The Planning Committee That Plans Nothing

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Today I took part in my job’s goals planning committee. It was not the first time I’d taken part in something similar, and I was gratified to see that no one feared the term “Strategic Plan” (The last time I’d taken part in a similar committee, the president swore up and down that we didn’t need a Strategic Plan only to kick all of us out of the committee and, three months later, begin sending us what amounted to a Strategic Plan – except that she refused to call it such. I am no longer a part of that organization.). I also appreciated the relative diversity of the group, seeing mostly women, a few people of color, and both part-time and full-time employees. During the course of the meeting, people were polite and deferential and willing to let others speak. There wasn’t much harping on individual points and returning again and again to something we’d discussed. No one acted superior to anyone else, and we were mostly positive (There was one nay-sayer who, to her credit, had over ten years’ experience in the organization and had seen a lot of programs come and go. The bulk of her nay-saying was practical and ultimately helpful, but sometimes I did feel like she was shooting things down too readily.). Also, we finished 40 minutes earlier than anticipated. Pretty good for a committee.

However, the committee was still something of a let-down. I suppose I let myself get too worked up and imagined that I would be more important than I was. I thought we would be discussing various areas that the library needed to improve and the direction the library would be taking. Instead, we worked on focusing and refining what was already in the five-year Strategic Plan.

This was disappointing because I’d spent a good deal of time brain-storming, researching, and getting more and more anxious. I really wanted to help guide the library and was incredibly flattered that I’d been asked to do so. I made a three-point plan with several subpoints. I psyched myself up to bring up race, diversity, and making the library a safe space for everyone, regardless of their race or religion. I posted about it on Facebook, for God’s sake! And then I just got to sit there and frantically try to figure out how to shoehorn in my talking points without sounding too terribly awkward (Okay, I added comments, addendums, cautions, etc. too. It wasn’t a wasted afternoon, just not what I expected/wanted.).

Organizations/leaders often have this problem. They come up with an idea or plan but want to make a show of allowing others to participate so they then organize a committee and have a meeting. People are allowed to speak with relative candidacy during the meeting, but they are reminded to stay within such-and-so talking points. Periodically, the moderator applauds an idea and lets the committee know that they talked with the president/executive director about that very thing just a few weeks ago. Someone writes down most of the points (You can always tell the point they’re uninterested in pursuing – they either don’t write it down or only write down one or two words as a placeholder.) and promises to type everything up into a cohesive document and send it out to the committee in a week or two for final tweaks. And then you’re done.

There’s something to be said for this method. It keeps the group focused but allows them to contribute and add in points the president may not have known about. It gives people the impression that they “own” the organization and have a stake in its development. People suddenly have experience being on a committee and can add it to their resumes. Because you’re not actually writing down a document, there’s less nitpicking and pointless in-fighting. It should be win-win.

But I really don’t want that. I want to help guide an organization. I want to help plan its future and plot out step-by-step how we’ll make that happen. I want to volunteer for additional committees and make an action plan. I want to argue with people about an issue’s merits and go home and research demographics and research studies and best practices. (Basically, I want to be Leslie Knope.) But, most importantly, I want to do something that matters.

I’m hoping that this committee will allow me to join other committees that actually do something. I tried to join one a few months ago but got wait-listed. At least people higher up on the food chain now know I will totally come to a committee meeting, be prepared, speak up, and have something intelligent to say. At least there’s that.

But here’s hoping that there’s something more soon.