The Remodelers Guide to Business

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.


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