues that when I talk about the place where I work, they see a huge difference in me.  They feel my excitement and are genuinely happy for me.  I guess you could say, I’m back to just being me.

Thank God for that.

Onward we go.  I'll keep posting, if you keep coming back.  Please feel free to tell me how I'm doing by commenting below.

And thank you to all of you who have made your way here.  I appreciate your taking the time to read.  I'm overwhelmed by the response so far.  Many of you have either commented here or sent me notes and I sincerely appreciate it.


  1. Love these posts and psyched for more! One (sort of random) question that came up reading this one:
    1. What do you attribute the agility and responsiveness of your IT team to?

  2. Thank you, Robby. That's a great question. One of our core values is "Team" - we work together to do great work. Those values aren't just words on paper or posted on the wall - they're real. Part of the responsiveness is probably the awareness of how important development is to an organization like ours who's revenues are 100% from external support. It might also help (a little) that I played a role in recruiting the person in IT that I work with most. It's all about relationships (more on that in my next post). I also tell my colleague that I can't do my work without him and I tell him that all the time! I guess it's because they're properly staffed and have their priorities in order. At the end of the day, I don't know if I can give you a full answer - all I know is that they are responsive and I appreciate it so much.