Five lessons from one of Australia’s best not-for-profit places to work

mentoringaime

Just one not-for-profit organisation made it into the Business Review Weekly’s (BRW) list of Best Places to Work in Australia in 2013:

The Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME).

Established in 2005, AIME connects thousands of indigenous high school students with mentors – with participants in the program being almost six times more likely to enter university than indigenous students outside the program.

And undoubtedly, these impressive results have had a lot to do with AIME’s substantial investment in, and innovative approach towards, supporting their staff to do their best work.

So how does an organisation, set up just ten years ago by a university student, become one of the best places to work in the country?

Creating a culture of doing better

AIME’s success is in large part due to the team’s wholehearted embrace of four values:

  1. Do your job;
  2. Be relentlessly positive;
  3. Have fun; and
  4. Don’t be a d*ckhead.

Yes, it’s frank – maybe even offensive to some – but those values are carried out in everything that AIME does for its staff.

Some simple initiatives that bring these values to life include creative meeting spaces (like the beach!) and a fun work environment that includes beanbags and hot desks to keep things fresh.

There’s a lot to learn from this young, highly successful organisation. So here are five other initiatives that AIME has implemented to support staff to be happier and more productive:

1. AIME Institutes

The AIME Institute (AI) is an internal professional development program that is run twice a year.

The weeklong event – yes that’s 14 days each year dedicated to learning and development – sees all 93 fulltime and casual AIME staff members come to Sydney to hear from other staff and outside speakers on various topics that will improve their ability to do their jobs well.

More than that, AI takes a holistic approach to learning, seeing the week as just as much about team-building. Activities like scavenger hunts, yoga, and karate lessons are intermingled with workshops in soft skills, like how to look after yourself physically and emotionally, and how to be productive and happy as part of a team.

The AI also welcomes speakers from outside the NFP sector, such as a Google representative who ran a session called ‘5 steps to kick-starting your productivity’.

2. Mentoring

Knowing how well mentoring works for the organisation’s clients, AIME encourages mentoring as a key tool for professional development for staff as well.

The mentoring program started with AIME’s CEO, Jack Manning Bancroft, partnering each of his staff members with someone from his own network. But now, with so many staff members, AIME also supports the team to find mentors within their own networks.

3. Dedicated Leave

AIME believes that giving staff additional annual leave to explore other things that interest them results in happier and more productive staff.

As a result, they’ve introduced a number of dedicated leave initiatives including:

  • Study and Development Leave – one week for courses, study or extra curricular interest. This doesn’t have to be directly related to work either, with one staff member taking the leave to pursue their music career
  • Cultural Leave – three days for staff to learn about either their own culture, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture; and
  • Legend Leave – one day for staff to volunteer for an organisation of their choice.

4. Chief Happiness Officer

AIME’s dedication to their staff’s happiness even led them to create the position of Chief Happiness Officer.

Held by one of Australia’s leading psychologists, Dr Tim Sharp, the goal is to support staff to achieve greater happiness. And it’s not just about smiling and feeling good – it’s also about finding meaning and purpose in what you do, having quality relationships and being healthy and optimistic.

To achieve this, Dr Sharp’s role includes:

  • Running happiness sessions at AIME Institutes
  • Working with a different AIME team each month
  • Writing articles for their internal newsletter
  • Connecting with staff enquiries over the intranet
  • Intensive one-on-one coaching with four staff members via a scholarship program each year

Importantly, the Chief Happiness Officer operates with an intimate understanding of the challenges facing the organisation – which will be familiar with many NFPs – including fast growth and staff burnout.

5. Rewards

Wages and salaries at AIME are transparent with a clear, loyalty-based incentive scheme in place. The longer someone is with the organisation, the bigger their yearly bonus.

But it’s not just about wages. Staff initiative and work is rewarded at the organisation’s end of year get together where gift vouchers and awards are given out to staff members who have achieved greatness in their work that year.

Again, the approach here is far from traditional, with awards given for often overlooked qualities, such as the “Best Internal Communicator” and “Most Reliable”.

How they measure the impact

The common theme with all these initiatives is ensuring that staff are happy and well supported – which can seem like a difficult thing to measure.

So here’s what they do:

  • Track the turnover of casual and full time staff members;
  • Conduct surveys after each training session measuring how it was received, and if staff felt it contributed to their ability to do their job;
  • Run an annual “what’s your job?” survey asking staff to tell them what skills they want to develop and what support they need.

For AIME, their outward success goes hand in hand with their staff’s health and wellbeing.

A win-win captured perfectly by their Research Director, Amy Priestly, who says “I feel very supported. . . the company is making an investment in me and my future. AIME cares about my wellbeing and that feeds back into my work. I really value that.”

What do you think of these initiatives? How hard would it be to do similar things in your organisation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

This post is adapted from a longer article that originally appeared in the SVA Consulting Quarterly.

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