Strategic Thinking and Volunteering for Senior Manager

Interview with Judith Elliott

Judith Elliott is a People Management expert , Director of elconsulting Cambridge Ltd and co-founder of cakeandhr, a networking group for HR Professionals. She shared an interesting and practical idea on benefits for senior managers from volunteering in response to a recent ML&C blog post, and we asked her to tell us more …

How do you gain the skills and experience needed to move to a Directorship role without having sat on a Board of Directors? As an HR Manager, your most talented mid-senior managers are thinking about this. If you’re invested in retaining your staff and looking after your people, you need to think about it too.

Judith has an unusual suggestion: find a charity Board role that suits the individual’s skills and support your Senior Manager to spend 2-3 days per month as a Non-Executive Director. Or arrange for them to lead a specific project with a measurable deliverable for the charity organisation.

Benefits of charity Non-Exec Director roles

By doing this well everyone benefits, not least your organisation, making this an effective and sustainable strategy for developing senior managers.

Judith experienced this first hand when she joined a charity as a Non-Exec Director to advise them on HR. Specialists in some disciplines (for example, HR and Legal) don’t always see how valuable their skills are. Putting them in a live situation in an Exec role lets them see, live and breathe the difference they can make.

There’s an art to realising the development benefits

Judith’s advice is to approach this thoughtfully. She says, “There’s an art to setting this up right”.

She draws on a wealth of valuable experience as an HR & Learning Development specialist and as a non-Exec Director herself, and observes that the volunteering approach to development only works well when there’s a good match for all participants.

In short, it’s not a quick fix for your people development strategy to call round a few local charities. You need to lay the groundwork in at least four different ways.

  1. Build your network of charity and third sector contacts. You need to understand the charities in your local area, those already on the Board and what kind of expertise they most need, or you run the risk of mis-matching people and opportunities.

  2. Understand your people and their aspirations as individuals: it’s not one size fits all. Also, someone may be a great fit, yet held back by imposter syndrome. What support will help?

  3. There’s no guarantee the Charity will appoint your proposed employee – how will you support them to make a successful application?

  4. Know what your organisation can offer. Most Non-Exec roles are 2-3 days per month and it’s relatively easy to accommodate, but you must commit to making it possible.

How it might work in practice

Three examples below from Judith outline how this might work in practice.

For a rising star in your management team: if you can select a good Board run by an experienced chair, that manager will learn how to behave in Board meetings; what’s expected of them as a strategic thinker and how to challenge other Board members and reach the best solutions.

For a good senior manager who is still in a very operational phase of their career: find them a role that plays to their technical strengths (e.g. marketing, legal) where they’ll have oversight for a specific project that needs their skills, with specific deliverables and outcomes.

For a manager who needs to learn to coach and delegate: finding a role for them as a mentor with a charity (Judith’s example is with a charity supporting vulnerable young adults). Training will be provided and the manager gets to see the difference they’re making, which will be great for their confidence.

We’d like to offer a big thank you to Judith for sharing her insight with us – if you’ve found this blog useful please share it!