The Failsafe New Business Committee

7 ways to make your committee more effective
by Todd Knutson

FailsafeMany smart ad agency Presidents create new business committees with the best of intentions: bring together the best and brightest in the agency who touch new business, give them a mission and deadlines, and then watch them work together as a unified team and land new accounts.

Too often, the committee never realizes its potential.

Jason Zweig of The Wall Street Journal recently wrote a column titled, "How Group Decisions End Up Wrong-Footed". Extrapolating from his article, which addresses how committees lost billions of dollars during the recent financial crisis, we can learn a lot about how to make our new business committees work more effectively. Here are his suggestions:

  1. A committee must be made up of people with different perspectives.
  2. Each member must be unafraid to speak their mind.
  3. Each member must be able to select and process information effectively.
  4. Each member must demonstrate their ability to learn from their mistakes.
  5. At the outset, the agency President must objectively determine and specify what success looks like for the committee. Each success factor must be measurable.
  6. As the committee considers various options, they should split themselves into two groups: the "pro" group and the "con" group. Each side should generate the best arguments they can for each position, being sure to consider what success and failure looks like for each.
  7. As recommendations are being considered, the committee needs to ask "the five whys". For example, why is one idea superior to another? Why does the proposer of that idea know that their proposal is right? (For a new business example of this, see this post.) Zweig argues that,
If you ask five such "why" questions in a row, you are likely to expose any weak points in the advice.

While I have a bias against new business committees, as I look back on my experience on various committees I can see how implementing Zweig's recommendations would have improved the membership, and more importantly, the healthy functioning of each group. I'll be curious to hear how these ideas work for you.

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