Recruitment Strategies and Employee Retention are a Mixed Bag for the NSPCC

Employee Retention

One of the largest UK charities, the NSPCC, is suffering from the same HR issues as everyone else: recruitment strategies and employee retention. Learn how they are tackling these problems.

Recruitment Strategies and Employee Retention are a Mixed Bag for the NSPCC

Over the last few decades, charities have shaken off their worthy, well-meaning image and now operate along the same lines as any corporate organisation. There are some differences of course but fundamentally the issues are the same and HR is no exception.

Over the last few decades, charities have shaken off their worthy, well-meaning image and now operate along the same lines as any corporate organisation. There are some differences of course but fundamentally the issues are the same and HR is no exception.

Founded in 1884, the NSPCC is one of this country’s oldest charities and is at the forefront of child protection and prevention of cruelty to children. Since it was joined by ChildLine, it employs just under 2,000 people and turns over around £20 million each year.

Liz Booth is the charity’s HR director. Together with her team of forty people, she covers strategy, training, policies and practice. As well as staffing matters organisation review and design.

Recruitment is regarded as a line management function. Although, the HR team has been much more involved recently.

Having worked for some of the UK’s largest corporations as well as other charities, Liz knows first-hand what the main differences are.

“We need to attract a particular type of talented person.”

Wanted: Exceptional People and a Constant Stream of Ideas

“There is a different kind of cost consciousness when it comes to spending money,” Liz Booth said. “You have a large sense of moral duty to your donors for one thing.”

In terms of size, the NSPCC are likened to a social services department of a large London borough. Yet, it is not big enough to run services across the country to deal with the 400,000 children on the at risk register.

Instead the approach is to set up projects that demonstrate particularly good practice. Alongisde new and innovative ways of working.

“To do this the NSPCC needs exceptional people and a steady flow of fresh ideas,” she says.

“We need people who enjoy change and who are exploring the boundaries all the time. We need to attract a particular type of talented person.”

The NSPCC’s work covers an extraordinary range and as a result it needs creative and flexible people. They also need to be happy to work in diverse situations and with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and circumstances.

“I believe absolutely that you need to give managers the right to manage their people. That includes selecting them.”

Re-evaluating Recruitment Strategies

Within the NSPCC, line managers have direct responsibility for recruiting their staff. However, recently the HR team has been more involved than normal at the interview stage.

This is because value based interviewing is being trialed in response to a particular child protection report. HR has seen that practices vary widely and, in some cases, fall short of what is needed.

Liz Booth said, “I believe absolutely that you need to give managers the right to manage their people. That includes selecting them.”

“I loathe the idea of HR muscling in and telling managers who they should and shouldn’t recruit. But in delivering on that I’ve probably allowed my department to stand too far back. It’s time for a fresh look at recruitment.”

The re-evaluation of recruitment strategies has already started with the introduction of a fully integrated e-recruitment system. The system gives a large amount of control over data which can be mined to find really useful information which improves recruitment.

As you would expect, child protection checks carried out on staff are cutting-edge.

“We simply don’t take short-cuts,” says Liz. “But it does mean that the lead time for getting a social worker appointed, trained and developed and working is extremely long. This is one of the reasons we are beginning to think about employee retention as an equal partner to recruitment.”

“People are often promoted without first getting the necessary coaching they need to manage staff.”

Employee Retention is a Mixed Bag

Staff retention is the result of a highly motivated, value driven workforce that feel they are getting a fair deal. However, as the result of conversations with great{with}talent the organisation has started to think as much about employee retention strategies as it does about recruitment strategies.

There are very unique differences that impact on recruitment and retention determined by the charity’s mission to end cruelty to children.

“When we look at our operation as a business of course we want to cut down on the number of people who leave us,” says Liz.

“But, and this is where we dramatically differ from a commercial organisation, we positively encourage our most talented people to take up secondments to other organisations.

“For example we have just seconded some senior people to a new organisation of which we are founding partners. We can’t honestly do without them but it’s such an important initiative.”

Secondment has a huge impact on the organisation. It can get mission critical on occasions, particularly in the social work and the social work management areas. Yet they’re have a very important impact on the prevention of cruelty to children.

“Employee retention is a mixed bag for us and it’s where we differ to the commercial world,” Liz adds. “We have to consider what is best for our organisational aims and they force us to think beyond the business.”

