10 Things Main Street Boards Can Do to Prevent Manager Turnover

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I have been working in the Main Street movement for more than 15 years now in various capacities, and have seen literally hundreds of local program directors come and go. Some manager departures were heartbreaking, others swift and bloodless. But manager turnover is real and it costs money. It thwarts downtown progress, and just looks bad if occurs too often. Local programs have struggled with manager turnover problems for years because the hours are long, the pay is often low, appreciation of the manager can be stingy, and the board president changes almost yearly. But boards can prevent some turnover by addressing root causes. Here are 10 things local Main Street, BIDs and downtown boards can do to help prevent manager turnover:

Take manager retention seriously. The revolving door that is so common for managers of Main Street organizations needs to slow down. The board can make a real difference in the life of a local Main Street manager just by making sure that the manager gets a quality performance evaluation each year. Make sure these meetings include a good give and take about their work, the board culture, and hopes and plans for the future. Talk to someone at your coordinating program in advance of the evaluation to know what peer organization’s salary and benefits, and make an effort to provide regular salary increases.

Compliment great work. If the executive director is doing a great job, tell them so—often.Main Street directors are trained to show appreciation and give credit to their wonderful volunteers. However, the truth is that the manager is the biggest volunteer in the entire program. They are paid to work full (or part time—I hear you all laughing!) and often give 10 or more hours to the job over and beyond their normal workweek. Showing appreciation for that great “can do” spirit can go a long way toward keeping your director happy.

Reduce stress. Ask the director how board members can make the job less stressful. Let’s face it, being a Main Street director may be fun work, but it is also extremely demandingl. Most managers are capable of moving mountains every day. However, asking the manager how board members can help make the job less difficult or annoying can help alleviate problems. When in doubt, ask! Then try to address the stress.

Raise money from all board members to provide a bonus for a particular job well done. Many Main Street directors work in their hometowns because they want the same thing as other residents: a lively, attractive downtown. If your director has done a particularly great job putting on an event, completing a fundraising project, or handling a difficult negotiation with a funder or opponent, consider taking up a collection from fellow board members to show tangible appreciation for a job well done. Bonuses given for great work are rarely expected and hopefully will surprise and delight your director.

Take work away from the manager. I don't mean downgrade the job by giving away the “good stuff” to someone else. Instead, reduce the drudgery of the job. Find someone to take on the membership renewals, enter data in your accounting software, or take caore of other largely clerical duties. Ask what jobs the director would “outsource” if he/she could, then find a solution and implement right away.

Raise money for a part-time events coordinator or other assistant. Some managers may want to hold onto event preparation, but others may want a break from, especially if the work includes setting up a tent every Saturday morning for the farmer's market (and taking it down by themselves). This kind of grunt work in the heat of the summer or in the rain can get old quickly. To make the executive director’s life a bit easier, the board could raise money to hire a part-time person to manage these activities on a regular or periodic basis.

Add vacation time. If funds are too tight for a raise this year, add more vacation days or holidays and insist the director take them. Start a new tradition by insisting that all vacation days be used in the year they are accrued. Giving more vacation only helps someone’s work/life balance if they actually take a vacation. Be flexible about how vacation and holiday time is used, but insist they use it.

Offer flextime. Let the director take every other Friday off for a few months. A regular three-day weekend or flextime may be a highly desired perk that your board can offer and that costs the organization essentially nothing. While it might not be possible every month because of your event schedule, consider flextime for the shoulder seasons or negotiate the months for this schedule with the manager in advance.

Pay costs for training. Pay all the costs for the director to attend national or regional conferences that can help them sharpen their skills. A budget line item that includes funds to attend the annual National Trust Main Street Center conference is a beloved perk for many managers. They get to see their friends, visit a new place, and learn about the latest in revitalization techniques. The board can offer additional training opportunities for travel out of state to conferences or other training sessions to keep the manager engaged in this constantly changing and multi-faceted field.

Encourage your director to speak at conferences. If your manager is not shy, (I've never met one who is), encourage him/her to tell others about the great work going on in your district by speaking at a conference session. Suggest that the director submit speaking proposals for a statewide Main Street conference (if it puts out a call for papers) or send in a proposal (or two) for the the NTMSC conference. This will help raise your director's profile in the Main Street movement. Pay all the costs for the director to attend so he or she can promote the great work of your local main street effort.