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Retaining Volunteers - "Plussing"


What are you doing to improve things in your organization?

Sometimes, people will try to imitate another department. However, it may work but it may not because the situation or circumstances are different from your own.

Sometimes, we look at big ideas. Besides big ideas, we should consider minor adjustments to improve.

Walt Disney and “Plussing”

Walt Disney had a wonderful concept he called “Plussing”. He thought about big things, such as improving sound for his films. He spent money on developing a new technology -such as stereophonic sound- so music in his animations would have more fidelity.

To “plus” something is to improve it. “Plussing” means giving your customers more than they paid for, more than they expect, more than you have to give them. Good enough was never good enough for Walt Disney. His quest for excellence put him on the leading edge. “Disneyland is something that will never be finished,” Walt would tell his employees, or “cast members”. “It’s something I can keep developing, keep plussing and adding to. Disneyland is a living breathing thing that will always be changing.”

Walt thought about big things. But he also was aware of the importance of little things that could make a big difference. He would tell his cast members, “the customer is king, every cast member is responsible for the impression that we make. Take five minutes a day to make a magical memory for one of our guests”.  (Walt kept a roll of five-dollar bills with him to tip any cast member who worked extra hard to plus the experience for a guest.)

Yes, it is important to give attention to major programs or projects we are working on. When you review your Strategic Plan, you look at the big picture. And often times, it is a “yes” or “no” answer on the program goals and objectives.

Instead of asking yourself, “is it good enough”, ask what minor improvements that can implemented to make it better.  How can we “plus” something?

What about existing programs? Can you add to them and make them better? Are there little adjustments which can be made?

Internal and External Customers

We have both external and external customers we serve.

Our normal focus is our external customers, the members of the community, we serve on a daily basis. As Walt Disney said, “give your customers more than they expect”. But what about your internal customers - your volunteer members are internal customers. How can you give them more than they expect? This can greatly contribute to retaining them.


Recruit Academy Ladder Raise

In 1980, I was selected to conduct a 30-day recruit firefighter academy. The academy was at Chemeketa Community College. The academy was an intensive training program with the recruits living at the College fire station for the 30-day period. The purpose of the academy was to provide training for newly hired firefighters in small department without the staff or facilities to provide training on their own.

The candidates were to complete 180 hours of training and successfully pass task performance testing. One of the recruits was a female firefighter small in stature. She was intelligent, hard-working and dedicated.  However, she lacked sufficient upper body strength necessary to successfully complete one of the required tasks: a one-person carry and raise of a 24-foot extension ladder. This is a problem. If she could not perform the task she could not successfully graduate from the academy.

After watching her struggle with the standard manner of raising the ladder, I worked out an optional way for her to carry and raise the ladders. There were several modifications necessary. However, using the techniques I showed her, she was able to successfully complete the task and graduate.

Although I was not aware of it at the time, this was an example of “plussing”.  Minor adjustments were made which resulted a major improvement.


The Challenge of “Plussing”

First, do not allow conventional thinking to get in your way.

Do not make assumptions based on past experiences. Do not stop at “It’s good enough”. 

Second, ask the question: “what can be done to improve”? How can we “plus” it? Seek input from your members. Listen to them and get them involved in the discussion.

Third, experiment with possible solutions and make changes, as necessary. How can their ideas and input be put into practice? What changes can be made?

Fourth, remember that things will always be changing. There will always be ways of “plussing” or improving the situation.

Do try to imitate others rather lead the way.  Be the model that others can look at and appreciate.