Building an Army of Volunteers

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Kotter’s new Accelerate model

In John P. Kotter’s new change model – Accelerate! – he talks about how promoting the change through established hierarchies alone can actually be detrimental for modern organizations.

He talks about the existence of the informal strategy network – a flexible, adaptable structure that is populated with employees from all across the organization – up and down its ranks.

And he proposes a dual operating system for driving change – a management-driven hierarchy complemented by the strategy network!

So the approach is that of “and” and not “or”. Both, the hierarchy and the network, have a role to play.

What is a volunteer army?

“Many people driving important change, not just the usual few appointees”: Kotter’s vision is to attract a “volunteer army” of employees from the informal strategy network who buy in to the message of change and are committed to it, an army of volunteers who participate actively in problem solving, innovation and collaboration.

Why do people volunteer?

Before we start looking for ways to build this volunteer army, we need to understand why people volunteer.

Think about the last time you volunteered for something – at work or outside of work. Think about why you volunteered.

Did you do it since it provided you an opportunity to learn?  Did it give you a sense of satisfaction? Did you do it as a favor to someone?

Broadly speaking, people are motivated to volunteer by one of three reasons –

  1. Self-serving drive – what’s in it for me?
  2. Relational drive – because “xyz” asked me to …
  3. Belief drive – I am passionate about the cause

What Kotter says about getting volunteers?

Kotter’s tips on motivating volunteers stress on creating a feeling of the volunteers “getting to” do something rather than “having to”. Also appealing to heart and head is more likely to get us results than appealing to logic alone.

How to recruit volunteers

How to recruit a Self-Serving Volunteer?


Target this group by helping them answer questions like:

  1. Will I be seen as an expert by doing this?
  2. Does it make my resume more attractive?
  3. Does it help me grow?

So incentives like certifications, awards, skill-building, opportunities to share new knowledge publicly and others may work here.

How to recruit a Relational Drive Volunteer?


This is largely driven by the recruiter’s personal networking skills and how much s/he invests in these relationships – it takes time and effort to build such relations.

How to recruit the Believers?


  1. Talk about the Why instead of the What or How
  2. Don’t expect full alignment on How
  3. Be completely transparent with this lot – about benefits and shortcomings of the change

Consult them in designing the solutions

Finally, for all volunteers –

Make volunteering easy!


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