Q&A with New Story’s Director of People & Culture

At New Story, we pride ourselves on being different than traditional nonprofits. This is most seen in our innovations — but it starts with our culture.

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At New Story, we pride ourselves on being different than traditional nonprofits. This is most seen in our innovations — but it starts with our culture.

Meet Sophia, our director of people & culture at New Story

My name is Sophia O’Rourke, and I’m our Director of People & Culture. I bring more than seven years of experience in the HR field, but when I’m not working, you can find me watching horror movies or assembling my newest LEGO set.

In this post, I’ll share how to:

  • Build care and connections as a team
  • Stand apart during the interview process
  • Manage with an empowering mindset
  • Join a community that helps you grow

What are a few examples of New Story operating differently as a culture?

At New Story, caring about our team members isn’t an afterthought; it’s built into everything we do.

Just this week, a team member shared the following with me: “I have never once questioned whether my manager cares about me as a person.”

Y’all, my heart did a happy dance! 💃🏽 This was followed by: “I’m empowered and motivated to do my best work, and I want to create a similar environment for my direct reports.”

Every week, managers check in with their direct reports, team members check in on one another (we call them Hang10s), and the People & Culture team checks in with a handful of random team members 1:1. Not just professionally, but personally. We dedicate this time to learning more about each other, building connections, and identifying ways we can support and uplift one another.

Through our actions, we are intentionally communicating with our team members that they are more than the work they produce. They are people. Caring for others is not revolutionary, but the impact (the increase in trust, loyalty, motivation, excellence, etc.) certainly can be.

You see A LOT of applications for our roles at New Story. What sets top candidates apart from others?

My technical answer is format and content of the resume. Most candidates list job responsibilities at each job. Top candidates highlight their outcomes/results/impact at each job.

My creative answer is personality and connection to the mission.

One of my favorite ways personality manifests is when a candidate creatively leverages the application format to showcase their strengths. It’s unexpected and above-and-beyond. Example: a copywriter candidate submits a quippy, tailored cover letter. Or a fundraising candidate submits an unsolicited Loom video pitching why they should be interviewed. Or a project manager candidate submits their resume formatted in a Monday.com project board.

I also enjoy when candidates share personal stories regarding why they want to work at New Story. You likely won’t remember the job responsibilities listed in the resume, but you’ll remember the personal stories.

You also invest a lot of time in our managers. What’s a common obstacle you see managers facing these days? How would you advise them to overcome it?

In my seven years within the HR field, I’ve consistently seen new managers default to problem-solving for their direct reports.

New managers are often prior high-performing individual contributors. They solved their own problems as well as the problems that were delegated to them.

When these individuals become managers, they continue doing what they do best — solving the problems presented to them, not realizing they are depriving their direct report of a growth opportunity. So we’ve built this into our manager training at New Story.

During a conflict resolution training session, I coach new managers to exercise discernment first. 1. Listen to the problem. 2. Ask yourself: is this an issue ONLY I can solve? If the answer is “No” (it often is), it’s time to coach that team member and invite them into the problem-solving process.

What are a few of your favorite resources for people looking to improve their team culture?

Start with your team! They will tell you exactly what is working and what needs to improve.

Implement quarterly check-ins, and strive for diversity: involve team members from different departments, at different levels, of varying demographic backgrounds, and prepare a short list of open-ended questions. You’ll be surprised by what you learn.

Join a community and dive in. My all-time favorite community is Resources for Humans (RfH), a Slack community created by the cool humans at Lattice. Engage in Slack conversations, ask questions (how did XX company address XX issue your team member raised in those 1:1s you’re having?), and connect with the HR leaders in the companies you admire.