Building an Awesome Nonprofit Culture, Part 1: Hiring


(Originally posted on Sisarina as part of our February blog series.)

In February, Small Act had an event, and several people commented on our team. I heard a lot of people say things like, “Everyone seems so happy!” “Small Act seems like a wonderful place to work,” and “Why are all of you Small Act people smiling like fools!?” (Okay – no one said that, but they do mention our smiley-ness.)

Every workplace has good days and bad days, but I can honestly say we have an incredible, complementary team and great corporate culture, which leads to lots of fabulous work, and fun along the way.

No matter the size of your organization, every hiring decision matters. Every person you bring on says something about who you are as a organization, whether they’re your most senior exec or your part-time facilities manager. So, where do you start, to hire well?

  1. Define your culture. The most important part of hiring well? Knowing who you are. Is your workplace quirky and creative, or buttoned-up and formal? What qualities will help someone fit in? Knowing your values defines your culture, and will help you figure out who you want and need. For more information on how to define your values, and what it means to build a values-based culture, I highly recommend reading up on Zappos (try Delivering Happiness – Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, shares how he built a great company by prioritizing values), and even consider going out to Vegas to see Zappos in action. I did. It rocked!
  2. Define the role. No matter the size of the organization, success depends on knowing what you need in an employee. What complementary skills do they need to bring to the table? How will you measure their success? Knowing these sorts of things will help you hire happy employees who know when they’re doing their job, and what that job actually is.
  3. Hire slowly. Even if you need to fill a position quickly to staff a project or fill a need, it’s better to take time to really get to know your employees before you’re paying them, not after. I learned this the hard way, a number of years ago, when I hired someone after one interview because we just “clicked.” That “click” ended up needing professional help for anger management, something I definitely wish I’d picked up on ahead of time. My process involves several steps: a 30-minute phone screen, an in-person meeting somewhere neutral, an in-office interview, and a reference check. Each of these steps serves a unique purpose. The phone interview is an early barometer to help determine if the person is worth a further time investment. The in-person meeting helps me see how the employee does in the real world and how they interact in a less-formal setting. The in-person interview lets you see if the person gels with your team. And a reference check is great for finding important things the previous steps missed. I can’t stress how many times a reference check has saved me, or could have saved me. (That anger management case? I spoke to one of his references after I hired the employee, and the reference was aghast both that the employee listed her as a reference, and that the employee had been hired. Oops!)It’s tempting to skip some of those steps, especially if you know the person before you begin the process, but I encourage you to go through the full process every time.

When you spend some time defining your core values (who you are as an organization), the role (what you need), and hiring slowly and deliberately, you will reap the rewards of having happy employees who do their jobs well. In my experience, being intentional and deliberate in your hiring process will ensure better hires - and fewer headaches later.