Finding and recruiting high quality staff is something that social ventures can struggle with. But this was not the case for UnLtd award winner John Bishop, founder of Evolve a social enterprise with 100 staff members and growing.
'Saying "That doesn't work for me because I'm a social enterprise is a cop out," says John Bishop, 'You're a business first and foremost'. It's a message in contrast to other leading lights in the social sector, but a potentially important one. A recent Social Enterprise UK (SE UK) report suggested that 47% of social ventures are looking to employ more staff in the next 12 months.
John established Evolve in 2003. A social enterprise on a mission to improve children's health, wellbeing and educational attainment. They recruit Health Mentors from local communities to work in schools. The Health Mentors build a rapport with children and use that rapport to run a range of different activities from mentoring workshops to physical activity sessions.
In 2015, Evolve took part in Big Venture Challenge. A 12-month programme to find and support social entrepreneurs to raise investment to grow their impact.
Having fulltime staff was an important step for Evolve. It benefitted the children they worked with, offering more consistent services and led staff members to develop a better rapport with children.
It also helped Evolve to recruit. 'The reason it works so effectively is because financially we offer careers not jobs', says John, 'That helps us to step up the quality of our recruitment.'
'People's expectations of the role get a lot higher because it's a full-time job' says John. But the expectations are increased on both sides.
Evolve's induction and training programme can be hugely valuable to new recruits looking to develop skills, but it's not for everyone. It's a nine month training programme, a full induction and enrolment on a bespoke level-four university course.
Making applicants aware of this is key, says John and has its commercial benefits – ‘we don’t mind applicants dropping out, that’s brilliant, it means we don’t waste time at a later stage with them’.
‘When growing fast, we learnt that you’ve got to do it strategically’
With 13 years of experience, a key lesson that Evolve learned was taking on staff is about more than just finding the best and brightest. Recruiting organisations need to be prepared to provide technical support, training and guidance to new staff.
‘A couple of years ago we had a situation where we took on 20 staff all at one time, and we just weren’t as ready for this as we could have been’
For Evolve, times have changed. Last September they took on 23 full-time staff this time with an established network and support system in place. Taking on new staff efficiently means they are now in a much better place to scale.
Career development and understanding what people want
Taking on full-time staff required John’s team to understand what their staff wanted to do with their lives and importantly why they wanted to work with Evolve.
According to John, some staff members are committed to Evolve for the foreseeable future – ‘I’m not saying that working with us is all they want to do, but they’re happy in their role and they see their long term future with us’.
Others however are looking to use Evolve as a stepping stone to teaching or just because they want a break from their studies. Accepting this and realising these staff were still of equal value has been important.
‘We work with them and if they want to get into a specific field or sector we try and give them the experience that will help them.’
For John, that means not only ensuring that Evolve understands which careers individual staff members want, but also supports them to achieve that goal. This ranges from recommending teaching training programmes, to giving leadership opportunities to younger staff members.
‘If you want loads of money, if you want a job in sunny weather, if you want easy hours and an easy life, don’t apply here’. That’s from one of Evolve’s recruitment campaign. The refreshing honesty is part of the recruitment process, according to John.
In a competitive market trying to match on salary is unrealistic for SMEs (small or medium-sized enterprises). For John that’s not necessarily a problem. ‘We focus our recruitment efforts on a different type of person. Someone more community-minded than financially driven’.
John takes transparency in recruiting seriously – ‘It’s just about integrity and authenticity’. To get the best equipped staff you need to be honest about the role, the salary and your organisation’s aims.
Every new applicant to Evolve is obliged to attend an hour-long, “warts-and-all”, Q&A session. Current staff are available for coffee and informal conversations and applicants can get a better understanding of Evolve, social ventures and the role.
John believes wasting time, effort and resources on applicants and recruits that did not fully understand the position is simply not worth it.
Don’t hide behind being a social enterprise
John doesn’t see a difference between his social venture and any other SME. ‘I see us in the private sector. We are a limited company that trade our services directly with clients’.
And as a part of the private sector, social ventures need to compete with corporate recruiters. ‘You’ve got to raise yourself to the same standard as any corporate business out there. What you can match large employers on, you must match them on – when it comes to professional interviews, presentations, good communication and organisation.’
In a world where increasing numbers of recent graduates are motivated by more than salary, social enterprises can compete with large corporates in areas like company culture and job fulfilment. It's a potentially bright future for social ventures who are looking to recruit, and an exciting time for motivated people looking to make an impact.
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