The last few weeks we’ve watched the drama unfold in regards to the PASS BOD elections. We’ve seen people attack criticize the NomCom, the board, PASS itself, the process and the decision of feeding of Gremlins after midnight. Thankfully the fireworks have died down and we can take a look at everything that has happened and make strides to move forward in a positive (and more importantly) constructive manner. Given that, I’ve been asked by my good friend Kevin Kline (Blog | Twitter) to respond to the following:
Many in the community seem to think that the PASS election process is badly broken. Do you think that PASS needs to implement fundamental and far-reaching changes to its election process, or does it only need some fine tuning? Please explain your thoughts?
I’m not going to recap the entire reality series-type drama that unfolded regarding the final slate of candidates but you’re more than welcome to read it yourself here. While I could rail on about how I believe Steve was slighted, unfortunately there’s nothing more to be done about it now so let’s look forward, shall we? The issue here is that the NomCom chose (and rightly so from my perspective) to follow the processes set in place for them and acted accordingly. Okay, fair enough. What we need to ask ourselves now is: “Is this process still appropriate for our organization?”
All together now…IT DEPENDS! Just kidding. Seriously though, up until now the entire (or at least much of) the process involved in electing someone to the board was hidden behind a veil of secrecy. Thankfully after last year’s elections issues the folks at PASS (and yes this includes both the board AND headquarters) worked extremely hard to change things for the better. This year we now have the PASS Elections Portal which offers much more transparency into the whole process than we ever had before. I think this move was a huge step in the right direction however much like Uncle Ben warned young Peter Parker, “with great power comes great responsiblity”. Now that we have this transparency it introduces a new issue that wasn’t prevalent before: accountability. Prior to this year’s elections we, the community at large, didn’t have easy access to things such as the NomCom scores, process documentation, direct/easy/clear communication lines to those involved. That being the case this year you’re seeing the results of a very PASSionate community demanding answers to outcomes that quite simply don’t make sense to the masses. I think the one of the best posts/discussions to show this fact was Stuart Ainsworth’s (Blog | Twitter) post addressing issues raised directly. As a small aside, HUGE kudos to Stu for meeting the community head-on and not being afraid to answer questions. I think we all owe him a big ‘thank you’ along with the other NomCom folks who openly communicated and helped clear up what they could.
While Stu’s post somewhat answered lingering questions the problem remains that there were things with those scores that simply “didn’t add up” when viewed publicly. This is where the danger in transparency comes in. People are going to question your methods and motives. Now that I’ve rambled on for a couple of paragraphs though we need to come back to the question of the process. The official process can be found from the elections site (pdf) so you can read the wording yourself. Ok finished reading it? Good, we’re all on the same page now. So far we’ve heard NomCom folks state that they had a very specific procedure to follow. Ok…well I’m looking at the procedure wording and it still doesn’t explain what happened this year. Unfortunately this is where the arguments start breaking down due to the only answer starts becoming “can’t talk about it due to privacy”. Again the veil impedes the view. So how can we improve “the process”?
The process currently states that the NomCom is as such:
Finally, the NomCom meets to pick the interviewees on the list they think should be the candidates. This is the slate. The NomCom must always strive to put a minimum of (n+1) candidates on the slate, where “n” = the number of available slots – that means the slate should contain at least 4 (3+1) candidates. However, if the NomCom is in strong agreement that n or <n (“n” or “less than n”) candidates are of sufficient quality to go on the slate, it has the right to present n or <n candidates to the Board of Directors. (e.g. If the NomCom has good reason to believe that only 2 candidates are good enough to serve as Directors – where 2 is clearly less than 3 – it has the right to put only 2 candidates on the slate.) The responsibility for this decision falls on the Chair of the NomCom. This situation is less than ideal and the NomCom will strive to avoid at all costs.
Ok well what I’m reading here is that the NomCom still has the power to submit more or less people to the slate than is needed/asked. That being the case this reads more like Pirate Code from Pirates of the Caribbean wherein Captain Barbossa explains, “the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner .” Maybe we should follow Captain Barbossa’s sage advice and realize that some of the wording we try to stick to are more guidelines. Perhaps we need to just really re-word the official documentation rather than the process as the process itself makes sense in the grand scheme (for the most part). Are there tweaks we can make? Absolutely!
