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Volunteer Power News — Number 35
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

© 2006 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

A warm welcome to all volunteer managers—those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize volunteer workers.

In this Issue:

1. The four stages of managing volunteers
2. Sad news for Volunteer Managers – the demise of AVA

The Four Stages of Managing Volunteers

My son, Thom, has been called to be an associate minister for a small rural church in Northern California. Thom worked for my business, Advantage Point Systems, for seven years developing our web sites and producing videos and training materials. Recently Thom ran the I.T. department for another business, but he has never managed volunteers.

Thom’s main job will be to recruit, train and manage the volunteers who do the work of the church. Ministers refer to this as “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” (in Ephesians 4:11-12), but in essence this is “volunteer management”. He has been a volunteer in his church and youth volunteer with Campus Life, but he has never managed volunteers before.

As Thom takes on his new position, this is my advice to him which is an adaptation of Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership. I call it the four stages of volunteer management, and I’ll give him this advice in the form of a story.

My Advice to My Son—On His New Volunteer Management Position

Thom, one of your first volunteers is Chris, a 22 year old young man who is a self-reliant, highly motivated achiever. When Chris takes on a project, you never have to check on him or the project. Chris is a volunteer manager’s dream.

You recruited Chris to develop, edit, and produce videos for the church services. He will be responsible to produce at least one video (DVD) a month, and the content will vary from a movie/TV clip to enhance the sermon, a report about a youth event, or a skit about an upcoming all-church event.

I can predict that in a few years you’ll have a friend visit you one Sunday morning when Chris shows one of his better videos. Your friend, also a minister, says to you, “Do I ever wish I had a Chris in my church that would take such a proactive volunteer role. My volunteers aren’t so competent and committed.”

As you hear your friend speak, you laugh because you know that Chris wasn’t always that committed or competent. In fact when you started with Chris, he was anything but competent. What your friend doesn’t know is that you had to move through the leadership stages with Chris before he ever became a competent, self reliant, empowered achiever.

So Thom, as you brag to your friend about what a great volunteer Chris is, you remember the journey, and how you guided Chris through the following four stages:

  • Stage One: High commitment, low competence (very enthusiastic new volunteer with no experience)
  • Stage Two: Medium commitment, medium competence (Disillusioned volunteer with some experience)
  • Stage Three: Cautious commitment, high competence (Careful, cautious volunteer with growing expertise)
  • Stage Four: High commitment, high competence (Self reliant, highly motivated and competent volunteer)

Stage One: High commitment, Low competence

Chris was excited about this position. He had always pictured himself as a movie director; however, he had never done anything like this before. His only video experience was his home videos (he takes a lot), and he did a little editing in high-school when he lived in L.A. But he was low on competence because he really didn’t know how to plan, shoot, edit and produce quality videos. What excited him most was that you set up an editing room in the church and began a training program for him. Chris was stoked and felt a life-long dream was coming true.

Chris is like many new volunteers who often start out with a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the job. He came to his assignments early to set up, left late and had lots of ideas. But even though Chris was high on commitment, he was low on competence: the position, duties, use of equipment and the organization culture of the rural church were so new to him.

Thom, as a volunteer manager, you gave Chris a lot of direction at this time. You were very specific in your training and told him exactly what you wanted him to do. You took the time to write a “position charter” for Chris like the sample on the Volunteer Power website. Most new volunteers respond to direction in areas where they don’t know what to do.

For stage one you used the leadership style called directing: high direction, low support. New volunteers don’t need the constant support because their enthusiasm carries them along. They are willing learners and work hard. But then came stage two.

Stage Two: Medium competence. Low motivation, energy and confidence

Stage one might last three weeks or even a year. But for Chris, he moved to stage two in the sixth month. The honeymoon was over and reality set in. Thom, because of your training and Chris’s on-the-job experience, he developed more competence and the project he produced about a work team in Mississippi to help rebuilt the destroyed homes and lives of the Katrina victims was really quite good. He took the week off of work to go with the work team, filmed the trip, and developed a very powerful video report. Even though you did not go on the trip, you had specified the shots to take, helped him do the editing, and you were excited as you saw his expertise develop. His competence was definitely improving.

But Chris began to take some “creative license” with his videos. He kept asking you the stage two question, “Why?” The question that volunteers ask at this stage is “Why do we do it this way?” Sometimes Chris would have doubts.

For stage two you used a leadership style called coaching: high support and high direction. You moved from the directive style of leadership (telling the volunteers what to do) to the coaching style of leadership. Coaching is more a selling style. Coaching is meeting with the volunteers to listen to their questions, listen to their ideas, and listen to their concerns. You discuss these with the volunteers, and then you make the decision as to how they should proceed. Thom, as a leader you were still very hands on. You gave Chris a lot of support to encourage him during times of doubts and direction to answer his questions and continue training at this stage.

