A market full of volunteers – and how you can tap into them

Struggling to recruit? Struggling to retain?

Most companies are.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been unbelievably lucky. I got to watch the Commonwealth Games athletics at Alexander Stadium, and then to go to Edgbaston to watch the first century ever in The Hundred Cricket Competition.

They were unbelievably well staffed, with highly capable people who made you feel safe, confident, and relaxed – making it an absolute privilege to attend. At times they felt overstaffed!! Which in the current climate seemed unbelievable.

What was more incredible was that in addition to the paid workers there was an army of volunteers.

But how can there be so many volunteers when there is a cost-of-living crisis, and we have a candidate led recruitment market?

The volunteers ranged from people pointing you in the right direction, to offering first aid support, to people giving you hints and tips on how to get the most out of your time at the event, to people showing you where to top up your water bottle.

In reality, some of this was a false picture. There was a much bigger strategic framework sat underneath the image presented of ‘local volunteers.’

There are 3 key lessons we can learn from this setup at the Commonwealth Games:

Good organisational design

How to attract good people

and the importance of legacy

…Let’s explore these a little more.

1)  An organisational design is essential

With a huge event like the Commonwealth Games, I always fear that this will be the one that unravels. The world is moving on so fast, a gap of 4 years can develop extraordinary gaps between what was required in the last games, versus what is required in the next.

Just like any business new things are added, old things are taken away and there is always a focus on legacy – an incredible set of dilemmas to resolve. This is a lot easier when it is a time specific event, and you aren’t distracted by BAU all of the time!

The organisational design is crucial and clearly well thought out, with no stone left unturned. Ensuring contingency plans exist for every eventuality.

Too often I see businesses not focused on the right ‘design.’ Many don’t realise that you don’t actually have to be fixed or permanent, you can build robust but flexible models and still have a design you can rely on.

Without the right design you will be constantly firefighting, focused on quick fixes that cost you more in the long run and detract from the core of what you want to achieve. This can lead to restructures doomed to fail, and other impacts like unnecessary redundancies.

When I was an HRD I will have been guilty of this too, on my bad days. I knew what was right but needed a solution today and didn’t ask for external expertise when I needed additional capacity or capability.

2)  Attraction – People will volunteer for the right cause

Whether there was an infrastructure of plan b’s, c’s and d’s is irrelevant. There definitely WERE volunteers and the majority were local. So, the real question is why?

Well, from what I learned they typically fell into the following camps:

  • People wanted to be part of an incredible event (Purpose)
  • They weren’t doing anything else, quite often ‘retired’ (Availability)
  • They wanted to give something back (Engagement)
  • No pressure/stress (Environment)
  • “They could offer me hours that suited me” (Flexibility)

So, what can you do to tap into this market? You need to think far beyond salary.

Why would someone join your business? Why would someone stay? What purposeful role could you offer them? Why would they give up their time? What will help them feel at home and tied to the cause? When do you really need them there?

If you want to resolve your recruitment and retention solutions, you can’t go far wrong thinking about what would attract a volunteer. Too often businesses go straight to the financials, more than ever this is NOT the most important element to consider.

3)  Legacy – When people leave your business make sure they leave saying the right things about you!

Just like the Commonwealth Games, legacy is important. When your people leave, you have to look after them. They should be ambassadors of your organisation and when you need them, maybe they will come back because of the way you treated them. Maybe they will leave the door open, maybe they will find you your next hire, maybe they will volunteer.

If things don’t go well, the legacy from your business reverberates. It reverberates throughout your business, through your reputational chain, to your clients, your customers and to people you are trying to attain.

Make them great leavers, advocates, and fans. Support them with their career transition, retirement, and exit. Offer retirement planning, offer them outplacement support, and let them know that you still care. They might just pay you back!

How can we help?

If you need help with Organisational Design, retention, attraction, or career transition, talk to one of our experts on 01491 414010. Alternatively, take a look at our website for more information.


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