On hiring: job descriptions, hiring plans and how to let go

Employees are the lifeblood of an organization and depend on their leaders.  In the for-profit world, some hiring decisions are easier because an employee’s value can be measured in dollars and cents.  In the nonprofit world the metrics used by managers to evaluate employee value are ambiguous.  

Looking at employees through a more humanistic lens blurs the lines of an employee’s  impact on the organization. Strong nonprofits depend on strong managers to be able to make the difficult decisions that make their organizations effective.

Sometimes letting go is what’s best for the organization.

When dealing with difficult employees many managers go through mental gymnastics, considering whether to put this individual on an improvement plan, offer them early retirement, or lay them off. Particularly in the world of nonprofits, we encounter many organizations who consider a new hire as one might a marriage- lifetime commitments, for better or worse.  

Employees who under perform and who are not invested in your mission are going to create a stagnant, unmotivated work environment for the rest of the team. When you insert a person who does the bare minimum,  it has a negative effect on the attitude of their colleagues. The good news is, most employees want to be productive. Senior staff can positively impact organizational culture by keeping only employees that benefit the organization.

Job descriptions shouldn’t be mix and match.

An issue we regularly observe in the nonprofit sector is an employee hired to fill a specific role being given tasks outside of their area of expertise. Organizations may be strapped for cash or hesitant to spend more on overhead but meshing two dissimilar positions into one does not do your organization or your employee justice.

This “killing two birds with one stone,” technique drains the employee’s time. Instead of focusing on the position they were hired to fill, they spend more time learning about tasks for which they have no prior knowledge. Instead of having two efficiently areas efficiently managed by dedicated experts, you end up with either; two sub-par areas, one area that suffers at the expense of another, or two areas that are devastatingly lackluster. We see this with social media and digital strategy all the time.

Occasionally, a variety of tasks can be a good opportunity for a highly motivated employee who wants to learn, but there needs to be a senior staff member present and accessible within each area of expertise to share knowledge, provide training and maintain oversight.

There’s a better way!

Rather than waste time giving opportunities to employees who are the wrong fit or finagling grab-bag job description, nonprofits need to channel that energy into succession planning and/or developing a hiring plan. These tools will allow our sector to attract even more long-term talent who can set expectations for new hires and foster a culture of success.

If a donor gave you $100,000 dedicated to staffing, do you know what position you’d fill? A hiring plan is a necessity for all organizations, as it allows you to review the current division of responsibilities and determine what areas of expertise you are missing. Figuring out what your next hire would be is not a decision that should be made on the spot. 

Having a hiring plan also means being more acutely aware of what falls into each of your current staff’s roles and helps ensure you are not delegating additional responsibilities to staff members that do not fit their positions/capacity. Hiring plans help your hire the correct person and keep staff happy!

In addition, succession planning ensures your organization’s sustainability for the future by keeping good employees happy and giving them opportunities for growth. This saves you money and time of having to go through a hiring and transition process. It also lets employees know they can plan a career with you, allowing employees to align with internal promotions rather than opportunities at other nonprofits or for-profit companies.

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