Standard 17: Managing human resource transitions responsibly during project close-out.
Ensure continuity of adequate, qualified staff throughout close-out to fulfill commitments to all stakeholders.
Encourage retention of key project staff until the end of the project period.
As projects near close-out, it is natural for staff to think about their next job. However, CRS is responsible for quality implementation until the very end of the project and early departure of project staff can negatively impact project closure. Encouraging retention of key project staff through the end of their planned period of project service:
- Promotes continuity and responsible project close-out.
- Facilitates the capture and application of project institutional knowledge for close-out activities, including final learning activities and reporting (Standard 18).
- Primary responsible: Project manager (PM)/chief of party (CoP) with the head of programming (for retention of the PM or CoP position)
- The PM/CoP takes the lead in developing retention strategies and assisting project staff to transition within or outside of CRS; the HoP takes the lead in retaining the PM/CoP.
- Others Involved: Head of programming (HoP); human resources (HR) staff; country representative (CR) and senior management team (SMT); deputy regional director for program quality or management quality (DRD PQ or MQ)
- The HoP and HR staff support the PM/CoP by providing information and advice on close-out staffing options and retention strategies;
- The CR and other SMT members supporting timely communication with the project team around responsible HR close-out, approve close-out staffing and retention plans, and help arrange the resources for retention plans, as needed;
- The DRD PQ or DRD MQ provides support as needed with identification of temporary staff (TDY) and/or bridge funding to help promote retention of key staff through the end of the project.
TIP - Don’t forget about the PM/CoP! While the PM/CoP, as overall responsible for the project, may lead efforts to promote retention of other project staff, the HoP and SMT members must also ensure retention strategies are in place for the PM/CoP.
- For multi-year projects: Ongoing during the close-out period, with a more intensive focus in the final 6 months before the project end date.
- For projects of 12 months or less: Ongoing, with a more intensive retention focus from at least 3 months before the project end date.
This key action builds on the project close-out plan developed under Standard 16, key action 2.
Follow these steps to encourage retention of key project staff:
- Early in the close-out process, the CR convenes a meeting with the project team to emphasize CRS’ commitment to responsible project close-out, including human resource close-out.
- Click here for Key talking points for the meeting.
- Explain that CRS is finalizing project close-out staffing plans.
- Communicate that the PM/CoP and HR will be organizing meetings with staff to discuss project close-out staffing plans and transition options (see Standard 17, key action 2 for more detailed guidance).
- Emphasize that CRS is committed to retaining high-performing, qualified staff wherever possible or supporting staff to transition to other opportunities.
- Remind staff of any financial incentives available for those whose employment with CRS will end with the project, but who choose to remain with CRS until completing all their project responsibilities. For example, in many countries, labor law requires that severance is paid to staff on indefinite contracts who are made redundant, but not to staff who resign. Check your country program personnel manual and the national staff severance policy.
- As appropriate (see call out box below, "Understand staff motivators"), inform staff that CRS will be circulating a survey to better understand what actions CRS could take to support them to remain with the project until the end of their planned period of service.
- If the project is funded by an external donor and CRS and the donor are negotiating possible project extensions, explain this to staff. Share any alternate close-out scenarios the country program is preparing for regarding close-out dates and plans.
- If the project team is spread across multiple locations, organize separate meetings in each location, led by the CR or another representative of the SMT.
In addition to the meeting led by the CR, it may also be helpful, particularly with larger project teams where it is likely there will be staff separating from CRS, to organize a team meeting with the HR manager. During this meeting, the HR manager reviews the different stages in the HR close-out process (including the separation process as applicable). The HR manager also clarifies what CRS expects of staff during the close-out period, and what staff can expect from CRS, including how CRS will keep staff updated in situations where there is the possibility of extending the project close-out date.
Understand staff motivators to remain with the project and analyze potential incentives: A number of different factors and incentivesIncentives might include financial assistance for formal training; payment of health insurance costs for a specified period after end of employment; a cash bonus paid after completing the agreed last day of service; additional support (e.g. from a volunteer, intern, etc.) to manage tasks/ensure a manageable workload during project close-out; a mentoring program; CRS-sponsored cultural activities, etc. may motivate staff to stay. Understanding these motivators and thinking about how to translate them into appropriate incentives is a critical part of developing an effective retention strategy. With smaller teams, use one-on-one meetings to get a better sense of potential motivators and incentives for staff to remain with the project through the end of their planned period of service. With larger teams, it may be useful to conduct a survey. Discuss the potential incentive options to include in the survey with senior management prior to circulating the survey. This will help avoid generating unrealistic expectations. See the example Work Incentives Questionnaire under “Tools”. See also a related resource (in Spanish) under “Other Resources”, which summarizes the results of a work incentive survey conducted when CRS was preparing to close several offices and outlines a retention incentive plan based on survey results.
The PM/CoP, in coordination with the HoP and HR staff and guided by the close-out staffing plan developed as part of close-out planning (see Standard 16, key action 2), develops strategies to retain key staff directly charged to the project through the end of the project period.
- Review information from implementation-phase performance management support and staff care activities (see Standard 14, key actions 1 and 3) regarding the capacities and interests of project staff (including longer-term interest in employment with CRS).
