I wrote this post last summer, and while the groundhogs in question are no longer staying with us, the lessons about when to take advice and when to ignore it still stand. Happy Groundhog Day!
If you work with people, eventually some of them are going to make suggestions. Most of the time, those suggestions will be made with the best of intentions. And yet, sometimes following said advice will be the best thing that ever happened to you or your organization, and sometimes it will lead to unmitigated disaster.* So how do you determine when to listen and adapt and when to smile and nod?
Bring on the Baby Groundhogs!
The groundhogs in this video live in my backyard. As you can see, I’m pretty excited about it. When they first showed up I called two moms to tell them about it.
My partner’s mom was as (or more) excited about my backyard residents than I. She wanted to see them (which is why I took the video), had all kinds of suggestions for how to get them to come closer to the house. She continues to ask about their well being every time I talk to her, and sometimes calls just to ask about them.
My mom’s reaction** was “Are you sure you want groundhogs living in your yard? They’ll eat your plants and might dig holes. It’s not a good situation.”
It’s not About being Right
It’s important to note this is not a case of determining who is right and who is wrong. Both women have groundhog experience and based their advice on what they had learned. They both also had good intentions; wanting only the best for me and my back yard. Finally, they are both right: groundhogs are adorable, fun to watch creatures and they eat plants including one’s grass, flowers and vegetable garden.
And yet their advice is completely contradictory, so I can’t really do both. Therein lies the dilemma.
It’s About Being Aligned
The answer is to figure out which mom’s advice comes from a value set most aligned with my own.
J.’s mom is a life-long animal lover. She’s had pets her whole life and there are no furry animals, including (pet) rats she doesn’t love.
My mother is a gardener. She has a beautiful yard full of flowers specifically chosen to provide color throughout the spring, summer and fall. She also grows fruits and vegetables.
I, (as you might have guessed) am an animal person. Until the grass in my back yard started attracting wildlife, I thought of it only as something my neighborhood’s social contract dictated I mow on a weekly basis. Its well-being is not high on my priority list. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing back there that the groundhogs are not welcome to call breakfast.
How does this apply to my Organization?
As the leader of a nonprofit organization (or anyone trying to spread a message) you will be offered unsolicited advice on how to improve your work. Here’s how you can use the “baby groundhog method” to decide what to do.
Know what you stand for
Nonprofit work is hard, and nonprofit leaders are buried in advice about how to do it better. Sometimes you will make decisions based on what’s convenient, or popular, or what everyone else is doing. When you get really big, you may even make decisions based on what you need to keep your organization solvent, rather than what you need to achieve your goals.
But your best decisions? Those will be made when you follow advice that resonates with why you started to do the work in the first place.
Learn to identify your people
The best way to know who to listen to is to have a crystal clear vision of what the people most connected to your cause care most about. If you don’t have a clear picture of who your people are, or are using demographics to pick them, This perfect supporter worksheet will help.
Only follow advice that. . .
moves your closer to your mission or closer to your perfect people.
This is yet another reason marketing to the general public doesn’t work. If “everyone” is your perfect supporter, you have to try to meet everyone’s needs. Since people’s needs are so varied, the very decisions that delight one person will offend another.
In other words, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, so decide who you want to please and ignore everyone else.
A word of Caution
Don’t confuse your organizational habits, traditions, or preferences with your mission. Just because a change will be annoying, doesn’t mean it doesn’t move you closer to your goals and remove barriers between you and your perfect supporters.
What well intentioned, but inappropriate advice have you left on the table recently?
*It’s actually more of a spectrum, but you get my drift.
**It was also my mom who suggested I find a blog post in the groundhog story, which turned out to be great advice, so it’s not like I never listen to her. . .