This data could change how you understand your organisation’s workforce

NFPs have one significant advantage over organisations when it comes to staff and volunteer satisfaction: intrinsic meaning and purpose in their work.

But that doesn’t always make pinpointing or meeting the other needs of staff much easier.

That’s where Dr Ramon Wenzel can help.

He’s the chief investigator of the world-first Australian Not-For-Profit Workforce Study – and an assistant professor at the University of WA’s Centre for Social Impact too.

And he’s harvesting some fascinating insights into the sector’s people, performance and purpose, based on the feedback and experiences of hundreds – perhaps thousands – of NFPs and their staff on seven key areas: Learning, Wellbeing, Competencies, Diversity, Engagement, Job Design, and Leadership.

(There’s still time to contribute your own experience to his research too!) 

Dr Wenzel will be joining us at the 2017 Not-For-Profit People Conference to present some world-first insights from his study of Australian NFPs and their staff and volunteers.

Ahead of the conference, we spoke with him about the study, its implications for Australian NFPs, and why you should participate. 

Hi Dr Wenzel, thanks for chatting with us! Can you start off with why this huge research project is happening?

Not-for-profit organisations in Australia do pretty amazing things: they arguably hold together the fabric of Australia and make life better for people.

They’re also crucial for the economy: not-for-profit organisations collectively employ more than a million people and engage more than five million volunteers. Without the sector, the whole economy would collapse, so that needs to be acknowledged.

However, not-for-profit employees and volunteers don’t [always] get the attention they deserve in terms of support, funding and opportunities for growth. We can change some of this.

To illustrate, more than half of all income in the not-for-profit sector is spent on people. It’s no surprise because, whether it’s arts, aged care or sports, it’s all about people doing things for other people.

If you take really good care of these employees and volunteers, then that offers substantial leverage to have happier clients, healthier staff, less turnover, and more innovation, efficiency and impact.

We’re aiming to apply knowledge from decades of research to make not-for-profit organisations and the work that’s carried out in them more developmental and healthy, to make organisations more sustainable and successful.

One of the key areas the study aims to shed light on for not-for-profits is in staff and volunteer engagement and satisfaction. Why do you believe these areas are currently deficient in many organisations?

Good question! I believe the not-for-profit sector has an almost unfair advantage compared to the commercial world: a really meaningful purpose is baked into most NFPs. Who doesn’t want to improve the environment, care for others, educate children and so on?

That’s a great thing. Yet the entire worker experience and the total reward structure also need to be considered. I argue there’s a proportion of not-for-profit organisations that show substantial potential to do more to this end.

For instance, some NFP workers seldom interact with the actual beneficiaries. That is a certain detachment, which might be problematic because they don’t really see the impact of their work; they don’t have a sense of what it’s really about and it can sometimes get lost.

Often, this can be very easily fixed. It depends a bit on what you do but if you can take staff out to meet your organisation’s beneficiaries, you can increase the sense of meaning and thereby engage them.

Also, in terms of the total reward structure, people seek professional growth over the long term. Our previous research clearly shows that things like career planning, coaching and funds for training are scarce for many.

So the result is people move around a lot. They seek new opportunities. And the costs to replace someone, they’re substantial for organisations. Yet, when leaders are asked to take the time to provide professional growth in the first place, this is often much further down the list.

Clearly, there are organisations that do great things with and for their people. Still, I think there needs to be much more acknowledgement, and not just an afterthought if we have the time or the money, but put it front and centre because this drives actual impact.

In our study, we look at exactly what you can do in your case, your sector, your role and your type of organisation. That’s pretty unique. We’ll share all of that data with the sector.

So how will not-for-profit organisations benefit from all this data?

The not-for-profit context is highly characterised by case studies, anecdotes and beliefs. Instead, we talk numbers and statistics, which become evidence when they’re relevant and support some type of conclusion.

Science helps when it uses validated metrics that were tested in hundreds of studies around the world and with many thousands of responses. In our study, we only use metrics that reliably predict, for instance, organisational performance or people’s wellbeing.

With “big data” you can slice and dice the information so it becomes much more meaningful to your particular case and your organisation. Big data enables us to identify the challenges and opportunities specific to your certain situation, and from there to share insights and advice that really apply to you [rather than the sector more generally]. This is different to other research out there.

Why is it important for not-for-profit organisations to benchmark against one another?

To begin, the distribution of responses from your own organisation’s staff are meaningful. What percentage of your staff are fatigued? What staff proportion is under-engaged? What’s the breakdown of learning and development like?

But you also can benchmark your organisation against others. After all, you deal with a labour market, which includes volunteers. So people have a choice [about where to work or volunteer].

As a director, CEO or HR manager, you need to be strategic and really have a plan about desired outcomes and how you get there as an organisation.

Our study offers more than 30 metrics that decades of research have shown matter for people in performance and purpose. These analytics will help you understand and prioritise areas you want to consider that you can strengthen.

It’s not about pointing the finger. It’s really a scientific tool to enable not-for-profits to become more sustainable and successful, and to do this by looking at data that is valid and reliable. And this is where benchmarks can help.

What kinds of challenges might organisations face in actioning the findings of the study?

It’s about identifying and prioritising areas that really matter to your organisation.

You might have to take some responsibility to educate yourself and others you work with. I argue there’s a responsibility for people to do this, and it might be tricky to find the time, but these things indeed affect your impact.

It’s also about becoming more evidence-driven when leading people and organisations. Maybe focus a little less on what someone claims in an entertaining LinkedIn post or what the latest guru book on the airport shelf claims.

I think our analytics make [actioning the research findings] incredibly easy; we provide some great explainers, and shortly we’ll also release more in-depth coverage and guides.

The key now is to do the survey yourself and encourage your peers to complete it, too. You’ll immediately get your personal analytics report for reflection and your organisation gets ever-increasing workforce insights, all for free!

And just lastly, what else will you be sharing at the NFP People Conference?

Beyond the early findings from the Australian Not-for-Profit Workforce Study, I will also showcase some helpful tools and guides for CEOs and HR people that we are currently building.

So, come along and ask questions about accessing and using the free analytics!

Thanks, Dr Wenzel!

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