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HR or People & Culture? The difference is more than just the name

In the charity sector, where mission revolves around serving humanity, your approach to managing staff needs to go beyond seeing the colleagues who deliver your mission as "Human" Resources.


Our People are people, not beans to be ordered and counted.


While traditional HR practices focus primarily on administrative tasks and compliance, the more embracing and dynamic People & Culture approach offers a transformative force in fostering a thriving organisational ecosystem with thriving colleagues.


Understanding the differences between these two approaches is crucial for charity organisations striving to maximize their impact and cultivate a culture of compassion, purpose, and empowerment.


The Essence of HR: Efficiency and Compliance

Human Resources as an approach is conventionally perceived as a structured framework aimed at managing employees within an organisation, primarily dealing with recruitment, payroll, benefits administration, and ensuring compliance with legal regulations. Therefore, Charity HR departments typically focus on maintaining organisational stability, managing employee records, and implementing standardised policies and procedures. While these practices ensure consistency and mitigate risks, they may inadvertently sideline the human element, treating employees as mere cogs in the machinery rather than valued contributors to the organisation's mission.


While these functions are undeniably essential for operational efficiency and legal adherence, they often overlook the unique human needs and aspirations of individuals working within the charitable sector.


Evolving Beyond HR: The People & Culture Paradigm

Unlike the traditional HR approach, the People & Culture approach embodies a more holistic and colleague-centric philosophy. Rooted in the belief that organisational success hinges upon the wellbeing and engagement of its people, this approach goes beyond administrative functions to prioritise colleague development, inclusion, and cultural alignment.


At its core, People & Culture acknowledges the inherent dignity, uniqueness and potential of every individual, striving to create a workplace environment where colleagues feel valued, supported, and inspired to make meaningful contributions. This approach emphasises fostering a sense of belonging, promoting open communication, and nurturing a culture of trust, empathy, and collaboration.


While underpinned by an entirely different philosophy and viewpoint, many charities' approach to the move from HR to People & Culture has also included initiatives such as:


  1. Purpose-driven Leadership: Effective leadership is paramount in inspiring and guiding teams toward achieving the organisation's mission. People & Culture fosters purpose-driven leadership that empowers individuals at all levels to lead with integrity, empathy, and a deep commitment to the internal reflection of an organisation's values and the behaviours are inherent in living those values

  2. Continuous Learning and Development: Charities thrive when colleagues are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and resources and confidence needed to adapt to evolving challenges and drive innovation. People & Culture initiatives prioritise continuous learning and development opportunities, including mentorship programs, skill-building workshops, and access to learning resources.

  3. Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Initiatives: Embracing diversity in all its forms is essential for fostering a culture of inclusivity and belonging. People & Culture endeavours to create environments where diverse perspectives are not only welcomed but celebrated, leading to greater innovation, creativity, and social impact.

  4. Colleague Wellbeing: Recognising the demanding nature of work in the charitable sector, People & Culture initiatives prioritise the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of employees. This may include wellness workshops, counselling services, flexible work arrangements, and initiatives promoting work / life balance and workplace practices which make living this balance possible.

Bridging the Gap: Integrating HR with People & Culture

While HR and People & Culture represent distinct approaches, their integration can produce results that drive organisational success. Rather than viewing them as mutually exclusive approaches to be chosen between, charities need leverage the strengths of both to create an intentional and thriving workplace culture.


  1. Strategic Alignment: By aligning HR functions with the overarching goals and values of the organisation, charity leaders can ensure that administrative tasks serve as enablers rather than inhibitors of mission fulfilment.

  2. Colleague-Centric Policies: Infusing HR policies and procedures with a people-centric ethos enhances employee satisfaction, retention, and performance. For instance, incorporating feedback mechanisms and avenues for employee voice amplification can foster a culture of transparency and continuous improvement.

  3. Cultural Transformation: HR departments can spearhead cultural transformation initiatives in collaboration with colleagues across the organisation. This may involve revisiting or internal reflection of organisational values, norms, and practices to ensure alignment with the organisation's mission and vision.

  4. Data-driven Insights: Leveraging HR analytics and colleague feedback mechanisms provides valuable insights into workforce dynamics, enabling leaders to make informed decisions that optimise colleague engagement, productivity, and retention.

We're currently seeing (and having reported to us) many more instances than we'd like of the "Charity Sector workplace wellbeing paradox": Organisations neglecting or sacrificing colleague wellbeing while pursuing a 'noble cause'.


At a time when recruitment is challenging and demand for our services and purpose is growing, focus on people & culture and on avoiding this paradox has GOT to be a priority.


In the pursuit of advancing social good, charities have the power to transform lives and communities - to actually change the world. Central to this endeavour is the cultivation of an organisational culture that not only upholds the principles of compassion and altruism but also empowers individuals to realise their full potential.


While HR serves as the backbone of administrative efficiency, the People & Culture approach infuses organisational dynamics with humanity, empathy, and purpose.


By blending the best of both of these approaches, charities can create workplaces where employees thrive, communities flourish, and missions are achieved!


In the often complex 'weaving" of organisational culture, where every thread represents the collective aspirations and values of its people, the fusion of HR and People & Culture offers a real opportunity to nurture people and catalyse positive social change.


Your Organisation

So which team do you have? an HR team or a People & Culture team?


Which approach do you want for your organisation? And how are you going to make the transition?


It's far more than just renaming a team - it's opening up the "field of vision" of that team, being able to embrace both ends of that continuum. It's building a supportive culture, caring for humans not counting people-shaped beans.

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