I have always hated year-end reviews. They’re like cramming for finals—too much pressure and not enough continuous learning. Once a year, you sit down and try to shove everything that happened into one document. Prove your worth. Show the company you did something.
At Swell+Good, we’ve ditched the traditional performance review playbook in favor of something we like to call Monthly Action Plans (MAPs). These aren’t your run-of-the-mill, check-the-box meetings. Nope, these are roll-up-your-sleeves, let’s-get-down-to-business chats that happen, you guessed it, monthly.
During MAPs, we take a dual-lens approach: reflective and forward-looking. We dissect the past month—celebrating wins, learning from missteps, and gathering all those “ah-ha” moments. It’s not about dwelling on the past, but about harnessing it to fuel our future endeavors. We ask the hard questions: What worked? What flopped? What can we polish, and what needs a complete do-over?
Looking ahead, we scout the horizon for what’s next. We strategize on how to be the most kick-butt team members we can be over the next 30 days. And growth? It’s not just encouraged—it’s expected. Be it devouring new literature, mastering a skill, or snagging a shiny new certification, we’re each in the driver’s seat of our own professional development.
MAPs are not the only avenue for improvement, but they ensure none of us are ever coasting. No one gets missed. Got a bright idea or a nudge for a colleague? Speak up, anytime. Eager to learn something new? Dive right in.
We’ve even taken the MAP concept company-wide. Bigger issues, process improvements, you name it—all fair game in our collective MAPs. At the start of each month, we start a thread in Basecamp and everyone shares their feedback and ideas on our processes and projects as a whole. It’s our safe space for the big stuff, the team stuff, the stuff that makes us who we are.
And yes, we write it all down. Because accountability isn’t just a buzzword for us; it’s how we roll. Twelve times a year, every year, we’re checking in, not out.
MAPs aren’t just monthly action plans. They’re actual maps. Maps to our collective growth and success.
We’re a team of storytellers, and our narrative isn’t just about what we’ve done, but also about where we’re going, learning every step of the way. We’re in the business of making stories come alive, and that includes our own.
At Swell+Good, it’s about the people. Always has been, and always will be. And just like the good ol’ office space that our team has left behind, it’s not the walls that define us, but the stories we create within them—and, of course, the growth we share along the way.
How do you manage your team’s growth and development? What is working and what isn’t? Hit the reply and let us know! We love learning from other teams, too!
Today marks my first year at Swell+Good—and while this past year has been full of changes and challenges, there has been so much personal and professional growth that I am proudly reflecting on. I took a leap of faith when I started this role, entering a different industry, with a new/old team, in a completely remote setting. And even though I encountered some self-doubt, I embraced the challenge, my team, and our work culture, and I learned that it doesn’t have to be crazy at work. (Which was a huge win when compared to previous roles.)
Here are a few other key things I’ve learned…
Starting a new journey, be it professional or personal, can lead to a lot of incredible growth simply by taking that initial risk. Just this year, I have had the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects, including Q4 fundraising, galas, silent auctions, website redesigns, and even attending a summit on digital fundraising and nonprofit marketing (NIO). That experience, and the year as a whole, has broadened my perspective and deepened my understanding of the work nonprofits do and how we support them.
How to find balance in work, organize tasks, plan ahead, only worry about what is in my control, and let go of what I can’t have a handle on. All of these concepts, while straightforward, were things I had always struggled with. I previously worked in a hectic industry (pharmaceuticals), which was interesting and professionally challenging, but balance was nonexistent. It felt even more overwhelming because I was onboarded remotely and never really knew or connected with my team or staff. Which leads me to another important realization…
Knowing your peers, understanding their strengths, and cultivating relationships with your coworkers is at the core of great teamwork. As some of you may know, I had worked with Ian and Allison before, so I trusted their direction, vision, and talent—all of which have made Swell+Good grow into what it is today: a small but mighty agency that produces great work, shares great stories, and loves helping our clients reach their campaign goals. We are constantly learning and challenging each other, which is another benefit of working with friends—we know our areas of improvement and we know each other’s potential. Because of our great team, I am happy where I am and I am happy with the risk I took a year ago.
Self-reflection matters. Taking the time to pause, discuss areas of improvement as a team, and assess my own professional progress and growth has allowed me to celebrate my achievements, acknowledge areas for growth, and set new goals. I have learned to embrace both successes and failures as valuable learning experiences, and I am grateful for the opportunities that have shaped me into the professional I am today. Looking forward, I am eager to build upon this foundation—and I encourage you to pause and take a moment to self-reflect, too. Think about where you are, what led you there, what you’re grateful for, and how it could be better.
