I had an opportunity to meet with members of both the PASS Board of Directors and Nominations Committee this past weekend at SQL Saturday #51. You'll never believe what we talked about...
The PASS Board Elections 2010
Yep, you guessed it. We talked about the election process. What follows is what I gleaned from those conversations, followed by opinion and conjecture on my part.
The Nominations Committee (NomCom) was asked to do a difficult job: Vet the applicants for the Board of Directors 2010 elections. At the interview phase NomCom members were given this ranking sheet:
The results, aggregated across NomCom members by candidate:
The overall ranking and NomCom votes for each candidate were (from this page):
[Y | N | Absent/Abstain]
||7 | 0 | 0|
||7 | 0 | 0|
||7 | 0 | 0|
||7 | 0 | 0|
||5 | 1 | 1|
||1 | 5 | 1|
||0 | 6 | 1|
The PASS Board of Directors then voted 7-5-2 to accept the slate as returned from the NomCom (from this page):
The Board came together on Monday to discuss the slate with the Committee before voting to approve it (7 yes, 5 no, 2 abstentions).
Things I Noticed Because My Head Works This Way
All kinds of people run for the PASS Board and I think that's awesome.
One Unfair Categorization
They can be unfairly categorized in several ways. One way in which I choose to unfairly categorize them is:
So I added a column to unfairly categorize the interviewees thus:
[Y | N | Absent/Abstain]
Andy's Unfair CEO/Community People Categorization
||7 | 0 | 0
||7 | 0 | 0
||7 | 0 | 0
||7 | 0 | 0
||5 | 1 | 1
||1 | 5 | 1
||0 | 6 | 1
I can hear you thinking "What are you trying to say Andy?" I'm so glad you asked! First, relax. We haven't reached the conjecture part yet. I'm trying to say a pattern emerges if you look at the ranking from top to bottom, and that pattern is people with CxO-level experience scored better.
What does this mean? I discuss that later in this post.
Do the People Matter?
From my conversations this weekend, I can tell you members of the PASS Board and NomCom are defensive about their decision. They stood on principle. They've made improvements to their process. They were way more transparent than they've ever been.
In fact, I'll take a moment here to chide us - the SQL Server Community at large - for largely ignoring the hundreds of hours of work the PASS Board and Headquarters invested in created the PASS Board Elections Portal. There was (and is) a ton of information on the site, and it's good information. Kudos to the PASS Board and HQ for publishing this information. I asked PASS HQ for information of page views and they responded:
Official 2010 PASS Elections Procedure – Overview – 246 downloads
2010 PASS Nomination Application – 210 downloads
2010 PASS Elections Ranking template (Interviews) – 224 downloads
2010 PASS Elections Ranking template (Nominations) – 63 downloads
From this it's easy to tell a relative handful of us even visited the site. One can argue this is the first year for the site and, in years to come, the numbers will improve. That's plausible. But overall, these are pretty dismal numbers for the amount of work PASS put in. Bad us.
The NomCom submitted a recommendation that the PASS Board ratified (7-5-2). Of the seven candidates who entered interviews, five remain. The two eliminated were Jack Corbett (Blog | Twitter) and Steve Jones (Blog | Twitter). Why all the hoopla over Steve Jones?
The Opinion and Conjecture Part
Did the NomCom do Their Job?
Yep. They did what they were told to do.
That said, I disagree with what the NomCom was told to do. I think the NomCom was told "Go out and find us a spouse for the next 50 years" and what the Community expected was for the NomCom to set up a few blind dates (that's not original, but for the life of me I can't recall who said something like that to me). If you're bashing the NomCom, I'd ask you to stop.
You could argue that they did their job with the same zeal as the people who shrink-wrap CDs and DVDs. But understand they were told to protect us from another marketing executive. This isn't a complaint about the NomCom - it's constructive criticism. I believe members of the NomCom know the difference.
Did the Board do Their Job?
I see the Board's job as promoting the long-term interests of the PASS Community. I think members of the Board would agree with me on that. I think the seven people who voted for this slate as it stands feel that they were doing just that. But I disagree, for reasons that will become clearer as this post progresses. I think the five who voted against this slate as it stands have a much clearer vision of the impact and importance of Community.
