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Case Study: Volunteering as an Employee Development Approach

March 13, 2012 09:26 by Halelly Azulay


Guest post by Halelly Azulay, Talentgrow

Volunteering involves providing your knowledge, skills, and abilities, as well as your time and energy, without establishing an employment relationship and usually without any monetary compensation. Employees who take on volunteer roles are able to build new skills and practice existing skills in a different setting from their day-to-day job. They can try something that is different from their usual work and bring back those skills, thereby adding value to their employer by improving their current job performance. They may even enhance the succession management efforts of their employer because they become ready to move into positions of greater responsibility faster and more effectively than they would had they not taken on the volunteer role. The best part about this employee development strategy is it doesn't cost the organization nearly as much as sending the employee to costly training workshops or hiring a coach. In fact, it often costs the organization nothing.

In my ASTD Press book, Employee Development on a Shoestring, I describe 11 different ways to develop employees outside the classroom, including a chapter on Volunteering as an employee development method. In it, I define how volunteering can serve as an employee development method and explain who should try it, how it benefits learners and the organization, the competencies it can develop, and how it works. I also give tips for establishing volunteering as one of your approaches to employee development and conclude with a case study that depicts the success PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) enjoyed as a result of offering this type of development method.

Volunteering as Employee Development: PwC’s Project Belize

The case study describes how 200 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) volunteers—partners, staff, and interns from across the United States—traveled to Belize City, Belize, in the Summer of 2011 as part of Project Belize, an initiative that builds on a three-year relationship with schools in Belize City, and is primarily focused on financial literacy and environmental sustainability. The PwC team connected with more than 1,200 students in 10 schools in some of Belize’s poorest areas and focused on hosting a youth financial literacy camp, leading a scholar's mentoring program for current and former Belizean students, providing financial and technology training to teachers, and building “Learning Landscape” playgrounds using repurposed materials.

According to PwC participant Justin Suissa, “the experience [building learning landscape playgrounds] was valuable on so many levels.” Justin was out of his element—construction is not where his expertise lies—and had a tight deadline and clearly defined “deliverables,” but many pitfalls and unexpected obstacles to overcome. Having to pull together as a team to build six playgrounds for the children through pouring rain and intense heat and humidity in five days was a challenge that developed his leadership and team-building skills. Justin developed his flexibility and agility competencies to figure out new technical skills in an unpredictable environment. “While I did not expect it, it was like a learning playground for us, the volunteers. With high stakes and a tough deadline, my teammates and I had to solve problems creatively and let go of pre-established hierarchies in this new environment.”

For another volunteering employee, Jack Teuber, this experience meant a change in his environment and operational mode—from an unconsciously competent managing director leading a team to a novice middle school teacher in a foreign country, working with children and with a totally new and mixed team of associates and interns. Jack understood that his challenge was “to get out of people’s way and encourage them to grow, solve problems, and develop their leadership skills.” He developed his ability to collaborate and support others’ success through coaching. Jack reflected that he and his teammates all needed to rise to the challenge based on “soft skills” in this new environment—building relationships, establishing empathy, communicating, and partnering. These skills are “extremely important back in the PwC environment because they help us serve our clients better and be better leaders and team players to our colleagues.” Finally, Jack gained tremendous partnering and networking benefits—“the team members still keep in touch after returning home and all of us have developed greater access to and understanding of other areas of the business, which serves to break down barriers, especially the hierarchical ones. Belize affected my self-awareness and has caused me to want to do this for my own team [at home].”

While this case study describes a large and generous company undertaking a big expenditure, the same principles can be applied and the same developmental benefits can be yours for absolutely no money. Volunteering can be done in your local community—no international flights needed. Volunteering can be conducted by individual employees joining other members of the wider community or as a team effort—sending a group of volunteers from the same organization on a volunteer mission. The learning that took place for those Belize Project volunteers could happen in your local neighborhood. I hope you give it a try!

Employee Development on a Shoestring has lots of additional tools, checklists, self-assessments and other supports to help you implement the various development methods, consider some of the objections you might encounter, and provide ways to overcome them. Catch my presentation at ASTD ICE on Tuesday, May 8, 2012, from 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. about this topic to get even more ideas!


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