|Renay (renay) wrote,|
@ 2012-04-24 06:55 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||check out any time you like, otw, volcomrades \o/, wizard chair hat, you can never leave|
I feel that way, too. I always say I am going to talk more about my job and the things I am doing. But where do I start? There's so much. So I decided to start at the beginning of the place I am in now.
In March I took over the Volunteers & Recruiting chair from via_ostiense. This came with lots of confusion and not a little bit of dread. The first ever Volunteers & Recruiting (VolCom) chair remained on the committee during the 2010 term just long enough to make sure general_jinjur had it under control after the chair meant to replace her couldn't work in the organization anymore. She then left the organization — it was a great loss to the committee in knowledge of our beginnings alone. general_jinjur held the position through 2010 and 2011, and then via_ostiense took over in September of 2011. general_jinjur later left the organization completely.
For the record, I'm still angry about it. I miss her, as someone who made me more thoughtful, more considerate of others, more able to see perspectives I would otherwise miss, more willing to go to the wall for others to protect people and committees from work they didn't ask for, more able to speak up because I knew she was behind me. These days I just pretend she's behind me. I don't want to make her feel guilty, because she did what was right and good for herself, but it's been so hard to go from having such a wonderful person who shared my dreams for our organization to not having them, to being without a mentor and instead being a mentor to other people.
Then via_ostiense stepped down, only a few months after taking the position.
The history of what we're dealing with is bleak: our founding chair is no longer in the organization, two non-Board member chairs couldn't complete their terms, the only people who have completed VolCom chair terms have been on the Board of Directors and are out completely. At least in one case, they are actively bitter and justifiably angry at an organization they once believed in (I don't want to speak for the founding chair; I was too new to know). As I said to several people and had said to me, the VolCom chair is very much like the Defense Against the Dark Arts position.
VolCom is the HR for the organization, although I believe we can be more than that. We can and should move beyond giving people tools and helping with lost passwords and training for how to get around. I have a lot of dreams: more internships, more helping people cite their OTW work on their resumes if they wish to do so, more empowerment in their everyday work, more teaching people how to make connections with each other and share talents and resources instead of being too cautious and afraid. I want people to feel confident coming to chat with us about anything. Yeah, it's idealistic, but I'm hopeful...today. Tomorrow may be different and I may go, "well, that's a nice pipe dream!" It's been a day by day undertaking because we're so mired in the red alerts of volunteer intake that we can't get time and space to do our own thing. Which doesn't mean we don't want more volunteers (we do), we're simply struggling with the influx of people who believe in us and want to help or the people who hate everything and want to try to fix it (also welcome).
The scope of the mess that is VolCom is that most of our knowledge resides in the brains of veteran members. There are processes that are still confusing to staff members who've been on the committee since early last year which makes me feel like I need about 6,000 paper bags to breathe into. As I like to tell people, if at any time things would fall over if these veteran members got hit by a bus, a committee is in danger of being broken. With a terrible track record regarding chair training, opaque or nonexistent internal documentation, and the habit of micromanagement, we're at risk of continuing the same mistakes that brought us to this point. I had no idea to what degree our previous chairs were carrying the committee, but the scope of it all alarms me and now all I want to do is go give them tons of hugs and relaxation tickets for life. It's enough to make a paid project manager lie down and go "screw this, I quit."
We do have new staff members this term with project ideas to address the most gaping holes in our processes but are a stark reminder of how discouraged and overworked we've been. For example, if you've ever volunteered, you sent it into the black hole of the OTW. Did someone see it? Will you ever hear back? WHO KNOWS; you definitely don't! That also often defines the volunteer experience for a lot of people, even after they're inducted. Thankfully, when we reopen the WTS form (more on this later) we'll have a nice auto-reply. This is a new idea this term from a brand new staff member. It is super easy to implement. Why haven't we thought of it before now? Who knows! When you're inside the impact crater after the long ride down, it's pretty hard to tell what the shape of the crater is.
So far my biggest win was to recruit someone with experience managing a hot mess of little to no thorough and clear documentation. I landed alasen after our work together in Tag Wrangling in 2010 and 2011 and continue to weep that I can't clone other staffers who shall remain nameless that I have promised not to give any additional work. alasen is great at documentation, and that's good because good documentation is difficult and mostly boring and not glamorous. It's not the most sparkly, there's no way to be the center of attention, it's grueling and it takes a long time to reap the rewards. It's not the exciting work most expect when they come into the OTW all bright and shiny and ready to help out. Well, unless they joined for documentation. There have been some, those brave souls.
