Last week I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful gathering at the Salzburg Global Seminar – bringing together representatives from over 30 foundations from around the world to talk about talent and people in the philanthropic sector.  

We had fascinating conversations with wonderfully diverse perspectives from every corner of the globe and it left me mulling over how we think about the future of work, and changing workplaces in different sectors, and whether the conversation needs to be different. 

In these, the early years of the 100% Human at Work initiative, we’ve primarily talked to the business community, but perhaps now is the time to engage more across sectors to collaborate, develop joint solutions, and learn from one another.

Virgin Unite, The B Team, 100% Human

An overarching theme of the discussions was courage. I found this framing particularly relevant when thinking about the work we are trying to do to drive change, test new ideas and build a movement. We don’t know all of the answers about what the future might bring, and it takes courage to be the first, to be breaking new ground, and to not be afraid to fail and be disruptive.

We also talked about having the courage to follow, and how the first followers can often be the key to building a movement – take a look at this brilliant TED talk for a beautiful take on building a movement. So, are philanthropic foundations able to be courageous, agile and open to disruptive ideas and innovation? Are they different from commercial organisations when thinking about their teams and testing new ways of working? The answer we seemed to come to was, yes and no.

Many of the foundations in the room have a rich and deep history with decisions about their work made by a board or senior leadership team often resistant to change. Yet many organisations are constantly evolving and improving the way that they work. I came away feeling that there is a lot we can learn from the corporate sector and a lot we can share going forward.

We can learn about leading teams for whom purpose is a key part of their roles and their lives. We talked about how organisations might hire someone for a ‘job’ but that employees often don’t stay because of the job, but because of the impact they’re making.

We talked about millennials, their desire to have purpose in their work, and how this desire translates as much to work in the corporate sector as the charity sector. We see so many of the 100% Human at Work Network members, who have built their organisations around the idea of purpose, come from the corporate world.

There was a big focus on moving beyond traditional recruitment metrics, looking beyond the MBA applicant, to hiring for attitude and potential and then training for skill.

This led to the idea (one which wasn’t broadly embraced I confess) of doing away with job descriptions. The idea being that we bring people on board to achieve something and that there might be different ways to do that, requiring different people with different skills.  Whilst it didn’t gain traction in this setting, I found myself holding on to it as a potential spark for the future.

Virgin Unite, The B Team, 100% Human

Below are a few of the more interesting thoughts and ideas I picked up that will help us take the conversation forward:

  • As jobs change future ones may focus more on human skills. When looking for talent perhaps we need to focus less on professional experience and more on life stories.
  • There was a big focus on moving beyond traditional recruitment metrics, looking beyond the MBA applicant, to hiring for attitude and potential and then training for skill.
  • I also loved the idea of not necessarily being blind to applicants who aren’t passionate about what you do as an organisation (again this was certainly not a universal opinion). There is a healthy role for sceptics who bring in different views and perspectives, for people who might test the perceived wisdom of an organisation.

Finally, I came away with a very strong sense of humility and humour. This group of people had given over to service and focus on how to achieve excellence. Whilst generally in the world there is urgency for disruption and change, this is not necessarily being seen in the world of philanthropy. This was therefore an inspiring group who want to collaborate to find those disruptive voices. Whilst for profit models won’t always be the right fit for organisations formed with the purpose of improving society, there seems to be huge opportunity for learning across sectors.

I came away thinking about how we develop courageous, disruptive and moral leaders and about how we create a broader movement that will build 100% Human organisations – organisations able to look outward from their own walls, with the ability to talk outside their own bubble, and be role models for leading change.