Monday, November 12, 2012

Member Engagement Solution #9: Discourage Non-Performance by Rewarding Performance

image source
I've mentioned previously that I'm leading another innovation effort for WSAE, something we're calling an Innovation Circle. Ours is focused on member engagement, and you can get an overview of what it is and what we're trying to achieve with it here.

I've previously posted on some of the member engagement issues people in the Circle are wrestling with. Now, I'm sharing a some of the solutions the group is coming forward with--strategies that have been demonstrated to work in at least one association environment. This is the ninth post in that series. Previous posts include:

#1: Don't Forget the Fun
#2: Recruit with a One-to-One Philosophy
#3: Recognize Volunteer Contributions
#4: Manage Volunteer Transitions
#5: Don't Waste a Volunteer's Time
#6: Provide Structure, But Not Too Much
#7: Advisory Groups Can Be Tremendous Win-Wins
#8: Effective Orientation and Interaction is Key

As always, I encourage you to add your thoughts and comments as we go along.

+ + +

Member Engagement Solution #9: Discourage Non-Performance by Rewarding Performance

Many associations struggle with volunteers or volunteer committees that don’t perform useful functions for their associations. And yet many provide recognition and rewards for all volunteer positions, even those that have not contributed. Although it may be difficult, it is essential to publicly reward only those behaviors that provide positive contributions to what the association is trying to achieve. Recruiting volunteer leaders that agree with this philosophy is key, as it is often they who will be on the front line of having to confront under-performing members of their volunteer team.

This is one of the solutions that is much easier to state than it is to implement, especially in any association that has already established a practice of rewarding all volunteers regardless of their contributions. As I've started sharing some of these ideas more widely, it's a question that comes up repeatedly. The question takes many forms, but at its very essence it is borne of frustration. How does one affect change when there are powerful forces aligned against the change that is sought?

The answer is not one that many want to hear. How does one affect change in these situations? Slowly and with dogged determination.

Maybe it starts with questions. One might ask, why do we reward all volunteers equally when some volunteers contribute more than others? Everyone should agree with that, right? Even in an association where all volunteers are rewarded, some would be deserving of higher recognition than others, wouldn't they? Maybe the first step would be to create a recognition award for outstanding volunteer service, and to be very clear and specific about the contributions and achievements that are necessary to obtain it. Maybe that could serve as a new model by which volunteer contributions would be measured, and maybe that will begin to shape the organization's perceptions about volunteer service and the recognition that comes with it.

Now, don't start objecting. I know that question won't work in your association. The leaders won't like it. We already have multiple levels of recognition. The dog ate my homework. It's all okay. The question wasn't intended as a key that will magically transform your organization. It was meant as an example of the doggedness that you have to show if you're serious about affecting that change.

Maybe you're asking the wrong person. Or maybe you're asking it at the wrong time. Try someone else. Try again next year. Or try another question. Try something and keep trying. Believe it or not, you're the only person in the organization who can bring about the change you seek because you may be the only person who sees the need for it.

Does that deter you? Why? What do you have to lose?


  1. This is a messy topic. I think most organizations are pretty bad at performance management in general, and now we have to manage the performance of people we DON'T pay?! Ugh. Still, I think it's a problem to frame this in terms of rewards and punishments. If volunteers are doing things that don't support association results, I'd suggest that is more a problem of clarity, communication, and learning than a problem of "rewarding" the right people (by paying for a lunch at the conference). Do the high-performing volunteers do it because of the rewards we give them? If we gave special rewards to the high-performers, would that really deter the low-performers from volunteering? I'm not convinced. I certainly don't have an easy answer here, but I think it's about investing in clarity about what is needed from volunteers and continuously making visible the success of volunteer efforts.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jamie. I agree it is a messy topic. "Investing in clarity about what is needed from volunteers and continuously making visible the success of volunteer efforts" is a good summary of one positive approach, but one of the things I was trying to deal with in the post was the difficulty many association staffers have with fomenting change in their organizations. In a culture that rewards a lack of clarity and the highlighting of volunteers irrespective of success, even the formula you describe can seem out of reach.

    2. "A culture that rewards lack of clarity." Hammer, meet head of nail.

    3. Agreed. But who wields the hammer? What if the hammer is locked in a toolbox in the boss's office?