MSF identifies talents generally informally but also through formal performance appraisals and annual seminars. HR managers offer those who have been identified as talents new opportunities in the form of bigger or more complex jobs, including:
senior managers and/or the people we would consider might be senior managers in 1-3 years. we look at how they are doing [in] a particular job. So, for example, would they be ready to take a senior. job? So we look at the skills required. and then we [identify] who seems to be most promising.
Most of the training at MSF is on-the-job training including technical as well as managerial training. In addition, there are seminars:
...we will have one week with them where ... they can express their concerns or their opinions and their ideas... but they also learn from each other and they learn from us... and we learn from them. this is very important to their professional development.
Retention is the biggest challenge for MSF. The ‘selfless rationale’ works for many people at first, but it is difficult to maintain for an extended period, particularly when employees start a family. Retention applies to both local talent and expatriates. International mobility is often associated with increased stress and less support. MSF clearly states on its website:
Living conditions in the field (security, housing, etc.) make it difficult for field staff to be accompanied by children or partners who are not participating in the program.
Thus, expatriates might need to leave their partner and children behind and this becomes increasingly difficult over time. According to one of our interviewees:
Once they have children.they really think hard whether they want to continue. I was just talking to a colleague here this morning and I said, ‘Would you go back to the field?’ and he said, ‘listen, now I have a little boy.I don’t want that kind of a life’. So we lose a lot of people for this reason.
Since other organisations offer better compensation and less stressful and risky work environments, there is always somewhere for the talent to go. Medical staff who have worked at MSF are highly marketable: recruiters are impressed by people who have, at least for a time, sacrificed salary and working conditions to help people in risky and sometimes dangerous situations. MSF’s website clearly states the following:
To reach those who need our help the most, we often work in conflict and post-conflict regions. MSF staff may live and work in insecure environments.
MSF is aware of the problems involved in retaining talents. Our interviewees suggest this can be improved through better performance management and more dialogue with people regarding their performance, in order to avoid people quitting simply because no one from HRM has taken the time to sit down with them for a conversation. Other interviewees believe that retention can be improved by acknowledging the efforts made by its employees:
This is not an environment where there is a lot of recognition, you know... you do a good job and people think ‘yeah, that’s great’ but they won’t necessarily say so. They are more prompt to see what doesn’t work. So I think we need to reverse that and.give much more recognition even to how hard people are trying because it’s a very exhausting type of work.