Article: Can the NGO sector use HR effectively and how?

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Can the NGO sector use HR effectively and how?

Both internal and external landscaping clearly tells that the challenges in the NGO sector are manifold and need to be addressed at multiple levels by various stakeholders.
Can the NGO sector use HR effectively and how?

The challenges for managing HR in an NGO arena are kind of unique, wherein you struggle to get a job-ready-talent and once someone is ready, the next challenge is to retain that talent. The evolving economic and political scenario also has added to the volatility this sector already had, making it further difficult to attract good talent & keep them committed to the cause as part of the workforce. 

It is practically impractical for any humanitarian agency to bring about sustainable change without nurturing competent staff driven by passion as they continually invest on children, families in the communities. While Human Resource has really shaped up with the changing times in most of the major NGO/INGOs in terms of HR processes and practices, in case of smaller NGOs there’s still a distance to cover. 

Many of the NGOs have best motivational practices and have bettered various HR interventions. Some of the initiatives can be easily benchmarked against the industry’s best practices.  

The importance of HR as a means of ensuring sustainable growth for an NGO cannot be overemphasized, as it is the fundamental strength upon which people, processes, strategies, and interventions are established. 

Skill Vs Will: 

Without the skill or the will it is a futile effort, as each developmental activity involves shaping of behavior, hence a perfect blend of Skill & Will is a prerequisite for success. The success rate of sustainable change is largely dependent on the quality of front-line staff to transform the lives of people we serve. It is critical to consider passion that drives individuals to give their best for someone else’s good. It is essential to avoid hiring “warm bodies,” rather surround yourself with a great team by picking staff who are smart, talented and driven employees who share your vision. 

Hiring positive, can-do employees helps create a culture that fosters an enabling environment in which everyone participates. Desperate hiring often leads to difficult situations. At pre-selection stage reliance on scientific recruitment practices like competency-based interviews, psychometric testing, role play, pointers from social media, informal conversations etc. surely helps. In the post-selection scenario adequate capacity building of staff and reigniting the passion that led them to this sector are definitely helpful. Strategic workforce plan helps to plan well so that up-skilling & re-skilling can be done wherever possible.

Band Vs Brand: 

Another common challenge for this sector is the compensation offered. Some brands in this sector are able to attract good candidates, however, do fail to absorb them as they do not have the salary band to afford them. Thus the constant tussle between building talents Vs buying talents continues for effective talent management. NGOs struggle in terms of availability of role-ready talent and in addition to that they struggle with the affordability of such talents. The mandated CSR bill has effectively led to setting-up of many foundations as an offshoot of the corporates as their philanthropic arm, and their capacity to afford such talents is much more as compared to the NGOs in the development space. 

This invariably makes good resources overly expensive for the sector and constantly keeps HR leaders on their toes for effective retention measures. However, here comes the total rewards package to rescue. We need to be dynamic in bringing newness and deliver more on people-friendly policies like flexi-work options, festival bonus, leaves, gender neutrality, recognition drives, professional development focused quarterly conversations, internal growth opportunity etc. to name a few. This also ensures a higher level of satisfaction of staff as their contributions are valued. 

Budget Vs Funds: 

With the economic demographic changing quickly, especially over the last few years, the perception of the world about poverty and wealth in India has impacted funding. While we strive to make India a developed country there are real emotive issues those need to be addressed. With the reduction and shortening of tenure of the funds' flow, projects are getting closed early making it difficult to retain staff. The uncertainty of project extension that is contingent to the availability of funds often propels staff to look out before the actual closure of projects and that affects the projected outcome and impact. The challenge here is how to continue walking the journey together as sustainable development does call for the substantially sustainable workforce. 

Another fallout of this problem is complying with the legal provisions. Funds crunch also practically cripples loyalty to a particular organization. Innovative funding is the mantra now wherein we explore newer resource options. Beyond this, there are efforts around being innovative in staffing by bringing in volunteerism, internship and resource sharing with/from other Corporates & NGOs. Transition counseling and outplacement initiatives can quell the insecurity around project closures to a significant extent.

Transactional Vs Strategic: 

It is time to shift gear and move to the strategic aspects of HR, being more scientific, data-driven than following the traditional approach. It is critical for HR Practitioners to rise above as Business Partners to mitigate challenges of skills shortages in a niche area and salary disparities with imminent funding cut and design people friendly policies in spite of constraints and government policies that hinder the success of any social organization. The need of the hour is to have strategic staffing plan in place that includes talent management and succession planning. Use of competency mapping and competency-based interviews as part of recruitment tools can help an organization to proactively position well. 

Total Rewards Packages to make retention wholesome and engagement avenues for keeping the passion reignited should be on the priority list and many of us must already be doing that. The shift is real and surely HR in not for profit are mandated to be well equipped for that strategic shift. 

Leaders from the development sector will affirm that the supply of competent people, ready to take a cut in respect of remuneration, for the sake of the cause, has lessened rapidly in last few years. This evolution is well past the revolution was driven by social activists a few decades back. With the changing landscape and ever-changing expectation of the communities, NGOs are now keen to employ highly skilled staff to help the organization function at its best. And once we are past that stage, comparison walks in as a thief of joy. 

The challenge here is how passion feeds satisfaction as we invest, develop and retain competent staff, how often and how we do development, enrichment focused quarterly conversations as against annual performance process and how creative we are in making our policies people friendly.  However, all said and done we need to accept the fact that engagement cannot be bought and thus let’s keep churning our thoughts.

Topics: Diversity, Strategic HR

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