Category Archives: Research

Is Hiring a Volunteer Manager Enough?

Rebecca Nesbit, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of nonprofit management in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas. She researches volunteer management in public and nonprofit organizations.

One of the questions that I get most often from volunteer managers (or those who have been given the responsibility for coordinating volunteer efforts) is how they can get their supervisor or executive director to support their efforts at involving volunteers in the organization.

Many executive directors think that once they hire a volunteer manager they will no longer have to worry about the volunteer program. This is not true. Volunteer managers need specific, supportive actions from their supervisors or the head of their organization in order to make the organization’s volunteer program more effective.

Do you provide adequate resources for the volunteer program? Volunteers are not free. Beyond hiring a volunteer manager, the volunteer program will need a budget for supplies, communication, and recognition activities. At the very least, the action of giving a budget to the volunteer program indicates its importance in your organization.

Do you hold staff accountable for good working relationships with volunteers? Many executive directors believe that relationships between volunteers and staff at their organization are good, but the volunteer manager often knows differently. In many instances, especially when introducing a new volunteer program, staff might be reluctant or resistant to working with volunteers. (Look for a future blog article about employee reluctance to working with volunteers.) If the organization is truly committed to using volunteers, then working productively with volunteers should be part of employee job descriptions and performance evaluations.

Do you orient and train staff in ways to work effectively with volunteers? Executive directors often assume that volunteers can fit seamlessly into their organization, but working with volunteers requires a range of skill sets—interpersonal skills, communication skills, the ability to give feedback, managerial skills and time management skills. In addition, most employees do not understand what volunteers want and need in order to help them to be effective contributors to the organization. Staff members need training and orientation in these areas before being asked to work with volunteers.

What are the most frequent issues brought to you by the manager of volunteers at your organization?

Is It Time To Write a Rule?

Leisha DeHart-Davis (AKA Green Tape Doctor) is an associate professor in the University of Kansas School of Public Affairs and Administration. She conducts research on effective organizational rules, which she refers to as “green tape.” Feel free to email her with your questions on creating effective rules for public sector organizations (llddavis@ku.edu).


I once interviewed a public manager who told me, “I decide to write a rule when I’m becoming stressed from people coming into my office with the same issue or problem.”

The manager’s comment suggests that rules can solve workplace problems. But when to write a rule is sometimes unclear: on the one hand, managers need administrative capacity to empower action. On the other hand, they do not want excessive bureaucracy in their workplaces.

How do you know when a written rule is needed? Here are three questions to ask:

* What is the worst that will happen if you do not write a rule? Answering this question is a good way to figure out whether a workplace issue is important enough to write a rule. If the worst-case scenario is likely and imposes unacceptable costs on organizational integrity or operational effectiveness, then a written rule may be in order.

* Are you clear on rule objectives? Written rules are well-suited to clear objectives. Even general objectives – reduced personal Internet usage or increased employee professionalism – greatly simplify rule-writing and help focus the rule on what you are trying to accomplish.

* What is causing the issue? Written rules are like the practice of medicine: prescribing the remedy requires diagnosing the ailment. Take time to investigate the causes of a workplace issue before formulating the rule. If the issue pertains to depleted sick leave, talk to employees to find out what’s going on. Written rules are more effective when designed with root causes in mind.

If the worst-case scenario is unacceptable and if you have clear rule objectives and a good grasp on root causes, then your workplace problem is a good candidate for a written rule.

Is there a workplace issue that you solved using a written rule? What was it?

Current Research by KU Public Administration Faculty–There’s Some Great Stuff Going On

KU Public Administration was well-represented by both faculty and doctoral students at the June 2-4 Public Management Research Association conference held at the Maxwell School in Syracuse. Check out the topics they’re delving into:

Student Erin Borry presented her paper, “Ethical Climate in the Public Sector: Its Influence on Red Tape and Rule Bending.”

Student Cullen C. Merritt presented a poster at the Doctoral Poster Session on his work entitled “Predicting Executive Turnover in Public Organizations.”

Dr. Leisha Dehart-Davis presented her paper, “Rule Formalization and Rule Effectiveness: Further Explorations into the Construct Validity of Red Tape.”

