2012-07-18 06:07 pm
Entry tags:

Adding Board Seats, Elections (in the future), and Sudden Flood of Burnout Thoughts

Heyyy so there was a pretty big announcement: the OTW Board will be expanded to 9 people and the bylaws amended. In case it is not immediately obvious from the length: yes, I had my hands all over this post, with a base outline provided by excellent Elections Officer [personal profile] jennyst and revisions and input from Board, the Elections Workgroup, and Comms. (I also did the graphics; it was a nightmare.)

So there's a lot going on here. I was Elections Officer last term, so I have a pretty keen interest in elections goings-on. I never really posted about my election works much: near the start of elections, I went on leave for a family illness, during elections it was necessary for me to remain neutral (which was simplest by staying quiet), and afterwards, I was, frankly, too exhausted and demoralized. Until recently, I was also too sick. Basically I have a backlog of elections feels thoughts.

The things I want to cover include:
  • What are you thinking with this adding seats business?

  • How did we get into this mess with the seats?

  • What happened last year?

  • How will elections work this year?

But then I realized this would be very tl;dr. I do know I have a problem. So I'm saving the last three items for later; today is going to be all about:

Adding Board Seats, Burnout, and Taking Care of Our People

Just to be clear from the start, the idea of adding Board seats does not spring solely from a need to fix the elections issue. (This is another reason I want to cover the more electiony stuff separately: it is a separate issue.) As the OTW news post linked above demonstrates, it certainly helps. But the Board does honestly struggle with workload in ways that would be ameliorated by being able to spread the work around a little. Our committees are growing; the number of committees is growing; the number, reach, and scope of our projects are growing — and that's all awesome, but it's also simply too much for seven people to cover.

However! Not all of the workload stems from this. A large part of Board's problem is that we are currently still too involved in micromanagement and/or management on a level that causes conflicts of interest. As an example, when some kind of staffing or work gap appears (say, due to a sudden retirement), we often feel like we have to be the ones to step up, either first or as backup. And in the case of filling chair positions, I think it also creates conflicts of interest. We do not do this to hog positions or work, but because we often feel like there is no one else — we are some of the most experienced people in the org with a wide range of skills. But this also gives short shrift to everyone else in the org and robs people of opportunities to grow.

There's not really a simple answer like "well Board should just stop filling these gaps themselves". A lot of the time these positions are pretty key and there is work that needs to be done urgently: we don't have time to wait for someone to train up or to recruit someone. The real issue here is a lack of personnel management and succession planning, not just for chairs — something we've been keenly aware of this year — but for key positions at every level. If we were consistently training people up and had a framework in place whereby anyone doing load-bearing work had an understudy, we wouldn't be having this problem. But one huge obstacle is that the org is collectively often too busy doing its project-based work to also do its people-based work (ETA 01): we're too busy building our projects to also build the builders. And I think that's a real loss and a true tragedy in terms of the org culture. Given the way things are, I'm not sure there is a solution besides just slowing down on projects for a while in order to build up our people. That's a hard thing to accept, both for us and, I think, for our audience: why should the users and beneficiaries of our various projects have to wait because we can't manage to keep our house in order? However, I am, have been, and am increasingly of the opinion that this is what we will have to do.

[ETA 01]: After reading [personal profile] bookshop's comment, I think this (from my response to her) would be a more precise and accurate statement: The org is collectively more concerned with producing popular and/or acceptable output (often in the form of projects) than with doing the personnel support and management necessary to make that work happen in a healthy way. Apologies for the suboptimal initial wording! [/ETA]

And it's not fair. I know it's not fair. It's not fair to our staff and volunteers, who do this work because they love it and believe in it. It's not fair to our audience, who have to wait on things that matter to them. It's not fair because in the end, we collectively screwed up and now everyone, whether part of the problem or not, has to pay for it. We made a collection of mistakes that put us in this position. There is no one person or group of people to blame; the issue is too endemic.

But the status quo, letting it continue— I think that would be even more unfair. It undermines our work. It undermines our people. People leave the org feeling sick and used. Even if people simply leave feeling tired and nothing more, their legacy is tarnished by our poor ability to preserve it: the work they left suffers from the lack of structure, because the people left to continue it don't have enough support, in one way or another, to do the work proud.

