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The Top Ten Things Nonprofit Managers and Supervisors Should Always Try to Say

A few months ago, with apologies to David Letterman, I wrote Top Ten Things Nonprofit Managers and Supervisors Should Not Say. Now comes part two. In reverse order, we bring you: The top ten things nonprofit managers and supervisors should always try to say.

Number Ten: I Appreciate Your Timeliness with That Project

This is just one example. Let your employees know that their efforts have not gone unnoticed and be specific about what they did for which they are being praised. Generalized compliments are good, but it means more when your employee can attribute it to a particular project or accomplishment.

Number Nine: Thank You

I’m a big fan of the TV show “The West Wing.” I could probably design a management course around the way they ran the White House, but one point has always stayed with me. No matter what the conversation was, no matter if it was affable or contentious, they always ended it with “thank you.” This included the President as well as his staff.

I have tried my best to end my conversations with my staff with those same words. You would be amazed at how much of an impact that simple phrase can have on individuals and the general office climate. I knew I had done my job when people actually started using it with each.

Number Eight: What Do You Think?

While it is true that no one likes to be dictated to, I will be the first to acknowledge that there are times when management has to make decisions irrespective of the opinions of others. Conversely, seeking input from others, whenever possible, accomplished at least two things.

First, you may get information and suggestions that you might not have considered. Second, by involving others in the decision making process, you can almost guarantee that you will get more of a buy-in on their part. This is especially true if they see where and how you incorporated their input into the decision, policy, procedure, etc.

The danger here, of course, is to seek input from your staff and ignore it. Yes, there may be times when their ideas might not fit in with what you deem to be the best course of action. In those cases, it is important to provide feedback as to why you went in the direction that you chose.

It is also important to let your staff know that you did take their suggestions seriously and that you appreciate their input. Understand that you might be met with skepticism. The best way to head this off is to look for other opportunities where you can and do use the ideas that were given to you.

Number Seven: Your Work Is Clearly Having a Positive Impact

In 1959 Robert H. White developed a model of what he called effectance motivation. In this model, he postulated that if people are able to successfully manage and master their environment, the associated feelings will motivate them to go further, try new things, and increase their feelings of competence and self-esteem.

Susan Harter took White’s theory a step further, writing that perceived competence was influenced by several factors, including positive or negative reinforcement by significant others. Letting your staff know that their work makes a difference provides them with positive feedback, while also creating an environment where success is acknowledged. There is no better way to motivate people than to praise them for their accomplishments.

Number Six: I Will Try to Address Your Concerns as They Arise

The longer you put things off that affect your employees, the more difficult it becomes. A delayed response can almost guarantee two things. First, the issue/concern that was brought to you in the first place will more than likely continue to fester and get worse. Second, your employees will eventually lose any confidence they may have had in your ability and willingness to deal with the problem. They may even stop coming to you all together.

Of course, there are times when you are simply too busy to take any immediate steps and staff needs to understand that. The important thing is to not forget that there is an issue that needs attention and to prioritize it as best as you can.

Number Five: How Can I Help?

Much like Number Eight (What do you think?), this question allows your employees to have input into finding a solution to the problem. It also says that you are willing to get involved at whatever level may be necessary.

This one can also be tricky, however, in that your employees may have an unrealistic expectation of what it is they want you to do. Short of anything illegal or unethical, there isn’t much that, in my experience, you shouldn’t or couldn’t do in the way of assistance.

There is also a variation on this which is: “Do you need my help?” Often times people want an opportunity to solve their own problems while knowing that you are there if they need you. This does require some degree of judgment on your part as there are situations where, whether asked for it or not, you will get involved.

Number Four: Let Me Look into That and I’ll Get Back to You

Much as we’d like to think differently, there are times when you will not have an answer or a solution to a problem at your fingertips. Many is the time that I have used this approach, not only with my staff, but with clients, representatives of other organizations, the media, and others.

The most important point here is to make sure that you do follow through. People are often skeptical when they hear a response like this. Using this tactic as a way of avoiding a situation or to put someone off will harm both your credibility and that of your organization.

If you say you will get back to the person, make sure you do. Sometimes you may not be able to come up with an answer right away. In those situations, try to be proactive and let the person know that you haven’t forgotten about them, but that it’s simply taking a little more time than you anticipated.

Number Three: My Door Is Always Open

I used to tell folks that even if I look like I’m hip deep in paperwork, don’t ever feel as though you cannot interrupt me. I’d much rather hear what’s going on with you than worry about what’s floating around on my desk.

Certainly, there are times when you may not want to be interrupted. If that is the case, then, by all means, close your door. Even still, just because my door was closed, it didn’t mean I could not be approached. In my office we had signs, like in hotels. One side said please come in. The other side said do not disturb.

People do need to understand that some situations will require your full attention. Emergencies notwithstanding, you can always suggest that someone who needs to see you right away leave a voicemail, send a text message, send an email, etc. Just be sure you are checking those things and that you respond within a reasonable time.

Number Two: I’m Never Too Busy to Listen

You may feel that this is not always true, but the fact is, you can find time. It takes so little effort to stop whatever you are doing for two minutes to listen to staff members who need to speak with you. Here, again, you may not have an answer right there on the spot, but you can let them know that you will get back to them later (see Number Four, above).

Actually, there may be times when you just can’t stop to listen. I cannot tell you many times this had come up at any given time during my day. My response was usually, “Let me take care of this other thing that needs my attention and I’ll come back to talk to you.” Just make sure you do!

Number One: Good Job!

This one can never be overemphasized. Look for any and all opportunities to say this to your staff. There is a caveat, however, in that you do not want to overuse it. Doing so will eventually make it seem less meaningful and it will lose its impact. There’s no formula as to where, when, or how often to say these words, but if the opportunity presents itself, say it!

Tom Butero, LICSW

About the Contributor: Tom Butero, LICSW

Tom hold a masters degree in social work from George Williams College in Illinois and is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) in Massachusetts. He is a member of the National Association of Social Workers.

Tom’s clinical knowledge and experience are extensive, with specialties in the areas of family therapy and treatment services for adolescents. Tom also brings a wealth of expertise in organizational development, administration, and management training. He has served as a program director for several community-based agencies and was the executive director for a youth service agency in Newport, RI.

Tom has taught courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at George Williams College, the University of Illinois, and Boston University and has presented at numerous local, state, and national conferences on various topics. He has published two articles on diversity training for the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and an article entitled "Don’t Chase the Dollars" for the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation & Inspiration (SOFII) in Great Britain.

Tom is currently self-employed as trainer and consultant to both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

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