Proper Procedure

The National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Convention took place in June, and since then I’ve been thinking of several things to share with all of you. During the course of the convention, as there always is, there was conversation that circled around the subject of the ineffectiveness of our governance and the apparently broken system of implementing change.

In every committee meeting held during the convention, committee members are responsible for addressing a number of agenda items. They open the floor to attending NCHA members for discussion, then meet in a closed-door session to formulate recommendations to be forwarded to the Executive Committee. Over and over, I heard disappointment from committee members who perceive that their hard work is wasted – or at least it seems that way because few of the recommendations are approved.

I am convinced that there is more to this story. I don’t think the NCHA’s existing system of governance is completely dysfunctional, as many might believe. Now, that being said, the system is not perfect, either. 

First, the NCHA should have been more proactive and timely in examining its governance system, which was adopted more than two decades ago. Any healthy, thriving organization inspects its way of doing business more frequently. I know of many successful associations that do so every five years. They examine the process objectively, pinpoint shortcomings and make appropriate changes. Unfortunately, the NCHA has not felt the need to take these steps. This has caused the association to suffer criticism and rightly so, considering its complete inattention to a very necessary detail.

That being said, I still contend that the current governance of the NCHA, if followed properly, is a viable one. The key phrase here is “if followed properly.” In order for the governance of any organization to function properly, the rules of the system must be followed. For the NCHA, those tenets have not been totally followed since their inception! The initial breakdown occurred, in my opinion, because the association did not follow steps clearly established within its bylaws.

Those bylaws stipulate that directors govern the association, and the Executive Committee serves as the directors’ representative during the months between conventions. Adhering to Robert’s Rules of Order, each NCHA standing committee chairman presents his or her committee’s recommendations during the final meeting of the convention. The NCHA’s elected directors, however, are not asked to approve those reports. There is no opportunity for NCHA members or directors to raise questions. There is no discussion. No vote is taken. The recommendations are simply presented in verbal form and passed straight to the Executive Committee.

That is not the way it’s supposed to work, people! There is a democratic process in place within the NCHA, but it is not being followed.

Let’s go back to the standing committees for a moment. When it comes to the agenda items presented at the convention, the individual committees spend a great deal of time and effort researching and framing solutions. So, when agenda recommendations seem to evaporate into thin air at the top level of the NCHA, committee members feel as though their work has been ignored or – worse yet – thrown away. I understand their points of view, but what sets the stage for this eventual failure?

The standing committees, for the most part, only meet once a year at the convention. They are allowed only a few hours to discuss and take action on the items on their respective agendas. Sometimes there are just a few items; other times the list is a mile long. Often, great ideas are squashed because not enough time is allotted to hash out all the details and present a clear and well-formatted plan. Also, many agenda items impact multiple committees. Seldom do these committees have the opportunity to convene so they can work out their differences and formulate a real and workable recommendation prior to the report being submitted to the Executive Committee. In fact, one committee may submit one report to the EC, and another committee submits its own report that is the complete opposite.

The Executive Committee receives rough draft reports that lack detailed explanation and consensus. More information is needed, and so the plan or rule change is tabled or handed down to a subcommittee for further investigation. From the outside, it appears as though the Executive Committee is not taking a position or action. In reality, this governing body is not responsible for ironing out all the details on recommendations. Neither is the NCHA staff. Without complete details, it’s impossible – and irresponsible – for the NCHA’s Executive Committee members to include these unfinished items in the association’s rulebook or business plan.

Very frankly, if the NCHA ever wants to function properly as the representative of the cutting horse and its membership, then its leadership must explain, educate and then demand compliance in its own governance. The committees must be allowed to meet more frequently in order to discuss, plan, organize and cooperatively formulate a well-thought-out program or rule change. It has to start working this way if we expect future recommendations to have any chance for final approval by the Executive Committee.

The rules for governing our association are there to follow, not by wish or whim, but rather by design. This is too big of a business – one that supports an entire industry – to do otherwise.

I charge the NCHA leadership to look at the pitfalls of non-compliance in its written rules of law and start acting in a more professional manner with regard to governance. Then maybe, just maybe, we might realize the system we have in place isn’t so bad after all.

As always, I remain