Boards take great care in appointing or hiring executives, chairmen, CEO’s and other people who serve in influential positions, as they should. As part of the selection process, they look for leadership qualities such as honesty, communication, commitment, and their ability to inspire progress and positivity. Those who vie for those positions put forth a strong resume and portfolio to positively impact the decision-making process. When it all works well, the new leader moves forward to fulfill the promise of his duties. But, what happens when a leader talks a good talk, but fails to perform according to expectations with no hope of improvement? The board may be able to oust a leader with a vote of no confidence, but that is not always the best course of action.
What Does Robert’s Rules Say About No Confidence?
Whenever something of a serious nature is at stake, it’s always a good idea to see what Robert’s Rules of Order has to say about it. Robert’s Rules of Order is silent on the matter of taking votes of no confidence. Remember that parliamentary procedure is a guide for how to run an organization. While it covers most situations, parliamentary procedure also allows organizations some flexibility in the area of customizing their own rules. An organization could make a main motion to express confidence or lack of confidence in a director, member, or some other leader. This motion could include the requirement that the person step down from a leadership position in the event of a successful vote of no confidence.
Heading Off a Vote of No Confidence
Understanding human behavior and good communication are the best defenses against a potential vote of no confidence. Subordinates, peers, and others look to leaders to communicate problems and progress with positivity. Lack of communication by leadership sends the message to others inside and outside of the organization that they are not important enough to be “in the loop.” Not communicating about important developments may also lead to incorrect assumptions or unhealthy gossip. It’s also important for leaders to have good intuition and understand the behavior of those that they serve or work in conjunction with, which may open up new communication efforts. When the actions and intentions of leaders are clearly understood, it places them at less risk of being a target of a no-confidence vote, even when the organization faces steep challenges.
Thinking Through Perspectives
Asking for a vote of no confidence is a serious step that should only be taken as a last resort. It should never be considered before thinking about it from all perspectives. Here are a few questions to ponder before making a final decision about it:
- What is your goal?
- What is the purpose?
- What do you want to accomplish?
- What action will be taken after a vote?
- How will you know when the action will be completed?
- Who and what will be affected by the decision?
- What is likely to occur within six months of the decision?
- Who is likely to support the vote?
- Who is likely to oppose the vote?
- Is it based upon the leader’s performance or on someone’s opinion?
In addition to asking and answering these important questions, it’s equally important to explore the pros and cons of calling for a vote of no confidence.
Exploring the Pros and Cons
It’s situations like these where organizations see the democratic process at its level best. A majority vote one way or another is almost always in the best interest of an organization. Voting someone out of their position can be the best thing that’s happened to an organization. On the flip side, it can generate unexpected consequences that can be damaging over the long-term to the organization and to the people in it.
The obvious pro is that a no confidence vote effectively removes a person from an influential position before more damage can be done to the organization. The other positive aspect is that making these important decisions is a significant component to the democratic process. When it is viewed as such, all of those who are involved gain a higher respect for the process.
Not surprisingly, taking such a drastic action will most likely result in some harm. The person who is being voted upon will likely feel attacked and suffer mental and emotional anguish. The person may also prime for a counterattack, which is also emotionally taxing. If the ousting is successful, it’s a move that will impact the person’s future career negatively, perhaps in a way that the person can never recover from it.
The organization may not be without collateral damage. Taking such action may call into question the board’s or other decision-maker’s decision making ability. This could lead to a spiral in the lack of confidence of others that serve in a leadership role. It may also have an impact of potential leaders waiting in the wings to fill the position. Who would want to step into a leadership position where all or most of the board members kicked a person out?
In most cases, an organization stands to lose more than gain by following through with a vote of no confidence. That said, it’s important to explore all other positive alternatives first. Would some additional training in a specific area for the leader be helpful? Does the leader need additional staff or finances to properly perform duties? Is it appropriate to call in a third party as a consultant? Would it be more beneficial overall to request a resignation?
Calling for a vote of no confidence will most certainly be unpleasant, even when it’s necessary. It helps to make sure that the case is compelling and that no other action is a viable option. Above all, avoid subjectivity and personal attacks. Keep discussions professional and based on facts. Make a plan for how the organization can move forward, both in the interim, and after a new person is appointed or elected.