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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Assumed Constraint

I am reading a little book at the moment that a wonderful colleague has lent me. So far I’ve probably read a quarter of Ken Blanchard’s “Self leadership and the one minute manager” and I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it here until I came across, in the book, the concept of “Assumed Constraint”. And when I read about it I wondered to myself if leadership in volunteerism suffers a little or a lot perhaps from assumed constraint.

Firstly let me explain what I believe is leadership in volunteerism. I would hope ( note I say hope not say) that volunteerism leadership would encompass volunteer management, peak bodies for volunteering, professional associations for volunteer management, academia with a special interest in volunteerism, and consultants and trainers in the field of volunteerism. All of which of course can be paid or unpaid. I do not draw a distinction but know I could be attacked by some for not including volunteers (Mmmm…perhaps my own assumed constraint!)

I digress. Anyway, according to the book an assumed constraint is a belief you have based on past experience that limits your current and future experiences. Have we limited ourselves based on past experiences? Do we just use the words “emerging trends” to satisfy ourselves that we (the volunteering sector) are cool and up to date? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve come across terms such as “emerging trends in volunteering” or “the new wave in volunteering” I would be a rich man indeed. It’s all so hip and we have some great catchphrases for conferences, academic research, journals and papers.

But what’s happening on the ground folks? At the coalface. Are we really challenging our assumed constraints?

So what may be some of our sectors assumed constraints? Let me propose some here now based on what I have been experiencing of late from the field

1.Volunteering in a private setting – recent debates are showing this to be anathema to some. Volunteering only occurs in a not for profit setting according to Volunteering Australia. As I’ve posted here already – check out the April Ozvpm debate. Do you spot any assumed constraints?

2.Episodic volunteering – another cool term bandied around but I am seeing anecdotal evidence that it isn’t been embraced or understood and that there is a traditional resistance to it from some in volunteer management. Case in point – I had a talk to a Volunteer Manager recently who informed me that if a volunteer is gone from the agency for 3 months they must reapply. Yep – they must go through all the recruitment processes again and must undergo another criminal check. I asked if this affected episodic volunteers and got the strangest of looks and was told that it was policy. It was policy – so it must be right. Crikey! – what about school students who volunteer every four months? What about the generation of retired folk who love volunteering but disappear for four months while they caravan around the country. What about the prospective volunteer who rolls up and wants to give some time once or twice during the year? Further anecdotal evidence for me is the amount of prospective volunteers I have come across who have tried other agencies but been rejected because of their desire for episodic volunteering! They have come up against assumed constraints.

3.Embracing social networking and virtual volunteering – I have seen nothing but resistance to these concepts. From “our volunteers can’t use computers because they are too old” to “what the heck is E-learning”? I see a lot of fear of embracing new technology when it comes to managing or engaging volunteers. I believe that our assumed constrains here are due to lack of education! For example I believe that our senior community is most active with internet and social media technology. I learnt this quickly when I worked for an agency that provided information and referrals to seniors over 12 years ago!

And there are more………..

So I guess another discussion someday will be – how does leadership in volunteerism challenge assumed constraints and let them go?

One more quote that I love from the book that I believe can apply to us

“The problem is no longer how to get managers to “let go” – they have no choice anymore. The problem is how to get people to grab hold and run with the ball that is being handed to them”

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