Sharing Big News!

We write to share some news of our team and of our intentions at this challenging and propitious time.  We also want to let you know what it means for you, our valued partner.

First, the news.

Mikaela Seligman, Executive Director, is departing AchieveMission on August 14th for an exciting new opportunity: developing leadership and organizational strength in partnership with people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of this double pandemic and the wide-scale health and social crises that will continue to reshape our lives, livelihoods, economies and futures for years to come.  Her new organization hasn’t made its announcement yet, so she will share the details later this month.  Mikaela notes, “I am so proud of how AchieveMission, as a nonprofit organization working to build equitable organizations across the sector, has been doing its own anti-racist leadership work internally and offering inspired options to support our clients. I am grateful to have served in this role through times that called for leadership in wholly new ways.”

To guide the organization through its next phase, Partner Angela N. Romans has been asked by the Board of Directors to serve as the Interim Executive Director.  Angela offers, “I am excited and honored to be able to lead AchieveMission through this transition and remain committed to partnering with our partners to continue transforming the social sector toward true equity. Thanks to Mikaela for her visionary leadership at AchieveMission and in the field.”

And, finally, Crystal Y. Sewell, the Kresge Foundation Director of Human Resources, has been elected Chair of the AchieveMission Board.  “We are deeply grateful to Mikaela for her leadership and vision for this work and excited that Angela is stepping up.  The board is meeting this week to sketch out what this next phase looks like for us and for our work in the field.”

Now, what it means for you.

If you are a client, it means you will get exactly the same valued support and development you have enjoyed with us until now. No interruptions. No shifts in our responsiveness or connection to you and the work of achieving your mission.  If you are a funder,  we are eager to continue to support your grantees and stay in conversations that are strengthening equity-focused capacity builders during a time of overwhelming need.  And if you are a partner of the many kinds and types we hold as necessary to our success, we sustain our commitment to be a part of an expansive and capable eco-system seeking to infuse anti-racist leadership and talent practices into how we do everything in our organiziations.  Put simply, we are still here with and for you.

Please be in touch with your questions and thoughts.   And, of course, stay safe, be good to yourself and others and keep pursuing what matters most.

The AchieveMission Team


AchieveMission Statement of Resolve

“The rest of the world yearns to get back to normal. For black people, normal is the very thing from which we yearn to be free.” Roxane Gay, author and New York Times contributing opinion writer. 5.31.20

The country is on fire from the inside, the rage and injustice hot and fierce.

The response to the sustained inattention to institutional racism and what we see in the mobile phone videos of the very ordinary violence that black people are forced to suffer daily is outright on fire in our streets and in our minds and our hearts.

This is not new, but it comes as a very real virus with no known cure is ripping through this country and the rates of sickness and death are predictably higher for people of color, particularly black people. People have taken to the streets sometimes to their own personal peril, in some of the many forms rage takes.

AchieveMission is an organization that does diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work as a necessary element of transforming the leadership and talent practices of nonprofits and philanthropic organizations.  Part of this work is to lean into the ways that the very intentionally designed system of white supremacy is always part of our clients’ stories, whether named by those who hold positional power, or not.

White supremacy destroys and perverts the best of intentions, the finest plans, the highest callings. It was designed for that. Its roots have been drawing strength for hundreds of years, fed by unfathomable stolen wealth and the blood of so many hidden from the common telling of history.

At AchieveMission, we aspire to create a world beyond whiteness because that is the ONLY way anything functions well. We work to create organizations that actually work for everyone, led at every level by individuals who will look directly at themselves and their tough problems and do the hard work to shift their own known ways of leading and collaborating because it can be no other way.

This is a statement of resolve.  Our commitment is to be bolder while being vulnerable, sharing the work fully and revealing our own culpability and uncertainty as we go.  We will use the wealth of our resources to rid our souls, our paradigms and our organizations of the cruel and enduring legacy of white supremacy.

We hold you and each other close at this time, wherever you are and however you feel.


Doing the Work in Your Place

April 2020

By Angela Romans

 

“I just moved to DC. Have any advice for a new DC resident?”

