Before I go further, I want to thank the members of the Nominations
Committee (NomCom) for their steadfast dedication and self-sacrifice.
NomCom members include uber-volunteer Allen Kinsel (twitter), former board member and co-founder of SQLServerCentral Brian Knight (blog), PASS EVP Rushabh Mehta (blog),
PASS executive director Judy Christianson. PASS president Wayne Snyder
also sat in the sessions (since he'll be leading this effort next year)
but did not vote. The committee spent many hours of time on the entire
process, frequently, at the cost of family and personal time.
Historically, PASS nominations were entirely committee-driven. In
many years, there were only as many candidates, good or bad, as slots.
As the years advanced, the board directed that the NomCom alter the
nomination vetting process in several ways. For example, for many
years, the NomCom simply rubber-stamped existing board members if they
wanted another term on the board. After experiencing a handful of
board members that were unproductive or even counterproductive, the
board wanted to make sure that returning board members were subjected
to the same rigors as a newcomer. The NomCom was instructed by the
board to develop a set of interview questions to assess the candidates
and also to analyze the candidates' performance as a board member or a
high-level volunteer for the organization. (An unintended consequence
of this change was that some candidates without much experience within
the organization didn't pass the vetting.)
As time passed and the board seated many top technical talents, the
board began to see a definite pattern of technologists who couldn't
focus on the big picture, couldn't formulate strategies, and would
derail board meetings with unending discussions of deep technical
details. Using a hypothetical example, if the board was considering a
strategy around collecting information and feedback from chapters (to
better advocate to our founders and vendors about the reach of the
organization), some board members loved to spend huge amounts of board
time building data models and noodling over what sort of client- and
server-side code should be written to support the application, when in
fact the board hadn't even settled on what strategy to pursue. That's
like spending all your time writing an application without requirements
- worse practice!
After all, these other board members had all been great
technologists and had willing spirits and giving hearts, but they
actually obstructed PASS' advancement rather than helping it. There
wasn't anything intrinsically wrong with what they were doing. They
were simply playing to the skills that had made them such successful
technologists and key players throughout their careers. However, it
was simply counterproductive. PASS simply needed more business and
leadership skills and less, yes LESS, technical skills in the board
room. Consequently, the board further instructed the NomCom to begin
assessing incoming candidates for strategic and leadership skills. And
because strategic and leadership skills were shown through many years
of experience to be at least as important as SQL Server-related
skills, the NomCom was also encouraged to entertain nominations from
candidates outside of the traditional applicant pool in search of those
From Here to There, Funny things are Everywhere
The Process Today
As the chair for 2009's PASS Nominations Committee, it's my job to
ensure that the candidates presented to the PASS membership for the
general election meet the standards and objectives set by the board,
the bylaws, and the processes and procedures currently in place. The
NomCom had very clear directives and processes (at least internally):
- Collect all of the "paper" applications that come in through the Call for Nominations. (We received only 11 this season.)
- Each member of the NomCom then ranks each "paper" application on a
variety of criteria, including criteria like leadership experience,
volunteer experience, educational experience, performance, and much
more. Based on those scores, we looked for a clustered scores among
the candidates. There is usually a clear break of a full point or more
between the top scoring candidates and the lower scoring candidates,
and this year was no different.
- Candidates who scored strongly on the "paper" ranking then advanced
to phone interviews with the entire NomCom. (Only seven of this
season's candidates had scores strong enough to advance.)
- With leadership skills now as important as other overall skills and
experiences, candidates needed to provide the NomCom with a vision
statement for what they'd like to accomplish while on the PASS board.
Then, the candidate had to answer questions like "Describe a situation
where you were able to use persuasion to convince someone with an
opposing view to see things your way" and "Tell us about a time when
you had to much on your plate and had to reprioritize all of your
projects" and "Tell us about your biggest successes in your
volunteer/board work this last year". (It is at this stage that a
candidate can establish their leadership credentials. It's also worth
noting that those leadership experiences and examples could come from
any aspect of the candidates' life - not just PASS, or professional
work, but examples such as the local PTA, the Girl/Boy Scouts, athletic
teams, civic groups, and church activities were all acceptable and
encouraged.) Each candidate was then reranked by the NomCom members
with all new scores.
- Since the candidate's volunteer track records was given equal
weight to their interview and discussion with the NomCom, a candidate
who was strong in both areas would definitely advance to the elections
while a candidate who was weak in one area or the other might land on
the fence or, in a couple situations, performed so poorly during the
interview that they didn't advance. (Once again, there was a strong
clustering of scores with a top four and a bottom three by a wide
While the NomCom wanted to put forward a slate large enough to have
two (or more candidates) per open slot, the simple fact is that the
NomCom only felt a strong confidence in four candidates. In other
words, the NomCom felt that anyone of the four would perform admirably
as board members and by advancing the candidate to elections it, in
effect, endorsed them. One of the candidates, Tim Ford, who went
through the tough interview process commented on it here. Once all the candidates were notified, they were allowed to begin campaigning according to the rules set up early this year.
