20 SIMPLE STEPS

You've heard all the laments: People just don't get involved the way they used to…. We can't get people to participate in committees…. We just don't know how to get people excited about committee activities. True, time is at a premium for most people these days, but the spirit of involvement is far from dead.

If you're responsible for a business committee, approach your task with care and enthusiasm and you may find that members approach committee service with care and enthusiasm in equal measure. How? Use these 20 simple tips for starters:

A. Agendas

Don't go anywhere without one! When you're planning a meeting, your first step should be the preparation of a detailed agenda.

B. Background

Agendas, of course, are not enough. Whenever your committee will be dealing with complex issues, be sure to provide relevant information with the agenda: financial statistics, history, commentary, recommendations.

C. Celebration

Committees shouldn't be all work. Before or after your meetings, aim for some simple festivities: coffee and bagels, a meal, a social hour.

D. Delegation

The best committees figure out how to get things done before they set out to do them. And many of these committees pass specific tasks along to subcommittees or task forces. You can do the same.

E. Evaluation

Periodically give members a chance to assess how things are going. If you're leading a formal committee, you might use your executive leadership to evaluate committee operations annually. If your committee is informal, you might choose to circulate an evaluation form every six or twelve months, or even take three minutes at the close of each meeting for evaluation.

F. Facility

While there's no “perfect” location for a meeting, always look for a place that's comfortable (while retaining some formality in furniture and seating arrangements), climate-controlled, accessible to main thoroughfares and parking, relatively soundproof, and convenient to media or audiovisual aids you might use. And don't hesitate to build traditions through standard seating and room decor.

G. Goals

What are you trying to accomplish? Does your committee have broad, overarching goals? Do you have annual goals or a strategic plan? Once you focus your members' attention on clear, compelling goals, you'll take an important step toward motivating them.

H. Heirs

Enlist members for specific leadership positions a year or two in advance. The result: ample training time and greater interest on members' parts.

I. Inspiration

Always seek to epitomize the highest ideals of committee work: service to people and to your industry, the betterment of others, even the well-being of our nation and the world. And challenge your members to exemplify high standards as well.

J. Jobs

Every member of your committee has real-life, on-the-job experience. Make use of it by matching committee tasks with the talent in front of you.

K. Keynotes

Just as conferences are often distinguished by keynote speakers, so your committee should be distinguished by keynote activities. Some possibilities: an annual meeting, an annual planning session, a convocation of members, a much-anticipated educational event, a special summer social event.

L. Leadership

Yes, to be a great committee leader you must be creative, decisive, and collaborative. But great leaders also invite others to lead. So next time you're trying to get something done, enlist allies on the committee. Ask them to help fire up the enthusiasm of their peers.

M. Minutes

Minutes are the formal record of committee proceedings. And they're important working tools: they provide a blueprint of actions taken and to be taken, as well as a summary of future committee tasks.

N. Notes

Keep your own notes of committee activities. But remember that is is just as important to encourage members of the committee to take notes. Provide pads or note guides for this purpose. And when you want to focus committee attention on an issue, you might consider offering a pre-printed outline or notes summary for the convenience of your members.

O. Organization

A good committee has a structure. The committee might contain officers; subcommittee chairs; members with specific roles such as timekeeper, historian, or hospitality expert; and liaisons to other committees or organizations. And in committees with complex responsibilities, the structure might extend to the working parameters of the committee, and include by-laws or formal procedures.

P. Participation

Seek to involve every committee member in your activities. Whether it's by consciously prompting discussion, or involving members in post-committee follow-up, participation will lead to greater commitment.

Q. Quorum

By requiring a minimum presence of members before business can be transacted, you'll clearly articulate the need for involvement and you'll subtly encourage attendance.

R. Roles

Each committee member fulfills a role — not only as a member at large, but ideally as an individual with specified responsibilities or anticipated contributions. A good practice: Maintain a written record of roles, perhaps in the form of committee member “job descriptions.”

S. Standards

What makes your committee effective? Encourage members to adopt and follow standards that they create. And encourage members to develop standards for committee projects or industry activities sponsored by the committee.

T. Time

Start your meetings on time, stick to your timed agenda, and end on time. The result of these business-like practices: greater member satisfaction during the meeting and an ever-deepening commitment and enthusiasm toward the committee's work.




Richard Ensman is a business writer based in Rochester, N.Y.