People Management: Coaching session

Q: I overheard a staff member telling a friend how awful the organisation is. What should I do about it?

A: Yes, this is a problem. Employees and volunteers can be an organisation's most influential and powerful communicators. They can be powerful ambassadors, or your most dangerous detractors.

The reputation of an organisation is built up in many different ways, but what people say about you is important. It can affect your ability to campaign or fundraise. It can hinder your ability to attract volunteers.

The issue for you is whether this is an isolated incident. Is this just a discontented and disruptive staff member who ought to be moved on? Or do you think there are other members of staff who would say similar things to their friends and family? Do you know what your volunteers say about you?

Do you have an effective employee and volunteer communication strategy?

Your strategy needs to connect and involve. Larger organisations often have much to learn from smaller ones. In our sector, small organisations are often the most likely to have effective involvement strategies because they're seeing the staff and volunteers as people rather than a 'human resource'. Larger organisations find it much more difficult, believing that communication is simply the dissemination of notes from the management meeting.

Some organisations undertake regular employee surveys that gauge views on the organisation and what it is like to work for. More organisations should also do this for volunteers.

You also need professional HR systems that support staff, promote talent, encourage diversity and root out incompetence.

I suggest you take some time to check out the real opinion leaders among your staff and discover how they perceive the organisation. These will be people at many different levels - a trusted PA, a volunteer manager, the receptionist or the fundraising consultant.

Use this overheard conversation as a warning to check out whether things are OK. And if they are, and this is just a stroppy and unhelpful staff member, then do show them that their future lies in an alternative career.

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send questions to

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