This is how so many of my conversations started in early 2020. For over 20 years in Providence, RI, my work was, for me, an invigorating combination of national and local – keeping one foot firmly rooted in place, and one in understanding and participating in the broader field.  The national always gave me big-picture perspective and broad networks, but the local kept me rooted, knowing that I was making an impact where I lived, that I had skin in this game of making change for the youth and communities at the center of this work.

Then I discovered AchieveMission, an organization working to transform the social sector across the country while sharing my commitment to working in place, and in the process of building a more solid base in DC. I joined the AchieveMission team in the summer while working from Providence. In December, to help strengthen this DC base, I took a leap to DC.

And what a leap!  I jumped into leading a project with the District of Columbia Public Library, one of our largest clients and an institution deeply rooted in the city’s culture and history. Because the project started with a broad set of interviews of staff across the library, I not only got to build relationships, but to feel more connected to this new place. When I asked library staff for advice about living in D.C., they asked me if I had my library card yet, and gave me a tour of my new local library. Those interviews of neighborhood library staff, many of whom grew up in the city and have seen it changed immensely, helped me better understand the deep, rich, and fraught nature of DC’s history.

While I’ve been supporting the library and other DC-based clients around issues of leadership, race equity, and talent, I have found myself “doing the work while doing the work.” This is the first time I’ve been new in a place in over two decades, and it has brought both excitement and intense disequilibrium. In Providence, people sought me out as an “expert” on the local education space. Now, I find myself in a space of deep learning, in partnership and connection with others, about place for the first time in a while.  What does it mean to admit to myself the loss that I feel at no longer being an expert on local resources, relationships, and history? How do I most constructively do the work in this place? And, in the midst of the upheaval of COVID-19, does it even matter?

Today, at this moment, I say, yes, it does. Connection, rootedness, and community are all vital in this incredibly difficult time. While “place” has a continually-shifting meaning in the middle of social distancing and an increasingly virtual world, I’m heartened to find that spring in DC still brings seedlings of learning. During happy hour at a local watering hole a couple months ago, a group of black women pulled me lovingly into their book club. We had our first virtual happy hour meeting earlier this week, and the connection felt so nourishing.  In work with new coaching clients in DC, all the meetings are now virtual, but people thankfully still have advice and insights to share with a new DC resident. So, in this unprecedented moment, while the big picture is changing dramatically by the hour, I am grateful for the opportunity to continue doing work I love and to explore new ways to ground the doing in my new place in a new reality. And the Cherry Blossom Festival will seem even sweeter next year.


Connected as You Go

March 2020

By Mikaela Seligman

 

So, predictably on an early morning call with my mother today she admonished, “You’re not traveling are you?!?!?….I would be worried if you were getting on a plane or train or anything.”  I, of course, would be worried if she were, at 83 years old and with some ongoing health issues.

But the point is clearly a larger one.

Work and personal travel, gathering in groups larger than a couple family units, socially acceptable touches like handshakes and hugs are all in question. I had the first moments of encounter this week when we looked at each other about to hug in a typical greeting and just said, “Nah.”

At AchieveMission, we have been asking serious questions about how to keep each other and our families safe in an environment in which it is possibly the uncertainty itself that ultimately impacts our overall health and wellness the most. Stressful, anyone? We aren’t sure what data to use to make the right choices (or if we are actually getting the real story from authorities, but that is a whole other blog post). We don’t have any models of what the right choices are.  Perhaps one silver lining of all this is that the feelings and concerns of employees are being taken into serious account – in some cases, organizations that haven’t banned travel entirely are offering employees the chance to opt out if they aren’t comfortable.  That is something that folks often can’t do without some negative repercussions. Check off one in the column for employee voice.

