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Developing a skills-based approach to employer supported volunteering

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National Grid share their experiences of developing an employer supported volunteering programme for their staff which is clearly linked to personal development

Background

National Grid is an international electricity and gas company operating in the UK and US. In the UK, our role is to connect millions of people safely, reliably and efficiently to the energy they use every day.

Each year, thousands of National Grid’s employees volunteer in communities across the UK and US. Sharing our time and skills is one of the best ways we feel we can support the communities where we live, work and operate.

Volunteering benefits the community and is good for business too. By getting involved in community action, colleagues can develop new skills and broaden their experience and networks.

The issues we faced

We wanted to develop an approach to employer supported volunteering that created shared value for individual employees, the community and our business.

We also wanted to embed our volunteering programmes more systematically into our HR development programmes and thereby link skills-based volunteering more directly to employee personal development.

The actions we took

Our corporate responsibility and citizenship team worked with HR to jointly develop a new approach to skills-based volunteering. We also had support from Volunteering Matters, a volunteering broker.

Together we devised a carefully defined list of skills-based volunteering opportunities, which we aligned to National Grid’s leadership qualities and business skills.

Skills-based volunteering now forms part of our training and development strategy, and the experiential learning it offers is a key tool within our HR development process.

Our volunteering programmes support the 70:20:10 model, which says that:

  • 70% of what we learn is a result of our experiences – dealing with challenges, problems and making the most of day-to-day opportunities in the workplace
  • 20% of what we learn is a result of our learning from others – action learning sets, coaching and mentoring
  • 10% of what we learn is a result of traditional classroom-based training.

 

To facilitate this new approach, we developed an interactive Community Action and Skills Hub (CASH) to help our employees navigate our employer supported volunteering opportunities based on the particular skills they want to develop, or a particular community organisation or charity that they wish to support.

We also launched a brand new programme as part of this new approach called Good Leaders, which directly links to employee personal development.

Good Leaders is an opportunity for leaders at National Grid to volunteer to work with CEOs, trustees and management at not-for-profit organisations for a fixed period to offer strategic and commercial advice on specific challenges they are facing. 

In turn, the volunteers are learning and working in a new non-commercial environment, which enhances their own skill set.

Positive outcomes

The Good Leaders programme was initially piloted with managers from our Accelerated Development Programme.

The feedback from the charities involved in the pilot was overwhelmingly positive. In addition, all the volunteers from the pilot reflected that they had added value to the organisations, and that personal and professional development had taken place.

Following the success of the pilot, the skills sharing opportunities are now available to all employees.

Since 2014, we have had 50 employees matched as Good Leaders to 38 different charities. During 2016/17 our aim is to match a further 40 employees with charities in the UK to share their skills.

An employee’s experiences on the Good Leaders programme

Andy Cruise, National Contracts Manager at National Grid, was matched with Northleigh House School to look at how to secure its long-term financial future. Describing his experience, Andy said:

“I found the experience hugely beneficial … sometimes within organisations where we work and are comfortable, we can default into standard ways of working and not always be alive to the dynamic personalities we are interacting with. Working with Viv and her teams has really helped me to think much more about tuning into individuals’ needs and preferences when engaging others.”

Viv Morgan, Chair of Trustees at the school where Andy volunteered, said:

“The project is brilliant, so exciting. Andy has made possibilities that I could not have thought of. He has been excellent to open other lines of thinking and has lots of new ideas, which are just what we need. It is still work in progress so more to come.”

Talking about the impact of volunteering on Andy’s professional development, his boss Zac Richardson, Head of Operational Support, Electricity Transmission Asset Management, said:

“Andy’s development plan includes working to flex his approach and influencing styles. The experience of working with Northleigh House School provided him with a great opportunity to learn ‘on the job’ and in an unfamiliar environment where these skills are very important. … Andy now has the opportunity to take this learning and translate this to support his career within National Grid.”

Negative outcomes

During the pilot, some of the charities and the company volunteers struggled with capacity and commitment issues.

For example, for some company volunteers it was a challenge to balance their day jobs with the demands of the project as well as fit in other development courses they were expected to attend.

At some of the charities, changes in personnel and prolonged absences led to a lack of continuity and leadership to drive the projects forward.

Some of the projects were also not directly aligned to the personal development needs of the volunteers.

Lessons learnt

  • Ensure your corporate responsibility team works in partnership with your HR team with the support of expert volunteering brokers.
  • Ensure that both parties (charity and volunteer) are clear on what is expected from them at the outset: the project deliverables, level of commitment and timescales. Set this out in an agreed project scope.
  • Ensure that the project matches the personal skills and development needs of the volunteer.  
  • Promote volunteering in your organisation as a valuable tool in providing a source of ‘experiential’ learning based on the 70/20/10 approach to development.
  • Volunteering should always be voluntary, even if it is offered as a component of a management development programme. Our Good Leaders programme is now an elective part of our management development programme.
  • Offer skills sharing volunteering opportunities to all your employees as part of their own personal development planning.

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Page last edited Jun 06, 2016

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