If I had a hammer . . .

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Recently, John wrote two related posts titled “Rabbit Chase” and “Maslow’s Hammer“. These posts spoke to the ideas of organizational culture and effective processes. Additionally, they featured one of my favorite quotations of all-time from Abraham Maslow:

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

As John’s posts typically do, they get my mind racing about how his organizational development principles apply to my non-profit experiences. Sometimes, they even set me off in an unpredictable direction as is the case today.

Three non-profit executive director friends of mine are all involved in some kind of job search process:

  • One friend is unemployed and jumping into an executive director search process.
  • A second friend isĀ filling a vacancy and hiring a CFO.
  • My third friend received approval from the board to create a development director position and is hiring a fundraising professional with major gifts experience.

So, you’re probably wondering what in the heck do these three things have to do with Maslow’s quotation about hammers and nails or John Greco’s posts about organizational culture and effective processes?

Well, it dawned on me that when non-profit organizations go into “hiring mode” and open an employment search, they are essentially adding tools to their organizational toolbox. Carrying this analogy to its logical conclusion . . . The obvious challenge for those organizations who have a toolbox full of hammers is to not add another hammer. Right?

Having formerly run a non-profit agency, I look back over all of the search processes that I ran, and I now wonder how many times I started out the search by assessing my organizational toolbox to figure out what type of person would best fill the gap.

You might be thinking that a when you have a vacancy — like my friend who is hiring a replacement CFO — you are by definition filling a gap, but I encourage you to rethink your position by reading John’s postĀ “Rabbit Chase“. You will clearly see in that example that all three actors in that post — the FBI, CIA, and NYPD — do the same thing (e.g. law enforcement), but they all have a different approach.

Won’t that be the same thing my friend experiences during his CFO search? All of his final candidates will know finance, but they will all come with different backgrounds and experiences. They will also all have different approaches.

I think we can also take this organizational development principle beyond the confines of executive search and apply it to board development and how you approach your organization’s board development process.

I’ve seen a number of non-profit boards that had too many hammers on it. I can tell you that it always results in a very flat executive director! LOL

Think about it for a second.

How do you maintain a diversified organizational toolbox from a staff or board perspective? What tools do you use? How do you develop your interview guides with this organizational development principle in mind? Does your board development process utilize a board composition matrix?

Our organizations are stretched too thin for us to continue re-inventing the wheel. So, why not share your approaches and tools with each other in the comment box? We can all learn from each other.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get the idea of hammers out of my head this Friday morning. So, I thought I’d end today’s post with this classic song from Peter, Paul and Mary:


Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

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