HR, Management & leadership, Management

Why would someone want to work for you? 

Ben Wittenberg, Director of Development and Delivery at DSC, explains how prioritising your values, policies, and procedures will help to make your organisation a great place to work.

It can be easy as a charity to answer that question with something like “because they believe in our cause” or “they care about our beneficiaries”. And for lots of us, our colleagues, our volunteers and trustees, it’s the single biggest reason we’re here. 

But that can be a dangerous and destructive thing.  

Employees who care deeply about the cause they are working towards, will put up with an awful lot. Knackered computers, wobbly chairs, horrible coffee, and a hundred other things that all come from having to manage budgets ruthlessly, are routinely overlooked by employees willing to do what it takes to get the job done. 

The problem comes when these concessions leak into other areas. Areas where things are “fine” relative to all of the other crises being juggled, but which over time become big, bad and ugly problems that make an organisation a bad place to work. 

These might include things like: 

  • Gaps between formal policies and procedures and “how we do things round here” 
  • Different ways of resolving issues depending on the employee 
  • Different managers providing different levels of support or guidance 
  • Different staff having differing levels of access to decision makers within the organisation
  • A gap between organisational values and behaviours  

Any one of these things can create divisions and barriers within your organisation and make it a less fair place to work. They can also disproportionately disenfranchise and disempower those staff who care most about the cause, but don’t feel able to shape the way you’re trying to address it together.  

At DSC there are two specific things we do to try and avoid this happening to us and our staff.  

Firstly, we prioritise our policies and procedures. We have a lot of them, covering everything from how 121s and appraisals are conducted, to how annual leave is booked and leadership standards. They don’t just sit in a drawer or on the server though. We brief at least two of them every month to all staff (it’s in our Briefing Policy!), and make sure they are reviewed on an ongoing basis to keep them relevant and up-to-date.  

This does two things. Obviously, it makes it more likely that people will follow specific policies and know what to do in certain situations. More importantly, though, the regular briefing of our policies reminds staff that we have them. That we have a  shared set of expectations about how the things that apply to everyone should work, and that they apply fairly to everyone who works here. There’s no special treatment or managerial discretion about core things like leave or data protection or annual appraisals, and that gives managers more time and energy for the second thing we do. 

We talk about our values all the time. And not just our values (excellence and empathy), but the behaviours associated with them, examples of where people have demonstrated them, and areas where we’ve fallen short of our own high standards. We talk about them in our team meetings, core briefings, reference them in all of our reports, and discuss them as a standing item in our leadership team meetings.  

The combination of those two things are a big part of what it’s like to work at DSC. Shared expectations about how we’ll work together, regular connections between how we work and the values we aspire to, and both openly discussed at every opportunity in relation to our overall goals. When even the smallest things go well, it’s easy to connect them to the bigger picture. When they don’t go so well, using our policies and values as a benchmark for fixing or improving things is a really easy way to move forward. 

We also end up with some great examples of both things complimenting each other. Reviewing our recruitment and parental leave policies through the lens of our values has led to some really big changes to our policies, like giving candidates interview questions in advance (empathetic and excellent!).