A couple of months ago, Allison and I found ourselves in a rut, letting excuses and distractions keep us from relaunching this very newsletter. I needed inspiration—and I found it in an episode of “How I Met Your Father” (HIMYF for the acronym lovers out there and those who were also fans of HIMYM), where the gang embarks on a 48-hour challenge to achieve a collective “rewardishment.”
Feeling challenged by their adventure, we decided to follow suit and introduced a rewardishment of our own. The deal was simple: if we relaunched the newsletter by the following Thursday, we’d be rewarded with a mouthwatering lunch at local restaurant, Bartlett’s. However, if we failed, our lunch would be banished to the fast-food abyss of Jack in the Box—a punishment our taste buds definitely did not want.
Spoiler alert: the fear of consuming midnight-teenager-only delicacies was all the motivation we needed. We powered through, relaunched the newsletter, and rediscovered the joy of sharing our thoughts with all of you. Since then, we’ve reestablished our workflow, involved the full team, and made this newsletter an integral part of our weekly routine.
So why did this work when our weekly conversations about the newsletter didn’t get the job done?
Well, first, it was fun. Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping the fun in your work.
Second, when used sparingly and unexpectedly, rewards can have a profound impact on motivation levels. When we receive a reward for completing a task or achieving a goal, our brains release dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. This rush creates positive reinforcement, making us more likely to repeat the behavior that led to the reward in the first place.
We didn’t set out to reward ourselves for writing the newsletter, and we don’t get lunch every time we send another issue, but in that unexpected instance, it hit perfectly.
Parents and children the world over know this works. Heck, my new puppy even gets this. So, let’s embrace the power of positive reinforcement!
On the other hand, punishments serve as a deterrent, reminding us of the consequences of inaction or procrastination. By linking rewards and punishments to our goal of relaunching the newsletter, we created an accountability system that kept us focused and on track.
You Can’t Spell Teyamou without Me and You
But let’s not forget the real MVP of our rewardishment journey—the team (or teyamou if you’re trying really hard to make a subtitle work). When we talked about our newsletter relaunch rewardishment, it wasn’t just Allison or me working in isolation.
We involved each other, rallying together with a shared sense of accountability. Failure or success depended on our collective effort. It was this spirit of teamwork that kept us going, even when the going got tough and our to-do list was filled with other more important things.
S-U-C-C-E-S-S that’s the Way You Spell Success
When a team achieves a common goal, it reinforces the power of teamwork, showcasing the value of that team’s diverse skills and perspectives. Collaborating on a rewardishment fosters an environment where individuals willingly share their strengths, knowledge, and abilities, amplifying the collective effort.
Teamwork can ignite a spark of creativity and innovation. By bringing different minds together, teams can generate fresh ideas and unconventional solutions to problems that may have stumped individuals in isolation. The collective brainstorming and exchange of perspectives fuel creativity, propelling teams to new heights of ingenuity. (We’ve got some thoughts on how to do this and not spend hours on a phone call. You can brainstorm and still cancel meetings.)
Teamwork may make the dream work, but it also makes the learning and growth work! Succeeding as a team creates invaluable learning opportunities. Each member can observe and learn from the strengths and experiences of their teammates, enhancing their own skills and knowledge. The dynamic environment fosters continuous learning as individuals pick up new skills and refine existing ones through shared triumphs.
Working as a team helps spread the responsibility around. We’ve all got plenty to do, and we can’t do it alone. So don’t sit there quietly stressing when you can ask for help and bring your team closer together in the process.
We All Fall Down Together
On the flip side, failure is not the end of the road; it’s a valuable learning experience. When teams encounter setbacks and failures, it can trigger a reflection process that highlights areas for improvement. Failure serves as a stepping stone to success, providing lessons on what went wrong and how to fix it in the future.
Embracing failure as a team builds resilience and adaptability. It forces team members to think outside the box, fostering a mindset that embraces challenges and seeks alternative solutions. Failure breeds innovation and experimentation, encouraging teams to take calculated risks and explore uncharted territories.
Failure also instills a sense of accountability and responsibility within the team. When faced with the consequences of failure, the shared experience creates a culture of accountability, where individuals reflect on their contributions and collaborate to address shortcomings or rectify mistakes. Failure breeds growth.
