As a 55-year-old former corporate VP turned career consultant and entrepreneur, I’m always fascinated to hear stories of “boomer” professionals who’ve achieved great success managing and collaborating with Millennial teams. As I know from experience, there’s inner and outer work and self-evaluation necessary for leaders to learn to adapt to working effectively with different generational groups . Flexible and responsive leadership skills, strategies and approaches are essential.
Michael Dougherty is an example of an evolving leader and manager who’s made it work. In June 2015, Dougherty took the helm of Pencils of Promise (“PoP”), a non-profit organization that works with communities across the globe to build schools and create programs that provide educational opportunities for children. Michael previously served as COO at The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a $74 million non-profit which develops new standards for measuring whether students are on track for successful college and professional careers. Prior to PARCC, Michael served as CEO of Kindermusik International, a music and movement program serving children and families globally.
Pencils of Promise has a largely millennial staff (84% of PoP staff is 34 and under) and Michael underwent some fascinating challenges as he transitioned from his prior work into this CEO role, learning how to connect with his young staff to ensure a smooth transition. I was intrigued to hear more about the lessons he learned in joining the PoP family as CEO, and how he is leveraging his past experience to further impact the global education space.
Kathy Caprino: Michael, what challenges did you experience when joining the PoP leadership team and how did you overcome them?
Michael Dougherty: The biggest challenge was lack of beer. No, seriously, lack of beer. When I was at Bain & Co in the early 1990s, the idea of having a beer at the office to chill out while working late hours was not an option. Today, it’s a staple of fun, high-engagement office cultures. It took me a while to understand that, but recently I bought a beer fridge, stocked it with craft brews and opened PoP Cafe! FYI, no donor dollars were used. We devote those exclusively to creating massive impact for children in need.
In the office, we also play (loud!) music during the day and there are obviously generational differences in our taste. While I’m more of a Springsteen guy, the rest of the office usually overrides my Sonos decisions. I had to ask the name of this one, but the team has started something called “Fetty Wap Fridays.”
Caprino: What cultural differences did you notice from your old position to the one at PoP, given its young staff?
Dougherty: My previous position was in Washington DC, in educational policy, under government contracts. So the differences are really night and day. While there’s a similar age breakdown of staff, the PoP team is a fearless, entrepreneurial, act now, worry later crowd. We are part NGO, part tech start-up, part branding/design agency.
Caprino: What unique strengths do you feel PoP’s millennial team bring to the table in the not for profit space?
Dougherty: Storytelling and creativity. Since the early days, something that has set us apart is that this team understands that in order to build a movement around our cause, our brand needs to be at our core. We have a stellar marketing team. I think of them as our internal creative agency – scrappy and audacious. We approach marketing as if we’re a Fortune 100 brand; we don’t see why it would be any different. We’re able to execute big ideas because of authentic relationships that have been built with people who are equally as passionate about our mission.
In my first 6 months at PoP, we lit up the Empire State Building yellow (the world’s tallest pencil) for International Literacy Day, became exclusive partners with both Instagram and Facebook FB +0.48% to launch three of their Beta products, rang the opening bell at NASDAQ and debuted a VR film at our 2015 Gala, becoming of the first organizations to use virtual reality for social good storytelling.
Caprino: Are there specific areas you are targeting to ensure PoP continues to grow in a scalable way?
Dougherty: Two. First, we need the right education answer: that is, what moves the needle for a student to become proficient in literacy. We are building a pipeline of literally hundreds of micro innovations (classroom practices, tools, methods) that we will vet. For every 25 we research, we might pilot a few and scale one (the lucky one that has data evidence of efficacy). Second, 250 million kids in our world cannot read or write. We can solve that with technology in the classroom and do it in a cost-effective, individualized learning way.
Caprino: What unique approaches to business does PoP take to set itself apart from other charities? Are these approaches pursued in particular because of PoP’s young staff?
Dougherty: Our use of technology and our brand are unique to the nonprofit space. We’re truly tech-infused and our use of best-in-class tech ensures that we are able to close the loop with our stakeholders with transparency. I like to think that we’re only as good as the tools we have, which include Salesforce CRM, Tableau and marketing tools such as KISSmetrics, hot jar, crazy egg and Slack, to name a few. We’re constantly looking for the best tools to maximize our efficiency, to demonstrate transparency and to assess our impact.
Caprino: Where do you see PoP in 5 years? 10 years?
Dougherty: Better. Bigger. Bolder. We’re already on this path. We’re just getting started. I hope we can scale our methods and classroom interventions to the point that other organizations, and even governments look to PoP as a leader and adopt our approaches.
Caprino: When you first began your role at CEO, did you do take any particular steps to immerse yourself into PoP’s culture and get to know the team both in NYC and globally?
Dougherty: I spent half my time in the field, meeting with our staff, students, parents, teachers, government officials. I was interested in hearing from everyone I could find who had an opinion and a suggestion. It was exhausting, essential, and thrilling.
After observing the office and getting to know the team for the first four months I was here, I moved out of my traditional office and into the open space that the rest of the staff works in. It’s a way for me to be immersed in what’s happening and a way to create reverse mentoring. By sitting out in the open, people tend to tell me more about what’s going on, both in their work and in their lives, and it brings me closer to Fetty Wap.
Caprino: What obstacles or successes have you seen when it comes to running a team that spans across several countries?
Dougherty: One key challenge is communication. We are building a school a week, training and supporting teachers every day somewhere across the globe. There’s an urgency to our work. Every year, another 18 million kids give up learning to read and write and will “become” illiterate. We have to communicate exceptionally well across teams to pull our work off efficiently and effectively.
Another big challenge is balancing core values and strategy across cultural differences. Our three countries couldn’t be more different, except that we are all committed to the opportunity to deliver on the fundamental human right of quality education for all children.
Caprino: What is the biggest goal you set for yourself when you joined PoP’s team?
Dougherty: Change the world for children with literacy in 10 years. Hey, I’m running out of time at 55!
Read the original article on Forbes.