Today’s post is written by AmeriCorps Alums’ Co-Executive Director, Ben Duda (full bio below), and is part of AmeriCorps Alums’ REALTalk series on race, equity, and AmeriCorps alumni as leaders.
Coldplay, Bruno Mars and Beyoncé gave us the latest example of a musical “mashup” last Sunday at the Super Bowl, with more sure to come at the Grammys this month. And when it comes to musical collaborations, building a group whose contrasts are as interesting as their harmonies is key. A new book by Adam Grant, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Management, suggests the same is true for forming strong teams.
In an interview about Grant’s book, Originals: How Nonconformists Move the World, he shares an interesting take on how hiring managers define “cultural fit” for prospective employees that I think is acutely appropriate for the social sector.
“If you look at the hiring process,” says Professor Grant, “most leaders try to hire on cultural fit, they say look, we want people who share our values. And that’s a really good way to create a clone of your company. The data show that companies that hire on cultural fit initially benefit from a lot of motivation and solidarity, but then they fall victim to group think, and they grow at slower rates. What you need to do is hire on cultural contribution, which is about saying, we don’t want people who just replicate our culture, we want to figure out what is missing from the culture, and privilege that. So, let’s bring in a bunch of people that will enrich the culture, not just give us what we already have.”
In other words, if you’re hiring for cultural fit, and not enrichment, you’re missing out. And AmeriCorps alums, who are more diverse than the U.S. population and have a proven ability to take skills built in service to their careers, could be a significant portion of the talent pipeline you’re missing.
It’s clearer to see Grant’s concept at work when we look toward music again. So let’s think about this using two of my personal favorites: The Band and the Wu-Tang Clan. In assembling these iconic groups, each looked for members who could make cultural contributions to the work rather than the clones that Professor Grant warns us about. In The Band’s case, musical mastery came from five musicians and three singers, including a painfully shy savant on organ, a joyful bassist with warm vocals and a dynamic range, a raspy-singing nuanced drummer from Arkansas, a high tenor on piano, and a non-singing front-man/songwriter playing lead.
Similarly, Wu-Tang Clan wouldn’t be what it is if it was just a collection of Method Mans. They paired his charismatic style with the thoughtfulness of GZA, the poetic Ghostface, the braggadocio of Raekwon, the technical acumen of the RZA, and more, to make Wu-Tang a transcendent force in music. Read more…
Today’s blog is written by AmeriCorps Alums’ Co-Executive Director Mary Bruce (full bio below) and is part of AmeriCorps Alums’ REALTalk series on race, equity, and AmeriCorps alumni as leaders.
Change is powered by people. But too often, we don’t invest in talent development. As a nonprofit sector, we spend less than 2 percent of total grant dollars on it. And personally, it often feels hard to step away from “the work” to attend a training, participate in a webinar, or read and reflect on articles that could support our professional and leadership development.
When we do invest in talent, we’re better for it. Personally, professionally, organizationally. And, if we’re going to get the change, the progress, the results – our country needs, we need to invest in the people (that means you, Alums!) that drive those results.
Over the last 12 months, along with 15 other social sector leaders, I was lucky to be a part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s (AECF) “Social Sector Talent Pipeline Strategy and Learning Lab” focused on these issues. It’s an opportunity I wish all 900,000+ alumni could have experienced. Below, I share some of the key leadership insights I learned through this experience. We’ll also be sharing more about how you can get involved in Alums’ new talent development strategy in a call on February 25, 12-1 p.m. ET. (Register for the event here).
I hope you can spend a few minutes today, and each week, investing in your own leadership and professional development. I also hope you’ll join us for the strategy call later this month, and in our growing movement of alumni making change across the country and around the world. Because talent matters.
Here is my Top 10 List of Results-Based “aha-moments.”
- Stand on results. A result is a condition of well-being for people. Getting a result means something is better. Something has changed. This is the work of a leader. Define your result (in life, in an organization, in every meeting) and stand on your result. You gain real power and clarity when you do. Learn more here.
- Start with the data. Observe first. Before you hypothesize, before you infer, go “to the balcony.” What did you see? What did you experience? What data do you have about this issue? Learn more here.
- Clarify if the problem you’re working on is technical or adaptive. Technical problems are usually easy to identify and can be overcome with technology, a new policy, or solved with a known solution. Adaptive challenges, on the other hand, “require changes in values, beliefs, roles, relationships, and approaches to work” and require adaptive solutions. Technical solutions won’t solve adaptive challenges. Learn more here and here.