I believe Andy “The SQL Godfather” Warren (Blog | Twitter) wrote in a recent PASS update post about his view and how things could change for the better. In there he states that the NomCom followed procedure and anything less than that would open things up to a new world of trouble and I agree with him. So again, is it the process or the WAY the process is worded that is causing issues here? There are things that could definitely stand to be reworded for clarification. For instance, in the ranking for interview we’ve got Steve Jones being ranked in the average of 2 for Leadership. Really? Okay, I’ll bite. We need a CLEAR definition of what exactly they mean by “leadership experience candidate has demonstrated”. In my eyes being the community leader for the largest SQL Server community website on the planet tends to hold weight. I’d like to know what it is about this category that would cause members to vote so low (or so high in other cases). To be fair and balanced let’s look at another category and candidate. Under education Douglas McDowell comes in at perfect 4.0. What exactly are they looking for in terms of “education”? Does Douglas hold a PhD and everyone else is lower? Does this relate strictly to academia or other areas?
Earlier I mentioned this process isn’t broken and works for the most part and I feel I need to explain that a bit further. As of now the process is that we have a NomCom that sifts through all of the potential candidates and weeds out the weaker applications and comes up with a batch of candidates they feel (again based on given criteria worded in existing process documentation) are strong enough to move forward with. From there they take that batch and interview them with another ranking formula. After the interviews the applicants are ranked, sorted and based on those rankings another smaller batch emerges as those up for candidacy. Now this is where breakdowns occur, in my opinion. Here the NomCom is able to modify the batch of candidates to be either more or less than is stated in documentation (again we should defer to the Pirate Code on this). Here is where NomCom could say “numbers don’t add up, let’s talk” and fix this. Where this year’s rancor is coming from is that we seem to be missing the piece of the puzzle where (or if) this occured. Now we have a final slate presented to the board. Again, here, the board can look at the slate and say “good, good…errr this doesn’t seem right, you sure?”. Once more we haven’t seen anything from the black box of the board on this, all we know is that they approved the submitted slate. This final slate is what will be presented to the community and from there a general election will be held.
Now the process itself makes sense and potentials are vetted multiple times before we finally get our final candidates but something kind of seems “off”. Maybe it’s me but maybe there needs to be a more balanced check system. As it stands you only have two bodies that ping-pong a decision back and forth. Would adding a third body like our government system be a better way to check this? Perhaps that third body can get results scrubbed of personal data (e.g. name, employer, location) and only be presented with answers and they do rankings based on those. This blind ranking system can then be matched up with what NomCom finds and the board can make decisions based on aggregation of those results? This third branch could be made up of purely community folks so there is no percieved bias of board influence. Barring that we COULD have a board member on in that group but with no voting rights and their role is simply to moderate. Again, just bouncing ideas. Would this be too much to deal with? Do we really need to go to these lengths to please the masses? Only time will tell.
Outside of the election process itself I’d also like to take this time on my digital soapbox to encourage the board members as well as HQ to please PLEASE don’t be afraid of communicating with the community. Blog, Tweet, interpretive dance. Take a note from Andy Warren and see that it’s OKAY to publicly state your thoughts and opinions. Even if you feel your ideas may be “less than popular” at least you’re doing something more than the percieved nothing. In this age of transparency and numerous communication avenues (blogs, twitter, forums, mailers) there really is no excuse for not reaching out.
After all of this ranting and word vomitting, I’d like to 1) commend you if you’ve actually gotten this far and 2) Invite you to voice your own thoughts. If you’d like comment here on this blog or take the talk to the elections portal forum. It’s a new day in PASS and with the right people in place and the support of this amazing community I think we could transform this organization into something truly wonderous (as if it’s not already awesome enough). Thanks for your time, I’m going to go ice my fingers down now from writing this mess…
30 Replies to “Pirates of PASS: Curse of the Elections Process”
Here’s the question I have about the process:
What value is there in eliminating candidates from the slate? I understand there is a limit of 3 candidates per seat, and I understand the perceived need to have a limit. But once that boundary is set, what is the reason to further limit the slate?
