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 tonight we’ll be coming to you from our nation’s capital and the headquarters of American Red Cross. We’re going to begin with Business of Giving’s Faith Gail McGovern, their President and CEO. And then you will hear from some other members of the team.
Gail: I have seen more people hire for expediency and then dig out of a personnel problem and wish they never did it. I would much rather keep that job open until the right person comes in. I don’t necessarily look for someone who can do the job when they walk in. I know this sounds lame, but people don’t do it. I look for smart, and I look for nice. If they have those two traits, you can pretty much teach somebody anything. You may not be able to teach them to be a brain surgeon, but in business and in nonprofit, you can pretty much teach them just about anything. There’s nothing worse than hiring somebody who’s really smart who isn’t nice.
Mark: It’s probably eight years ago, we were just talking about town hall, and we’re doing one of Gail’s town halls, and the question was raised in terms of, what do we do at the Red Cross? That’s everybody. Crystal clear answer, and it’s still sort of burned into my memory is, we bring hope. I think that the culture here reflects that as well – that you have folks that are just so committed to whatever it is that we do whether it’s all the different lines of service whether it’s the blood side, disaster, whether it’s all of our support units, in administrative, in financial. All those pieces’ single mission is to bring hope. And that’s what we do here. That’s what our culture reflects and the way we deal with each other. I think that’s really important.
Heather: Her motto is: Recognize, recognize, recognize. She and our team created this amazing virtual awards show. As you might know, the Red Cross is a pretty remote organization. We’ve got people all over. Being a nonprofit, we don’t have the money to bring in hordes of folks all the time. So, getting creative, using technology, we have this video Skype meeting. We all had costumes, and we gave people awards. It was a true award show. We will now make it an annual event, I rode high from that experience for probably three weeks.
Neyoko: I think one of things that makes me very proud to work here is, I think everyone gets to touch the mission. I’m in a role where I’m behind the computer all the time. It might seem like I’m not able to physically touch the mission but one of the things is that, even my everyday work behind the computer, both my leadership team and my team make me feel like I’m very involved. A lot of the times they… one of the things is that they will ask about my opinion on a lot of things. Even if I might not necessarily know what’s going on, they will always ask for my input. They will always ask my feedback, and that feeling of being included and belonging as part of this greater mission is extremely important to me, and I’m extremely proud to say that’s one of the exciting things about the culture at the American Red Cross.
Jenelle: And she said, “I need a way to spend my time. I need something to do with my thoughts, and helping others is what’s going to help me heal.” I just thought that was amazing, and I think that’s something that you really find in no other organization. I think we have so many volunteers because people see on the ground exactly what we’re doing during disasters. So many people who have been affected decide to pay it forward by volunteering whether that’s in the United States or around the world.
Sue: Everybody is donating their time, their talent, their money, and their blood. That resonates with me in even the smallest ways. I had a moment several months ago; it was in the winter. It was a cold, rainy winter night here in DC. I was watching the 11 o’clock news, and on comes a report of a home fire, and there is the Red Cross volunteer with a vest. I actually started to cry. It was a home fire, but it was a miserable evening. The last thing I would want to do was to be outside, in the dark, helping a family dealing with such anguish. I swell with pride.
Mark: What’s fascinating here is that while we do spend a lot of time recognizing individuals, we recognize teams. Whether it’s at all levels of our organization get together, at an executive level or our national meetings; we do these things called mission moments. In a mission moment, we highlight whether it’s a preparedness activity or blood services. Disaster Service is where I work, and we look at what the team achieved and what we could not have achieved as individuals, and we really highlight, look at this and the impact on – what I think about all the time is when we talk about our Sound the Alarm campaign, and we talk about installing a hundred thousand smoke alarms over a two-week period in a thousand different cities.
Heather: You’ll look inward to your own personal experiences, and you reflect on your own stereotypes and understand how it’s impacting you behavior. I think it’s one of the only diversity and inclusion courses – and I’ve had a pretty long HR career – that really kind of perfectly blends the introspection with the outward focus. You start to become much more of aware of how your own experiences and your own story is creating how you show up in the world every day; let alone, how you show up at work.
