Thursday, 12 December 2013

Why your Managers should join Rotary

Misconceptions about Rotary

Rotary is an organisation principally made up of successful professionals. Many non Rotarians seem to think of it as purely a networking organisation or a do-gooders club. Obviously doing good things for your community, country and even world wide is facet of Rotary and a basic part of the reason for its existence. As for networking, well of course, again as with any group you join, the crucial personal success factor of networking is part of the deal.

From a business owners point of view however, Rotary is much more valuable!

I often read articles claiming there is currently a shortage of business soft skills, particularly in our younger workers.

Over my 30 years in Rotary and looking at it from a business persons perspective I have found that the organisation has an important benefit not often mentioned in its literature. Rotary represents possibly the cheapest and most effective staff "soft skills" development tool available to organisations both private and public. 

Although a British example from the "National Careers Service" here is a list of essential soft skills they published that I believe also fairly represent the skills requirements/problems employers also face in Australia and many other countries.

They state: "…[essential] soft skills, which tend to be either personal characteristics or skills that have been fine-tuned over a period of time are:"

Communicating; Making decisions; Showing commitment; Flexibility; Time management; Leadership skills; Creativity and problem-solving skills; Being a team player; Accepting responsibility; Ability to work under pressure

"When you look at that list and how valuable these skills can be to organisations, it’s a wonder they call them ‘soft skills’, because they are very important and hard to learn!"


Again from "" 

Six Soft Skills Everyone Needs

Communication Skills: written and real, persuasion, presentation and succinct explanations

Teamwork and Collaboration: Working with others, leading and following, monitoring progress, meeting deadlines, sharing a common goal and working across department cultures

Adaptability: "Understand the need to have a passion for continuous learning and the ability to continue to grow and stretch skills to adapt to the changing needs of the organisation,"

Problem Solving: "What to do, how approach a problem, how to involve others to help and how to assess the outcome in real, measurable results."

Critical Observation 'Collect and manipulate data and importantly analyse and interpret it.' Understand what questions are raised and assess what the data tells us about the next steps to take.'

Conflict Resolution: The ability to persuade, negotiate and resolve conflicts is crucial at all organisational levels. "Wherever people gather there will be politics", personality differences and competing agendas.

Can Staff "Learn Soft Skills"?

"The good news is that, like any skill, soft skills can be learned. The better news? Boosting your staffs soft skills not only prepares them for a promotion or taking on more responsibility, it will also have obvious applications in all areas of a person's life, both professional and personal."


What are the options?

'Offer staff a training or an academic course': Sure however that can be expensive. Example: A well know leadership course in Australia costs $2,100.00 for two days of training (ref: Blanchard)

"Seek Mentors": A great option however as the boss do you have the time and/or do your senior managers have the skills to be mentors? Wouldn't it be great to get some 'free' outside help?

"Volunteer: Working with nonprofit organisations gives participants the opportunity to build soft skills." Aha here comes Rotary. 


From the Rotary Club of Sydney's 'Why Join Rotary Page'

"Team building, fundraising, public speaking, planning, organisation, and communication are just a sampling of the leadership skills that club members can exercise and enhance. Being a Rotary leader provides further experience in learning how to inspire and guide [manage] others."

Well that's a start however it's pretty much an unsubstantiated claim… where's the proof.

Lets look at a few skills and see how being a Rotary member helps

Firstly I should point out that Rotary gives it's elected officers power. The important point is that the power comes without any legitimate authority. Because it is an organisation of volunteers even as the president you cannot insist on anything. You must convince the board and members that doing what you ask of them is in the best interests of all concerned. Not an easy task at times. From a business owners point of view it is better for managers to learn how to do that in a volunteer organisation than having them destroy the morale of your workers though the misuse of their legitimate authority at work.


Communication. There are many opportunities to speak in meetings. As a member individuals will be called upon to introduce or thank guest speakers. As a director individuals will be asked to present/report on what their committee is doing regarding projects you are involved in. If you act as club sergeant you will need to tell stories about other members for which they will pay a small 'fine'. In this role you will also learn how to develop a little comic relief into your public speaking. As you progress you will need to do presentations to the wider public.

