The Art of Stepping Down.

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Some thought on quitting, volunteer arrogance and Peter's Principle.

I recently quit my position as member of the national IPP committee. It may have been just a minor position, but it reminded me that often, CISVers don't seem to get it right, when leaving "office".

In the past years, I've had to witness many CISVers who left their position in the organization in a way, that was unfortunate in a range of different ways. Of course, it's great if somebody donates free time to the cause of CISV, by being a national board member or a local committee chair, but doing the tasks right during the time in office is maybe just as important in getting the transition right. Here's a list of things that I think people should consider, that take over a position in CISV:

  • Be clear with yourself and transparent with everybody else, how long you want to do the job. This will make it easier on everybody to plan ahead, and approach people, who can follow your position
  • From the first day on, keep your eyes open for somebody, who will take over your job. Be open for different working and leadership styles!
  • Look out for other people in your team, and how long they will stay on the job - try and avoid stepping down at the same point in time.
  • Try and organize your documents and knowledge in a way, that somebody else will find everything necessary, once he or she takes over.
  • Reserve some time for transition - the day that the new person comes into office, is not your last day of work - remain available for another year or so.
Quite often, CISVers who have done a good job in their position, will be asked to take over another position: Chapter presidents are asked to become national presidents, trustees are asked to become IEC-members. But the fact that somebody is good at one job doesn't mean he is good at another: A great, hard-working well-organized committee member may not be apt to being the committee chair, that requires team-leading and political skills. The question „is this job right for me?" is what you will have to ask yourself before starting on a new job in your CISV career. (The notion that "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence" is referred to as the „Peter Principle" - check out Wikipedia).
People often have something I'd like to call „volunteer arrogance": When things change in their life (new job, new girl-friend, etc), they are likely to drop their volunteer responsibilities without much hindsight, thinking, hey, everybody should be thankful, that I did the job anyway, there's no need form me to take special care - yet underestimating the damage done by stepping down from one day to another. In fact, finding a replacement volunteer is often far more difficult than filling a paid position in a company.

In my case, I think I could have been more transparent earlier about my intentions to quit, and I also should have been more consequent, earlier: I hadn't really contributed to the work done in the Geman IPP committee for more than a year.  

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Good comment Nick! CISV has for sure need of a better Human Resource Management regarding the volunteers in positions like the ones you mention. Personally I am stepping down as chair of Mosaic International this summer and I think we have had a great transition from Juanca through me to the incoming chair of Ico Bertolani. But we see other International committees where people leave and there is noone to take over. Perhaps we need to have an election committee for not just the IEC, but for all of EEC? What do you think?

I agree with your point Per, at the same time mosaic committee have been one of the most successful with recruitment strategies in the past years, It is my belief that they are one of the healthiest and most sustainable committees because of this. What is quite significant is that mosaic was one of the first to really pay attention to having a protocol for new members or what you call 'trainees' (I note that a number of committees are doing this now).

I do believe that committee strength is highly interlinked with people's willingness to step forward in a leadership role such as chair. A couple of years ago it was mentioned that someone would be looking into recruitment in a wider sense, I think that this is important. Is this a job for an election committee? For IEC? For EEC? Who knows.

Being largely a voluntary organisation, we are only ever as strong as our human resource capacity - the sustainability of this is therfore crucial, and some of the 'passing over' techniques that you have mentioned Nick should just be the start. It also confirms my belief that a great leader/ someone fulfilling a role in the organisation isn't just someone who makes a mark and changes a lot of things, it is someone who leaves their role in a way that initiatives can continue to be followed through, or creates the capacity for things to happen.

In the last IO update it has become official that 2 chairs of international committees just recently resigned after a quite short period in office. This makes me sad, because so much in CISV depends on persistance: Only by being around for a while, working on projects for a longer period of time, will ever make any difference happen.
The fact that there were no alternates stepping up also underlines that some form of Human Resources Management needs to take place. I have no idea how this should happen, but I'm sure there's ideas around...

At the same time, this is a red flag for the IEC and the board to look closely at the way things were working, or not, that ended up with this result. Is there something about the way we are structured, the way a role is defined (or has evolved) or the way we are communicating that contributed to this sudden action (especially when it is two people!)?

A person working alone does not always choose to do so, and no replacement ready might also mean there was not enough support of that person.

I'm not saying that something specific was wrong here, but any time a volunteer steps down with little notice, we need to look at ourselves as well as sit down with the volunteer to see what we can learn. It isn't always as simple as a new relationship or job. I know several people who have left CISV because of real problems that happened, and no one asked why they left - this only reinforces their feeling that leaving was the only option!

We want volunteers to commit to jobs - absolutely, this is essential, but since they are volunteers and have the choice to talk by walking - if they take that choice we should run after them and get some feedback!

Sarah; maybe not surprising that the two departments (they are searching for 4 chairs) in question are the two that has been most thoroughly re-organized in the last year...

Overall I see the programme committees as the most stable; they seem to do people management in a very long term way (almost over decades). With a rather stable scope of work, that is probably a receipe (not necessarily the only one) for success.

For the non-programme committees change seem to happen every year as committees and task forces are merged, split, started and decommissioned almost every year.

These areas are also the areas where the IO provide more than just administrative support, adding even more people to the big question of who does what and who is responsible for what.

Responding to Lars' last comment to Sarah:

I sensed this in a major way at AIM in 2008 when the ILTC was merged into/with ODC (I think? The change was so confusing at the time, I don't think I know what ended up happening).

Why not place a minimum of, say, 2 years before major structural changes are made to non-program committees after a major change? It might help settle the group and allow for better continuation.

There are 2 levels of this topics:

1) personal approach to succession: I believe is not fair to step down and just leave and some people can feel more or less strong about this

2) life can be unpredictable, especially when it comes to work responsibilities, so is very hard to judge. I guess that this is a discussion to be merged with the paid-lunteers topic :)

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This page contains a single entry by Nick published on June 23, 2010 4:11 PM.

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