Thursday, January 29, 2009

Management Misgivings

Since I was hired as staff at Habitat KC, I've been charged with overseeing our AmeriCorps program. As a member, I got to understand the program from one point of view, but now I'm seeing a totally different perspective. One part of me loves managing my own program. I know myself well enough to know that I have control issues and running the program myself allows me to have more control over something in the professional environment than I've ever had before. However, there are many new experiences for me in this venture and I'm discovering that maybe control isn't all it's cracked up to be. Up until this month, managing the program has been mostly a question of organization and paper work. There are a variety of documents that have to be signed and submitted at various time intervals. Some of them require feedback from our AmeriCorps members, others require supervisors' information and signatures, and all of it needs to be copied and kept on file just in case there's any kind of audit (this is, afterall, a federal grant program). I have no problem with any of that, even while much of the paperwork process can be tedious and redundant. It has allowed me to learn more about how the grant and program works at Habitat International's level and allowed me to regularly communicate with all of the people involved at our affiliate.

This month my management duties shifted when I was told that I could hire a new member to fill the open position we had for the last half of the term (our full terms are September - July but one member decided at the last minute not to take the job and we didn't have anyone else to hire at the time. This term will be February - July). This meant that I had to post the job listing, do some active recruiting, perform interviews and select the right candidate for the job. There are several tricks to this process, and I'm still learning how to deal with all of them. For example, a large percentage of people who already know about the AmeriCorps program and are interested in participating in it are white, middle class college kids. The problem is that as a federal program, the powers that be would like to see a more diverse population that reflects the entire population of this country. Our affiliate has not had a problem with this in the past - we've made a point to recruit for AmeriCorps members among our family partners and their friends and relatives, as well as posting jobs on local college campuses, including technical and vocational programs. At national training events, we have been held up as an example of what a good group of members can look like. However, for a variety of reasons, the people that we have hired in the past haven't always worked out well. Last year we had several disciplinary issues which led to one member quitting and another being terminated in the middle of the program. This put our affiliate on a list with those higher up and they want to know what we're doing wrong that we can't bring in people that are able to complete the program. So I, as the new coordinator of this program, have to find a way to balance what both sides want to see.

I posted the position on Craig's List, on our website and on the AmeriCorps website and that was it. Because I knew we only had one position to fill, I wasn't worried about having tons of people see it - just enough to find a handful of good candidates. And we'd never used Craig's List before so I wanted to see what kind of people that reached and how many responses we got. It worked pretty well and I had several applicants for the position. Most of them were white, male, and college educated but there was some variety. For the first time in my life, I interviewed people. I've been interviewed many times, but asking the questions was more nerve wracking than I expected it to be. I wanted to make sure I was being fair, so I developed a list of questions that I would ask to each applicant and had a rating system with room for comments so I could take notes and remember each applicant when I went back to review them later. I made sure to have someone from the construction dept. in the interviews with me so that it wasn't just my perspective being shared, especially since this position will be working in the construction dept. In the end, I had three good candidates for the job, all of which were young, white, college educated males. None of the diverse candidates made the cut for a variety of reasons and now I'm wondering if the process was somehow biased against them. I know that while I don't want to be racist and try my best not to be, there are things in my life and this culture that are immediately going to rule out people based on race, economic status, etc. The AmeriCorps program requires people to apply online thru the website, so if you don't have internet access or aren't computer literate, you're not going to be able to even apply, let alone get selected. Is this fair? It doesn't seem that way to me, but here I am running this program and now I have to figure out how to make it fair. Any suggestions??

So now that all has been said and done, I've hired one of our three candidates and this week I wrote the rejection letters to the others that we interviewed. I appreciate honesty but also appreciate tact and kindness and had a really hard time trying to bring all of those to a letter that told people they weren't picked. No matter what I said or how I phrased it, I felt like I was still telling them "you're not good enough" and I hate delivering that message. So what does this mean? Perhaps I'm not suited for hiring people. Perhaps I'm not suited for management. Or perhaps I'm just new to this and it will get easier and I'll figure out how to do all of it while maintaining a level of integrity. Or maybe it won't get easier and that's okay with me because if it does that will mean I've lost some of my compassion. If you have any advice, I'd love to hear it - leave me a comment!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

no advice...i do think that simply because you consider and think deeply about all of these issues it makes you a much better manager and interviewer.

i do think it will get easier and that doesn't mean you will lose your compassionate edge!

ps...sendng out a rejection letter is huge! i'm sure they were happy to hear back even though it wasn't good news. it's unfortunate how many places don't even give you that curtousy!