A tale of resiliency: Thinking innovatively about relationships

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When your nonprofit organization is based in a remote region, your people face competitive offers from other employers, and you face constant turnover, how do you maintain a resilient, strong team?

According to the Conseil de développement économique des Territoires du Nord-Ouest, it all comes down to thinking innovatively about relationships.

Retention challenges

Based in Yellowknife, CDETNO — a team of eight employees and one executive director — has experienced an average turnover rate over the last three years of 100%.

This is due to two main reasons.

First, the territorial government and local diamond mining industry can pay generously for employees compared to the nonprofit sector – in fact, they can offer a salary difference of about $25,000. Moreover, research shows many people who move to the Northwest Territories for employment stay only 3-6 years. CDETNO recruits employees from across Canada, many of whom eventually return to their home provinces.

Innovation in HR management

CDETNO frequently applies innovative thinking to improving employees’ work experience and — hopefully — retention. This comes in the way of consistent relationship-building, fostering connection amongst employees, as well as between employees and management.

For example, CDETNO believes in fully welcoming new employees from day one. During an employee’s first week, executive director Antoine Gagnon clears his schedule as much as possible to meet with them — often for several hours over multiple days.

“When your see your teammates coming in one-by-one, making you feel welcome, this doesn’t just help with integration but inclusion,” says Nicolas Carrière, CDETNO coordinator of the Local Immigration Partnership.

Then, every few months, Antoine will meet with employees to discuss individual and organizational priorities and goals. “I ask them how I can help them do a better job to achieve their goals. ‘How can I keep you here?’ ‘What could I do to make you stay here longer?’” If the employee wants training, CDETNO will work to make it happen.

Taking it outside the office

CDETNO also believes spending time together outside work makes for a stronger team.

The organization is committed to two team-building activities annually.

Last December, they went dog sledding – something they all enjoyed, that many had never done before.

Antoine often selects activities to help employees in their day-to-day roles. “I try to choose tourism operators we work with and recommend,” he explains.

For example, now employees can talk to clients in their own words about the dog sledding experience. “It makes sense to use our funds on activities like this because not only is it a way to thank our employees, but it also enables them to better serve our clients,” says Antoine.

The “true cost” of HR innovation in nonprofit

Antoine and Nicolas believe CDETNO is an example of resilience in the nonprofit sector — that it’s possible to be innovative in HR, while also negotiating various financial and organizational challenges.

“Our message to nonprofits is this: having a leader who values innovation and who can initiate change is a key component to establishing good practices,” says Nicolas. “These things ultimately make a difference in your employees’ perspectives and their capabilities.”

This article originally appeared on the Community Foundations of Canada website and is reprinted with permission.

This nonprofit HR innovation story series is made possible thanks to a partnership between Community Foundations of Canada, HRcouncil.ca and family foundation Ignite NPS. Together we are supporting Canada’s nonprofit sector by highlighting stories of HR innovation and promising practices taking place in community organizations across the country.

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