Written by Graeme Codrington, Barrie Bramley and Keith Coats.
It stands to reason then that those people who work in, and have a clear understanding of, the volunteer-based organisation, are in a unique position to be able to provide resources and advice to the corporate world at the start of the 21st century.

The Changing Business Environment
The world is changing, at an increasing rate. It was Alvin Toffler who first popularised our understanding of the psychological and sociological impact of constant change. The cause of the changes taking place in society today could be simplistically summarised as a gradual transition from the Industrial era through the Information era to a “connection economy”. The Industrial era taught companies about efficiency, effectiveness and business basics as reflected in their annual financial statements. The Information era is teaching companies about quality, technology, communication, networks, market connectivity and customer service.
But that’s not enough!
Today the world is driven by relationships. In a high-tech world people are demanding more and more high touch. This is true both inside and outside organisations and corporations. Internally companies have to do much more than simply pay people’s salaries on time in order to attract, retain and motivate their best staff. Externally companies have to do more than provide quality products at a fair price in order to get customers on board.
These days, companies and their competitors are selling nearly the same products and services, to the same customers, at about the same price and quality, using the same distribution channels, advertising in the same media, using similar techniques. And they even swap staff every few years.
So why should anyone buy from a particular company? Why should anyone work for them?
Today, people are less interested in WHAT a company is selling, and more interested in WHO they are. The basis of competitive advantage is relationships, emotional intelligence, connections, ethics, social responsibility and basic people skills. The corporate obligations today extend way beyond the balance sheet “bottom line” with some large multinationals extending their public reporting to include what has become known as the “triple bottom line”: performance measures that take into account the economic, social and environmental activities. Furthermore, according to Fortune magazine (2/8/04) this perspective has been given a massive shot in the arm through Asia’s (and in particular Japan’s) multinationals new emphasis on becoming “model world citizens”. “Watch this space” is the emerging message from this new emphasis.
In this environment, the ability to attract, retain, motivate and get the best out of employees is a critical component of business success. The Human Resources (Personnel) function should now be at the strategic core of every business, and people issues are no longer “the soft stuff” that can be relegated to a department. But businesses have a problem. Virtually every annual report states that “people are our most important asset”, without being aware of the dangerous position that this places a company in as people are the only asset a company has no real control over!
In addition to this is the reality of a new generation in the workplace. It is a generation which doesn’t respond to the traditional methodologies and HR practices. Nor do they seem to fit the standard approaches and moulds to work, careers and what it is a company should look like. Clearly, there is a problem!
A brief review of this new generation and the contrast to the preceding generation might be helpful.
A New World Requires a New Approach
The generation currently dominating the workplace, those people born in the late 1940s through 1960s (the so-called “Baby Boomers”), were born at the start of the Information era and their thinking has been largely shaped by the transition from an Industrial era mentality to an Information era mindset. Collins and Porras sum up the shift in work culture that has dominated the past few decades:
The new economy culture, which emerged in the early 1980’s, rested on 3 primary tenets: freedom and self-direction in your work; purpose and contribution through your work; and wealth creation by your work. Central to the new economy culture was the idea that work is our primary activity, and that through work, properly constructed, we can attain much of the meaning that we are looking for in life. Driving the new economy were immensely talented, energetic people looking for a practical answer to a fundamental question: how can I create work I’m passionate about, that makes a contribution, and that makes money?
The next generation, just entering the workplace – those people born in the 1960s through 1980s (the so-called “Generation Xers”) – have grown up on the cusp of the transition to the era of relationships – the connection economy. They are pushing the work boundaries even further, and redefining the corporate world even more. The young Generation Xers are intuitively ready for an even newer era of business models. Rolf Jensen in the book, The Dream Society, warns that, “Success is no longer measured by the size of the paycheque. Success equals meaningful and challenging work.‛ Bennis and Thomas compare the last leaders born in the Industrial era (the ‘geezers’, born 1920-1940) to the first leaders to be born in the Connection era (the ‘geeks’, born 1970-1990), and demonstrate that the single biggest difference between these two groups of leaders is that at age 25, geezers were looking to build their careers, whilst today’s young people are trying desperately to create a balance between work and ‘life'”.
This new generation requires a different leadership style and acts differently as employees. It has been said that as employees they act more like consultants. They are motivated more by flexibility than money. They value adaptability more than strategy or vision. They don’t live to work (like the Boomers did) – rather, they work so that they can have a life. And they still want personal fulfilment, a sense of purpose, and financial reward.
In short, these employees have more in common with volunteers than employees.
The problem is that in most cases the leaders and managers who need to work with these new generation employees have not been trained for the relationship economy (and some even battle with the information economy), nor do they personally have this new economy mindset. They’re not used to their employees acting like volunteers. They are not loyal to the organisation that employs them – at least not as their parents and grandparents understand loyalty. Rather, for them, the business world and employment provides an opportunity for self development. They constantly see themselves as being marketable in a broader range of job opportunities, broader that is than just their current employer.
This generation requires a different style of leadership and management in order to be motivated and in order to be retained within the environment in which they find themselves.
Industrial era leadership was hierarchical in nature, control orientated, often fear based and build on a mechanistic approach to corporate structure and management. It drives towards certainties, is preoccupied with measurement and thrives in a world that is predictable. In today’s context this approach can no longer be effective and yet it seems one that many find hard to discard.
Leadership that predominated in the Information era, focussed almost solely on function and performance, on quality, competencies and deliverables, but largely ignored the “human” side of the human being. It too is coming under increasing strain in a changing world and workforce. In most businesses today leaders realise that a more systems-sensitive and emotionally intelligent approach is required for leadership. Recent business trends specifically include the flattening of hierarchies, decentralisation of control and the distribution of leadership throughout the organisation, as companies start to take more seriously the need by employees for flexibility, humanity and a more adequate integration of their private and business lives: put another way, a meeting of values.
The corporate world is aware of the changes taking place within society and culture that are requiring new approaches to leadership. Leaders therefore need new skills in addition to the skills that they have had before. It is not that the skills that they had – skills of control, management, supervision, delegation, and other classic leadership stalwarts – are no longer valid or necessary. Leaders still need these skills. But they now need more.
In addition to the old skill set, a new skill set is required as leadership takes place in an environment that requires more from those in leadership. They need a lot more emotional intelligence, better relational skills and a systems savvy in their approach and understanding. Margaret Wheatley in Leadership and the New Science puts it this way:

“…in this day and age, when problems are increasingly complex, and there are simply no simple answers, and no longer is there simple cause and effect, I cannot imagine how stressful it is to be the leader and to pretend that you have the answer. A life-affirming leader is one who knows how to rely on and use the intelligence that exists everywhere in the community, the company, the school, or the organization. And so these leaders act as hosts, as stewards of other people’s creativity and other people’s intelligence. And when I say host, I mean a leader these days needs to be one who convenes people, who convenes diversity, who convenes all viewpoints in processes where our intelligence can come forth. So these kinds of leaders do not give us the answers, but they help gather us together so that together we can discover the answers.”

As we consider this new approach to the workplace and what companies have to do in order to attract and retain their best staff, it is interesting to note that many of the techniques that are being suggested in some of the more cutting-edge literature, advocate and suggest techniques that are familiar to leaders within non profit organisations, including youth professionals.
In fact there has been a noticeable trend in North America that has seen the profit sector increasingly raiding the non-profit sector for leaders. The best leadership “hot-houses” it seems are not the numerous business schools that proliferate, churning out MBA graduates by the hundreds, but the non-profit organisations.
And here is one of the main reasons for this being the case: non-profit leaders know how best to work with volunteers.
Being able to keep volunteers happy, to attract, retain, motivate and get the most out of volunteers, does not rely on simply working within a contract of, “I pay you money and you work for me”. Working with volunteers and getting them motivated requires understanding the entire “system” that volunteers come from, their needs, their desires and their reasons for doing the work that they are doing on a volunteer basis. It is aligning the needs of the organisation with their values (which brought them knocking on the door in the first place). As for skills; well they can be developed. After all, as far as they are concerned there is no shortage of motivation to learn and acquire the necessary skills. They are there to make a difference – to give themselves to a cause in which they believe.
Leading Volunteers
It stands to reason then that those people who work in, and have a clear understanding of, the volunteer-based organisation, are in a unique position to be able to provide resources and advice to the corporate world at the start of the 21st century.
Some of the most renowned management thinkers and consultants, including Peter Drucker and Charles Handy, recognise this and have bridged over into the non-profit world both sharing and learning as they do so. In Drucker’s case he has gone so far as to establish a foundation for non-profit leadership and management. In our dealings within the corporate sector as TomrrowToday.biz the non-profit experience we have has proved to be invaluable.
Of course, non-profit organisations are places that corporate leaders have seldom gone to for lessons on leadership and management – perhaps arrogantly they have felt the lessons should flow the other way. Then there is the rather bad reputation non-profits have for being corporate misfits with little interest in administration and good governance principles. This is, of course, not entirely accurate, and recent corporate scandals show that all economic sectors, no matter how sophisticated are open to maladministration and scandal.
The humbling reality is that leadership, as it needs to be expressed in the emerging connection economy of the 21st century, is much more developed in the non profit world than in the corporate world. In the non profit sector, leaders have to deal every day with volunteers – people who could just walk away. This has meant that they have had to develop empathy and an understanding of the people that they lead in order to get the most out of them. That will mean a daily focus on understanding the needs and aspirations of employees, and changing the role of management into a service mentality towards employees. These lessons can be learnt by looking at successful leadership in volunteer-based organisations.
If today’s young people within a corporate environment have a volunteer type mentality and attitude towards their work then certainly some of the leadership qualities evident in good non profit organisations would be helpful within the corporate environment at the moment.
How to Impress Your “Volunteers”
(Keep Them and Motivate Them)
Have a conversation with anyone who’s worked successfully with volunteers, and before your time is up, you’ll hear them say that one of the things they wish they’d known before they started was that success starts with internal work on yourself. Often that work requires a fairly radical re-working of some or much of what you’ve learned to keep sacred in order to be successful.
Below we’ve listed some areas that are central to attracting, keeping and motivating volunteers. We have left the work of taking this information and contextualising it into your own business environment to you.
Our traditional concept of leadership is full of talk of “power and control”. It starts in how we identify future leaders as children on the playground. We almost always single out the most dominant, confident, bossy organisers. From there it’s a systematic process of encouraging and developing those types of behaviours and attitudes. The resultant leadership style isn’t very effective with people,

