Observations on Human Resources Leadership in the Canadian Nonprofit Sector

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There is a great deal of discussion these days around human resources (HR) leadership and the challenges organizations face regarding the management and retention of employees.

In the Canadian nonprofit sector, there is an undeniable need for effective HR leadership to help manage the many challenges these organizations face.

Surveys in Canada have revealed the presence of tremendous strain on nonprofit and for-profit small to medium-sized companies.

This post will make critical observations about the need for human resources leadership in the Canadian nonprofit sector and how this could impact your organization.

Recruitment and retention

Nonprofit leaders consistently respond in surveys that employee turnover is the most significant challenge in their organization. Five minutes into a conversation with any leader, this comes up as their primary pain point. Scrolling through social media or reading the news headlines, we come across “the great resignation” and “quiet quitting.”

We are all asking related questions: Why are we losing so many people? What is different about our culture/leadership/compensation strategy/fill-in-the-blank today than three years ago? How do we retain good people? Where do we find quality people to fill the gaps? And where are the people going anyways?

Due to limited budgets and staff, nonprofit organizations must be very strategic when managing their people resources. They cannot afford to lose good employees, and the “normal” ways of retaining staff seem to have changed.

This need to retain skilled and motivated staff is juxtaposed with many nonprofits facing revenue decreases and rapidly increasing inflation costs. To top it off, two years of a pandemic have shifted how so many nonprofits are engaging and delivering their services. As a result, the skills and experience needed for jobs today may be different than they were just a few years ago.

A survey by Statistics Canada found that recruiting skilled employees (37.6%), retaining skilled employees (33.5%), and labor force shortages (32.6%) were among the top human resources challenges for nonprofits.

It is no wonder that Executives and HR professionals are feeling more stressed than ever. So, what do we do?

The importance of HR leadership

Identifying the gaps and prioritizing the following steps can be overwhelming. When short-staffed, it is hard to give ourselves the time and space to step back and take a strategic look at what we are doing and what we need to be doing.

In uncertain times, executives and human resource leaders have a challenging balancing act. They must manage increased costs and a periodic reduction of donations while ensuring their organizations have the talent to deliver on their missions. They need to find efficiencies and create value. They need to do more with less – and they need to do it all quickly.

Many charities must rethink how they function. At the same time, many leaders know things are not 100% with their staff team; it could be the turnover, more people needing stress leaves, or it may feel like something is off.

Many organizations across the sector require help identifying the specific pain points and developing action steps to resolve them. Seasoned strategic HR leaders with experience in the not-for-profit sector can help align your HR strategy with your organizational strategy.

Asking the right questions can help you get to the root of the problem and start to develop a strategic plan that will have a lasting impact.

  • How is your HR strategy aligned with your organizational strategy?
  • Is your employee culture healthy?
  • Do you have the right people with the necessary skills and training in the right roles?
  • Is the vision clear to your staff team, and does each person see how important they are to achieving that vision?
  • Is each staff member clear on what a “win” looks like in your setting?
  • What do you want your culture to be (and what is it actually like?)
  • Do managers feel equipped?
  • How do you motivate, engage, and retain your employees?

These questions are the first step to establishing where you are now, where you want to be, and what prevents you from getting there. With these answers, you can start to build a plan of action as part of your human resource strategy.
Not sure where to start or need some help? Experienced human resource consultants can give your organization the support necessary to provide solutions to the specific challenges in your setting.

Removing barriers with effective leadership

An organizational leader can deploy many steps and tools to assist in assessing, setting strategy and action plans, and resolving these HR issues.

Some steps towards this resolution include:

  • Perform an HR audit – assess organizational and cultural health and identify opportunities to strengthen a workforce.
  • Take a team health check – build or repair team health with a new team or a team with conflict.
  • Implement a strategy for change leadership – strategic planning assistance for organizations making a pivotal shift, primarily to assist their people in walking through the transition.
  • Conduct a review of team structures – a leadership transition is an excellent time to evaluate the priorities and needs of a team during a leadership transition. Assess what changes are needed and what skills and experience are required.
  • Use 360s for senior leaders – use a 360 tool to learn what a leader’s strengths are and what growth opportunities are available to help the senior leader and the organization gain strength.
  • Strengthen your crisis management – a crisis among employees can arise when a leader departs suddenly. Put a crisis management strategy and communication plan in place to help you chart the best way through the storm.
  • Employ interim HR leadership – quickly find and place an experienced HR leader on the team to support executives and provide seasoned guidance to junior HR persons.

What if my organization lacks experienced human resource leadership?

The good news is that a lack of internal experience does not have to be a barrier to success. Coaching and consulting are available from seasoned HR professionals to support executives and junior HR persons.

Effective coaching and consulting are excellent ways to impart the skills required to deal with HR strategy, employee engagement, organizational culture, and performance management issues. This support can go a long way in training & team building, assisting a manager with a “problem” employee, role changes, terminations, managing stress leaves, returning to work, and so much more.

Contact us today to learn more about how human resources coaching and consulting can benefit your nonprofit organization. We would be happy to discuss your specific needs and how we can help you achieve your goals.

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