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Talent Matters: 10 Tips to Drive Results

February 8, 2016

Mary Bruce 1Today’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.”

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2016 12:47 am

    Great advice and summary of steps to be more results-based.

  2. Cheri Hinkley permalink
    February 12, 2016 5:21 pm

    Mary…Congratulations on your successes and hard work serving kids. I was the first PC volunteer in Afourer, Morocco in 1974-1976. It was a challenging and very rewarding experience…. It’s my understanding that you also lived in this (once small) town. I am sure that it helped to build the strong person you are today and you are surely helping to build strong kids for tomorrow!
    Ma Salaam, Cheri Hinkley

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