The nonprofit sector has a reputation for being a troublesome place to work. Long hours, low pay and high employee turnover are common, as scarce resources are deployed to serve clients. But a revolution is brewing in social services, writes Wenger, a social worker and founder of Workforce Performance Group, a leadership-training provider. He believes a new approach is needed to meet the expectations of the next generation of workers. Simply put, social service agencies must take better care of their employees. A happier, more engaged workforce will result in better services for clients, whether at a youth outreach center or, say, a community food bank. Drawing on management practices widely used by for-profit businesses, Wenger offers 20 strategies he says need to be implemented for social service agencies to succeed. The strategies are based on the ideas that employees add value to an organization and that value can be maximized. Concise, methodical and supported by the latest research, the strategies tend to fall into two broad categories: cultural and practical. Wenger contends that organizations can boost employee satisfaction and motivation by building a culture founded on trust, respect, accountability and work-life balance. An imaginative chapter on making “fun” an “organizational value” challenges the stodgy, command-and-control philosophy that dominated the 20th-century workplace. The main payoff, Wenger says, is an energized staff that enjoys coming to work. On the practical side, he offers concrete advice on hiring, delegation and making staff meetings more productive. A daunting amount of information is packed into less than 160 pages. The author makes implementing the strategies easier by breaking down his recommendations into user-friendly lists. Old-school managers may find the book too touchy-feely, particularly the chapter “Give ’Em a Hug.” Still, while not a magic formula, Wenger’s strategies offer a cost-effective way to invigorate a nonprofit group by caring as much for the people behind the counter as for those in front of it.
Instructive and transformative; what savvy business leaders discovered a decade ago now promises to create more vibrant social service agencies.