Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Joining, working on and leading a committee – 15: committee etiquette

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on February 25, 2012

This is my fifteenth installment in a series on committees, and on joining, working on and leading them (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 206-219 for parts 1-14.) And having laid out in some detail a number of issues that go into forming and leading a committee, I turn to some of the details involved in actively serving on one. And a big part of this, and certainly for the potential for friction and discord, fits into the general rubric of committee etiquette.

I start with the obvious, and with two terms that are used in HR and in business in general: absenteeism and presenteeism.

• Absenteeism is a more generally familiar term and refers to the action and consequences of simply not showing up. And for a committee that means joining and agreeing to actively participate but not following through.
• Presenteeism is where employees, and in this case committee members show up to the level of being physically present, but they might as well have stayed away.

Presenteeism at least originally referred primarily to employees who came to work sick, and who were both unable to do their job while and at the same time serving as a contagious danger to others. I include a range of other behaviors and decisions here under the general rubric of presenteeism and for committee meetings I cite a well-known and irksome example: incessant cell phoning and texting, and other disconnected and disruptive handheld device activity. This can and does even include behaviors such as playing computer and online games while attending committee meetings. The usual excuse seems to at least include a proclaimed capacity to multitask.

Committee members sometimes do have very genuine reasons for missing meetings and they sometimes arise with little if any warning. Getting caught in traffic and arriving late, missing that morning meeting comes immediately to mind as an example, and when commuting is by subway, a meeting member might not even be able to call in to say they are being delayed. That happens. Similarly, committee members sometimes get phone calls that they have to answer and I will add, handhelds can be effective tools for going online to get necessary information real-time, for a meeting in progress. That happens too. This posting is not about these reasons for being effectively absent.

I address this from the perspective of the committee chair. When committee members show what could be construed to be absenteeism or presenteeism, does this reflect ongoing and consistent patterns, or are these one-time events and exceptions? The problem here is not so much in the individual incident but in patterns of them, and sometimes with both absenteeism and presenteeism displayed as a combined pattern of non-involvement and non-participation and by the same individuals.

I address this from the perspective of the employee committee member who is displaying problematical behavior – here a pattern of effectively not being there. And I start this part of this posting with a simply question: why?

• Are there reasons why this employee simply cannot effectively serve on a committee? That can develop when competing work requirements arise and expand, leaving a committee member in a bind, having to decide where to miss completing work responsibilities.
• Is this person facing conflicts between their work and home life or having other non-work related problems?
• Whatever is going on, have they met with their supervisor or manager to discuss this and to see if a schedule resolution or other ameliorating resolution can be found?
• Have they met with the committee chair?
• If they have a mentor to turn to have they done so for advice and perhaps even assistance in resolving this?
• Sometimes a representative from HR can be of help in resolving these types of problem too. My point here is that there are a lot of potential sources of insight, advice and council here.
• Communication and willingness to candidly discuss problems faced can be very important here, and for the committee member’s job and career as well as for the issue of their committee involvement and participation. If an employee is put on a committee it is generally for a reason and because someone sees it as important that they be there and involved.

Committee members do not always individually make massively significant contributions towards completing the committee charter but they should be actively there and contributing what they realistically can. So this posting is about when that is systematically not happening.

The next set of issues to be discussed here, revolve around resolving the problems of uninvolved and effectively absent committee members. And I begin with a basic question. Now, should they stay on this committee or be relinquished of that responsibility?

• I recommend open communications as a starting point, and working with this member who perhaps should not have been saddled with this additional responsibility, and with their supervisor as well.
• If the answer to my question as to whether they should stay on this committee is that they should not, see Part 10: joining an established committee 1 and Part 11: joining an established committee 2 as you probably need to find and bring in a new replacement committee member.
• If the answer is that they should stay on then some frank discussion is going to be needed, and certainly in ending any presenteeism behavior as that is corrosively damaging to a committee’s functioning and effectiveness when simply allowed to persist. At least in my experience, I have had greater success by at least starting out acting under the assumption that a positive resolution to this type of problem can be found, where realistic boundaries are set as to what is and is not going to be acceptable participatory behavior. And this discussion should include reconsideration as to what part of the committee charter this member will be responsible for, and how they will report their progress on it.

This at least for now, is my last installment to this series. You can find this posting and others of the 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.

My next series that I will be adding into my Guide is going to focus on stockholder meetings and annual meeting best practices, and I will begin that in a few days.

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