Daring to Delegate, Part 2

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Circles of involvement: increasing levels of engagement as you head inwardsCircles of involvement: increasing levels of engagement as you head inwardsIn my last post on this subject, we had got as far as feeling sympathy for people who don't volunteer for jobs to keep the choir running, as part of an understandable desire to husband one's energies and attention. Now we need to figure out how inveigle them into making the effort.

I should add that one of the reasons I am finding this a valuable subject to write about is because it is one that doesn't come naturally to me. I have phrased it as 'daring' to delegate, because my first instinct has tended to be to hope people won't mind my asking. I am much better at this than I used to be, but I still feel like this is a work in progress in my own life. So I am writing to consolidate and develop what I have learned as much as to help those who find themselves in similar situations. But then, you knew already that's why I keep a blog, right? It's not just for you...

Our goal, then, is to create a culture of volunteering, that encourages people to move inwards on our diagram of involvement. It is worth revisiting Kotter's model of organisational change here, as this is a classic case where you need something to build urgency to motivate the change before the transformation can happen.

I once found a lot of pent-up delegation happened when I had something of a melt-down - a health crisis of my own, the same week my father went into hospital for a major operation. When I was manifestly not able or available to do things I had habitually been doing, other people just stepped in and took up the slack. For planned change, I think a manufactured crisis is probably preferable to a personal one, but I just mention this as an illustrative example.

But there are also specific tactics we can use in the way we ask for help that will make it easier for people to step forward who might not otherwise have done.

  • Ask for help in terms of tasks rather than roles. A task is specific and time-bound, whereas a role is open-ended and flexible. People who are unsure like to know what they are actually committing themselves to, so make their first step manageable rather than daunting. Recruiting someone to go through the music folders and make a list of what's missing is easier than recruiting a music librarian, though once they've done that task they may feel competent and knowledgeable enough about the role's content to take it on. Even if they don't, you'll have your music sorted out.
  • Delegate the delegating: 'Could you find somebody to do x and y?' In well-established organisations, you sometimes get people on the committee with strong personalities but not very developed Getting-Things-Done skills. These people can function as obstacles to a new director recruiting the help they need. Getting them to go and find you do-ers turns this around by making good use of their knowledge of the people. (It also helps them feel important - which is why they are on the committee - and so more likely to promote rather than block other newfangled ideas the director may wish to introduce.)
  • Put together working-parties for particular projects. Projects are like tasks in that they are specific and time-bound, with a clear completion point, but they contain multiple tasks. Having multiple people on the case is thus more appropriate anyway, but the working-party structure gives participants a strong sense of social validation that keeps them on task and motivated.
  • All help needs public recognition. Configuring the work with clear completion points helps this, as you get to thank those who have taken them on at the point they step up, and also at the point when things are finished (and indeed milestones in the middle). But it is important for the choir as a whole to applaud the efforts that go on behind the scene to keep things running for them, as esteem is the only currency you have in a voluntary organisation. Reward the behaviour you want replicated

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