Our Volunteers & Recruiting committee does not have the resources right now to handle a huge influx of people at any level, from volunteers to high-up staff, though I know they are working their asses off to strengthen the personnel management aspects of the org (read [personal profile] renay's posts; she is Volcom chair and does mind-boggling amounts of work). But even if Volcom could handle an influx, the rest of the org, for the most part, still can't: almost everyone is already overwhelmed by project-based work, way too much to do the mentoring and nurturing necessary to handle incoming volunteers. This is one huge reason behind the endemic burnout: there's no one there to catch you.

We cannot afford to keep growing our projects without growing our people.

So what does this have to do with increasing the number of Board seats? I mean, reducing Board workload is nice, but — given everything else — so what?

I think an increase in Board seats has to be part and parcel of a movement to decrease Board micromanagement and increase Board's role in (temporarily) slowing down project growth while focusing instead of growing the core of the org: its people. Resource allocation is our call and our calling. And we need more resources in our people. Yesterday. We need Board members who can focus solely on this tremendous task, on shaping us into a more reasonable, professional space. With the number of directors we have now, we simply cannot do that.

Increasing the number of seats does not come without a cost. It'll be harder for us to meet, and all the other possible communication problems that come with any increase in number of people with their hands in the pot. If we're serious about decreasing the trend in Board members also filling other key org positions — and from Board discussions throughout the term, this is the direction we're headed — this means that whoever we draw into Board will leave behind gaps, the very problem we're already having.

But the change has to start somewhere, and I think there is no way around the need for slowdown. Slowdown would make the gaps in coverage a little less dire, as the work will perforce be less urgent. There's no way around the fact that it will still suck. If there is a pain-free solution to this problem, I cannot think of it. The pain is already here. It already hurts. If we do this, it will at least be pain that's paid towards something other than perpetuating the same system we already have.

The bottom line, for me, is this: We need this increase because we are failing our people right now. Board needs these resources so that we, in turn, can give the rest of the org the resources it needs.
2011-11-16 08:19 am
Entry tags:

OTW Elections - Two more links, happy voting!

Voting opened a little over an hour ago, so you have just under two days to vote! Polls close noon UTC 18 Nov (check the time in your area). You can find the ballot here, review the candidate profiles here, and read up on how voting works here! If you have any questions or haven't received any voting emails yet, please use this contact form.

There are also two more posts of interest:

2011 OTW Elections Voting - The People!
You've seen how the voting process works, now take a look at who makes it work, and what behind-the-scenes work goes on during elections and voting to make it all happen.

OTW Elections – What the Bylaws Mean for the Coming Term
This is a heads-up about what the current four-seat election and the bylaws mean for the coming term. This is something I hope to discuss more soon, but as it's a task for the new Board, I'd like to wait on that until after elections are over =)

Thanks for your participation this election season, everyone!
2011-11-14 09:56 pm
Entry tags:

OTW Elections - How Voting Works! ~with pictures!~

It's here, it's here! This was a lot of work on many people's parts, and here it is:

2011 OTW Elections Voting - The Process!

This post lays out how voting works and how votes are tallied and, I hope, will serve as a tool to help voters plan their votes. It's got awesome pictures you guys! And a text-based walkthrough! And raw tabular data for you lovely data nerds out there! Basically, I hope it's got ways to help folk of a variety of persuasions understand the process, and I couldn't be more grateful to the people who put those awesome examples and explanations together.

There's a lot of nuance to the modified IRV process used for OTW Board elections, which is one of the reasons I love it — I love the lack of hierarchy, the ability to opt into or opt out of each candidate, the relational preferences that make every vote count — but in the end it's also, I hope, easy to use. Rank as many candidates as you want, submit. That's it, and all seats are filled in one go.

I want to thank again everyone who helped make this post possible: Aja, Allison Morris, Candra Gill, Kristen Murphy, Renay, and Seventhe Dragomire. You did amazing work! ♥

Happy voting, everyone; I hope this helps!
2011-11-11 09:19 pm
Entry tags:

OTW Election - Candidate profiles!

dance dance internets at home! and laptop hopefully fixed soon!

