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What's a great volunteer manager worth?

Via Jena McGregor at the PostLeadership blog last week, a new research paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research quantifies the value of a great boss. From the abstract:

"Replacing a boss who is in the lower 10% of boss quality with one who is in the upper 10% of boss quality increases a team's total output by about the same amount as would adding one worker to a nine member team. Using a normalization, this implies that the average boss is about 1.75 times as productive as the average worker."

McGregor then draws this conclusion about workforce development:

"More people need to understand that they're better off firing a poorly performing boss and replacing him or her with a better performing one, rather than adding more workers to their staffs. Once that happens, the productivity push should shift from getting more out of people on the front lines to first getting more out of the ones who lead them."

These aren't surprising conclusions, but it's interesting to see that some hard, data-based research has gone into supporting the idea of a great manager's "multiplying effect" on his or her team.

What I'd really like to see, though, is this same research applied in the context of volunteer management. I suspect that the multiplying effect of a great volunteer manager would be even more pronounced.

For paid employees, the potential influence of a great manager has a floor and ceiling, based on compensation. A worker with a bad boss still has to work to get paid, and a worker with a great boss is only going to increase productivity so far without a pay increase.

But for an association volunteer, potential productivity covers a much greater range. A volunteer with a bad volunteer manager can very easily quit, but a volunteer with a great volunteer manager could become a passionate advocate for the organization.

So go back to those quoted paragraphs and replace "boss" with "volunteer manager" and "worker" with "volunteer," and then think about how your association handles volunteer management. Perhaps, rather than fretting over getting the right volunteers lined up, you should focus more on finding staff who are great at managing volunteers, on better training the ones you already have, and on letting go of the ones who simply can't cut it. The potential upsides and downsides of the quality of your volunteer managers are too great to ignore.

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