Volunteers, Not Employees

Volunteers, Not EmployeesDick is the founder and Managing Principal of The Cross Partnership III, a twenty-year-old, Boston-based, “hands-on” consulting and turn-around firm focused on improving the operating and financial performance of businesses owned by financial sponsors. Over the past decade, Dick has served as an interim President/CEO, leading successful business transitions in eight companies over the past twelve years.

What’s the deal with employees?

So many X’ers, Y’s and Nexters …. including my own kids …. just  aren’tcommitted to their jobs like we were. And they expect things to come along with work — free — that never crossed our minds. It can’t all be video games and bad parenting,

The actual diagnosis is pretty simple. It’s both of us — together. Oil and water. Helium and a spark.

From our side, we continue to see the people who work in our organizations as we always have — as employees. Who ought to be grateful to us for giving them a paycheck. Who ought to express their gratitude by dong what’s needed and what they’re told. With loyalty and enthusiasm.

But on their side, many see themselves quite differently — as volunteers. Not as objects in transactions that give them pay for compliance. But rather as valuable assets with something important to contribute. That we don’t seem to appreciate. Which, even in this economy, compels them to expect jobs where their talents will be well received and magnified. Along with their passions, their ingenuity and their ideas to furthering a cause they respect.

The message for us? Time doesn’t go backwards!

Our days of command and control, and compliance for pay, are over. Motivating our new age workers requires us to see them through their lenses. Not as simple placeholders in rigid structures who follow orders. But rather, as unique individuals with different desires and, in many cases, far higher potentials to contribute than we ever might imagine. With choices. As volunteers, not employees.

Even pay, the old sledgehammer in our toolkit for compliance, isn’t what it used to be. Up-and-coming generations expect fair compensation. But pay, even beyond what they consider fair with lucrative incentives for exceptional performance, has lost a lot of its punch. Recent surveys of high potential seniors in high schools and college prove the fact. Documenting a surprising willingness to accept 15% to 30% less, in order to work in a place they admire. Even in this economy!

Sounds disorienting, but it’s not. Adjusting your business to these new realities, and to the substantial benefits of smarter people working harder and more creatively for you, starts with you. With your responsibility to let go of how you’ve thought of personnel in the past. And create a company that people in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s see as a superior fit with the other things they care most about in their lives.

As a place they’re inspired and proud to serve. And where they want to give you their all.

How? By setting a standard for yourself that warrants their admiration and commitment. And by being the model that settles for nothing less. Steve Jobs was famous for this. Setting outrageous standards for product beauty, and accepting nothing less.

You don’t have to run a business like Apple to apply the same methods. And you can be more kind, but nonetheless extreme, in following his example. Whether you’re creating life-changing technology. Or repairing shoes.

The point is that admiration for your business centers on your own admiration. For your business. And for your volunteers. Backed up by your own relentless demonstration of the standard that you expect to be met by everyone, serving one another.

That kind of admiration only flows downhill. Starting from you. But its wake gathers up maniacal followership among today’s volunteers. Seeking to give you more than you’ve ever expected …… from an employee.

It takes a little cash to change the world.

So what are you waiting for?

About the author

Ty Kiisel
Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business financing and trends accessible in common sense language devoid of the jargon.


  1. Brilliant, Clear, Simple, and Spot On! In other words, one of my favorite all time words, Servanthood. Thanks for the authenticity of this piece. Sincerely, Barry D.

  2. Barry,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to reply. And I’m truly glad that the message hit a point you’re, obviously, already thinking about. If we can align others thinking … those running the emerging and mid-tier businesses of America …. along these lines, we’ll fix our economy!

    Great appreciations for joining the cause!


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