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Responsible data management toolbox

4.2.6 HR manual


HR guide to support teams and managers

Introduction and objectives

This guide has a general HR scope, and was built to support managers and teams involved in the recruitment, integration and monitoring of personnel working on program data management. Its objective is to break down the main HR concepts, while giving them a concrete dimension.

One of the main lessons to be learned in order to properly prepare the onboarding and offboarding of a person is that it is necessary to accept to spend time on it, which must be anticipated and budgeted for in the project proposals. These are two key success factors. This is not specific to the program management business but it seems important to remember it.

1. Contexts

Before talking about the position itself, it is essential to ask yourself about the context surrounding it, in order to put it into perspective with respect to your organization and to properly qualify your HR needs. These elements can come from the operational context, from an external or internal context to the organization.

In all cases, there is no magic wand that will allow you to find a person who corresponds in every way to the profile you are looking for. So be prepared to make choices and review your priorities. To do this, don’t hesitate to prioritize the criteria that are more or less important and to share them with the people involved in the recruitment process so that they are aware of and understand the issues at stake. Finally, don’t forget that recruitment deadlines are frequent, and that vacancy periods (“gaps”) must be anticipated and prepared for. This can also change the priority of your criteria.

Consider the general context, i.e. the environment in which you plan to recruit:

  • Make a quick analysis of the environment of the position, based on the PESTEL logic (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, Legal) for example;
  • Ask yourself what level of dependence your organization has, particularly in relation to its main funders. For example, an NGO that is dependent on institutional donors will have higher accountability needs than an NGO that is funded by unallocated private funds;
  • Keep in mind your organization’s mandate. Your approach will likely be different depending on the type of projects you are working on. For example, the medical and protection fields place a particular emphasis on data protection (ethical practices such as medical confidentiality) when access to water may have a political-strategic resonance related to land occupation (sensitive coordination with the authorities).

Consider organizational context, which may influence HR needs:

  • Take up your organization’s policies and guide books and align with your organization’s priorities. Your operational implementation, obviously linked to the needs of the field, should be able to serve this objective and this should be supported with concrete examples;
  • Think about the internal context specific to your organization or to the mission or team in which the position would be located. Have there been any events that could have an impact on the desired position? For example, in relation to the social climate, security incidents, internal conflicts, past or future audits, etc;
  • Make an assessment of the general HR situation and the composition of the team. Distinguish between the team and the individual. Take into account the cultural and gender dimensions, the team dynamics and their impact on the work in progress;
  • Then, it will be necessary to plan: How to integrate a new person into the team? How can this change and have an impact (positive or negative) on the team dynamics?

Consideration of the operational context:

  • Review the project cycle and identify the phase in which the position falls;
  • Draw out the possible strategic issues associated with it;
  • This will help you calibrate your needs. For example, if you are at the end of a project, the challenges of the position will not necessarily be the same as in the launch phase;
  • Make an assessment of the last few months, the latest team developments, and an inventory of the skills currently available internally. Perhaps the right person, “the right profile” already exists to meet the HR needs mentioned;
  • If this is the case, think about integrating the workload dimension upstream, the benefit or risk of internal mobility. It is essential to take into account the interplay of the communicating vessels in your team, to ensure that your wish is achievable. Be careful not to make promises! Be careful not to destabilize a team by removing a member.
  • Discuss and anticipate questions about the functional and hierarchical links between the project team and the other teams involved. List the stakeholders associated with the position. Share your thoughts and gather feedback to ensure that the imagined position is realistic and well grounded. By doing so, you will also have created buy-in for the position and make it easier for the person you find to take the position.

Consider all possibilities, including the worst-case scenario. Before and during the recruitment process, assess the worst-case scenario, i.e. what happens if a suitable and/or available profile cannot be found.

Knowing who will do the job if there is an empty position is a prerequisite to opening a position. Anticipating the possibility of outsourcing, ad-hoc support or folding operations will allow you to deal with complex situations such as a vacancy, a sudden resignation or a long leave of absence.

Preparing for these situations may seem unlikely, even extreme; however, it is also and above all the best way to stay the course and give priority to the continuity and quality of operations and activities. It also means doing what is necessary to avoid adding stress to a team that will find itself undersized and therefore under stress.

