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Sharing Our Growth: Talent Trumps All Else

Talent Trumps All ElseThis is the fifth in a series of posts that will tease out key ingredients from the exponential growth of Share Our Strength over the past few years.

As I mentioned in my first post, we added 30 staff to a base of 65 in 2010 and we are hiring for 20 more now.  This has been an expensive investment for us – one that has turned the heads of some of our key stakeholders.  Spending money on people rather than programs can be a hard sell in the social sector.

But I believe that talent trumps all else.

Invest in talent first.  Everything flows from it. Great ideas, great strategy, and great execution will not flow from a less than great team.

Such talent is expensive and must be searched for in places that nonprofits do not always search. There are infinite rationalizations for not paying higher salaries, not replacing loyal but low performing team members, not investing in seasoned managers when you need them.  Those rationalizations will save you money but they will not enable you to achieve your mission.

The challenge is not only financial.  It can be cultural as well. Top talent wants to work with other top talent. So at first there is a Catch-22 that must be overcome, a tipping point that must be reached, until you’ve not just got a few great people but built a culture that reflects so much talent that it shines like a beacon to attract others.

And talent is not easy to manage. Any NBA coach will tell you that a team of superstars is more challenging to coach than a team of average players. It requires more and better management rather than less.

Rapid growth can fray the parts of your culture that you cherish the most, and keeping that culture, not for sentimental reasons but because it serves to advance your mission, requires being intentional and explicit in sharing what styles and behaviors are acceptable and what aren’t. Our effort to combine a lot of our talented long-time staff with a lot of new people with diverse skills and backgrounds and forge a cohesive team is still a work in progress and frankly an area where many of us feel we need to do better.

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About Billy Shore

Billy Shore is the founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit that is ending childhood hunger in America. Shore is also the chairman of Community Wealth Partners, a Share Our Strength organization that helps change agents solve social problems at the magnitude they exist.