The costly employee exits

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The issue

Some NGOs are victims of malicious anonymous emails that are usually originated by some existing or former disgruntled employees. This year alone, our firm, Summit Consulting Ltd, has been visited by over 20 executives from different NGOs seeking for help investigate in determining the possible sources of malicious anonymous emails being sent to various key NGO stakeholders specifically donors, partners, State House, Ministry of Labor and other government institutions.

In most of the cases, the complaints are about unfair remuneration, favoritism, racism allegations and similar complaints about poor working conditions especially NGOs with expatriate staff at the helm. The writers often seek for redress from Government. But also, their writing insinuates alarming levels of wastage and resource abuse seeking the donors to suspend funding or terminate it altogether.

In about five of the cases reported, terminated employees had written to State House, Ministry of Labor and the Donors as whistleblowers. This poses big challenges since such persons are protected by the Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2011 laws of Uganda even if their allegations are mere lies. In that case, it is difficult to bring the suspects to account even if the investigations established facts of false positives.

Below I help explore what you can do to prevent your NGO from being a victim of malicious anonymous emails that have potential to undermine the going concern of your projects. Remember donor funding hate anonymous threating allegations. In most of the cases, they act before giving you the opportunity to tell your side of the story.

What causes it

Our analysis and review of recruitment processes in over 10 NGOs have revealed that there is generally poor governance of the human resource function, with several gaps in the recruitment, supervision and management of the exit of staff.

On entry, you need to keep evidence of a free and fair process – including evidence of having advertised for the vacant position internally via a group mail or noticeboard and externally on the company’s website, newspaper or affiliate groups like to an accountancy body for a vacancy of an accountant. That way, the issues of bias may not arise as the vacancy opportunity was properly communicated. Problems arise where a vacancy is filled by head hunting before even all staff had been told of the opportunity. When a new hire comes, people get surprised especially the existing staff who think they would have applied for the position. That becomes a source of disgruntlement.

The NGOs in which we undertook detailed HR review, we noted that staff are given generic job descriptions which do not define specific targets with defined deliverables and timelines that they are expected to deliver. Many NGOs lack clear scorecards against which individual and team performance is monitored. Even the project specific M&E frameworks in place, they are not clear in terms of specific interventions, activities, costs, timelines and responsibilities and outcomes expected. Usually, staff performance review is done after 12 months, in which case it is difficult to create responsibility accounting discipline.

The main acceptable reasons for forced staff exists are (1) end of contract period, (2) end of project they were specifically engaged to undertake; and (3) poor performance and (4) a record of indiscipline. In many case, most NGOs lack these. The contracts are ‘generously’ written and many prefer to the staff around even when projects for which they were recruited end, Thereafter, terminating a staff becomes difficult.

The solution

  1. Make sure for each vacant position you communicate and keep a record that proves the fact.
  2. Write clear contracts that specify exit terms – upon closure of the project for which you have been recruited, expiry of your contract period, poor performance and indiscipline. Make sure you conduct on-going performance review. It is advisable to undertake monthly performance reviews – require each staff to provide in writing to the immediate supervisor:
  1. a clear performance report showing actual vs targets of the previous month.
  2. a clear monthly targets and priorities that are aligned to the supervisors monthly and annual targets that together are linked to strategic focus
  3. a monthly workplan with budget estimates on how the set targets for the coming month will be attained

such a system provides a discipline of attention to results and performance. Any gaps are identified instantly and rectified.

3. Implement effective cyber security strategy to monitor the entire company network for effective network visibility and reputation risk management. The automated solution is able to provide alerts in case any staff sends out an email containing some words listed as “sensitive” in which case management gets to review the email before it actually leaves the network.

4. NGOs must also implement effective IT security policies and procedures to regulate use of computers, emails, thumb drives and other data transfer gadgets including policies over BYOD – bring your own devices.

To manage the risk fully, there is need to conduct independent NGO audit to assess governance, IT security, and processes so that a custom solution may be advised. You are free to contact Summit Consulting Ltd for such solutions.


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