Most social entrepreneurs I know start their organization because they have a burning desire to create change in society — to bend the arc of history towards justice. They’re visionary, brave, and have passion pouring out of their pores. In short, they want to create and innovate.
Most social entrepreneurs I know, however, don’t start their venture because they relish the idea of managing an organization — of creating roles and responsibilities, leading budget meetings and coordinating steering committees. In short, they don’t want to be a manager.
Yet it’s great management that will take incredible visions and transform them into enduring structures, which can outlast any single person. And while managing is both a science and an art, which can never be perfected, there are absolutely some small things that can make a huge difference right away.
From my experience advising social entrepreneurs at every stage of their journey, I’ve learned three simple things changemakers like you can start doing right now to make managing people a responsibility that empowers, rather than a chore.
The brilliant author, Patrick Lencioni, makes the point that if you arejustcommunicating, you are actually “under-communicating.” From my experience working with social entrepreneurs, I’ve seen that they are extremely quick learners and adapters, but they mistakenly assume everyone is automatically on the same page as them. Not only are organizations made up of many different personalities and learning style; founders often have different experiences to draw on, compared to their team.
Lencioni has three tips on how to overcommunicate more effectively; I especially like the recommendation to tell stories. Often, a story can communicate far more than the words themselves — it’s a powerful way to reinforce vision, values and a way of working.
2. Articulate and constantly reinforce core values
As a venture grows from a single changemaker with an idea, to a complex organization, it’s inevitable that the founder will not be as involved in every decision. I love the definition of a culture being what each team member does when no one is watching. Every act is an expression of an organization’s values.
A great manager doesn’t just claim to have values; she lives them and models them every day, and in every interaction. I’ve found that three-to-five values work best — enough so they are both memorable and clearly understandable, but not so many that they lose their impact. In my last team, these values were: supporting one another, being bold, celebrating failure and remaining humble.
I believe it matters less what these values are, than remembering a great manager makes them a reality. And it’s not enough to simply write down these values. Rather, managers need to find ways to constantly reinforce them in everyday operations — for instance, we included specific areas of mutual team support in everyone’s role description; and we started each meeting by asking teammates how they “failed forward” that week.
3. Make time
Social entrepreneurs are some of the most time-pressed people I know. The combination of a huge vision, working with limited resources and indefatigable hustle, can create someone who is simultaneously everywhere but nowhere.
Being a good manager takes time — but not as much time as you think. The bookThe One Minute Manager gives a hint at how this can work (though don’t be fooled that one minute is actually enough).
The most common mistakes I see social entrepreneurs make, when it comes to investing management time is never actually setting aside that time. If they do, it often gets deprioritized when crises come up. This makes reports feel ignored, and allows important concerns to slip through the cracks.
I’ve found it helps to set weekly, 30-minute, one-on-one meetings for direct reports. This ensures “important but not urgent” issues can be addressed, without being a burden for the manager or the employee. I prefer a structure where time is given to the employee to use as they wish — to get support; to share feedback; to brainstorm. The key is treating these meetings as sacred (never to be skipped, even in the face of inevitable time pressures), and giving undivided attention and support. Making a small time investment here provides huge dividends, in both strategy and team development.
Rest assured that managing doesn’t come easy to everyone, especially most changemakers Embracing the three approaches of great management detailed above, will start you on the path toward being both a great social entrepreneur, and a great manager. Management can, and should, be fun and empowering. Once you understand this, you’ll have set the stage to magnify and sustain your impact well into the future.