When I talk with association execs, a chronic complaint is 'less than ideal' volunteer leadership - and I'm talking here about underperformers not the truly dysfunctional problem people who occasionally sneak across the threshold. When you get right down to it, people who have been appropriately placed and properly oriented to their roles and responsibilities usually do just fine. Performance problems indicate that something in that equation is inadequate or missing.
So what's at the root of the underperformer problem? My thoughts…
· Inadequate, skills based, consistently applied selection criteria.
· Bypassing selection criteria to reward good committee worker bees. A hard worker doesn't necessarily make a good group leader.
· Unarticulated expectations. Volunteers aren't always fully informed about what is expected of them, why it is important that they live up to those expectations, what the consequences are if they don’t, and how the association measures their success as a leader. It may be that we aren't clearly defining for them their group management responsibilities. They may know the expected work outcomes of the committee, but fail to fully grasp, accept and perform their group management role which is to ensure that:
o Everyone in the group is participating
o All group members are up to date and communicate with each other effectively
o Everyone is working/nobody is on a free ride while others carry the load
o people play nicely together and problems or conflicts within the group are addressed and resolved quickly
o The group stays on target and gets the work done well and expeditiously.
If we aren’t documenting the management aspect of the chairing role, and communicating - even teaching - it before we put them in the chair, we’ve set them up to fail.
Occasionally the co-chair role is a stumbling block; inadequately defined and poorly monitored. People need to know if they are truly ‘co’ chairs or if one is expected to be the boss and the other the second string or understudy. If the role is supposed to be truly equal co-chairs, it is a real problem if one of them morphs into an alpha-chair. Alpha-chairs, intentionally or by virtue of personality or experience, inhibit or limit their co-chair’s role and performance. When an alpha-chair ‘takes over’, their co-chair gets little chance to actually perform chair duties. The desired co-role needs to be clearly defined by the association as a matter of policy, not driven by the personalities of individuals in the chair at the moment. Puting an alpha into a co-chair role often necessitates some initial co-chair role coaching and ongoing behavioral observation with more coaching as their term progresses. That's an ongoing need because as the work progresses, so do the personality dynamics.
Then there’s this…sometimes we just get a lemon. People occasionally find their way into roles that just don’t suit them. Life also happens; a volunteer may suddenly find their 'other life' taking a twist and their time available shrinks or even evaporates. Yup, it’s hard, but good governance says we can’t leave them in roles they can't fully play. Letting it slide isn’t fair to them because they can’t succeed. It isn’t fair to the other committee members who suffer from a dysfunctional work environment and must work harder to pick up the slack. And it can jeopardize committee outcomes which isn’t fair to the membership.
Regardless of how good the selection criteria and the orientation/training, there needs to be a member oversight body, monitoring incumbents’ performance to ensure they live it. And when performance is sub-par, that body has choices (in order of my own preference)
- communicating performance expectations
- skills training, especially group management aspects of chair roles
- performance counseling when chairs aren't meeting expectations
- redeployment of miscast chairs to roles more suited to the individual’s skills/style
- no re-appointment at term expiration
- as a last resort, rescinding the appointment if you can’t undertake the other options fast enough to ensure that critical committee outcomes aren’t threatened.
The solution seems obvious - upfront problem prevention. Properly vetting candidates for ability, commitment and availability, adequately training them, monitoring the outcomes the selected leaders produce, and taking remedial action when performance is below expectations, first by coaching, then by redeployment or replacement. Figure out which of these areas is deficient and you quickly find the solution to underperforming volunteers.
What do you think?