The journey to success (and failure) is filled with twists and turns—and can contain a healthy dose of rewardishments. No matter what, you and your team come out on the other side better than you started.
So, let’s motivate, conquer, and celebrate together because eating Bartlett’s (or, heaven forbid, Jack in the Box) alone just wouldn’t have been as fun.
Allison shares her key takeaways from Unreasonable Hospitality, including discussion questions you can use with your team or book club and ways to implement Will’s principles to benefit your nonprofit.
About a month ago, I (Allison) picked up a book by Will Guidara, former co-owner of the incredibly highly celebrated restaurant, Eleven Madison Park. I love reading about restaurant culture, so the odds were good that I’d enjoy the read. But I wasn’t prepared to love this book—to immediately send it to my team members and tell everyone I know to read it. I was surprised that a book about a restaurant could radically transform the way I thought about doing business—but it did.
And here’s why…
The book is based on the premise of “Unreasonable Hospitality” (which is also, conveniently, the title). Basically, how can you go above and beyond for the people you serve and the people on your team?
In addition to recommending the entire book to you, there is one story that illuminates so many of the lessons I keep thinking about:
A group of tourists came into Guidara’s (very very) fancy restaurant with their luggage, ready to enjoy their last meal in the city before they left New York. As the staff interacted with the table and brought them course after mind-blowing course, they overheard the guests making a comment that they had tried all of the food they wanted in NYC—the only thing they had missed was a classic hot dog.
A lightbulb went off. Guidara went down to the corner, purchased a two-dollar hot dog, took it to his (very very) fancy chef, and plated the thing—then brought it out to the table.
The guests erupted with joy. Guidara said that he had never, in his whole career, seen a group of diners that excited about a meal.
Now, you probably don’t run a (very very) fancy restaurant. And a hot dog probably isn’t the key to your magic hospitality (though you never know…if you’re lucky, maybe we’ll share our own hot dog social story one day!). But here are the lessons that immediately jumped out to me:
What do you know about your top donors? Your volunteers? Your coworkers? I’m not talking about their giving preferences or their work styles—I’m talking about them as people. Does John love Snickers bars? Is Mary super into opera music? Does Jane relax by reading thrillers?
The only way Guidara was able to go above and beyond in a way that felt special and authentic was that he paid attention to the table. He listened.
So here’s a challenge for you: Do you have time in your week where you get to know your team members (or donors or volunteers) as people? And are you using that time to actually listen and pay attention?
Once you get to know people, you now have the opportunity to be intentional—which requires specific, particular, personalized action.
In our work, it can be so easy to rely on systems—and systems can be wonderful. They allow us to work with large groups, provide consistent service, and streamline our efforts. They are necessary for a team to be productive, collaborative, and efficient.
But the lesson of intentionality reminds me that sometimes, systems are meant to be broken. Did every table get a hot dog? No. Should every table have gotten a hot dog? Absolutely not. But doing that one thing for that one group made a huge difference in their experience. How can we do the same for one donor, one volunteer, or one team member?
Unreasonable hospitality requires risk. Doing the special, intentional thing might feel a little bit uncomfortable—and it almost always requires going first.
Was Guidara certain that hot dog thing would go over well? I’m guessing not. It was a big risk to plate a street cart hot dog at a 4-star restaurant—but he decided it was a risk worth taking.
As leaders, we think it’s our responsibility to mitigate risk, not create it. We think it’s our job to be strong (and, perhaps even more importantly, make it look like we are strong) instead of demonstrating vulnerability. We don’t want people to think we are uncertain, so we stop asking questions. We don’t want to look silly, so we stop taking risks.
What if, instead, we were human? Vulnerable. Bold. Open with our teams, ready to learn, and constantly curious. What might our work—and our teams—look like then?
One of my favorite lessons from the book is that after Guidara had his hot dog experience and saw just how over the moon his guests were, we immediately wanted more. More paying attention. More intentionality. More vulnerability.
And he knew the only way to scale unreasonable hospitality was to empower his team to practice it, too. So he gave them all agency to take their own risks—to give their own above-and-beyond service.
Instead of feeling like it’s your responsibility to know every donor in your database so that you can surprise and delight them personally, empower your team to take their own action based on their experiences.
(Eventually, Guidara hired a whole team whose entire job was exactly this. They literally had a makeshift craft studio in the back of the restaurant to make any and all dreams come true!)