2. Definition of HR needs

In order to best define your HR needs, it is necessary to put the position you are opening into perspective. Here are some questions to guide your thinking. There are no ready-made or perfect answers. However, be aware that there is no such thing as a “five-legged sheep” and plan to prioritize your needs so that you can make informed choices.

Anticipate as much as possible, identify the unexpected, and communicate!

  • What is the general level of involvement expected in the organization, for its functioning?
  • What is the nature of the tasks you are trying to fill?
  • Are they operational or more coordinating?
  • Are they high or low strategic stakes?
  • => Think about the concrete and practical aspects: gauge the level of responsibility, dependence and interaction with other positions. Who asks what of whom? Who decides when?
  • => Think about the time dimension: are the tasks recurrent? Do they have a particular frequency (weekly, monthly, quarterly) or are they ad hoc requests?
  • As far as possible, assess the level of durability of the tasks: are they linked to one or more projects? Are the needs new, linked to a growth or a decrease?

While the cost of the position is often mentioned, don’t lose sight of the reality of the job market and the organization’s ability to invest in the position.

  • Do the profile and skills required exist and are available where the position will be based?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each solution?
  • How can the proposed position evolve?
  • Do you want to recruit and retain? … Or just meet your one-time need?
  • What level of expertise do you think you will attract with the proposed position, salary and conditions?
  • What is your capacity to train and support internally?

Questions to ask yourself before advertising the position

  • Do you want an internal or external HR solution, i.e. to choose between an employee within your teams under your responsibility or a service provided by a consultant for example:
  • => Depending on the strategic stakes, the constraints of the financial backers, the neutrality or the sensitivity of the information treated, the obligation of confidentiality, a choice can generally be made quickly.
  • Then, it is necessary to:
    • define the type of contract and the level of the position that will be offered;
    • choose between an expatriate or local position and contract;
    • define the affiliation and location of the position: at the organization’s headquarters, within a project team; as well as the modality: face-to-face, remote or hybrid work.

These choices are not trivial and are essential to discuss with the HR team involved in the recruitment, as they will lead to different contractual solutions. The objective here is to offer a position that complies with labor laws to ensure a healthy and respectful work environment.

3. The construction of the job description

Depending on the decisions made, it is now time to translate the need and the decisions made into a job description. Many organizations have templates. Check with your HR team to avoid reinventing the wheel, save time and stay in line with existing internal HR policies. The job description is the prerequisite to writing a job posting or terms of reference.

Getting started,

  • List the tasks. Be precise in the tasks themselves, without being too precise. For example, names of software, projects or other specific aspects have no place in a job profile;
  • Group tasks by family. The idea is not only to have a well-structured, readable and coherent job profile, but also to start thinking about the technical qualifications and skills required for the job;
  • For better readability, organize these families of tasks around the different teams with which the position will interact in order to highlight the links and issues: headquarters, region, country, capital, base.


  • Maintain a level of vocabulary that future candidates can understand;
  • Avoid acronyms specific to the organization;
  • Particular attention must be given to the action verbs associated with the tasks in order to match the reality of the need and to correspond to the real level of responsibility expected.


  • From the list of tasks: list the skills required and therefore sought, based on the professional frame of reference. This is an opportunity to ask yourself if these skills are not already present within the team and what is the desired level of priority (essential, desirable, a plus) for each skill;
  • If a function grid exists within the organization, position the position according to the desired level of responsibility, expertise, coordination and external representation;
  • If not, compare what is done in other similar organizations;
  • Replace this new position in the existing team by checking the consistency of your organization chart, particularly the functional and hierarchical links.

Be aware of the trade-offs that the HR team will have to make to keep all positions in the organization consistent. The idea is to maintain internal consistency, while creating external attractiveness.

  • Tools and working languages:
  • What tools do you need to master in order to perform these tasks?
  • Ideally, give an indication of the level of mastery (expert, advanced, etc.)
  • What languages must be spoken and/or written for this position?
  • Specify the level of proficiency required (fluent, intermediate, beginner)
  • Contractual conditions of the position:
  • Choose between an expatriate or local position and contract
  • Proposed status: employee, volunteer, intern, etc.
  • Type of contract and level of position offered: temporary (specify duration) or unlimited
  • Define the affiliation and location of the position: at the organization’s headquarters, within a project team; as well as the modality: face-to-face, remote, hybrid work.