Making Decisions. This critical business skill will be developed through involvement in club, district or global projects. As with any organisation money is involved and other peoples money at that, so well considered actions and an understanding of desired outcomes is essential. Example: Your club is offered the parking duties at a local event in return for gaining permission to hold out a gold coin donation bucket. You will have to assess, will the funds to be raised warrant the manpower needed. Is the organisation running the project legitimate and capable of making it a success? Does your club have the levels of manpower required or will you need to negotiate a joint venture with another group in order to do the job properly. What other resources such as shelter, refreshments, signs, money collection procedures, safety procedures, to mention just a few, do you need? What support for the workers must you provide and how will the work be divided up?

Showing Commitment. What can I say. Those that are not committed in Rotary even have their own anagram, they are called RINOs, Rotarians in Name Only. They are the one's that come late, eat and leave early. They are the one's who never volunteer and when they do tend to stand around and watch other members work. They are the one's that see Rotary only as a place to sell their wares. The social pressure that results from other members usually sees them out of the club pretty quickly. If however an individual shows commitment to the clubs goals they become a great ambassador for your business.

Teamwork. I guess I don't have to go into the theory of teamwork however, as I have run effective teamwork courses for major global companies over many years throughout Asia I believe I understand what is important for effective teamwork to exist. A few quick requirements. Individuals must be able to: 

(a) Communicate: Provide clear and accurate information, Listen effectively, Ask questions, Acknowledge requests for information, Openly share ideas, Attend to non-verbal behaviours

(b) Manage Interpersonal Relations and Share the Work: Seek mutually agreeable solutions, Consider different ways of doing things, Manage/Influence disputes

(c)  Be involved in Group Decision Making/Planning Identify problems: Gather information, Evaluate information, Share information, Understand decisions, Set goals

(d) Develop skills of Adaptability/Flexibility: Provide assistance, Reallocate tasks, Provide/Accept feedback, Monitor/Adjust performance

I have only mentioned a few of the benefits of being a Rotarian here, however if you want to develop the leaders of your organisation I state again Rotary represents a great opportunity for your organisation to do that and in a cost effective manner.


A personal story.

Some years ago I was involved in a project in the western suburbs of Brisbane to improve the facilities at a school for aphasic children. The project called the raising of the school on higher stumps and the building of three classrooms under the raised building Construction required everything from architectural design & engineering to the manufacture and fitting of walls, windows & doors, plastering, painting, pluming and electrical. New paths, stairs and balconies where also required. Two Rotary clubs collaborated on the project. The time to do the project was six months and required fairly constant work. The technical skills were drawn from club members. money was raised through grants and Rotary fundraising activities.

Thinking about the team skills mentioned above obviously they all came into play. The team that did the work were not contractors but Rotarians themselves. I still remember sitting on a trestle next to a 70 year old GP while we chatted and painted outside walls of the building. They guys and girls in the team included, architects, insurance company and bank managers, a plumber, a service station proprietor, doctors, a car dealer, a grocery wholesaler, solicitors, retail managers just to mention a few. All the mentioned effective teamwork skills came into play and I learnt valuable lessons for life. All were volunteers so no one had the authority to boss other around however through their demonstrated human relations skills they bossed us around plenty… I mean they effectively elicited our eager cooperation and we all learned a lot about ourselves and how to work with others across a broad spectrum of society. By the way the 70 year GP was a pretty lousy painter… then again I wasn't that good at it myself.


So will you nominate one of your managers with high potential in your organisation to become a Rotarian AND make the monetary investment as well? Oh… how much will it be for all these staff development benefits? Best estimate: Membership $280 p.a., Meals $25.00 X 26 a year $650, Meals $10 X 12 a year $120 and Events $35 X 5 a year $175. Total $1225. Time the (paid or unpaid) staff member will need to invest 156 hours or 6.5 days. No that large an amount to invest when you consider the training cost for just 2 days of leadership training only I mentioned above. This is easy surely to justify for any successful business.


Well you know better than I how that needs to be done. In my case my boss Chris Fletcher called all the senior executives of the finance company together at a small ceremony and said: "congratulations on being appointed to Manager of our third biggest branch at Parramatta, you are the youngest manager we have ever appointed, I am sure you will do a great job and of course enjoy your TIME IN ROTARY". "What" I said "I don't want to hang around with all those ancient old blokes". To which he replied, "do you want the promotion Richard". "YES" I said… and the deed was done… and now thirty years later I am glad he insisted. 

Richard Townsend
President - The Rotary Club of Maleny
December 2013