I want to point out that a lot of the criticisms of this year's
elections are, in some form or another, a declaration of what people think the elections should be rather than what they actually are. This
is a lot like assessing a family sedan for racing performance, and then
criticizing it when the quarter mile and zero-to-sixty numbers aren't
too strong. The fact is, you'll always come away disappointed. (Of
course, I'm TOTALLY aware that PASS is too veiled about all of
these processes. To extend the analogy, it's like a family sedan that
you can't tell is a sedan until you get inside of it.)
Much of the turmoil seemed to start with Brent Ozar's blog post and interview with candidate Matt Morollo.
Be sure to read the comments! (I'm not going to speak to the specifics
of any individual candidate, btw.) In our case, the nomination process
was designed in pre-collaboration days before Web2.0 capabilities were
ever conceived. Transparency was not a strategic goal of the board or
of the NomCom, vetting the best candidates was the main strategic goal
of the NomCom. Examples of this sort of criticism, and I'm not saying
that the criticisms are wrong only that they target an ideal situation
rather than what is currently in place, are illustrated when Geoff
Hiten declares a PASS Fail, when Chuck Boyce says It's the Transparency, Stupid, or when Andy Leonard says that only database professionals should be board members. Again - these are not wrong per se, they're simply personally held views about the way things should be. Marlon Ribunal's recent blog post
seemed to reflect an awareness that NomCom policies are a reflection of
directives coming from the board and attempting to help drive the
board's core strategic goals. Stuart Ainsworth, on his blog entry, pointed out that all
candidates should experience a high degree of scrutiny and
questioning. And Joe Webb pointed out that balance is extremely
important for board candidates regarding not only their skills, but
also who the candidates work for, what the candidate does in their day
job, and much more in his post on the PASS Board of Director elections.
Would You Eat Them Here or There?
Times, They Are a Changin'
has definitely arrived on PASS' doorstep. The board has,
traditionally, not been motivated by transparency coupled with direct
collaboration with the wider community. The gyre of Twitter
conversations and blog posts with long trailing conversations are a new
experience to many with a seat at the board table. While it's
important to one or two of the current board members, a transparent and
collaborative approach hasn't taken root with everyone on the board.
Do you want that to change? Then I am directly calling you to action!
Meet with like-minded individuals at the Summit in two short weeks.
Identify a champion (or two) within the board who will spearhead the
effort and then work cooperatively to build the proposal(s). But
beware what you wish for. Governance changes are surprisingly draining
on a board, especially if they're expected to draft the new governance
policies themselves. In effect, by retooling the governance of the
organization, you'll also be asking the board NOT to accomplish
something else among the major goals for the year. Perhaps the very
first proposal should be for the establishment of a Governance
Committee that could discuss the issues openly and collaboratively,
while taking the majority of the workload off of the board?
There have been so many ideas about what needs to change for the
election process, many contradicting one another. Do you want to
require a director to have attended one or more past PASS Summits? Or
do you want to promote diversity between North American and other
countries where Summit attendance is probably prohibitively expensive?
Do you want to allow the board to prescribe a certain ratio of
consultants versus corporate IT versus vendors? Or do you want the
most experienced candidates, even if they're all from one sort of
career path? Or, as these multitudes of conversations have asked again
and again, do you want someone who can sling some great Transact-SQL
code or do you want someone who has a more diverse viewpoint with more
of a general business orientation in their daily job? Do you want
direct open elections without a NomCom or only a cursory check on
qualifications? (Be prepared for a lot of candidates to come out of
the woodwork from all over the globe!) Or do you want to have a strong
quality-control process in place for nominees as a prerequisite for the
elections? Would you feel good seeing a candidate conduct a
train-wreck of interview in which that can't clearly articulate why
they should be a board member? That gives us transparency, but
discourages a lot of people from considering putting their hat in the
ring. Or would you rather shelter them from possible embarrassments?
You get more candidates that way, though transparency declines. The
trade-offs aren't always so easy.
Let me be direct on a second point - not enough people are answering the Call for Nominations.
If you want to see elections with multiple candidates for each open
slot, PASS will need many more high-quality candidates each year.
I don't mean to put any one on the spot or make anybody feel bad.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, after all. However, I hope that
I've helped illuminate some of the dark corners of this process and why
the NomCom put forward the slate of candidates that they have. Don't
like it? I've given you what you need to set about bringing change to
your professional association. Let me know what you think!
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