Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Archive for May, 2012

How to increase accountability when managing volunteers.

When volunteers are not meeting agreed-upon deliverables, how can we improve their performance and make them accountable when we’re keenly aware that they’re not being paid for their services?

In my experience, the most effective way to manage volunteers is to shift this perspective and expect the same quality of service and provide the same support and guidance that you would receive from, or provide to, an employee. Remember that as long as the role is clearly defined the volunteer is choosing to fulfill the role and responsibilities. Therefore, they’re choosing to be responsible for the deliverables.

If you’re seeking ways to more effectively lead and manage volunteers—and increase accountability—here are just a few ideas and strategies to consider:

– When recruiting volunteers, be realistic when defining the time and task commitments for each role versus minimizing the commitment in order to attract volunteers. If you’re not familiar with the volunteer role you’re recruiting for, learn more about the current responsibilities, and/or create new ones based on the current goals. Then be sure the role is documented. Any checklists or job descriptions that you can provide the volunteer candidate will help them make a sound decision. A job description will also help to create accountability and offer a basis for performance discussions, if necessary, after they’ve accepted the role.

– Give volunteer candidates a few days to think about their choice to commit after they’ve been given information about the role(s). Set a time to follow up with them and let them know that you’ll be OK with their choice either way as you understand it’s a serious commitment. This approach confirms that there are expectations that call for a commitment to deliver.

– If you inherit existing volunteers—and you want to reiterate accountability—you may want to hold one-on-one meetings to review their roles and responsibilities. The checklist or job description will help reinforce expectations. The existing volunteers will then have the freedom to re-choose the “job” based on the current expectations.

– Remind volunteers that at any time if they find themselves unable to fulfill their volunteer roles, based on personal or professional demands, they should feel comfortable approaching you to back out of—or perhaps minimize—their commitment moving forward.

– Let volunteers know that in addition to your being available as needed, you’ll facilitate regular one-on-one meetings by phone or in person to provide the opportunity to exchange feedback and offer support along the way. Assure them that you’ll address concerns promptly, if they voice them. And let them know that you hope they’ll do the same if they have any concerns along the way.

– When discussing assignments be sure that you’re agreeing on measurable outcomes with specific target dates. If target dates are not met, be sure to contact the person the very next day to acknowledge the missed target and ask about the expected deliverable and when you can expect to receive it. Your prompt follow up on a missed deliverable sets a clear standard for meeting target dates in the future.

Contributing through volunteerism can be a rich experience for us and for those that we lead. These few strategies can also make a significant difference in the results we generate and in our enjoyment of the “job”.

Are you struggling with life/work balance? Here are a few ideas that may help.

Sometimes I pride myself in maintaining life/work balance. Yet, there are times when it becomes a struggle. It’s then that I need to remind myself that I do have choices, and there are a few small things I can do to pay attention to myself and what I want to do, in addition to what I must do. I’m revisiting the idea of life balance based on my personal experience, and what I’m hearing and observing in today’s workplace.

If you’re struggling with striking a balance between the energy you give your job and the energy you give yourself or your loved ones, these ideas may help. The tools I offer here are simple and doable. Instead of trying to change your current habits, which may be a huge undertaking for you in the short term, commit to some very small and doable action today that will prompt at least some additional attention in the personal area of your choice. Here are a few examples:

• On a night when you have to go back to work, instead of rushing and stressing through dinner, give your loved one or friend a call mid-day to invite them to meet for dinner to spend an hour-and-a-half of uninterrupted time before getting back to work. Then let yourself look forward to it and enjoy the break.
• If you want or need some time to be alone, make the commitment to a stop at a bookstore for an hour or take a book to your favorite restaurant, or take a walk before getting back to work.
• Make the commitment now that you will not end the day today without spending at least 15 uninterrupted minutes to read with your child from his favorite book, have a conversation with your teen, or place that call to a friend or loved one.
• Isolating yourself? Make a commitment that by the end of the week, you’re going to call a friend and schedule one social outing within the next month that places you in a new environment with new people. Just one call. Just one plan.
• Make a commitment to turn your cell phone off for a set amount of time this evening making you available and present to the person in front of you. Or simply enjoy not being accessible to anyone.
• Order take-out and add candlelight to the kitchen table this evening. A shift in your normal environment sometimes provides a shift in your attention.
• Add one “want to do” in addition to your “must dos” to your planning system. It may prompt you to take action, or at the very least, help you notice that you haven’t taken action.
• Note a loved one’s special day at work or school in your planning system so that it becomes part of what you think about on that day. It may prompt you to make a call—and make a connection—to see how it went.
• Not exercising? Take the stairs instead of the elevator today. Or park your car further away than usual.
• Breathe!

Although there are so many habits and situations that affect our well-being, applying just one or more of these small doable actions towards balance is a start in the right direction. However, if the balance issue becomes an acute, unmanageable concern for you and your family over time, it may be time to explore your efficiencies or re-evaluate your professional and personal choices more seriously.

Even with self-awareness, self-regulation can be tough.

In his 10-page article What Makes a Leader (Best of HBR, 1998), Daniel Goleman, a well-known guru on Emotional Intelligence (EQ), defines one of the five components of EQ this way: “Self-regulation, which is like an ongoing inner conversation, is the component of emotional intelligence that frees us from being prisoners of our feelings.” (If you’ve not read it, Goleman’s article provides an awesome summary of EQ and its impact on our ability to lead effectively.)

I personally define self-regulation as our ability to recognize and manage our own emotional impulses when our hot buttons are pushed. We all have our hot buttons whether they’re pushed at work or elsewhere. The biological case for this hijacking of emotions during current events is based on our brain’s ability to store and retain emotional responses to significant past events. Interesting stuff.

The business case behind self-regulation is that emotions are louder than words and a charged emotional response will often drown out our opportunity to be heard.

You may be aware (another component of Goleman’s EQ model) that you tend to react—or overreact—emotionally to challenges. You may genuinely want to be more composed, because you realize that your own reactions and emotions are minimizing your impact. Yet when the right button is pushed your emotions may quickly take over and your ability to self-regulate is compromised.

Your ability to stop, think and respond may be worth considering if self-regulation tends to be a consistent challenge for you:

– Each of us experience a unique and familiar physical reaction when our emotional buttons are pushed. What does your reaction feel like? When it abruptly arrives in those first seconds, it may be subtle but it’s still quite recognizable if you make it your business to be aware of it. When you feel it coming on, that’s when you’ll want to stop and think.

– Prepare a statement (a response versus a reaction) that you can use during a conversation when you feel that first physical manifestation of your emotions arrive. For example: Mary, I’d like to give more thought to what I’m hearing you say and then get back to you to discuss further. Once you prepare a response, practice it in preparation for that next tough conversation.

This effort to self-regulate may offer you the time to offer a thoughtful and business-centered response, and ultimately have more of a positive impact on outcomes.