Dr. Heather Getha-Taylor presenter on her current work with Ricardo S. Morse, University of North Carolina, “Leadership Development for Local Government Executives: Balancing Existing Commitments and Emerging Needs.”

Dr. Holly Goerdel presented her paper, “Democratic Rollback and Contracting for War: Managing the Intent of Accountability with Technical versus Adaptive Solutions.”

Dr. Barbara Romzek presented on her current work Kelly LeRoux, University of Illinois-Chicago and Joycelyn Johnson, American University, “Informal Accountability Dynamics within Service Delivery Networks: A Theory and a Test.”

Dr. Chris Silvia presented on his current work with Michael McGuire and Robert Agranoff of Indiana University, “Putting the “Public” Back into Collaborative Public Management.”

To learn more about what all of our faculty are doing, visit http://www.kupa.ku.edu/faculty/.

What Bureaucracies Do Right

Last year Professor Leisha Dehart Davis was interviewed by KU’s University Relations team about her research on bureaucracy and making good organizational rules. She calls this line of her research “green tape theory.” Once you hear it, it makes perfect sense–rather than struggling to define and overcome red tape, why don’t we define what works to make public sector organizations function well?

Faculty Research You Can Use: Making Collaboration Work

As we have watched and listened to the news from Japan for the last few weeks, our hearts go out to the people and we marvel at their perseverance in the face of such tremendous challenges. We also are clearly reminded of our professional obligations to do our part in preparing for such events in our backyards.

A recent article published by Public Administration faculty member Chris Silvia is directly relevant to this need. Since natural and man-made disasters rarely occur within a single jurisdiction and the ability of any one organization to effectively respond by itself is frequently exceeded, a collaborative approach to emergency management can best address the resulting needs.

But organizations cannot wait until the moment of crisis to establish these collaborative relationships. Effective collaboration requires that the collaborative partners have the time and opportunity to:

• see that their ability to achieve their individual goals and mission can be enhanced through teamwork,
• build a shared understanding of the resources that each partner brings to the table,
• establish a shared vision for their work together,
• engender the support of stakeholders, and
• build trusting relationships.

To read more about this research, see Chris Silvia. 2011. Collaborative Governance Concepts for Successful Network Leadership. State and Local Government Review 43 (1): 66-71.

Reaching out to create a “Developmental Network”

Last week, KU Public Administration Department Chair Marilu Goodyear met with participants in our Emerging Leaders Academy to discuss the research on mentoring and offer some guidance to help them identify areas in which they might seek mentoring and people who they know who might fill that role.

Emphasis on people. Plural.

Marilu cited research by Kathleen Kram who interviewed employees in organizations about mentoring. When asked if they had a mentor, most people said no. But Kram’s research found that in fact most of her interviewees named multiple people in their work lives who served various mentoring functions. Kram thus posited that most career professionals have “developmental networks” of people in their lives rather than single mentors.

The following graphic, from Marilu’s 2006 article “Mentoring: A Learning Collaboration,” offers an example of what such a network might look like.

As she notes, “these networks consist not only of senior staff in the profession but also of peers and even junior professionals, who often can help veterans learn a new skill. Family members and friends can also play important roles in a developmental network, particularly in the areas of role modeling and psychosocial support.”

This approach takes away the expectation that one senior executive in an organization can both know and provide everything a junior executive needs, an assumption that was rarely borne out in practice.

Importantly, it also relocates the responsibility for effective mentoring relationships from the organization and the senior executives to the mentees who “develop their own developmental networks in relation to their particular needs. Mentees reach out to individuals around them to seek assistance in the functional areas where they need help.”

Have you ever found mentoring from an unlikely source who fits with this idea of a “developmental network”? What possibilities does this approach open for you? Share your experiences in the comments!

Marilu Goodyear’s work on mentoring highlighted in Edwards Campus newsletter

We were delighted to see our colleague, Public Administration Department chair Dr. Marilu Goodyear, featured in the spring 2010 Edwards Campus newsletter. The article features her work on mentorship research.

“The research on mentoring pretty much proves that if you have one or more mentors you develop relationships with, it leads to an increase in compensation and career satisfaction,” Goodyear said. “For the organization, there is a decrease in turnover rates if there are more employees with mentors.” Read more.