I am open to being educated on this point; I’ve never participated in running an organization anything like the size of PASS, so there are certainly factors I’m ignorant of. But from where I currently stand, it seems more reasonable for the process to encourage including candidates, rather than excluding them. If the intent is to give the PASS membership the opportunity to influence the direction of the organization by voting for candidates, it seems that presenting more options rather than fewer would be the better path.
In the specific case at hand, the question can be restated as “what about Jack’s or Steve’s candidacy was so off-putting that the community shouldn’t even be allowed to consider them?”
That’s the thing, from my understanding of the rules the NomCom COULD invoke ‘parlay’ (yes, another Pirates reference…) and add more names to the slate than recommended. This lack of action is where the community is confused on and we’re not seeing “the bigger picture” because we’re met with privacy issues. Despite the transparency there are still black boxes in the process that frustrate many.
I’ve been thinking about that question a lot. And I’m torn between “They should flat out say what it was” and “Wow…it must be something really bad from them to take them off the slate and therefore it’s probably best that they don’t give details”. Sort of like a reject letter for a job that just says “We were very impressed by your qualifications, but we don’t think there is a good fit”.
I’ve also contemplated “Wow, maybe those two bright people really don’t test/interview well”, but having heard them speak, I doubt that.
If the answer was along the lines of “We think X is a jerk” or “This guy is a complete idiot” do we (and the association is us, by definition, for now) want them to say this out loud?
Yeah it’s a little harder for folks to be as forthcoming as they can online as content “lives forever” in the public domain. Bridges can be burned and feelings hurt when text doesn’t convey an idea as well as a face-to-face discussion can. I think the real controversy here came from seeing Steve’s scores low on things that are obvious “duh” (e.g. K. Brian Kelley’s breakdown of scores http://www.sqlservercentral.com/blogs/brian_kelley/archive/2010/08/23/looking-at-the-numbers.aspx or Andy Leonard’s breakdown: http://sqlblog.com/blogs/andy_leonard/archive/2010/08/23/more-thoughts-on-the-pass-election-2010.aspx )
I think that if the process excludes any qualified candidates, the process is broken. I think that is the core of the issue and where an honest conversation between PASS and the community might bring benefit.
It is my expectation and the expectation of many in the community that the purpose of an election is to allow those voting to decide on who will serve. If the NomCom is any way making any decisions as to who will serve – what is the point of holding an election? Confirm qualification? Yes. Decide to exclude qualified candidates from the slate? No.
That’s just it though. What defines “qualified candidate”? The process, as far as I can tell, doesn’t spell it out. They get a sheet with ambiguous wording and asked to rank 1-4. Also, not the call fault with NomCom, they could have chosen to pass Steve along anyhow. From what I’ve read there WAS plenty of talking done in regards to this but the slate presented per scores anyhow. Is this really a process fault? Again, there’s a small (but very important) piece we’re not being privy to. I know this whole thing has made me want to throw my name in for NomCom next year as 1) I’d like to help make some positive changes 2) Being a part of the process would help me better understand the organization as a whole
I like the idea of a community override. I was thinking something more along the lines of the ability to write in a candidate. There would have to be some rules, like the candidate must be a current PASS member in good standing and maybe only 1 write-in candidate could win. It would put a check and balance in place without much effort and would also provide feedback on the quality of the selection process.
Dave, while the write-in SEEMS like a good idea it could make for bad juju. While HIGHLY improbably, what if a company decided to inject one of its employees on the board and just had tons of people write-in that candidates name? The other problem with this is what if the write-in candidate, while flattered, didn’t run for a reason (i.e. family, time/work commitments, etc.) that they didn’t want to advertise publicly. I think the current setup works as being on the BOD is a big commitment and the process (and candidates ultimately) benefit from the vetting process I think.
Not sure about companies stuffing the ballot box but I definitely see what you mean with someone not wanting the job. I had not thought of that.
The Nom Com spent a ton of time and effort to put together this slate but because the results were unexpected they seem somehow less legitimate.
I was amazed by the some of the conspiracy theories and personal attacks that came out after the slate was released.
I am all for anything provides an air of credibility to this process in the future. If we do not do something we will not be lucky enough to have such a high quality Nom Com in the future. I am not sure if adding a 3rd body would make things better or worse but agree we have to try something.
on the write-in idea: Why then even have a vetting process? If a write-in is a good idea, we don’t need a NomCom process at all, which I don’t think is right. I just think we need to redefine what the purpose of the NomCom is.