But, there remain many other areas of real and present physical concern, including the possibility that the workplace as we know it transforms into lots of cells of people working in their homes, at least for a period of time.  At AchieveMission, we have a growing pod of us in DC and a longstanding tradition of virtual teaming with our other colleagues based in other cities, so this isn’t new for us.  And, over the years, we have learned some strategies to make virtual teaming work and work pretty darn well. Here are a few thoughts about leadership in this moment – less about the technical things you might do – like having working wifi and making sure you have a good video platform – and more about how to hold center, hold steady and lead in a moment like this:

  1. Listen to your peeps – As I mentioned earlier, people’s concerns about their well-being and that of their older immuno-compromised relatives and friends are top of mind right now. We have to be responsive to these and to fashion responses with a loose, tight fit. This starts with asking and listening to the people you serve, work with and love.
  2. Make decisions including all “data” but not reacting to any of it – We often teach that most of our view of “data” is way too limited. Hearing voices from your team is “data.” So, obviously, are all the things we are reading and learning through each other and media sources and the CDC. I used to have a boss who seemingly made policy based on the last person they talked to. Don’t do that. Take it all in. Talk to each other. Then respond. And, know that it may shift as data from all our sources does. Being agile is a good thing.
  3. Consider the herd your community – If there was ever a time to prioritize the needs of others, I would say this is it.  This is, from a public health perspective, not only about Covid-19, but the regular old flu.  It is the only reason I get a flu shot.  At a moment like this we need to think about the big everyone and not just our particular everyones. Consider the impact of your choices and org policies in this way.
  4. Be sure you get human connection and contact every day – This is just a rule of life. Keep doing it, however that looks as this pandemic unfolds. We know now more and more that having as many as 5 touchpoints with live humans early in the day makes a difference. We may have to find these in other ways in a more virtual environment, but keep prioritizing our connections, not our disconnection or fear.
  5. Protect those who may become victims of xenophobia – This morning my 7-year-old told us a friend of his said the Corona Virus started when a Chinese person ate a live bat. Um, no. And this is only one of the malicious stories that circulates in these moments, further othering ethnic or racial groups. (By the way, that particular story was apparently spread through an irresponsible Fox News host.) It is our responsibility to squash such stories and treat everyone with dignity and care.

I just learned the term “social distancing” this week. It may be something we need to do for a while. Conferences with no handshaking are now in vogue. I am no longer hugging as a greeting. But, we need to keep in mind that this social distancing is a necessary public health intervention and not a forever state.  Here is hoping this round of it is as short as possible and as long as necessary to stop this pandemic so we can all remain healthy of mind and of body. And, let’s get creative about how to be connected in our ways of leading throughout.


The Work We Need To Do

February 2020

By Mikaela Seligman

 

“We’re 7 white people talking about racial justice.”

Earlier this week at the Democratic debate, presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg declared this obvious reality.  The fact that it was obvious didn’t make his words any less compelling. In fact, perhaps it was the very in-your-faceness of it, the reality that all of the candidates of color, those who may have even started the race strong, were no longer up on stage.  And, all of that reflecting a much larger, deeper historical American reality.

Just a few weeks earlier in the same town where the debate was hosted — Charleston, SC — AchieveMission completed a year-long cohort program, which we launched in partnership with CrossRoads Anti-Racism Organizing and Training, precisely because we knew that this system-shifting work isn’t done alone.  Along with five other participating nonprofits from across the United States enrolled in this cohort, AchieveMission focused on anti-racist, adaptive leadership development and succession planning – because the path to change the face and composition of our organizations is to focus on who is there now, how they are supported and enabled to lead, and the barriers that we may put, wittingly or unconsciously, in the way of their success, and that we need to remove – with, rather than for, them.

Reflecting on my time in Charleston in Early February, I am conscious that this place was once the largest slave port in the United States.  And now in 2020, we have seven white people on stage as presidential candidates 341 years later.  This is the data.  We have work to do.

At AchieveMission, we believe that this work IS necessary, and not only for people who experience the world as white.  White supremacy is hidden deep in the crevices of our society and flagrantly positioned in our systems, in our institutions, in the ways we are conditioned to believe and behave. We have work to do to uncover what is often both obvious yet unsaid, and to put it fully at the center of organizational change work.  And, if uncovering and talking about it – without taking action — is all we do, we too will have failed.  We will continue to be 7, 700, 7,000 white people talking about racial justice in ways that completely miss the mark, precisely because we are talking and not transforming. More precisely for the nonprofit sector, The Building Movement Project’s Race to Lead reports of 2006 and 2011 found that, in the US, people of color in ED/CEO roles remains under 20%.  More recently, in BoardSource’s 2015 Leading with Intent report of nonprofit board representation, 89 percent of respondents identified as white.