I know what you might be thinking…”We don’t have the time/money/human capital to do this!” And I get it. I really do. It feels like a nice to have, not a need to have—so it would be so easy to skip. But here’s the deal: the least expensive donor to acquire is one that you already have. And a retained donor who is obsessed with you because of the personal attention she has experienced is likely to be your best advocate.
What if unreasonable hospitality was not an extra cost, but actually a great retention, acquisition, and marketing investment?
For Guidara, his strategy was 95/5—manage 95% of your time, budget, and structures super strictly so that you can spend the other 5% on whatever whims you can imagine. The goal is not to break the bank or your schedule. The goal is simply to hold 5% of your time, energy, and resources to go above and beyond.
Guidara’s hot dog cost $2 and 10 minutes.
It paid dividends for years.
Five percent of a standard 8-hour workday is about 20 minutes. That’s an hour a week to do something unreasonably hospitable, unexpected, and awesome. I hope you’re as excited as I am to get started.
- In the book, Guidara shares his definition of unreasonable hospitality. What is your personal definition of hospitality? Does your team have a shared definition? And what would it look like to practice hospitality in your own role or organization?
- Now that you’ve defined hospitality, what structures can you put in place to foster a culture of hospitality? How can you make it second nature for you, your team, and your organization?
- Where can you as a leader be vulnerable?
- Throughout the book, Guidara gives multiple examples of ways he found roles where his employees could shine. When was the last time you took stock of your team and their roles? Who in your community could be doing something even more awesome? Maybe a slight shift could be transformational.
- If you carved out 20 minutes a day (or an hour a week), what is something awesome you could do? How can you go above and beyond with that five percent?
Ready for your weekly motivation?
You can’t do it all.
Even if you hustle. Even if you bend over backward trying. Even if you’re really really (like, for real, really) good at things.
You have limits.
You have weaknesses.
You are human.
Guess what? So am I. And so is everyone you know.
Here at Swell+Good, we write a lot about how to be more efficient, make better use of your time, and be awesome at your work. We believe in these tenets to our core—but we also know that they don’t tell the whole story. Because sometimes, effort won’t get you where you need to go.
Sometimes, you need to outsource.
Example 1: For those things that you totally can do, but maybe shouldn’t (at least right now, in this season)
My fiance is super handy. He’s singlehandedly doing construction projects on our house, constantly dreaming of his next project, and understands the inner workings of just about any vehicle.
So this weekend, when my car needed an oil change, his first inclination was to do it himself. Because he can. And he has before. He’s good at it—it’s well within his skill set.
But right now, in this season, we’re swamped. We’re renovating a house and planning a wedding and parenting and working and all the things. So while he totally could do the oil change, it would have taken time that, right now, is better spent elsewhere.
Sure, it’s slightly more expensive to take the car to an oil change place—but it saves time and brain energy, both of which are in high demand right now.
Three months from now, this job will probably go back on his list, but you have to know your season and outsource accordingly.
Example 2: For those things that you just hate doing (and are ready to take off your list)
We all have tasks that are just…not fun. The dishes, for example. Or laundry. Or accounting. Your “blah” list is specific to you, but you know you have one. They are the tasks that move to the bottom of your list. Every. Single. Time.
Sadly, we cannot always outsource all the blah tasks (if wishing made it so), which is why we suck it up and eat the frog, but sometimes, it’s ok to prioritize your joy. Especially if “joy” looks more like “emotional wellbeing.”
If you have tasks that are sucking the life out of you, start with your team (or your family): who could do this instead? Who might actually enjoy this? Have you asked them to step in and help?
Next: choose the one thing that you’d most like to get rid of. Is there a way to hire someone to do just this one thing? Could you afford that “splurge” to make your life better?
Example 3: For when you’re ready to grow
If you follow Swell+Good on social media (hey, you should do that!), you saw that we just welcomed Amanda Agundiz to the S+G team as our Head of Operations. We can’t wait to introduce you to her—and we can’t wait to feature her here in the +good newsletter!
Until then, know this: adding Amanda is essential to our growth. Our existing team was at its limits, meaning we couldn’t build anything new without first freeing up time. And freeing up time meant adding hands and brains. Our existing team was at capacity, so our future was limited. Now, we have an open horizon in front of us and it feels SO exciting!
Growth requires investment—and often, investment looks like human capital. We can’t wait for this next season, and we are so excited to have Amanda on the team!
(If you’re ready to grow, but need some extra brains and hands on the team, too, let’s chat! We’d love to work with you and help you open up your own new horizon!)
What have you outsourced? How did it go? Let us know in the comments!