27. How to Establish a Culture of Kindness By Shifting from Persecutor to Challenger
(with Mark Melson)
“Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.”
– Barbara De Angelis
In this episode, we’re going to explore how to create and maintain a culture of kindness in our organizations. We’re also going to discuss positioning our organizations as quality service providers, and not trying to compete on price. And we’ll talk about strategies that have helped The Gladney Center for Adoption, to survive and thrive for more than 133 years.
Mark Melson is the President and CEO of the Gladney Center for Adoption and an adoptive father. In December 2019, the Adoption.com venture I created decades ago was purchased by the Gladney Center for Adoption. I feel very blessed that an amazing organization like Gladney purchased Adoption.com, and that I am able to continue to run Adoption.com for Gladney.
Gladney was created more than 133 years ago. I believe today Gladney is the premier adoption organization in America. They have helped complete more than 32,000 adoptions and have made a tremendous difference for good in the world for children, adoptive families, and birth parents.
Leading with Kindness
After Gladney had purchased Adoption.com, I traveled to Texas to attend a Gladney Board of Directors meeting. Mark Melson and I had developed a Google presentation for that meeting which had my slides and Mark’s slides together. The night before the morning presentation, I was working late trying to finish some revisions to the presentation. Some team members on the other side of the world were helping me with the revisions, and somehow the presentation was completely deleted. At about 1:30 am we discovered that the file had been lost in an unrecoverable way. Google Drive’s features to recover past versions of a file sadly did not work in this situation.
We frantically worked to recreate the presentation up until the time of the morning meeting. Through all of that fiasco, Mark and his team were never anything except amazingly kind to me. I felt horrible, but they never gave me a hard time.
I believe we pulled it off, and the presentation went ok. What could have been a very stressful situation was mitigated because of the culture of kindness Mark has helped to create at Gladney.
Mark has a leadership style of kindness. People who work for Mark don’t have to be afraid of failure when they are doing their best. Mark inspires us to do our best because we trust that our best is sufficient. Mark treats us right even when we make mistakes, and because of that, he inspires an amazing sense of loyalty and a desire to do our best.
Mark is grateful for the people who didn’t drag him across the coals when he made mistakes. He says that through kindness, caring, and generosity we can overcome so much. Mark realized early in his career that he didn’t need to be a “persecutor,” coming down with an iron fist. In many cases, when people react from an emotional standpoint, they are reacting to their own anxiety. They aren’t reacting to the problem, they are reacting to how the problem makes them feel. People have a choice of how they want to react. When things go wrong, it is often human nature to become a persecutor, saying things like “Why did you…?”, “What’s wrong with you?”, or “You messed up.”
Instead of being a persecutor, we should be responding as a “challenger” saying things like “What can we learn from this mistake?”, “How do we improve upon these challenges that we have?”, and “Let’s be sure we learn from this so we can do better next time.” In these two situations, there is the same outcome. The person realizes they messed up, but when we challenge the person, they feel better about learning from it and moving forward instead of responding like a dog that has been smacked. When things don’t go right, the best strategy is to ask what can we improve.
Mark learned this concept of shifting from persecutor to challenger in the book The Power of TED.
Being a Service Quality Provider Instead Of Competing on Price
Years ago, Gladney made a strategic decision to position the adoption agency as one of the highest quality adoption service providers instead of trying to compete on price. Gladney decided that their highest priority was to do what was in the best interest of children needing adoption. Then, they asked themselves what services they needed to provide to accomplish that, such as training for adoptive parents, counseling for expectant parents, lifetime support for the child, etc. Then, they tried to figure out the monetization so they could afford to provide those services. Because Gladney provides such a high level of quality, they have to charge more for their adoption services, and they also need to fundraise to subsidize a lot of the expenses.
Gladney takes a “knower/learner” approach, constantly trying to understand what the organization can do better. Because of this strategy, the quality of service has continued to grow over the years.
About 6–7 years ago, Gladney initiated a relationship with the Disney Institute, which provided training to the Gladney team about providing quality service. Disney wrote a book titled “Be our Guest.” The book talks about the Disney approach to quality service. When we go to one of the Disney Parks we experience this amazing service, and Gladney wanted to bring this experience and feeling back to Gladney. The Gladney team wants everyone who walks out of the Gladney doors to say “Wow! That was a great experience.”
Flat Fee Pricing Model
Some other organizations quote a lower price up front and then add on a lot of other fees. Gladney decided they didn’t want to do that. They felt a bait-and-switch business model destroyed credibility. Instead, Gladney rolled out a flat-fee pricing model that included essentially everything they could include. Gladney received great feedback from their clients, who were happy that there would not be any surprises or guesswork on Gladney’s fees. That set pricing model helped establish credibility and a stronger relationship of trust with Gladney’s adoptive families because they weren’t in a “nickel-and-dime” relationship with their adoption agency.
