“Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost…” (But Some Are)

Graphic three people standing at a crossroads

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Lindsay Overall Cropped Photo

Lindsay Overall


This famous quote from a poem in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings implies that some people actually wander on purpose.  Philosophically, that can sound super adventurous and mystical, but realistically, some people do in fact wander because they’re lost.  Go figure.

Enter: “Standing Committees.”

One of the major responsibilities of an association’s governing body is to develop an infrastructure that effectively performs the functions and work of the organization.  Standing (permanent) committees are one of these groups, and while most are devoted to higher level aspects of the association, such as audits, leadership nominations, annual events, awards, etc., some other enduring causes or programs warrant the existence of standing committees.

I manage three such standing committees- two of which are specific to educational programs, and one of which spans all aspects of the association- diversity.  I have found that one of the biggest challenges with these types of committees is simply lack of direction, as there is no finite conference they are planning or slate they are approving.  Their charge seems more abstract. 

To make their purpose more concrete, I’d recommend taking the following steps at the beginning of each new committee term or cycle, and/or when the composition of your committee changes.  Because who wants to call in every third Tuesday of the month to chat about the weather, approve the minutes, hear some updates, and not have accomplished anything at the end of the hour?  Not this girl.

  1. Show them The Plan- Ultimately, all committees and groups that report to the Board should be operating in alignment with the association’s strategic plan.  The quick litmus test for determining whether something should be pursued is whether it aligns with the strategic plan, which is very high-level.  However, a good plan also operationalizes big goals by laying out specific action items that need to happen, who is responsible, and by when. Showing them The Plan implies that one already exists, so if you don’t already have a strategic plan, you should probably start there. 

While the committees I staff don’t have firm terms (not recommended, and a whole other beast to address), I do take time at the beginning of each calendar year, you know, when people are jazzed about their new year’s resolutions and goal-setting, as well as when new blood enters our group, to share that specific committee’s version of the strategic plan.This includes the specific tasks they as a committee have been charged with by the Board.I also include the recurring operational-type things that the committee is responsible for throughout the year, so they have a big picture overview of what major things they’ll be working on and when.Lastly, I allow them to list out what goals they hope to achieve in the coming year.You know, those items that get perpetually tabled for the “next call,” and two years later they’ve been left unaddressed?Yes, those goals. All 3 of these components help provide a very structured plan for the coming year, and also provide evidence of productivity for those who delight in crossing things off their to-do lists. (Guilty).

  1. Keep showing them the Plan- Setting goals and devising a plan to achieve them is great, but a complete waste of time if you don’t actually follow through.  So, once your plan is compiled, link or attach it to every meeting agenda so it constantly stays top of mind.  You may even go so far as to keep a placeholder for it just as you would the approval of minutes, to ensure it gets looked at.

“Only 4% of people actually take the time to write their goals down and of those, only 1% regularly refer back to them during the year. Those are the people most likely to achieve their goals.” Leonie Dawson, International best-selling author

  1. Be ready to change the Plan- As they say, “the only thing constant is change.”  So, to remain successful in the face of changes that affect your plan, you first need to anticipate and accept that change is inevitable.  This is more than half the battle. 

Secondly, you need to remain nimble and adaptable.For example, let’s say that some external factor, like a federal or international regulation goes into effect and throws a wrench in the cogs of your well-oiled committee machine.Now what?Well, for something on this large of a scale you must drop what you were focused on and shift gears.This is now your #1.

A real-life example of this actually happened to me and my association’s diversity committee.Basically, the committee spent almost 2 years working on one tactic assigned to them by the Board related to member data.Just as things were taking off and we were gathering more detailed demographic information to help measure progress toward greater professional and racial diversity within our organization, enforcement of this EU thing called GDPR became big news(more on GDPR in future blogs). Essentially, data privacy laws for residents and citizens of the European Union have tightened tremendously, and it’s really just a sign of what’s to come on an international level.After the committee’s 2 years of work we had to immediately eliminate some questions and alter others that we were asking our members.It would’ve been easy to feel like all that work was a complete waste of our time, but in fact, just the opposite happened- the sheer act of following a detailed plan from idea to execution gave the committee members a great sense of pride and accomplishment, even though they had to switch gears on a dime.

So, the next time you find yourself with a wandering standing committee, consider giving them a sense of direction and purpose, by equipping them with a yearly plan. Happy trails!

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Lindsay Overall Cropped Photo
Lindsay Overall
Program Manager
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