It’s like herding cats ….

I went to the “wrap up” meeting for the 2009 Forks & Corks event tonight.

(As a sidebar –it was called “Diamonds & Coals” … a remnant of my years as chair: diamonds, obviously, are those shiny things we’re all proud of; coal includes those things when “given some additional time and pressure” could become diamonds …)

Ironically enough, I’ve also had meetings this week for two other events which are just getting off the ground. I’m struck by how much managing volunteers is like ‘herding cats” ( … oh wait, doesn’t that apply to almost any kind of management?)

So, here are random thoughts I’ve accumulated over the past 30+ years of assorted and sundry volunteer assignments you may be able to apply to your next commitment …

1. People come to the table for different reasons. For free or for hire, they have their own agenda. Do yourself a favor and try to identify it; unless you can make their goals work with yours, it’s not going to last.

2 Some people want to shine. To let that happen you have to get out of the way.

3. Some people just want the shine. Non-performers are everywhere ... in the volunteer space and in the workplace. If you’re in charge, you need to figure out how to minimize the drag of the people who will not carry out their commitments  (sometimes that’s with confrontation and sometimes it’s not!).

4. Are we “consensus” or “committee”? Consensus means we talk until we all agree (but, we all have to have some shared ownership to make that happen!) Committee means we have assignments, accept them and meet the agreed-upon deadlines.

5. Another meeting? If you’re running the meeting, determine the agenda in advance. Have objectives, have assignments, have discussion … but limit it to the information needed to carry out the assignments to achieve the objectives. (That whole “quote” thing is an entirely different posting to follow.)

6. Define expectations. See #1, #2, and #4 above. Hope against hope all you can, but chances are, unless you tell someone what you want, they’re not going to do it.

7. Ownership=accountability. This gets back to #2; if someone’s willing to take ownership for a task, let them … and hold them responsible for it.

8. Respect your workhorses.  In any situation (but especially volunteer committees) there are always a few dedicated individuals who will never fail.  Nurture and protect them; they’ll save you … but that’s not a blank check!

9. Share the vision. Most of us live day-to-day, but think far more broadly. Tap into that breadth (#1 not withstanding) … Why are we here? To accomplish some tasks, sure … but it’s probably more than that!

10. Celebrate the victories! A successful event, campaign, whatever…that’s the end result. There are 101 milestones that led up to it. A new sponsorship goal … a new idea to meet a recurring logistical challenge … a new publicity idea … the way to engender success is to recognize–and celebrate–it.

11. Make work fun.  Doesn’t all that “Protestant work ethic” “nose to the grindstone” talk make you cringe? Sure, we need results. And, sure, it takes work. But–and this is especially true if you’re volunteering!–can’t you make it a little fun? Otherwise, why would I be involved?

12. We’re all on the journey. If you’re heading up a committee, it’s probably because you’ve  grown into these responsibilities. As did the person before you. As will the person behind you. It’s about growth. And, to the extent you can nurture that growth, you will engender it.

Hmmmm … Zen.

Must be time to end.