Combining Change Management And Talent To Manage Turnover In Nonprofits
Talent Published Date, 2023

Combining Change Management And Talent To Manage Turnover In Nonprofits

Created By: Kate Foster Vishniakova
September 27, 2023

Two of the top challenges nonprofits have been tackling in 2023 are retaining top talent and a facing high rate of staff turnover. Nonprofits often have little to no redundancies in their organizations, with employees at all levels “wearing many hats” to get the job done. When a top performer leaves, it can significantly alter the workflow and culture of the organization, while simultaneously putting stress on the team to fill that void.

To understand these challenges, let’s examine the overlap between talent and change management and address how nonprofit organizations could use change management theories to retain top talent and decrease rates of turnover.

Experts in the change management field have emphasized the importance of a people-centric approach because they have noticed the one critical asset every organization possesses: its people. Despite this, leaders tend to focus more on systems, processes, and outcomes, which can result in a deprioritization of the people actually doing the work at hand. In fact, a majority (65%) of respondents surveyed in Nonprofit HR’s Talent Management Priorities Survey said their organizations do not have a formal talent management strategy or plan that will guide their work in 2023, with 9% unsure if their organizations have a plan or not. 

Below are several elements of change identified throughout various change management theories to help your nonprofit organization manage turnover with a focus on talent:

Change is emotional. Understand what your employees are experiencing internally.

The Kübler-Ross Change Curve® displays the emotional journey a person will go through during moments of change. Mirroring the 5 Stages of Grief®, the Curve’s stages are: Shock, Denial, Frustration, Depression, Experiment, Decision, and Integration. For example, while one team member may linger in denial and frustration over an employee’s departure, another may move quickly toward integrating adjustments to the staffing structure and be more accepting of change. Knowing where your employees affected by the turnover live on this curve, and approaching communications with empathy, will aid in how leadership moves forward with effective change.

Change is audible. Ensure open lines of communication between all levels for full transparency.

Taking a look at Kurt Lewin’s Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze model may be useful in exploring the importance of open dialogue during moments of change, and particularly in avoiding miscommunication. As noted, one of the most important keys to the middle “change” stage is communication. Team members may feel unstable when a colleague leaves, which may lead to rumors and gossip that decrease team morale. If this goes unaddressed, it could develop into a retention issue, causing even more team members to depart.

It’s important that leadership talk openly with their staff about the situation at hand and the plan going forward. But open communication goes beyond additional chat channels, device connectivity, and an All Staff update email. It lives within a culture of knowledge sharing. People want to know how this change will affect them, their work, and their department directly, and what part they will play in the transition.

Before changes are solidified in the “refreeze” stage, such as onboarding a new hire, it’s important that all team members are kept in the loop with next steps. One simple example of this may be to openly acknowledge and reward the extra effort individuals are putting in to keep the work moving forward.

Change is power. Invest in your people managers to promote advocates for change.

People managers play a pivotal role in managing change with their teams. The Prosci ADKAR Model®, which stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement, hones in on an individual’s journey through change, and how that experience impacts organizational change as a whole. Investing in change management training for your people managers will arm them with the necessary tools and knowledge to be able to navigate change on an individual level for their reports.

The “desire” outcome of this model is particularly important when managing change because it involves gaining buy-in from team members. In the case of turnover, team dynamics and employees’ responsibilities may need to shift. Successfully gaining buy-in from each team member will not only support the implementation of change but also provide the opportunity for everyone on the team to grow stronger together.

Change is ongoing. Analyze the duties of the vacant position and the skillsets of your team to first determine any necessary role or departmental changes, and then “institute the change”.

Dr. John Kotter is known for the 8 Steps for Leading Change. The final step, “institute change,” touches on the importance of changing habits to accommodate and reinforce future changes in workflow. Before a decision is made on how to fill a gap in your organization’s workforce, leadership could take this time to analyze why the employee left and review the skillsets of the entire team. If changes seem necessary, this allows the opportunity for the job description or reporting structure to be adjusted accordingly. Taking this time to answer questions of why turnover happened in the first place may help in retaining future employees in the role and setting the department up for success.

Managing turnover operates at the intersection of talent and change management. Given that all departments face change, Orr Group’s team of experts is often on the frontlines of navigating change within our clients’ organizations. We have found that the ideal approach to managing change is one that cares for both the well-being of employees and the organization as a business.  

If your nonprofit organization is dealing with a high turnover rate, our team of Talent experts is ready to help you face the uncertainty of change and chart a confident way forward. Get in touch to learn more about our talent solutions.

Kate Foster Vishniakova is an Associate Director of Talent at Orr Group. Kate focuses on Outsourced Human Resources, Hiring Support, and Recruitment service lines, executing HR administration and hiring strategies catered to each client’s unique culture.

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