VolunteerThis is a guest post by Jaimy Ford, business writer and editor. 

This year my husband and I started volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. Our community is small, so most of the work involves fixing up homes for deserving people, rather than building new homes. The outcome is equally rewarding.

For our first assignment, we spent two days working on the home of a man who is on dialysis and who has lost most of his sight. Much of the job entailed making the house safer to accommodate his failing vision. We replaced splintered handrails, tightened banisters and stairs, replaced rotten floors and so forth. In addition, we spruced up the house with some heavy-duty power washing and by replacing exterior light fixtures and vinyl siding.

It was immensely rewarding to make his life easier.

That said, I walked away with more than gratification for having put some good out into the universe. The opportunity once again reinforced for me the power of effective management. Here are some lessons I re-learned on the job site:

  • You need a team leader. There were only three of us working on the property, and with such a small group, an elected leader seemed unnecessary. Yet, without a person to establish an agenda for the day, assign tasks and move things forward, not one of us knew what direction to take, and we wasted time on the first day. When you assign group work, always select a leader, even if informally. You can pick the person, the team can appoint the person or you can have employees take turns leading. The leader is responsible for keeping everyone on track and ensuring that all the tasks are covered.
  • Overestimate. First, we underestimated the time we would need, and the project extended over two days. Second, we were completing the work using donated wood and materials, so we had to be frugal and very precise with every measurement. We should have given ourselves a little wiggle room and asked for more than what we thought we needed. We managed just fine, but we had a few close calls. One wrong cut could have stalled our work completely. Always plan for a bit more in time and other resources than you think you will need on a project. It’s much better to complete a project early and come in under budget than the alternative.
  • Assign accountability. On Day 1, all of the materials we asked for didn’t show up, and we had to wait around for several pieces of wood to arrive. Had one of us been there when the wood was delivered, we could have checked that the shipment was correct and avoided the delay. Enforcing accountability is probably the most important management lesson I can share with you. As a manager, you must hold each of your employees accountable for the outcome of their work. Ensure that each person knows what you expect and that you hold him or her accountable for meeting those goals. If you don’t, how can you expect employees to do their best work?
  • Build community. I tell you, I have had many rewarding moments in my life, but joining with others (one of whom was a complete stranger) to help someone (another stranger) ranks up there. It feels good to help people. Instead of paying for high-dollar team-building events, consider volunteering as a group for a local charity. (Ask people to volunteer; don’t force them.) You’ll build bonds among your employees, and the sense of accomplishment you receive from helping others is a huge morale and motivation booster. I cannot wait to work on our next property!

 Which charities does your organization support and how?

[Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/jjthorp.]

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