Tony: Our doctor told us partway through that it was 50/50 whether she would end up making it. Every year, on that anniversary of that surgery, we think back to the 21 individuals who were able to donate blood and because of their generosity, because of their contributions, because of their donations, my wife’s here. My kids have a mother. I have a wife. We get to experience that entire life because 10 years ago, people who give to the Red Cross every day, who give to organizations like this, who help, who give of themselves really made a tangible contribution to our life. So, when we talk about why people stay, why people feel connected, that is exactly why I feel connected because I can see the impact that people make when they give of themselves.
Jenelle: A couple of years ago, we revamped our building, and it’s really got an open-space feel now here in the DC office. We have a lot of desks that are flexible-sitting basically. There are drop-in desks where people can go work if they just need a change of scenery or if they’re just visiting or if they’re typically a remote worker, and they’re in the office. I think that really allows people to actually not just change their scenery but also change the people they are sitting near every day. I think it really opens up more conversations with people, people you normally don’t work with on your team or even in your department.
Sue: That transparency up and down has been something that I’ve been here long enough to say it has not always been that way. Certainly within the last 10 years, that has been such a refreshing change, and the other point that I’d like to make that I have learned over these years is, the staff needs support but so do the senior leadership. We have such a wonderful group right now, and it is so easy to be supportive of them as they have been supportive of us.
Gail: We move a number of tomorrow’s leaders from experience to experience, so they get a good vantage point. The other thing which was an unintended consequence, and it was great, is these smoke alarm campaigns?…we had people from our IT department, from legal, from finance… areas that would never touch the mission that way; from our biomed business, from our health and safety business. The next thing you know, people re-fell in love with the Red Cross. They’re welcomed into a stranger’s home. They’re helping them potentially save lives. They refell in love with the mission.
Heather: Me personally, one of the things that I’ve tried to do is build in time in those virtual meetings to have a stronger relationship. For example, if I’m leading a big project team, and we can’t pull folks together face to face, I’m going to build some sort of teambuilding activity virtually. We’re going to send something beforehand, so we’re spending some time on the relational aspect. My personal work experience is always enriched when I can have more authentic dialogue and have a stronger relationship with my team even if it’s virtual so it’s celebrating a holiday virtually. Like, we have an Indian colleague, and we celebrated Diwali. We had candies and we had virtual coffee and tea. Just creating a space in those virtual experiences to build rapport and ensuring that it’s a priority.
Tony: Our team has what we call a MODS day. Our team is long – Marketing Operations Data Sciences. We call it MODS, and we come in to either the DC office, the Fairfax chapter or a local public library around the area once a month to bring our team together to say, you need the facetime that we’ve lost from being in a traditional office environment. How do we recapture that? How do we build up the camaraderie? How do we get to know one another and at the same time work collaboratively on efforts that are relevant to each of us? It helps us bring back some of those traditional elements and it also helps us put into perspective what we’re all working towards when we’re all off in our own rooms, we’re all off in our own offices, etc., trying to stay connected, trying to remain a part of that mission and stay connected as a team.
Neyoko: One thing that has come out of this engage survey is, there are managers who have very great employee engage scores. One thing that HR actually did was, they pooled together the employees, I mean the managers who had great engage scores and asked them, what are some best practices? And I think that document shows that communication, transparency is key. The Red Cross is trying to learn from these amazing managers.
Jenelle: I think people at the Red Cross tend to become really close with one another, and I would say many of them, if not most of them who you ask their best friends work at the Red Cross, and I think a big reason for that is because we are all working towards the same mission whether there’s a disaster or not, and we’re doing that around the clock and in very close quarters often, right? So during domestic disasters, staff and volunteers often sleep in staff shelters. They are sleeping in very close quarters or even share hotel rooms. Around the world, we often have to sleep in tents if you’re in an earthquake zone, so that you’re not sleeping in dangerous buildings or in base camps where you’re eating every meal together, you are working in the base camp together, you are spending sometimes eight hours in the car together. When you’re in close quarters like that, you are working, and you are talking, and you are socializing even when you’re not talking, you are having some kind of really unique experience with your colleagues, with your co-workers, and with fellow volunteers.
Denver: I want to thank Elizabeth Penneman, for organizing my visit and to all those who participated in this piece, Mark Smith, Heather Peterson, Tony DiPasquale, Neyoko Okuma, Jenelle Eli and Sue Burns. To hear this again, read the transcript or see pictures of the participants, just come to www.denver-frederick.com and we’ll provide a link there to my full interview with Gail McGovern, the President and CEO of the American Red Cross.
The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving