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Power to the People @ Médecins Sans Frontières Belgium

”Power to the People”. A militant mantra, covering different meanings on the labor market.

In Belgium it still generally reflects an emphasis on extrinsic motivators, like wages and labor conditions. While in Sweden intrinsic motivators, like job content and autonomy, prevail. Those are more determinant to work longer with more commitment. This states Prof. Dr. Hilda Martens of Hasselt University, following a May 2014 study by Delta Lloyd Life.

Any Belgian exceptions proving the rule? More and more. Think of Boss Paints, Colruyt, Durabrik and Schoenen Torfs. For sure, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Belgium can be added to this list.

During the Freelance Cafe of Balance HR, MSF showed how they are putting people first. Afterwards we had a talk with Philippe Matthys (Partnership Coordinator), Sébastien Roy (HR Director) and Peter Geiregat (Freelance HR Advisor).

How would you present MSF Belgium, in a few words?

Philippe Matthys: “Our baseline says what we stand for: ‘Medical aid where it is needed most. Independent. Neutral. Impartial.’ Our operational center in Brussels is employing around 8.000 people. Most of them are working in the field abroad.”

From evaluation to valuation

What makes people warm to gain and maintain work at MSF?

Sébastien Roy: "Main motive to apply is to find a meaningful job. Their engagement is generated by our social mission. Some may be even too engaged. We help them finding a healthy balance, by maintaining  a permanent dialogue. People are highly mobile within the organization and we listen to their desires and talents. Our new appraisal system helps us identifying this.”

According to research, 90% of the current performance appraisals fail. What is in your opinion an effective method?

Peter Geiregat: “MSF has just introduced a major change to its evaluations, with lots of attention for cultural dimensions and constant change. We believe in the following elements:

  1. Simple: a rigorous and light system that results in objective data about the added value of the employees.
  2. Sense: the ability to demonstrate concretely the relevance of doing appraisals.
  3. Strengths: a shift from evaluation to valuation, by recognizing people’s forces and drivers.

People from the Outside In

Sébastien, what was your motivation to hire a freelance HR advisor?

Sébastien: “On management level MSF recruits the majority internally. It enables us to maintain a strong identity and operational know-how. One of the risks, is to lack contact with external evolutions. A freelancer allows us to have a critical regard on our own evolution. Key is not to limit the assignment too strictly, in order to augment the creativity.”

Peter, how do you “bring the outside in”?

Peter: “Respecting the DNA of MSF and creating together is vital in order to have a lasting impact. I’ve also set up an MSF HR Advisory Committee. Each quarter it brings external senior HR experts together with the management of MSF to generate new perspectives and agree on action items.”

3 ingredients for sustainable employability

How do you see the evolution of HR at MSF?

Sebastien: “With rapid changes in society and technology, we are evolving towards more focus on employability. We aim to realize this by finding a balance between head, heart and hands.

  • Head: we develop the capability of our people, by building further on their core talents. Most of all through constant dialogue and a coaching approach.
  • Heart: we work on a positive commitment of our staff. By enhancing their level of autonomy and decision making capacity.
  • Hands: finally we make sure our people are capable in delivering a sustainable contribution. Therefor we take care of their well-being, through proactive psychosocial and health follow-up.”

Added value of partnership

What does a partnership with MSF mean?

Philippe: “89% from our means comes from private. Businesses that support us are vitally important. When it is authentically driven, a partnership accentuates your commitment for the humanitarian cause. For your people this could go together with deployment as volunteer and in some cases with awareness sessions.”

And so we end where we started, with the people. Many thanks for your insights!

Interested in a partnership with MSF? Contact Philippe Matthys.

Interview & pictures by Edward Vanhoutte, founder of Balance HR.


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