Bridging Boundaries: The NGO HR Professional


Bridging Boundaries: The NGO HR Professional

Chris Ernst leading a session on “Boundary Spanning Leadership” at the LINGOs Forum in Seattle in September.

By Tom Dente

President and CEO

As long-standing members may recall, InsideNGO began as two predecessor organizations: the Association for PVO Financial Managers and the Personnel Co-op. The Personnel Co-op was launched in 1980 to focus on meeting the needs of the traditional HR professional in the INGO sector “with programs, information, and networking opportunities that promote professional growth and enhance contributions and effectiveness in their organizations.”

Since those early days, the complexity and volatility of our operating environments, along with organizational structures combining global reach and local depth have changed the role of human resources. A vibrant HR community has guided InsideNGO’s focus on this essential capability with its important mission: how do organizations globally engage the talented people at all levels needed to scale and sustain impact?

In our complex development environment, boundaries often emerge. At the LINGOs Global Forum in September, Chris Ernst, the co-author of Boundary Spanning Leadership, and current Global Head of Learning, Leadership and Organizational Development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, highlighted the need to collaborate across multiple internal and external boundaries during times of change. The five boundaries he cited include working within vertical silos, horizontally across functions, with external stakeholders and partners, with diverse demographic groups, and across geographic regions and locations. In many ways, HR serves as the ultimate bridge across these organizational and environmental boundaries. With effective strategies and efficient employee processes, HR professionals help their organizations span these boundaries to attract, develop, deploy, and engage increasingly diverse global talent.

In bridging these boundaries, the INGO HR function has continued to evolve beyond traditional approaches and incorporate new perspectives from related disciplines to address broader issues and meet new needs:

  • Strategy—What are the key environmental issues facing the organization? What are the implications of a more dynamic and adaptive NGO strategy? How can new sources of talent and the workforce of the future enable success?
  • Data and Information—What are the key analytics across the full employee lifecycle from recruiting to training, development, engagement, and performance? What practices and approaches are working well to support impact? What needs to change?
  • Risk, Compliance, and Legal—How can the organization best meet diverse and changing global workforce requirements across multiple locations? How can potential risks be identified and mitigated? How can essential responsibilities in areas such as duty of care be supported in an effective and efficient manner?
  • Marketing and Communications—How can the organization enhance its ‘employer brand’ to attract talent and increasingly segment external talent markets to gain future experts and leaders from across multiple sectors? How can the organization strengthen the unique culture(s) that enables its success?

In our changing sector, addressing these issues and others, will be increasingly prominent as HR continues to enable the success of the talented NGO professionals of the future. As we look ahead, InsideNGO’s long-standing HR professional community will continue to play its essential role: sharing insights and practices, and developing common solutions and strategies that enable a dynamic NGO sector to adapt and thrive.


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