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Volunteer Power!
Training The New Breed of Volunteers ...
Who perhaps think that you can't teach them anything
By Thomas W. McKee

We all agree that training is essential; however, the New Breed of Volunteers are professionals. We maintain that one of our greatest potential for recruitment are the retired boomers. They are often retired teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, or professors. And another hot prospective volunteer today is the young, single professional, right out of college, who is eager to help us. You get the picture. But then we ask this professional to attend our training program.

Question: Do we ask the high-capacity person to attend our volunteer training program-often led by a volunteer?

Answer: Absolutely-but do it with finesse.

The Most Effective Learning Ingredient is ...

When it comes to building leadership skills that last, the key ingredient is motivation and how a person feels about learning. People learn what they want to learn. If learning is forced on us, even if we master it temporarily (for example, by cramming for a driver's test), it is soon forgotten. One study found that the half-life of knowledge learned in an MBA course was about six weeks (Daniel Goleman, Primal Leadership, p. 99).

Human resource professionals are so frustrated by this fact. They require people to attend training classes so managers can update their skills. However, many folks attend classes merely to earn an accreditation or fulfill a requirement-not to learn. That is an advantage that we have as volunteer managers. Volunteers are volunteering because they have a passion about a mission to change their world and for the most part are willing to do what ever it takes to make it happen-including training. We can capitalize on making the training most effective by answering these questions:

  1. What do I want the person to know that he/she doesn't already know?
  2. How can I motivate the volunteer to want to learn what he/she doesn't know?
  3. How does the volunteer learn best?
  4. How long should the training session be?
  5. How can I know that the volunteer is learning?
  6. Who can best deliver our training?
1. What do I want the volunteer to know that he/she doesn't already know?

Shock - not everyone needs formal training. I recently recruited someone to head up a community project. We were forming a team of people to spend a weekend doing needed projects in our community, and I wanted someone to take the leadership-an experienced project manager. I knew who I wanted, called him and took him out to lunch. I presented the project to him and when he said that he would head it up, we immediately began brainstorming team members to head up the project. We scheduled our first team meeting.

It would have been ridiculous to say to Reggie, "Before I turn you lose, I want you to attend a workshop on project management." Reggie is a project manager. He knows the ropes and I can turn him loose.

I find that I can do a lot of training about our organization at one-on-one breakfasts, coffee, or lunches. When I recruit leaders who know how to lead projects, meetings, and/or teams, I am able to lay out the scope, budget and time schedule, and they are off and running.

But on other volunteer assignments, we need to do training because the volunteer doesn't know what they need to know. What they don't know might include stuff like the following:

  • Why we do what we do
  • How we do it the way we do it
  • Why we do it the way we do it
  • The very specific equipment that we use
  • The consequences to the organization if it is not done
  • The consequences to the organization if it is not done the way we want it done
  • How to handle "high maintenance" members
  • Budget constraints and handling money
  • Historical information (particularly in the case of museums, hospitals, churches)
  • Belief systems (government, religious groups)
Take the time to very carefully answer this question and write down everything that the volunteer needs to know. Then you are ready for question #2.

2. How do you motivate the volunteer to want to learn this information-especially if they think they know it?

The answer to that question is, "Sell the benefit." We have to sell the "Why" when we recruit.

I was recruiting a team of volunteer office receptionists for our volunteer organization just recently. I needed a team of volunteers to answer the phone from noon to three every day for two weeks. I interviewed and recruited four people, and when I did I asked each of them the following question:

Last week we got calls from a single mother who could not pay her electric bill. It was a heart wrenching story, and I felt so sorry for this woman with three children and the fact that her electricity was going to be turned off. How would you handle this call?

Most of them ask, "What is your policy?"

I then tell them about the one-hour training program where we go over our policies and procedures. Then I ask them to show up at the office 15 minutes early for their shift where the office manager will role play with them one of the calls that happened that morning.

When I was in college, I worked at the college information desk. Gwen Rees was my manager, and on my first day at work she took me aside and told me we were going to role play one of the calls that she received that morning. It went like this:

Gwen: Ring, Ring

Tom: I picked up an imaginary phone and said, "Information Desk"

Gwen: "I have a dead alligator that I would like to donate to the school. Could you use it?"

Tom: I was silent for a while and then said to Gwen, "I haven't got a clue. Can the university use a dead alligator?"

Gwen: "Think, Tom. Who in the University might want a dead alligator?"

Tom: "Ugh-the science department?"

Gwen: "Think, Tom. Who in the science department might use a dead alligator? Did you ever dissect anything in high school?"

Tom: (I was a slow learner). "Oh, the Biology Department" I transferred the imaginary phone call to the science department.

I have followed Gwen's example of training and found that these simple role plays work great for keeping the volunteer up with current information that I want the volunteers to know. And it is fun.

