A new way to learn PMD Pro

A guest post by John Cropper, Director of Capacity Building Solutions

How do you help people doing good to do it better? This has always been one of the main challenges with training NGOs in project management. Most NGO staff working on projects work long days and often long nights. They spend a lot of time in communities, on the road and in difficult and often hard to access locations. In addition, they often have to respond to multiple and often unpredictable demands ranging from humanitarian crises to unplanned visits from HQ or donors. It is like juggling but with an ever varying number of balls in the air at the same time.

This is hardly an ideal environment for learning: the lack of time, varying locations and constant workload. It also adds to the cost of training as you need to bring everyone together, rent a venue, pay for hotels and per diems. Plus, everyone has to put off working for a week which can be a challenge for some. In other words, training in project management can make schedules worse instead of better!

All of these barriers may restrict training opportunities for some people who need it the most. The many difficulties and costs can sometimes limit an NGO’s ability to train many of its field staff and partner organisations.

Wrestling with this problem for a long time led to us creating a completely new approach to learning and training: PMD Pro Flex. It is almost completely self-paced so you can learn when and where you want to – all you need is an internet connection. PMD Pro Flex is also mobile ready, so you don’t need to access it via a laptop. You’ll use videos, eLearning, reading, assignments and interactions with other participants and a facilitator to develop your project management skills. This flexibility and approach is why we have called it PMD Pro Flex!

There is also flexibility about how quickly you can finish. The course encourages you to progress by giving you points for every task you complete. You’ll also earn points by commenting and sharing. The quicker you earn points, the sooner you can finish!

I believe that this approach to learning offers organizations the opportunity to train those who are working and supporting their projects: the project universe. Why restrict learning to one or two? It is now easier and a lot more cost effective to really develop a critical mass of project management expertise and leverage this to improve project delivery.

Click here to learn more about PMD Pro Flex and find out when the next intakes are happening.



Five trends transforming the employee experience at INGOs

Trendy and arguably even “shiny object” HR policies in the private sector, especially tech firms, grab a lot of headlines. So, when I read this blog post about how “HR Mavericks” were abolishing HR departments and replacing them with an Employee Experience department, I wanted to know what some of the INGOs’ more innovative HR leaders thought about the concept. Rest assured there is a lot going on to transform HR in our sector, with a focus on making sure that the right people are in place at the right time and aligned with the mission and values to be effective from day one.

But employee experience still starts with the basics

The buzz in the private sector may be all about the death of the traditional HR department. Yet even in our sector, changes are afoot. Nigel Pont, Chief People and Strategy Officer at Mercy Corps is not a lifelong HR veteran. He joins his role after serving in the field as the Regional Director for Mercy Corps’ Middle East program. Roger Craig, Chief Human Resource Officer at The Asia Foundation prefers the term “Talent Management” to “Human Resources”, despite having built a long and successful HR career in both the private and NGO sectors. He acknowledges that HR in our sector struggles with ensuring that we are complying with the increasing requirements from donors and governments, which require a traditional and transactional approach. When in fact, the changes in staffing and program objectives require HR leaders to more focused on  innovation and strategic initiatives.
What everyone still seems to agree on is that you have to get the basics right. “We have to get the bread and butter right—the transactional stuff; if we can’t pull off smooth benefits and payroll, we can’t even begin to focus on the other elements of the employee experience,” says Shari Stier, VP of Human Resources at PACT. For her, the employee experience starts with and is grounded in the basics, no matter how out-of-the-box you want to be with other elements of the experience. Tami Ward-Dahl, VP of Human Resources and Administration at the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF) believes that getting the fundamentals right leads to freeing up more space to contribute in other areas. “You have to do the basics really well so that leaders in the organization are coming to you to help with the other stuff—the strategic business partnering.”

At Mercy Corps, the focus is elevating HR from a more transactional function to being a strategic partner at the heart of the organization. This is clearly evidenced by Nigel Pont and his team’s role in debating new programs and priorities to ensure that the people and talent side of the equation are considered from day one.

Yet, time to execution is driving a major re-think

Donors and community expectations about project timelines keep accelerating; they want immediate results. Across the board, INGOs no longer have the luxury to take a few months to set up a new country program and recruit and orient the team. HR teams have to respond to this change and help their program teams lead and implement faster. “Because donors want us up and running from day one, we need data on what works so we can be more agile in developing more workable solutions for talent,” says Tami Ward-Dahl.

