The Value of Volunteer Employees

VolunteersWe know that many company-owners face the challenge of getting the best out of their employees. Linda Case provides helps you can hone your leadership skills with volunteer employees.

At a recent Remodelers Executive Roundtable meeting 12 highly successful remodelers were discussing how they could hone their leadership skills. I asked each attendee to think of a time when they felt they were at their personal best as a leader. Then each in turn related their story.  Surprise! None were business related. Almost all involved volunteer work in a charity or community project or association. Why? We decided that a volunteer project has:

–  A clear start and finish,
–  A clear objective and an easy way to measure success; and
–  Volunteer workers. Because the workers were volunteers they had to be motivated and infused with a shared vision by the leader.

The consensus was that business is like parenting in that it is ever-ongoing and often doesn’t have distinct stop and start points. Indeed work may not inspire a shared vision and many times those employees sure don’t seem like volunteers.

Yet, couldn’t we add these ingredients to our business? Each job can be looked at as a “project” with a clear beginning and end and a schedule that documents and improves on that flow. Each job has a clear objective – on time, on budget with a delighted client. We can measure all of these three and share our findings.

Or we can work “on” the company in bite size pieces — for instance, to clean up the sales to production handoff and that can be our project. Our goal might be to run one job completely by the system we’ve created to make sure it works before we apply it to all jobs. Almost every important task can be broken down into discrete component parts and success can be defined and celebrated.

Now we get to the hard one – volunteers. Let me share an example from this meeting. One member — we’ll name him Gene — posted his large company’s organizational chart which showed virtually everyone in the office reporting to him. Then as he discussed the challenges he was dealing with, Gene kept referring to what employees wouldn’t do, couldn’t do, and didn’t like to do. Every employee seemed to be a  prima donna who needed special care. All the loose ends fell to Gene to do and the overload was burning him out.

Two company owners helped Gene out with sage advice. Both of them have clear policies that every employee must want to work for the company. If you want to work for a company as a base requirement to your employment, you are ready to accept the job descriptions and policies of that company. If you don’t like those, you won’t want to work for the company and will move on. As owner, you may like an employee, even love an employee and you may value their talent and expertise highly. But if they don’t really care whether they work for you or not, they need to be somewhere else.

You might say, “Of course everyone here wants to work for my company. They’re here aren’t they?” But we all have dealt with employees of service companies that don’t seem to want to work there. So don’t underestimate this concept. It frees you as employer though it certainly behooves every company owner to have a fun, enthusiastic, and excellent company that many people would want to work for. That gives the owner many potential employees to choose from. This concept creates a base from which you can insist that the rules, procedures, and systems will be followed.

But once you have “volunteers” in your company, you must – as leader – fire them up with that inspired vision. They want to know where the company is going, where their job is going, what constitutes success in the small picture and in the big picture. And they want to have fun getting there. It’s simple but it sure isn’t easy.

Network Your Way to More Jobs

Times for most remodelers are hard. There are fewer buyers and less urgent buyers. Job sizes are smaller. But you can’t even begin to sell until you have a lead. And leads are fewer and less qualified. Many of the marketing techniques that traditionally have worked are not working now.  So what is?

Interestingly, it’s a form of marketing that takes less money but more time. Networking. I’m hearing over and over that there is work out there but you have to get out of the office to get it—and it comes from a million different places and from people who have learned about you in some way—often unrelated to your business.

Listen to Ken Kirsch, co-owner of MAK Design + build in Davis, Calif. “I have attended events at the Davis Downtown Business Association, the Chamber of Commerce, NARI, and a city-sponsored green-building event,” says the busy remodeler, who enjoys painting as a hobby. “I have also placed paintings in a new building that a Realtor friend is selling. A kitchen job in which we got the go-ahead earlier this week is a lead from that Realtor. One lead this week came from the NARI directory, which the prospective client picked up at the NARI booth at a home show in January.”

MAK also got a job from a homeowner who met Kirsch at an elementary school fair, where he was face-painting while wearing a hat printed with the company’s logo. “The client told me that he thought that anybody who gave that much attention to the detail in painting a child’s face must also be a meticulous builder,” says the remodeler. Jeff King of Jeff King and Company, Inc., in San Francisco has had a number of jobs result from his association with fellow parents at his children’s private school.

Allison Guido of Almar Building and Remodeling Co., Inc., in Hanover, Mass., has committed to a planned networking program that in 1 month alone includes a Business Expo (300 attendees in 8 hours), participating in an Asthma Walk where Almar is the leading corporate fundraiser and employees will wear logoed T-shirts, hosting a workshop on effective networking in their offices, and presenting an Aging in Place adult education class at three locations.

While we all think we know how to network, there is actually some science behind doing it well. Here are some tips:

  1. Today’s effective networking isn’t lackadaisical. It is a planned and funded part of the company’s marketing outreach. The organizations you’ll join or participate in are carefully chosen to fit your interests but also to have the right demographics for your client base. Are the organization’s members people who would make good clients for you or who know people who would make good clients?
  2. Be prepared with your “elevator” speech. How would you explain what your company does in the short time between the 1st and 10th floors? That’s only time for a few sentences which should communicate clearly. And they should communicate how you are different from your competitors. Be sure you have business cards and brochures to hand out—but only when appropriate.
  3. Be prepared to refer others. Right now, I’m trying to find a good painter and a good roofer and I am asking those I trust for referrals. Huge amounts of business are awarded that way. This will be a give-and-take proposition.
  4. Engage everyone on your staff. They are out in their groups, too—PTA, churches, Habitat for Humanity, and more. Role-play good networking behaviors. Make sure they carry cards. Be willing to pay for their membership to additional groups they would be interested in joining. Consider a reward for every lead brought into the office and a bigger reward for those that result in a sale.
  5. Don’t forget to thank the referrer. A hand-written note, a golf outing with you, a lunch or dinner, or tickets to a ball game with you will all express your appreciation and encourage repeat referrals.While the out-of-pocket costs of networking outreaches tend to be relatively small, the time commitment is large—and that still comes down to money. So be sure to keep statistics on how leads come to you so you know what to repeat and what to drop.

Yes, times are tougher. The game is changing and we have to change, too. But once you master networking, I don’t think you’ll ever go back.