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Improve Staff Engagement by Investing in their Success

Nonprofits can struggle to keep good talent because of wage gaps and hectic demands. This post speaks to strategies NPO leaders can put in place to increase their odds of keeping top performers, growing talent from within, and elevate overall employee engagement.


Leaders looking to build strong organizations with highly engaged employees and low turnover should consistently, intentionally and actively foster an environment that empowers those employees to invest in their own success.  Esoterically, that means making professional development an integral part of the organization’s strategic planning.  Tactically, this means providing managers and team leaders a framework with which to lead their direct reports to a path of continuous growth and development.  An investment in your team’s success is an investment in your organization’s success.

Empowerment – First and foremost, your employees need to feel empowered to invest in their own development.  This starts with ensuring there is enough time in their schedule to hop off of the proverbial “hamster wheel” to invest in themselves.  Managers and team leaders need to intentionally prioritize professional development by creating the necessary bandwidth and by baking it into the regular check-in and performance review process.  Often, employees can feel unsure when asked to create goals for themselves, but with skillful and empathetic leadership, they can broaden their perspective to see that growth can take a myriad of forms.  Perhaps even in a direction that doesn’t necessarily “feel” like it has a direct correlation to their current role.  Deepening and developing talent in an unexpected way pays dividends by giving your staff greater confidence, skills and perspective that will help them become a more well-rounded professional.  An accounting team member might realize they possess a knack for program management, or a could learn they have a natural aptitude for marketing and communications. The possibilities are endless! Employees who possess diverse skills from various corners of your organization ultimately develop a tremendously unique and valuable vantage point.

Providing Opportunities – So, you have employees that are comfortable with the concept that their growth is a priority for the organization, now what? Now is the time to make it a reality for them by providing real opportunities for growth. Here are some ideas:

  1.  Set up a mentoring network within your organization, or even a shadowing network to maximize cross-department training.
  2.  Allow employees to attend select conferences, lunch and learns, and other development events.
  3.  Create a book club, and empower the members themselves to organize it, create a curriculum, circulate their learnings and keep it going.
  4.  Create a mini-board within your organization for engagement that will allow your employees to plan events and communicate with the rest of the company about happenings.
  5.  Explore professional coaching opportunities and online learning platforms.  There are many free and low-cost resources available!
  6.  All of these are very simple and low risk ideas for how your organization can easily create an environment ripe with opportunities to grow, learn and develop relationships.

Fostering a Learning Environment – You’re making progress!  With empowered employees that have  amazing opportunities to grow, you are on your way to making personal and professional development an integral part of your organization’s culture.  Ultimately, it is the individual’s responsibility to take advantage of the opportunities presented.  So, how can leaders truly foster an environment where employees are accountable for exhibiting learning and leading behaviors each and every day?

Start with encouraging your team to adopt a growth mindset, described by Carol Dweck as when “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”  Team members should also be encouraged to be collaborative and coachable.  Managers who inspire employees to communicate clearly and set expectations will notice these behaviors lead to higher performance in the employee’s current role and beyond.

Recognizing and Promoting Value – Now that you have a team that is ready, willing, and able to take the reins on their professional development and you have built an organizational framework that sets them up for success, it’s vital to recognize and promote their growth.  We as humans are trained to think of growth vertically, but there are so many opportunities to lead laterally,  add more value from our current seat, deepen the bench of our existing team or to try an entirely new role altogether.  Growth is typically not a straight path – there are lots of dips and turns in the journey.  What’s most critical is for your staff to know they are truly adding value, growing and being recognized for the effort they put into the development process.

In closing, it’s imperative for organizations and their leaders to proactively build a culture that fosters professional development and maximizes the investment in success by empowering employees and providing them with opportunities.  Once the returns on your investment start rolling in, then it’s important to recognize and promote the fact that their value has now amplified.  By investing in your employees, you create a virtuous cycle where they will in turn invest further in your mission.

Jaime is the Senior Marketing Manager at Production Solutions. Her background in digital marketing, web development, print production, and sales along with her unique blend of strategic, technical, business, and creative acuity positions her to problem solve with a multi-faceted approach. She has a demonstrated history of building long-lasting, productive relationships and driving results. Jaime is a proud member of the United Way of South Hampton Roads’ Women’s United Club as well as a council member of the United Way Young Philanthropists.

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