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Topics: Benefits Realization, Consulting, Ethics and Organizational Culture
Profitable Lessons to be Learned from Non-Profits
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Over the years, I have had the unique privilege and pleasure of being involved in several charitable organisations. I’ve found a few parallels with profit-based businesses. Voluntary organisations are not often thought of as competing in the same marketplace as profit-based companies. But they still have goals to achieve, deadlines to meet, and people to manage – many of whom have moved from or are still involved in a profit-making organisation for their regular day job). Attracting and retaining top talent through ethics Employees who work for an organisation with high ethical standards, profit or voluntary, are much more likely to stay. Keeping up standards doesn’t just help with staff retention though. The door to a higher quality pool of talent can be quickly opened through word of mouth. Not only that, it’s good for business. Timing is everything In a crisis, logistics and communication need to be in place, tested, and working well before supplies can be distributed. The same principle applies to a private sector company with training, supply, and delivery. Anticipating and planning – whether it’s a disaster response, a new service offering from a major competitor, or your own project – is critical to be agile in the market. Agile. I love that word. Describes nimbleness, flexibility and quick reactions. Firm-footed decisions. Establishing (and maintaining) credibility Credibility can be incredibly hard to create. Even if what you are doing is entirely genuine. And it's all so easy to lose. Trust needs to be built up with all stakeholders – the supply chain, the customer base, and the employees. Operating with an ethically sound mindset has extensive marketing and public relations potential, which can relate to tangibly pleasing differences to the bottom line. “Free” can be the most expensive. Volunteers are great. Really great. But they need training, they need mentoring, and they need motivating. They are employment laws that effect even volunteers. They can really mess up a project, they can damage your brand, leave you utterly in the lurch, or act in a racist or sexist manner, just like employed staff – but with one significant difference: less accountability. Volunteers must be managed, motivated, and appropriately trained. Passion motivates Volunteers are driven by the love of their chosen cause. Why can’t some profit-making businesses recreate that same passion in their employees? The company will be grown by an entirely different approach – from the heart rather than just to working to gain their monthly pay-cheque. This passion needs to be captured and translated into the services offered by the profit-making organisation, and communicate that enthusiasm clearly to their stakeholders. Get sincerely evangelical about your products or services and see them as solving a genuine pain in your customers’ lives. The passion will infect, spread and inspire those around you like wildfire. Trust your people One senior voluntary executive noted that employed staff and volunteers who feel trusted perform better. This is even truer in industry. Employees who feel a sense of trust and confidence of their superiors have improved customer service and sales records over employees who don’t. When does management know when a volunteer or employee is ready to be trusted with critical, highly sensitive or confidential work? While there are several universally approved best practices, there are three general principles: build up responsibility incrementally and gradually, having clear and measurable goals, and perhaps most importantly, try to build “peer trust” or “horizontal trust” between employees and volunteers. In conclusion Regardless of business size and structure, management can learn from the voluntary world by delivering the right service at the right time. They can grow their businesses by carefully tending their reputation, and establishing and maintaining a proven track record of thoroughly delivering on their promises and behaving responsibly. A good manager will also learn that cultivating a trusted workforce isn’t giving up control but a way of making sure that you never feel the need to do everything yourself. The companies that last the longest in this hard economic environment focus on more than merely doing business inexpensively: They sincerely believe in their products and services and their staff.


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