February 20, 2011

Inside the Organisation

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managers Matter at 2:29 am by Sue Hine

Last week I looked at the big picture of Community Development, so now is a good time to go from global to local.

Organisational Development has intrigued me for years. I’ve done the academic study. I’ve lived through (survived) the major restructuring of public health services in New Zealand (1988 – 98). I have been a participant-observer of organisations in the voluntary sector for a long time, and not always supported the changes in the regulatory environment enforced over the past 20 years. What I see of late in some quarters is a greater concern to implement survival strategies than to develop creative and community-led initiatives. Too many organisations have become enthralled as minions of government service delivery.

We forget our heritage, as a recent item reported in the OzVPM newsgroup  reminds us.  And when we forget our origins we begin to overlook our reasons for being, and our values can become empty slogans.

Why and how can this be? As always there are easy answers relating to power and politics, or to expediency and the socio-economic climate. And to the people who sit in positions of influence.

At the governance level the well-intentioned committed supporter may have to sit alongside the status-seekers. Or the newly elected board member from the private sector sees only the corporate model for planning and decision-making. Some executives can be more equal than others in their management practice and leadership skills.

The organisation can have its structure and function well-defined, but it is the culture and climate that will determine how its operations are implemented. The shape of organisational culture and climate is a function of leadership and its flow-on effect to staff/volunteer relationships and interactions.

So this is what the manager of volunteers is confronting, in addition to the regular responsibilities of leading a volunteer programme. It is like being a boundary-rider: one foot in the camps of management and the other in the leadership of a willing bunch of people. “Middle-management” has always been a difficult position.

Yet managing volunteers is much more than being a go-between. When you think about it, the role is trans-organisational. It is linked with policy, crosses over all service programmes, has functional relationships with all staff, and is the bottom-line when it comes to organising and implementing effective volunteer contributions. Plenty of opportunity to influence organisational climate, if not the culture.

So why is the role such a poor relation in many organisations? Why do so many managers of volunteers hang their heads and under-value their work?

Of course this is not the case for everybody. Much better to ask What does the manager of volunteers contribute to organisational development?

I reckon we could use some Good News Stories.

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