Saturday, January 31, 2015

“Sunsetting”—a way to impose accountability on your committees and programs

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Some decades ago Congress introduced a concept that was intended to control runaway costs by pruning bloated government programs of those elements that had lost their direction or outlived their reason for being. The concept was called a “sunset” provision and it was to be made part of every project or program funded by the federal government.

As its name implies, a sunset provision meant that funding authorization carried with it the requirement that the funded program was to terminate or shut down automatically after a specified period of time. Any attempt to apply for new funding would bring with it the obligation to prove why the original funded project failed to achieve its objectives or, in the case of projects that had been successful, to identify and justify what further accomplishments were needed. Too few associations have adopted such a “sunset” strategy and as a result are burdened by projects, programs and committees that continue long after they have ceased to be useful.

Volunteers who might have grown comfortable in their committee roles seek to perpetuate the way they identify with the association even after these committees have ceased to produce meaningful results. Programs that once worked continue to live on past accomplishments despite disappointing results year after year. As a result of these all too human inclinations, associations can find themselves incrementally turned into stagnant old storage rooms filled with dusty monuments to past success.

As an association manager, if you suspect it might be time to do some spring-cleaning, one way to do this might be to introduce the sunset concept into every aspect of your association’s operations. Here is a spring-cleaning checklist:

  • Trim your bylaws of unnecessary structural requirements. Many association’ bylaws contain provisions stipulating that certain committees exist even though they might not be linked to the mission. No association should be burdened by permanent committees. Use your next strategic planning session to rid yourself of all imposed clutter and be ferocious in making sure your organization remains lean.
  • Seek consensus then draft and adopt “sunset” language for all your association’s projects, programs and committees. Such language should include the requirement that measurable, mission-relevant objectives be identified and supported by detailed implementation plans with specified budgets and timeframes.
  • Publicize each of these initiatives and build stakeholder support for success. Create expectations, praise teamwork and recognize achievement. As the saying goes, there is no limit to how much you can accomplish if you don’t mind who gets the credit.
Introducing sunset provisions into your organization likely will produce revolutionary changes – making your whole organization leaner, more focused and more efficient. The sunset concept lends itself well to strategic planning, budgeting and even identifying performance goals for personnel evaluations – including your own!

It is sometimes said that one of the best ways to strategically think and plan is to work backward. When all has been said and done, what is it that you will want to have achieved? The sunset concept forces an organization to constantly answer this question for anything requiring time, labor and money. Difficult? Perhaps, but not unreasonable and not a bad discipline for everyone to follow.

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