Process vs. Execution
Many of you know I've been managing developer teams for a while now. It was a transition for me and I've recorded some of the lessons learned here on this blog. One of the things I've learned is that there are a couple basic categories for failure: process and execution. A failure of process means I've missed something in my thinking about how things really work. A failure of execution means I know how things should work but I didn't do it that way for some reason. I hope that makes sense. Another way to look at it is:
When my strongest defense is "I followed my process" you do not know where I failed. All you know is that I know I failed. "We followed our process" then becomes a logical-sounding defense, when it's merely an excuse. Allow me to demonstrate:
I left Farmville Virginia at 4:00 AM EDT Friday morning heading to SQL Saturday #51 in Nashville Tennessee. I thought about where I was going the night before, printed some basic instructions, pre-programmed a few addresses into my Garmin, and then drove roughly 550 miles in about 9 hours... this was my process. If I'd ended up in New York City instead of Nashville I could offer the excuse that I followed a process, but you would see right through that excuse, wouldn't you? You'd say things like "That's weak Andy". If you had a vested interest in meeting me in Nashville and I
called emailed you from New York City to tell you I wasn't in Nashville and that I was, in fact, even further from Nashville than I was at the beginning of following my process, you would be understandably put out.
And you wouldn't care so much that I followed my process. My point: We don't elect processes for the PASS Board. Hiding behind the Process Excuse is not a step towards the healing that needs to happen.
It Shouldn't Be About One Person
Since the beginning of the PASS Board 2010 Nominee Application process, four people have been eliminated from the slate. I could make strong arguments for voting for any of them. But I don't get that opportunity. I also don't get the opportunity to vote for them. Worse still, I've been denied that last opportunity.
The person this centers on is Steve Jones. Why? Well, Steve sends an email every weekday morning to over a million SQL Server database professionals. He's been sending that email for years. Contrast Steve's "touch" with PASS membership and a quick check of the math reveals Steve daily reaches a community that is two orders of magnitude (exotic math here, apologies) larger than PASS' membership. Add to that fact that approximately 2,500 PASS members attend the PASS Summit each year, and (I'll be generous) roughly 1,000 participate in voting for members of the PASS Board. 1,000,000 is actually three orders of magnitude bigger than what most would consider PASS' active members.
All the PASS Board and NomCom needs to do is convince the other 999,000 people in Steve's reach that, while he may be qualified to send them (opt-in) email every weekday about SQL Server, he isn't qualified for a seat at the table of the largest SQL Server association on the planet. Good luck with that.
Perhaps this shouldn't be about one person. Perhaps it should be about Steve and Jack. Or Markus, Jack, Denny, and Steve. Or all nine. Or just about Andy, Allen, Douglas, Mark, and Geoff. We'll get there, I'm sure. But right now it is about one person: Steve Jones. And it's about Steve for good reason - he's Steve (insert emphatic adjective here) Jones! This isn't hard to figure out. And it reminds me of a lesson from Donald Trump. Donald was bankrupt and yet he needed a large sum of money to make the insurance payment on his yacht. He went to the bank and, to everyone's surprise, obtained a loan for $250,000. Reporters were stunned and asked him how he talked the bank into the loan. Donald's response (paraphrased) was "If you owe the bank a million dollars you're in trouble. If you owe the bank a billion dollars, the bank's in trouble." That's the impact of three orders of magnitude in action.
Fair or not, this is about the PASS Board rejecting Steve Jones' candidacy for the PASS Board of Directors in 2010.
In my conversations this weekend members of the NomCom and the PASS Board expressed noble concerns about embarrassing Steve by revealing too much information about why they made the decisions they made. Two points about this sentiment:
It's too late.
Why misplaced? Part of the reason this is about Steve (see above) is because Steve is wildly popular. The Board and NomCom really risk embarrassing themselves - and not Steve - by revealing why they do not feel he's a good candidate for the slate. If you examine the categories used to judge Steve and the other candidate applicants during the interview process, you see PASS' vision for ideal candidates. If you look at the NomCom's aggregate ratings for Steve, you see his low scores are volunteering inside PASS (2.00), volunteering outside PASS (2.17), and fit (2.17). The emphasis on Volunteering is a process error that should have been corrected during execution. The word "volunteering" should be replaced with the word "impact" and one metric used to determine Impact to the
SQL Server PASS Community should be volunteered hours. Another metric to consider is compensated hours that impact the PASS Community. Some people actually work in Community positions. The fact that those people are "just doing their jobs" should not reduce recognition for community impact, in my opinion. Especially not for a seat at the table of an organization that has seated Directors from sponsoring corporations.
