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Executive Director Guide

Executive Director Committee Guide

The Executive Directors’ duties and responsibilities include (but are not limited to):

  • Understanding UNAVSA’s mission and vision
  • Managing team dynamics
  • Upholding the proper chain of command and decision-making process
  • Negotiating with the hotel and various venues for rooms and facilities
  • Planning and leading the staff retreat
  • Scheduling and conducting director conference calls
  • Maintaining and updating the conference planning dashboards
  • Resolving problems and issues

General Timeline

  • Coordinate with E-Board to negotiate/finalize hotel guestrooms, meeting rooms, Audio/Visual equipment, and catering
  • Select Committee Directors
    • Open and advertise the application process
    • Collect and review applications
    • Schedule and host interviews with all candidates
    • Deliberate and decide with E-Board
  • Facilitate selection of committee members
  • Set up e-mail addresses, Basecamp access, and Dropbox access for all conference staff
  • Create master planning document in GoogleDocs
  • Schedule weekly Director calls and facilitate scheduling of committee calls
  • Plan and execute Staff Retreat
    • Reserve lodging and meeting rooms
    • Schedule activities, content, and presentations
    • Arrange meals, transportation, and other logistics
  • Refer to Conference Dashboard for all other milestones up until Conference
  • Host at least two all-hands staff conference calls before the event
  • Work with Directors to make sure that conference runs smoothly
  • Recap conference on a debrief call with Directors to discuss ways to improve the following year

Responsibilities  (Detailed overview of responsibilities)

Understanding UNAVSA’s mission and vision
The Executive Directors will be leading a team of directors and committee members for one of UNAVSA’s staple events. It’s important to familiarize themselves with the mission and vision of the organization. They should make sure to review the regional structure and layout as well. Interviews and statements may be requested, so knowledge of these details will help promote both the conference and the organization.  The Executive Directors should build an open relationship with the Executive Board and everyone involved in conference planning.

Managing team dynamics

  • Executive Directors

Communication and team dynamics between the Executive Directors will be the key factors in making conference planning successful. They should set reasonable goals and expectations with each other, and update one another on the progress of assigned projects. It is advised that they divide committees among each other so work is easier to manage and organize.

  • Conference Directors

When the team of directors has been chosen, the Executive Directors should make the effort to get to know them personally and professionally. This will help ease conversation and progress of projects. This will also help them delegate tasks and know what to expect from each of their directors and team members.

There will be many projects that require two or more committees’ input. The Executive Directors should keep in mind each of the different leadership styles and personalities. Should an issue arise, refer to the “Problem Solving and Team Issues” section of this guide. It lists steps and suggestion to make parties involved content. If any situation is escalated, the Executive Board will step in a diffuse the situation.

  • Executive Board

The Executive Directors will be the primary liaisons between the conference staff and the UNAVSA Executive Board.  Since the Board officers may not be able to attend every committee call or Directors call, it is up to the Executive Directors to keep them informed and updated.  This will typically occur via weekly Executives calls and frequent e-mail and basecamp correspondences.  The Executive Directors should always try to have an answer for questions that the Board officers might have.  Uncertain and unknown factors will put the Board in a difficult position, since they are ultimately responsible for reputation and funding of UNAVSA.

Upholding the proper chain of command and decision-making process
Committee Directors and Executive Directors should understand and be aware that they will not have complete autonomy in decision-making.  Many issues may require input and/or approval from higher levels.  While the chain of command has been loosely defined and largely unspoken in the past, the following provisions have been generally accepted:

  • Committee Directors make decisions that affect their specific committee. They may solicit input from their committee members, but can overrule them.
  • Executive Directors make decisions that affect multiple committees or the overall conference.  They may solicit input from the Committee Directors and staff, but can overrule them.  For example, if a consensus cannot be reached democratically, the Executive Directors may make an executive decision to break the deadlock.
  • The Executive Board officers make decisions that affect the overall organization.  These include, but are not limited to, decisions that involve policy, strategic planning, public relations, and financial transactions.

Negotiating with the hotel and various venues for rooms and facilities
When submitting the bid to host the national conference, venues must be considered and multiple options should be offered. Executive Directors should explore each of the options thoroughly and keep in mind the logistics of a 300+ person conference.