If a certain flexibility can be kept in order to make the position more attractive (working conditions for example), be careful again to ensure the internal consistency of the positions. The HR team will be the guarantor of this part.

All parties involved in a recruitment process must be clear and aligned before starting any discussion with candidates. This is to avoid making promises and creating inequity or favoritism.

4. The recruitment process

If you have been working in the international solidarity and cooperation sector for a few years, you know that HR is one of the key issues, and that no one is immune from finding themselves with one or more vacant positions at any given time. The purpose of this section is to remind you of the reality of the tensions in the aid sector: you have to make choices and compromises and anticipate needs as much as possible so that time is your best ally.

Logistical and practical aspects

First of all, create a schedule with the steps and their approximate duration of the recruitment. List the equipment and space required.

Essential: set up a panel, i.e. a group of people who will actively participate in the recruitment process, whether it be to sort the applications received, correct the tests, be present and conduct the selection interviews.

  • This group should be representative and inclusive, without being too large (3-4 people maximum), and should include project managers and managers in charge of the position;
  • The panel should be informed of the need, the context and the constraints of the position, as well as the criteria and conditions of hiring decided upon beforehand: this will create buy-in and facilitate the arrival of a future colleague, even before the position is recruited;
  • Identify the final decision-maker who will arbitrate and settle discussions if necessary.

When the advertisement is published,

  • Channels consistent with the positions (website, general sector publication sites, specialized job/country sites, etc.) must be selected;
  • Sufficient time (2 to 4 weeks) must be allowed to apply;

Be aware that in some countries, there are legal deadlines for the publication of a job; the union authorities may also have to be consulted before any publication.

Organize a test, if this is useful for the identified need. This could be a test of theoretical or practical knowledge, or a tool. Do not forget to take into account the correction time.

In order to have unbiased interviews, use an evaluation grid:

  • Often used in organizations to improve accountability, avoid “cronyism” and make objective choices;
  • This grid makes it possible to make a measured assessment of the candidates and to avoid the inevitable biases and other subjective impressions that can pollute the final choice;
  • Even if the recruitment process is meant to be quick and simple, keeping a written record of the criteria and the results of the interviews is a good practice.

Develop a list of questions that are related to the issues of the position. For example, if the position focuses on coordination tasks, evaluate methodology and soft skills rather than focusing on technical aspects that will have less relevance in the day-to-day work.

Do not underestimate team dynamics. Beyond the skills and profile, the person recruited must fit in with the team in place. In organizations where people live together, the challenge of recruiting adaptable and sociable people is very real.

Beware of interview biases that might favour a European male in his thirties. Remember to take into account gender, age and culture in the questions asked.

The interviews

  • Dividing up the roles and questions beforehand helps to make this moment of exchange more fluid;
  • If a test has been taken, come back to it and discuss the results and how the exercise was approached (easy, difficult, enough time, clarity of questions or scenario, etc.);
  • Being on time and listening, putting the candidate at ease, etc… So many small details of simple common sense, good manners and respect that make the difference in the quality of the interview;
  • This also gives the first impression of the organization, it is essential and it is a determining factor when the selected candidate receives a contractual proposal in his/her decision to accept or not the position (with all the personal upheaval and risk-taking that this entails);
  • Allow time for questions from the candidate;
  • Announce next steps and deadlines to provide visibility.

Final selection

  • Weight and take into account the test results, if applicable;
  • Complete the evaluation grid either collectively by the panel or individually;
  • The HR representative will centralize and analyze the grids. Trends will emerge;
  • It will be important to organize one or more meetings with the panel members to discuss and share impressions following the tests and interviews;
  • If a consensus does not emerge, do not hesitate to go back to the selection criteria, and possibly review the order of priorities;
  • If the criteria noted as indispensable in the competencies are revised downwards, support for the selected person will be necessary, and to give up would be to put him/her in difficulty.

