Staycation Retreat

It’s official: my staycation through the end ofthe year has begun! I’m hoping to use this as a sort of Jen Bokoff company retreat, where I look at what’s been accomplished this year and determine a strategy for the future across all aspects of my life. It’s a one-person entity, but as you know, I thrive off of the energy of the people around me and recognize that I operate in a much larger ecosystem. So, I always welcome your feedback and thoughts on, well, me. Constructive comments about stuff you know about – maybe my blog, my career path, my productivity/organization, my personal strengths and weaknesses, my ‘extracurriculars’ – are all really great for me to hear and build off of. So, email me or call me or track me down in Brooklyn. Thanks! I’ll now commence my retreat with an icebreaker…

For staff members to feel empowered, they need to believe that management communicates a clear direction for the future, that they are working in alignment with the CEO and board, that the foundation cares about them, and that their performance reviews are fair and helpful.

One of the key findings in the recently released study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy: Employee Empowerment: The Key to Foundation Staff Satisfaction.

As always, CEP put together a thoughtful report that is well-researched and helpful for guiding best practices in the foundation world.


Blake Fall-Conroy, “Minimum Wage Machine,” 2008-2010

This machine allows anyone to work for minimum wage for as long as they like.  Turning the crank on the side releases one penny every 4.97 seconds, for a total of $7.25 per hour.  This corresponds to minimum wage for a person in New York.  

This piece is brilliant on multiple levels, particularly as social commentary.  Without a doubt, most people who started operating the machine for fun would quickly grow disheartened and stop when realizing just how little they’re earning by turning this mindless crank.  A person would then conceivably realize that this is what nearly two million people in the United States do every day…at much harder jobs than turning a crank.  This turns the piece into a simple, yet effective argument for raising the minimum wage. 

Really great piece. Though, I wonder, what amount would be the tipping point that makes cranking the minimum wage machine worth it? Does minimum wage ever feel worth it? And, is there a way to re-frame / enhance / change the piece to change how people perceive minimum wage jobs?

The value of an intern.

People complain that interns are too much to manage and they screw work up more than they help. However, I think that if you really take the time to hire the right person, treat them with respect, and train them well, they can be an enormous asset to a team. I was fortunate to hire and work with a phenomenal intern this past year who brought a fresh energy, intuitive understanding, and a strong work ethic to our small but mighty office. For me, she was a gift; I could delegate tasks and know that they would be completed well, and I valued her second set of eyes on many of my own tasks. Today is Tahira’s last day, and I wanted to share this quote from her extremely insightful reflection:

I’m leaving with a new understanding that philanthropy is not just about the money; the money facilitates the action and its spark inspires change.

What I love about this – besides that she hit the nail on the head with what I, too, love about philanthropy – is that Tahira was hired as an office intern but was able to intuit so much more. It’s a reminder that those of us fortunate to have a stable job have a unique ability to mentor an intern; we can place them in an environment where they can be both an asset and an active observer. It’s a win-win.

Brainstorming: A History and Future

I really liked this infographic and experiment. Below it, I’ve included a few more brainstorming exercises that I think work well. I don’t think there’s a catch-all answer.

via Are We Brainstorming the Right Way?

Brainstorming about Brainstorming… more exercises to try

These are a few from my experience; please add yours, too!

  • Pitch Not-Your-Own Idea: Write your idea down on a sheet of paper. Mix the ideas up and distribute randomly. Every person pitches the idea they now have (likely not theirs), meaning they have to own it and do whatever they can to support it in front of the group. It forces people to challenge their own biases stemming from who pitched an idea or how it was pitched, and everyone contributes. (via MaxFunCon 2011 workshop with Kasper Hauser)
  • Stickywall: People contribute ideas (either outloud or written) that are then literally stuck to the wall. The facilitator can then physically rearrange and cluster thoughts. It’s a great visual tool and a way to include as many ideas as exist in a room without being overwhelming. (via Rachael Swanson from my time on the LIFT student advisory board.)
  • Build-the-Idea: Someone gives an idea. Someone else builds on it through acceptance of the idea and addition of information. Still another person builds on that by again accepting all pieces of the idea and then adding to it. Each idea should go through at least 3 iterations before moving onto the next. This allows the group to really play with possibilities of an idea, support oneanother, and have some fun. (via my improv classes and inspired by an earlier post).


HR Tip: Know Your Job Description

This interesting article from New York Magazine highlights how even high-powered women like Valerie Jarrett know they do a lot, but can’t quite put a finger on it. The job description is amorphous, and it’s worth defining.

A job description is never perfect, but it should be written, periodically reviewed with a direct supervisor and other team members as appropriate, and followed to the extent possible. Usually, there is a catch-all line for flexibility (ie: Assist with other office duties as needed), so neither you nor your company will feel pigeonholed. Having an active and recognized job description is really a win-win for you and the company; it gives you a personal guideline and self-advocacy tool, and it gives your employer a way to evaluate your job proficiency and understand what is on your plate. Plus, when you’re looking to that next step career-wise, whether it’s in the same vein or completely unrelated, you can use this tool to evaluate what has worked for you and what hasn’t.

I’m curious to add some personal anecdotes; what has been your experience with job descriptions?

Improv, Meet Pathology. Pathology, Improv.

imageI’ve dabbled in improv comedy classes and fun for several years now, and I have often characterized it as professional development (on top of being super enjoyable, of course!). It reminds you of the importance of listening, supporting your team, giving gifts, thinking on your feet, and being “in the moment”.

Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx has integrated improv training into professional development. Izzy Gesell, one of the instructors, explains:

I think this is part of a growing awareness of the need for science and medical students to communicate to non-science people. It’s to communicate when things don’t go exactly as planned.

Improving skills and workplace culture are always good, so kudos to Montefiore! I hope more organizations across industries will be open-minded to this sort of professional development. [shameless plug: I will help you!]