Amy Born dreams of a world where people experience work in a different way. Instead of feeling stressed, overwhelmed and unhappy with their jobs, she knows it’s possible for employees to feel fulfilled, nourished, and inspired at work.
As the Chief Strategy Officer at Leading Edge, a nonprofit focused on attracting, developing, and retaining top talent for Jewish organizations, she is working on making these dreams a reality for many people.
“Too many people aren’t thriving in their jobs, and that’s not helpful for their state of mind, the success of their organization, or the communities the organization serves. One of the reasons why I’m in this field of work is because I truly believe that - regardless of the type of job one has - we all need to raise the bar of what it feels like to be at work. We spend so much time working. It has to be better.”
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The road [back] to the nonprofit world
Amy has always been fascinated by people. She studied anthropology and theater in college which allowed her to study people and cultures at a high level and also up close. After graduating, she participated in a fellowship at a nonprofit, which is where she made her first foray into HR.
Amy then joined Hay Group (now Korn Ferry Hay Group) and advanced as a consultant within their Leadership and Talent practice. After a few years, she found herself drawn back into the nonprofit world and worked in the education space at City Year headquarters and also with public school districts for several years before pursuing a master’s degree in organizational psychology at Columbia University.
“I was trained and educated at the consulting firm, where I learned so much from my incredible colleagues and clients. However, I realized there were many models beyond what I was practicing and wanted to learn more. That’s why I went to graduate school - I loved learning the theories behind what I had been practicing and new ways to do the work,” says Amy.
After completing her graduate program, Amy continued to work in both the for profit and nonprofit sectors and made her way to Leading Edge. Amy serves as the organization’s Chief Strategy Officer and heads up the Leading Places to Work Initiative. She partners with nonprofits to provide insights and tools that enable them to create and maintain great workplace cultures that attract and retain top talent.
“‘I’m deeply interested in understanding what drives people,” says Amy. “I especially love working with nonprofit organizations because the sector tends to attract passionate individuals who are driven by mission but many end up sacrificing a lot of themselves in service to their work. I don’t believe that paradigm serves anyone well. When people feel nourished and uplifted by their jobs, they win, their coworkers and managers win, the organization itself wins, and the people around them win.”
Holding up a mirror
When asked how she views her role when partnering with nonprofits through Leading Edge, Amy describes it as akin to holding up a mirror.
“I get to offer a unique perspective because I’m outside the organization. I try to think about how I can reflect back what I’m seeing so leaders can see things that might be blind spots to them. I share what I see as strengths and gaps, and work with leaders to see if there are changes they believe will positively impact their employees and their organization. Building on the positive is important.”
Amy emphasizes that her approach with every organization is different depending on where they are. Some are ready to dig into the work and be pushed outside of their comfort zones. Others need more guidance and validation about which direction to move in. This makes it tricky to define success, but Amy explains that it all comes down to making sure each organization feels heard and moves from where they are to a better place.
“When I’m working with an organization,” says Amy, “my definition of success is that people feel understood and respected; that there is free-flowing, transparent two-way communication; and that leaders have the tools they need and a clear sense of what they’re going to do moving forward.”
She also shares advice for the leaders of these organizations as they invest in building better workplace cultures:
“Confident vulnerability is an important trait for leaders. I have a lot of respect for leaders who make themselves vulnerable because I know how hard it is to say something isn’t working well. When leaders are dedicated to making positive changes in the world, it can be hard to slow down, listen to, and focus on the people who are doing the work.”
Practicing what you preach
As someone who advocates for healthier and happier workplace cultures, Amy puts a lot of effort into practicing what she preaches.
“I have an outstanding team of colleagues within my organization and in the field. I get so much energy from partnering with so many talented professionals,” says Amy. “We keep ourselves and each other on track with practices that are generous, team-oriented, and whole-person focused. Like any busy professional, I experience challenges with work-life balance, but I recognize it’s an ongoing process and I’m proud of the progress I’ve made in prioritization and balance.”
Using data to change the way people work
Leading Edge has partnered with Culture Amp for the past three years by offering a free, annual employee survey to Jewish nonprofits. This year, 182 organizations participated in the Leading Edge Employee Experience Survey - representing a variety of organizations within the sector from social justice institutions to religious organizations to community centers.
“The language all these organizations use is different, so finessing the survey questions is challenging. We use Culture Amp’s database of questions and work closely with the People Science team to come up with a number of our own questions as well. For example, this year we found Culture Amp’s wellbeing questions especially compelling, so we included some wellbeing questions in our survey for the first time.”
After each organization receives their survey results, Amy and a team of management consultants offer each organization a one-on-one consultation to process their data.
“We help leaders identify the themes and stories around their data, provide guidance on how to communicate this data to their employees, and help them take action on the one or two items that will be most impactful for their workplace culture,” says Amy. “We then connect organizations with other resources we think will be helpful to them. In addition, we publish a detailed report for the field about the sector’s results, along with tips on common themes that come up in the survey, like communicating a compensation philosophy, promoting cross-team collaboration, and instituting effective feedback loops.”
Leading Edge continues to figure out ways to support the sector. They publish case studies and resource guides, work with boards, and have supported several cohorts of new organizational leaders through their CEO Onboarding Program.
Amy looks forward to refining the survey process so that she can continue to learn from organizations and how they’re using the survey data over time to initiate culture shifts at their institutions.
“The world is a tough place, and everyone is dealing with things everyday that are hard. Work can either deplete your energy or fill you with energy. We’re committed to work feeling energizing. We know that how people spend their time is how they spend their lives.”
A huge thanks to Amy for taking the time to share your insights with our community! If you have an inspiring HR leader in mind who would be great for our series, nominate them as our next People Geek of the Month.