Examples of Change Management & Employee Engagement in Action

Last week I wrote about how to use science to successfully manage change processes. Today, I want to give you an example of how this works from my personal experience.

My first real job out of college was as a volunteer manager. I was brought in to fix a toxic volunteer staff relationship at a rather large non-profit. Toxic is an understatement.  We had 10 volunteers who thought it was their job to spy on the staff and report them being bad. For obvious reasons, staff didn’t want anything to do with the volunteers and were refusing to work with them.

The first thing I did was I talked to staff to find out what they hoped volunteers could do that would be helpful.  I didn’t assume I knew the answer, I found out, from the people who were open to the idea that volunteers could be helpful what they wanted volunteers to do and more importantly would allow volunteers to do. I didn’t force the issue. I just said – if you have a volunteer that actually wanted to help, what would you ask them to do?

I had 3 staff members who were willing to experiment with volunteers in a limited capacity. We agreed that volunteers could do 1 thing for them that would actually be helpful if it was done. We wrote a job description for this work so it was clear what a volunteer’s responsibilities were and who they reported to and why.  I created a new volunteer intake process that involved an application and screening process and training on the work we wanted them to do and we put all our existing volunteers through the process. 8 of the existing 10 volunteers agreed to go through this process and most confided that they had hated the old system because it was very negative and they had volunteered because they wanted to be helpful.

At this point, I only had a few staff members who were willing to work with the volunteers, but we assigned volunteers to them, gave them training and I worked closely with the staff to encourage them and help them mediate any problems with their volunteers. Basically, I had to train both the staff and the volunteers how to work productively together. This process took a couple of months.  Once those few staff members were working productively with their volunteers and their relationships had improved, other staff starting asking if they could have volunteers to help them too.
With every new request for volunteers, we wrote up a job description, created a training and recruited people into the system, worked closely with the staff and volunteers for the first few months to ensure that the system was running the way we wanted it to and that the relationships were positive and helpful.

We eventually grew the program to 500+ volunteers donating over 20,000 hours per year in every department in the agency.

This doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing. One of our pre-existing volunteers had a major blowout (which is a behavioral dynamic that occurs as part of the change process. Most times this is mild, but in some cases, it can be a – blowout).  This woman was the ringleader of the “old guard” spying project. She stayed on, but then continued to be horrid. I had to fire her 2 months into the transition as she was refusing to do the work we were asking volunteers to do. She launched an attack on me to try and get me fired. But by this time, I had allies in the organization that REALLY liked how things had changed, so the attempt to get me fired failed and after that – it was smooth sailing.

Our volunteers corp grew to include youth volunteers, law enforcement volunteers, adults with dual diagnosis and more. And we did all that while reducing our accident rate to the point our insurance company gave us a refund.

To recap the process, I used:

I started small and proved the concept by nurturing and promoting it over time. This is the key to effective change management.  Well, that and not being freaked out by the resistance. Plan for it. In advance. I didn’t fire the problem volunteer right away even though I knew exactly who she was and why she was a problem. I gave her an opportunity to change and gave her the benefit of the doubt. Only once the new system was in place and working well and she was an outlier, did I move against her. And honestly – firing was not my first choice; I had really hoped she would get with the new program.

Change is a well-studied phenomenon. Behavioral scientists know how to create change and what will happen when change is introduced to a group or an individual. If you want to be effective at it, use science, it works.

To learn more – check out this course: Why is Change so Hard

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