Charity managers make pivotal choices in strategy, finance or services, but there is one type of decision that has an even greater impact: recruitment.
Nothing succeeds like having the right kind of talent around you: surround yourself with people who have the right experience and character and you won’t go far wrong.
Equally, there is nothing worse than finding out that you recruited the wrong person to a key role. Often this is not about their experience, which is easier to ascertain at interview. The more common misfit relates to character and values, which leads to no end of difficulty.
During an eventful charity career I have experienced everything from a front-page tabloid PR crisis to being screamed at by a tantrum-prone socialite and being shot at overseas. But for sheer stress, managing hostile staff with the wrong values tops the lot.
Micro managers, silo workers, rebels without a cause, credit stealers, axe grinders, bruisers, backstabbers: they are all interpersonal wrecking-balls who will demolish any harmony your team had.
Managing underperformance is not swift, and for soft skills it can be like nailing jelly to the ceiling. You can’t give other people a running commentary on it either, so it will look to demoralised staff as though you are ignoring the problem. During that time some of them might leave.
There is no such thing as a foolproof recruitment process, but one thing is certain: we all need to spend more time on it.
At Julia’s House we now spend much more time testing character and values, exploring emotional intelligence and devising questions based on it.
For example, how do the candidates actively seek and use feedback about themselves or their team’s service? People with good EI have the self-awareness to know that they can always improve and the motivation to find out how.
Ask about their hobbies and interests: taking unheralded roles that involve organising and motivating people in a shared endeavour is another good sign of EI.
Personality profiling tools are a good investment, but only if the panel looks carefully enough through the results. In the wrong hands they are pointless.
It is worth spending even more time selecting for fundraising management roles, because fundraisers persuade people for a living. Experienced fundraisers will be much more adept at making a good impression than, say, finance or programme staff.
At an already well-run charity, you want people who bring evolution, not revolution – architects and builders, not demolition experts. Listen for collegiate, not autonomous language. Seek measurable progress: the difference a candidate made compared with before, not just a list of their responsibilities.
Ask how they brought about that change, and listen for references to teamwork and whether they balanced short-term results with investing in longer-term relationships.
For senior management roles, give the people who report into the role a chance to meet each candidate and relay their thoughts.
Finally, don’t forget to ask the impressions of your administrator or receptionist who booked the candidates’ interviews or greeted them on the day. People show their true colours when they don’t think the boss is watching.
Martin Edwards is chief executive of Julia’s House, which runs children's hospices in Wiltshire and Dorset