Over the past few years I’ve been getting increasingly concerned about some of the language that folks in the voluntary sector are using. In particular, there has been a creeping reliance on the terminology of the workplace. In the organisation in which I volunteer, it’s commonplace now to talk about ‘line managers’, ‘targets’ and ‘key performance indicators’. And I know I am prone to using the same language in my day job, which is running an organisation which relies upon volunteers. But there’s something about this that just doesn’t quite seem right. And I think I am beginning to understand what it is.
Don’t get me wrong. I would be the first to stress that I, and many of my colleagues within the sector, have talked a great deal about the need to run charities in a more business-like way than perhaps they’ve been run before. I remain committed to doing just that. We are accountable to our trustees, our donors, volunteers, beneficiaries and the general public for using the funds we raise efficiently. We ARE running businesses. It’s just that, rather than making widgets, our product is about changing lives for the better.
But when it comes to working with volunteers, I think we’ve begun to miss the point.
Volunteering is not a transaction that’s the same as employment. It shares many of the same characteristics – there’s work to be done, relationships to care about, goals to achieve – but the basic drivers for getting involved are different from day-to-day work. Money doesn’t change hands. And whilst there may be a feeling of moral obligation to get work done, a volunteer is not bound by a contract of employment. A volunteer can walk at any time.
So ‘managing’ volunteers is difficult. Just the word ‘managing’ feels wrong to me. It suggests a relationship that’s hierarchical, transactional and procedural. And that doesn’t feel right when describing volunteering.
Of course, things have to get done. But should we be ‘managing’ the volunteers with whom we work?
Or should we be ‘leading’ them instead? Inspiring them. Motivating them. Thanking them. Celebrating their contributions.
(And, come to think of it, shouldn’t that actually be true for everyone in an organisation – whether they’re employed or a volunteer?)
Maybe the answer is that, at least in the voluntary sector, we should endeavour to manage tasks, but lead people.
So, I’ve come to the conclusion that the language of the workplace is acceptable, but it should be the language of the enlightened workplace. Targets are fine. They help us to know whether or not we’ve achieved something. Key performance indicators are fine too; they help us to know how far we’ve travelled. But these all help us to manage tasks. Our people deserve to be led – and to lead.
By definition, managers have subordinates. Managers have a position of authority vested in them by their organisation, and their subordinates work for them and largely do as they are told.
Leaders do not have subordinates – at least not when they are leading. They have to give up formal authoritarian control, because to lead is to have followers, and following is always a voluntary activity.
Leaders inspire people to follow them. They then manage tasks in partnership with the folks around them. They show how following them will lead to people achieving their hearts’ desire.
For those who like lists, here’s one that I culled from a variety of internet sources as to what those hearts’ desires (or motivations) might be:
|Achievement||Help others||Develop new skills|
|Recognition and feedback||Make a difference||Meet new people|
|Personal growth||Find purpose||Explore new areas of interest|
|Giving something back||Enjoy a meaningful conversation||Impress your mum (my personal favourite!)|
|Bringing about social change||Connect with your community||Expand your horizons|
|Family ties||Feel involved||Get out of the house|
|Friendship & support||Contribute to a cause you care about||Make new friends|
|Feeling of belonging||Use your skills in a productive way||Feel better about yourself|
|Feel needed||Get to know a community||Demonstrate commitment to a cause/belief|
|Share a skill||Gain leadership skills||Act out a fantasy|
|Do your civic duty||Satisfaction from accomplishment||Keep busy|
|To have an impact||Learn something new||Help a friend or relative|
|For escape||To become an “insider”||Assuaging guilt|
|Be challenged||Be a watchdog||Feel proud|
|Make new friends||Explore a career||Help someone|
|Therapy||Do something different from your job||For fun!|
|For religious reasons||Earn academic credit||Keep skills alive|
|An excuse to do what you love||Feel good||Be part of a team|
|Gain status||Test yourself||Build your cv|
|To be an agent of change||Personal experience with problem, illness, or cause||To stand up and be counted|
Perhaps then, we need to be looking for individuals with a strong charisma who enjoy attracting people to a cause.
Perhaps we need to be looking for individuals who are good with people, who give credit to others (and take blame on themselves).
Perhaps we need to be looking for individuals who inspire loyalty.
This does not mean that we shouldn’t pay attention to tasks – in fact we need to continue to be extremely achievement-focused. But we need to recognise the importance of enthusing others to work towards our organisation’s vision.
Perhaps we need more leaders and fewer managers.