By Joan Garry
We live in a strange new world. Not a particularly kind and generous one if you ask me. Our world is polarized as never before and civility in dealing with those with whom you disagree seems to have been erased from our society’s hard drive.
And I am so not talking only about politics. I see it with nonprofit organizations galore. The negativity comes from both inside the organization (a staff upset with a change in health benefits) and externally (community members who feel voiceless in some kind of directional change.)
Or a local blogger or journalist with a big ol’ bone to pick. My phones have been ringing more and more asking for help with these kinds of issues. Some might frame this as crisis management but I would prefer to dig at the root cause.
Often, a full-blown crisis is the result of something small handled poorly.
Or something small that leaders got so worried about that it became big. I believe nonprofit leaders can often cut crises off at the pass if we handle the challenge or the criticism well.
Today, I want to help you think about how to handle criticism without anger or defensiveness so that it doesn’t blow up into a full-blown crisis. If I do only that, it will be a good day at the office for me.
A CRITICISM BECOMES A CRISIS
Example 1: E.D. Head on a Stick
Here’s the scenario.
A new E.D., Sara, is hired following the tenure of someone who was seen as a terrific leader and manager. Sara arrives to find “dust bunnies on top of dust bunnies”. Some are related to admin policies, lack of staff accountability, maybe even financial challenges.
The need for change is so obvious to the board and Sara and off they go. The more change the merrier, the faster, the better so we can do what needs to be done to remove obstacles that stand in the way of the mission.
But change takes time and you start to hear some rumblings of criticism.
Change agents see the changes as so obvious. But not the staff. The critics get louder.
Some of the criticism is legit; some is because they don’t see the issues as closely as the leadership.
Staff of larger organizations take a major step and unionize. They send a formal vote of no-confidence in the E.D. to the board. The power balance goes terribly out of whack. It shifts to staff, board capitulates to the union / organized staff.
Sara is forced to resign.
If you recognize this scenario, the likelihood is that it is not an organization you know or support. Because I have in the last 6 months, heard this story about three very different organizations.
In fact, I am seeing this with greater and greater frequency. Executive recruiters talk with me about it endlessly.