How well do your managers ask questions? Some might not even give any weight to this or consider it a skill. You may not even see “question asking” on any list of managerial expectations. However, asking the right questions, and the tough questions, is an effective part of a manager’s job which implies it may require more attention.
Being a manager isn’t easy. Managers have finite resources and growing task lists. They must handle people and budgets with equal finesse, and in a nonprofit organization, also manage public perception. More importantly, they must be willing to ask the hard questions and to listen and learn from the answer they get as they explore ways in which to enhance and build their organization.
Asking the Hard Questions
The difficult questions are the ones whose answers may yield an unpleasant reality for the asker. In other words, you may not like what you hear! When it comes to nonprofit organizations, these three questions are at the top of the list of the hard questions that must be asked for organizations to ensure they’re doing the best they can to fulfill their mission.
1. Am I doing my job well? Followed by, are we doing our jobs well?
Your “job” at a nonprofit is more than the list of things you are responsible for. It’s also your job to help the organization maintain and achieve its mission, to build public perception and awareness, and to help keep a positive perception in the public’s eye. It’s not an easy task. Your responsibilities in this mix may be weighted more heavily towards one area or another depending on your role in an organization. But you still need to ask if you are doing your job.
Reviewing organization-wide goals and plans and assessing how well you are achieving key performance indicators can help you answer this question.
2. Are we adapting to changing circumstances?
As the proverb goes, “change is the only constant in life.” Situations, personnel, and other facts of nonprofit life can change over time. Organizations that can grow, adapt, and change are ones that thrive.
Look around your organization. How well have you adapted to changing circumstances? If your nonprofit began with one specific task in mind, have you been able to adapt to meet new challenges?
Examine systems, technology, personnel, geography, and other factors. Each area influences how well your nonprofit can do its job. Those that change with the times are those that can continue to grow, prospect, and help others.
3. How well are we using our resources?
The push within most nonprofits is to find ever-increasing sources of donations and funding to fuel growth. Looking at how well you are using your current resources isn’t easy. It can be troubling to realize that you’ve overspent on a marketing campaign or haven’t invested other resources wisely. Yet it’s only by asking these questions and facing the truth that you can find better ways to use existing resources.
Resources aren’t limited to funds, either. They can also refer to personnel. It’s a good idea to look at your team and make sure that you are allowing individuals to work to their strengths. Place them in positions where their unique talents can help the organization thrive. Outsourcing tasks like audit prep or nonprofit accounting can free your team up to do the work they were hired to do. Make sure that you are using people as well as financial resources in the best possible way.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Asking questions is a skill and can be improved with focus and practice. Managers are in place to find ways the organization can function more effectively. The best way to determine this is to ask questions about the people, process and systems being used. Getting curious about why things are done a certain way and if there’s a better approach only makes for a stronger manager, thought process and organization. Asking questions in a way that does not make others defensive is a great skill to hone in on too. As you practice this skill, and focus on getting better in this area not only improves your management style, it sets an example for others to learn and grow too.