- Use this information to develop project and staff-specific retention strategies.
- Click here for a List of retention strategies.
- Supporting qualified, high-performing staff to transfer to another CRS (or potentially partner-led) project when the current project ends – this may include a follow-on phase of the current project, in which case, retaining as many high-performing staff as possible will help with the smooth start-up of the new project.
- Identifying a transitional assignment (e.g. a temporary duty assignment (TDY)) and arranging bridge funding for high-performing staff who plan to transition to another CRS project, in the event of a gap between the current project and a new or follow-on project. For local staff, senior leadership should determine staff interest in and eligibility for potential international assignments.
- Promoting staff motivation through supervisor and SMT formal recognition of team and individual contributions (e.g., celebrations, ceremonies, certificates).
- Emphasizing any financial incentivesSee the talking points in step 1 above regarding severance payment as a possible retention incentive.
In especially challenging project environments with high staff turnover and/or in project environments where there is intense competition for qualified staff, CRS may have budgeted for financial incentives to promote staff retention. If the approved budget did not include such incentives but the PM/CoP and SMT anticipate challenges with staff retention, the PM/CoP should review the project budget and projections at the beginning of the close-out period, to identify any possibilities for offering retention incentives. It is recommended that HR and SMT members rather than the PM/CoP take the lead in developing any retention incentive plan. Be sure to obtain donor approval if needed before finalizing the plan, and identify ways to link incentive payment to staff performance. and other possible incentives (see call-out box above) for staff who remain through the end of their agreed period of service.
- Offering job search support for staff who remain through the end of the project but separate from CRS following project closure (for guidance, see Standard 17, key action 2).
Transition of CRS staff to partner organizations: While a less common transition option, in some projects there may be opportunities for CRS staff to transition to a position within a partner organization. For example, some CRS staff in the multi-country AIDSRelief project transitioned to local partner organizations, to support the partners with continued implementation of project activities after these partners competed for and won phase-over funding.
- The PM/CoP and HoP discuss the potential retention strategies with the CR and other SMT members as appropriate, and seek approval for the strategies.
- Be sure the project close-out staffing plan includes options for the “worst-case scenario” if few or none of the key staff accept the retention strategies.
- If necessary, the CR follows up with the DRD PQ and/or MQ regarding project staffing close-out options.
- Consult with the region regarding bridge funding possibilities or CRS TDY opportunities for staff who CRS wants to retain.
- It is particularly important to identify bridge funding and potential TDY options as a “plan B” in cases where a high-performing staff has been offered a position with an upcoming CRS project, in the event that new project approval is delayed.
Every staffing close-out process is different, and dynamic: Sometimes CRS will have staffed up significantly for a complex project and there may not be opportunities at CRS for all project staff when the project ends. In those cases, the most likely retention strategies will involve maintaining staff morale and motivation through recognition and support for their job search. Sometimes there will be an appropriate project (new or follow-on) scheduled to start shortly after the current project closes, but bridge assignments and funding may be necessary to retain staff in the interim period. Sometimes a key project staff member will receive a good offer, either inside or outside of CRS,
that is dependent on his or her early departure from the project team. In such cases, the PM/CoP and SMT must arrange for temporary coverage of the staff person’s responsibilities. It is important to approach close-out staff retention proactively while remaining flexible, and to consider each individual staff member’s situation. Start planning early, and initiate conversations with staff with sufficient lead time to ensure they don’t depart the project early due to uncertainty about transition options and support.
- The PM/CoP (for other project staff) and HoP (for the PM/CoP), with support from HR and SMT, implements the retention strategies, adapting these plans as needed as transition options and/or individual staff plans and interests evolve (see Standard 17, key action 2 for guidance on monitoring staff separations and transitions).
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- Keep in mind that CRS project staff transitions during close-out can also impact project relationships and coordination with partners. Promoting retention of CRS project staff during the close-out period can facilitate close-out for partners as well as the overall project.
- In some cases, partners will continue to implement project activities via phase-over funding or other follow-on resources. In such cases, it is especially important that CRS staff supporting those partners are in place as long as possible, in order to help partners complete the project in the best possible position to sustain and expand outcomes.
- Local partners often face greater challenges retaining talented project staff, as partners may not have access to more flexible funding or other projects to which to transition qualified staff. Help partner management think through their retention options, particularly if they have new projects in the pipeline where qualified staff of the current project could contribute their knowledge and skills. See Standard 17, key action 4, for detailed guidance on supporting partners with close-out staffing.
- When CRS is a sub-recipient, review CRS’ sub-recipient agreement carefully and ensure any staff retention strategies are consistent with agreement terms.
- Follow the same procedure for emergency projects, keeping in mind that some emergency project staff may be purely interested in or skilled in emergency response, and transitioning to a non-emergency project may not be an option. In such cases, the individual discussions with staff about their post-project plans are a particularly important component of retention efforts.
Tools and templates
Work Incentives Survey (in Microsoft Forms)
Policies and procedures
- Primary responsible: Project manager (PM)/chief of party (CoP) with the head of programming (for retention of the PM or CoP position)