A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to this Blog Post

I got lost this afternoon, in the HBR Exchange. It’s a road I won’t take you down, lest you get lost too.  I recommend checking it out; you might learn something. I sure did!

Were you in Austin earlier this month for SXSW? Me neither. If I had been, two things I wouldn’t have missed are the Harvard Business Review’s panel, “Are Great Employees Overrated?” and The Boss’, a.k.a., Bruce Springsteen, keynote at SXSW Music. Check out Bruce Springsteen’s new release, Wrecking Ball; “Rocky Ground” is my favorite. He is also in the March 14, 2012,  Rolling Stone. You get an in depth view of an intimate conversation between Bruce and another big fan, Jon Stewart. They cover a lot of ground including “You cannot have this enormous income disparity-you’re going to slice this country down the middle.”

Back to the HBR Exchange. Last summer Bill Taylor, one of the founders of Fast Company, wrote a post on HBR Exchange saying, “Great people (employees) are overrated.” His post was inspired by reading Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.” We can consider the same question relative to volunteers: Would you rather have a Superstar volunteer or one hundred adequate volunteers?

Bill’s post generated so many comments HBR Exchange decided to host a panel on the topic at SXSW. The highlights of the panel intrigued me and I thought the questions worthy of consideration regarding volunteer management.

What qualities make [volunteer] superstars? Are there negatives to being a star?

In what roles are Superstars most/east effective? What about superstars as team members?

Can you get the best out of superstars and teams simultaneously? If not, do you prefer superstars or teams?

The dialog is ongoing at HBR Exchange. For me, though, it’s more a tug of war. In Volunteer Maryland’s Pre-Service Training we look at motivation through several perspectives, including David McClelland’s three basic motivations: Achievement, Affiliation, and Power. McClelland suggests that these basic motivations are present in all of us, but generally one will predominate. I tend toward Achievement and Affiliation. In simple terms, this means I’m motivated by tangible achievements, like check-off lists, and I enjoy collaboration, i.e. being a contributing team member. My experience is that it’s a compromise. Being on a team may mean fewer items crossed off the proverbial “To Do” list and it often results in a far richer experience. One of the best insights from the panel was from Andrew Weber, “. . .the right person in right role at the right moment where they can do something extraordinary. . .”

Would you rather have a Superstar volunteer or one hundred adequate ones?


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