United Way of Greenville County: Cultivating Psychological Safety
United Way of Greenville County, which grew out of the “Greenville Community Fund” born in 1922, mobilizes people and resources to improve the lives of the more than 60,000 people experiencing poverty in Greenville County. Their core staff is made up of about 40 individuals; additionally, a fluctuating number of seasonal staff serve in other programs housed within United Way, including the national service program AmeriCorps, REEM (Racial Equity and Economic Mobility) Greenville, and OnTrack Greenville, a community education initiative supporting high-poverty schools.
Due to the complex and interconnected nature of the programs overseen by United Way, a high degree of collaboration is required. Many staff members, particularly those on core teams like HR, Operations, IT, Finance and Marketing, have roles that involve deep overlap across the various programs, while other staff serve exclusively within one program.
When Meghan Barp assumed leadership of United Way in 2018, she realized there was an immediate need to assess how to modernize the organization with the goal of becoming a best-in-class United Way. Some progress was made in the following year as the team began using Gallup’s Q12 Employee Engagement survey, which helps provide a better understanding of what employees want and need to thrive in their workplace.
Unfortunately, in 2020 their business model was disrupted when the organization found itself front-and-center in leading relief efforts during the pandemic — fielding thousands of additional requests for rent and utility assistance. Even though they were still utilizing the Q12 annually, the team did not have the bandwidth to make thoughtful and intentional use of the survey results. In the aftermath of the pandemic and through the “Great Resignation,” Meghan recognized that the staff had been pushed to their max and were facing yet another transition as they returned to on-site work.
Recognizing that they didn’t have the expertise or bandwidth internally, she consulted with a trusted colleague who advised her, “Meghan, there is no better partner than Traci Newkirk to help lead this.”
Immediately after engaging Human Potential Advisors, Meghan found Traci to be a true collaborative partner — one who listened and took the time to understand the organization and the team first, before providing an assessment. Meghan also appreciated how Traci was extremely open to feedback and willing to recalibrate accordingly.
Traci was not only able to provide valuable insights into the business but was also clear and candid about what was not within her scope. She advised Meghan on how to better leverage the Q12 results to focus on very specific changes. She also highlighted the strengths of the business and pointed out areas to get curious about in order to become even better.
In the face of an overwhelming amount of data, Traci helped Meghan select a single overarching focus that best encapsulated the survey feedback. Ultimately, the greatest need that emerged was to improve communication skills. Knowing this, Traci developed a one-year plan that included monthly in-depth trainings with the whole team. Throughout the process she collaborated with United Way’s employee engagement team and its HR department to ensure success — setting regular checkpoints to re-evaluate and ensure the plan stayed aligned with the business needs and goals.
Trainings covered topics including strengthening emotional intelligence, cultivating trust, internal communication, and conversations with stakeholders. She also worked with individual teams and leaders as needed, providing support as they encountered specific challenges.
The United Way of Greenville County team experienced significant increases in their Q12 scores as a result of the work they did with Traci, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. They saw a significant increase in overall satisfaction, which went from 3.56 to 3.98. The most significant increases were seen in markers of effective communication; employees’ sense that their opinions count (3.45 to 4.00) and their knowing what is expected of them (3.76 to 4.15). Working with Traci also greatly impacted their scores on having opportunities at work to learn and grow — with results increasing from 3.68 to 4.39.
In closing, Meghan shared that Traci’s approach was unique in that she did not create consultant dependency or the sense that United Way couldn’t carry forward the work without her. Rather, Traci cultivated strength and skills within the team to increase their ability leverage Q12 in the future, and she built infrastructure for future decision-making based in data.