My top tips: Jill Tombs, HR Director, Mencap

Recognise that HR theory and what works in practice are very different.

You need to work closely alongside managers and get under the skin of an organisation to find out what challenges are faced by people who work in front-line services. Only then can you speak to them in the same language and understand what they are going through.

Remember that nothing is black and white There are a lot of grey areas, and there are different sides to every story. You need to work in partnership with operational managers to help them work through their issues.

Work as a team to achieve change I've been at Mencap for 16 years, and it's changed massively in that time. We used to be more about representing the parents of children with learning disabilities, but now we are more focused on those who have the learning disabilities themselves.

Give beneficiaries a voice We have worked hard not only to ensure there is better representation for people with learning disabilities in the charity, but also to ensure they really have a voice outside. In the past they had fairly junior roles. We have created roles that help them to campaign and influence decision-makers.

Use people's passion Commitment to the cause compensates for the fact that resources are lean in the sector in comparison with the public sector, where I used to work. But it means that people feel they almost have an ownership of their organisation and tend to have very strong views about its direction, which can be challenging.

Share good practice People who work in HR in the voluntary sector are very open and responsive, and they're prepared to share what they have learned. This really helps to make the most of limited resources. Networking is invaluable.

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