An Objective View of Staff Retention

The NSPCC needs to employ large numbers of fundraisers. The fundraisers present a challenge of their own. The junior staff tend to be young and mobile. Tracking these employees and understanding what makes them leave is important.

“That’s how we got involved great{with}talent,” says Liz. “We wanted to understand what it is we are or are not doing that might cause people to leave at the wrong point. It is important to track staff turnover rates, in different age groups and tenures of staff, quite carefully.

Read: Staff Retention Strategies and Demographic Groups.

“We try to make a distinction between employee turnover that we think is OK and what isn’t acceptable. If someone leaves before two years of service we are really interested to find out why.”

Using great{with}talent’s new joiner staff questionnaire, the NSPCC were able to examine how well people were greeted and inducted into the organisation. In addition the charity has also started to use the exit interviews tool to understand in more detail about people’s reasons for leaving.

Liz Booth said, “The online exit interview works well. People are more honest than they would be face-to-face so you can build up a clear picture of what’s going on.

“The range of questions really does make people think and gives feedback in a way that the traditional exit interview can’t.

“To an extent when the right type of people leave, but go on to work in other child protection related jobs, it doesn’t feel so bad. What does feel bad is when they go on to non-relevant jobs.”

“Getting those early weeks right is something we need to work on.”

Discovering What Staff Really Want

The first batch of results from the exit interview highlighted a difference between the organisation’s assumptions and the reality. There was a belief that people were leaving once they had got the training under their belts for higher salaries elsewhere.

However, when asked to rank what was important to them, although money was an issue, training and development, together with ‘being heard’ were rated higher.

“When asked to rate their affinity with the cause it was very, very high but I guess we should have expected that people want to work for the NSPCC for reasons other than money,” Liz admits.

“The employee survey has helped us spot this. It will help us to develop methods that will deal with staff retention issues.

“We are in the process of developing employee engagement strategies such as greater flexibility which I think will be of interest to people.

“We have been able to identify what the issues are and to see where we aren’t doing so well, in a way that is neutral for people. great{with}talent’s independence is important too.”

The charity uses other survey tools to canvas staff opinion. One of the surveys has led a complete review of how people are settled into the organisation. A new induction programme is being tested to see if it improves matters.

“We want to give people the best possible start in the organisation,” says Liz. “One of the things the great{with}talent work tells us is that people make the decision to leave the organisation incredibly early.

“Getting those early weeks right is something we need to work on.”

ChildLine staff are being surveyed at the moment and the results will give an insight into the culture of the newly merged organisation.

“The need to tell staff about our successes […] cannot be underestimated.”

Communication Plans, Inclusion and Flexibility: Encouraging People to Stay

Training and development is important to staff retention but the NSPCC also places a great deal of emphasis on internal communication.

“The need to tell staff about our successes, the differences we have made and each person’s contribution cannot be underestimated,” Liz asserts. “It helps generate a sense of pride in working for our organisation.

“It’s about making everyone feel part of it, particularly those that are not directly involved.”

The NSPCC provide a staff newsletter that is glossy, full colour and has high production values. Why the NSPCC spends so much money on communicating with its own staff might pose difficult questions.

Liz says, “Apart from the feel good factor, it tells them things about child protection and about why they should be proud to work for NSPCC in a way that an email can’t. It’s also full of pictures that bring the work to life.”

Internal communication is just one element of the charity’s employee retention strategy. Staff are also encouraged to contribute to the organisational strategy through focus groups and presentations.

The majority of people are given the opportunity to be involved in some way at least once and possibly several times.

“People are driven by the cause,” says Liz. “They want to contribute to our direction and to feel it’s their organisation.

In one survey when people were asked what most made them want to stay with the NSPCC the most cited was the approach to flexibility.

“Flexible working is very important to people, especially those who have children, “Liz states. “You’re not a leper in this organisation if you have to leave at 5pm.

“It’s about trying to fit in with people’s real lives and we work hard to do this. We believe that family life should be respected and there should be a real balance between work and home life.”

Though, it’s employee retention is an ongoing process and each organisation is different. That’s why great{with}talent adapt their packages to businesses.

Contact great{with}talent and find out more about their TalentEngage employee engagement surveys.


(Main image from Josh Bersin)

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