Mercy Corps is looking to re-work their entire onboarding process so that teams can be 25-35% more effective by hitting the ground faster. Nigel Pont mentions a complete re-evaluation is needed to balance both standing teams and available resource pools. In addition, they are looking to build an onboarding package that quickly engages new staff with Mercy Corps’ values and approaches. This is why merging internal communications into the people function at Mercy Corps was seen as critical to the business strategy. When a new project team has up to 40% of new staff on it, every improvement to the talent pipeline and onboarding approach matters.

We need to be more effective, let’s kill the annual performance review

In a sector like ours that is so people focused and with donors raising expectations about program effectiveness, NGOs are re-thinking how to keep the focus on performance at the individual and team level. For many, this means killing the traditional annual performance review. Both PACT and The Asia Foundation have begun implementing a more frequent and iterative performance review system for their US-based staff.

PACT has re-designed their goal-setting system based on the OKR model that has become the norm at many tech firms. Shari Stier worked with the leadership team to create a system of monthly, quarterly and semi-annual performance conversations as well to ensure that staff members, their supervisors, and the organizations are aligned with their goals, performance and development. But she is aware that it will take time for everyone to be comfortable and skilled at the new system. “There are deep brain tracks for everyone that have been in place for a long time.”

At The Asia Foundation, the shift was also driven by changing expectations of staff, especially the millennials. “They are looking for their rate of progression within the agency to be more front-loaded,” says Roger Craig. He worked with The Asia Foundation’s leadership team to overhaul the entire system of performance reviews as well as the system for managing development and succession. In addition to implementing a more frequent and easier system for performance check-ins, he has also put into practice the Step Forward plan for managing development discussions. The plan helps to address the needs of employees who are keen to take on more accountability as well as those who are happy with their role but looking for other outlets to renew their engagement.

Is relying on an employee’s intrinsic passion enough?

We all know that INGOs tend to attract passionate, mission-driven staff who are committed to making a difference in the world. While the HR leaders all acknowledged that INGOs sometimes depend on that engagement to make up for resource constraints in the HR area, they agree that our sector cannot afford to continue this outdated approach. Shari Stier wants PACT to be “an employer of choice” with a line of qualified talent out the door. While Roger Craig is looking at how to continue leveraging on The Asia Foundation’s “employer brand” that is grounded in providing a more individualized  engagement plan to enhance the level of employee commitment.

At Mercy Corps, Nigel Pont says that their hiring rule-of-thumb from the CEO down is closely aligned with, “becoming fanatical about finding the right external talent and managing the internal talent extremely well.” Meanwhile, at EGPAF, Tami Ward-Dahl is hyper-focused on all the intangibles that connect people to the mission of the organization. EGPAF is constantly looking for ways to make a personal, high-touch, low-cost connection with their staff globally that reinforces each individual as a person and not just a resource—including volunteers and other short-term workers.

Some INGOs design some of their core HR benefits and components differently depending on their mission, country context, and role—there is no one size fits all even within the sector. For PACT, this means reviewing each HR policy to ensure that it reflects and aligns with the organization’s value for its program work and the people it serves. “It is innovative to make the transactional stuff work really well and ensure it is aligned with organizational values,” says Shari Stier. Meanwhile, The Asia Foundation is evolving towards a culture that focuses more on values-based decision-making rather than having a rule for every situation.

Localizing the HR transformation

We know that leading and transforming HR at a global INGO is complex and challenging. At the same time, change in HR practice in the United States often moves faster with which either culture or law can keep up in the diverse set of the countries that we work in. Each of the organizations I talked to are investing more into providing more central support for in-country HR teams. “Often, local teams are left to do the best that they can with limited centralized support, so we are looking at how can we resource it better and get local HR leaders a seat at the country-level leadership table,” says Nigel Pont.  While Tami Ward-Dahl and Roger Craig are looking to balance the push of new programming from HQ with the pull from the field for more support and new programs for people.

So, yes, there will always be new “shiny objects” in the field of HR. “It’s really important to keep an eye on the shiny objects because even though we may not be able to afford some of the private sector programs today, the changes will affect us eventually and we have to be ready,” says Shari Stier. At the same time, transforming the HR function at these dynamic INGOs is grounded in the need to meet the evolving expectations of the organization’s strategy and employee demographics. All this while staying true to mission and ensuring that the people who are doing the hardest work in the hardest-to-work places can count on a solid and well-functioning employment experience.

Learning (faster) at the InsideNGO 2016 conference

Got a new idea?

You presented it to your colleagues or boss? How did it go? Not so good?

Well, you’re not alone. Last week at the Inside NGO annual conference in Washington, D.C., keynoter Adam Grant from the Wharton School told us that it takes 10-20 exposures to a new idea to develop familiarity with it.

