Friday, October 24, 2014

Goody two shoes: Lessons in volunteer management for the SAF Volunteer Corps pioneer team

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) fast landing craft approached the Indonesian shore, fully loaded with passengers all keyed up and eager for action. Ramp down. Boots on Indonesian soil and the first "shots" recorded were a mix of selfies and images of the battered landscape.

Those who watched the antics by disaster tourists embedded among genuine volunteers frowned at the spectacle. This scene was played out during the closing chapter of Singapore's contribution to the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief work, codenamed Operation Flying Eagle, in earthquake and tsunami hit Meulaboh.

The motley crew of civilian volunteers had been shipped to Meulaboh aboard an RSN tank landing ship, their two-day journey there drawing upon that mental quality that lived up to the name ship of that class of LST.

The RSN's experience shows that despite the best of intentions from civilian volunteers and their military host, mixing people plucked from civvie street into a military environment is fraught with perils in expectation management. The is also the human dynamic, principally the interplay of group dynamics among volunteers and between the host as opinions are shaped and in group/out group cliques forged in a hierarchical military environment.

Not all civilians adapt well to military life. This lifestyle change doesn't come more stark than life aboard a Singapore navy man-of-war, haze gray and underway, far from the comfort zone of landlubbers unused to shipboard life.

Speak to the RSN's OFE alumni and you may hear about the challenges in hosting volunteers as not all responded well to authority or to their peers or were polite in voicing their grouses. And these were civilians who had stepped forward on their own free will to do good.

Lessons gleaned from OFE 10 years ago point to the path the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps (SAFVC) can avoid relearning with astute management of volunteer applicants at all touch points leading to their first taste of military life.

But even with the best effort at mapping touch points so that proactive action can be taken in assessing, selecting and inducting the best candidates, some people may, alas, chose to drop out.

Again, our Navy holds lessons to how candidates can be galvanised to press on. Visit the Naval Diving Unit and one may hear how tadpoles can voluntarily drop out by simply ringing a bell. It is as simple as that. A few clangs of that blooming bell and you can drop out of Hell Week.

Despite this easy way out, tadpoles rarely do so. Why?

Perhaps the Navy's commitment to the quality of a candidate over sheer recruitment numbers presents the NDU training cadre with candidates imbued with the right motivation and personal resolve to adapt and get on with the job.

Numbers aside, it is good to know the SAFVC is likewise committed to handpicking quality candidates over filling vacancies. Their's is no numbers game.

Turning concept into reality is never easy, particularly for the pioneer batch tasked with shaping the SAFVC from a paper plan into a credible source of human capital to augment the SAF.

Yet, those at the helm must believe innately that the cause is worthwhile, the objectives attainable and remain steadfast and vigilant as they focus on the tasks at hand, even as naysayers nip at their heels.

Results will show.

If you think you have what it takes to join the SAF Volunteer Corps, click here

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