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Volunteer Power!

Volunteer Power News — Number 28
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

© 2005 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

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In this Issue: Juggling the multiple projects of volunteer management

I just got off the phone with a volunteer manager from a huge hospital in San Francisco. We talked about the changes in volunteer management and one of the most significant changes for large organizations is that volunteer managers are being called on to wear multiple hats (in small organizations volunteer managers have been wearing many hats for a long time). The volunteer manager is called on to do many things in addition to recruiting, motivating and managing volunteers.

The following story is how I start off our management section of our all-day workshop, "Restoring the Passion and Power of the 21st Century Volunteer". This is not a story about time management. It is a story about the interaction between the volunteer and volunteer manager. How the ball is passed from volunteer manager to the volunteer is the essence of management.

The Story

Jim walked towards me holding a rather large basketball-size ball and said, "While you were gone on vacation last week, I had a problem with one of my volunteers." As he explained the problem, I made the mistake most managers make and responded, "Let me think about it and I'll get back to you." When I said those words, Jim handed me his ball and left feeling great because he had just unloaded his problem on me.

I had just returned from vacation and had not even reached my desk. Already carrying a large ball of my own, I know had acquired the ball Jim had given me. My ball was an idea I got on vacation for a dynamic staff meeting for our staff on how to work with volunteers. I was determined to start planning it immediately. But now I had two balls - a project (my dynamic staff meeting) and a problem (that I took from Jim) - and I had only been back to work for seven minutes.

Within twenty minutes I found myself juggling ten other balls that I had taken from clients, team members, e-mail, faxes, and voice mail. Suddenly the phone rang and my boss announced, "Drop everything you are doing and get to my office as soon as you can. We have a situation." I hated those words. What did they mean? As I left for my boss's office I felt like dropping all twelve balls but, but in reality I carried all of them with me and added yet another. Thinking about the many projects, emergencies, decisions, problems, concerns and the great idea I had for the preparation of my dynamic volunteer meeting, I now added my boss's "situation" to my plate. The way this morning had started, I knew I would end up leading an unprepared, unplanned, and rather boring staff meeting because I had too many other balls to juggle.

Does this sound like your typical morning? I had only been back in my office for twenty minutes. By noon I was juggling even more balls - each one with a different size, weight and feel. How was I going to juggle these multiple problems, projects, concerns, ideas and emergencies? The following four insights helped me learn to juggle my workplace demands.

Four Juggling Insights

If you can't do anything about it, it's not your ball

Although I'm only about 5' 5" tall, I don't have a height problem. Why? Because I can't do anything about it. Sometimes we are carrying around too many problem balls that we cannot do anything about. If you cannot do anything about it, it is not your problem. Quit carrying it around. If I can learn to focus only on the problems that I can control, I begin to eliminate some balls. To paraphrase Steven Covey, "When we focus on the problems we cannot control, we empower them to control us."

Don't keep the ball if the ball isn't yours

For years I used to take all of my staff and volunteer's problems by saying to them, "Let me think about it and I'll get back to you." About ten years ago I began to give those balls back by saying to them, "Try to think of three possible solutions to that problem and then pick what you think is the best solution." By taking this action, I not only passed off many balls, but I also became a trainer, a coach, a mentor and most of all a better manager. If the manger keeps taking the problem balls, the employee will never learn how to make decisions.

Break each project down into controllable tasks

When Michael Jordan came back to basketball after playing baseball, Peter Vescy asked him if he could pick up where he left off, averaging 32 points a game. Michael Jordan answered, "Why not, that's only 8 points a quarter." One of our problems is that 32 points overwhelm us—the magnitude of the project or projects we are trying to manage seems insurmountable. If we can break the project down to 8 points a quarter, it really isn't that bad.

When you think about it, juggling is really a system of throws and catches that come back. It looks overwhelming when you see a juggler throwing and catching balls, rings, clubs and chainsaws. But the great jugglers have broken a complicated process into throws that come back to them.

Bad Habits Have Disastrous Results

When you are only juggling one object, you can get away with bad habits like procrastination, tardiness, disorganization and lack of planning. But when your work and responsibilities begin to expand, these bad habits catch up with you. I am working with a very talented volunteer manager who for years has used her talent and relational ability for success. But she is overwhelmed now because her great talent has allowed her to be promoted beyond her ability to manage multiple responsibilities. As we have worked together, this manager and I have discovered three bad habits. She is always late, she procrastinates, and she avoids conflict by not returning calls to upset volunteers. When she only had a few responsibilities, she got away with it. Today she can't.

If you feel overwhelmed, start building these four insights into your daily life and in time you can learn to juggle. Perhaps you can start by taking the advice of one of my former students who I saw recently. He told me that after one of my workshops he wrote on his screen saver the following statement:

"Don't take the ball if the ball isn't yours"

Thomas W. McKee
Volunteer Power

Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at tom@advantagepoint.com. Other articles and free resources are available at www.volunteerpower.com.

For more articles by Thomas McKee, visit the Articles section on our website.

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