- Consider the “mental models” at work. What framework are you bringing to the tasks at hand? What about your colleagues? What beliefs – about race, gender, talent, traditions, values, or opportunity – are at play? You don’t have to have the same mental model as your colleagues or partners to get work done (remember: Stand on Results!), but understanding each other’s points of view can expedite progress. Learn more here.
- Ask questions. At the beginning of any conversation, meeting, or work assignment, determine your “effective questions.” What do you want to learn from this exercise? What really needs to be discussed? Effective questions help guide a conversation and move talk to action. Learn more here.
- Be future focused. It’s important to learn from past mistakes (and successes!), but if your thinking is in the rear view mirror, you’ll get stuck. Shifting conversations from “what went wrong?” to “what do we need to learn, and what resources do we need to do better?” can reduce defensiveness and open possibilities. Learn more in chapter three of the book available here.
- Understand your role and the roles of others. Whether in a meeting or in a year-long project plan, be clear on if you are an advisor, a decision maker, an authority, or something else. You – and others – may have multiple shifting roles (e.g. employee to the CEO, supervisor of your team, kickball team member to all). Consider your “B/ART” (boundary, authority, role, and task) and the B/ARTs of others – and be comfortable clarifying your role and that of others. Learn more here.
- Think in systems. Ever feel like you’re plugging a hole in the dam? Like the work you’re doing is too small in comparison to all that “needs” to be done? Consider the system. Take a step out of your work to consider how the interrelated parts connect. From there, identify the best points for intervention. Learn more here.
- Name and ignite conflict. Sometimes, conflict can prevent work from happening. Other times, it’s required. Get clear on the root of the conflict. Ask, “Is it based on language, and you’re using the same words to mean different things?” or “Is it based on structure, and people are waiting for permission to share their ideas?” Get clear on the type of conflict you’re having and the different types of tools to overcome it. Learn more here.
- Give the work to the group. They’re brilliant! Sometimes, the most powerful work you can do is to be a “neutral facilitator.” By asking the right questions, and then asking the group the make “action commitments,” you can play a powerful role moving the work forward. Learn more here.
Have more ideas or questions on leadership, talent development, and the AmeriCorps Alums strategy? Join AmeriCorps Alums General Strategy Call on February 25, 12-1 p.m. ET! Click here to register.
Author Bio: Mary Bruce served in AmeriCorps from 1999-2000 at the Latin American Youth Center as well as in Peace Corps Morocco from 2004-2006. Before joining Alums, Mary was the Senior Education Advisor at Civic Enterprises. She led the firm’s education portfolio, including convening the Grad Nation Civic Marshall Plan Leadership Council, which brought together more than 40 leading national partners to help reach the goal of 90 percent high school graduation rates by 2020. She also sits on the national advisory council of New Politics, an organization that gives Americans who have served the tools and guidance to win elections and become the transformational leaders America needs.
Today’s guest blog is written by AmeriCorps member Maia Wachtel, who serves as the Volunteer Coordinator at Super Stars Literacy (full bio is below).
As I move through life, I’m always asking myself “What’s next?” and “What difference will my next move make for me and my community?” I recently had the honor of planning part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at Super Stars Literacy, where I’m serving in AmeriCorps. I find Dr. King’s words of wisdom led my efforts that day and continue to influence my year of service.
As Dr. King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” For me that question isn’t rhetorical. I want to be doing things each day that build on Dr. King’s legacy by connecting people in service to each other and to the communities that need them the most. Dr. King devoted his life to the fight for social justice, equality, and opportunity for all. As an AmeriCorps member, I am honored to follow in his footsteps.
But, the question still remains: “What’s next after AmeriCorps?” To help me and other members serving at Super Stars Literacy answer this question, I invited a panel of AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alums to talk with us after our MLK Jr. Day service project. Who better to talk about pursuing careers aimed at strengthening and empowering communities through direct, thoughtful, and intentional community action than national service alumni?
It was a powerful experience to bring Corps members and alumni together, and I was excited by how much our commitment to service established an immediate connection among us. Listening to the alumni speak about their years of service and current careers, I was struck by how, despite having served in a variety of positions with very different organizations, we all clearly shared a common appreciation for and dedication to making the world a better, safer, and more just place. Read more…
Today’s guest blog is by Vanecia Thompson, AmeriCorps Alums’ new Development Coordinator (full bio below).
