With the spotlight on social purpose organisations (SPOs) to address enhanced vulnerabilities in the aftermath of the pandemic, talent becomes a paramount factor in its success. The Indian social impact sector attracts organisational talent with varied expertise and affiliations. An opportunity to make a difference and commitment to a cause that goes beyond individual needs and aspirations remains the common thread that unites social sector talent across organisations and roles.
Our recent conversations with Chief Operating Officers (CEOs) and Human Resource (HR) leads (also referred to as people function) of SPOs bring out four kinds of talent that are often attracted to the Indian social sector. They are as follows:
The Volunteers are individuals who associate themselves with SPOs because of their passion towards a cause. The trigger for engagement for such people comes from the apathy and vulnerability they have witnessed around them. As committed individuals, moved by the state of the society and the world, they often find it difficult to make peace with the status quo and are keen to make a difference. Volunteers often do not have a financial arrangement or relationship with the organisations where they contribute their time and energy. Such individuals may pursue parallel professional careers in other sectors of their expertise or interest.
The Fortitudinous are believers in the possibility of an equitable transformation and have found their personal and professional calling in making a difference to the world and society around them. They actively contribute towards making the world a better place for everyone. As individuals who have chosen to engage with the social sector since the beginning of their careers, their education and learning experiences are often influenced by such inclination. The fortitudinous have clarity from the early days of education that they want to work in the social sector and specifically build their expertise and experience through education and past employment. These personnel are accustomed to the possible challenges of the sector and the job, and remain equipped to handle them every day.
The Agnostics are employees who are job seekers and might not be passionate about the social sector specifically. They are agnostic to the cause of the SPO. Agnostics often work in departments that do not work with the beneficiaries directly, such as the administration or support functions.
The Switchers are employees who switch from corporate jobs to the social sector. These are people who want to switch to the social sector primarily for two reasons. Firstly, they may be seeking purpose and would be content to see the impact of their work on the change in the society. Secondly, they may be disillusioned and exhausted with the corporate sector and seek to engage with the social sector to find meaning in what they do professionally. Such talent brings diverse experience and skills that are extremely useful when contextualised to the needs and values of the sector.
To achieve effectiveness in social impact, SPOs need to nurture appropriate strategies to work with such a diverse workforce. Decoding the people management challenges and keeping all contributors motivated is crucial in the success journey of the SPOs.
1Dr Aruna Pandey is the Director, ISDM Knowledge and Research Centre (ISDM-KRC)
2Dr Yogita Patra worked with ISDM between in the capacity of Research Manager, ISDM-KRC
The effectiveness of SPOs can be gauged based on the passionate collaboration, drive and accomplishment of the people working towards the cause. SPO leaders are impressed by the need to align organisational talent with three core ideas: purpose, ownership and grounded mastery. Let us understand these in detail.
Founder-led organisations embed their mission deeply in the core of talent management practices, especially when founders play an active role in designing and shaping people practices in the organisation. In early days of the organisation, it is fruitful for the founders to scaffold the guardrails of the people function to align with the mission and the vision of change it seeks to accomplish. For scale and sustainability, however, acquiring, nurturing and retaining appropriate talent becomes a challenge and a necessity. In July 2021, online regional consultations held by ISDM with 56 leaders from the sector, representing 48 organisations, underscore the importance of integrating the core philosophy of the organisation in the next generation of leaders. In this context, setting up a structured people function was highlighted as one of the core challenges that organisations face today. It emerged that 82% of the leaders identified nurturing capacities of their existing talent as one of the key strategic priorities of the organisation in the next one year (ISDM, upcoming). This alignment of purpose is often enabled by a transformational leadership practice that inspires commitment and performance rather than transactional leadership that focuses only on outputs for inputs. Mitigating challenges related to acquiring the right talent at the right time at the right cost can be fulfilled by designing organisational culture and internal brand strategies that focus on nurturing learning, commitment to the cause and a sense of purpose which goes beyond individual motivations and aspirations and has the power to impact better outcomes for self and others.
Additionally, more than 51% organisations in the regional consultations stated the need to attract or hire diverse talent. Leadership in the Indian social impact sector is increasingly recognising the need to enable opportunities for individuals with diverse talent in the fields of law, technology and medicine to be able to contribute to the shared vision and missions of an equitable society for all. Nurturing a vibrant sector with organisations that have the capability to attract, hire and retain such diverse talent calls for appropriate investments from donors, non-profit leaders and ecosystem enablers in building capacities and talent readiness in existing SPOs (ISDM, upcoming).
Individuals who join the social sector often come with a strong intrinsic motivation that ranges from the inherent need to be able to contribute to society to a sense of personal accomplishment and satisfaction that one draws from walking a path of universal human values (equity, compassion, justice) that bottom line the work of SPOs. Enabling a robust leadership culture of accountability and ownership in such committed actors empowers the organisation to nurture resilience in its systems, processes and practices. Often the maturity of talent management in organisational contexts is equated with levels of formalisation in policies and practices, yet talent transitions (promotions, shifts in roles, diversification of roles, etc.) and leadership succession planning in SPOs often does not receive the attention it deserves. Organisations, as a result, continue to remain individual-centric with strong implications for organisational growth potential, individual and collective motivations to continue contributing to the vision of the organisation as well as maturity of organisational structures and processes (ISDM, upcoming).