It’s best to talk to 2 or 3 hotels at a time to leverage the best possible deal and have a “bidding war”. When discussing numbers, the Executive Directors should consult with the Executive Board to find conservative amounts. Overestimating may lead to excess space and unnecessarily wasted funds.

Food and beverage will account for some of the larger costs of the conference. It would be cost effective to negotiate a deal where rooms are discounted/complimentary if a certain food and beverage amount is reached. The Executive Directors should try to reserve all conference rooms within the same proximity and vicinity. Costs will be reduced and negotiating deals will be easier for audio/visual equipment, room rental, wi-fi, and other amentities.

The Executive Directors should make sure to ask for follow-up frequently, and to touch base with the hotel if nothing is heard. It’s best to stand their ground and be aggressive. The hotel should be courting the customers and catering to their needs, not vice versa.

Planning and leading the staff retreat
The staff retreat will be one of the defining events where the Executive Directors establish themselves and train the team on the importance of conference planning.  They should have a detailed plan of the weekend and it’s activities. They should also make sure to form a detailed schedule with the Executive Board and a budget with the Treasurer.  The Executive Directors will need to secure locations for the workshops and discussions, making them easily accessible and close to each other to reduce travel time. Extra time and buffer room should be allocated in the travel schedule, in case of traffic and people getting lost.

The Executive Directors should keep a checklist of the materials needed for workshops, food, itineraries for arriving/departing guest, specific activities, and all other important details.

  • Workshops

Workshops should be concentrated in training directors on specific topics and skill sets. The Executive Directors should work with the Executive Board to determine the topics, and provide material that the directors can take back and review.  It is suggested that they hold more discussions and have staff members interact, rather than just sit and listen. This will make the time more useful, and more input will be heard.

  • Team Building

This is one of the few times when all or most directors are able to come together and interact. The Executive Directors should find activities that require staff to problem solve and work together while having fun. They should also take some time to talk to everyone on a personal level, so the air is inviting rather than directed all the time.

Scheduling and conducting director conference calls
Conference calls for directors should be held each week to check dashboard deadlines and talk about topics that are general to everyone. It is advised that the Executive Directors try to keep these calls to an hour/hour and a half. If any longer than that, the attention span will wane and very little information will be absorbed.

The Executive Directors should make sure to keep the calls light and entertaining with icebreakers and energizers. Their tone on these calls should be friendly and avoid monotone speeches. Directors should be asked for input or anything they wish to talk about.

The Executive Directors should have a shared master document for these calls. Attendance and call notes should be on the master document so all information is easily accessible.

Maintaining and updating the conference planning dashboards
The dashboard is a critical timeline to keep track of all committee deadlines and expectations. Each year will differ with timing, so the Executive Directors need to go through each committee and move things around if necessary. It’s important to keep directors accountable for the deadlines, and assist them should they fall behind.

Resolving problems and issues
When working with a large team, with many personalities and leadership styles, problems and disagreements are bound to happen. It will be easy to get sucked in and lose morale.

Steps and suggestions

  • Take a step back and look into the overall issue. Does it have to do with the actual project or just individuals? Assessing the situation will help to come up with sensible solutions.
  • If it’s a personality issue, having one-on-one talks with the individual will help. Executive Directors should stay neutral and make sure to speak on points, not opinions.
  • Try to be constructive with criticisms (e.g. “You haven’t met assigned deadlines, is there a way we can help?” instead of “You’re doing a horrible job with deadlines”).
  • If a team member expresses significant disagreement or discontentment, do not hesitate to call them on the phone and to speak with them directly.  Though it may seem awkward and uncomfortable, it may be the best way to handle an issue.  One can easily misinterpret e-mails, IMs, or texts.  Discussing things out loud and in real time could reduce miscommunication.
  • If a team member publicly posts negative or disruptive comments via social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or even Basecamp) do not respond to them in kind.  Refer to the previous points instead, and discuss the issue with them privately.  Public disputes may damage the perception of the conference to potential attendees and sponsors.  It may also hurt morale for the rest of the team.
  • Keep in mind that some directors are new to the organization and the conference itself. The learning curve may be longer and steeper for some.
  • Make sure to think about the overall conference and diffuse these problems as quickly as possible. Dwelling on the issue will not help morale, and may increase tensions.

Please refer to past conference budgets, master documents, dashboards, and programming booklets.  All are located on Dropbox:
My Dropbox\UNAVSA (Conference)


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