Thursday, September 23, 2010

PASS Elections – Improving the Process

Since there has been a bit of a furor over the PASS election process the past 2 years I thought I’d post some ideas about the process, even if many people are tired of it.

The process this year was essentially 4 steps:

  1. Written applications reviewed & rated by the Nominating Committee.
  2. Applicants with a high enough score on the application invited for phone interviews by the Nominating Committee.
  3. Interviewees with a high enough combined score presented as a slate to the board of directors
  4. Slate voted on by the Board of Directors.  Strictly a yes/no vote.  If rejected then sent back to the Nominating Committee to be adjusted and re-presented to the board.

Seem like a pretty simple process, and as an applicant and interviewee I can say that parts 1 and 2 of the process were okay from an implementation process.  The issue this year seems to have been the rating process.  The rating templates were posted on the elections site (Applications | Interviews) so you knew what areas you would be rated on, but the issue is that there was no published standard as to what constituted a 1 or a 5.  This is particularly an issue when you have static things like education or volunteerism (in or out of PASS). The other issue I had with the ranking process is that there were shared items in the two forms and they were evaluated differently (education, references, volunteer experience).  I’d suggest in the future that those things be rated one time.  I can say that PASS did put the documents out for feedback prior to the elections starting, but that I did not review them because I thought that it would not have been ethical for me to see the process before applying (I’m not passing judgment on any applicants who did, it was a personal decision).

Issues I Would Address

Nominating Committee

Currently, according to the by-laws, the Nominating Committee consists of:

The Immediate Past President shall preside as Chair over the Nominations Committee, subject to approval of the
Board of Directors. Should the Board not approve the Immediate Past President’s role as Chair, the President will select the new Chair, whose appointment shall be subject to Board ratification. The President cannot serve as Chair of the Nominations Committee. 

The Nominations Committee shall consist of at least five (5) voting members, one of whom shall be the Chair. The
Chair shall appoint the other members of the Nominations Committee.

The Nominations Committee shall nominate up to three (3) candidates for each open position on the Board, unless
otherwise determined by the Board of Directors. Each nominee must be reviewed and accepted by the Board to be
eligible for office. All voting member representatives are eligible to serve on the Nominations Committee. All
voting members are eligible to recommend candidates for nomination and election. 


This year the nominating committee consisted of the Immediate Past President (voting board member), 3 sitting board members, the PASS Executive Director (non-voting board member) and 2 community members.  So in essence you have 4 of 7 nominating committee members are voting board members.  Here’s my issue with this, the board approves the slate the nominating committee recommends and in the 2010 elections 1/3 of the board members that voted on the slate selected the slate.  This year that had a major impact on the board decision as the final vote was 7-5 to approve the slate as recommended.  Assuming all 4 nominating committee members voted for the slate then the vote by the board members NOT on the nominating committee was 5-3 against the slate.  In my opinion the nominating committee should have board representation, but should not have such a large number of board members.  With this many board members on the nominating committee I think you might as well have the board do the interviews. 

Suggested Solution

The nominating committee does need to have board representation as the board members are the ones who really know what it takes to be a board member, but limit that to the Immediate Past President (or Nominating Committee chair) and 1 other board member.  The rest of the committee should be made up of community members.  In my previous experience with Nominating committee’s this has been the practice.

The nominating committee should really exist to make sure that the applicants meet the minimum requirements.  As long as the applicant meets those minimum requirements then they should be on the recommended slate.

Candidate Requirements


Candidate requirements are not defined and repeatable.  In 2009 we had a candidate who had no volunteer experience with PASS and in 2010 a person was rejected because not enough volunteer experience with PASS.  The qualifications listed this year on the elections web site (you need to scroll down):

  • Strong written, verbal, and time management skills.
  • Strong leadership and management abilities.
  • At least 5 years of practical experience with SQL Server or related products.
  • Prior experience within the PASS volunteer organization.
  • Support and understanding from employer to fulfill the role of a Board member, which includes time away from work for meetings and conferences, as well as Board calls during business hours.

As you can see there isn’t a lot to go on here.  The only clearly defined requirements are 5 years experience with SQL Server or related products, although I do wonder what qualifies as a related product, and support from employer.  Now I have to grant that the first two are subjective and I don’t know how you get an objective evaluation.  The key one to me is prior experience within the PASS volunteer organization.  What’s enough?  What levels?  Is one year on a committee good enough?  What about leading a chapter?  Why restrict it to PASS? 


Honestly, I don’t know how you totally solve this problem.  Here are some of my ideas and I’m open to others. 

Strong written, verbal, and time management skills

I’d like to see samples of writing (books, articles, white papers, blogs) that demonstrate the candidates ability to convey a message in writing.

I’d like to see the candidate have speaking experience at User Groups, SQLSaturday’s, PASS Summit, PASS SQLRally.  Even videos and podcasts can be used to demonstrate that a candidate can communicate verbally.

For time management, let’s see a history of regular writing and speaking in addition to a day job.  If you can do all of that then you probably have decent time management skills.

Strong Leadership and Management Abilities

This is where the application and interview really come into play.  Does the candidate have good examples of successfully implementing change or of leading a team?  This doesn’t have to be work related, it could be being president of the PTA, serving on the board of a different volunteer or non-profit agency.  It also can be shown through references.  This is still subjective, but if you were elected chairperson of the local Salvation Army board or president of the PTA, I’d say that generally indicates strong leadership and management abilities.  This is one area where being a successful business person should separate you from the pack. 

At Least 5 Years of Practical Experience with SQL Server or Related Products

I have to admit to being torn on this one.  On one hand you really need to be a SQL Server professional to know what other SQL Server professionals need or want from their professional organization, but, on the other hand, how does experience with SQL Server qualify you to lead or handle a budget.  I suppose if you combine this with Stong Leadership and Management Abilities I think you’d be all right.  Also, what are the related products?  Office or .NET?  Would another RDBMS qualify?

Prior experience within the PASS volunteer organization

This has been a big one.  In the 2009 election we had a candidate make it to the slate with no experience with PASS and no SQL Server experience.  In the 2010 election we had an interviewee withheld from the slate because he did not have enough experience with PASS, even though he has been a strong advocate in the larger SQL Server Community for many years.  I’ve even heard that there has been dispute about if being a Chapter Leader should qualify you to be on the board.  My personal opinion is that, yes, it would be great for board members to have some experience within PASS, but, then again, people from outside the organization may bring in fresh ideas. 

Andy Warren and I have discussed this issue many times, and we don’t necessarily agree on it.  He tends to want to have the process be open and allow for many paths to the board while I’d like to see some kind of progression.  I’m a big believer that the backbone of PASS is, and should be, chapters.  Because of this I think the best path to the board begins with Chapter leadership and progresses through organizing a SQLSaturday (helps prepare for planning the Summit), maybe planning a SQLRally in your region, becoming a Regional Mentor.  I’m not saying that this should be the only path to being qualified for the board, but I think it should be one path.  If you’ve done all these things, in my opinion, you clearly have what it takes as a manager and leader AND the experience within PASS.

Yes, there should be other paths to leadership, but let’s clearly define how much experience is necessary.  Is serving on the Program Committee one year enough?  There are two things that need to be done:

  1. Define the amount of volunteer experience required
  2. Post specific volunteer opportunities and allow people to sign up for them.  This is something that has been discussed, but not implemented yet.


I don’t know that I’ve solved any problems with this post, but I hope I’ve offered some ideas that will make people think.  I know that the board is setting up a committee to look into the election (September meeting minutes) so the issues are going to be addressed.

If you are going to the PASS Summit this year, I’ll be there, so we can discuss this if you are interested.

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