Federation of American Aquarium Societies Federation of American Aquarium Societies Federation of American Aquarium Societies

Planners vs. Workers

Planning, the detail of it or the lack of it, can be considered as the major factor influencing the success or failure of any aquarium society activity or indeed of the entire society , My question is, "Where does is the planning stop?"

My experiences at local level administration have led me to believe that it does not stop even down to the level of the most inexperienced volunteer on any project you wish to name.

Rules and the Definition of the Job

A good deal of time is spent by most aquarium society administrators in arguing rules and regulations, changing and implementing them. A new group will come into power and the cycle begins once again. The end result, while rather time consuming, should be a very detailed and workable set of rules and regulations which cover the duties and activities of each and every society worker and committee, However, no amount of planning or attention-to-detail can solve the problem of a volunteer worker who cannot plan past the level of his stated guidelines or the listed duties of the committee.

Because we are all volunteers, and because we "enjoy what we do", we will all have our limitations so far as the and other individual factors are concerned, It would seem that the time spent in setting out plans and guidelines should provide a fully workable set of rules for anyone to follow. The problem lies in the fact that in most cases the duties will be laid out in very general terms. In some cases timings, where critical, may be included, but as a rule they are very basic in detail. Because we tend to structure our operating procedures in this manner, we are leaving a great deal of responsibility to the committee chairman or whatever name the project co-coordinator may be called. The attention to detail and detailed planning at this level is crucial to the success of any endeavor.

Volunteers are not always efficient, even though well-intended. Each will have a unique make-up and set of characteristics based upon their experiences, background and other abilities, or the lack of them. It then becomes the problem of the society administrators to actively oversee each and every society project. To carry this out in any amount of detail would involve full-time employment and that is out of the question, The next best thing is to incorporate a system of checks whereby each coordinator is required to report back to the administrative group or to a selected individual, often the president, at regular intervals. This can be applied to phases of an activity as well as to times. When looking at it I suppose the only person who can be saddled with this responsibility is the Society President, unless dealing with a sub-committee in which case the co-coordinator would report to the committee chair who would report to the President.


The key to success is to communicate! When communication does not exist, the organization breaks down and failure is imminent. In order to correct this problem, the society president must insist upon frequent and effective communication and reporting from society volunteers. If the president can determine an area where things are not progressing according to plan or where things are not being handled correctly he can and must, take immediate action to rectify the situation. The job of a society president, if well done, is not easy. It involves a lot; more than chairing meetings and sitting at the head table during society functions.

President is Responsible

It would be most unfair to discount the volunteer workers who often carry far more than their fair share of the load and who are the backbone of the society, but even they can only do so much. The overall performance, or lack of it, can only be blamed on the society president. If the president has his act together, and is satisfied that all is happening according to plan, then that is all that he can expect. If he cannot feel this as being fact or if he cannot answer questions regarding each and every area of society operations then the president is not doing an adequate job, however there are exceptions. Any president of an aquarium society will quickly be able to tell which of his working group he can trust to carry out duties on the schedule and relied upon and those who cannot he so trusted. This lesson is simply learned the hard way as most volunteers are well-intended at the onset. Close tabs on all activities, by the president will again assist in the overall operation.

Committee and project chairpersons will have a set of guidelines to follow. They may very well be able to tell you that their guidelines are being followed to the letter, but yet the activity is not up to par. This is poor planning. The chairperson or coordinator is in fact a society volunteer and as such must become involved in planning. Those who make up his committee must also be considered as workers as well as planners. At each level certain responsibilities will be assigned and it is up to each and every individual to plan their actions in such a manner as will allow for the effective completion of the main task or project. One weak link in this chain will reduce the effectiveness of the operation. It must be kept in mind that an efficient society administrator will quickly determine the strengths and weaknesses of his workers in order to apply their skills and abilities to their best possible advantage. It may sound a bit hash, but friendships and loyalties must take second place to the operation in all Instances, If you are not willing to do so, then perhaps you are in too deep and it might be time to back off. I will agree that only the most dedicated of society administrators always abide by this rule, but It should apply to each and every one. There is no reason why friendships and loyalties cannot be respected and the job accomplished with maximum success but this will be seen as a test of true administrative skills. Please do not interpret this as meaning that friendships cannot be lost daring administrative pursuits nor that personality conflicts will not arise, they will. Accept this as fact and carry on.

Document the Job and Process

Perhaps the best advice I can offer to any society administrator is to put it on paper. Committee chairpersons and project coordinators should spell out in detail each and every duty and responsibility that those under their administration are required to carry out. A copy should be passed to each worker and each worker should only be assigned responsibility to the level they are able to accept. This can only be known when the administrators become knowledgeable of his factors. Know your workers!

By spelling out minute details you can rest assured the worker will how what is required. Simply stating that, "42 trophies are required for a show", is not sufficient. Spell out past resources to contact, possible reduced rates sources, size and quality required, date required, etc. The more detail the better.

Adopt an "open door policy" at all times. Leave the worker knowing that you are accessible to discuss problems and progress at any tine, but insist upon mandatory reporting frequencies. A good administrator will guide his workers through all activities in order to obtain the effective final result.

It would appear on reading this material that the job of an aquarium society administrator is, in order to be effective, very rigid and unemotional. This is not so. There is room for flexibility and emotion in all administrator duties, but the society administrator must set his priorities. If those priorities are topped by the need to get the job done, then perhaps they must be harsh and rigid at times. Common sense will prevail in almost all circumstances. Knowing when to relieve a worker of this responsibility and when to encourage the worker in order to obtain better performance are very critical, but this will only come with experience. Planning is so very critical. The worker who leaves everything to the last minute may be very effective, but is not efficient,

Alternate plans are almost always required and the last minute worker will not have this arranged. By paying attention to detail, by having an effective reporting and cross-checking system built in to all activities, you will be able to apply your skills as an effective administrator. Simply blaming a worker, after the fact, is really of little use. Had you, the one in charge, been "in the picture" from square one, the problem would never have developed. Planning does not end at the B.O.D. or Executive level, nor does working. Working and planning are the responsibility of each and every society volunteer worker from president down to the novice assistant.

Originally published in the Federation Report, 1982. Edited and updated January 2007