Sometimes adoptions fall through after Gladney has incurred substantial expenses. Then, new expenses have to be paid to find another adoption situation and cover expenses related to that situation. Gladney does not pass these expenses related to the failed adoption on to the family. Gladney eats those expenses and works to match the family with another adoption situation at no additional cost. Sometimes an adoption will have more expenses and sometimes it will have less expense, and Gladney has figured out the pricing it needs to charge. This flat-fee model helps remove a lot of risk for the families and builds credibility.
How Gladney Has Survived for 133+ Years
During the COVID pandemic, too many adoption agencies have had to go out of business. Gladney has been around for 133+ years. One of Gladney’s secrets to longevity is diversified monetization. Gladney provides a diverse set of adoption services, such as U.S. infant adoption, adoption of children in foster care, and international adoption. This diversity of monetization from services, combined with donations, helps provide Gladney sustainability. Because when adoptions are down in one area, Gladney has the ability to make it up in another area. For example, because of primarily political reasons, international adoptions are very low right now, and adoption agencies that only focus on international adoption are hurting badly.
A second secret to longevity is the generosity of Gladney’s families and others who have donated money. Because Gladney has focused on being a premium quality service provider, they enjoy strong relationships with people who use Gladney’s services. Those people then want to help support Gladney and its mission. As a result of generous donors, Gladney has been able to build a savings account that has helped Gladney ride through hard times, such as the COVID pandemic.
Credibility Makes Everything Easier
Because Gladney has provided adoption services for so many years and has such a great reputation and credibility, many people refer to Gladney. Because those people trust the adoption services are going to be done right, they are willing to pay more than they would pay for a discount adoption agency. And because Gladney is able to charge more, they have the resources to provide a higher quality of adoption services.
Another source of credibility comes from past clients. Gladney often connects potential clients with past clients who have already been through adoption. Then, the past clients can share stories about working with Gladney that are far more credible than what Gladney could say about itself. Gladney has developed a network of past clients who help tell the Gladney story through testimonials. Instead of Gladney trying to tell the world how awesome they are, they let past customers do that.
Does Monetization Strategy Apply to Non-Profit Organizations?
Some people wonder whether the monetization principles apply to charitable causes or non-profits. Absolutely. Monetization is the art of turning assets into cash flow. Almost always, charities or nonprofits need cash flow just like any other organization to accomplish their mission or to help more people. For example, the assets of a non-profit might include relationships with donors who are passionate about the organization’s mission, and monetization could happen through effective fundraising campaigns.
Charities or nonprofits often diversify their monetization in ways that expand their ability to achieve their mission at scale and give them stability to weather bad economies when donations are scarce. For example, the Girl Scouts make about $800 million each year selling cookies to help pay for the programs they offer. Another example is Save the Children which lets people sponsor specific children.
The “Why” Behind Non-Profit Monetization
Gladney worked with a wonderful family that adopted two beautiful boys out of the foster care system. These boys had sadly had a life they should not have had before the adoption. The older boy, who was about 12, was having to take care of the younger boy, who was about 9, and they were living on the street most of the time. Unfortunately, the biological mother was not in a position to be a parent herself.
A family came forward and felt “called” to help these kids.
What Gladney learned from this situation is that a lot of time goes into training and preparing the families to be successful in situations where the kids have come from a really hard place, situations we simply cannot understand.
Gladney saw that because of the love and safety the adoptive family provided the boys, and making sure the boys knew they were not going to leave them, it let the 12-year-old go back to being a kid while allowing the mom and dad to do their job by taking care of them both. As a result, Mark saw the kids blossom.
This is why monetization is so important in a non-profit because it allows the organization to make a greater difference for good, such as changing the lives of these two boys and their family forever.
If you want to learn more about Gladney and adoption please call the following number, or visit the following Gladney sites:
Thank you Mark for sharing your stories and secrets with us. Here are some of the key takeaways that stood out to me from today’s episode:
1. We should strive to implement cultures of kindness within our organizations. Kindness can build stronger loyalty and motivate people to do their best.
2. When things go wrong, it is often human nature to become a persecutor, saying things like “Why did you…?” or “You messed up.”
3. Instead of being a persecutor, we should be a challenger saying things like “What can we learn from this mistake?”
4. We should strive to be quality service providers instead of trying to compete on price.
5. Flat-fee monetization models can remove a nickel-and-dime relationship with the clients, and help establish a stronger relationship of trust. A bait-and-switch business model can destroy credibility.
6. One of the secrets to organizational longevity is to have diversified revenue streams so we can weather the storms when one revenue stream is not doing well.
7. Credibility makes everything easier. For example, when we are credible we can get more referrals, the referrals will be more likely to choose us, and we will often be able to charge more.
8. Instead of trying to tell the world how awesome we are, we should let past customers do that.
9. Non-profits and other charity causes need monetization so they have the resources to expand their good works.
Implement One Thing This Week
If we desire monetization we have never before achieved, we must leverage strategies we have never before implemented. I challenge each of us to pick one thing that resonated with us from today’s episode and schedule a time this week to implement it to help achieve our monetization goals.
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