At The Canadian Nonprofit Academy, we’ve been paying close attention to what’s happening with the Great Resignation. Also known as the Big Quit or the Great Reshuffle, the Great Resignation began in early 2021 and has seen millions of employees voluntarily resigning in droves from their jobs.

At first, pundits cynically thought it was easier for people to stay open and receive government benefits issued in response to the pandemic. They bemoaned that no one wanted to work anymore. The cause is more nuanced than this as employees redefine their relationship with work and their employers.

It might be more aptly called the Great Reset!

The Harvard Business Review took a look at this question and found that many employees simply reached the end of their rope with too much work,  not enough recognition and toxic work cultures.

The Effect of The Great Resignation on Non-Profits

The non-profit sector has not been immune to this trend. Many organizations have seen their workforce dwindle as their employees head to for-profit companies favouring better wages and benefits. Some say this means that the social sector is doomed to mediocrity.

We don’t think this is the case at the Canadian Nonprofit Academy. Rather, we feel that it’s simply a call to action for non-profit executives to put in the work needed to come through the Great Resignation even stronger. If you follow the principle of “who, then, what,” as found in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, it’s important to get the right people on the bus both in terms of staff and the board.

We believe that work starts with reinforcing a positive organizational culture that appeals to the best people and brings out their best. One that shows them you trust them, recognize their unique talents, and respect and value their ideas. Doing so will help non-profit organizations find and retain people looking for work that brings them a greater sense of meaning and purpose. In fact, according to statistics by Pew Research, “more than half of employees  (53%) who left their jobs during 2021 said they took the chance to switch careers (not just jobs), and find something that promised to be more satisfying in the long run.”[1]

The Empowerment Framework

Evan Feinberg, Executive Director of the Stand Together Foundation, recommends using a concept he calls the ’empowerment framework’ to guide the decision-making process. The framework encourages non-profits to “believe in the people they serve, see them as the source of the solution to the problems they face and empower them to overcome those challenges from the bottom up.”[2]

Empowerment-Based Management

A variation of the empowerment framework, empowerment-based management is a practice that doesn’t control people. An empowerment-based management team would never:

  • Force an employee to take a position that didn’t fit their skillset
  • Require employees to do things in one particular way or prevent them from trying alternate ways of doing things
  • Compensate employees based on their seniority or title rather than their overall performance and contributions
  • Establish fixed budgets and strategies that employees have to stick with

Instead, in an empowerment-based management mode, bottom-up contributions from employees are encouraged and welcomed instead of only top-down decisions. Instead of mandating rules, guiding principles are used to guide sound decision-making. The unique career path of employees is fostered rather than pre-determined, which is more fulfilling and better advances organization goals. Expectations of “this is how we do things” are replaced with an experimentation approach of “what other way could we do things.”

How to Build an Empowerment-based Management Culture

Step 1: Make sure your organizational vision is known and crystal clear and something that your whole team can get excited about. They’ll naturally rally around that vision and work towards it as a collective whole when you do.

Step 2: Let those talents shine! If you have a team member who isn’t quite sure what their unique talent or gift is, help them find it. While this might mean a significant change in their role, it shows them you want them to keep improving and find more fulfillment when you encourage and support the change.

Step 3: Encourage thinking outside of the box. When you continually encourage your team to look at better ways of doing things by challenging themselves and each other, they’ll find those new approaches and solutions you need to overcome challenges like the Great Resignation.

Step 4: Trust your team to know what they are doing. Empower them to make big decisions. Sure, not everything they do will be a resounding success, but success is surely more likely when you give your team clear responsibilities and accountability. Remember, autonomy encourages progress more than strict rules and control ever could. And you’ll never win when you micromanage or take your employees for granted.

Step 5: Offer tailored rewards. Wherever possible, compensate your team members relative to their contributions to the organization. When you do, it shows them their hard work is meaningful and motivates them to do even more going forward.

When you follow these steps and build that solid and recognizable Empowerment-based Management Culture, you’re holding the equivalent of what Joan Garry so appropriately coins, “the Willy Wonka Golden Ticket.”[3] As Garry puts it, when you fuel the autonomy, mastery, and purpose of your employees, you become a destination of choice and a leading example of what’s being called the Great Attraction[4]. You risk becoming another casualty of the Great Resignation when you don’t.

If you have more questions about how to best approach the Great Resignation at your non-profit organization or for more information about our courses, consulting, or coaching, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here.