I mentioned a little while ago that I'd like to put together sort of "candidate profiles" as a resource for voters, where you can see all of a candidate's responses to all questions together, then the same for the next candidate, etc. I've been pretty flattened since then, but as today was a holiday in my area/at my job, I took the time off to put that together, finally!

[personal profile] general_jinjur/[personal profile] allisonmorris (names linked w/ permission) has lent her assistance in getting those put up on the Elections site, and now we have a profile of each candidate linked from their candidate statement.

Take a look on the Candidates page. Or, for those inclined to less clicking:

All together, the candidates produced over 60,000 words worth of responses over the course of a bit over a week — this is an extraordinary amount of effort and I want to thank all the candidates again for their effort!

*Lucy Pearson has withdrawn her candidacy; while I am saddened to lose her as a candidate, I am also deeply glad for her to have a chance to take care of herself and her needs. I'm leaving the link to her profile up, as her participation in this election has been of great value.

Up next I'm hoping to have up soon a post explaining the IRV process used to tally votes, this time with ~pictures!~. I know the system can be a confusing and can leave people a little lost on how best to distribute their vote to get what they want out of it, so I'm hoping that will help! This was a great idea of [personal profile] general_jinjur/[personal profile] allisonmorris's that she has also done awesome work on; you can see her post here for a preview. We'll have even more pictures/input from other talented and generous contributors to the project. Truly there will not that much work for me to do; I'm just happy that such a thing will exist, and grateful to everyone helping to make it happen ♥
2011-11-04 11:27 am
Entry tags:

The value of constructive negativity

There's a conversation going on right now, centering around the OTW elections and the various opinions expressed by candidates and others, in which I chose to leave a comment. However, I don't want any resultant discussion to overwhelm the person/journal where I chose to comment. I'm replicating the relevant part of my comment below, so if you'd like to discuss this topic with me, please do it here rather than in the other person's space.

It's hurtful for those who have legitimate issues with the org and how it's run to be told they're "encouraging dissention and unhappiness" or that they're being "divisive and negative" when they try to share their legitimate hurt or take steps to make the org a better place by pointing out problems while letting their hurt show. It feels a whole lot like silencing. We all want the org to be a good place and for org work to be rewarding. But a lot of people leave the org feeling hurt and disillusioned rather than satisfied and fulfilled. If anything encourages unhappiness, it's telling people who want the org to be a great place but are unhappy that there's something wrong with them.

I don't want to invalidate your feelings — there's nothing wrong with wanting the org to be a positive space and for its people to also be positive. However, the way you've framed this feels to me as if you're invalidating those people for whom the org isn't currently a positive space, but who want to make it better through their active participation and discussion of the issues.

The original comment in the context of the post.

And here is another post with a different approach.
2011-10-27 09:35 am
Entry tags:

Returning from leave; an elections idea

So I made this big post and then kind of disappeared. I'm very sorry — it's been an extremely difficult year for me in terms of illness and personal circumstance, and in the end I had to take leave for most of the autumn due to an illness in the family. I'm currently trying to return to OTW duties, and I hope with my return to use this space as I had intended to.

Speaking of which! This year, I'm elections officer; while I was on leave, fellow Board member [personal profile] general_jinjur/[personal profile] allisonmorris (names linked w/ permission) kindly performed the election duties in my stead — thank you! She continues to help me by working on the transcripts and preparing the posts and generally being all calm and competent while I run around like a chicken on fire trying to manage chats and questions and wrangle everyone. Which is actually great, because we have an awesome level of participation this year! Six great candidates, a TON of questions, many people attending chats — I love it.

Something I'd like to do, though: I've been hearing a few people say that it can be difficult to find all the various answers/statements candidates gave, either fishing through the transcript while waiting for the concise version to go up, or just poking around the several pages where the statements/answers are contained trying to find what Candidate X said on Issue C.

What I want to do, then, is actually compile a resource that's sorted by candidate rather than by question, so you have Candidate X followed by all their responses to all questions, then the same for Candidate Y, etc. I'm still trying to figure out if there is/where there would be an appropriate place to put such a thing on the elections site. If nothing else I will just post it here, unofficially, since all the same information would already/still be available officially on the site, just in different places.

And there's my little toe-dip back in here. I still have a lot of catching up to do from my leave, but if I have the spoons for it, I hope to do an elections post here soon with some thoughts!