Business continuity is not business-as-usual. It’s taking care of people.

Many classrooms at universities across North America will be empty come Monday. Staff in advancement shops, though, will report for work, either in person or remotely. Some will wonder, does fundraising and engagement go on through such a crisis? Why are we even here?

It does go on, and it should go on, even if it’s over the phone or by email. The conversation will be different. Now might not be the time to ask, but it may be the time to connect, to commiserate, to seek advice – to deepen the relationship. Your most committed supporters remain committed, even if financial support is not what’s uppermost in their minds.

(There is so much useful advice out there. I don’t intend to promote one vendor above others, but do check out BWF’s whitepaper: Tips for Remote Relational Fundraising. It has practical and timely advice for every advancement function.)

Fundraisers need supports and tools to do their jobs. Relationships need to be managed. Business continues.

“Business continuity” sounds like a cold and heartless expectation for these days, but really it starts with not only ensuring the team is safe, but ensuring that everyone feels safe. It’s about communicating openly and honestly, and exercising flexibility and understanding in dealing with fear and anxiety.

Priority number one is ensuring the health and safety of your team. Nothing else comes close in importance. Follow the directives of health authorities and the leaders of your institutions. No exceptions.

The rest is up to you. Do it poorly, and all the social distancing and technology for remote work you’ve got will fail to deliver continuity. People need to know their work is important, but they also need to feel secure. And if they don’t feel secure, they should be free to express their fears and be taken seriously.

Your university probably has mental health supports for employees. The most immediate support, however, comes from managers and leaders. Not in terms of providing mental health supports that only a professional should provide, but in understanding and respecting the anxiety of employees (who may be worried for vulnerable family members), communicating honestly about our shared stress, and being flexible with work arrangements when possible.

If a business continuity plan is in place, it’s a given that something significant has happened. Never say it’s “business as usual,” because your people know that it isn’t.

So your horoscope says you’re an introvert

Have you ever been made to take a personality test as part of a job application? I have. And I learned a lot from it – although not about me.

The test was administered and interpreted by an associate professor of industrial/organizational psychology, consulting for the recruiting firm contracted to help fill the position. I was not surprised by my test results – introvert, detail-oriented, compromise-seeking – but I found the professor’s interpretive report a little on the negative side.

I got the job. I was offered the opportunity to meet with the professor. I showed up at his office keen to learn how I might compensate for deficiencies in my psychological makeup that would hold me back as a leader if left unaddressed.

You see, years of exposure to conventional wisdom about personality types had conditioned me to suspect that introverts don’t belong in leadership roles or collaborative work environments. Or maybe they can be admitted as long as they undergo the personality equivalent of conversion therapy.

For example, I once attended a team meeting on talent development in which one of the participants presented resource materials that essentially stated that introverts are best suited to working alone doing repetitive tasks. I should have objected but I said nothing.

(Introverts are well represented on my team. I can attest that no one in Advancement works in isolation doing solely repetitive tasks. No one.)

But I have an open mind, and I listened to what the professor had to say. Which wasn’t much. He seemed evasive, and I left with an empty notebook.

A few weeks later, I read a story in the local paper based on an interview with this same associate professor. He had co-authored a study on people who lie during job interviews. He said he had found a link between personality and deceptive interview answers.

Introverts, he found, tend to be less confident, and use deception to cope with the perceived difficulty of the interview, while extroverts tend to be more honest.

“What we found is individuals who are more extroverted, that are more conscientious and are more experienced and have better prepared for an interview (tend to) use more of the honest strategies,” he said. “While those who are more introverted, less conscientious, less prepared, and maybe less experienced, they go in the interview and apparently they tend to be less confident. They perceive the interview to be more difficult for them and then they use the deceptive strategy as a way to kind of cope with the anxiety that can arise because of the situation.”

I have not read the study, and the reporter may have mangled the message; the quote suggests the study included multiple variables. But it made me angry. I’ve kept the newspaper clipping for years, intending to write about it, but my anger has prevented me.

