How do we manage to get a large number of people who only have limited periods of time volunteering for your organisation to model your culture and consistently behave in a way that exemplifies the values and standards of excellence that you aspire to? You have a part to play in moulding the culture of your organisation, as part of the culture is the behaviour that results when a group arrives at a set of spoken and unspoken rules for working together.

Tip #1: Know what you want. You must be very clear about the exact behaviours that you do want, and those that you don’t. Take the time to listen to feedback and ideas from customers, from staff who work alongside these volunteers, and from the volunteers on your team who carry out the role in a way you admire.

Tip #2: Behave that way yourself. Do it, be it, and make sure you never show the behaviour you don’t want. Stand shoulder to shoulder out in the workplace and show what you want, rather than just talking about it.

Tip #3: Pay attention to good behaviour. Notice it, comment on it, say ‘well done’, and share the story of what you saw with everyone in the team. The more immediate and genuine your reaction is, the more effective it will be.

Tip #4: Pay attention to bad behaviour. If you choose to ignore it, you can be sure you are risking it spreading more widely. If you always follow up — whether it is staff behaving badly, or volunteers — it is a clear message that your values are not just words. It shows you mean them and live by them.

Tip #5: Keep paying attention. If you stop looking and dealing with the small incidents and lapses, you can guarantee that they will keep recurring, and your small problems will grow into big ones.

One of the challenges we face with developing consistent behaviour amongst large groups of volunteers is that we can never gather them all together in one place at one time. Nor can a manager or supervisor spend time with every single volunteer on every shift. Instead what actually happens is that volunteers say to newcomers, “This is the way we do it here.” Your challenge is to make sure your standards of behaviour are so strongly embedded that this is the culture that prevails.

And as a last suggestion, go back and re-read tip #2.

Ros Currie is the Manager of Volunteer Services at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.