Seinfeld, silver medals, and your employees

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.

Today, I am focusing on a post that John wrote a post inspired by a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up comedy piece about winning silver medals at the Olympics. He talks about a research study that shows that Olympic athletes who win a silver medal are significantly less happy than bronze medalists. John, of course, goes on to talk about expectations and performance in the workplace.

John’s post got me thinking about many of the jobs that I’ve held in various non-profit organizations.

While I loved all of those job and experiences, the general memories that stick with me are:

  • Good is good enough
  • Don’t worry about cutting that corner
  • It is understandable that the outcomes and impact data aren’t what we hoped because we’re making do with less

For those of you who know me personally, you know that I am a results-focused person who constantly strives for the gold. So, it might come as a surprise to you that in spite of all the glowing performance reviews I always felt like the silver medalist.

Now I already know that some of you are rolling your eyes and chalk my observation up to unrealistic expectations on my part. While some of that might be true, please stick with me because I think it is more than just that.

Dan Pallotta speaks to this issue a little bit in his new book “Uncharitable“. He points to the lack of resources in the non-profit sector and highlights what he believes is ineffectiveness in many instances and failure in others. For example . . .

  • With so many non-profits focused on raising money for cancer and AIDS research, why hasn’t it been cured?
  • With so many church food pantries and non-profit food banks, why is child hunger on the rise?
  • With so many after-school programs for kids, why are academic achievement test scores still so low?

Non-profit sector employees are a special breed. Most studies that I’ve read show that these individuals are more motivated by “mission” than by a paycheck. They want to save the world and they are passionate about what you are trying to do.

So, when we tell these people that “good is good enough” or “cutting corners is acceptable and understandable,” aren’t we contributing to our own demise and helping them feel like silver medalists?

Again, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that you put an expense line in your agency budget for party supplies to make everyone feel like a gold medalist. Of course, I do hope that you’re demonstrating your appreciation for what those people do for you from time to time.

What I am suggesting is that your agency will benefit greatly if you start rightsizing your expectations. While talking about your organization’s mission and vision is important, I encourage you to put it in the context of today.

For example, talk about working towards the elimination of hunger with the focus being on helping one more more kid put food in her belly today.

Perhaps, we can reduce employee turnover AND donor turnover if we adjust our expectations, place our outcomes and impact data in the right context, and stop telling our employees that “good is good enough”.

Do you know how many of your employees feel like silver medalists? If you do, then please share with us how you know. What do you do to make your employees feel like winners rather than a runner-up. Do you know your employee turnover rate or door loyalty numbers off the top of your head? Do you share those metrics with your board and set goals against those benchmarks?

Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847