This may be way out of left field here, but I think if we step back from even the election process, defining what PASS should be doing more clearly (e.g. serving the community by facilitating training/networking? Developing a series of events? creating industry standards for professional development? Creating value that you can’t get without being a member (especially as it relates to MS)? All of the above?) might help clarify what changes to make in the election process.
If we know where we’re heading, we’ll know how to evaluate leaders to take us there. Right now it seems like we might be in Davy Jones’ locker. Redefining HOW we elect people doesn’t solve the (IMHO) larger problem.
A write-in would allow the community to show it does not agree with the nom com but if the number of write-in candidates was limited then it would allow the nom com to still perform the necessary vetting while allowing the community to disagree. If only 1 write-in can get through but another 4 beat the official slate only then the nom com still serves a purpose but the community can show they do not agree.
The big problem, as Jorge pointed out, is what if someone is written in that cannot take on the committment.
I would assume that write-ins would only be for those who applied, right? That would eliminate the concern, and just restrict it to disagreement with NomCom, nothing else…might be interesting.
Jorge, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ll follow along to watch the comments and at some point, we’ll grab all of those ideas and throw them into the pot for the next version.
Thanks Andy. I REALLY wish the rest of the board would take after you and actually make more of an effort to interact with the community about issues. Not trying to knock on anyone in particular but seems like you’re one of the few on the board willing to actually blog about going ons and not afraid to call a spade a spade. Those reasons are why one of my votes went to you. As a community organization I want to feel like the board (despite having to run the business side of the house as well) still make s the community feel important and I think the BOD loses sight of that sometimes.
First, you should have warned me to fill up my coffee before starting to read this post :).
Some people have brought up the fact that some of the candidates had clear evidence of good stuff in their lives that the NomCom should have considered. If those data points weren’t provided, then the NomCom shouldn’t and couldn’t rely on those.
A great analysis of what needs to be tweaked in the future. I also back you on the “no write ins”, as you forgot the other potential issue of ending up with Stephen Colbert on the PASS board…or the SQL Server version of Stephen Colbert…not naming names here.
One of the things that has bugged me through reading all that I have is that I think there’s a difference between having transparent governance and publishing everything. I know the NomCom said that the held back private info like contact information, but I was uncomfortable reading all the detailed scores. If had been a candidate and scores were published that I felt were inaccurate I’d be mortified. Perhaps the committee decided that my Purdue education wasn’t worth much, or that my community work with some WIT group wasn’t worthy, so they rated me very low. What recourse would I have? I couldn’t ask for it to be changed. I could not have it removed…or could I?
While in the short run being rated low for a PASS board position would be heartbreaking, being rated low and out there for the world to see with no background as to why that grade was low would be scary. That kind of assessment could be taken as harmful even. I’m not sure what the solution is for that, but again, I felt uncomfortable reading these great peoples’ grades and not having anything to put context to it. And those grades are out there forever, now, right or wrong.
I’m wondering what sort of effect this will have on people who now won’t put their names forward for fear of seeing an “F” grade on leadership or community support next to their names.
Thanks for the response Karen and sorry for not warning you about the post ;-P I agree that seeing low scores can be quite the hit but that’s where the communication needs to be more important than ever. If we, the community, ask directly “why did X score so poorly here?” I’d love to see someone answer. Stuart did a fine job answering as much as he could but there were still certain elements holding him back from being completely open about it (which I commend him for). In the words of Led Zeppelin, there’s definitely a problem with this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqF3J8DpEb4&ob=av2n
Great post. I will follow up with…that a lot of the frustration from my part has been lack of acknowledgement from some members of the board that the process is ‘broken’….like say….maybe the PASS President…
Maybe if they acknowledge that there is a problem I would have more confidence that they would fix the problem. However, if there is no problem then what is there to fix? Man these logic problems really hurt my head.
Jorge, thank you for the detailed post and opening the floor up for remarks.
Let me say at the outset itself, I don’t consider myself qualified to comment on the nitty gritty of this process. I do consider myself a small chapter lead and a PASS loyalist for long who loves this community and wishes for a time when we will go through this process with more understanding and good will.
