Like many nonprofits, we started out as a purely volunteer organization. But in order to grow and scale, just like any other organization or company, a nonprofit has to invest in its people and its infrastructure. In our daily work to create impact for the international communities we serve and in our commitment to our staff, who are so integral to everything we do, we are always striving to be better. We’ve chronicled this journey, with all of the downs as well as the ups, in an HR Case Study, which quotes our Chief People Officer, Victoria MacDonald, on the changes we’ve made over the past three years to improve our service to staff:
“Because the organization had grown so much, we needed to take a very close look at HR practices. We went back to the very basics, starting at the beginning of the employee life cycle to rewrite the employee offer letter. Then we talked about focusing on two main things with employees: role clarity and setting goals. And we worked on the leadership structure, so that the founders and executives stepped back and became less operational, allowing Head-level managers to lead. The aim was, and is, to create and institute best-in-class people processes—that stuff takes time. What I will say is that I’ve never worked with finer people. It is a real privilege.”
Victoria MacDonald, Chief People Manager, WE
We are proud of the awards and third-party recognition WE has received over the years. At the same time, we understand that what made us stand out—our commitment to continuous improvement and innovation as people managers—must continue to be our mandate. As noted in our HR Case Study:
“WE is committed to continuously improving the employee experience to ensure our people achieve fulfillment, meaning and excellence in their career with us. Every year we listen to and learn from our employees in order to improve the experience and make our culture even better. Anonymous employee surveys tell us that we have made some significant improvements in key engagement areas. Since 2015, we have seen a 2.85 x improvement in the area of work-life balance, 5.33 x improvement in providing adequate compensation, 1.22 x improvement in overall employee recognition and 1.73 x improvement in the effectiveness of our internal employee communications efforts.”
We’re proud of our team. Seventy-seven percent of our leadership are female department heads and directors, 80 percent of WE team members see themselves staying with WE for the foreseeable future and 98 percent of WE employees believe they are making a positive change in the world because of their work.
Every organization can always strive for further improvement, and we’re no exception. That’s why we’ve engaged our staff via third-party survey systems and sought out independent expertise to provide us with research, feedback and recommendations. Among the findings:
TemboStatus uses an independent third-party survey system for employees to provide candid feedback measuring engagement, employment culture and experience. The 2018 results include these key findings: 90 percent of staff say they are personally connected to our organization’s mission; 96 percent believe we are making a difference in the world and 78 percent of WE team members say they love their job.
Singh Lamarche LLP, a law firm specializing in employment law and workplace investigations, found that the specific WE policies they reviewed—promoting accessibility and protecting employees from discrimination, harassment and violence—represent the “gold standard” in employment policies.
The Right Honourable Kim Campbell, in reviewing WE’s HR policies and reports, recognized WE’s efforts to continually assess, measure and implement HR best practices.
Dr. David Baum noted in his 2018 case study reviewing WE’s HR strategy, policies and employee experience:
“In the 15 years I’ve been involved in working with the WE organization, I have observed many different stages of growth and progressive evolution. Five to ten years ago, staff investments and undertakings were limited and more modest. But the leadership realized around that time that it was essential to invest in and support WE staff to continue the upward trajectory of the organization. Now, ten years later we see an organization with multiple awards recognizing their culture, in-office gyms, global travel opportunities for staff, and much more. Most importantly, there is a desire among WE leadership to constantly improve, a constant striving to reach the next level of success and become a world-class employer.”
“In my professional opinion, WE and its leadership have handled the constant change, complexity and multitude of demands as well as any non-profit or social purpose organization of its size that I’ve worked with. Could they have done things better from day one? Certainly, but they have done far better than most, and that is plainly evident when looking at the size of the organization, its rapid growth, and the scale of its impact.”
Knightsbridge, a leading HR management firm, reported in their 2018 review of Human Resources culture: “Employees appreciate that WE’s organizational norms and cultural attributes are collaborative, and describe a culture of generally high appreciation of employees.” “WE has a vibrant, purpose-driven culture that continues to attract top talent. The types of cultural tensions expressed by focus group participants were, in our opinion, typical of a maturing organization experiencing significant growth. Further, there is typically a natural tension in cause-based organizations between the vision of ‘doing good’ and the practical reality of running a viable and sustainable business that calls for more sophisticated leadership skills as the organization matures.” “The initiatives laid out in (WE’s) People Plan demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement in the employee experience. We see it as a journey, and while the foundation has been set, the situation will require and benefit from ongoing monitoring as outlined in your plan. As WE moves forward and continues to grow, mature and evolve, there is an opportunity to introduce more structure and formalized business processes to ensure that there is a rock solid organizational foundation to operate from. Attention to work-life balance will continue to need focus by the very nature of the types of individuals that tend to join WE, and the type of work that the organization does.”
Jason Saul, CEO of Mission Measurement, a leading research firm that measures and evaluates social impact, notes: “In my experience, many charities struggle to attract the best talent and secure the resources to support that talent and to create a culture of excellence. Free The Children has been able to attract young, top talent an to retain that talent by establishing a high-performance culture and at the same time providing a stable and nurturing environment for staff to thrive. In my interactions with … staff, the team was always energized, positive, can-do and eager to learn—even when significant organizational changes were introduced that required personal and professional adjustments. The team quickly grasped new concepts and was never too proud to own its mistakes.”
WE Charity and ME to WE were recognized in January 2019 as one of Canada’s five best employers in AllOntario.ca: “Notoriously cash-strapped non-profit organizations don’t always provide the best work environments, but WE knows that its people are the charity/social enterprise’s most valuable asset, so it takes good care of them. WE has twice (2013 and 2016) landed on Waterstone’s list of Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures, and was cited three times as one of Canada’s Top Employers For Young People.” “Within its new state-of-the-art headquarters in downtown Toronto, WE employees get free access to perks like a fully-stocked gym (weights, elliptical, treadmills), quiet rooms for yoga or meditation, and a barista-staffed coffee shop. Staff can also travel, with all on-the-ground costs covered by the social enterprise ME to WE, to visit WE projects in India, Kenya, or Ecuador. They can rub elbows with celebrities like Selena Gomez or Magic Johnson at WE Day events, and if all that seems to stressful, they can take advantage of free, on-site physiotherapy at the office.”
Our WE Global Learning Center headquarters were lauded for its part in community revitalization and enrichment by blogTO: “The WE Global Learning Centre has taken residence in a re-purposed century-old building that now functions as a state of the art office complete with an ’empatheatre’ that seats 200, full broadcast studio, and an open concept/interactive design featuring Canadian-made furniture throughout the space…. It’s looking to integrate its new headquarters with the Corktown community by offering programming and outreach projects and has asked the city to become a partner in the Stronger Neighbourhoods Strategy 2020 and work with the local council to provide services for Regent Park residents” “There will be hundreds of people coming in and out of this office everyday now. That,in addition to the outreach initiatives that are planned, will give a welcome boost to the neighbourhood’s economy and help to establish the WE headquarters as a vital community hub.”
WE has been described as having a “gold standard” in regards to the policies we have in place for the protection and accommodation of employees. In addition to the independent assessments listed here, you can read more about our wellness and safety assessments and protocols here.
WE is humbled and proud to be recognized as the recipient of a number of awards and honors, recognizing our world-class development model and social enterprise, and the accomplishments of our team.