3. How does the volunteer learn best?

We all learn differently. Marcus Buckingham in The One Thing You Need to Know suggests three styles of Learning. I often ask the volunteer, "How do you learn best?"

The Analyzer: The analyzer is a perfectionist who hates mistakes. Analyzers need to hear the whole presentation and role play. They break the task down into manageable parts. Never throw the analyzer into a "wing it" situation. These learners will not get into a sail boat until they have read the manual, taken lessons and visualized exactly what they are supposed to do. And believe it or not, actually they sail pretty well the very first time.

Doer: The doer is the dominate learning style. While the most powerful learning moments for the analyzer occur prior to the actual performance, for the doer the most powerful learning moments occur during performance. These learners will get into the sail boat, turn it over, sink it and destroy it in the process, but they will learn. Therefore, give doers a small task and the outcome you want. Then let them go and get out of their way. Doers are frustrating because they won't give your advice much credence. They have to experience the good and bad outcomes themselves before they believe that it's true. But they are wonderful to have around because they are the first to volunteer and jump into a new challenge.

The Watcher: The watcher is an imitator. They won't learn by breaking the task down and role playing. They learn by watching a total performance. For them to see the individual parts is like seeing the pixels of a digital photograph. They need to see the whole picture. The best way for this person to learn is a "ride along" with one of your great performers.

I am a watcher. I learn best by shadowing someone who is doing it right. I also have a bit of the analyzer and will read anything you give to me about the organization. However, I am not a risk taker when it comes to doing a job in front of people where I might fail. I want to be prepared. Are you prepared for each type of learner?

4. How Long Should Training Sessions Be?

The General Rule: The ability to maintain learning attentiveness, or focused attention is affected by fluctuations in brain chemistry. This occurs at 90-minute cycles throughout a 24- hour day. Our brain learns best when learning is interrupted by breaks of two to five minutes so it can diffuse, or process, information.

I have no idea who wrote that rule; however, for me 90 minutes of lecture is way too long, unless the person talking is dynamic and the training is filled with stories that are relevant to what I want to learn. My experience is that most listeners tune in about every five minutes or so, and if they like what they are hearing, they stay with you. If they don't, they use our training session to do work, plan or just daydream.

The length of the training session should be adapted to the objective of the training and the learner's ability to grasp the material. For most training sessions I find that I can adapt the rules I use for half-day and full-day workshops. I follow these four rules when I am facilitating full-day workshops:

Rule one: Keep presentations down to five-to-ten minutes.

Give a motivational talk for about 5-10 minutes (20 max). If I go twenty minutes, I evaluate what I am saying every five minutes to make sure it is interesting.

Rule two: Follow up the presentation with a DVD, exercise or role play demonstration.

Then I show a DVD, do a group exercise, or get a volunteer to role play with me to break up the learning activity. After the DVD or exercise I facilitate a discussion. I vary this. In some groups I will give a case study (see rule four).

Rule Three: In half-day or all-day workshops, give 15 minute breaks every 90 minutes.

I always have a 15-minute break about every 90 minutes. People need to get up and walk around. In addition, during breaks, the more quiet people ask me questions, and I get great feedback.

Rule Four: Use the case study for learning because it involves all three learning styles, and each member of the group will participate according to their style: analyzer, doer and watcher. Allow members of the group to use their learning style.

I was leading a workshop last month and used the following training exercise. I shared the training experience by Jonathan, co-author of The New Breed. After I told the story, I asked each group to come up with a similar situation which they could present to the group.

Sample Case Study Learning Exercise: The Roll Call

  1. Read the case study.
  2. Point out three important ingredients of the role call:
    1. They spent 15 minutes of a 20-minute meeting in continuing education.
    2. They did it every day.
    3. It was relevant to what they would face during the day.
  3. In groups of six, come up with a situation or problem that the group could use with their volunteers.
  4. Have each group present their case to the room.
I have used this exercise and have had great results. The advantage is that the learners are actually trying out a training exercise and leave with a case study that they can use.

A Training Experience*
Jonathan McKee

A while back, I was in Los Angeles visiting my friend Brian, a sergeant in the Los Angeles Police Department. Brian asked if I wanted to go on a "ride along," and I gladly accepted.

So there I was-in the heart of Los Angeles, in the middle of the night, riding shotgun in a police car. (Brian had to keep telling me to stop playing with the lights and siren!) I loved the experience. But the evening didn't begin by jumping in a car. It all started with roll call.

All the police from that shift gathered together in a room before they headed out to the streets. During this 20-minute meeting, about 15 minutes of it was continuing education.

One officer shared an experience that two officers had the previous day. A fight had been reported in the street. When officers arrived on the scene, a trail of blood led to the door of the house, with blood also on the doorknob. The two officers had knocked on the door, but no one answered.