Running for the board is sort of like an MCM in volunteering. It is not for everybody and definitely not an affordable activity for the average jane DBA or PASS volunteer, in terms of time and effort. In short it is nothing strange that there aren’t that many people going for it and perhaps it will always be that way. That said though if
you look at this blog war and debate generated, it is mostly among those who are qualified perhaps at some point to run themselves – MVPs, top notch bloggers and consultants are the majority who are fighting this battle. Perhaps a day needs to come when the average joe dba really feels it is his concern too and jump into the fray. I would consider that progress in the growth of PASS and in the community.
Some things that people like me would love to see change –
1 Lots of SQL Server professionals don’t know PASS Exists. Many who do are very confused on what is the relationship between Microsoft and PASS. Many don’t have a clue on what a great thing it is to have a purely volunteer run organisation that conducts its own
conference and invites MS to attend. In short ramp up the publicity, however possible.
2 Bring in benefits that people understand and relate to – discounts on the conference is a great one, but given the economy not many people can make it to the conference. 24 hours of PASS is one that has gone down extremely well, and news of the Orlando conference atleast where I am has been recieved very well too.But bring in more, like Ms Crawford mentioned above – series of events, industry standards for professional development, networking events..all of that.
3 Try to relate candidates to what they develop – this time when i encouraged my 50+ strong user group membes to vote, I got a lot of blank faces asking me ‘we don’t know one person there..?!?’. Then someone asked who developed 24 hours of PASS, i said Rick Heiges who is already elected, so then they wanted to know about SQL Saturday/Orlando event and Andy’s name came up. For those who took the time their vote would probably go to Andy. I did mention the other person I knew, Douglas – as being very approachable and I was personally impressed by him too, but I did not know an easy way to relate that to something they understand. I know Andy mentioned questions as a good starting point which they probably are, but
anyone who wants to run should also do their piece in this regard on reaching out to more members, however they can.
Lastly just want to say — I do know and I try to understand and communicate to all I know, that being a board member is a HUGE amount of time and effort, in return for almost nothing.I think most
people are frustrated when they get criticism in return for that, no matter how right the critic is. Perhaps we need to say thank you more strongly before we expect them to respond.So dear board members,
you may be up there but you have families and jobs like everyone else, thank you for your time and effort.
Malathi, great post/response and thank you for engaging here 🙂
I agree that many SQL folks don’t know what PASS is. However I guarantee you that most of those folks are subscribed to that little newsletter put out by SQLServerCentral every day! This is where PASS is failing to recognize an opportunity. If they’re going to run this thing as a business (which, it really is) then why not partner with one of the most influential community leaders there is, rather than go through all of this crap and alienate the community? I realize I might be hurting myself in the long run by putting these thoughts/comments out there but I’m going to speak my mind.
The events thing you’ve pretty much nailed although (again) the most successful events so far outside of 24 HOP haven’t come from PASS at all! SQLSaturday was a grassroots effort (I’ll give you a guess as to one of the guys that was involved in that one as well) that absolutely exploded in popularity. PASS was gift-wrapped a successful event in order to help the organization as a whole. Regional events is something people have been clamoring for but again since this is a business you have to think about overall impact. Holding larger regional events takes away from the big money-maker (Summit). So do you encourage the regional events knowing what it will do for Summit registrations? Maybe, it depends. I think the Rally is doing something very smart in limiting scope, being transparent about their dealings (Andy Warren posts minutes for SQLRally meetings), and helping to essentially funnel excitement and attendees to the big Summit.
Your third point gets kind of sticky and here’s why: community org -vs- business entity. PASS bills itself as a community organization but it also is a business so sometimes it’s very hard to play both parts. As it stands right now they’re trying to do both and sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. Again, we need to step back and review the structure of the organization as a whole and as “does this setup still work for us?”. Would it make more sense to separate the business entity from the community entity? I think it would but there could be some legal snags there that I’m not aware of. I personally would like to see a dedicated business board and let them deal with the business side of things. Dedicate a board JUST for community and have them go to the business board for big ticket items like budget and whatnot. I think this structure would appease the masses who (thanks to transparency and sharp uptake in social networking) can see an obvious political decision where there is one.
