26/03/2014 - 14:22

Treat your staff as volunteers

26/03/2014 - 14:22


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Business owners can improve productivity if they actively engage with their staff.

Treat your staff as volunteers
PULLING TOGETHER: Successful teams require a common purpose and sense of enjoyment. Photo: iStockphoto

Business owners can improve productivity if they actively engage with their staff.  

Most companies only pay lip service to the slogans ‘we treat our staff as our customers’ and ‘our staff is our biggest asset’. Maybe it’s not intentional, but they haven’t walked the talk, finding implementing such goals too great a hurdle.

I propose that we ‘treat our employees like volunteers’.

Clearly, volunteers are motivated to join organisations for many varied and often personal reasons, such as having a ‘giving’ personality, family values, life experiences, the cause the organisation represents, a need for belonging, and societal pressure.

But it is what volunteer organisations do to retain their volunteers that businesses can learn from.

Four levers of engagement have been identified.

1. A sense of contribution.

2. Enjoyment.

3. Pride in the organisation.

4. Expectations met.

Sense of contribution. Volunteers need to know they are contributing to the overall mission of the organisation. Seeing the positive results of their efforts, and engaging in meaningful tasks are two ways of getting that sense of contribution.

This is undoubtedly applicable in the business setting as well. Letting staff know how they contribute to the success of the organisation might seem like an easy and straightforward task, but many companies fail to do it. Showing the monthly results and how each team has contributed to that can go a long way in achieving this.

Enjoyment. Two elements are involved here. One is positive interaction with the stakeholders (other volunteers, paid staff, clients or service recipients) of the organisation. These interactions must leave you feeling positive. Quitting a volunteer role is much easier than quitting a paid job, so only a minimal level of friction will be tolerated here.

The other element is the activity that you are being asked to do. For example if all you are being asked to do is shake tins in the street, and you are not comfortable with that, your volunteering experience is not likely to be positive and you may leave and find somewhere else to volunteer.

Enjoyment can also take the form of fun meetings; too often meetings are boring, unfocused, sap your energy and slowly eat away at your commitment. What can businesses learn from this lever of engagement? Start by fostering an element of fun in the workplace.

Hitting goals and targets is also enjoyable and energising, and their use should be leveraged as such.

The culture of the organisation is arguably the biggest influencer in terms of fostering fun and enjoyment in the workplace. Developing a results-focused team in a fun environment is possible.

Pride in the organisation. In order for volunteers to stay involved in a charity organisation, they need to feel pride in that organisation; proud that it is meeting its stated objectives, proud that its work is being recognised in the media, by the public.

A sense of pride is also felt when the organisation provides excellent support to its volunteers in the form of training, structured and streamlined processes, first-rate administrative backing, and recognition.

The goal for business here is to have processes that enable rather than hinder staff in meeting their goals.

Another area of improvement and source of pride for staff is in the quality of induction and training provided. Too often, induction is an afterthought, and as a result it is unstructured and unplanned.

With the current revolving door of staff prevalent in most companies, well thought-out induction is key to the getting new staff up to speed.

Expectations met. This takes the form of the stated and unstated expectations most of us take to any endeavour. Often our initial reaction is that we don’t have any expectations, however the following are usually there in the background: to be valued and respected; opportunity to contribute; to feel useful; and to influence the way things are done. Managing those expectations is key to the retention of volunteers.

This is also true for the business setting. Meeting staff expectations is arguably the most important factor in their active engagement and retention. The most direct way of finding out about staff expectations is to ask them. Unfortunately many companies do this in the form of surveys, usually with closed-ended questions that fail to reveal the deeper expectations.

Regular one-on-one chats with direct reports are more likely to reveal those, as well as provide opportunities to discuss options as to how these deeper expectations can be met.

Immediate actions that organisation can take to increase staff engagement are all low-hanging fruits that can be harvested immediately. To provide a sense of contribution, start by organising monthly info-sessions, whereby organisational results are clearly linked with the efforts of the different teams.

To add elements of enjoyment to the workplace, start with monthly celebrations of goals/target achievement. I am not talking about big parties for meeting big goals; rather it’s about small-scale celebrations of meeting monthly targets, or project milestones.

Businesses can learn from how volunteer organisations engage their volunteers to commit effort and to stay involved. Using these four levers of engagement, your business can capture your employees’ hearts and unleash their passion. 

Rambo Ramdianee has 15 years of private and public sector management experience, and 20 years of pro-bono work for NFP organisations.


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