Monday, August 21, 2017

You Must Be Staff Driven

Last week I wrote about a presentation I would be giving at one of my association's major conferences -- a presentation on the work product of one of our technical committees. In that post, I said this:

Why I'm giving this presentation -- instead of say, the chair or other member of the committee -- is an interesting story in and of itself. Without going into too much detail, let me just say that I think it is a reflection of a larger trend within my association where we are becoming more and more staff-driven. Or, if I want to be brutally honest, not staff- but CEO-driven. More on that, perhaps, in a future post.

Here's that future post.

I was at another conference not too long ago--a conference of my peers; chief staff executives of manufacturing-based trade associations--and I got into an interesting conversation with two colleagues of mine.

It was a discussion about the role of committees in our respective organizations. I trotted out my usual policy stance. Namely, that there are two different kinds of "committees" in our organization (committees in quotation marks because they go by several different names: committees, councils, task forces, working groups, etc.). Whatever we call them, there are essentially: (1) Governance committees that are appointed by the Board and which help the Board perform its governance function, and (2) Working committees that are appointed by the chief staff executive (i.e., me) and which help me manage the programs of the association. Although none of these working committees are currently chaired by me, I speculated in my discussion with my colleagues that perhaps that was a step worth taking, since one of the biggest challenges I had with our working committees was confusion over what their role in the organization was.

My two colleagues were both appalled by the apparent brazenness of my position. Neither one of them had anything like this in their organizations. For them, committees were always, always appointed by the Board and they always, always reported to the Board.

But aren't your Board agendas cluttered up with a lot of committee reports? Yes, they admitted that they were, and that this kept their Boards from being a strategic as they would like them to be.

And don't you have committee chairs trying to reinvent whatever strategy is determined at your Board table? Don't you find your attempts to execute a clear strategy hampered by a group of committee chairs who, rather than help you drive to the destination determined by the Board are always trying to define their own destinations and to get you to head in those directions? Again, yes, they admitted that these were among the most vexing problems that they faced.

Well, I told them, both of these problems are eliminated with the committee structure that I've described. When working committees report to the chief staff executive, and more pertinently, when the chief staff executive is actually positioned as the chair of those working committees, there's no need for the committee to report in to the Board, and there's no opportunity for the committee to work on things that fall outside the established strategy of the organization.

You must be staff driven, one of the colleagues said to me.

That made me stop and think. Staff driven. It's often a pejorative term in our industry, those using it seeming to imply that the association in question is less ethical than one "driven" by the volunteers. I've shied away from the term myself over the years, preferring to think that whatever control I was exerting over the associations I've worked for was solidly subservient to the strategic and budgetary decisions made by the elected volunteer leadership.

But the discussion with my colleagues helped me realize that it was no longer useful for me to be doing that. Like so many things in our world, the concepts of being staff driven and volunteer driven too often set up a false dichotomy in our minds and attitudes. The best associations, I believe, are neither staff driven nor volunteer driven. They are both. Their governance is volunteer driven and their management is staff driven.

Pretending that the appropriately staff driven parts of your organization are volunteer driven serves neither your volunteers nor the mission of your association. When it comes to executing a clear and coherent strategy, I believe you must be staff driven. And if that means that your working committees report to your staff, then that it what it needs to mean. To be effective, that part of your organization must not only be staff driven, it must be unapologetically so.

+ + +

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Image Source

No comments:

Post a Comment