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What can the Tour De France teach us about streamlining event volunteer management?

With the Tour de France featuring high in the news headlines we figured it was the perfect opportunity to share experiences and lessons learned from one of our team member’s experiences working in the Tour de France in 2014 as graduate event manager.

I’ll be honest, I felt like I had really landed on my feet after graduating and landing such a high-profile event. It certainly didn’t take long for the dust to settle for me to realise that I was coordinating 12000 volunteers. Whilst I had a lot of fun, I also experienced many sleepless nights in attempting to come up with a bigger plan and purpose to manage these volunteers.

Here are some home truths and lessons I learned along the way that can help you streamline your volunteers and staff on your next big event:

Find staff that are interested in the bigger picture: not the salary (or perks, if a volunteer)

Luckily, due to the large profile of the Tour de France we didn’t have to recruit. By the time the company was created, 20,000 people had already registered interest! When recruiting staff from this pool, it was crucial to find staff that are interested in the bigger picture: that means that they will be on board, will be more likely to be punctual and will actually show up. Staff that care will do more for the job than those who are only there for the perks/profit.

Train staff in their bigger purpose and train accordingly

Don’t just tell people their role and train them only for that job. Instead, help them understand where it fits into the bigger picture. For example, “I assist pedestrians crossing the road to keep pedestrians and riders safe, and so that the racers have a fair chance of winning” instead of “I stand at this post and stop people from entering the course”.

I have since done an HR team building game that focuses on this exact point. When you blindfold two teams, each with the same task, and one not blindfolded leader who delegates jobs. The team that was informed that the task is “building a ship” completes the task. The other team, that is only delegated jobs with no knowledge of the purpose, does not complete the task.

Staff accountability: no shows

Staff don’t always show up. Volunteers have even less reason to show up than paid staff. Whilst recruiting the best who are passionate about the cause is one line of defence, building-in a technology system where you can manage all the staff at each check-in point; and communicate sending extra staff to the areas required is a lifesaver no matter whether it is 12 staff or 12,000 staff.

Plan to fail…..

The adage says, “Fail to plan, plan to fail”. In event management I would consider it better to say, “Plan to fail”. Once you have a plan, also make a few “plan b’s” and maybe also “plan c’s” to help you when the inevitable happens. Even if none of your backup plans work, the planning of them will help you feel more flexible and confident should something out of the ordinary happen.

Communication is key

Build in an agreed communication plan into your training. Where do your staff look for one source of information? Regardless of emergency or updates: ensure that all staff are familiar of where that will be.

Some points to consider: do all staff use/ are familiar with the chosen method? For me, there were a number of staff who were on working holidays and didn’t have a smartphone to access Facebook. Using new technology these days, you can actually contact all staff via SMS with the click of a button.

I hope by sharing this knowledge you get a full night of rest during your event. I know that I used to use a combination of excel, emails, SMS, phone calls, paper applications, timesheets and had to manually enter them. I certainly don’t miss those days anymore!

Good luck! Whether you’d like to chat more, or just let me know how you got on, just reach out.