Monday, March 29, 2004

7:42:00 PM EST

Changing the Culture

 

"The chess political punks are not experienced enough to understand what a miserable job they've done, and cannot conceive of the difference competency would make. They self validate one another's worth, and self select from a rather limited gene pool. We must recruit from outside the system in order to make any fundamental progress." -- James Eade

 

A culture can be said to consist of a particular set of attitudes that characterizes a group of people. As always the focus needs to be on changing the unproductive attitudes of a culture. In the view of some the USCF has developed a culture of arrogance, a culture of greed, and a culture of secrecy. This has hindered the USCF from success. With this we often see infighting over money or control, contempt for those of lesser status or who disagree, acts of patronage for their friends, subterfuge, unresolved conflicts of interest, and a dislike for disclosure or discovery. There has been a philosophy that the intended ends do justify any means. The Board of Delegates and Executive Board have yet to accept responsibility for organizational results. If the organization had been wildly successful, people would be less concerned about the sometimes mean-spirited, insular, exclusive, righteous, dishonest, misogynistic, homophobic, hypocritical, and self-serving predilections of some of those who still represent the organization. A defining attitude is how our USCF officials attend to their stewardship on behalf of the membership.

 

I don't believe our USCF officials view that their conduct sometimes might appear intended to secure a benefit or advantage for themselves or another. None of them would say their actions on our behalf were unlawful, dishonest, or less than impartial. We do however have a unique culture where, much like a family owned enterprise, we use membership dues to conduct business transactions with past, current, or future USCF officials and their associates. This is all done through the awarding of bids, contracts, concessions, branding, publicity, articles, purchases, appointments, TDs, and jobs. Some refer to this behavior as keeping things all in the family. This behavior can be epitomized by the comment “If I have a good thing to hand out in private life, I give it to a friend. Why shouldn't I do the same in public life?” All this is often done behind closed doors and justified as being in the USCF’s best interest.

 

Some USCF officials come across with attitudes that indicate that somehow they know better what's best for the members and treat members as though they are unwashed masses. The ultimate in arrogance is an USCF official who believes because they were elected they have been somehow endowed by God to do what they personally feel is best for the membership. Those who represent the USCF demonstrate their arrogance by characterizing those who support change to this culture as malcontents, nutcases, loons, and scofflaws while wanting to censor those who are concerned about the organizations lack of accountability. The inability to accept differences and double standards are the most telling part of the culture. This results in what appears to be some form of paranoid behavior. Peter Drucker had it right when he argued that he need for dissent was particularly important to nonprofit institutions. Because of such dissent [thanks to OMOV], the good news is this now can all be changed. Membership oriented results, accountability, transparency, and ethics need to be added to the equation. All that is needed is diversity of leadership, a businesslike board, some mission based management, and a culture of accountability and openness. The active ingredients of this prescription are moral courage, honesty, member appreciation, customer focus, courtesy, desire to help, friendliness, and willingness to listen. In short we must become externally focused rather than internally obsessed.  Easier said than done, but quite doable as there are many examples of success from other organizations.

 

So how can the leadership begin to change the culture to be more open with whom they accept into their ranks, to have a more open and consistent process in the conduct of business, and to be more open regarding the sharing of timely and uncensored information? The first requirement of such a strong, effective board will be -- understanding its legal responsibilities -- particularly regarding its fiduciary duty. The second requirement is fulfilling those legal responsibilities -- through policies, documentation, and consistent action. The third requirement is maintaining this vigilance. Accountability is not a one-time activity – ethics, transparency and compliance are part of ongoing operations.

 

It often appears we have some high school student government version of machine politics that appears to be taking one step forward and two steps back, but the organization has been making slow small steps in the right direction. Too slow? Perhaps. Could a larger dose of sunshine help? Certainly. Should dissent and new ideas be embraced and channeled rather than suppressed? Indeed. Food for thought during this election.

 

 

Sunday, April 4, 2004

6:00:00 AM EDT

Regaining Trust

 

It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph — Edmund Burke

 

Since 2001 four Executive Board members have resigned in frustration. A current board member has confided that they would also resign if they did not an obligation to the voters to serve on their behalf. I've heard the same from more than one current USCF committee chair. All say if they had it to do over they would not serve again. In my view, the insider politics in the USCF drives away volunteers and damages the organization as more energy is put into personal agendas and self promotion than in properly managing the corporation. This dysfunctional and negative form of behavior is employed because it works in lieu of new ideas. A focus on legality rather than proprietary is indicative of this behavior. Some of our leaders and their followers are so sensitive to criticism or disagreement that they believe any unsportsmanlike behavior is justified to protect their interests. They will do what they feel is best for the organization (which is also usually best for themselves) at all costs. Unless the organization’s behavior changes, people will continue to leave.

 

Ad hominem attacks, false allegations, personal smears, accusing others of lying or making imaginary threats, attempts to ban, threats of lawsuits and censure are all not uncommon. These are done purposely and maliciously to maintain the status quo, get ones way, shut up critics, divert attention, and to block change. Issues are purposely lost in the rhetoric.  The poor behavior is often rationalized by the claim it was not illegal, was in self-defense (even when employed preemptively), it’s OK during an election, just following the interpretation of the rules, or it was done via a private communication which was leaked without permission. The actions are sometimes executed through others, by pretending to be others, using fake names, anonymously, or in the background to maintain deniability. It has not been uncommon that an investigation is carried out ostensibly to uncover “subversive” activities but actually used to harass and undermine those with differing views.

