When recruiting right means life or death

Posted on 24th November 2014 | Interviews

When recruiting right means life or death

“Recruiting and developing high-performing talent in geographically dispersed territories”

The Mines Advisory Group are the charity that saves lives by creating a safe and secure future for men, women and children affected by armed violence and conflict. Over the last 25 years they’ve returned 5,522km km² of land to safe and productive use in 40 countries affected by conflict by finding and destroying over 400,000 landmines and deadly cluster munitions and more than 16 million items of unexploded ordnance and small arms ammunition. Supporting local communities in these areas, MAG deliver over 100,000+ risk education sessions to keep people safe till land is cleared.

When it comes to the importance of getting the right balance of technical ability and affinity with the cause, it doesn’t get more significant than here. Recruiting the right teams both domestically and overseas is paramount for MAG to deliver their life-saving services to their beneficiaries. In this insightful interview, Sam Wakefield MAG’s Director of Human Resources reveals just how they get it right across such a dispersed and challenging geography…

The interview

Sherrington Associates: “MAG operates in some of the harshest working environments on the planet. What is the single most challenging aspect of recruiting in such challenging environments for MAG?”

Sam Wakefield: Finding the right combination in a candidate of someone who wants to work for MAG and can identify with our values; has good and the right experience, the right skills, someone who will fit in well with the team, who can cope with harsh environments, can train and support our national staff, who wants to work in the country that we are recruiting for and will accept our competitive reward package.

Sherrington Associates: “What percentage of overseas roles are filled by UK based candidates who then travel abroad or relocate?”

Sam Wakefield: It doesn’t matter where our international staff come from as we recruit globally and we don’t necessarily target UK based candidates. The majority of our staff are national staff – overall it’s about 1 international staff to 22 national staff.

Sherrington Associates: “Recruiting the right talent is essential to achieving your aims of making land and lives safe, so it doesn’t get much more important than in this context really. What is your secret to identifying high calibre local personnel in overseas countries?”

Sam Wakefield: Thorough recruitment process, not taking risks and going with your intuitive thoughts. We never interview alone and a range of different managers get involved in a recruitment process. We also have a robust system for probation.

Sherrington Associates:  “So how does MAG convince UK based talent to work overseas in such challenging environments?”

Sam Wakefield: We don’t focus our energies on UK based talent – we focus our energy on globally based talent. This is through our website and using our networks and the international jobs bulletins. Staff join, leave and come back to us again – so we stay in touch with our leavers too.

Sherrington Associates:  “How important is it within an organisation like MAG to have a core set of values?”

Sam Wakefield: Crucial – when our staff come to us from so many different working backgrounds and particularly when some of our competitors are commercially focused. This articulates what makes us different and what we are about.

Sherrington Associates:  “One of MAG’s values is to be ‘People led and impact-focused.’ What does this mean and how do you demonstrate that value within your recruitment strategy?”

Sam Wakefield: We are a very practical organisation – it’s clear what we do and we get it done. The only way that we can do this is through our people so it’s essential that our staff have good leadership and coaching skills and it’s important that we can demonstrate what we do to our beneficiaries and donors.

Sherrington Associates:  “How do you communicate those values across such a dispersed workforce comprised of so many cultures and languages?”

Sam Wakefield: Clear messages at staff meetings, documents and using the values in core documents such as the Strategic Plan. Ensuring that the values are relevant.

Sherrington Associates:  “MAG’s regional programme’s appear to have a very clear personnel structure. How do you achieve consistency in the recruitment process between regions?”

Sam Wakefield: The same people at HQ are involved in the recruitment. We also have generic job descriptions and changes are only made for country context. In addition a number of our staff move around the world either as expatriates or as visitors so they help to ensure maintenance of standards. Sherrington Associates:  “What are the foundational competencies that you look for in every employee across the organisation?”

Sam Wakefield: MAG is not for everyone and organisational fit is important – but on the whole we look for the right combination of thinkers and doers.

Sherrington Associates:  “It must be a hugely emotive line of work for those in the field. How much emphasis do you place on a candidate’s affinity with the cause versus their technical ability to carry out the job in question?”

Sam Wakefield: Technical ability has to come first; but we also would not consider anyone who has no affinity with the cause. It would hard to find someone who has no affinity with our cause!

Sherrington Associates:  “Finally what advice would you give to any other organisations (third sector or otherwise) looking to recruit staff across a particularly dispersed and fragmented territory?”

Sam Wakefield: Be tenacious, try different ways of attraction, encourage internal growth and promotion and don’t forget to stay in touch with your ex employees.