Monday, February 20, 2012

Sometimes you have to Voluntell

I am sure that we've all run into a situation like this one:

"I need a volunteer to fill a position (take on additional responsibility, lead an activity, etc etc etc)."

Unfortunately, almost every time those words are uttered, the people in the immediate area look down, at each other; basically anywhere but at the person looking for the volunteer. Sounds familiar, I am sure.

After that, the person says "If somebody doesn't step forward, I'll have to pick someone..."

Followed by more non-eye contact. Finally either a person is picked or a some brave soul steps forward.

From Hanger Theatre website
Usually the person that is ultimately chosen probably won't grow doing the assignment. It might even be easy for him/her, which is why he/she stepped forward. Or in the case of being picked, it is usually a person who won't complain (at least not loudly) and can get the job done. Again, not somebody who will probably grow with the assignment.

When a person is picked I call it being "voluntold." It's a term I picked up in the Army, because this situation played daily all over Fort Hood, where I was stationed (or for that matter, any other military base). So how do we avoid this pain?

The solution is the same as the final step in the original process. You voluntell somebody that they have the assignment. Don't step in front of the group, looking uncomfortable, or at least uninspiring, hoping somebody will step forward. It wastes the team's time and yours. It also wears away at your credibility because now you aren't a leader standing in front of a group. You are a task master.

Instead, call the person you want to perform the activity aside before the formation, inform them of the voluntelling, and then in front of the formation announce your decision. Now that person has authority given by you, and you look like a leader who is prepared and effective. Problem solved.

Now I am not saying don't ever ask for volunteers. What I am saying is that you should be asking for volunteers once every blue moon, rather than once or twice a day.

A prime example where this worked for me was in Toastmasters. I was elected President to a club that was newly formed but missing direction. Every week they asked for volunteers to fill roles or give speeches, and every week there were barely enough people attending the meetings to fill the roles (in many cases people were asked to take on multiple roles). It was a new club, but a dieing one.

Once I became President, one of the first things I did was get with my Vice President of Education (VPE) and ask him to develop a rotation for the roles. Rather than looking for volunteers, we voluntold people when they had assignments and what the expectation was; at least a WEEK before the meeting. We still allowed volunteer to step forward and fill roles, but that was the exception rather than the rule.

The result: attendance at the club increased, awards were earned more quickly and evenly, and the club started thriving, with regular visitors and rapid growth. A true success story, made possible by the well thought out plan of my VPE.

So as a leader, the next time you are looking at a volunteer situation, stop and think about the reaction of your team, and perhaps you should treat it as a voluntell situation.

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