Effective People Development in a NonProfit Organisation

capacity building npos recruitment
Monday, 11 February, 2008 - 10:22

By Frank Julie: Assisting people in their development is one of the primary tasks of a leader and manager in a NPO. In fact, it is the task. To build the capacity of staff and volunteers ensures the perpetuation or reproduction of the organization, the final test of leadership! It ensures that the vision and mission can be taken forward when the leader has to move on.

Remember, an effective leader allow others to develop as leaders and not blind followers. And an effective manager work herself out of a job. An organisation can rise or fall based on the leadership quality. The same principle also holds true for your staff and volunteers. The quality of your staff and volunteers also determines the future growth of the organisation. It determines how management is held to account. Remember that an organisation can only grow if its members grow. And as a leader, you must set the example. You cannot assist others in their development without developing yourself first. You first have to travel within before you travel without.

Well, if you are unable to help people develop themselves as leaders and managers then you are busy with the wrong work. Then you have already failed as leader! This does not imply that everyone is capable of becoming effective leaders and managers at the highest level of the organisational hierarchy. Actually, very few people are destined to become effective leaders and managers in organisations at the highest level.  But where you see potential, there you must create an environment for that potential to flourish.

Remember that people develop themselves. No one can develop somebody else. Self development is always a choice. Nobody can force somebody else to develop. Even if you attend workshop after workshop, you may still be unable to develop yourself. What you take and apply from a workshop depends entirely you. An organisation can only create a conducive environment for staff and volunteer development to flourish. This can be done by making available material and financial resources or allowing members the necessary time to develop themselves. Also by creating a learning environment through constant mentoring, coaching, creative confrontations and continuous support.

Assisting your staff and volunteers in their further development starts with recruiting the right people. Where I came from we decided to throw overboard the most basic rules on recruitment. The reason was simple. Working with marginalised youth, I believed that we should give everybody who showed some enthusiasm to make a difference a chance to work in the organisation and so develop themselves. For some people this worked, but for the majority it was a disaster. Some of those who showed enthusiasm were in any case just looking for job to survive. That is why in most cases the wrong people were recruited with very bad consequences. And it was not their fault. They should never have been recruited in the first place. Jobs were designed for them and not the other way around. The result is that you try to cover for people’s weaknesses and don’t focus on their strengths. They have been set up to fail and as a leader I had to take responsibility and the blame. It is like a cricket captain who is forced to set a field for a bad bowler! You are bound to lose the game before you start playing. There is more pressure on the other players.

In an NPO that pressure will be mostly absorbed by the director, causing her to lose focus on the strategic functions within the organisation for which she is appointed. A dangerous situation indeed! By the time she has to get to her own responsibilities she is too tired dousing flames. Can you really blame the member recruited by you? No! You are responsible and therefore you have to act to correct this mistake.

What are the lessons?

  • You always recruit people’s strengths and not their weaknesses. You recruit what they can do;
  • When recruiting people, please protect the integrity and objectivity of the process that you follow to recruit them. Even if a family member should apply for a job, make sure that they are also subjected to the same process;
  • When someone is recruited make sure the person is put on probation, i.e. a trial period to prove herself. Make sure the person is given the opportunity to apply the strengths that they marketed to the organisation. Give her an assignment to complete and then make an assessment. A period of three months for a person in an operational capacity is adequate. In a strategic position like directorship or senior programmes officer a six months period will do. It takes longer to settle down in these positions. When you are in a more operational capacity your work tend to be more technical in nature like financial administration, etc. But in a strategic capacity your work is more about building relationships and this can take time since the people you have to build relationships with are mostly outside the organisation;
  • When people are appointed and do not perform, first make sure the person received the necessary training and support to do the work. If the person did not perform despite careful induction and proper training, then reconsider the person’s position. Remember, to appoint a person is easy but to remove them is difficult, especially when the person is high up in the organisation. At this level they will normally spoil for a fight to retain their privileged position. The pull of financial reward can sometimes be very strong especially when other options for employment are limited. I know of a director who rather made sure that the entire board left but he was adamant that he will stay on despite all the evidence of mismanagement and incompetence;
  • Make sure a temperament analysis is done to determine the placement of people. Self-placement is desirable but not always possible. This can take too much time;
  •  When helping people to develop in their jobs, please apply the principle of going slow but not going low.  What does this mean? Simply that it is better to work with someone for a longer time to grasp a particular skill but you must never compromise on standards. Rather work slowly but don’t go low on standards. High standards in an organisation allow people to respect themselves and the organisation. In an organisation where standards are low people lack respect for themselves and their beneficiaries. Management must never tolerate low standards! And high standards start with management. You must set the example. And remember, the standard of today cannot remain the standard of tomorrow!

