Setting Expectations for New Hires
One powerful step in shaping your organization’s culture, particularly as your organization grows, is to capture in writing important elements of how you work. In the example below, Avaaz.org Executive Director Ricken Patel provides a written description for prospective senior hires of how the organization works in general and how he in particular works with the people he manages directly.
A Note For Avaaz Senior Staff Candidates
So you’re probably considering leaving a very good job that you enjoy to join the Avaaz team, or turning down a lot of other great opportunities. There’s a lot that you’ll want to understand about Avaaz before you make that choice, and our recruitment process will hopefully answer all your questions. One of the major things you might be wondering about, that it’s sometimes difficult to ask direct questions about in interviews, is the kind of team culture we seek to achieve, and the style of management and leadership encouraged in the team and practiced by me in particular. This note is an attempt to lay that out, so the only surprises you get when you join us are good ones. If you have any questions in this area, please don’t hesitate to ask me or one of the campaign directors, and you should also feel entirely free to quiz any one of us about what it’s like to work with me and the other members of the team – we’ll be extremely honest and up front.
Margaret Meade’s often quoted statement was “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world”. I would amend her wisdom to say “a small group of committed people working together as a team”. I think much of the success of Avaaz thus far is owed to the fact that we have an absolutely wonderful team. However, I’ve seen many outstandingly talented and committed groups of people fail to excel in the public sector because they didn’t form an effective team, and it’s made me a keen observer of and stickler for organizational culture.
Some core principles of our organizational culture are:
1) Mission focus and dedication– we’re all highly dedicated to the mission, in a deeply personal way. Everyone takes responsibility for that mission being achieved. In any debate or question that comes up within the team, our mission provides the metric for the answer. Getting results, and getting the job done excellently, comes first.
2) Professionalism– while our style as a team might be easy going, our attitude towards our work is extremely professional — we maintain the highest standards of delivery, productivity and effectiveness.
3) Member Service– our mission to close the gap between the world we have and the world we want is pursued in large part by adhering to the principle of member service – ensuring that Avaaz members, and their priorities, views, and desires are central to what we do. It’s a deep switch from most other non-profits, where the views of the staff, board, stakeholders, funders and partners play the pre-eminent role in driving the organization. We constantly poll and test ideas on our members, because in order to be people-powered we need to be people-driven.
4) Welcome feedback, and offer it responsibly– our colleagues are here to help us get things right, and we require a good amount of steady feedback on things we haven’t got quite right in order to do things with excellence. We welcome such feedback with gratitude. It’s not always right, and we have to make sure we use our own judgment at the end of day, but it is almost always useful in some way. When we give feedback, we do so constructively and in a mission-focused way.
5) A Healthy Work-Life Balance– we say it is a professional responsibility to maintain a healthy work-life balance, because doing so will ensure that your creativity, drive and motivation stays fresh and vibrant over the long term. We all surge during campaign spikes, but we take care to compensate between them. Team members have 4 weeks of paid vacation per year, and outside campaign spikes, we typically work 9:30AM-6:30PM, though everyone is generally free to structure their workdays and workload as they wish.
6) Highly Collaborative Culture– virtually everything on our team is transparent and open and every team member is able and encouraged to weigh in and contribute. Our team email list gets an enormous amount of correspondence, we provide each other with our to-do lists, and we have 2-3 team conference calls a week. In fast moving processes, we find it vital to get as many views as possible on important decisions, and be continuously open to new and better ideas.
7) Hierarchical Structure and Appreciation for Decisionmaking– while we have an extremely collaborative culture, for any given workstream or decision, there is always one clear decisionmaker. That person will typically listen to all views, and then make the best decision they can. The team respects this decision, regardless of initial personal views, and endeavors to implement it with excellence.
8) Respect and Kindness– there is virtually no pretentiousness, meanness, pettiness or disrespect on our team. We try to be human with each other, to care for each other.
That’s the team. Since I will be your line manager, there’s a couple of additional things that apply just to our working relationship. If we can nail these few things, I’m confident that we will change the world together:
1) Maximum Initiative and Self-Starting Entrepreneurialism– I’m not looking to hire fantastically talented people so that I can get in their way. Our senior staff are executive level people whose judgment is trusted, and you should feel free and encouraged to dream up and run with ideas, to reach out and build relationships, and to explore possibilities, all along asking forgiveness and not permission.
2) Complete Transparency, No Turf – I also ask that you always keep at least me and usually the team informed of what you’re up to, proactively ask for my help or advice when it makes sense, and be welcoming when I choose to get involved or ask someone to work with you. I can’t accept any senior staff member to have ‘turf’ or be hesitant about my involvement in any workstream. I usually practice ‘helicopter’ management, getting involved when I see significant potential problems or opportunities.
3) Implement Decisions Excellently – this is above, but it bears repeating – we almost always consider decisions in a collaborative way, but when someone has to take a decision, it has to be implemented excellently, regardless of personal views.
4) Distributed Decision Making– senior staff take full responsibility for their campaigns or workstreams, and I offer advice and guidance – if the work and the teamwork/communication are high quality, there’s hardly ever a need for me to veto anything. Precise division of responsibilities are outlined in our decision chart – which should come to you along with this note. Usually I am a bit more hands on when you first start, and then gradually reduce my engagement as you learn the job and we come to share a greater common reference for making decisions.
5) Responsibility is earned and mission-driven – Avaaz is a meritocracy – within our job descriptions, everyone’s assignments and work are determined by our capabilities to do an excellent job and the organizations needs. Our own particular desires for what we’d like to do play a role, but only within those constraints.
6) Support for Spokespersonship – representing Avaaz to key audiences (funders, senior officials, tier 1 media) is an important part of the ED role that often requires strong support and engagement from senior staff. I often delegate this role, but only when I’m unavailable. You will need to be both a strong representative of Avaaz when needed, and a strong supporter of myself and others to play this role.
I think that’s it from me. If you’re getting this note it means we think the world of you and are excited about you playing a major leadership role in sharing our stewardship of this wonderful vision and community that is Avaaz. But please be very careful in considering the above, asking yourself whether you and this team are a very strong match, and raising any questions you have now in the process.
Call me anytime with questions – my cell is …