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Rebecca Gilling: the ups and downs of HR in not-for-profits

Rebecca Gilling is a projects manager and HR advisor to Planet Ark.

During your 13 years with Planet Ark, what changes to the HR function have you witnessed?

Planet Ark had no formal HR function apart from payroll when I joined in 2002. Recruitment, remuneration, training and development, and performance management practices were all somewhat arbitrary.

With input from the whole organisation, we have since introduced a comprehensive performance management system and devised our first three-year plan. We now have a highly engaged and motivated workforce, who feel a strong alignment with Planet Ark’s vision and values. I have no doubt that the confidence and trust people feel in our HRM system has played a large part.

Not-for-profit organisations are struggling with leadership development at all levels. How do you think organisations can turn this trend around?

Sustainable leadership is not only about the environmental footprint of your organisation and your engagement with the broader community, it’s also about the way you nurture and cultivate the people in your team.

We try to create a work experience that’s both challenging and enabling through shared decision-making, stretch assignments and coaching, and mentoring, along with some formal training. We value long tenure at all levels, and promote from within wherever possible, as well as being on the lookout for ways to expand people’s roles into new areas that match their skills and interests, even if they’re not part of their current job description.

Budget constraints are a challenge to the not-for-profit sector. How do you attract the best candidates and keep employees motivated and driven?

It’s a given that you work for a not-for-profit for love rather than money. We have a very flexible workplace and provide our staff with a lot of autonomy through home-based work and
family-friendly hours. A sense of purpose is also a key motivator for people working in the not-for-profit sector, and it’s what helps us attract and retain talented and committed people. Planet Ark is very explicit about its mission of providing positive environmental actions for everyone, and for our staff this alignment with their own values is fundamental.

What is it about the not-for-profit industry that you find captivating?

I’d been brought up with a strong social justice and environmental ethic, but when I had children of my own I became increasingly concerned about the world they would inherit. While I loved my previous career as an actor, I’d come to a point where I wanted to play even a small part in creating change for the better. 

This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the September 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Meet … Rebecca Gilling’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here

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