What Are Friends For?
I have a good friend in this business who used to run a big city shelter. She used her friends “from the outside” to tell her the “truth” about the place. They would come to her shelter unceremoniously and just walk around as potential customers and then report back to her with their honest impressions. They reported back on everything they noticed…the sights, the sounds, the smells…you’re getting the picture, I’m sure. She, in turn, would start working with her team on improvements. This is an example of what author and management guru Jim Collins would call “confronting the brutal facts.”
So – think of me as your friend for a minute. I have been to a bunch of shelters in the past few months. I’ve visited brand-new spectacular buildings and crappy old dumps of buildings. I’ve been in nonprofit and public buildings. I’ve been in urban and suburban and rural settings, and I’ve been in no-kill and open-admission settings.
Not once have I been greeted warmly. Not once! Yes – there is the obvious possibility here that it’s me. Maybe I set people off with some nasty vibes I’m not aware of. So to control for this bias, I’ve also observed what happens when other people walk through the doors, and guess what? THEY haven’t been greeted warmly either. Even when people have been acknowledged (which quite honestly has been rare), they haven’t been truly welcomed. And it’s noticeably worse for those visitors who happen to be a different color than the staff/volunteers or who – heaven forbid – walk into the space with children in tow.
You know what’s ironic about this? When I teach workshops on adoptions or customer service, I’ve yet to encounter a class where people don’t tell me how important it is to make friendly eye contact. And yet the only people as skilled as animal welfare people at coming within close proximity of another human without making friendly eye contact are the people who worked at the DMV where I got my first driver’s license decades ago.
Chances are I haven’t been to YOUR shelter or clinic, so it’s quite possible that your people are the exception to the rule and that if I walked through your front door on any given day I would feel like your team was thrilled to see me and excited to help me. But if there’s a chance that this is not the case in your building (or over your phone lines and through your website and email communications), maybe you want to think about asking your non-animal welfare friends to do some secret shopping at your “place” (concrete or virtual). And then maybe you and your team might want to do some work to confront your brutal facts.
If so, keep in mind that Collins is quite clear that in order to use the brutal facts to your advantage, you MUST confront them (or in his terms, “conduct the autopsy”) WITHOUT blame. Easier said than done, but absolutely essential if you’re going to be able to bring about change. And here’s a bonus: if you and your team can get good at confronting your own brutal facts without blame, you’ll also be that much better at working with your clients with the same “no shame, no blame” attitude. They’ll feel the difference!
You can, of course, just ignore me, but there are lives at stake here…and it sure would be good for them if we were a whole lot more welcoming to people who are thinking about doing the right thing.