Posted by: Adrian Lewis

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Charity HR directors must aim for best value for money while enhancing support for beneficiaries

Oakleaf Partnership’s latest roundtable event saw us welcome a number of HR leaders to discuss the importance of commerciality in the delivery of contemporary HR leadership, specifically in the Charity sector.

Our guests were invited to the historic Freemason’s Hall in London, home of the Masonic Charitable Foundation and RMBI Care Co, with whom we were delighted to collaborate in the presentation of this event. Our keynote speaker Louise Bateman, Group HR Director of the MCF and RMBI Care Co, shared insights and experiences from her career transition from the private sector to the Charity sector. Louise focused on her views of what commerciality means and shared some valuable tools and tips on how to effectively influence key strategic decisions at Board level.

We were delighted to also welcome David Innes, Chief Executive of the MCF, to the session for some invaluable contribution and views on commercial HR leadership, but rather from a CEOs perspective.

Highlighting the importance of a Directors’ role in providing leadership rather than management to an organisation, David opened with his expectation that in a crisis, any member of the Senior Leadership Team should be able to take over as CEO; a point collectively noted with interest, not least by Louise!

The conversation flowed for over an hour with insightful contributions, perspectives and challenges from around the table. Whilst clear that commercial priorities can differ based on an organisation's specific purpose, business and funding model, it is nonetheless imperative that HR leaders of the future are able to influence their agenda with the same level of commercial understanding, competence and skills as any of their peers around the boardroom table.

An interesting area of discussion covered balancing commerciality with the organisational conscience when it comes to income, fundraising, and particularly corporate sponsorship agreements. Examples included how association with a corporate partner that comes under controversy can in turn potentially impact the perception and reputation of a Charity. Walking away from a lucrative partnership arrangement can be a difficult decision to make. In the current climate, however, it seems integrity and reputation for the Charity sector is paramount and crucial to its longevity.

On the question of how competition within the Charity sector drives commerciality, it seems the sector is well known for its collaborative approach to common purposes, however, collaborators are often also competitors when it comes to funding streams and income generation. The sense here is that on balance, the value of collaboration continues to outweigh the challenges of competition.

In terms of commerciality, Charities are also now needing to think bigger picture in terms of influencing how people choose to utilise their disposable income. Can the case for charitable giving encourage us to channel our spend away from other activities such as that random magazine or App subscription, or even our beloved Netflix?

With the Charity sector recently facing scrutiny in terms of public trust, the importance of organisational values as the primary reason for people working in the Charity sector was roundly identified as crucial. David Innes highlighted the importance of staff owning the values of the organisation, of these being built from the bottom up and of HR being the enabler of these values.

Key points of view - David Innes

A Director's responsibility is fundamentally:

  • To provide strategic proposals to the Trustee Board
  • To provide operational direction to the business
  • To provide tactical oversight within own functional areas

As a Chief Executive, David expects any member of his Executive team to:

  • Be an expert in their specific field
  • Be a Generalist, in terms of understanding the wider context and implication on the business of decisions taken within their own functional areas
  • Add intellectual value to the leadership group
  • Have the knowledge, ability and willingness to offer an appropriate challenge
  • Be a team player
  • Offer balance in terms of strengths and weaknesses, both individually and to the collective
  • Be able to take over as CEO in a crisis!

Key points of view - Louise Bateman

  • EFFECTIVENESS – the need to recognise every £ coming into the charity is important and need to not be wasteful. Negotiate every contract, can we offset VAT?
  • Benefit from mentors along your career journey to help create your approach and always take learning from each role
  • It is important to see the business first hand and understand what is happening at ground level, know what they truly want and need – and link this to the VALUES!
  • Step into the shoes of the audience you are looking to influence and understand the impact on them
  • Use data sources and visual representation to ‘tell a story’
  • Put a narrative around the data and highlight the risks associated with the information
  • Ensure people understand the analysis behind the evidence
  • Working relationships with key business managers are critical, in Louise’s case particularly with the Care Operations Director of RMBI Care Co
  • Bring awareness to managers. Leadership Development may be needed to support managers to understand how to be more commercial. Consider this when succession planning for the future
  • People Dashboard - review on a monthly basis – support HRBPs to discuss at a local level, see trends across the sector and build credibility for your stories. Know the triggers and risks

In summary, it seems that for most, commerciality means thinking and working in a business-minded way to achieve the organisation’s purpose and goals. In the for-profit sector, the primary goal and focus is invariably the financial bottom line. For the Charity sector, the bottom line translates as the value the organisation brings to their beneficiaries.

Whilst we continue to see demand increasing across the Charity sector for ‘commercial’ HR Talent, it appears that mainstream ‘commercial’ terminology is still not widely used in the day-to-day language of the sector. Is it time for charities be less afraid of adopting clearer commercially terminology or even referring to themselves as businesses? Ultimately, any business that is unable to generate a surplus of income is unlikely to be sustainable in the long term.

For HR leaders, in a sector where an organisation’s primary asset is often it’s people, plotting the path to an enhanced bottom line remains a fine balancing act.


The Power of Mentoring

Mentoring has played a key role in helping Louise achieve her career success to date, and this is an ethos that we wholeheartedly support here at Oakleaf.

Our 2012 Research report, Raising the Bar in HR Recruitment, clearly identified the need to enhance a new employee’s success rate post appointment, particularly in the first 100 days. In response to this Oakleaf were delighted to introduce the OP Mentor Scheme, offering all our placed candidates free access to a mentor.

As a mentor on this voluntary programme, not only will you provide valuable development support and advice to a potential HR leader of the future, you’ll also get to develop your own key skills in this area.

Some of our pairs have stayed in touch for years and some of our mentees have even become mentors themselves, as they have progressed in their own HR careers.

We are always looking for new mentors to join our programme across all sectors and HR disciplines, so if this is of interest to you – please get in touch today.

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