One of the exciting challenges of people leadership is to maximise the performance of your workforce.  One of the keys to this is increasing the discretionary effort that your people give you.

What do I mean by discretionary effort?  It’s the work and ideas that people give you without you needing to ask for it.  It’s when people go above and beyond their job description.  If you can consistently extract this, you will be well on your way to leading a winning team.

People who lead great teams of volunteers understand this concept and do this well and there are a few leadership principles that we can learn from them.

How can you treat your staff like volunteers?

Understand that it’s the unpaid work that can make a difference.  If you just want people to come in and work to their basic job description and nothing more, then ignore this whole concept, but if you want people to add value to your organisation then it’s important to understand that every staff member has the potential to give so much more.

If people love what they do, they’ll do it more and do it better.  Good volunteers do what they do because they have a heartfelt connection to the task that they are performing.  As a result, they don’t do a mediocre job, they actually do an outstanding job and continue to find ways to improve.

Unfortunately, some managers see other leaders engage their workforce to such an extent that they then demand it from their people.  This will not work!  The most effective (if sometimes challenging) means of getting your staff to do more than what they are paid for is to draw it out of them, inspiring, engaging them and helping them to understand that they are making a difference.

Let me clarify, when I say unpaid work, I don’t mean extra hours in the office.  I mean the extra effort that your people will go to when dealing with customers.  I mean their ideas that can transform your organisation.  I mean their passion and enthusiasm that will enable them to be more productive than employees who just come in to collect a pay check.

Understand that they can leave at any time.  One of the significant challenges in leading organisations that rely on volunteers is to retain good people.  As such, they have to spend extra time building relationships, putting out spot-fires and recognising good work.  After all, they’re not getting paid, so any negative experience could see them leave, taking with them experience and knowledge that is difficult to replace.

Imagine if you treated your staff as if they were volunteers.  How much of an impact would that have on your staff attrition rates?

In many industries there is a skills shortage, so don’t take your staff for granted or they will leave and it will impact the bottom line of your business replacing them and training new people.

Give regular pats on the back.  A lot of organisations that are reliant on volunteers have tremendous programs that enable them to show their appreciation on a regular and meaningful basis.  Volunteer appreciation days, certificates and consistent deliberate verbal recognition are just a few things that make a significant difference to the culture of an organisation.

What sort of culture are you creating in your place of work.  Do you go out of your way to recognise those who use their initiative and discretionary effort?  Do you acknowledge the people who aren’t afraid to innovate and come up with new ideas?  Do you take for granted the individuals who smile every day and help to create a nicer working environment?

What difference do you think it would make if you treated your staff like volunteers? *

Do you have any other ideas that you would like to share?

* p.s. Please keep paying them!

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