Top six lessons we learned at the 2017 Not-For-Profit People Conference

Another amazing Not-For-Profit People Conference under our collective belts!

It was such a pleasure for the team to host over 30 speakers and more than 500 attendees over two days in November, to share ideas on recruiting, managing and retaining their staff and volunteers, and make some fantastic connection with NFP sector peers.

If you were there with us, we hope you’ve come away with some new great ideas to help you work better and boost your organisation’s impact.

Couldn’t make it to the conference? Here are six of the most memorable lessons we learnt – and would love to share with you!

1) Resilience is a key quality for leaders – and many staff in the NFP sector

We were lucky enough to have Olympic Gold medalist and former Senator Nova Peris open the conference with the incredible story of her life, and an important lesson:

Resilience – the willingness and ability to keep fighting through tough times or against the odds – is one of the most important qualities the people need to lead.

Taking the strength and resilience of her ancestors, Nova’s unshakeable belief in her own abilities and her desire to challenge perceptions and achieve her dreams despite facing huge challenges was an inspiration.

Sea Shepherd Australia’s Chairman, Captain Peter Hammarstedt closed the conference on a similar note.

With some incredible tales (and footage!) of captaining Sea Shepherd’s Bob Barker across the Antarctic and battling with much bigger Japanese whaling ships, Peter’s quiet persistence, determination and resilience in the face of stress and even physical danger have clearly been important assets that have allowed him to be an incredible leader for Sea Shepherd, even at the age of just 32.

NFP leaders – and staff working on some of society’s most important and difficult challenges – will know that staying positive through difficult times can be an uphill battle.

Nova and Peter’s stories were a great reminder that simply maintaining resillience and persistence in the face of great challenges can be half the battle.

2) Attracting great staff should come back to “why?”

NFPs are naturally purpose-focused – perhaps so much so that it can be easy to forget how important it is to constantly identify for staff – and especially prospective staff – just what it is your organisation is aiming to achieve, and why!

That’s why it was great to be reminded by Emily Markwell and James Stewart from that purpose is the key motivator for candidates who are looking to work in the NFP sector, and that most organisations have work still to do to communicate their purpose effectively when recruiting.

Emily and James shared many great ideas about how NFPs can improve the way they connect with candidates through through their job ads, but the key take-away was:

In an increasingly competitive employment marketplace, to stand out from the crowd, NFP should focus their job ads on why the organisation exists and how the role will contribute to their purpose – not just explain what they do and how they do it (as so many job ads do.)

3) An ageing population and the changing world of work necessitate new ways of recruiting and managing

With a rapidly aging population, attracting and retaining the next generation is a necessity for all NFPs to consider.

Oaktree’s Chief of Staff Alex Mclean, shared how her organisation has successfully attracted and retained a passionate and high-performing, young workforce, through embracing diversity, and creating opportunities for young people to participate in decision-making.

Using online tools Oaktree surveyed staff about what they felt was an inclusive and diverse workplace, as well as asking them ‘who are we missing?’ They also test for potential – rather than technical skills or experience – during their recruitment process, opening the organisation up to the potential of highly talented staff who don’t yet have a lot of experience to draw on.

This sentiment was echoed by Alecia Rathbone from FYA, who discussed the “New Work Order”. As technology reduces the need for staff to complete routine, manual tasks, Alecia noted that there will be more opportunities to focus on strategic problem-solving and creative thinking. This new world of work requires a mindset shift and the creation of rewarding, entry-level opportunities for the next generation.

4) To build a positive and productive team try saying “yes, and” instead of “no, but”

If you’re not familiar with “Design Thinking”, then you soon will be – it’s a new term for an incredibly valuable set of tools for work that no organisation will be able to ignore.

Christian Duell led a discussion of how Design Thinking can be used to make a tangible difference in our teams and give staff greater opportunity to voice new ideas and to innovate.

Christian began by introducing a simple tool used in improv that could make a big difference in any team to create more openness and more possibility:

Next time you’re making plans or listening to feedback, try saying “yes, and” instead of “no, but”.

(Christian made the audience practice responding to others’ comments with “yes, and” instead of “no, but” – because skill like this need to be used and practiced regularly.)

The point of this practice: while the status quo is comfortable, tried and tested, that can mean that we’re often quick to poke holes in new ideas. This can have the unintended consequence of making people feel less comfortable/confident speaking up next time.

Rather than default to a “no, but” response with our team, which shuts down creativity, using a “yes, and” mindset can open up possibilities and allows staff to feel heard and their opinions valued.

5) To transform conflict into connection, remove blame, assumptions and debates about the past

Disagreement and conflict are some of the most difficult part of work for many people.

Yet at the same time, disagreement and conflict are healthy parts of any team or workplace.

So why is it that conflict is something many of us prefer to avoid in favour of agreement or just uncommunicativeness?

Mediator and facilitator Scott Dutton explored how, rather than unhealthily trying to avoid disagreement and conflict, individuals and organisations can develop “conflict intelligence” that can transform conflict into connection.

By understanding our own physical and mental states during conflict, we can be aware of what’s happening within us, allowing us to begin to remove emotion and focus on the other person’s needs.

As leaders and managers, it’s up to us to create the space, time and context for disagreement and conflict to happen and be used in creative and positive ways.

For this to happen, Scott suggested that it’s critical that we remove assumptions, blame, judgments and debates about the past from our disagreements. Because often people just want to be heard and understood.

6) Make the effort to distinguish mental illness from poor performance

Around 45% of Australians aged between 16 and 85 will experience a mental illness at some point in their life, while one in five Australian adults will experience a mental illness in any given year. That means its highly likely that managers in your NFP will supervise a worker with mental illness at some point.

Marian Spencer, Head of Operations, People and Culture from the Black Dog Institute presented some practical tips on how to distinguish between an employee who is underperforming, and someone who is potentially suffering with their mental health.

Although employees are not required to tell managers about their mental health by law, by offering them support and by fostering a safe work environment you may be able to avoid performance management.

As Marian explained, even at the best of times a formal performance management process can be stressful for both the organisation and the staff member, so before managers start down this road, they should be asking questions such as:

  • Has this employee performed well in the past?
  • Has their attitude changed significantly?
  • Have I asked “Are you okay?
  • Is there anything more I could do to encourage communication?

Marian’s message was clear – whenever possible try to open up a dialogue – you never know how much a conversation could help.

So there you have it – 26 sessions over 2 days, condensed into six key lessons! Of course there were so many more ideas and lessons what were shared by our expert speakers. So if you missed out this year, please consider joining us at the NFP People conference in 2018!

Did you attend the 2017 NFP People Conference? What was your favourite take-away from the two days? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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