Friday, June 19, 2009

Committee Reporting and Vetos

(News-Herald, June 18) Everyone who has ever served on any kind of board knows the process:
There’s a new project that needs to be handled, so first, you beat bushes, twist arms and otherwise pummel folks with clichés in an attempt to put together the committee that has to do the project handling. Then the handful of willing members (minus the ones who said they would serve but who will never actually show up) carve out time to meet, discuss, study up on their own, read old reports, consider alternatives, explore possibilities, etc etc etc and also etc. After many many many hours and perhaps more than a bit of soul-searching and heated discussion, the committee will finally come up with a plan.

At this point they will bring the plan back to the larger group, at which point they’ll get to field some questions. Some of these are legitimate:
“What were your criteria?” What yardstick did you use? Cheapest? Closest? Most gerbils per square hectare?
“How did your solution measure up?” Does this one provide, in fact, the most gerbils per hectare?
These are important and legitimate questions. A good committee presentation has already answered them; a bad committee can’t answer them. The worst illegitimate committee doesn’t know the answer. Instead, they picked their solution first, and then spent their time as a committee making a case to support that solution, the only solution they ever seriously considered.
They may try to hide their poor work by claiming that their solution is “just common sense” or “obviously, the only way.” All they’re really saying is, “We didn’t do our homework. We just picked the answer we like best.”
A legitimate committee can answer the criteria questions easily. But even if they navigate the legitimate questions, they’ll still have to deal with questions like these:
“Could you just walk us through the steps that got you to this decision” or some other question that basically boils down to “Tell me everything I’d know if I had sat through the hundreds of hours of meetings myself.”
“You really ought to consider Option X.” In this example, Option X will be something that the committee considered, discussed, and rejected two months ago.
“I don’t want you to do that.” This person just wants veto power over all decisions made by the group.
Maybe there’s no such thing as a stupid question. But there is still such a thing as questions that stupid people ask.
The people who ask these three questions will have one other thing in common—they will be people who had the opportunity to serve on the committee, and refused.
These are people who do not want to invest the time and effort in dealing with problems and issues, but they still want the power that comes with that investment.
They are first cousins to the people who take on a job, get someone else to do the work, and then come in at the end to pat everyone else (and themselves) on the back.
These are the folks who want veto power, who don’t want to help find solutions (that would be hard), but just want to be able to alter, edit or eject the solutions someone else comes up with.
(I’m not talking about bosses—actual bosses have the right and responsibility to alter, edit or eject. I’m talking about people who have not actually earned the right to take a hatchet to the work of their peers. Okay, maybe I am talking about one or two bosses.)
It’s tacky to try to cross the finish line when you haven’t run the race. It’s rude to make your premiere appearance at the theater on opening night and ask to play the lead.
And it’s the height of organizational obnoxiousness to avoid doing any of the work and yet show up to second-guess the people who actually got the job done. It’s a cheap way to avoid responsibility for the proposal while still claiming credit for involvement. It’s lazy. It’s cowardly.
The modern philosopher Stan Lee wrote “With great power comes great responsibility.” Power comes with a cost; if you aren’t willing to pay the price in time and effort, don’t try to swoop in at the last moment to steal it. Veto power is for people who have been involved in the journey, not for people who sat it out on the couch.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Or maybe our resident committee member just needs to vent a little... Those who sit back and let others drive may not be entitled to dictate the destination. But that doesn't mean they must shut up and be grateful for wherever they end up. With great power comes great likelihood being hit with potshots.

BTW, Lee as philosopher - I like that!

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