Free Your Team to Climb Out, Not Burn Out

Jul 1, 2024 | Nonprofits

In my line of work, I frequently engage with executives from both the nonprofit and business sectors who view system and process implementation as a project they can complete in 3-6 months. They often adopt a “check the box” mentality, envisioning a finish line where they can dust off their hands and say, “Well, we’ve done it, operational improvement complete.” However, let’s stop right there for a minute. Drawing inspiration from one of my favorite reads last year, Think Again, or as one old character might challenge: “check our premises.” 

When we set fitness goals, do we stop working out and training once we reach them? Do high-performing athletes stop practicing and improving their techniques once they get a big win? Of course they don’t. Kobe Bryant famously began his days before 5 AM, even after retiring from basketball. He embodied the spirit of a lifelong learner, constantly striving for betterment. Reflecting on continuous self-improvement, the late, great investor Charlie Munger said: “I think that a life properly lived is just learn, learn, learn all the time.” 

You most likely recognize that building and maintaining the right learning habits is a lifelong journey, but shouldn’t this translate to our operational frameworks, processes, and systems? 

Did I lose you with words like processes and frameworks? 

Frameworks, processes, and systems might now be as exciting for you, but you have to recognize their importance in today’s world. 

For instance, let’s talk tech and AI. Have you read statements like these? 

Every company, or nonprofit, is now a tech company. 

AI is transforming the way we work in front of our eyes. 

Generative AI models will take your job and may even steal your family. A lot of fear exists around new technologies and how AI will affect our world, but one thing has become exceptionally clear, we have to embrace learning in order to lead. As Adam Grant, the author of Think Again points out,  those willing to question and think like scientists, own the future

We have to become learners, not only as individuals but as organizations. 

Consider the executives who want to implement a system, call it done, and then hope to not give a second thought to technology for another three years. Do those same leaders stop investing in sales or fundraising when they work well? Of course they don’t. We understand that continuous effort and improvement are essential for sustained success in most areas, but for some reason leave out our core operations, the process that makes sure our feet walk the same way we’re looking. Here’s a challenging question: 

What if the way we work has more impact on our long-term success than what we work on today? 

Setting your team up with a clear work framework, pulling them out of their inbox, and freeing them to deliver meaningful results will increase both productivity and fulfillment at work.

Does this article resonate with you? How do you think your team embraces these core values in practical, day-to-day activities, beyond just theoretical understanding?

Do you see your team in these statements? 

  • Our process and work can always be improved, we’re never ‘done’.
  • We measure success with objective, tangible results – no manager bias, or ‘siloed protectionism’
  • We’re always testing new ways of doing things – encouraging small risks. 

If you’ve stayed with me, and identified with these values, stay tuned for a follow-up on how you can build a framework of continuous improvement into the DNA of your organization. 

Set your team as a whole, and each member individually,  FREE to improve and achieve increasing amounts of MEANINGFUL PROGRESS. 

If you’re in a leadership position, begin to think about the potential of your team and organization in this context. What might happen if you got better at achieving your mission every month, every week? Celebrate the wins you make and the goals you achieve. Don’t let progress go unnoticed, or as is common in our work cultures, progress in the wrong direction be claimed as a win.

As they say, the first step is acceptance. First, do you see the value in creating an organization as serious about improvement as a sports team? Recognizing the value comes first, then we have to be honest about where we are as teams. The “how” isn’t rocket science, yet doing it successfully requires an intense amount of persistent effort and intention. 

Rate yourself on these pillars of continual improvement: 

  • Clear goals and objectives – does everyone know what their particular team’s vision is this year?
  • Objective, measurable feedback on those goals – have you removed the manager bias, busyness posturing, and established results-driven feedback loops?
  • Trust in your team to risk well – have you empowered your team members to try, suggest, and iterate new ways to achieve better results?

Don’t be afraid to start where you are, not where you feel you should be.

“The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.” – Kobe Bryant

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