Thursday, August 07, 2008

Eating an Elephant

I'm winding down my first week at the new job. Tomorrow will be the the outgoing director's last day and then I'm all on my own. Several folks have asked me how it is going. I have a standard response. It's sort of like eating an elephant. If I look at the whole thing that needs to be accomplished it is easy to get overwhelmed. So I am trying to pace myself, just go one bite at a time and do the best I can to chew and swallow. So far so good. I learned my lesson well the last time I was the director of a small nonprofit. I am well aware of the danger of getting overanxious, rushing in headlong trying to accomplish everything all at once. There is an inherent sense of urgency when working with the homeless or other vulnerable populations. Yet I know from experience that if I fall into that trap again, I'll choke. So this time around I'm trying my very best to stay balanced. I want to be passionate about the work, but I also need to know how to turn it off and walk away so I don't burn out.

Overall I think the job will be a good match for me. It's right up my alley in terms of what needs to be done and the established skill sets I have, with room to grow and learn new things. I think once I learn everybody's names, get familiar with the computer system, and know the parameters of what I can and cannot expect in various situations I will blossom with creativity. Right now, however, I am just doing the very best I can each day to cram my brain with as much as I can to stay afloat.

The thing that is GOOD about this organization I've gone to work for is that there are some remarkable people doing phenomenal work. The thing that is not so good is that hardly any of it is documented. There are no official policies or procedures. There are very little records of the services that have taken place. It's all just happening. People show up and they do good stuff. But there is no tracking method. That is most definitely going to have to change. If I am going to be able to raise funds for this fledgling non profit, I am going to have to have accurate statistics regarding who we serve and what we provide.

At my last job at the college I used to get SOOOO frustrated with all the layers of bureaucracy. There were rules for every contingency. People would call a meeting to discuss the implications every time the wind changed directions. I often felt like I was wading through molasses trying to get anything done in an environment where everything had to be passed through committees and discussed to death before you could take any action. Here at the new job the opposite extreme is true. People just jump in and do stuff, sometimes without thinking it through or talking it out or checking perceptions of what the broader impact may be. My task is going to be to search for a sort of happy medium; I want to establish some benchmarks and guidelines, but leave room for personal judgment and discretion for those involved.

I like that there are not broken systems to fix. There simply are MISSING systems that need to be in place to run an effective agency. The place has very good bones. And the board of directors has given me tons of autonomy to make whatever changes I may think are necessary. Sometimes that feels like they have given me just enough rope to hang myself. But overall, I'm excited about the challenge. Now if I can just get through the next 30-60 days of learning curve taking enough risks to get some good work accomplished without doing anything truly stupid I'll be just fine.


Jess said...

I am overwhelmed just reading about gooooood luck! One step at a time, just like you said!

Mimi said...

Awesome! May your steps be blessed, my friend.

Jen said...

Too funny, I was just browsing articles on last night and read one from the 1980's comparing getting into the celestial kingdom to eating an elephant. Funny how you hear about things in one place and then suddenly they are everywhere, lol.

Hope you are doing well my friend. One day at a time.

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