The Walking Dead Hold a Meeting
Is it just me or are we in WAY too many meetings? The CEO of a well-known multi-million dollar company that sells products and services to museums and cultural destinations (he/she only gave me the quote if I promised anonymity) once quipped about nonprofits...
"Nonprofit professionals seem to think the importance of a decision is directly proportional to the number of people involved."
I'm not sure how many times over the years I've walked into a conference room to discuss an issue when I thought there may be no more than three decision-makers...only to find that almost a dozen people are crammed around a table; all under the guise of "keeping everyone informed".
Can you picture it? Have you been there? What you'll see is about three people discussing the issue, one person trying to be engaged and asking questions (that the three decision makers have already considered), and the rest of the folks are wondering why they have to attend the meeting, struggling to pay attention or stay awake.
I once knew a nonprofit CEO who felt there were not ENOUGH meetings. She insisted that each and every work day would begin with a "stand-up" meeting when each director would touch upon critical-path issues that needed immediate attention. What I observed when I attended the first meeting was that rather than critical issues dominating the agenda, each director in turn announced what they were working on that day. It felt like grade-school "What I Did Last Summer" oral reports. In an effort to be nice and give everyone "air-time" the CEO let it continue, real, critical information was rarely conveyed and directors, each with full calendars and deadlines, wondered why they had to be there.
How Do FEEL About Meetings?
In a discussion with a museum professional who is a researcher and educator and one of the most intelligent people with whom I've had the pleasure to work, I experienced an epiphanal moment. We were discussing the proclivities of museums and nonprofits in general and sharing stories about behaviors that the "civilians" (the rest of the population who do NOT work in a museum or nonprofit) find strange when she shared this gem...
"Nonprofit leaders are scared to act on good ideas for fear of hurting the feelings of those employees without good ideas."
I've found over the years in my career (and with full disclosure, been guilty of when I was starting out) that what negatively affects many nonprofits is a skewed sense of inclusion.
Good decisions MUST be made, even if someone feels "hurt" because their idea wasn't selected as the next step. Leaders should develop the skills to make decisions that are sound, even if it will upset an employee or two. Those employees need to get their big-boy or big-girl pants on and figure out how to contribute to the organization's success instead of grousing about "not being listened to...". (For this example, I'm assuming they ARE listened to and this is not a problem with a closed-minded CEO). Nonprofit leaders, in order to work towards success, should not confuse showing true respect and compassion to subordinates with delaying decisions or altering sound business plans for the purpose of soothing feelings.
The counterpoint to this is that working in a nonprofit, with all the accompanying mission-led good feelings and sense of purpose, does not necessarily translate to the organization being run as a democracy. You may be called to a meeting to offer your perspective on a particular program or initiative, but that should not be confused with having a "vote" on the final decision. If it doesn't go your way or the direction is not what you would have chosen, get with the program because the person paid to make the decision has done just that.
I've seen this confused sense of opinion creep into organizations over time. Being asked your opinion by your boss doesn't mean she needs to select your idea as if there was supposed to be some sort of rotation among managers and it's "your turn" to have your concept acted upon.
Leaders, gather your information and listen to those who actually perform the work...and then make your decision. Some may not like it, but you make decisions that are best for the organization and the contributing factors are not understood by all who work for you.
But please, make the decision and then inform those who should know; don't make them sit through the meetings if their opinions are not necessary for making the decision.
That's what an email can accomplish.