Sep. 26, 2014




          Listening to some suggestions to resolve a problem I was, once again, fascinated by the fact that the thought of a “committee” again reared its ugly head. This made me feel it might be a subject that would surely be a fine fit with this web page.


           Committees have become the foster child of management. The problem is that very few people understand the beast or what its function should be. Even worse many subvert the committee’s efforts for their own benefit.


           First, let us understand that a Committee has only two valid functions. One is to gather data on a subject/problem that we know too little about. The second, is to examine various potential options and report on these options with recommendations regarding EACH, detailing the pros and cons so that management can decide which option is appropriate and if perhaps a melded option is possible.


           Second, we need to understand that a committee CAN NOT MAKE A DECISION!!!  A committee is made up a variety of personalities and varied professional knowledge. Either one of two things will happen. The dominant personality will force through his/her opinion regardless of its effectiveness/efficiency or the committee will satisfice to reach a conclusion. Satisficing is reaching a decision that is a cross between satisfaction and compromise. The resolution might be acceptable but will seldom be optimum. Why would we do this? Because our society has become obsessed with avoiding conflict at all costs. The Satisfied option prevents internal conflict at the expense of optimization.


           However, there is a third more devious problem with Committees. It is the problem of plausible deniability and lack of accountability.  Let’s take an example: I, the manager extrodianairre, want to change the times that employees take their break. In order to do this I form an employee committee. Now, I have all the data on break times and machine running times, efficiency projections etc. So why did I form the committee?  It’s simple. Whatever the committee recommends I will implement. If it fails I can step in and save the day while laying the blame on the committee. If it succeeds I will immediately ensure it is headlined in the company news letter as a move made by me from committee recommendations.  In either case, I win.


           The fact is that most qualified managers possess or can obtain 90%(illustrative) of the data needed to make the correct decision. If they act on that day to day knowledge they will be correct the greatest majority of the time. Studies have shown that managers intuitive decision making is as accurate as any other method for the greatest majority of decision and it is quicker. The key is proper implementation of the decision.


           I know, those who have had Management-101 are already chomping at the bit to scream,” You have to have the employees and other managers “BUY IN” to the decision. This misconception almost became a standard mantra during the 90’s. Managers who lacked the understanding of “BUY IN”  wanted every decision to have a committee so the personnel would approve of whatever was done. It would make for a happier work force. Well, it didn’t, instead the work force had the same problems, with many mediocre decisions, and a leadership they lacked confidence in.   “BUY IN”  is a term that applies to those monumental decisions that will affect the entire corporate structure and will require corporate wide coordination. When done properly it is like a military/political campaign. It is designed to have all levels of management and the majority of employees supporting the decision and implementing the various phases. When “BUY IN”  is implemented for minor decisions affecting limited areas of responsibility it becomes am albatross around the neck of management and quickly becomes viewed a “throw the dog a bone” (see bones blog).


           Two sayings I always try to remind myself of when the subject of committee comes up. First, A camel is a horse designed by a committee. Second, the only truly effective committee consists of three people and two of them are on vacation.


           Put me on a committee and I will guarantee you that the decision that is reached will be the one I approve of implementing.