Every summer, we post a list of “what we’re reading.” For the 2018 edition, stay tuned (as I do have a good stack of books just bursting with sticky notes and dog-eared pages that I’ve been reading the past few months and I’d love to share them). However, in honor of the first full day of summer, we’d like to offer up a variation on our tradition – a new installment – which we are calling, “What We’re Listening To.”

While I started listening to podcasts to help the miles tick by while out on a run, my list has now grown well beyond “Another Mother Runner” and a smattering of Broadway themed podcasts or NPR game shows. My expanded podcast subscription list now features quite a few that are proving to be a great source of inspiration and ideas about volunteer engagement.

Here are three work-related recommendations, along with a bonus idea at the end that I am eager to float out to our followers and colleagues. For each of the three recommendations, I’ve highlighted one episode that would be a good place to start. I also am sharing some questions that came to me about engagement while listening to these episodes. My recommendations are:

WorkLife with Adam Grant

This podcast is hosted by organizational psychologist Adam Grant, whose self-proclaimed mission is to “study how to make work not suck.” The podcast takes us inside unique workplaces to explore ideas that could benefit us all in our work. Through Grant’s masterful storytelling, these podcasts pack in a lot of inspiration, research, and applicable takeaways.

In the Episode entitled The Daily Show’s secret to creativity, Grant dives deep into the science and reality of the ever-present “Brainstorming Session.” As a facilitator and trainer, I engage teams in brainstorming sessions all the time and most organizational professionals I know participate in such sessions (formally or informally) quite frequently. Brainstorming sessions are a stalwart of today’s workplace. However, as Grant describes, the problem with brainstorming is that decades of evidence show that brainstorming usually backfires, in part, because the process often stifles creativity. He reports that during brainstorming sessions, people stifle themselves, they stifle others, and/or they merely support the boss’s idea. Surprised?

Yet, by sitting in on the brainstorming session of writers for the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Grant identifies a series of tactics that fuel a productive creative process through collaboration, “bursts,” “task bubbles,” and more. Intrigued? Listen to the podcast. In the meantime, here are some of the questions about engagement that crossed my mind after listening:

  • In what ways do we engage volunteers and staff in creative processes at our organizations? Where could we benefit from more creativity in our organizations – from program and service delivery to internal processes and efficiencies? How does diversity play into our creativity and openness to new ideas?
  • How could we build “structure” and “safety” into our volunteer-staff community so that we can create space where both volunteers and staff can produce – and share! – their best ideas and that we’d be open to them?

Choiceology with Dan Heath

As a longtime fan of Dan Heath’s bestselling books (co-authored with brother Chip Heath), Switch, Made to Stick, and The Power of Moments, I was very excited to learn of Dan Heath’s foray into podcasting. In Choiceology, Heath seeks to pull the veil back on how so much of our decision-making is irrational. Drawing upon behavioral economics, he sets out to expose the psychological traps that lead to expensive mistakes.

In Episode 2 The Big Impact of Small Changes, Heath explores how subtle, sometimes hidden, structures influence decision-making. He shares three case studies, including how one organization worked to reduce street crime in a London neighborhood, how small changes implemented with only a roll of duct tape could reduce collisions between bicycles and pedestrians at a busy intersection, and how “choice architecture” can encourage healthier, smarter decisions. It all comes down to “nudges” – how small changes can lead to big impacts.

I wondered:

  • How can we leverage these ideas around “choice architecture” and “nudges” to make our volunteer application process more effective and productive?
  • How can we build such strategies into the ways that we deliver programs and services so that our volunteer partners can be even more effective in achieving our mission?

Repeat Customer

Finally, this is a brand new podcast and, in full disclosure, I am making this recommendation based on only one episode. My friend and colleague, songwriter Julie Geller, whose song is featured in this episode, brought the podcast to my attention and I am excited about the possibilities and its potential application to our engagement world. The podcast focuses on what encourages individuals to become repeat customers. Certainly, an important topic in the business world. But what about volunteers? I wondered. So, I listened.

The first episode, Beyond Cookie Butter: The Secrets behind Trader Joe’s great customer experience, goes behind the scenes of Trader Joe’s closely-held strategies to share how salespeople are trained to provide that uniquely “Trader Joe” experience that draws people back to the store despite its relatively small size and limited inventory (at least by comparison to other major grocery chains in the US). How does the store recruit for and train its staff to exude that super-helpful charm? By focusing on attitude, role playing, and even maximizing encounters between shoppers and staff. No surprise, that got me thinking once again about volunteers.

I pondered:

  • What can we learn from Trader Joe’s philosophy of audacious helpfulness to help our organizational leaders recruit, train, and support volunteers and provide the volunteers with an exceptional volunteer experience? What could we do to get volunteers to become “repeat volunteers,” even in a world where retention rates are going down and episodic volunteering is on the rise?
  • What can we learn about how to recruit and train volunteers to then interact with our clients, visitors, program participants, students, donors or other stakeholders so that we nurture ongoing relationships with our organization and, even more importantly, with our cause and mission?

So, listen up! Give these podcasts a try. If you find yourself pondering questions like the ones I shared above, consider my last question of this post:

  • Would you be interested in joining a “Podcast Group”? Wouldn’t it be great to have a group, modeled after the now common “book group” approach, but based on podcasts? Imagine, being able to prepare for a podcast group meeting every other month by simply listening to a 30 – 60 minute podcast and then signing on to a conference line to discuss with other professionals equally interested in engagement to discuss applications and inspirations from the podcast?

VQ Volunteer Strategies is pondering this for 2019. If you are interested, let us know using our contact form.