What about evaluations?

  • When evaluating people, don’t use the evaluation as a judgement tool, i.e. to get back at somebody. Evaluations should be used as a tool to facilitate people’s development. An evaluation must be holistic, i.e. it must cover both work related performance and personal development. No organisation employs only half a person (i.e. his work skills) but a whole person. Therefore your evaluation must be holistic because you are interested in the whole person. Where an evaluation is linked to salary increases or promotions you are bound to compromise the purpose of an evaluation. In this atmosphere people start to lie and deceive. You are bound to get all the wrong information from the right people. In fact, you will be setting people up against each other since staff members who are always at each other’s throats know that during evaluation time they will get back at each other;
  •  Encourage three forms of evaluation namely:
    • Self-evaluation: The member takes responsibility to consciously reflect on her own performance and learns to take corrective action before a structured external evaluation.  When the structured evaluation takes place she will already have thought about her work, where she performed well and where she needs to improve.
    • Peer evaluation: This is a person working very closely with the staff member. Avoid a peer who is also a close friend (emotional relationship). This will compromise the objectivity of the process. Friends usually tell each other what they want to hear and not what they should hear. No evaluation is however free from subjectivity but close friendships can only maximise it.
    • Evaluation: If you are a manager or director supervising the member directly or the member reporting to you, then this is your task. Check the consistency of feedback about the person being evaluated. Where there are major deviations, debate this and get clarity. Since the evaluation is used as a tool of development, everybody will be more open because the purpose of the evaluation is not to penalise but to discover strengths and to build on it.
  • When assisting others in their development, especially where a hard skill is trained, please note the following stages of learning the person will follow:  

"I was introduced to this model by my lecturer, Linda Cooper, during studies in Adult Education at the University of Cape Town."

  •  When training a person to learn a hard skill and sometimes even a soft skill, remember the above stages of learning. The first stage is unconscious

incompetence. Here the person does not even know that he is incompetent, e.g. that he cannot drive a car or write a funding proposal. She does not even know that cars exist. Once the person becomes aware, then they enter the stage of conscious incompetence, i.e. they become aware that they cannot do something. The third stage is when after some training they manage to address their incompetence and is able to do something e.g. driving a car albeit with fits and starts. They will still look at the gears and be fully aware of what they are doing when they drive or write a proposal. This is called conscious competence. The last stage is when the person, after continuous correct practice and more correct practice, simply gets into her car and starts driving without even being aware of the procedures she follows. They just write proposals without thinking too much about it. This is unconscious competence.

  • As a manager you will normally spent the most time with a person during their training at the 2nd stage of conscious incompetence. At the 3rd stage of conscious competence you will start to leave the person with less supervision to build self-confidence and to show that you trust the person to make mistakes but to correct it herself. At the 4th stage you hardly interfere in the work of the person since they are now fully competent.
  •  It is nice and good to speak of following objective processes of recruiting the right people but we all know that most small organizations cannot afford to pay big salaries and as such regard this as a luxury. Forget about having the money to finance these processes! This is unfortunately the hard reality. There are many NPOs who appoint people in various positions due to past and present friendships, comradeships or party political affiliations, etc. Some people were very close in the heat of the liberation struggle and sometimes shared the same ideological thinking. How do I know this? Well, I was also guilty of such appointments! Although this is understandable it is wrong! Most of my challenges with people development were exactly with this kind of appointees who actually did not perform and were not capable of performing because this is not why they were selected in the first place. The objectivity and integrity of recruitment processes were dangerously violated and it came back to me with a vengeance!

With the structural unemployment that we are faced with you can forget about people willingly giving up their positions of non-performance for the prospect of perpetual unemployment. For those who do it is more of an exception than the rule. I know of only one person in my experience that just decided to move on when he realised that he was wasting his time in the organization. The majority cling for dear life to their positions! And they will even demand salary increases and bonuses. All over South Africa we find this same phenomena playing itself out in government, especially local government with municipal managers appointed for political reasons and not because they are managerially competent. So, nobody should be surprised that they are not delivering essential services. They were not appointed for that reason in any case!

So, as a manager, what is your staff-, volunteer- and board development plan for this year? And what is your own plan? If you take people development seriously in your organisation, then you will have a plan to guide you. If you don’t, you are in serious trouble!

    - Frank Julie is an independent organisational development and transformation consultant and the author of “The Art of Leadership and Management on the Ground” (A practical guide for leaders and managers to build sustainable organisations for permanent social change). For more information about the book and to download articles on fundraising, effective management and leadership, visit www.frankjulie.blogspot.com. Please email feedback about this article to frankjulie@telkomsa.net.

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