Volunteer Senior Management Committees Part 2 of 3

Introduction and Disclaimer

This is a continuation on my article on Corporate Cultures. In this article I share some of my personal work experience. The experiences, observations and opinions of another person may be different from mine. Please be aware that there will be some strong views that will be expressed here. My views result from my personal circumstances and your circumstances may differ.

Operational Issues

Here are some of the operational issues that a Human Resource practitioner may face when working in such organizations:

  • Proposals need to be written to effect change, first as a record; second because a lot of communication with the committee chairman and the committee is done through email.
  • The not for profit organizations have better established policies, systems, processes and procedures compared with non profit organizations. Except for the financial function, the non profit organizations are usually lacking in these areas.
  • Where there are policies, systems, processes and procedures, these are not developed to suit the organizations, but rather committee members would adopt them from other organizations, without the required expertise to adapt them for use.
  • Regarding business practices and tools, the adopted attitude is “If it is still working, do not do anything even if it is half-broken.”
  • Volunteer committee would not be interested in any transformation projects because they do not have the personal time for it and they receive no income from doing so.You may send out your proposals, but nobody reads them. If you are lucky to organize a meeting to meet the committee members; there are a few possible responses:
  • They make sacarstic remarks and threw the project back at you.
  • They asked for changes to be made and for the proposals to be resubmitted. This process would repeat itself, leading the project to be shelved and you to be accused of not able to produce a good piece of work.
  • Your boss who had seen and approved your proposal, decides at the last minute not to attend the meeting and leave you to fend for yourself.
  • The committee chairman may said something and wants you to communicate her message. After you had done, there were negative responses from committee members, the chairman may deny making such remarks or blame you for communicating something that she did not said or meant to say. I call this “double talk”.
  • Unless it was a committee member or committee Chairman that champion a project, it is unlikely that the project will have any chance to get started because especially if the project is going to cost money or if the proposals needs to be escalated to higher level committees as the proposing committee members may be interrogated and face difficult questions that could embarrass them. It is more likely that you will be push to the front to face all the questions as well as sacarstic remarks.As the HR practitioner, you will be held responsible for any breach of the laws.
  • The volunteer committee may feel that they are above the law when it comes to matter of compliance. This is likely to be in cases related to manpower costs such as overtime pay.
  • The organization sets up a volunteer management structure of committees, sub-committees, sub-sub-committees to give government authorities a sense that there is corporate governance. However, many of these are shell or dormant committees. I call this “smoke screen”.
  • Herd mentality is common in such organizations, even in disciplinary or appeals committee; which could lead to unfair decisions.
  • Committees are most willing to spend on their pet ideas or pet projects. This is especially so in not for profit organization. For example in a country club, committee members are paying club members and they are more willing to spend the club’s money on the decor of the club. In a religious organization, the members may use donated money to spend on expensive musical equipments, stained glass windows. Staff compensation and welfare are the least on their minds. Is all these spendings for self glorifications? You would have to answer that question yourself. For the HR practitioner, compensation is an important tool in staff attraction and staff retention.

Example 1: This country club installed a glass arch over its main entrance.

Example 2: This church installed a stained glass skylight.


Behavior of Your Boss

There will always be a full time staff that heads the operations of the organization. The job title can be Chief Executive Officer (CEO); General Manager (GM), Director of Finance, Administration and Programmes (DFAP). Below that, there may be a Deputy General Manager. If not, there may be a layer of departmental Directors. Otherwise, if the organization cannot afford it, the middle managers will occupy that layer.

The highest level full time employee applied for the job obviously because of the better salary and the status accorded. This is also the case even if the job is with a religious organization, which we expect to uphold the highest moral values; or in a non profit organization, which we expect to do good for the unfortunates.

How the job incumbent for this key position came to be hired may likely through networking. For example, he knows the Chairman of the volunteer senior management committee. Another example is that he could be an active church member and he was considered as a candidate because one of the key hiring criteria was organization specific criteria such club membership; baptized christian of a specific denomination and so on.

The implications of this poor hiring practice is that you have a boss who had the required competencies for the job. He is unlikely to understand the problems that you faces in your functional operations and is also unlikely to offer any good solutions or help.

Because of the aggressive nature of management committee members, such post holders is most likely eventually at some point in their job to behave in a defensive mode, out of fear of personal job loss and fear of being interrogated for supporting proposals for change.

Even if this person outwardly seems supportive of positive change, do not expect to be rewarded to making the efforts to do a good job and to do the right thing for the organization. One of these “right things” is legislative compliance. If he or she is psychologically forced to submit to the committee chairman’s opinions, he or she may not support change of human resource policies even to comply with the law.

If this person is your boss, you can expect him or her not to be fair person either. It is possible that you may be delegated different situations to handle so that he or she would not be liable for any negative outcomes.

It is possible that your boss may frame you or set you up for failures by saying something bad to the committee chairman that you also serve and name you as the culprit. This could be reporting to your boss on the progress of a proposal that was submitted to the committee chairman.

What Type of Staff Will Survive Well?

Staff that would survive well would be staff that do not have any dealings with Committee members or less experienced that just take instructions or carry out transactional activities.

Staff that will not do well will be those that are expected to manage functions, drive change, meet corporate goals.

Side Comments on Staff Compensation and Performance Management

You may wish to know that non-profit and not for profit organizations lag the market in compensation (base salary) and they do practice performance management.

Sometimes, they may not have annual wage supplement and variable bonuses.

Regarding performance management, they are prone to adopt key performance indicators from the commercial sectors, hence not really meeting their needs.

For both types of organizations, the Finance Department would always have first priority for staff acquisition and having enough staff; while other department have to survive on lean staff or justify to fill headcounts budgeted but not filled.

Side Comments on Political Parties and Diplomatic Groups

I wish to side-track here, to point out that both political parties (for example, the People’s Action Party, in Singapore)  and diplomatic groups (for example United Nations Security Council)  share one common characteristic as volunteer management mentioned in this article. Their members are essentially free agents that have been co-opted into joining the group for various personal reasons.

Hence, for example in a political party, you may some some but rarely all party members with both the qualifications and deep work experience related to the various ministerial portfolios. That ultimately have an impact on how effective the incumbent minister can run the assigned ministry; and subsequently, cascade down to the impact on the country.

Tommy Koh: Trade Wars