There are a host of sayings in our culture that have long since lost their intended meaning. “How are you?” being one of my favorites. It’s more the long version of “hello” than an actual inquiry into the life of the respondent. The business world is filled with little sayings, some old and almost gone like “think outside of the box,” some new and still fun like “it’s optics.” Sometimes we come up with these little sayings to serve as a reminder. My favorite is “Let’s not have a meeting, just for the sake of a meeting.” It’s the best advice that we often don’t take, especially when a committee is behind that business meeting request.
Smart, busy and highly motivated people have a natural aversion to committees. As Sir Barnett Cocks said, “A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.” This is often the case with Shrink Committees. We begin with the best of intentions and then over time it becomes just another meeting. Nothing is decided that has real impact. No measurable results are reached. And as the year progresses, attendance or participation dwindles. So why bother?
A Shrink committee, if organized correctly, is a key element to better loss prevention processes and shrink reduction. Shrink results are something we only attend to once or maybe twice per year. Although there may be many activities driving our reduction efforts, it can be difficult to evaluate those efforts, poll opinions, gain support, and implement course corrections (another great saying) through individual communications alone. A Shrink Committee is or can be the perfect venue to take ideas to action- if we do it correctly. Doing it correctly is not difficult, but it does require a well executed plan. An action plan that starts like this:
1. The Correct Support - the idea of reducing losses needs to also be an objective. Not just one person’s objective, but the goal of the entire organization. A committee begins on the foundation of “high-level” support. In other words, Shrink or loss reduction needs to be both important and it needs to be a part of the company’s overall yearly goal. If reducing or controlling loss isn’t in the CEO, CFO or COO “big” things then those on the committee will probably not give it the effort and attention it needs. Not because they aren’t interested, but because this particular initiative isn’t one of the core things they’ll be graded on at the end of the year. If you want or need to start a committee then you must ensure that it is on the C-level radar. If that’s not possible then you need at a minimum the “full” support of the next line of command. And by full, I mean more than “sure, form a committee if you think that will help.”
2. The Correct People - Some people love company meetings and others hate them. Some people will be “really” interested in involvement others will shun the suggestion as if you just asked for their first born. Often the people who can really make a difference prefer to send “surrogates.” That often spells disaster. A critical component to success is having the people on board who can make decisions within their respective departments. Because a committee will decide on a set of actions, the players need to be people who can set those actions in motion. That is not to suggest that a committee doesn’t need “specialists” who do not run a department. These folks can bring critical insights and information. But first and foremost, a strong committee needs the managers who can take theories and make them practices.
3. The Correct Authority - If the committee has support from the top and if it has the correct people, then it will inherently have the authority to make and implement changes. That is why it is critical to have the correct representation because that representation brings with it the authority to implement. For example, if an action item will impact the policies under the umbrella of Human Resources, it makes sense and makes better work to have a decision maker from HR at the meeting. If our Shrink Committee action items require us to “go and get permission before implementation” then we have added a layer of approval that will delay and possibly derail our plans. This is not to say that certain plans won’t require more input, but if we can not implement 80% of our shrink plans on the committee’s authority then we do not have the correct composite of participants.
4. The Correct Actions - In an earlier article I wrote a warning on the creation of “fluff” in action plans. The same advice holds true to committees. Decisions and plans must be actionable. Even if that action is further research it must be a to-do, an item that requires something “needs to be done.” Too often action items are no action at all - like “well why don’t we think about this for the next meeting.” It is okay to have some items for future discussion, but the litmus test is “is there any other information available that can help us determine the best course?” If the answer is “no” then that is not an action item. The correct actions is also about having an agenda plan. We should enter the meeting with a list of actions items, refine those items, and execute at the completion of the meeting.
5. The Correct Accountability - Actions create steps and steps are a part of a to-do list. A productive meeting answers questions and creates actions. The reason that most Shrink committees die is because there is little accountability for the participants. Since it is a committee of various department representatives, often no one person on that committee has the authority to hold others accountable. It’s far too easy to show up at the next meeting and discuss “how busy” we were with other department priorities. The more acceptable that becomes, the more people in the group will place action items on the low priority list. To avoid this issue, we need to create a to-do list that assigns roles, responsibilities and deadlines to our objectives. The group as a whole must then be willing to “enforce” these items. Regardless of age, there is nothing like peer pressure to enforce social expectations. Accountability then is the best way to ensure that committee plans move forward and aren’t strangled at the end of that cul-de-sac.