Top Ten Commandments for Recruitment & Retention - Pt 2

The Second Commandment: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

Be careful what you wish for. More members equal more help, more people to manage and more people issues to deal with. However, this can't deter you from recruiting more. Plan for volunteers.

As I wrote in the first part of this series, several years' back, my fire company created a recruitment and retention plan and executed an aggressive marketing campaign.

We thought we had done our homework and outlined a hopeful plan to bring five inactive members back to active status, and to bring in 15 new members - all of this over a 12-18 month time frame.

Unfortunately, we were caught with our bunker pants down on this one. We were unprepared for the community's response to our call for help. We doubled our membership in just four months from 45 to 90 volunteers.

This was a clear case of the success of the program objectives exceeding the planned goal. Our supply exceeded our demand.

First of all, in our defense, I don't think anyone could have anticipated the overwhelming response to our program.

But, this scenario could play out in any business. For example, picture your company launching a new product release and immediate demand causes you to deplete your inventory. I'm sure it happens every day on the Internet.

What would be the ramifications of that? Do you have enough production capacity to keep up with the demand? Do you have a formidable management structure in place to control the production? How many customers will you disappoint and for how long, while you play catch-up?

In our case, we gutted our inventory in the first month. We came up short by 30 sets of turnout gear for our new recruits. We were without pagers to alert almost half of our new recruits to respond.

This all translated into what Wall Street would call a $30,000 "adjustment" to our bottom line. Lucky for us, our town fathers pitched in to help our new fiscal crisis as a reward for our efforts on the recruitment front.

However, not only did we now have to "feed and clothe" twice as many volunteers, while staff was being added at the bottom of the organizational chart - we did not have enough "middle managers" to lead our exploding workforce.

As a result, our new mountain of membership quickly eroded in just a few years. Today, none of those 45 people still volunteer with us.

We disappointed several of our internal customers. Many of the volunteers we gained in the initial "assault" on our recruitment problem left the department, due in part to poor people management and personal conflicts.

Again, this is not necessarily a reflection on the people in charge, just simply the nature of the beast when you're not fully prepared for the results that may follow your marketing crusade. We planned to be successful - just not that successful. Nor did we manage our growth.

Fortunately, we've learned from our mistakes and have taken a new approach to recruitment drives. We'll shed more light on that in one of the later "commandments."

More members do equal more help, but it also means more people to manage and more people issues to deal with.

This is the part that can bite you if you're not prepared.

As your company grows from a mom-and-pop operation to a well-staffed professional organization, you unfortunately need to have more policies in place. And I'm not referring to the stock policy, "because we've always done it that way" either. I'm talking about SOGs - Standard Operating Guidelines, and mission and vision statements.

When you have more people to communicate with, the translation can easily get lost "as it goes on down the line." Verbal communications alone no longer suffice. Not only are printed documentation of responsibilities and expectations necessary, but also written rules as to how benefits and rewards are distributed.

The more people and personalities you have to deal with, the more important it is to instill a consistent understanding of company tradition, values and operational parameters. After all, the fire department is a paramilitary organization. Ask any member of the armed forces what their division stands for and they'll be able to recite you their military motto without a cue card.

However, this can't deter you from recruiting more.

I've heard more than one fire chief proclaim that he can do more with 10 "good" firefighters than he can with a hundred "wanna-be's." This may be partly true, at least on the fireground.

But in today's volunteer setting, "doing more with less," now means "struggling to keep up with less."

We are forced to use more people who individually, have less time to give. Hopefully, their collective contributions will equal what used to be accomplished with fewer members who had more available time to volunteer.

Just because more people and their associated personalities do mean more challenges to today's fire service leaders, we can't use that as a cop-out to get by with what we have.

Besides, those left behind after the chief has executed his "heads are gonna roll" strategy will soon burn out themselves.

As I like to say, "Firefighting is not for everyone, but volunteering can be." There's plenty of work to be done on and behind the scene in the business of emergency services. Given today's competitive volunteering environment, people have less time to give and therefore, we need more people to spread the smaller divisions of workload across.

Plan for volunteers.

Whether you're scratching the bottom of the bowl to find some, or being bowled over by the power of the people, the bottom line is: "plan for volunteers." Remember, you can't be a good leader without a bunch of good followers.

If everyone has something to contribute, your challenge is to create a volunteering opportunity for them that makes the most of their time and talents, and makes the most of your organization.

We'll talk about this more in the Third Commandment, where we'll learn how to BE A GOOD FOLLOWER.

In the meantime, don't hesitate to click or call with your questions or comments.

Stay safe. Train often.