“What do you want to be when you grow up?” As a child, you likely heard this question. As adults, we still ask children this question to better understand their creative, young minds along with their hopes and dreams for the future. We – and they, even from a young age – inherently understand that our career path often becomes a strong part of our identity.

Yet, how many people do you know who actually feel a deep sense of belonging at their current job? That their unique identity is welcomed, appreciated and utilized. Unfortunately, only one-third of U.S. employees are engaged in their work and that number continues to drop. Even more concerning is that 70% said they would leave their current job for something more fulfilling. Many don’t feel a strong connection with their company or the mission. That’s why it is even more important for the social sector to act now to find these individuals so we can attract and retain the best talent for our cause.

In our recent blog, Why Turnover Should Be a Key Metric for the Social Sector, we shared our concern that the turnover rate in the social sector was getting higher. Overall, people are changing jobs more often, and it is becoming lucrative to do so. According to various research sources, job hoppers often see a 17.6 percent increase in wages compared to those who didn’t. For millennials (who are sometimes referred to as the “job hopping generation,” the difference is even greater – job hoppers under 25 are seeing wage increases of 20 percent. While turnover is a workforce trend, as a sector we need to ensure that it does not impede our ability to attract, hire and keep talent, which continues to be the biggest differentiator between good and great social sector organizations. To help organizations address this issue, John Troy of WorkMonger and I developed a checklist to spur conversation about talent within your organization. We encourage your board and management team to compare this list against your personnel practices and address your weakest areas.

Attracting Talent

  • How do you currently attract talent? Do you post on job boards or your website? Do you hire a recruiter or use in-house resources? Do you network and keep a short list of “rising stars”? We suggest focusing on the recruitment method(s) that nets the best talent. It is likely to vary based on position. We also suggest tracking metrics on your recruitment rates, especially for high-impact positions.
  • How long does it take from posting the job to filling the job? We have found that when organizations start from scratch, i.e., they don’t have a list of “rising stars,” it usually takes about one to two months to fill junior-level jobs, three months to fill mid-level jobs (managers), and six months or longer to fill senior-level positions. We suggest you track these metrics, because the longer it takes, the greater the risk to the organization from those who are “covering” this job.
  • How often does your first choice accept your offer? We believe they should accept 80 percent of the time. When they don’t accept your offer, ask first-choice candidates why to learn what you can do to improve. Remember that the interview process is not only the candidate’s opportunity to sell you on why they are a great fit for the role, it is also your opportunity to sell the candidate on your mission and why they should want to join your team. You need to know why candidates, especially those who are “rising stars” are not choosing your organization.
  • Do you have an intern program to attract and try out talent? If not, check to see if your local college or mayor’s office has a program that you can apply for.
  • Do you actively elevate your organization’s brand and know how it is perceived? Every nonprofit has a workplace brand. You need to cultivate that brand by posting your values, showcasing your organization through awards, and highlighting staff on recruitment pages on their “why.” Consider participating in your community’s “Best Places to Work” lists and/or career days at local colleges to raise awareness about your organization.

Hiring Talent That Fits

  • Do your job descriptions list both responsibilities (e.g., write grants) and key competencies (e.g., writing ability, time management) for each role? Have you delineated must-haves vs. nice-to-haves? Do you have your values embedded into them?
  • Have you bought or conducted a salary survey to ensure a match between your job description and your starting salary/benefits? Does your organization conduct a salary and benefit review of all positions every three years?
  • Do you use assessments (e.g., Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder) to help you assess fit and personality?
  • Do you seek samples of past work or have a performance-based interview process?

Bringing out the Best

  • Do you have a robust onboarding process? Employees now decide in the first 90 days on the job if they are going to stay for 5 years or more.
  • Do you have an annual performance review process with regular feedback discussions at least once a quarter for both high and low performers? These should result in performance plans, including professional development needs, measurable, time-bound goals and action steps.
  • Do you have a regular supervisor training that covers key topics, such as delegating, leading teams and addressing performance problems? If not, or if you have questions on how to approach this, check out the Management Center’s book, Managing to Change the World.
  • Do you have a process to pair employees – especially new employees – with buddies, coaches or mentors? We have found that buddy and mentorship programs result in more honest conversations and open feedback and increase a sense of belonging. (While supervisors should coach their teams as part of their management responsibility, here we are referring to non-supervisors serving as mentors.)
  • Do you track key metrics on talent – turnover rates (desired and undesired), average recruitment time and percentage of first-choice candidates hired? Do you share these with staff and board as part of your organizational dashboard?
  • Do you conduct annual confidential climate surveys to gauge employee satisfaction, compare them year-over-year and act on the results in a transparent way?
  • Do you have early warning systems in place for high performers to have candid conversations before they decide to leave? More employers are conducting “stay interviews” with high-potential roles and individuals through their HR departments to allows employees to share any concerns or feedback – before they start thinking of leaving.
  • Do you have a Culture Committee that monitors and works intentionally to improve culture within the organization? 
  • Do you use your task forces and committees to help employees give back to the organizations, build teamwork and leadership skills, and encourage active participation in improving the organization?

Exiting & Learning

  • Do you conduct confidential exit interviews of all exiting employees, without their supervisors present, to learn about their individual situations?
  • Do you review exit interviews collectively to find themes to act on?
  • Do you track and review turnover rates (desired and undesired) over time and look for trends (e.g., certain departments, age range) and develop a proactive plan to reduce undesirable turnover?

Keeping & Growing Talent

  • Do you have a culture as a learning organization? Do you encourage growth of the individual, of teams and of the organization?
  • How do you manage failure? Is the organization open to taking risks and learning from them?
  • Does your organization have both an open, but also an anonymous process (e.g., whistleblower policy) for sharing positive and negative feedback across teams and between supervisors?

We hope this starts a thoughtful conversation internally about what it takes to build a healthy workforce – we welcome any additions to the checklist.

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