Checking professional references

  • Once a choice has been made, before making the job offer with the salary conditions and benefits, the HR representative must collect professional references to ensure that the person selected does not have a past that is incompatible with the position offered and/or the organization.
  • This reference gathering is often an obligation that will avoid major complications.
  • It is essential to speak directly with the previous managers and the HR department of the person’s last employer.
  • If in doubt, do not hesitate to ask for other references and take the time necessary to ensure the final choice (even if it seems to waste time).

Finally, remain realistic and keep a plan B just in case.

5. Integration

Congratulations! The recruitment process has come to an end and a new skilled and available person has been identified to join the team. Now it is necessary to prepare the onboarding process. As a manager or HR, your involvement will be essential for a smooth and successful integration.

Many things can be put in place to ensure a smooth arrival.

While there is no magic formula, here are some tips to keep in mind and suggestions to implement.

Once again, anticipation is the key to success:

  • Verify the proper receipt of HR and administrative documents (the list of which will have been provided at the time of the contract proposal) that are essential for the creation of the employment contract, insurance, benefits; as well as the internal documents and policies read and signed such as the code of conduct for example;
  • Prepare and share documentation to be read in advance or in times of need:
  • the most used procedures and policies,
  • the strategy, the annual program, a charter,
  • project presentations, relevant training modules, etc.
  • Logistics and first impressions: prepare the work space and equipment (access keys or badge, telephone, computer, screen, tools, access rights, connectivity) so that the new recruit can begin his or her integration on the first day. This is an important part of making a good first impression. Unfortunately, there are many examples where new recruits have been “forgotten” on the first day (unavailable and unprepared equipment, manager not available).
  • Prepare an integration schedule, including briefings with not only the business approach, but also a familiarization of the general coordination and transversal functions of the organization; as well as the mandatory medical visit;
  • Allow time for reading and familiarizing oneself with the internal tools and procedures;
  • Think about what can be done in e-learning and at a distance or requires the physical presence of the new recruit;
  • Plan a time to discuss after a few days to assess and adjust the integration according to the needs and the first feedback.

On the day: a warm welcome to put the new employee at ease

  • Plan an informal moment of conviviality (lunch, breakfast) or the organization of a time of exchange as a team or the organization of a pair of integration who can guide and be a reference in case of questions about the values of the organization, the daily issues;
  • Announce a few days in advance by email to the whole team the arrival of a new person in the team;
  • Be present to welcome the new person and the team concerned;
  • Take a tour of the premises so that the newcomer can quickly find his or her feet and identify his or her colleagues.

In the first few weeks,

  • Ensure regular follow-up between the various parties: HR, manager and new recruit.
  • Plan regular check-ins, follow up on key dates such as the end of the trial period;
  • Check with the person that he/she is following the scheduled appointments (briefing, medical follow-up);
  • Check that she has the right key contacts (HR, professional alert, various focal points);
  • Solicit feedback and first impressions, answer questions.

For a good integration, attach importance to departures as well (“offboarding”)

Too often neglected, preparing and accompanying team departures are just as essential as integration. Beyond leaving on good terms, the idea is to ensure that the memory of the person leaving is kept and to capitalize on the work done by the person leaving in order to achieve a smooth transition.

It is also a sign of respect that should not be underestimated. A former colleague can be your best (or worst) external ambassador in a sector where staff turnover is high and frequent.

  • Make every effort to ensure that capitalization on the work accomplished is achieved. This represents a significant amount of time. It is an investment: the more time is given, the easier it will be for the team and a new recruit.
  • Request an exit report that will list accomplishments, ongoing projects, issues, and challenges encountered during the collaboration;
  • Ideally, take time to discuss this report to fully understand the issues and possibly the reasons for the exit. Learn from it.
  • Anticipate the logistical aspects of a departure: return of keys, badge, recovery of equipment, closing accounts, archiving data, etc.

Throughout the collaboration,

Finally, if the organization of your team allows it, give your teams time to train and improve. Self-training will always be valued and is a real retention issue.

On the topic of responsible data management, many resources from the sector are highlighted in this toolbox: see section 2 – Essentials resources to know and section 7 – Extra resources from the sector.