Case studies

War Child

27 Sep 2017 By Hayley Kirton

Why supporting busy managers was key to retaining top talent at a global charity

War children

The problem

Although War Child has existed since 1993, it has recently gone through a growth spurt and aspires to keep growing. The charity, which has 325 employees globally, focuses on supporting people in areas affected by conflicts. It directly helped 126,000 children, young people and adults in 2016, and aims to reach 260,000 by 2019.

But the organisation was struggling to shake its start-up roots. When she joined in May last year, head of people and achievement Andrea Vogel was faced with a team of line managers who had varying degrees of experience – in locations everywhere from the UK to “extremely stressful environments” such as Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan.

Some busy managers didn’t understand the value of staff development, says Vogel. “They told me: ‘I don’t have time to coach my staff. I don’t have time to teach them. I don’t even have time to recruit them, so just send me somebody who can hit the ground running.’”

The solution

Vogel and her five-strong team set up a seven-month training programme focusing on leadership, which kicked off in December 2016. It consisted of a series of bite-sized workshops, spaced about six weeks apart, covering topics such as how to delegate and how to create trust within a team. The 18 managers who took part were encouraged to take what they had learned back to their staff and set themselves regular challenges. “The change had to happen over a period of time,” says Vogel. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”

The charity created its own version of 15-minute TED Talks – nicknamed Value Added Talks or VATalks for short – with the most recent one focusing on why conflict in the workplace can be a good thing.

Vogel also introduced practices she hopes will give line managers sufficient guidance, as well as the flexibility to take decisions into their own hands. “It has taken a lot of time and patience, and building relationships and trust with people, showing them the value of having a longer-term vision of investing in people,” she says.

The outcome

Since the leadership training ended, Vogel says she has seen the charity go from an organisation where all the power sat with the senior management team, to one where decisions are made by people who are closer to its programmes.

She also notes that the culture at the charity has improved, with staff becoming more comfortable voicing their concerns and standing up for their career development, with junior managers and non-managerial staff due to embark on training later this year, too.

Employee turnover has dropped dramatically, from around 50-60 per cent to 30 per cent. “I think that’s a direct result of people feeling much more valued and being invested in,” Vogel says. “People now have the impression that there is a future for them at War Child.”

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