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How healthy is your staff? ( they know that?)

Hear from guest blogger Stephanie Shain, chief operating officer of Washington Humane Society, as she describes the difference SeeDs made in her team’s day-to-day operations.

The Shelter Employee Engagement & Development Survey is designed to assess the "health" of your organization from a staff perspective.Is every member of your staff comfortable openly discussing what could be improved in the workplace? If not, SeeDS can give them an anonymous voice.  Participating in SeeDS offers not only the hard truths, but also a great deal of power to make change.

Sometimes I get so excited about something related to animal sheltering that I become kind of obsessed with it. The Shelter Diagnostic System (SDS), now known as the Shelter Employee Engagement & Development Survey (SeeDS) is one such thing! This tool ... this amazing tool ... can be a game-changer for your shelter—I cannot say enough good things about it.
I am a sharer—an overcommunicator if you will. Ask me how I feel about anything and I will be glad to tell you my very honest feelings about it. And I absolutely want to know how the people I work with feel about things. But while I may be uber-comfortable with sharing my thoughts, not everyone is comfortable speaking so plainly, publicly, about their workplace. Especially the not-so-great parts about their workplace. They may worry about offending their colleagues or their boss. They may simply be more introverted.
But knowing what your whole team (not just the overcommunicators) is thinking is CRITICAL to the success of your organization.
Enter SeeDS.
SeeDS is an anonymous (truly anonymous) survey, conducted online, of your staff. Designed to give you information about the "health" of your organization from a staff perspective, SeeDS will give you insight into your operation’s weak spots like nothing else. And this is not simply a survey that will tell you that your staff want better hours, more money, less stress (don’t we all). SeeDS will provide you with a much more useful set of data in targeted areas around communication, specific stressors, positive highlights, overall impression of your organization, direct supervisor support and much more.
You might be thinking "I know what worries my staff; I don't need a survey to tell me that." Sorry, but you're wrong. While you probably do know some of what they would flag as areas for improvement, you can't possibly know it all. SeeDS will give you the information, help you interpret it, show you how your shelter compares with other shelters nationwide that are similar in size and budget to your shelter. And then they will give you guidance on how to address some of the concerns raised, including how to prioritize them.
Is it scary? A little. It's hard to hear what you are doing "wrong," especially when you are likely working as hard and fast as you can. But what you will find with SeeDS is that along with those hard truths comes a great deal of power to change things—often quickly, with little or no money, and not necessarily a huge investment of time.
At the Washington Humane Society in 2012, we were hungry for information ... and more than we would get through a “suggestion box.” We knew we had areas to improve (still do!), and we wanted the input of our 100+ staff in helping to guide our leadership toward some priorities. We felt it was critical to pause and really find out what our staff was thinking, and take action from there. What we knew—even if we were a bit nervous about what we might hear—was that SeeDS was a growth opportunity for our shelter. We knew that we needed to get the information in order to improve our operation.
SeeDS confirmed for us that our staff were strongly committed to our mission (no surprise); that they felt real, deep pride in our organization (which was good to hear, since it didn't always feel that way when we were experiencing what felt like high turnover); and that they enjoyed most aspects of their jobs. We learned that they were hungry for more communication, more organized training and more opportunity to connect with their peers at other locations. Some of these things were easy to fix (improved communication in a number of ways); others were harder because they had budget implications (creating a position devoted to staff training). There were other things, large and small, that we were able to respond to. We knew to grow the things that staff were happy about, and to chip away at getting rid of things they weren't happy about.
SeeDS was so useful in 2012 that we repeated it in late 2015. We were able to see where we had improved and where we still needed to focus, and if new issues had surfaced.
I know it can be hard to spend money on something like SeeDS, because it can feel like a luxury. However, most all costs are grant-subsidized and a fraction of what you would pay on the open market. Our people are the greatest resource we have. An investment in improving your organization's health from a staff perspective is one that you will reap big returns on. This is not a luxury! Your organization will be better and stronger because of the information you gain. SeeDS is really about making your organization the best it can be in a very supportive and gentle way.
I love SeeDS because I love shelters and "shelter people"—I love the work we do and I know how important it is. And I KNOW this can make things better at YOUR shelter.


About the Author

Stephanie Shain is the Chief Operating Officer of the Humane Rescue Alliance, in Washington, DC. Prior to joining the Humane Rescue Alliance, Stephanie served as a Senior Director at The Humane Society of the United States where she led efforts including investigations, legislative actions, public education and coordination with law enforcement to rescue animals from puppy mills. Stephanie currently serves on the Board of Leadership Greater Washington (LGW), and was a member of the LGW class of 2015.