So the Sergeant running the training asked, "Can we enter?" Officers from around the room started answering. They
discussed "probable cause." The Sergeant gradually revealed other details. The consensus in the room was, "Yes, enter the house."

The trainer said, "That's what we did." Then, on a whiteboard, he drew the interior layout of the house, drawing X's where people were sitting on a couch.

"What now?" he asked.

People from around the room shouted out answers: "Ask to see their hands."

"We did." Then he circled an X on the couch. "But this guy wasn't moving at all." Then he drew another X on the couch, and said, "When officers looked closer, they noticed a 3-year-old kid sleeping right here next to the man."

"Now what?" he asked.

The discussion in the room was intense, because the situation wasn't just made up in someone's mind. It had just occurred the day before. And the more the officers got into it, the more the trainer disclosed about the situation.

This was a real-life experience turned into a teaching opportunity. The officers were able to objectively evaluate the good and the bad in the situation. Most importantly, they assessed what could be done better next time.

As we rolled out of that meeting, I asked Brian how often they did these training sessions. His answer: "Every day."

Exercise instructions:

In your groups come up with a typical role play or case study that you could use as a training exercise.

Present your case study (or role play) to the class to see how they would handle the situation.

*Jonathan McKee, Thomas McKee, The New Breed, (Loveland, CO, 2007, p. 125)

5. How do I know if my volunteer is learning?

Those of you who know me or have been in my workshops have heard me say, "Without feedback you don't know where you stand." That saying is one of my mantras. Not only is the mantra great for encouraging volunteers with the thank you for what you are doing. But the mantra is great for training.

I love the story of the speaker who got some interesting feedback. At the end of his speech a person came up to him and asked, "I have been fascinated as I listened to you speak. Can I ask you a question?" The speaker thought he was going to get an insightful question and was excited until the person asked, "Are those your real teeth?"

We never know what is going on between the ears in a person's mind. They may look like they are getting it all, but their thoughts might be a million miles away.

My favorite way of finding out what they have learned is to give them a very practical application of how they would use the information.

I was training a group of volunteer managers recently about how to deliver a difficult message to volunteers who are hurting the organization. After going over the way to deliver this message, I gave them the following exercise.

Bill is a volunteer who is late to all of your meetings. When he comes in late, he always seems to be disruptive and wants to go over things that you have already gone over. You ask Bill to stay after the meeting to talk. When everyone has left you say to Bill, "_______________________". What will you say to Bill and where will you deliver your message?

By developing such a case study, you are not only able to hear just how the volunteer manager is using the techniques that you have taught, but you are also able to hear just how skillful the volunteer manager is able to handle this situation.

6. Who can best deliver our training?

Shock - the best volunteer worker is not the best trainer. Just because a person is a great worker doesn't mean that he or she is a great trainer. Ferdinand F. Fournies has some very helpful suggestions in his book, Why Employees Don't Do What They're Supposed To Do, And What To Do About It. In his chapter, "They don't know what they are supposed to do," he makes some suggestions for the corporate world that I believe are applicable to our world of volunteer management. The following is a summary of his thoughts adapted for volunteers:

  1. Choose a single person to train new volunteers (and send that person to a train- the-trainer workshop).
  2. Create a training manual for the instructor that will guide and standardize the training of the new volunteer.
  3. Provide detailed reference manuals for volunteers that will support learning and job performance after the training.
  4. In all jobs where failure is important (including volunteer jobs), give volunteers simulations of the actual work so they make their mistakes where the cost of failure to you and them is minimal. (Note: Why do airline pilots learn in simulators? Mistakes are costly. Role playing is the poor person's simulator).
  5. Create a test for all new volunteers on the job so you will know whether learning has actually occurred.
Bottom line: "Better to train someone and lose them, than to not train them and keep them."
(Zig Ziglar)

Great advice for all of us.

Thomas W. McKee

Tom McKee Tom McKee is president and owner of www.volunteerpower.com a leadership development firm specializing in volunteerism. He has over 40 years of experience in volunteer leadership. Tom began his speaking career to one of the most difficult audiences-high school assemblies. Since those days he has addressed over 1 million people spanning three continents-Africa, Europe and the U.S. Over the past 40 years he has trained over 100,000 leaders how to manage the chaos of change in an organization.

The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer Tom and his son Jonathan are authors of the book, The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer (Group Publishing). The New Breed details the new cultural shift in volunteer management and also includes valuable, applicable resources for leaders, including job descriptions, icebreakers, team-builders and community-building activities, equipping leaders to move forward with confidence and empower valuable volunteers.

About The New Breed:
The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer by Jonathan McKee and Thomas W. McKee. Group Publishing. Paperback, 176 pages. ISBN: 978-0764435645. The book can be ordered at www.volunteerpower.com.