Destroy Your Executive Committee, Part 2: 5 False Rationales

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Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE is recognized internationally as an expert in fund development, board and organizational development, strategic planning, and management. She is the founder and director of Joyaux Associates. Visit her website here.

First, read my previous column. I’m on a worldwide mission to destroy all executive committees. Staff – and yes, even board members – are joining me in this mission.

Here’s the rationale. Here’s the response to every one of the reasons people say.

1.   The executive committee meets in case of an emergency, in lieu of the board. Because it’s hard to get the full board together.

Excuse me? It’s an emergency, something vital to the organization. And you disregard the full board and bring together the executive committee. Ask the rest of your board members how they feel, giving this emergency power to a subset of the board. And in this day and age with conference call capability and email? Please. A true emergency belongs to the board.

2.   The CEO needs a small group to talk with about very confidential items; a kind of think tank or kitchen table cabinet.

Stop right now! Nothing is confidential to a subset of the board. If any committee of the board knows something, it’s the right and responsibility of the full board to know it. Governance is the legal and moral authority of the board. The board cannot delegate that to any single individual or entity.

If a CEO wants a smaller group to chat with first, and then of course chat with the full board, pick the people who have the expertise. If the issue doesn’t fall within the purview of any committee, e.g., governance, finance, fund development. (Because if it fell within a committee’s purview, you’d take the issue to that committee.) So you bring together board members who have expertise and particular insight about the issue.

Or, let’s say you have a personnel issue. It’s actually a management issue and you won’t take it to the board since it isn’t governance. But you want to chat with a couple board members. This isn’t governance work so it isn’t board committee work. Call (or bring together) a few board members (and outside experts, too, if you wish) to chat with you.

Remember, the CEO can chat with any board member she wishes. The CEO doesn’t need to get permission from the board chair. The CEO doesn’t need to pass everything by the board chair.

3.   The executive committee includes the officers and committee chairs and sets board meeting agendas.

Seems to me that’s a waste of time. (Wow, lots of time. Imagine you are the treasurer. You chair the Finance Committee and go to those meetings. You serve on the Executive Committee and go to those meetings. And you go to board meetings. Ugh.)

I recommend that the CEO and Board Chair together develop board meeting agendas. The CEO should know what’s happening in every single committee. Either the CEO is the staff person for a particular committee. Or another staff person staffs the committee (e.g., the chief development officer staffs the Fund Development Committee) and keeps the CEO informed.

4.  The Executive Committee does the performance appraisal of the CEO.

You don’t need an executive committee to do that. You need an ad hoc task force that

includes the right people. For example, someone with experience in personnel / human resources.

Perhaps a couple of board members who chair committees that have worked closely with the CEO recently. The current board chair. Perhaps the immediate past board chair or the incoming board chair.

Put together a task force that lasts for the few months of the appraisal process. Then terminate the task force.

5.   Processing information over and over till you lose the edge

So a committee discusses an issue. Then refers it to the executive committee. Then the executive committee takes it to the board.

It would be great if the issue deserved lots of discussion. And sometimes, issues do, indeed.

But beware. Repeat discussion may not add value. And by the time the issue gets to the board, some people have already talked themselves out. They’re kinda bored. They’re kinda impatient. They act like that. So the full board – some of whom were not on the previous committees – feel like the discussion is getting short shrift. There’s nothing quite like trying to have a discussion when others say, “Oh yes, we already talked about that and . . . ” Exclusionary!

Executive committees are just too dangerous.To me, their danger far outweighs any particular benefit. There’s nothing an executive committee does or might do that cannot be done by another existing committee or an ad hoc task force.

(And by the way, an executive committee by any other name… If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck! I worked for an organization that used its Finance Committee as an executive committee. I know an organization right now that is using it’s Governance Committee as an executive committee.)

Most of what an executive committee does should be done by the board itself. Quit disempowering the board! Quit creating a shadow board. Join my worldwide mission to destroy all executive committees. And start with your own.

  • Brett Ridge

    Great stuff. Can’t agree more. Took a similar stance at CDSGlobalNP not too long ago.

    http://www.cdsglobalnp.com/fundraising/could-your-board-use-a-break-from-its-executive-committee/

  • Byrd Wood

    I’ve got another reason for the executive committee. Or perhaps this is really a reason for having a board that’s too large to function as efficiently as a small group. Our board is over 20 people. Many of those people are there because their business, community, or financial connections benefit the agency. Some of them don’t show up as often as we’d like (we’re working on it and it’s getting better!), but it seems scary to NOT have a representative from the largest employer in the region or from an important minority group. (That last one sounds awfully cynical even to me but in a small town, the few minority professionals are overwhelmed with requests to serve on boards but we’d be at a great lost not to have those perspectives at all!)

  • Simone Joyaux

    Hey Byrd. Don’t confuse governance (that’s what the board does) with building a system to connect with key players in the community. Don’t confuse selecting board members with getting representatives from employers. And a board of 20 or 23 or so is not too large to function effectively. Read my previous column on this topic. See the materials on my website.

    Create another system to engage key players in the community. For example, establish a community council for engagement, communication, advice, etc. Build relationships with employers and government and and … This is not governance, important to your organization’s health and effectiveness, but it isn’t governance.