Elizabeth Balgobin: Use some fudge to get the right person into the post

Contract agreements that insist on open recruitment can cause problems for charities wanting to keep the people they already have, writes our columnist

Elizabeth Balgobin
Elizabeth Balgobin

The sector is busy with the big job swap. Grants and contracts are coming to an end and, for some, new ones are being signed. The problem that I and many others are facing is that we want to keep the people we already have, but the new grant or contract agreements insist on open recruitment.

So we have to spend some of the project delivery time on recruitment, and the recruitment costs are not covered as a part of the budget.

Meanwhile, we - the trustees - are looking at how we can ensure our policies are properly followed and kept as fair and above board as possible when existing staff are dismissed, made redundant or considered for vacancies.

I know why funders insist on open recruitment. Wearing my equalities hat, combined with my desire to see development and mobility, I want this too. But when I wear my running-an-organisation hat, I want to keep the person who helped me develop the new project. I want to keep the person I have already seen through a probationary period and whose work ethic I already know. I want to keep the person in whom I have invested time and money for training and who knows where that document that was written last year is filed.

The problem is that I can't quite make all this fit together unless I fudge the issue a bit, and I would lay money that many of you have looked at how to make up a batch of fudge too.

As a trustee and manager I am internally and externally accountable for my actions to funders, members, customers and other stakeholders. I have a duty to do what is best to meet the mission of the organisation and ensure its success. I have a duty to deliver what I have signed up to do on the grant or contract agreement.

I also have a duty to my existing employees. In order to discharge those duties, I have to place them in a hierarchy: it is not possible to meet them all equally. The duty that reaches the top of the pyramid might not always be the same - one size does not fit all.

I start with the role. Once the funding has been secured, don't be afraid to pull the role apart and check that you have thought of everything. Is the person specification written with a particular person in mind or does it simply describe what is required for that role? Be honest with yourself: if what you actually need is someone exactly like the person you have in mind, have you checked that they actually want the role? What are their expectations of you as their employer? Assuming you both want the same outcome, can you speak to the funder to see if they are willing to waive the external recruitment requirement? All is well and good if they are happy to do this - if not, then this is where we get into the fudgy stuff. My fudge is to limit the exposure of the external advertising. I do this for two reasons: first, to ensure things move through as quickly as possible while meeting my duty to the funder; second, to limit the amount of other people's time I waste.

We have all put ourselves forward for roles where we know the internal candidate is the most likely to get the job. I feel an enormous fraud if I receive lots of applications that don't quite hit the mark because they are simply not person X. I dislike it when it happens to me, and I don't want to create time-consuming work for others.

There are two redeeming features of all of this extra work: more people get to know about your organisation and you might just come across your next gem of an employee, if not for this role then possibly for one in the future. I then look at what the organisation's plans are over the short and medium terms and see if the skills mix is right for what we need. Next, I look at what our policies, procedures and the law say about dismissals and making employees redundant, and plan for that. What will it cost, not just in terms of payments to redundant staff but in terms of time and morale across the organisation? You can't do much fudging here because getting this wrong will cost you in so many ways.

Finally, I look at the reputation of the organisation. Which flavour of fudge is the least harmful to the internal and external trust and reputation the organisation enjoys? Every action has a consequence of some sort, so being honest in your board discussions about these difficult choices is essential and necessary if you are to avoid forgetting any of your duties.

Elizabeth Balgobin is chair of Voice4Change England and a charity governance consultant

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