T.J. Sullivan

The decision to stop doing something


Leaders love creating new things.  People get excited about building – new opportunities, new possibilities. Take a blank canvas and leave your mark by originating something cool that meets a perceived need. New, new, new. New is popular.

Building new things seems positive. Dismantling and ending things seems negative.  Politicians are rarely elected for promising to tear down things.  People don’t get excited about efficiency.

Building with Legos is fun.  When your mom tells you it’s time to dismantle the thing and put it away? Not as much fun.

Here you are in the first quarter of your leadership of your student organization, and chances are, you are already busy planning something new.  New meeting structures, new bylaws, new events, new goals.

However, hard as it might be, leaders need to take a good look at their organization and ask, “What has outlived its usefulness?”  Have you done this yet?  Surely there are things your organization does that redundant or unnecessary?  Are there events that your organization has been doing that it no longer does really well?  Are there “traditions” that drain more from your organization and membership than they add?

Organizations with a heavy emphasis on programming face this issue continuously.  Maybe that Asian Film Festival was a big hit a few years ago – and kudos to that student leader who created it four years ago – but now attendance is way down.  It’s a drain on the budget.  No one wants to organize it.  The novelty has completely worn off.

But, if we get rid of it, will we offend people?  Will we send a message that they aren’t important?  Maybe we should just keep doing it even though it’s not really that successful? Perhaps if we just spend MORE money promoting it?

Often, a leader (or an executive board) needs to make a decision to put a poor-performing event or tradition out of its misery before it actually reaches the drain its been circling. That frequently causes some drama.  Someone has emotion invested in that activity or committee.  Even though that person (or small group of people) is unable to make the event worthwhile, he/she/they will be very vocal in their displeasure if you pull the plug.

Look at government programs.  Try to end any program, and you get protests and media attention on lives ruined by the decision. Look at poorly rated televisions shows with cult followings. There are entire campaigns around “save our show.”  An airline decides to eliminate free blankets and pillows and there are loud threats of boycott.

Still, good leaders need to be the ones to step up and say, “This isn’t working. We can do better.”  That means taking the heat from that small group that disagrees with the decision.

To do it well, you have to go to the “middle” of your membership.  They dislike the negativity that can be generated by this kind of decision, so take the facts to them. Show them how the event is no longer meeting the mission.  Show them how much the committee drains from the budget, or adds to the drama in the organization.  Ask for their help and ideas for achieving the goals in better, more efficient and intelligent ways.

Being a great student leader means more than creating new things.  You have to be willing to do the hard work it takes (especially politically) to make your organization stronger.  That means taking a real, hard look at your events, meetings, traditions and structures to find what’s working, and what’s not.

Bring your members together around solutions.  If there are holes in your programming (“If we get rid of the golf tournament, then we don’t have an alumni event!”), fix those with some new ideas.Not everyone will be happy, and that’s OK.  But if everyone has a stake in the process, and if change is undertaken with care and fairness, the organization will thrive.


2 Responses to “The decision to stop doing something”

  1. Tjelke says:

    May I share this? Will cite you of course.

  2. Ilana Schmidt says:

    NC State COM 466

    I completely agree that before creating new events, positions, etc. old items need to be reevaluated. There have been countless times that I have heard discussion about an old ritual or event that no one knows why it’s still there or happening, but it is continued because it has around for so long. It’s like keeping old clothes that you never wear any more and they get put in a box in the back of the closet to collect dust. They are still there and taking up space. Out of sight and out of mind can’t work anymore.

Leave a Reply