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  • Writer's pictureEleanor Walker

What can the Private Sector learn from Voluntary Organisations?

What can the Private Sector learn from Voluntary Organisations?

Today marks the end of my first month working with Atkinson HR Consulting. My last few weeks have been spent visiting clients, doing lots of reading and research, and I even had my first experience as a volunteer at the Girlguiding trainers’ conference.

Having spent my career to date working solely in corporate environments, it’s been great to start my journey learning about the voluntary sector from some remarkable people in some fantastic organisations, that I believe the private sector could take some valuable pieces of learning from.

In my first (ever!) blog post, I’ve shared some of my initial thoughts on what some of the organisations I’ve been lucky enough to work with over the last 31 days are doing really well.

They value their values

Visit any organisation in the UK, small or large, and you’re likely to come across a list of their values somewhere; whether it’s on the back of the bathroom doors, mounted in corridors or splashed across their website and LinkedIn page.

But how many organisations are really living those values?

One study indicated that 49% of UK employees are unable to list their company’s values. My experience so far has shown me that great voluntary organisations embed their values into every stage of the employee journey. They’re woven into job adverts, interview questions and assessment methods, discussed during monthly one-to-ones and appraisals, form part of the people policies and communications strategy, are explored during leadership development, measured during employee engagement surveys and even exit interviews. They’re part of the language.

Incorporating values into more employee touch-points is a simple way for corporates to help employees explain what the organisation is about, ensure they remain true to the values and challenge the business and leaders if they are not demonstrating them.

They’re flexible

The organisations I’ve met with are great at making flexible work patterns work for their employees. After all, they’ve had years of practice in finding innovative ways of attracting and retaining employees when competing with private sector salaries. It’s been refreshing to work with so many organisations that have flexible working as the ‘default’ pattern, including home-working, flexi-time and term-time contracts. This in turn helps to diversify the workforce, attract great talent and demonstrates a great deal of trust in employees. These arguments for more organisations to adopt flexible working as standard are even being heard in parliament.

They’re on the same mission

By definition, charitable organisations are committed to their cause. Their staff and volunteers work with them because they want to make a change. In other words, it’s not just about the bottom line. We know that the best teams focus on achieving collective results. Too often in the private sector, organisational goals are overshadowed by departmental goals; perhaps leading to siloed environments, and sometimes even a culture of blame. Voluntary organisations still have individual and team goals, but I’m yet to see examples of these conflicting with the overall mission of the organisation.

Another tip the private sector could take from voluntary organisations is their commitment to transparency and openness. So far, I haven’t seen the term ‘competitive salary’ on many charity sector job adverts. In fact, I’ve been pleased to learn that pay in general, including at senior levels of the organisation, tends to be common knowledge, with structured schemes designed to encourage high performance, personal development and career progression. Pay transparency is key to organisations closing the gender pay gap, avoiding pay inequality and encouraging a culture of trust and accountability.

Of course, there are plenty of private sector companies that consistently impress with their employer brand, and voluntary organisations that fail to do it justice. Nevertheless, I don’t think there’s harm in any organisation taking time out to reflect – how many of your employees can list your company values, and what can your organisation do to make sure they’re a firm part of your employee culture?

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