Lastly you’re right, being a board member/volunteer is tough and very time-consuming. We do (and rightfully should) say thank you to everyone involved who feels passionate about their community (not necessarily specific organization, just community as a whole) to take the time/energy out of their lives to help matters improve. I think there are many folks on the board/NomCom who genuinely want to see things get better otherwise they wouldn’t be there. I have the highest hopes that we can make things better but key is we need to work together on this and not just sit back and point fingers.
As Obama says, we cannot apply 20th century principles for 21st century, even tough it worked well last century.
Its our duty to put Steve on the line next time elections are up
Thanks Nitya but the problem isn’t not having Steve (specifically) in there (although that would help IMO). The board has rejected plenty of big-name community folks in the past (e.g. Adam Machanic, Denny Cherry). We need to fix the process and focus less on the details right now of who specifically needs to be there.
Wasnt aware of @adammachanic’s rejection.
Probably their honesty and open nature back fired them. Or they are jealous that these consummate professionals selection might shake down their position
Wanted to add my own thoughts on sharing scores. Maybe there is a better way, but we did this to provide a view into the process. Maybe it didn’t work, but would our conversation be better this year with no scores, just announcing the slate? I don’t know.
Here’s the hard part though. Serving on the board is a public position, and that means you have to be open to criticism, even unfair criticism. I don’t want it to become like US politics, but in some ways being willing to go through a public selection is a necessary trial by fire. That’s not just theory. If you fear being unpopular, it can lead you to make decisions based on that – to avoid it that is. Human nature. It’s all in the degree, I don’t want see anyone injured permanently from being willing to volunteer, and I don’t want it to be so painful that no one volunteers.
Andy, I think the sharing of the scores was a good thing as it allows us to formulate questions with at least a basis of fact rather than totally blind conjecture. I know serving in a public position is tough, often thankless, job so I want to reiterate how much I appreciate what you and the others do for the community. I agree that I don’t want to see anyone permanently injured or disenchanted with everything. We are a community, period. As I mentioned before I still have hope that we can still make things better.
You can see my thoughts on the scores being public on my blog, http://wiseman-wiseguy.blogspot.com/2010/08/last-place-doesnt-matter.html
As far as what to do about the process, I honestly don’t know. I don’t think you can come up with a perfect process, so we learn from each thing we try. I also agree with JonMCrawford that I think the real issue is defining what PASS should be doing and I’ve blogged about that as well. Until a clear vision for what PASS is trying to be is communicated it will be hard for PASS to grow.
@Jack I think the first step is to get ALL of the ideas on the table, so we (the community, INCLUDING the Board Of Directors) can discuss the pros and cons of these issue. I agree that part of the issue is definitional, including both the purpose of PASS and the qualifications for a Director, as well as procedural. I’ve seen comments that both excite me and depress me about this last election; what excites me are the comments that say “something went wrong; how do WE fix it?”. I think Kevin’s invitation to post is a perfect example of this, as were many others that expressed disappointment in the outcome. Comments that depress me include jabs at the Board (who are mostly volunteers) or statements that indicate that “PASS can produce no good thing”. I’ve seen people urging revolution, when what is needed is evolution.
Brad McGehee’s eBook “How to Become an Exceptional DBA” outlines several characteristics that define a successful DBA; several of those skills (such as Persistance, Communication Skills, Thoughtful and Mature Responses) are needed now.
The Community wants the PASS Board of Directors to change. The PASS Board of Directors has built and stood behind a process (twice) that eliminates the very candidates the Community feels will bring the kind of change the Community wants to the PASS Board of Directors. The Community wants the PASS Board of Directors to change…
“You can have any color car you want, as long as it’s black.”
“You can vote for any condidate you want, as long as we approve them first.”
This isn’t hard. I get it.
PASS is a subset of the SQL Server Community (as are SSWUG, DevConnections, etc.). The SQL Server community has been greatly aided by social media and are now having a great conversation about what is desired by it. PASS (as well as any other subset of the SQL Server community) may or may not chose to attempt to satisfy the things the community realizes it now wants. It’s also possible that new entities may come about to satisfy these desires.
This is all quite natural, organic, and not necessarily a reflection for or against PASS.
The exciting thing for me is to watch the rise of new leadership that is apparent on the many conversations that are taking place on twitter and on a fair number of blogs (Jorge, Andy L, Tim M, and Wes come to mind). I feel very good about the conversation.