I've been attempting to forge more connections across the organization by looking for openings in our processes to include other committees, to improve the silo-feeling many people have expressed our committees suffer from. Out of all the committees, we need to be approachable by everyone because VolCom is about serving everyone we induct and being helpful and courteous to anyone we could recruit. Our committee is keeping thorough meeting minutes now and a new staffer has suggested and implemented a documentation project and project management system. We've split our mailing list (another new staffer proposal) to dedicate one list to intake and to give ourselves a discussion space not overrun by requests for tools, training and induction.
I was also developing WTS Reports, which are collections of the data from WTS forms — organization interests, technical skills, committee interests — as well as where each potential volunteer is eventually placed to provide our Board of Directors so they'll have some clue of what we're seeing and the skill sets coming through, plus where most of our people power ultimately goes.
We've once again started work on the Code of Conduct. Raise your hand if you want the Code of Conduct. o/
I want to have better chair induction procedures so people know what to expect. It's still a little like going from the kiddie pool to the middle of an ocean with invisible sharks, especially new chairs whose former chairs have left the organization at the end of their term so support structure is lost. I would also prefer to stop losing chairs after their terms. That would be pretty rad.
Of course, having had all these dreams and finally being in a place with intake that we could finally, finally start on our own projects and improvements, everything exploded. Over the past week the OTW has been in the midst of the Development & Membership (DevMem) drive. This drive has been a success and that's great news for the organization, but it has underlined some flaws in our internal communications. During the DevMem drive, VolCom sees an uptick in Willing to Serve (WTS) forms. That's normal. Some numbers for the past few months:
November 2011: 22 forms
December 2011: 21 forms
January 2012: 19 forms
February 2012: 5 forms
March 2012: 21 forms
The DevMem drive last year was in October so I don't have those numbers. However, these numbers are standard and I imagine months before November 2011 were similar (I have no time to pull those, alas). During a WTS drive organized by our committee and planned for, we hope for 40 - 60 forms for the week long event. VolCom went into this DevMem drive with many committees full. Committees can be full for many reasons: there's not enough work for more people, the committee is large enough to be difficult for the chair or chairs to manage on their own, creating meeting times for over seven people across multiple timezones is difficult, and probably other reasons I'm not aware of because I don't know the exact work involved the committee -- chairs are allowed to cap their committees without proving their case. I tend to just trust them. Needless to say, Volunteers & Recruiting was not hosting a WTS drive, just planning where to put the handful of extra folks we pick up when DevMem does a drive. But this is going to be our number for April:
April 2012: 140 forms.
My more numbers-inclined VolComrade created a graph for this:
19 of these forms were received as normal. The rest were received after a message to every AO3 user (around 42,000 people) was sent with our volunteer form linked that invited people to volunteer. That should never have happened under the current circumstances with the WTS form we had available at the time. With a little foresight from me, for example, it could have be altered to be for volunteer pools only, and all those chairs could've been warned and it would've been a beautiful piece of organized chaos. But I fell down there because I was busy with the other 10,000 things I'm doing. This was a shared oversight by several groups of people; it's no one's fault. Our mistakes are often used to demonize us, our missteps and flubs held in collective consciousness to shame us with later, but the truth is these things happen because we're people and we're busy. Even I, someone who is always waiting for the other shoe to drop and with all my attempts to be everywhere and be transparent and thorough, screws the pooch. This mistake meant VolCom was hit with a surge of people I don't think we've seen since AO3 went to open beta and Yuletide shifted over and we started welcoming tag wranglers to the volunteer pool. That process was also not well documented initially, I still marvel at the VolCom of the past every day, they were like induction ninjas.
