Head and Heart – an Unbeatable Combination

One of the keys to our organization’s success has been our ability to attract and keep a lot of terrifically talented people. As a large, diversified organization that operates in a highly competitive environment, we require a level of talent comparable to that of any organization of similar size in any of the sectors. The fact that over half of our 2500 employees rely on us as the primary source of income in their households further magnifies how essential it is for us to have people who can operate our businesses really well.

There’s a major difference, though, between our requirements and – with some notable exceptions – those of most companies in the for-profit world. For example, in our retail, commercial services, and support functions (e.g. Accounting, IT, Human Resources, Facilities Management, Marketing), we must have a lot of people who have really good business or related functional skills. In addition, though, they must also have a strong commitment to our mission. We must have the “head” and the “heart.” For Goodwill – a not-for-profit social enterprise – that’s an unbeatable combination.

Commitment to mission has always been an important requirement in all parts of our organization, and for many years we’ve also recognized the need for good business skills in our retail and commercial services operations. But early in my career I did not appreciate enough how important it is for us to also have top talent in our support functions. When we finally started hiring people who could elevate the performance level of those functions, we found that they added substantial value to the direct service and revenue generating parts of the organization. From that experience, I concluded that it’s a mistake to try to minimize overhead. Rather, our objective should be to optimize it. We’ve also seen that in any part of our organization highly talented people who are committed to mission enable us to be more effective and more productive. In other words, they enable us to be better stewards of our resources. They earn their keep many times over.

There are a lot of talented people who want more meaning from their work. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t talk with at least one person who has spent the last fifteen or twenty years in a job or career that he or she doesn’t enjoy. They are looking for more satisfaction out of what they do to earn a living, and many of them are hoping to find such an opportunity in the not-for-profit world.

This desire for more meaning is not confined to people in the U.S. Recently, a manager in a Goodwill store in South Korea told me he was 50 years old, had 21 years of retail experience, and had wanted more meaning out of the work he would do for the rest of his life. Goodwill in Korea gave him such an opportunity, and he felt he was now in his “second life.” From what I could tell, he and Goodwill in Korea are fortunate to have each other.

I do not believe that one can find such meaningful opportunities only in a particular type of organization or sector of our society. In fact, I know there are many unfulfilling, unrewarding situations in the not-for-profit world, as well as in other sectors. But I’m certainly grateful that our organization has been attractive to a lot of highly talented people who, with Goodwill, have found a place that’s a good fit with their “heads” and their “hearts.”

Learning from Others

Goodwill in central Indiana is part of a network of 170 locally-based Goodwill Industries organizations around the world.  There is a lot of information-sharing among Goodwills.  We learn a lot from many of our colleagues, and they learn from us.  Each year we host a lot of visitors from around the country who are interested in knowing more about some of our operations and services in central Indiana.  Invariably, they reciprocate when we want to learn more about certain aspects of what they are doing.  It’s a powerful network.

On occasion, the knowledge-sharing crosses borders.  Nine years ago, we agreed to help train persons who were working to establish Goodwill Industries in South Korea.  Since then, we have conducted training in various aspects of our work – mostly in retail operations – for a total of 35 Koreans who have come to Indianapolis for periods ranging from a few days to a few weeks.  The Korean Goodwill leaders have persevered through numerous startup difficulties, adapted U.S. Goodwill methods to their culture and economy, and are now growing at an increasingly rapid rate.

I recently had an opportunity to accompany Goodwill Industries International (GII) CEO Jim Gibbons and three other members of the GII team to Korea to see the work being done there and meet with leaders of Goodwill Industries of Korea as they enter into a new, stronger membership relationship with GII. I was impressed with the substantial progress they have made, the high caliber, talent, and dedication of their leaders, and their ambitious plans for the future.  It was gratifying to see firsthand some of the influence of our Indiana operations nearly halfway around the world, and it was particularly heartwarming to see the vocational opportunities the Korean Goodwills are providing for people with severe disabilities – people who in Korean society have few employment options.

Goodwill in Korea uses the slogan “Not charity, but a chance.” It’s the same slogan Goodwill has used to varying degrees since its early days over 100 years ago, and the oldest and still an immensely significant part of the mission is the same – namely, to provide employment opportunities for people who, because of some significant barrier, have limited options to work.  That was the reason Goodwill was founded in Boston at the beginning of the 20th century, established in Indianapolis during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and launched in Korea during the early years of the 21st century.

As the pace of change in our world continues to increase, it’s worth noting that some things remain constant – among them, the need for people to have the opportunity to develop their talents and be productive, contributing citizens.  Such opportunities are often appreciated most by those who have had them the least – whether they live in Indiana, other parts of the United States, or other parts of the world.  That, too, is a lesson worth remembering.