AchieveMission is committed to transforming the nonprofit and philanthropic sector. This is what drives our work. As a hallmark of this work and approach, we are proud to be part of and to be building an ecosystem of providers in partnership with The Kresge Foundation and Community Wealth Partners.  Check out this Foundation Review piece that went live this week – sharing more about what it takes to build a thriving ecosystem like this and, yes, transform our sector. 


Watch Now: AchieveMission on Comcast Newsmakers

Mikaela Seligman, Executive Director, explains to Sheila Hyland at Comcast Newsmakers how AchieveMission transforms leadership and management in the Social Sector.

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Image Credit and Link to Video


Succession Planning with Race and Gender at the Center

March 2019

By Mike Markovits

 

I thought I knew everything about succession planning. What else could I possibly learn after a quarter century leading this activity at two global companies with world-renowned leadership development practices? As it turns out, I still had a lot to learn.

But let me back up. I first learned succession planning as a young human resources professional at GE, where Session C was a studied and replicated set of tools and processes. Jack Welch devoted a month out of each year to succession planning, and GE was considered to have the gold-plated standard in that arena.

Then I went to IBM, where I had global, corporate-wide responsibility for succession planning. IBM was different than GE in many ways; I learned some variations on familiar approaches and also created and introduced some new tools and processes. When I left, I thought IBM reflected the new best practice in succession planning.

What I did not know during my twenty-five-plus years at these two prestigious corporations was how to notice and correct for gender and racial biases, and how to build gender and race equity into a succession planning process. I have learned this in the last seven years working at AchieveMission and consulting to nonprofit organizations across the United States.

Early in my years with AchieveMission, I remember introducing the basic tools of a Talent Review – the 9-box and successor chart – to a well-regarded youth services organization serving predominantly people-of-color. After the senior leadership team completed the 9-box on the direct service and middle management layers of the organization, we stepped back and looked at the distribution of names in the 9-box. With surprise, we noticed that the box for low-performing and low-potential staff contained exclusively people-of-color. In contrast, white staff members were uniformly perceived as medium-to-high performance and medium-to-high potential. At the time, we brainstormed actions that we could take; for example, the organization developed and implemented a mentoring program for staff-of-color.

While implementing a mentoring program was a good talent development action, in retrospect we did not explore deeply enough why we saw the 9-box distribution that we did. Key questions that we could have asked ourselves include:

  • Were managers trained on race and gender equity and implicit bias prior to assessing their direct reports for the succession planning exercise? Were there differences in how different managers assessed members of their teams? Was there an individual manager or two who supervised the preponderance of identified “low-performing / low-potential” individuals?
  • In addition to individual causes for the “low performing / low potential” assessments, were their systemic causes for the 9-box distribution? For example, were employees expected to “sink or swim” or was there active coaching and support for people, especially people new to their roles?
  • In the actual discussion during the Talent Review, were there opportunities for alternative insights about identified “low-performing / low-potential” individuals to be shared, or was there more of a groupthink mentality that did not allow for pushback? If some degree of groupthink was present, what explains that phenomenon? Is it an indication of bias?

 

One essential piece of succession planning is for the assessors to initiate a conversation amongst themselves about trends related to race or gender (or other relevant diversity criteria for your organization). This conversation can surface blind spots in our leaders and in our talent development practices. Questions to ask during this discussion include:

  • What trends do you notice related to race and gender when you review the Talent Review data?
  • What questions surface for you as you look at the Talent Review data?
  • What are possible hypotheses for what has led to this data?
  • What actions could we take to address the trends we see in the data?

 

Thanks to my nonprofit sector partners, I have now learned quite a bit about how to pay attention to race and gender equity in a succession planning process, and I’m sure there is more for me – and all of us – to learn and incorporate into our talent development. What is now undoubtedly clear to me is that I can and should be a bold observer, facilitator, and guide for organizations, helping them to focus on race and gender equity as they implement and execute succession planning.


