This is where I run a risk of getting into trouble. But I have to write about it, because it is a huge problem in many non-profits that not only hurts the organization but also hurts the people involved. I’m talking about taking your very best MGO and making her or him the manager of the major gift program.
It sounds logical, I know. And it does work sometimes. But most often it doesn’t, and there are very good reasons to explain why it doesn’t. But let’s dive into this subject right where it starts – with some outrageous performance on the part of the MGO.
You’ve seen it or heard about it. The MGO is a star. Everything she touches turns to gold. She has a way with those donors, and it’s very hard to replicate. As a manager, you have tried to teach what she does to others, but for some reason it doesn’t work – at least to the degree of excellence that this MGO consistently delivers.
And you and the MGO have been talking. You have a management need. She would like more responsibility. She has respectfully implied she would like a little more money, and then it dawns on you and you say to yourself: “I know what I’ll do. I’ll make HER the manager. It will solve all of our collective problems!” So you pull the trigger, and off you go.
Little do you know that there is trouble ahead. You can’t see it because you are blinded by the solution you have come up with and the pressing need you have. Plus it seems only right that if this MGO has performed so well, you should reward her with new responsibilities and the related bump in compensation.
But hang on. Stop for a moment and look at this a little more carefully. Here’s what the situation really is.
Your MGO is a high performing star not only because she has the relationship skill set and major gift experience but she also, at her core, is wired to get results through her own efforts. She is a technical person, not a manager. In fact, the definition of a technical person is someone who enjoys getting results through their own efforts.
Stop and think about this for a minute. If you examine her work history and ask her to tell you stories about what has brought her joy in all of her jobs, the theme that runs through all of her experiences and stories will be that she loves to get results through her own efforts rather than getting results through others.
She wants to be in the kitchen cooking the meal, at the computer creating the communication, out in the field meeting personally with the donor – she doesn’t want to manage someone else to do those things. She gets her joy and fulfillment by having her hands right in it and personally making it happen.
To be clear, this is not a weakness or a problem. It is a part of the dual nature of the world around us. Some folks like to fly the plane; others like to manage the airline company. Two different people. Two different core motivations and wiring. Two very different contributions.
The definition of a true manager is someone who likes to get results through the efforts of others. Managers’ joy and fulfillment comes from seeing others get the results. They are not smarter or better than the self-expressive technical person who wants to be hands-on; they are just different. Sadly, in our culture, managers are often valued more than technical people. That is a mistake. It takes both types to make a good thing happen.
But here is what usually happens when a technical person (one who gets results through their own efforts) is put in a management job.
Everything starts out just fine and it seems like it is going to be smooth sailing. The former MGO, now manager, starts doing the management thing as best as he can, and some of it seems to work. But then, in a meeting with one of his subordinates, he starts directing much of the technical detail of the MGOs job. He offers to analyze the caseload and edit communications. He spends more and more time doing MGO work with a motivation of helping the MGO who reports to him.
As time passes, the MGO surrenders much of her thinking and initiative to the manager who really can’t help himself. Why is this happening? Very simply, because the former-MGO-turned-manager is wired to get results through his own efforts. Over time, he will bias that way until, left unchecked, he morphs back into the MGO job while holding the manager title and responsibility.
This is a subtle thing that I have seen happen over and over again. What is sad to me is that the whole situation I described earlier between the manager and the MGO could have taken a different turn. The manager could have given the MGO more MGO responsibilities, like handling a specialized group of very high capacity donors and/or a task of training other MGOs. She could have increased her salary to compensate her for the new responsibilities. She could have done any number of things that would have this good person expressing her gifts and skills in new and needed ways that match her core motivation to get results through her own efforts.
But instead, this MGO is promoted upward in error. The damage this does to her, plus the collateral damage to those around her, is not readily seen but finds its full expression in about a year.
There are scores of ways to get work done and reward good employees without putting a results-through-self person into a results-through-others situation. Look for those options so you can avoid this mistake and honor the employees in your care.