Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Denver: And for this evening’s Better Than Most segment, I went across the country into the offices of Global Citizen Year which is based in Oakland, California. We’ll begin with their Founder and CEO, Abby Falik, who will tell us about the mission of the organization and then you will hear from some of the members of the team.
Abby: Global Citizen Year is on a mission to reinvent the “gap year” between high school and college as a launch pad for global citizens.
Dennis: When I think about culture, for us, we’re a values-driven culture and for us, our values are wrapped up in what we think it takes to be a global citizen, a global leader. I would say our bread and butter is our GCB, global citizen behavior. That’s well-being and diversity and accountability and gratitude, curiosity, and that drives all of our work with our young people. For us, that also drives our work in terms of how we interact with one another, how we celebrate each other, how we address moments that are hard when we have tough conversations. Our values are central to us.
Caitlin: One thing that I really love at this organization is the 15Five check-in. It’s done weekly by each employee and goes to their manager. You take 15 minutes to answer five questions, and you check in about your accomplishments for the week and your goals for the next week, a good idea you might have or a temperature check on your morale and how you see the morale around you but it’s a great way to give and receive feedback. You can give high fives; virtual high fives to other employees who may have helped you out that week, and it’s a great time to be able to check in with your manager. It only takes 15 minutes.
Abby: When I was founding the organization, I remember being influenced by Netflix and their now famous Culture Deck. One of the things that struck me was their approach to vacation time which was not to limit the number of vacation days but to actually provide flexible time off, which essentially said, we trust you, our employees to get your work done and to take the time you need when and where and how you need it. We have taken that on at Global Citizen Year and similarly have a flexible time off policy we try to model from the top; that everybody is encouraged to actually take that time off to rest and replenish, so that they can bring their whole selves to work and be happy, well-energized, and productive.
Erin: Every board meeting that we have, about a week after that, we do a town hall where everyone in all five countries that we serve gets on the phone at the same time or the video call at the same time. We share what we share with the board. The materials have gone out and then everybody has an opportunity to review what we shared with the board. Abby and I do a presentation that’s just a short presentation to the group, and then all questions can be asked about how the board received the information or why we shared what we shared or what we mean by X. It’s just a way to have transparency from top to bottom, left to right as, this is what’s we’re sharing with the board.
Doug: We have a benefit that after two years of service, any employee in the organization can take a trip to one of our sites whether that’s to one of our international sites or one of our international employees coming to the US. But during that trip, you have to plan it with your manager. There has to be a goal, so there is a work component of it. There’s a cross-cultural, cross-country learning aspect. How do we do it in this country versus how do we do it in this country. For me coming from our headquarters, I went to India.
Aissatou: Another thing that we do is something called guess who. We take about five facts, five random surprising facts from someone and then someone reads them out and you have to, everyone in the office tries to guess who it is. It’s really fun to hear all the crazy and interesting things people are up to. Like somebody used to be a mascot and did a lot of dancing. It was really fun to hear the different sides of people.
Caitlin: One thing I really loved was our senior leadership team, the user manuals that they shared with us to get an idea of how best to work with them, what makes them tick, what might be a pet peeve, and I think that just shows just great honest and open leadership, and that really trickles down to the whole organization’s culture is something that I really appreciate.
Abby: We have a comfort zone, a stretch zone, and a panic zone. We know we don’t learn in the comfort zone or the panic zone. So, our job with our fellows is to keep people near stretched, and I think in many ways our job as an organization is to keep our teammates in their stretch. So this means again setting stretch goals and high expectations, having people aim higher than they think might be possible but then finding the support or finding the ability within themselves to actually exceed their own expectations of what might have been possible. We reinforce this sense of being a learning and teaching culture.
Erin: Deliberately seeking feedback has led to many programmatic changes and an evolution in the way we do things with our fellows. It’s also something that we’ve taken to the staff. We deliberately seek feedback from staff in several different ways. The one I’ll talk about right now is the quarterly pulse check. This goes out as a very quick and simple survey that takes about five minutes to do, and it asks people to rate their morale, the pride in their work and how satisfied they are in the work that they are doing. It also asks them for the promoter score of the organization, and then there’s also of course free spots to answer different questions and give us a feedback.
Dennis: We have committed specifically to debriefing big stressful moments, and we do that in such a way where we survey all of our staff and one does a written reflection and then we show and we share our experiences through that incident. What we’re aiming to do is make sure that everyone feels heard. We make sure that any relationships that feel whether intentionally or most likely unintentionally harmed or damaged, that we repair those relationships. We clarify behaviors that we need to see from one another in order to take our team to the next level as we move forward. Then we learn from it. I think that it’s such a simple thing to debrief big things that happen but such a powerful way to pay attention to the relationships, to pay attention to the community, and turn something that’s potentially negative into something that’s really powerful and positive and it can lift our culture to the next level.
Abby: I think that’s something that I’m particularly aware of in my role where it can be really easy to just skim for the good stuff or put people in the position where they have to tell me what they think I want and to know. I think being able to model from the top down what it means to lead from the inside out and how it is a continuous process of becoming one’s best self is one of the things that I think we pride ourselves on.
Doug: We’re a workplace that really does believe in self-care and having a balance between your work life and your personal life. One of the things I really enjoy is doing yoga, and I’ve started doing yoga at lunch. I think as an organization, we’ve encouraged that because a lot of us are doing it together. It just makes me feel like it’s okay if Abby and Erin are the leaders of the organization are also doing this. So, I have this expression saying, power yoga is the new power lunch.
Aissatou: It was to get an emergenetics profile which basically breaks down in our brains of thinking if we tend to lean more conceptually or analytically. There are a few other things. I can’t remember. Basically to see where we landed and then once we had our personal profiles, we shared it as a team. Then we are able to see, okay, very clearly, now I understand a lot of times when we’re working on a project, one person is thinking so conceptually while the other person is thinking so much about the details and being able to know where everyone starts at and figuring out, okay how we all work together to make this project work.
Denver: I wanna thank all those who participated in this piece: Denis Hill, Caitlin Powell, Erin Lewellen, Doug Bozick, and Aïssatou Barrie-Rose. If you like to hear this again, read the transcript or see pictures of the participants and their offices, just come to denver-frederick.com and when you do, we’ll have a link there to my full interview with Abby Falik, the Founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year.
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