Growing up, my problem was feeling like I didn’t fit in. Some of that may come from being a middle child, and some might come from being born in Jamaica and moving to the United States. If there’s one thing I have learned as I’ve grown, it’s that Dr. Seuss has a prescription for any problem you may have.
“Why Fit In when You were Born to Stand Out?”
I’ve never fit into one category or clique. I loved drawing, playing sports, reading books, and tinkering with any new gadgets my parents brought home. I also loved creating new things and even had a brief stint as an entrepreneur selling lemonade and oatmeal crème pies outside of my house. No one could tell me I couldn’t like sports AND school or reading AND math. So, why do most of us keep thinking we have to be just one thing or fit into one group?
“Sometimes the Questions are Complicated and the Answers are Simple.”
While there wasn’t only one thing I liked to do, the chance to serve sparked something different in me. In the summer before ninth grade, I learned the meaning of philanthropy while attending Usher’s Camp New Look—and I’ve been hooked since. Throughout high school and college I went from participating in service projects to planning and leading the same projects.
“If you never did, you should. These things are fun and fun is good!” For me – that thing was service Read more…
When we talk about national service and alums, we get animated. We talk with our hands, our eyes grow wide, and we can’t sit still. How could we? AmeriCorps members and alums are doing exciting – and necessary – service and work!
From supporting flood response efforts in St. Louis to advocating for tribal justice in South Dakota, there are so many amazing stories that sometimes we can’t capture our excitement it in a tweet, blog or pin. Sometimes, you need a little more.
That’s why we are encouraging you to turn on your webcam and are exploring more visual ways that we can tell your stories. Stories like those of alum Sarah Gebhardt.
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Sarah joined the Travis County 4-H CAPITAL AmeriCorps Program, where she developed and taught a project-based STEM curriculum in Austin Title I schools. She also started vlogging about her experience, and her video, “AmeriCorps: What is It?”, is one of the top viewed videos about AmeriCorps on YouTube (over 7,300 views!).
Since graduating AmeriCorps, Sarah accepted a job at Skillpoint Alliance where she is responsible for data management and grant reporting, started undergraduate school, and launched a YouTube channel (read Sarah’s full bio at the end of the blog). We reached out to Sarah and invited her to share more with us about why she vlogs, why she thinks more alums should consider vlogging, and how you can get started as a Vlogger.
Check out Sarah’s short story and tutorial, “Turn on Your Webcam” below! Then click here to tell us what you think of Sarah’s tips and other topics you’d like to see in future vlogs from Sarah and other alumni.
Sarah Gebhardt Bio: After completing two AmeriCorps State and National terms, Sarah now works as the Compliance and Reporting Coordinator at Skillpoint Alliance where she is responsible for data management and grant reporting. Outside of the office, Sarah is completing a History degree from Texas State University, where she plans to go into Public History and Museum Education. Sarah has recently become a YouTube Partner and loves to spoil her dog.
What are the top five skills AmeriCorps alums developed in 2015? Catch up on our most popular webinars (one-hour online trainings) from last year and master the five skills alums were most eager to learn.
And, if you want access to more free resources, click here to browse our webinar archives. Then, visit our website and register with us to make sure you’re the first to hear about the latest free trainings! You can expect to hear about a new professional development event or online training each month in addition to other career news, jobs, and resources.
Build a Successful Nonprofit Career (click here to watch now)
Want an insider’s perspective on how to accelerate your nonprofit career? Hear from three AmeriCorps alumni who have successfully made the transition from AmeriCorps to the nonprofit sector and continue to advance in their career after more than five years in the field. Panelists include Dhriti Stocks and Stephanie Fenniri who co-lead our North Texas alumni chapter and Janeen Ettienne who served with Public Allies. By the end of the webinar, you’ll have a better understanding of how to start your career and how to move up after you get your foot in the door. Learn more …
Master 5 Spreadsheet Skills (click here to watch now)
AmeriCorps alum and tech wiz, Gordon Liu, who helped create a tracking system for AmeriCorps Alums chapters and leads our Midcoast Maine chapter, shares his top spreadsheet tips with alums. Gordon walks you through deciding if a spreadsheet is the right format for your project, formatting data, inputting and analyzing data, and creating macros and add-ons. If you’re handling large amounts of data and organizational records at your job, check out Gordon’s workshop. Read more…