Adam’s opening remarks set the perfect tone for the conference where finance, HR, compliance, IT and other professionals within the international development community gathered to discuss, share, and collaborate on new (and not so new) approaches to achieving operational excellence within their respective development and humanitarian organizations.

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Improving virtual collaboration with remote workshops


Originally published by Laïla von Alvensleben on The Logbook by Hanno:

Remote workshops: Collaboration done virtually

As you may have noticed, the times they are a-changin’. Our traditional ways of working are being disrupted and the latest trends show that the number of organizations embracing remote work is constantly rising, and they’re here to stay.

Let’s pause and reflect on what this means for companies in general. Should they all become entirely remote? No, for a number of reasons. First off, it really depends on what a company is focused on: some of their products and services are too difficult or impossible to create remotely (remote car manufacturing, anyone?). Yet their teams might still benefit from becoming familiar with remote collaboration because as enterprises grow and expand their networks, so do the opportunities for remote teamwork.

So let me reframe the question and ask, should companies learn how to work remotely? Ideally, yes. Not only is it going to help them attract new talent (already 68% of college graduates are more likely to seek flexible remote jobs), but it will also give them a head start to a new way of collaboration which is already defining the future of work.

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Are we listening enough to local voices?

Guest author: Tim Boyes-Watson, Executive Director, Mango

I’ve taken a couple of days to reflect on what I heard at the WHS and what I didn’t hear.  My first reflection is that local voices were not prominent enough and that the WHS process did not listen to them enough.  My second reflection was that those with most power chose either not to come, or not to use their powerful voices to call for the kind of revolutionary change that is needed.  I hope, but am not yet sure, that the future echoes of the summit will create an opportunity for deeper and more equal partnerships between international and local organisations, as well as greater diversity of collaborations which will promote innovation.

Continue reading “Are we listening enough to local voices?”

The Road Ahead from the World Humanitarian Summit

Last week, Ross and I traveled to Istanbul to take part in the World Humanitarian Summit. We set up our both in exhibition hall to showcase our work in Turkey and Syria to build the capacity of local NGOs in Syria and promote our new mobile-first product, PMD Pro Starter. Our friends and partners from Orange and Syan also joined us to discuss their local capabilities in the region—and Ross seemed to know everyone already!

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I had the chance to run upstairs to several of the side events and to network with other INGO and capacity building leaders. We also had many opportunities to deepen our conversations with others who share our passion for building capacity for humanitarians: CHS Alliance, Humanitarian Leadership Academy, PHAP, Mango, Institut Bioforce and Genome Consulting to name a few.


There was much discussion about whether the WHS was a watershed moment for the humanitarian sector or a failed attempt at much needed reform. I will largely leave that argument to others, except to make the following observations from someone new to this sector:


  1. Wow! 8000 people came to Istanbul for three days to, at least attempt, to create a new Agenda for Humanity. In our age of cynicism, political retreats to nationalism, and hyper-capitalism, this is, itself, remarkable–and we should celebrate it.
  2. Rome was not built in a day and we did not get to the (still imperfect) Paris climate accord in one try. For real reform, it will take more than one World Humanitarian Summit to get to the real change that so many at the Summit wanted to see. Maybe the bar was set too high. Let’s consolidate our small victories and look ahead with solidarity.
  3. We talk about “reforming the sector” or how, as a sector, “we can become more innovative.” These are perhaps the wrong questions. The “sector” can’t innovate—it is simply a compilation of our collective individual and organizational actions. It is up to each of us to drive our own innovation. Waiting for others (donors, governments, northern INGOs, southern INGOs, local NGOs—it’s all based on your perspective) to create the right environment, is a recipe for the same-as-usual results. Innovation does not happen by committee and certainly not by a UN forum; it happens because brave leaders drive it and nurture it—and then—others in the sector will follow, imitate, adapt, etc. (Stay tuned! We are working on curating some learning in the innovation space to help your organizations take the lead.)


From a learning and capacity building perspective, this biggest news from the Summit, was the Grand Bargain which included a (non-binding) commitment to have local and national NGOs receive 25% of humanitarian funding by 2020. That’s an ambitious goal which represents an 800% increase over the current ratios in four years. Nonetheless, it means we need to get “real” about why our current capacity building efforts by and with local NGOs may not yet be as effective as they could be. For our part, we’ve drafted our own commitments as part of the WHS agenda and have focused them on local capacity building while supporting northern INGOs as they adapt as well. I’d love to get your feedback, critiques, and hopefully ideas and commitments of support!


