Silo Busting: How to Make a Friend at Work, and Why
The beloved and I were meeting recently over dinner with Robert (not his real name), a fundraising executive with one of the top 20 health care nonprofits. I run a peer-to-peer fundraising strategy firm; the beloved is our human behavior expert, Otis Fulton.
Robert had been in this particular position for only four months, and was telling me about the challenges he is facing navigating the organizational chart to get things done.
His issues have become familiar to me: poor communication between fundraising and marketing, poor communication between the corporate office and the dozens of field chapters, poor communication between himself and the "veterans"—men and women who had been on board there for 15, 20 years or more.
Because of the organization’s siloed management structure, it was the communication with his peers that really was giving him trouble. Interaction was infrequent. Reaching out to them for lunches and other attempts at establishing rapport had only gotten him so far. And Robert admitted to me that he wasn’t much of a natural politician; connecting on a personal level didn’t come naturally to him. Showing up in someone’s office on Monday morning and asking, "so how was your weekend?" wasn’t a great option.
Turnkey is a company that uses recognition to gently and lovingly bludgeon fundraisers into compliance. (Visual: I’m gonna compliment you into compliance soldier! Here you go. Take another hit of "nice!" Sound off, one, two.)
Naturally, I started thinking of ways that Robert could connect with the vice presidents, directors and other staff with whom he needed to get on the same page in order to be successful. I turned to my human behavior expert for help.
At around the time I finished my second glass of sauvignon blanc, he came through. Otis said, "Robert, you need to ask them for help."
Robert replied, "Wow," taking a gulp of his gin and tonic, to give himself time to formulate a nice way to say "Oh, hell no," to Otis.
It may seem counterintuitive to bring someone over to your side by asking for assistance. And there may be some gender difference to this as well; I think that men, in particular, would think this way of approaching peers puts them into a subordinate position that they would prefer to avoid.
Why is, "please help me here," such a powerful message? It is a form of recognition, and we know recognition is both a powerful motivator of behavior and shaper of attitudes. You are telling the other person that you acknowledge their competence. At the same time, you are saying that you trust and respect them enough to expose yourself as someone who might not know everything. Finally, it says that you and I are in this thing for the greater good of the organization. The organization is important enough for me to put my ego on the shelf for a brief moment.
I watched the beloved help Robert find a path to connection. And, as I watched, I wondered how many times he used that same trick on me.
The long and short of it is—recognition, trust, working for a greater good—this is a powerful trifecta that will work to forge a bond with most people. The ones with whom it won’t work probably never were going to be your allies anyway, so you might as well find out now.
Go forth and ask for help.
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.