I’m still angry, but I write now because I fear that some hiring managers might actually believe this.

Personality testing has validity, and can be used for self-reflection and for helping diverse personalities work together. But barring people from higher levels of employment based on dubious interpretations of ambiguous data is wrong and harmful.

It is harmful to individuals, to teams, to organizations. We deny opportunities to talented people, or those talented people self-select out of the running. The psychological diversity of our teams that encourages good decision-making is impaired.

Personality is not irrelevant in assessing fitness for a role. But I know many extroverts – either I work with them or love them – and believe me, extroverts (as a group) are no better equipped to handle life and the world and leadership than introverts are. (And in some cases, I see people judged unfairly based on their extroversion — it can cut both ways.)

Personality testing is interesting the same way the starry sky is interesting: full of real and complex phenomenon. But if you’re a hiring manager or a potential job candidate, please don’t be swayed by astrology.

Figure out what you want to do, versus what you want to be

What is a “job”? It seems a very solid thing. Often it isn’t. There’s a job description, some records in the HR database, a payroll arrangement, a title on a business card, a set of performance objectives, a workspace, and a lot of assumptions and expectations spoken and unspoken.

As a container, a job is less like a box with hard sides and more like an elastic bag. It changes. It can shrink in places, stretch in others.

Late last year, President Obama came to town. In his wake, a remark he’d made about advice to young people became widely quoted. He said, “Worry less about what you want to be and worry more about what you want to do.”

This advice translates to the workplace. Ambition expressed as a desired job title or income level is uninspiring and empty. Better to study how your organization’s strategic goals align with what gives you meaning, and think how your role could evolve to serve that alignment.

Your supervisor might not be asking you what you would like to accomplish, what gives you joy, or what purpose you want to pursue via work. But you should certainly ask those questions of yourself.

Shiny objects, bright ideas, and your team

Recently I read about a cool project in a magazine and shared it with one of my managers. Another university had had success with it, it was related to a challenge we were having that week, and honestly it was just cool. I had some level of self-awareness at least: I described it as a shiny object that I was just passing along for interest, and said I would not follow up. To her credit and mine, it has never come up since.

No harm done, I suppose. And ideas are good, right? But a supervisor’s ideas, even off-the-cuff ones, are hard to ignore. This manager might have moved my idea from pile to pile for weeks, unsure what to do with it but reluctant to throw it out. Like an appliance left plugged in that draws current in a steady trickle, it might have exacted a small but real cost in mindshare.

Better to jot the idea down and let it rest. I’ve always enjoyed musing aloud about cool things, but coming from the leader of a largish team, such talk may not read as blue-sky chitchat. Some people will give impulsively-shared ideas no more weight than they deserve; others will be alert for cues about what they should be doing. The latter will misinterpret notions as direction.

If you’re into brainstorming, it should be a planned event with ground rules and equal participation by all.

People are not their job descriptions

We attract and retain volunteers and donors when we connect their talents and interests to societal needs – when we satisfy their desire for meaning and personal growth. Why should it be different for the people we hire and work with?

Something changes during the course of a team member’s first months on the job. They are the same multifaceted person who was so appealing during the hiring process. But in the eyes of the organization they often become increasingly defined by their current role. Even as we get to know their personality, we forget about the less evident aspects of their skills and experience. This may be especially true of operations staff doing technical and clerical work.

Previous work experience, languages spoken, degrees and certifications earned, volunteer activities – do we remember these things, and do we provide ways for people to use them at work?

Who’s got a marketing degree? Who speaks Mandarin? Who’s volunteered for a homeless shelter? We could seek their advice on a project or program, or ask them to serve on a cross-functional team. Such opportunities to engage might be available to a broader range of team members than rewards, recognition, or promotion.

I have made this error, overlooking the curriculum vitae – literally the “course of (one’s) life” – for the mere sliver of a whole person that is a team member’s job description. How to be more deliberate about this is something I am still thinking about.