From the Executive Director

Tom BurkgrenPockets of greatness

Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great,1 describes the need for a business or organization to “get the right people on the bus.” For the AASV, this means attracting members, leaders, and staff who believe in our mission of increasing the knowledge of swine veterinarians. However, believing in the mission is not enough. Members, leaders, and staff must also be willing to take action to support and deliver this mission.

In his monograph entitled Good to Great and the Social Sectors,2 Collins also describes the concept of “pockets of greatness.” His theory behind this concept is that you can create a pocket of greatness within an organization, regardless of the level of success of the organization as a whole. Furthermore, your ability to create this pocket of greatness is not necessarily dependent on your position as an officer or director. It is dependent upon getting the right people on the bus. A prime example in the AASV is at the committee level.

Over the years, the AASV has usually had at least a dozen committees listed in its organizational chart. At any given time there can be distinct differences in the activity levels of the committees, ie, some are busy and some are not. Activity can wax and wane as issues come and go, committee members rotate, and priorities change. Inactivity, per se, is not a bad thing as long as it is not prolonged or does not remain in place when there is a great need for action. If inactivity is prolonged, then it may be an indication that the committee should be discontinued or, at the very least, redirected.

The opportunity exists for each and every committee to be a pocket of greatness within AASV. This does not require a mandate from the board of directors. Usually what it requires is an action-oriented member to take up the mantle of responsibility to lead the committee, either by assuming the chair or leading by example. This is only part of getting the right people on the bus. The committee must be populated by like-minded members with a desire to help form that pocket of greatness. Like-minded does not necessarily mean there can be no disagreements within the committee. On the contrary, debate and dialogue of differing views can often produce great results if the participants are committed to the greater good of the association. Building consensus among passionate people is a powerful tool in delivering upon the mission of the organization.

Great committees come about because of members who have insight into the issues at hand and who are willing and able to complete a fair share of the work. Participation on a committee cannot be passive in nature – it is not for spectators! This is why it is important for there to be some ongoing assessment of each and every committee member. This assessment will usually be done by the committee chair. If a committee member is not consistently engaged in the work of the committee, then re-engagement or replacement should occur. In most cases, an inactive committee member will recognize his or her lack of participation and be willing to step down.

As I consider the concept of pockets of greatness, I have come to a realization that over the years I have perpetuated a flaw in handling committee assignments. When receiving inquiries from members about committees, sometimes the member will leave me with the comment that he or she is willing to serve on a committee where needed the most. While I appreciate the open gesture, from now on I will reverse my response on that type of offer. I want you on the committee you need to be on. I want you on the committee that is the right fit for you, doing what you are passionate about. You need to tell me on which committee you need to be. That is the first step onto the bus.

So what can you do as an AASV member? Look through the list of committees in the directory or on the web site. You can also call any AASV staff member to discuss the committees. You can talk to active committee members. When you find a committee that appeals to you or that intersects with your passion and interests, let the AASV staff, committee chairperson, or one of the officers know that you are interested in that specific committee.

What happens if you look over the committees, talk to the AASV staff, maybe even talk to some committee chairs, but still don’t find a committee that you want to join? Consider the issue about which you are passionate. Is it broad enough to impact other swine veterinarians? Will the issue have a potential impact on the association or the profession? Are you truly passionate about it? Then bring forth your idea to Harry Snelson, Sue Schulteis, an officer, a director, or me. You are probably the person around whom we can form a new committee.

Creating pockets of greatness within the organization is a proven technique that has worked for the AASV in the past and is one that is currently being used by certain committees. Although we are still a small association, the AASV is very well capitalized with both financial and human resources. We cannot do everything, but my goal is for AASV to be an organization that can do anything.

-- Tom Burkgren


1. Collins J. Good to Great. New York, New York: Harper Business; 2001.

2. Collins J. Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great. Bolton, UK: HarperCollins Publishers; 2005.