In one volunteer organisation in which I work (let’s call it Volunteer Co), I have been trying to organise a series of meetings with a major organisation (let’s call it Paid Worker Co) which employs thousands of people to get a series of agreed tasks completed by them.
But I have had endless trouble arranging mutually acceptable meeting dates. Volunteer Co employs no one. We are all volunteers. Our committee meets on the weekend, as we are too busy during the ‘working week’. At first, Paid Worker Co managers agreed in principle to come to our Saturday meeting, but it soon became clear that the actual employees would only meet within ‘working hours’ (Ie Mon-Fri), whereas we volunteers were happy to meet anytime, anywhere.
How is it that Volunteer Co is so flexible while Paid Worker Co isn’t?
I know that paid workers these days have no starting or finishing work time, that the 35 hour as well as the century-old 40 hour work week have effectively gone and that mobile phones make workers accessible every day if necessary. I understand this might make them feel stressed. But if they can be available any time for their managers, why aren’t they available for our meetings, which their managers require them to attend?
And why is it that volunteers, who are supposed to be mostly retired, old, short on energy and out of date on skills, are happy to meet at any time, interrupt their Spanish or environment classes, defer their holidays or childminding, abandon their tennis or golf games to attend a bureaucratic meeting, if they feel the outcome is important?
The answer is obvious! One group – at Volunteer Co – are passionate about their work. The other group –at Paid Worker Co – are generally just doing a job and are keen to minimise their commitments. So when passionate Volunteer Co asks minimising Paid Worker Co employees to meet, but has no power to enforce its demands (without going over the heads of Paid Worker Co employees), they resist or seek to minimise the intrusion in their lives.
The strange thing is this though. Volunteer Co is actually doing work for Paid Worker Co which they can’t, don’t or won’t do! So Paid Worker Co should facilitate Volunteer Co, not make it harder for them to do the (Paid Worker Co’s) job! Instead, Paid Worker Co has layer after layer of people that Volunteer Co has to work its way through to get the job done. This costs Paid Worker Co a lot of people time – which has a large monetary and opportunity cost. What else could have been done with this time and related costs? Often we meet with several managers or several groups or several times to get the job done. In one case, we have been working on a particular problem for 18 years! Really!
Solution: Pay Volunteer Co to do part of Paid Worker Co’s job and save time and money
I propose a radical solution: why not give Volunteer Co a lot more money…and let us do the whole job, just reporting back to Paid Worker Co on what we have done and demonstrating how it fits into their overall objectives. Not only are we more flexible with our time availability, we are also more passionate, we care about ‘our’ dollars more than Paid Worker Co does, we get more value from our suppliers than they do and – big bonus for them – we work mostly for free, while their workers are paid quite well! We are cheaper, better, quicker. It’s win-win!
Smart governments are using Volunteer Cos to implement government policies
Governments are increasingly discovering the value of thousands of Volunteer Cos that have arisen to do work which major organisations don’t, won’t or can’t do.. Smart governments are passing the implementation of government policies down to local, regional or national Volunteer Cos. They are even paying them to employ staff, because they are more passionate, more efficient, quicker, more flexible, offer better customer service and are a lot cheaper than if Government Cos try to do it themselves.
So the future might look like this. Governments come up with (hopefully good) policies. But they realise that their staff are not skilled in implementation or motivated to deliver it. So they allocate money directly to well-organised, reputable Volunteer Cos and simply monitor whether or not the job is done to the specified standard. This of course is a critical role for success – quality control. But most Volunteer Cos, being passionate, are concerned about getting good outcomes, not in cutting corners.
But we’re not there yet with our Paid Worker Co. So back to trying to organise that meeting…