Or at least, a little more like a volunteer. I participate in a couple volunteer organizations, and I’m frequently talking to them about treating their volunteers more like employees. Volunteer organizations sometimes have performance issues because they are afraid to hold people accountable: “How can we expect so much from them? They are just volunteers.” Frequently, you find them settling for whatever they can get.
Today I realized, however, that maybe we can learn a few lessons from volunteer organizations. One of my volunteer groups is facing some challenges. A leader who “reports” to me came up to me and suggested I send out some official communication regarding my stance on the issue. I realized that that feedback was transparent, honest, and coming from a direct report within the volunteer organization. I don’t think that happens enough in the corporate world.
Lessons from volunteering:
1. Create a culture where people can tell you the brutal truth. Volunteers are not afraid of getting fired or a bad review. Typically they will be more honest when there is an issue. Create a safe zone on your team where people are not afraid of retaliation. This requires being vulnerable and suspending judgement when people test the waters.
2. Be more collaborative. In volunteer organizations you really have to take everyone along with you, which means we tend to do more brainstorming than directing. This can easily be applied at work. Instead of giving a directive, let the team reach the decision through brainstorming. You might find yourself surprised. They could come up with a better solution than you had.
3. Say thank you effusively. In volunteer organizations we are always thanking people because we know they don’t have to be there. Pretend your employees are volunteers, and thank them just as much. Yes, they get a paycheck, but they also have other employers they can go to if you don’t appreciate them enough.
Jana Axline is president and leadership coach at Axline Solutions. Through her leadership musings she hopes to inspire audiences to grow as leaders and ultimately achieve who they were created to be. For more information visit Axline Solutions.