Recruiting With A DEI Lens

By Edith Buhs, Principal

Creating a race equitable workplace has become an elevated priority. In our work, we’ve heard many times that our clients want to take action, but aren’t sure how. Equity in the Center’s recent report “Awake to Work to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture” describes a cycle of change – awake, work, work – as organizations transform from a white dominant culture to a race equity culture. Awake, the first stage, focuses on building a workforce of individuals from different race backgrounds. In nonprofits, this is not a small task.  While about 40% of the American workforce is non-white, only 18% of nonprofit staffers are. In smaller and midsize organizations it is common for hiring to be largely unstructured, or even completely ad hoc, which makes hiring new staff who feel similar to the interviewers and existing staff nearly inevitable. Plus, nonprofits can’t retain and promote staffers of diverse backgrounds if they don’t get hired in the first place. So, getting “awake” in your hiring is a good place to start. Below are a few approaches we recently used with a client that you can adopt and adapt. Try them out, talk to your peers, reach out to colleagues in other organizations. Let us know what you learn and how you make changes that matter.

Write a better Job Description

  • Textio’s great Word Nerd blog guided the language we used and the posting length. Their research shows long listings have a drop off in applicants. Aim for the sweet spot of 300-700 words.
  • We named how diversity, equity and inclusion figures into the responsibilities and qualifications of the role, i.e. “execute a strategy that generates a high quality and diverse workforce. . . develop and institute diversity and inclusion initiatives . . . cultivate a safe, fulfilling and respectful work environment free from discrimination and harassment that promotes the wellbeing of staff.” Not hiring for a talent role? Here’s what it sounds like for a foundation policy position: “Ensure the policy agenda reflects and advances the Foundation’s commitment . . .  to reducing racial and ethnic disparities.” Or, for a manager in a youth leadership nonprofit: “Demonstrated ability to work with diverse teams of young adults, which includes experience coaching young people and working with diverse populations.”
  • We expanded the EEOC statement: “We are an equal opportunity employer that values diversity of all kinds. We encourage candidates from all backgrounds to apply for this opportunity. It is our policy to ensure that all individuals are treated equally without regard to age, color, disability, gender, marital status, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, expression, gender identity or veteranstatus, and that all are given every opportunity to succeed.”

Reduce Your Implicit Bias in Screening

As a small team without an applicant tracking system or automated screening, we did it “by hand.” Our team worked to counterbalance our implicit bias by:

  • Using a spreadsheet to track candidates and to be sure we were looking at every application and communicating with each person after every round.
  • Using two reviewers with different identity characteristics.  In our case, this meant different racial, age and geographic backgrounds.
  • Reviewing applications in large batches.
  • Instead of sorting resumes into simple yes, no and maybe piles, we compared applications against the minimum qualifications in the posting and then held those candidates against the highest priority abilities to find ones to phone screen;
  • Testing our ratings with each other by asking why we scored two candidates differently, checking that candidates with similar scores really did seem similar, and ensuring that our ratings were backed by data.
  • This wasn’t a highly scientific process (few in the nonprofit world are. Google is a different story) so when candidates from diverse (non white-normative) backgrounds were just outside our cutoff, we tipped them into the next pool on the guess that, despite our efforts in a biased world, their match to the role may have been underestimated. We’d look to the next round of vetting to get a better view.

Structure Your Interviews

Research shows that unstructured interviews (asking off the cuff questions, letting a conversation unfold organically) are terrible at selecting top candidates, in spite of the fact that interviewers prefer them (no prep, no directions, no design to follow – what’s not to like?). The bad news is that unstructured interviews are more likely to allow implicit bias to sway results. Iris Bohnet’s work, How to Take the Bias Out of Interviews, informed our approach. We rooted out opportunities for “I just liked her” or “I didn’t get a good feel from him” to seep into the selection process by honing in on the competencies needed for success in the role. Using our Inquiry Design tool (download sample here), we predesigned questions for each layer of interviewing (phone screen, first in-person interview and finalist round) to explore a deeper layer of data in each round. All candidates were asked the same questions in every round, interviewers took detailed notes and then compared and tested their assessments in debrief meetings.