I know Steve. I believe he would be disruptive. I think he would challenge the status quo and defend the SQL Server Community with every ounce of his being. I believe he would start his two years of service on the Board more stubborn and obstinate than he would end it. Like every Board of Director member that's taken time to share their experience, Steve would evolve. For some, that's a problem. They cannot tolerate the disruptive-ness. I believe Steve was deemed "unFit" for the Board for this reason.
For me, those are the very reasons I want him on the Board. I want change. If it has to be disruptive to come to PASS, so be it. I want more transparency. More than that, I want the Board's default response to anything new to be "Let's get this published." A Board member asked me this weekend "Andy, how will we be able to tell we're transparent enough?" My response: "When someone complains that you're putting out too much information, that's how."
Why too late? PASS needs a time machine to fix this. The damage is done. I know - for a fact - the Board has recently reversed and overridden decisions they deemed incorrect. Even decisions where the preconceived process was in place and followed to the letter. Yet in this instance they have made a stand on this and, by all appearances, are willing to die on this hill. Even if the Board reversed this decision, I seriously doubt Steve would wish to run under these conditions. Making a change now would just tick off more people. It's too late now.
The PASS Board has communicated "we don't want you" to a number of potential future candidates. I'm one of them - there are others. And we're all asking the same question: "If Steve Jones isn't qualified, am I?" It's difficult to watch and listen to this conversation. Believe it or not, it's difficult to participate in it because the disappointment is palpable. Steve would have been a great candidate and Board member. Everyone seems to get that except the Board.
For a while, PASS positioned itself as The SQL Server Community. There was real effort to market PASS as more than just a conference; sincere work was put into reaching into local and regional communities. This pretty much undoes a lot of that. Steve is a SQL Server Community Champion. He doesn't need a title or a seat at any table to warrant that recognition. We - the SQL Server Community - get it. The PASS Board indicates (by this vote and subsequent defending decisions) that it does not. And by not recognizing this blindingly obvious fact, PASS is marginalized into a corner of the SQL Server Community en masse. This episode has illuminated a differentiator between a "them" and an "us". That's sad.
I believe the PASS Board shot itself in the foot - with a high-powered sniper rifle.
The community is grieving. We're going through the steps of the grief cycle like they're a SQL Server deployment checklist. We're moving through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Can the PASS Board help? I believe the window for PASS Board remedies is either rapidly closing or has passed. I could be surprisingly mistaken, but I firmly believe anything that could actually fix this will not be accepted by this Board.
The problem with that statement is that our ability to influence the makeup of this Board is precisely the issue.
As a community, we've been told we're wrong about who should be on the Board (by the Board) and we have no recourse other than to choose to elect people from the subset the Board thinks should be on the Board. Right up there with Henry Ford's "you can have any color you want as long as it's black"; the PASS Board has communicated "You, the electorate, can vote for anyone you want - so long as we approve them first."
While it will take some time, the SQL Server Community and PASS itself will recover. We'll all make our way through the grief cycle. We'll move on. It'll get better. But some corners have been turned, some bridges destroyed. Steve will likely never sit on the PASS Board. Neither will I. Neither will others more qualified than me.
I anticipate even more community-grown events and opportunities to learn more about SQL Server coming from the crowd. I look for more SQLCruise-type events, and more initiatives like SQL Saturday (which was started in the crowd by Andy Warren, Steve Jones, and Brian Knight - and then given to PASS), and maybe even more national and international conferences like SQL Connections, SQLBits, and the PASS Summit 2010. I think we'll see more crowd-sourcing and tribal evolution.
I like PASS and I believe PASS will continue to grow as an organization - and I will remain engaged and continue to decry decisions that I believe negatively impact PASS and its growth.