The number of people globally looking to leave their job in the next six months is around 40%.[1]

Our latest research with McKinsey & Company, found that the Australian not-for-profit sector is well above the benchmark at attracting highly motivated people, with many people deciding they want to do work with a new level of purpose and inspiration. However, what our research also found was that while the not-for-profit sector is world-class at acquiring talent, it is not always above the benchmark in getting the most out of its people. The sector attracts a lot of great people, but there’s an opportunity for the sector to strengthen how it grows and develops talent.

In a recent not-for-profit CEO roundtable, leaders of three Australian not-for-profit organisations with outstanding Organisational Health Index (OHI) scores shared insights. Jim Hungerford, CEO of The Shepherd Centre; Ricki Smith, CEO of Access Care Network Australia; and Julie Edwards, CEO of Jesuit Social Services shared their thoughts at the forum on how they are thinking about gaining and growing talent in their workforces, whether this is through investing in team leaders, having more meaningful conversations or learning to deal with compassion more directly in the workplace.

Keeping on the pulse

Julie Edwards, CEO of Jesuit Social Services reflected on what their organisation has done to help retain their talent, particularly during COVID-19, and felt keeping a pulse on what their staff needed was important, noting that just like in the rest of the community there was a degree of anxiety across the organisation. Julie notes that they focussed on “supporting staff to have agency, and to trust them to act, while providing them with a framework of clear principles to act within”.

Julie details that at the beginning of the pandemic to keep on the pulse of what everyone was feeling, and to help act on the changes required, they set up weekly meetings representing the whole organisation, which have now moved to fortnightly teleconferences with exec and general managers. She notes, “It used to go for about an hour. Sometimes it shifted and only goes for five minutes now, but we just want to hear from everyone. And that’s where we got the pulse about what’s happening. And people would say, for example, “I think staff are wanting stronger direction”, and so we’d adapt.

Julie found these meetings allowed for a balance between setting broad and clear policies and then letting local people interpret or operationalise activity. She notes, “We had a central record of what was happening, and we tried to provide the framework, but trust the next couple of layers down to implement that”.

Julie notes they also, “gave five days of pandemic leave in both 2020 and 2021. We realised it wasn’t really going to cost us anything as an organisation. We wanted to offer something real.”

Julie shares they got external help to support them to shape these new offerings and communicate these changes with staff around flexibility and working from home arrangements.

Meaningful conversations

Even though they have done well in the OHI survey, Julie Edwards feels, “We always have room to develop more in terms of the development of staff.”

“What we’ve noticed both in this Organizational Health Index and also in the staff survey (that we do every three years) is that especially the younger staff are looking for more coaching, mentoring, and direct feedback, and that’s an area even though we did quite well in, I think it’s an area that we could do better at.”

Julie shares following the OHI feedback they are hiring a new workforce development staff member. She notes the title of the role is yet to be confirmed but the role will be, “a staff member who will actually work in the teams, not in the HR team, because we see HR as probably more the administrative side of things”.

Julie also notes the organisation is working on having meaningful conversations, not just performance reviews, to “provide staff, especially our younger staff, with the direct feedback, coaching, mentoring that I believe they’re seeking”.

Letting people know what is expected

“One of the things that we’ve learnt is it’s important for people to know what is expected of them,” shares Ricki Smith, CEO of Access Care Network Australia when asked what they did to grow the talent of their workforce.

“What does quality look like? How do we measure it? How often do we measure it? How do we give feedback, document it, explain it, train on it, give them all the data? And then, frankly, we get out of the way so they can succeed.”

Although teams are an important part of ACNA’s organisational design, most team members work independently, in a client’s home, in a residential facility, in a hospital and with little supervision. “So, we have to hire great people who thrive when they work independently and as part of a team”, Ricki shares. “We have to give them the resources they need to be successful. We have to give them the information about how we know how they’re doing a great job. And importantly, we do regular coaching conversations, so we don’t require an annual performance review”. Doing a great job is measured by ACNA using a range of data sources including client feedback through customer satisfaction surveys, observation and coaching tools, and audits of written material.

Ricki feels their strong retention is a result of, “not measuring what they do, but how they do things, measuring the outcomes of all of their work, of treating people with autonomy, being super clear what they’re being measured on, giving them all of those resources. And then, as I said, getting out of the way”.

Dealing with compassion

When asked how the organisation deals with compassion, Ricki says that they have recognised the importance of giving people space noting, “We didn’t give them particular days off, but our whole operating model acknowledges that as you achieve the quality, as long as you achieve the quantity, and as long as no one gets hurt then you can adjust your work pattern in a way that works best for you.

Achieve your outcomes and take time to nurture yourself. However, if there comes a week where you have to do that bit extra, then that’s understood and accepted. I just wanted to rephrase ‘dealing with compassion’ it into self-awareness and compassion for themselves,” Ricki says.

Offering flexibility

Jim Hungerford, CEO of The Shepherd Centre points to how asking the question, ‘How would I like to be treated?’ is the wrong question, noting, “We should be treating others how they like to be treated, not how we like to be treated. And I think it’s such a lesson in everything that we do.”

“We’ve had a big investment into mental and emotional health over the last year,” Jim shares. He notes there is a focus on “trying to really support the team and giving them more tools to support themselves and to be gentle and understanding with themselves”.

The Shepherd Centre is a small organisation, and they approach leave by offering flexibility. He notes that once services to the family are met, “We’re happy for staff to work out the best way to achieve that with their life and living their life and us trying to support that”.

Jim shares, “For me, that kind of genuine care and trust in your team is incredibly important. If you’re expecting them to be putting in all of their possible efforts, then they need to know that you’re doing the same and supporting them”.

Investing in team leaders

Ricki Smith pointed out that COVID showed them they were doing some things right, particularly the investment they’ve made in team leaders.

 “Our team leader to staff ratio is very low, one to ten. We invest very heavily, not in executive and in management, but in team leaders and giving them the skills to coach, the skills to mentor.”

All team leaders complete coaching certificates, Ricki says that this has meant the team leaders are, “really in tune with how to help an individual come to highlight what their issues are, think it through and through their own resilience come up with strategies. We provide just a little bit of support to help them see what resources they have around them.”

Ricki, Julie and Jim’s leadership on maintaining organisational health during a pandemic and how they are practically thinking about growing and developing talent, holds lessons for all. With a clear focus on investing in your people, having meaningful conversations, keeping a finger on the workplace pulse, and offering people flexibility and space to work, an organisation’s health can go from strength to strength.

[1] Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work.

The Australian Scholarships Foundation (ASF) support and facilitate key independent quantitative research studies establishing a significant evidence base and understanding of key development needs for the NFP sector that informs the strategic objectives of the ASF.

We work with leading tertiary institutions and expert education providers (including the Australian Institute of Company Directors, McKinsey Academy Global Leadership programs) to ensure NFP sector leaders have access to high-quality professional development that continues to build individual and organisational capability in critical areas that drive effective organisational performance.  Investing in capability, ultimately, enables organisations to maximise their social impact. 

Thank you to McKinsey & Company and all the CEOs, who share our commitment to developing the capabilities of leaders in the not-for-profit sector and who have participated in this research and round tables.  We would not be able to achieve what we have without your support.

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