Stage Three: Medium to high competence. Cautious commitment.

At some point with Chris you made a huge choice. You chose to move from stage two (lots of support and lots of direction) to stage three (lots of support, less direction). Stage three was a significant leap for both you and Chris. You followed all of the coaching skills (listening, supporting, and hands on) but then you turned the decision making over to the Chris. You talked over the decisions with him, discussed the options with him, but then empowered Chris to make the decision. The big difference between stage two and stage three is the decision making. In stage two, you both discuss the decisions, but you decide. In stage three, you both discuss the decisions, but Chris decides . At this stage the volunteer has a lot more control.

But then you experience your first disaster with Chris. During Chris’s eighth month, his video was a little off the wall. He got a little too creative for a church, and the criticism came. You were gone for the weekend and didn’t see the video before it was shown in church. That was a huge mistake. In fact, some board members felt that Chris was a loose cannon and you needed to “fire him” from his volunteer position. But you stood up for Chris and took the blame. You told the board that it was your fault because you had not seen the video, and that would not happen again. In essence you had jumped to stage four (highly empowered, self reliant achiever) too quickly. Chris was not ready for stage four yet.

When you and Chris faced the “case of the in-bad-taste video,” your temptation was to move back to stage two and take back the decision making away from Chris. But you didn’t. What you did with Chris during this crisis was to use a stage three leadership called supporting: high support, medium direction. Chris needed the support for encouragement and commitment, but he didn’t need to be micro-managed. He was ready to quit. He felt that he wasn’t appreciated and was struggling with attitude. So you listened carefully and let him vent. Then you told him that you believed in him and felt that he had gifts and ideas that you could use. What you needed to work on with Chris was to help him understand his audience more. So you carefully discussed all decisions and video ideas with him. You listened to his options and asked him which option he felt was best. Then you let him decide. In your discussions you made sure that he understood the culture of the church and the wisdom of making videos that can be uplifting as well as entertaining.

And Chris came through. He rallied around your leadership and soon Chris advanced to stage four.

Stage Four: High competence, energy, motivation, commitment and enthusiasm

At stage four Chris became a self-reliant, empowered achiever. This was your goal. As a volunteer manager, you said to Chris, “just do it and then tell me about it later.” When your visiting friend saw Chris’s volunteer work, Chris was at a stage four. The big difference between stage two, three, and stage four is the decision making.

Stage Two: Talk about decisions, then the volunteer manager decides
Stage Three: Talk about the decisions, then the volunteer decides
Stage Four: Volunteer decides and acts, then the volunteer reports what he/she did.

The style of leadership for stage four is called delegating: low support and low direction. You won’t need to give Chris the support you did during stages two and three, because he can handle the job.

Thom, you will guide your volunteers through these four stages as a volunteer manager. You will sometimes start a volunteer at stage two or three because the volunteer has a lot of experience and competence. But you should always start them at a stage two or three, not a four. Even though they come with lots of experience, they need to understand the “why’s” of your culture. Some of your volunteers will move through the four stages very quickly and others take a lot more directing, coaching, and supporting before you empower them. Some never leave stage one. They are content to be told what to do all the time. But the bottom line is to match your leadership style (directing, coaching, supporting and delegating) with the development level of each volunteer. employee.

As a new volunteer manager, you will also move through these four stages

By the way, because this position is very new to you, your boss, the pastor of the church, will need to move through these four stages with you. You will also start of at stage one (high commitment, low competence) and in time you will reach stage four (self reliant, empowered achiever). You will need your boss to use the directing, coaching, supporting, delegating and empowering skills for you to succeed.

These ideas are not new to me. I learned them from reading and practicing Ken Blanchard “Situational Leadership” model. Ken Blanchard uses the chart to match the leadership styles:

  • S 1--Directing
  • S 2--Coaching
  • S 3--Supporting,
  • S 4--Delegating

to the development level

  • D 1—High commitment, low competence
  • D 2—Disillusioned learner
  • D 3—Cautious commitment
  • D 4—Self reliant achiever.

Inn the following chart, you can draw a line from D 1 to S 1, D 2 to S 2, D 3 to S 3 and D 4 to S 4. Too often managers to not match the development level of the employee to the correct leadership style. To read more about Situation Leadership, read Leadership and The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zagarmi and Drea Zigarmi. Although the book is about a manager and associated, the principles apply to the volunteer manager.

Sad News for Volunteer Administrators

I was so saddened last week to learn that the Association for Volunteer Administration (AVA) is dissolved. I have enjoyed working with many of you who are members and appreciated the opportunity to participate in your continuing education projects.

To get the sad story of what is happening and how you can be a part of creating a better association with vision and cutting-age thinking, go to an article by Susan Ellis of Energize.com.

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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