  • who choose you first, before you choose them;
  • who join your organisation out of a sense of inner conviction as apposed to an attractive package;
  • who give 110% because that’s what the job requires, and not because someone senior is performance managing them with reward systems integrated into their 360 degree performance appraisal, personal KRA, balanced score card and 70/20/10 Welch methodology.

Leadership in a volunteer context must move from control to collaboration. It must transform itself into a fluid relationship characterised by a dynamic exchange of passion, vision, achievement and a shared value system between the leader and those they lead. The biggest obstacle is not the volunteer, but the traditional leader.
From “for” to “with”
Volunteers don’t work “for” an organisation, they work “with” an organisation. This transforms the concept of ownership. You cannot talk of “owning volunteers”, in the same way companies talk of “owning staff”. Volunteers can leave at any time. Increasingly people within business are creating similar relationships with the companies they’re working with (note not “for”).
Meaning and Story Telling
It is a given that there is inherent meaning in the work of any organisation, but when leading volunteers the focus of the meaning must shift from the organisation to the volunteer. Volunteers work with an organisation to achieve their own personal goals. The role of the leader is to match the meaning the volunteers are searching for with the meaning the organisation is attempting to create. When these are not aligned the result is almost always a departing of ways.
Story telling is critical in this regard. Stories are able to powerfully convey meaning that connects with us deeply at an emotional level. When your story and my story find a connection that enhances their individual and collective meaning, the result is a commitment to continue our journey together. Leaders must learn to become master story-tellers in order to communicate a compelling story onto which people can hitch their own stories.
Growth is Key
Growth is one of the only things volunteers can take away from their experience outside of their personal story. Growth opportunities are one of the key value adds that organisations can use to create a compelling reason to stay, outside of the obvious benefits to the organisation of people development and competence.
Appropriate and Necessary Communication
Volunteers must have access to whatever information is appropriate and necessary for them to succeed in their work with the organisation.
Working with and co-ordinating volunteers requires flexibility. It means working in such a way that their aspirations are balanced within the framework of what needs to be done. This two-sided approach demands flexibility and serves as a lesson for the corporate mindset where often the attitude of leadership is, “my way or the highway”.
Recent work with a large auditing firm has served to reinforce the need for a shift in mindset – to seeing staff as volunteers. Attracting and retaining articled clerks within the company has proven to be problematic. Motivating them more so as the work was tough, salaries limited, and the overriding attitude on behalf of the clerks spoken to was, “I need to endure this, qualify and then I’m out of here!” How different it could all be with some imaginative thinking, a willingness to try different things and approach the challenge through the lens of seeing the clerks as volunteers – and then changing the environment accordingly.
Impossible? We don’t think so. Tough to do?… absolutely!
This certainly won’t be the last word on this subject: in fact we believe that the conversation has only just begun! It is a conversation that will be joined by ever increasing numbers and we believe the current murmur could well grow into an undeniable roar. So, watch this space!

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