 

We know the terms allegation (offense) and speculation (defense) are assertions that have yet to be proven or are supported by evidence. It has been a common diversionary tactic by USCF insiders to invent or fabricate a personalized claim and demand someone else prove their claim is false (including the claim they or their leaders are being attacked). At worst USCF insiders find such actions only as juvenile in nature, so why be concerned? Because it is condoned and even practiced by our USCF leadership, those who support this behavior have become more bold over time such that it is no longer purely a behind the scenes activity. Many long time members have come to view such behavior as normal and feel it is no big deal or can be ignored. They often maintain this behavior is fine as long as it is not done in an official capacity. Over time it is these set of attitudes that characterizes the USCF culture.

 

This set of tactics works well as those who have something to lose fall in line or are silenced pretty quick to avoid being damaged and those who have nothing to lose don't want to waste their time putting up with these shenanigans. Effective people have better things to do then participate with such trivial games and dishonesty. These politics of personal destruction are the other side of the coin of secrecy. The net impact on the organization is a limited talent pool.

 

Some of the USCF insiders feel they are righteous in their cause and are unforgiving of those who don't agree with them. Often governance related fears with a more open process are that no longer can insiders control who runs for office and they often think the "wrong people" will be elected or vote, people not like them. These same USCF members feel better by choosing sides and standing in judgment of those who may be different. These feelings somehow justify ostracizing or treating others poorly. Further if the insider feels slighted/criticized they will return the imagined slight tenfold and will to seek to obscure, interfere with, suppress (if you will) the speech as well as participation of those who don’t agree with them. Such poor behavior begets only more poor behavior.

 

Due to such poor behavior, a major issue has become the current image of USCF. Because the behavior is so prevalent, many observers perceive the organization as incompetent and directionless with sordid internal politics. The organization cannot seem to address the ethics of its leadership. The handful of insiders and their proxies who foster this culture need to retire and let others take the helm. Since these individuals are always surrounded by controversy, real term limits, enhanced/enforced standards of conduct, and volunteer qualifications (including exclusion of convicted felons) may be required to accomplish this necessary change. These concepts can be applied to both our boards, their members and their committees. Improving organizational behavior must start at the top. The USCF must have those who represent it to lead by example. The USCF is in need of strong independent leadership who will no longer tolerate the politics of personal destruction as well as in need of people with a publicly held business background on board; people that know how to maintain mission, generate revenue, plan forward, spend accordingly, have contacts in the business/charitable community and can help with funding issues. Only if this poor behavior is no longer tolerated by the USCF leadership will improvement occur.

 

As this is done, much effort must be expended by the USCF to share the new direction with the membership while soliciting their help. The organization must embrace criticism and improve, be more open, inclusive, and particularly results oriented if it is to regain the trust of the membership. Along with earned trust will come new blood.

 

Postlude:

 

For several examples of the old USCF culture and personalities whose behavior still impacts the organization today see:

 

Example 1    Example 2    Example 3   Example 4

 

 

Dear President Goichberg,

 

It would appear from your campaign postings that you expressed concerns about potential conflicts of interest on the part of the Executive Board particularly regarding the office of the USCF President. It also appears you have been concerned in the past about USCF officials attacking others publicly -- be these officials acting as USCF Executive Board Members or even USCF Committee Chairs. Certainly unresolved questions of conflict of interest or public smears of others by those who represent the USCF do not help the business or reputation of the Federation. Much of the energy of the previous Executive Board over the last two years seemed to have been diverted by such divisive activities. It is particularly unbecoming when USCF officials publicly attack each other and even more egregious when they attack ordinary USCF members. The previous Executive Board was unable to organizationally address the perceptions of potential conflicts or public name calling by such officials.

 

It always takes courage to bring up issues that may affect personal relationships in an organization but the situation already has been a serious hindrance to effectiveness, ethical behavior and transparency. As USCF President you have the opportunity to address these issues thus helping to mitigate the potential obstacles and dangers to organizational reputation by the lack of clear guidelines for dealing with conflicts of interest as well as poor public behavior by those who are in a position of leadership. As you have aptly pointed out, silence by those who have held leadership positions implies consent.

 

You may recall on July 30, 2005 I sent you a thought piece entitled Serving with Integrity. The online version of this piece can be found at http://www.betteruscf.org/integrity.htm . In this piece I included several sample documents which may serve as a starting point to aid the USCF in navigating the choppy waters regarding competing interest related issues. I would ask that the Executive Board consider the adoption of such policies or rules to enhance its effectiveness and the organizations reputation.

 

To improve there must be a commitment to change. I would strongly suggest the organization seek professional guidance from someone who specializes in nonprofit leadership and ethics. Current officers should at minimum sign a document confirming that they would live up their fiduciary obligations and to the organization’s Standards of Conduct for the Executive Board.  While the Standards of Conduct is contradictory in part and poorly worded in other parts, attempting in good faith to follow it would resolve many concerns. The remaining concerns can be remediated by holding other USCF officials to similar standards of conduct.  Further, the Standards of Conduct for the Executive Board have no standing in the bylaws, and also the bylaws contain no independent references to conflict of interest. There is an opportunity to improve this at the next annual meeting.

 

Thank you for your consideration of this matter. I would like to request this note to you be BINFOed and also ask for a response. I wish the Executive Board all the best at their efforts to further the purpose of the USCF on behalf of the membership.

 

Yours for Chess,

Wayne Praeder

USCF Member ID 12887461