Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Joining, working on and leading a committee – 2: selecting and vetting potential committee members

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on December 20, 2011

This is my second installment in a series on committees and on best practices related to their effectively contributing to a business (see Part 1: introducing a new series.) I started this series with a discussion of committees in general to build a foundation for what is to follow, and I continue that here with at least the start of a discussion of the issues involved in:

• Selecting and vetting potential committee members, and
• Developing management and supervisory buy-in for those employees to work on a committee, with its time and effort requirements for effectively participating.

I make note of these bullet pointed issues together as they are in practice closely linked. My goal here in this posting is to address the first of them. In doing so, I start with the fundamentals and the committee charter as discussed in Part 1.

• What is the specific functionally operational goal of this committee? What is it going to be set up to do and on what time frame and with what overall priority?
• Now what skills and experience levels are going to be called upon for accomplishing this? Think of a committee here as carrying out a project with at least a preliminary breakdown of the steps and stages involved in completing the task, and of what types of expertise and effort would be called upon to do them.
• Here, I explicitly note that I am writing about committees as what amounts to an idealized abstraction here, though I note that I will bring this closer to the real world by bringing in office politics and other complications. Still, I start with a simple, ideal committee model as an important reference point for discussing the real world complications.
• Returning to the basic starting point model, committee members would be sought who can carry out the various sub-tasks that would have to be completed to fulfill the committee charter. And an effort would or at least should be made to bring together people who can work together at the communications and interpersonal skills level too, so that all of their contributions can fit and function together. I note in that regard that I have seen committees fail when they had the right skills onboard, but the people who held them could not work together.

Now the real world enters in:

• Every committee charter has stakeholders, and this includes the people who would carry out the development and implementation work for reaching a committee’s set goal. This includes the people who would need and use the outcome product of this committee’s effort. This generally also includes more senior management in the involved lines on the table of organization who will be held responsible for committee work completion and for its product being used effectively – as a part of their own ongoing performance reviews.
• Stakeholders, and particularly manager and supervisor level stakeholders often all want to have a voice in and a level of participation on any committee whose functioning and output would significantly affect them and their teams.
• And office politics and overall organizational concern can lead to people being brought onto a committee, for example, to report back directly on an ongoing basis to an interested more senior manager or C level officer.

Ideally at least, committee sizes should be kept as small as functionally feasible with the right people included and with what amounts to dead weight kept to a minimum. And committee activity should be kept goals-oriented and focused on the tasks at hand, and on monitoring and managing progress. Capacity and authority to do this and to manage it are, or at least should be core requirements for selecting the right committee chairperson, or co-chairpersons if that approach is decided upon. Even the more politically-based committee member selections should be there to help the committee as a group to complete its chartered mission. And emphasis should always be on including the right people who can complete that charter.

In this, filling out a committee is a lot like hiring new employees to flesh out and complete an effectively functioning team – or to cite my series on building a better table of organization (see HR and Personnel, postings 65, 67, 69, 71 and 74) an effective functional assembly (see definition in that series’ Part 4: building the functionality and value driven organization.) In that, committees are brought together functionally as if assembling a single-goal directed team of in-house consultants who would work on and complete that assigned task then disband back to their other individual responsibilities.

As a final thought here, selecting and vetting committee members, like committee structure and organization in general, should be strictly goals and results-oriented. In both cases, in specifying a committee and its purpose, and in fleshing it out with members this is possible – if these steps are carried out according to specific goals-directed processes. Many committees fail, and if not in achieving their goals at least in achieving them with efficiency and on schedule. And most committee failures stem from how they are set up and filled out with members – their failures are in effect built in from the start in the form of starting point barriers to success. So my goal in this posting and in Part 1 of this series is to help build a foundation for more reliable committee success.

I am going to continue this with a more detailed discussion of the second bullet point issue that I raised at the start of this installment:

• Developing management and supervisory buy-in for those employees to work on a committee, with its time and effort requirements for effectively participating.

You can find this posting and others of this series at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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