So, maybe I left Istanbul more optimistic than other Summit participants. And my optimism was bolstered by my five days in Delhi that followed. The national and local NGOs that I met are doing really innovative work, embracing digital technologies, strengthening their networks and peer-to-peer approaches, and raising most of their money locally in India. To be fair, these were development, not humanitarian, organizations—yet, maybe we just need to look with our eyes wide open to see the change we want to see.

Learning and the Art of Transformation

Guest post by Chris Proulx, CEO, LINGOs

Earlier this week, the LINGOs European team and I attended the BOND conference in London where over 900 members of the UK international NGO community gathered and networked. In the spirit of BOND’s new Futures and Innovation agenda, the conference focused heavily on the external and internal forces that are shaping the future of the international NGO. Many of the panels and speakers focused on a wide range of topics from agile humanitarian response to changing donor strategies to the impacts of climate change to role of youth-led social movements. The overarching question was what should be the future role of the international NGO. A few insights jumped out to me.

Where were the learning professionals? We had lots of rich conversations with heads of programs and fundraising, CEOs and COOs, and many technical leads. We enjoyed networking with our colleagues from partners such as the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, Inside NGO, Mango, the CHS Alliance, and the Cornerstone On Demand Foundation. However, there was a distinct absence of HR and Learning professionals from the NGOs at the conference. If any of the NGOs in the room are going to transform as they many hope they will, it will only happen because people are able to change what they do or how they do it.

Capabilities, culture, staffing and partnering models are all likely to change and they all will require innovative approaches from HR and Learning. In our busy, hectic, and cost-constrained worlds, we often retreat to networking within our professional circles. That’s great for sharing best practice but it is a huge missed opportunity for cross-fertilization of ideas—which is exactly what is needed in high doses during dynamic or even turbulent times.  I am motivated to make sure we have speakers from diverse roles and perspectives at our Global Learning Forum, so here’s an early hint—invite a colleague from your programs team to join you in Seattle.

Partnership and collaboration, but how? Many speakers advocated for more collaboration: North-South, Public-Private, Local-International, Small-Big, Cross-Sector, and more. What was less clear is exactly how to do it. I was chatting with the CEO of a large corporate foundation later in the week who expressed her concern that INGOs are not particularly good at partnering. She went out to give examples of innovative ideas emerging at smaller NGOs that could benefit from the scale of a large INGO, but there are no proven models for how to identify, adapt, and scale those ideas.

One of the panel chairs at BOND, Gillian Caldwell of Global Witness outlined 10 principles of a good partnership, which included typical things such as shared vision, communication, trust, clear expectations—all things that are ample supply in many of our learning programs. But some less so—awareness of differentiated power dynamics, willing to subordinate your identity, and love! Here in our LINGOs community, we know how to partner—you have often come together to work on shared deliverables, and we know have access to resources that enable internal partnering. So, we have something to offer here. We could work together across organizational boundaries in real partnership to take many of the key competencies we embed in our learning programs to foster internal cohesion and team effectiveness and re-orient them outwardly as the competency model and training for effective organizational partnering. Are you up to the challenge?

The Art of Transformation. The opening speakers on Monday were Danny Sriskandarajah, CEO of Civicus, and Aya Chebbi, a blogger and social activist who was part of the Tunisian revolution is now leads the African Youth Movement. Together, they made a strong case for radical change within the international development community. Danny highlighted concerns about the big NGOs getting bigger, an eroding of trust in NGOs by the public as many have prioritized branding over advocacy, and he worried that donors now only see INGOs as implementers. Aya talked about the speed of new social movements, the urgency of youth and their need to be drivers of development not the objects of it, and need to create transnational solidarity across borders for civil society. At the end of his remarks, Danny lamented the conflict between the “science of delivery” and the “art of transformation.” This comment has stuck with me because so much organizational learning focuses on the “science of delivery” as we strive for competency maps, performance management, learning metrics all layered on top of courses designed to improve technical, managerial, or professional skills. All are important!

And yet, have we also lost sight of the fact that the most effective learning has an immense power to transform hearts, minds, careers, and lives? Where can we find opportunities to use our learning expertise to create experiences that re-inspire staff around mission, or connect donors and the public the “why” behind the organization’s work, or extends the reach of the organization’s core know-how to new partners and communities? By putting the science of learning to work on the art of transformation, you will be expanding the traditional scope of L&D—which will require more strategic partnering—and maybe, as Gillian Caldwell suggests—a little Love.