Red Cross working to change culture of internal recruitment process

Red Cross delegates discuss a water project with Narathiwat prison staff in Thailand. Photo by: Kanya Chimroylarp / ICRC / CC BY

Feedback from employees working for the International Committee of the Red Cross showed a perceived lack of transparency in the recruitment process, with staff reporting they felt powerless over their working situation.

To solve the problem, the international humanitarian organization launched the People Management Project in 2013 with the objective to increase transparency, efficiency and employee empowerment by making refinements to the definitions of roles and responsibilities and the accountability of individuals and groups, as well as beefing up the organization’s internal communication systems.

Before the PMP, ICRC, which employs 13,000 people in more than 80 countries, conducted internal recruitment behind closed doors, coordinated mainly by its headquarters in Geneva.

“Employees felt they weren’t listened to and had little chance to influence where to go on mission, and managers couldn’t always meet their requests,” Jessica Silberman Dunant, head of global planning at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva, told Devex at the Career Development Roundtable in Oslo, Norway. “At the same time, managers wanted more power over who to employ.”

There was also a previous uncertainty about employees’ roles and responsibilities. Now, the overall goal is to put the right people in the right place — and to make sure hiring managers are making decisions based on skills.

“What we want to avoid is a recruitment process based on who knows whom,” Silberman Dunant said.

The first main change that’s come out of PMP is the introduction of the “compendium,” where all available positions are published for internal viewing by ICRC staff. The hiring manager creates a requisition for a position to which pool members can apply, and assignments listed in the compendium are then matched with a suitable candidate from one of the pools.

“We’ve always had the pools,” Silberman Dunant explained of the organization’s sector-specific categories. “But with the compendium we have a more transparent assignment – people matching.”

Increased transparency means that the hiring manager at a duty station receives a long list with all candidates — both qualified and those not fulfilling the requirements — and is then expected to rank the candidates and send the shortlist to Geneva.

The ideal situation is when the hiring manager’s first candidate is also selected first from Geneva, “but we still need to have some central coordination,” Silberman Dunant said.

It’s important to ensure that the organization identifies the best candidates possible for critical positions, but nationality remains a challenge, especially if a candidate is too closely connected with a conflict, for example.

Silberman Dunant described the task of selecting candidates as both a privilege and a responsibility: “This system requires more work of the hiring managers,” she said. “They did ask for it but might not have been prepared for the new responsibility it would bring, she said.

It’s still a work in progress, and ICRC is taking small steps forward, as the technology doesn’t allow for faster changes. The results of the program haven’t yet been evaluated, but Silberman Dunant shares that it certainly wasn’t a cost-saving initiative.

“Of course we want low costs, but the focus has been on optimizing the work of our resources,” she said. “Primarily the goal wasn’t to save money, it was to change the culture of the recruitment process.”

Has your employer changed the “culture of the recruitment process — and if so, how? Share your experience by leaving a comment below.

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    Julia Atiyeh

    Julia Atiyeh is a Swedish-Syrian journalist. She has reported in English, Swedish and Arabic from Europe and Lebanon, and her love for traveling and global policy has allowed her to live in Scandinavia, New York and the Middle East.