ISDM’s engagement with leaders from the social sector underlines the importance of designing structures and processes that enable effective talent and leadership transitions and a dynamic learning environment in organisations. Such practices nurture the capacity of organisations to respond to ambiguity and uncertainty effectively and are true measures of maturity of talent management. Enabling such effectiveness in management practices demands alignment between management values, structures and systems with the overall purpose and vision of the organisation. This alignment, when accomplished, creates a strong institutional foundation for the leadership to inspire ownership in talent, motivating them to commit to collective purpose over time and across functions.
Enabling a structural scaffolding that nurtures grounded mastery
SPOs take ‘forms’ that are driven by the ‘consciousness of the leadership’ and the ‘purpose of its existence.’ The people management function of an organisation should curate policies and processes to enable the alignment between the shared vision of change and talent strategies adopted to accomplish the set goals.
Structural scaffolding for intrapreneurs
Explicit outlining of the people policies related to hiring, learning and development, leave, expenses, grievance redressal, performance appraisals, compensation and acknowledgement enables the blueprint of a professional organisation. The people function of SPOs are constantly geared towards nurturing ‘intrapreneurs’ who are self-driven for the cause and are committed to a larger purpose of social transformation beyond the boundaries of individual or organisational performance. For such individuals, compensation is not the only component that motivates them and a vibrant, creative, learning and practice culture is critical.
Additionally, the organisation needs to invest in structural designs that eliminate drudgeries associated with daily responsibilities of the talent. Examples of such structural scaffolding could manifest in the form of a robust and agile knowledge management system that leverages technology and is integrated with programmatic design and review, automated systems for compliance reporting, technology-enabled real-time reporting with easy-to-use systems, etc. Young organisations like Make A Difference and Quest Alliance are increasingly investing in nurturing such structural shifts to enable creativity, agility and resilience in their organisation.
Embedding career trajectories in unique learning designs
People practices in organisations have the opportunity to embed career trajectories of its talent into unique lateral and core learning opportunities for individual and team growth. This calls for a robust internal-facing learning and development program in SPOs with opportunities to ground themselves in core mastery critical to performance of work as well as embodying values and purpose inspired by the exposure and commitment to the cause. Organisations like PRADAN recognised the need for such internal facing learning strategies for its personnel early on and are today known for their holistic and robust executive training and learning program that enables a solid foundation for all ‘PRADANites.’ Most leaders echo that exposure to the field with an opportunity to build and nurture relationships with the communities ‘where change actually happens’ is critical to inspiring commitment and alignment with the purpose and vision of the organisation. Organisations like ATECF and SeSta shared learning from the field as a key design element towards inspiring motivation, learning and value alignment in personnel. It is important to note that such strategies have emerged relevant across different archetypes of organisations, be it philanthropic initiatives and funding organisations like ATECF, Edelgive Foundation or non-governmental organisations that work directly with communities like PRADAN, SeSta and Sneha (ISDM, upcoming).
Investing in ‘what matters’
While traditionally organisations were encouraged to develop and nurture people management structures, processes and systems due to challenges of size, complexity, compliance or branding, SPOs today are increasingly recognising the need to invest in people early on. Interestingly, 72% of the organisations that were part of the regional consultations on talent management stated having clearly articulated talent management structures and plans, while 53% organisations reported the presence of a dedicated individual or team that manages talent-related matters in the organisation. Many SPOs such as Jai Vakeel Foundation and Ummeed had an operational people function early on with absolute clarity to create innovative methods towards hiring, nurturing and retaining talent. Only 14% of organisations stated that the people function was handled by the founder/CEO with support from external consultants. Leaders spoke of limited opportunity for consultants to embed themselves in the organisational context and culture as one of the key reasons for their lack of preference for a third party to design the people management function of their organisation (ISDM, upcoming).
Expanding the boundaries of talent
Organisations like CDC in Madhya Pradesh and Community Initiatives in Manipur speak of the importance of the context while designing and investing and people practices. In rural, far-flung contexts, finding professional talent with specialisation in community-related work is often a challenge. Investments in capacity enhancement of the organisation such that its people could perform better thus ensuring organisational effectiveness is critical. The nature of such investments, however, should be customised to the context of the place, programmatic need and the context of the organisation. Leaders of CDC and Community Initiative highlight the importance of understanding where the organisation pegs its boundaries of talent. Both organisations spoke of including community representatives and family members of the project participants in their formal boundaries of talent.
Initiatives like CDC, Community Initiative, Sneha, Ummeed, among others, underline the need for the Indian social sector to recognise and build deep appreciation for the fluidity in the way organisations define ‘talent.’ Hence, investments in people and organisational talent need to allow for this fluidity in definition of talent and adaptability in design of people practices that account for the context and culture of the place, consciousness of the organisational leadership and purpose and programmatic need of the organisation. In other words, in order to nurture resilient and effective organisations in the Indian social sector, it is imperative for the funders, leaders and ecosystem enablers to re-imagine and re-design their perspective and approach to talent management to the context and indigeneity of the Indian development ecosystem.
Pandey, A., Shushant, L., Rana, S. (upcoming). Regional Consultation Report on Talent Management in Indian Social Sector. Indian School of Development Management
Pandey, A., Kaur, J., Jain, I., Menon, S. (upcoming). Management Challenges in Social Purpose Organisations – Perspectives from India. Indian School of Development Management
ISDM. February 2022. Agenda 2030: What Matters – Panel discussion on Talent Matters. Indian School of Development Management. Accessed from: ISDM Target 2030 : What Matters - YouTube
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