No Stony Faces and Bad Cops

We believe that each person’s true capabilities and potential match with the job comes through more if stress and anxiety are minimized. Interviews are nerve racking, especially for the introverts among us and those with time constraints in their on-the-job and off-the-job schedules. We aimed to put candidates at ease by connecting personally at the beginning of interviews and smiling a lot. We appreciated their interest in the role. We told them what to expect in each type of interview and gave a clear point of contact for questions. We shared expected next steps and updated candidates when our timeline slowed down. With a nod to Vu Le about salary cloaking, for candidates who advanced from the phone screen, we shared the salary range to find mismatches in salary requirements early on and value everyone’s time. Further on this spectrum, some employers are fully transparent about salary ranges in postings and tell candidates what topics or even questions to expect in interviews. (Note too that the client is based in New York which, like Massachusetts, forbids asking about salary history during job interviewing. This regulation is spreading, so look for it to come to your city or state!)

We believe these are good practices for every hiring process. A little upfront investment in the way you hire one or two people can create the tools, training and pool of interviewers you need to make every hire better. These are early and essential pieces of creating a workplace that is more diverse, inclusive and equitable. Let us know if you’d like to upgrade your hiring with doable, practical steps like these. To explore another piece of the puzzle, look for our next blog post on training interviewers.


"Yeah, but..."

November 10th, 2017

By Ankita Jhaveri

 

As an immigrant South Asian woman, I can’t separate inclusion and equity from my daily life. If only I had a penny for every time someone changed my name to Anita or Nikita, or commented on the fact that I don’t have an accent even though I was born and raised in India, or asked if I speak Hindu or Indian or compared Bhangra to screwing in a light bulb. The list continues.

 

And as an immigrant South Asian woman working in the nonprofit sector, I can’t separate inclusion and equity from my professional life. How do I ensure that I am not just a number, meeting compliance? That I am not tokenized as a person of color on a mainly white team? That organizations are creating a culture and conditions that allow for my full and authentic self to show up, and then keep showing up over and over again? And how all of my team members are able to do this – equally and without being vulnerable each time – with the wealth of their experiences and strengths.

 

At a recent training on Racial Justice, a white woman asked the question “what is my role when doing this work? What is the right thing for me to do? How should I behave in my organization as we elevate this work?” At first, I was perplexed by the question because the idea that there is a “right role” or “right behavior” is foreign to me.  My experience tells me that we all must do what we can, and that it may look different for each person. There is no one story – we all have our own. My experience as a person of color is different than that of my Latina or African American colleagues, and so I do what I can from where I sit. The key being, doingwhat you can do. And in the same way, my White colleagues must do what they can, and that will invariably look different for each one.

 

And as I sat with the question throughout the day, I couldn’t let go of the idea of power dynamics. In situations where I have not been able to bring my full self to work or could not exercise my leadership, felt undermined, or couldn’t tell my own truth, all had one thing in common – lack of space. Lack of space to speak up, lack of space to do the work in a way that is mine, lack of trust that I can do the work. And it often begins with “yeah, but …” The idea that some power must shift, there must be some letting go is inevitable if we are to do this work, to do it well, and to do it in a way that is authentic and long-lasting.


Leading From Where You Are

Join AchieveMission’s Mikaela Seligman for Leading From Where You Are at Our Common Future on Wednesday, October 26.

Let’s get real about it. We exercise leadership by speaking to and acting on what is most meaningful to us, by doing the work of mobilizing the resources to act on our really tough challenges. No one hands that to us. What we are given is authority. What we take up (or avoid) is our leadership. How we get it to stick over time is execution.

I began to put the pieces together when I studied Adaptive Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. Through the course and then serving as a teaching fellow, I was able make sense of the profound failure I had experienced some years earlier as a charter corps member in Teach for America. I couldn’t see the system nor discern the lessons that could inform my day-to-day behavior. I experienced the whole thing as personal and it left deep scars. After the course and ensuing years of personal and professional practice, my vision of leadership expanded, and the possibilities of leading grew with it.

Now with AchieveMission, we integrate this framework and a number of powerful practices to support individuals and organizations to diagnose their challenges, guide essential conversations, generate internal alignment to drive informed decision making, and enable teams to exercise leadership at all levels.

If there was one thing I would recommend to read before joining this session it would be an Harvard Business Review article entitled “The Work of Leadership” by Ron Heifetz and Don Laurie, originally published in 1997. It is an oldie, but a goodie.