Published in Nonprofits
Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids tapped Western Michigan University’s Professional Development department to create and implement a customized leadership training program for middle managers at the nonprofit organization. Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids tapped Western Michigan University’s Professional Development department to create and implement a customized leadership training program for middle managers at the nonprofit organization. COURTESY PHOTO

Goodwill taps WMU program for professional development

BY Sunday, November 24, 2019 11:19am

GRAND RAPIDS — Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids Inc. wants to enable employees to achieve their professional work goals within the organization or other employment opportunities they may choose to pursue in the community.

The first group of 30 employees began their nine-class sessions on Oct. 31 as part of the Leadership, Engagement and Development (LEAD) Experience, a program developed by representatives from Goodwill and Western Michigan University’s Professional Development department. The employees will meet once a month for the next nine months at WMU’s regional center on the East Beltline in Grand Rapids or at Goodwill’s Grandville location. The courses cover topics including emotional intelligence, stress management, and diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“We also will have someone coming in from Network 180 to do a mental health first aid class because we thought it was vital for our staff to be able to identify if someone is going through a psychotic episode and how they should manage it,” said Sue Dobbs, director of human resources for Goodwill.

Depending on the content, a combination of experts from WMU, community partners, and Goodwill staff teaches each class. There will be two more groups of employees going through the nine-month LEAD program, which was designed to take place over a three-year period.

The first group of Goodwill employees to participate in the LEAD program are mid-level managers who have the most direct reports, said Laurel Buck, manager of talent development and acquisition for Goodwill. She said the organization wanted to help these employees polish their leadership skills so they could develop themselves and their individual staffs.

“We want it to trickle down to the layers of staff beneath those leaders. They were selected because they have the most oversight of staff,” Buck said. “They (oversee) donated goods, retail and workforce development. We thought it was important to get representation from these departments because we are also trying to reinstate a culture of development and growth. We wanted to make sure they were all hearing the same message.”

Because they have the most oversight, those employees have the most influence on the organization’s culture and engagement, Dobbs said, adding the people were very excited about the opportunity for further learning and development.

“Our philosophy has always been to offer a continuous learning environment and developing our employees to be the best version of themselves,” Dobbs said. “We have individual development plans, and a person will work with you on strengths and weaknesses to move you to the next level. We help you to find that passion that you’re best suited for, whether you’re moving up or into another organization.”

‘Sound investment’

In the Grand Rapids area, Goodwill employs about 650 people, a workforce level that has been maintained because of a better awareness in the community about how dollars are spent and a recognition that the revenue generated by the stores is used to drive the organization’s mission.

Goodwill is the first nonprofit client for WMU’s Professional Development department. Carol Bale, manager for WMU’s Professional Development, said the university has a long history of working with corporations and companies to deliver both credit and non-credit options.

While declining to provide specifics, Dobbs said Goodwill is paying WMU to provide the LEAD program. Goodwill selected WMU after a vetting process that involved four other higher educational institutions, she said.

Buck calls it a “sound investment” that has the support of Goodwill’s higher-level executive team.

“At Goodwill, we see our employees as our most valuable asset, and that was the driving force in doing this,” she said. “We want people to come in and grow their career with the skills and tools we have here. We wanted to really refocus and bring it in-house so more of our people have opportunities to take advantage of it.”

In initial meetings, WMU officials were able to highlight the number of subject matter experts they could provide, in addition to the university’s long history with professional development, Bale said.

“We put together a proposal and did a needs assessment and looked at what we could do to customize a program for them,” Bale said. “We’re not interested in selling a bundle. Our motivation is customization of it so we can impact a company or business’s bottom line with a return on business revenue or staff.”

That customization involved the use of Goodwill’s manager core competencies as a roadmap. Dobbs said WMU’s Professional Development team was very deliberate when looking at the core competencies and soft skills to ensure that the curriculum for each session was intertwined with those competencies.

Having subject matter experts from the outside also was important, Dobbs said.

Over a four-month period, WMU created a curriculum that focused on the skills Goodwill officials wanted to hone within their employees. The target audience was the managerial level, which could include retail, I.T., logistics, second-tier management or others who had expressed interest in opportunities to grow and gain further responsibilities.

Bale said Goodwill officials specifically wanted to address leadership. 

“Leadership now is really collaborative,” Bale said. “We’ve all worked for dictatorial managers. Now, it’s about teams and sharing information when making those decisions. How people grow, communicate and work together has all changed with the times and the culture.”

A custom approach

Goodwill is always looking to grow its workers, but it’s up to the individual employee to take advantage of opportunities to make that happen. The organization also has opportunities for internal promotion, according to Dobbs. While Goodwill’s retail-level staff does experience its share of turnover, the management and professional level staff remains fairly stable, she said.

Employees in the first LEAD class range in longevity from six months to 22 years. 

From WMU’s perspective, it was important that the curriculum for the first LEAD class was meaningful and relevant and tailored to adult learners who make up the majority of participants.

Andrew Holmes, WMU’s executive director of technology, said his department recognizes that not all students are in the 18- to 22-year-old age range. As such, the university is tailoring content and delivery to reach outcomes for a broad range of students. This includes an online component if a client wants one.

“This was a very collaborative designing experience with Goodwill,” Holmes said. “Once we understood what their objectives were, we worked hand in hand with subject matter experts to make sure what we were offering was high quality and very engaging. There’s a renewed focus on extending the expertise and resources of the university on the non-credit part of professional development.”

The employees who participate in the LEAD program also will be working on a strategic initiative for Goodwill as part of their professional development, Dobbs said.

“We feel fortunate to work for an organization that supports its employees,” Dobbs said. “We tell our people that we’re going to help you find your passion and dream and we’re going to help you get there.”

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