These massive number of WTS forms is hugely generous of all these people that we're working on reaching out to right now. The offer to help out the organization is lovely and wonderful and I appreciate everyone donating their time. But this event is a huge amount of work for the committee. We're still recovering from the historical issues I mentioned above. I spent a good chunk of Saturday night in tears because I honestly didn't know what I was going to do. It was at once thrilling but also tinged with terrible uncertainty. I have two years of chair experience. I have almost three years of organization experience. I felt powerless. It happens to the best of us. It's like knowing you're about to be in a car accident and there's no way to stop it. That's a great view of the Volunteers & Recruiting chair: in tears, worried about her staffers, worried about the organization's reputation, worried about how we were going to tackle the work ahead of us, human. A person, a fan. I think we sometimes forget that when huge unpleasant things happen with the OTW at the head of them that those things are done by people trying to make it work and doing their best. Just folks — not just BNFs, not just OTW apologists, but people, who have criticisms and dreams and are operating in good faith. I know as soon as this happened I went immediately to the blame place; I'm not immune more than anyone else and I wanted the people responsible to let me cry on them because if I had to sit and leak from my face, they should have to deal with me. But what drove my absolute terror was the public response if VolCom couldn't keep up, if people didn't get a timely response, and if the forms kept coming and coming with no end in sight. I knew if we didn't manage it well and frame it correctly potential volunteers with skills we may need in the future would be poisoned against the organization because I've seen it happen before. I have dealt with my internal feelings toward the organization but have not yet had the bravery to face external criticism; internal criticism was hard enough to parse and push through and hilariously, we haven't had time to deal with it all yet.
It was also overwhelming and crushing to realize that all the careful planning and organization to get the committee back to a place where it could function properly was now going to be displaced by a huge amount of volunteer placement and induction, a level of which surpasses even the work we did during the beginning of term. We were lucky to be in a position with our restructuring to handle this with new tools and processes, which is a fact I've been clinging to, but I'm still faced with the fact that VolCom's size belies the actual number of people fully trained on and comfortable with intake. Divide it out by seven committee members, that's still 15-17 people per staff member.
On Saturday night after my breakdown and mentally clawing at the walls in a panic, I put on my chair hat and made the executive decision to close the WTS form. As far as I know, this is the first time it's been closed since we started recruiting through that method. I didn't take a vote. I didn't ask for permission, I just did it. I'm still struggling with that decision and my wisdom in making it the way I did, but right or no it gives our committee space to breathe. I have no clue when WTS will reopen, but I do know it will never look like it did before this membership drive. Additionally, since we closed it and put up an invitation to everyone to please enter their email to be alerted when WTS reopens we've received 149 requests that could have been even more WTS forms. More keep arriving every day, although it has thankfully slowed a bit. I'm still marveling; we may not even need a WTS drive this year.
I don't know what the next few weeks hold for us. I hope we'll be able to continue our already-scheduled projects and meetings while welcoming new people to the organization. I hope we can help them all settle in and contribute. I hope that the Code of Conduct discussion won't get lost in the fervor of finding placements, because now more than ever as we bring people in we need it. I hope that after this event the committee members that carried it along don't burn out — I'm already considering the wisdom of time off for everyone this summer once we figure out how to bring the WTS form back for the volunteer pools.
I think about VolCom in 2010 and 2011 and compare it to now. In some ways, the situation is vastly improved. In others, we're still fighting the same problems and bogged down in the same issues. What I want the most from VolCom in 2012 is for us to feel less pressured by our work, to find ways for everyone to contribute without feeling obligated to do work they dislike. I want to accomplish concrete tasks and give us something to look at that says "we did this!" I want to prevent issues that cover us in work by learning from the avalanches. I want us to get to a place where we can address criticism of our processes and have the time to let them sting and also move on and fix them because every time we get close to the dealing-with-it point something happens to set us back. We're not there yet, but we almost made it once and I know we'll make it again.
I feel lucky to be doing this with the people I am; I know this weekend I would have been crushed under the weight of this without my committee. They are superstars. I'm not going to name more of them in case they don't want the spotlight but they know who they are and I hope they know how much I appreciate them. ♥ I also wouldn't have been able to handle this without the super fast response from our Board, the quick vote to give us additional tools, the fast response of the Board president, Kristen Murphy, who saved our bacon and turned the form off, the emails from Naomi and Julia and Ira, the phone calls with Sanders and Julia. This is how things have changed for the better: we're gaining experience in reaching out and touching the work everyone else is doing, pitching in when things go wrong, and supporting when things get bad and heavy. That was a huge part of what was missing last year that I am glad to see now.
But seriously, I want a vacation after this.