January 10
M&A Science Live - The Evolution of M&A Functions

Steering Committee: What It Is & How to Build an Effective One

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What is a Steering Committee?

A steering committee is a group of main stakeholders that decides on an organization’s priorities or order of business, and manages its operations general counsel. The goal of a steering committee is to oversee and support a project from the management level.

A steering committee provides guidance, recommendations, and leadership to drive successful outcomes from acquisitions. A steering committee is less formal than a board, and can operate within whatever practices work best for the specific company.

The purpose of steering committee is to provide an objective standpoint when making large decisions about a project, regarding how companies run processes and how teams work together, that cannot be taken on by the project team.

This is due to the fact that project teams are, first of all, occupied by the workings of the project itself, and second, have a personal take in the matter. A steering committee can also resolve issues quickly when the project team has not been successful in fixing a problem. They are also able to solve issues and settle conflicts quickly.

Steering committees increase value on both the business and project level by keeping projects on track, budgets in check, risks mitigated, and conflicts resolved.

How does a Steering Committee Work?

The roles and responsibilities of a steering committee are outlined as follows.

Roles

1. Project level

On a project level, the role of the steering committee is to provide advice, ensure delivery of project outputs, and the achievement of project outcomes.

2. Organizational level

On an organizational level, the role of the steering committee is to focus on the direction, scope, budget, timeline, and methods used by an organization.

Steering Committee Responsibilities:

  1. Strategic direction and governance for projects. The steering committee works to provide guidance on project resource utilization, deadlines, staff hiring, and marketing needs.
  2. Inter-unit coordination. This involves fostering positive and timely communication about project progress to senior leadership, investors, and relevant stakeholders. Also, they oversee project collaboration and resolve conflicts amongst teams.
  3. Setting policies.
  4. Allocating resources. An initial budget is planned by the steering committee, and funds are disbursed to the project following that determination. If additional funds are needed, requests must be verified by the committee.
  5. Monitoring progress. The steering committee finalizes project monitoring KPIs to measure successful performance. They periodically review projects, and support in minimizing obstacles that can threaten project outcomes.
  6. Determine overall project scope and strategic project direction. The steering committee sees the end result, and communicates that with those working on the project.
  7. Advocate for existing and new project initiatives within the company.
  8. Identify the right staff, project managers, and subject matter experts to work on projects.
  9. Brainstorm project strategy and innovative ideas to solve end-user problems.

Who Makes Up a Steering Committee?

Steering committee structure is  made up of a variety of people including:

  • Board officers. This is an executive position that supervises the activities of an organization.
  • Senior stakeholders. These are the key decision makers on a project, and consist of sponsors and clients in executive or senior management positions.
  • Experts. These are people who are among the most knowledgeable in their fields.
  • Executives. These are the people responsible for running an organization.
  • Department employees. These are individuals directly employed by the department of the company in question.  
  • Client representatives. These are people responsible for managing the project on behalf of the client.  
  • Head of Integration. This is a corporate executive in charge of ensuring the coordination of all interacting systems within the enterprise and its extended environments.
  • Acquisition Executive Sponsor. This is a person who oversees a business unit and is responsible for meeting deadlines having to do with acquisitions, while keeping them aligned with the organization’s strategy and direction.
  • Acquisition Market Sponsor. This is a person in charge of raising funds to support the project and reaching out to others in the market and acting as a champion for the organization.  
  • Corporate Development lead. This position represents someone responsible for executing mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, and capital raising in-house for an organization or project.

The steering committee is composed of a group of experts inside and associated closely with the company or project. That differs from an advisory committee, which is is solely constructed of people outside of the board. They function as an expert opinion, and may consist of former board members, prospective board members, or subject-specific experts.

How to Run an Effective Steering Committee?

Here are some tips to keep in mind to ensure that your steering committee is functioning to its highest potential.

  1. Ensure that your steering committee is an adequate size, but not too big for fast decision-making. A steering committee too small may be viewed as a dictatorship, and as not representing the whole. With a multitude of opinions, dissent may form, and deliberation may be a longer process. According to Don Harrison, the developer of the AIM change management framework, the ideal number of members of a steering committee is 6.
  2. Ensure that the steering committee is focused on fast decision-making, and not just listening to reports from project team members. Their role is not just to be present and a passive part of the process, but to be an active part of the process and contribute their own opinions to enhance project management.
  3. Don’t overlook resistance. Listening to the viewpoints of those who are resistant to change can help to build commitment and readiness, as well as building confidence in the project at hand.
  4. Include various levels of managers and executives on the steering committee. This includes a variety of voices and interests so that multiple perspectives can be taken into account throughout the course of the project.
  5. Define roles clearly. It is necessary that leaders of the steering committee clearly define what the role of each member is, in order for efficient functioning.
  6. Pick the right people, considering personalities, ability to work in teams, and organizational representation.
  7. Inform them of the project. Regardless of prior experience, each member should understand the plan, description, purpose, and current scope of the project.
  8. Set clear rules and goals. Leaders should provide steering committee members with the right tools to perform their duties by establishing guidelines and parameters.
  9. Schedule follow-up meetings as necessary, but only when there is something to discuss to avoid any interruptions inefficiency and effectiveness.
  10. Make communication and debriefing a priority. This can happen through developing a mechanism for committee members to communicate with each other and the project manager, and gain insight into the process and any problems that occurred.

What should a steering committee meeting consist of?

What is a steering committee meeting?

A steering committee meeting is a meeting between the committee and management, as well as all those involved in the project. The meeting should cover specific information that needs to be shared between the two parties, and is an environment in which important decisions regarding the future of the project or organization are reached.

Ideally, the committee should meet every six to eight weeks. Meetings are recommended after each project phase: the project initiation phase, the concept phase, after the implementation phase, and for project closure.

Preparation

1. As an organizer:

A deck of slides containing the points that you want to convey should be prepared before meetings. These should focus on progress, or where you are on the project timeline as determined by KPIs; cost update, or the planned cost versus the actual cost; major achievements, or what has been accomplished by the project team; work in progress, including current tasks and next steps; and any issues to be discussed that are blocking the project from moving ahead. If a decision is requested, extra slides should be included such as pros and cons of the proposed idea, logistics and specifications, and implications. These should be sent out before the meetings, so committee members have time to review the topic, have discussions, and prepare to make a decision.

2. As a member:

The job of a member is to prepare by reading through the distributed materials, have discussions on the reviewed topic, and come up with questions to be discussed.  

How to run a steering committee meeting

In order to illustrate how to run a steering committee meeting, it may be useful to detail what a typical steering committee meeting would look like.

 One person would be elected to run the meeting, starting by welcoming the members and facilitating introductions if necessary.

 Then, they would run through the slides, detailing the above items.

 Time should then be allowed for questions by the committee, which you should have answered prepared for. Answers should be succinct, but ensuring clarity is important.

A conclusion should then be stated, and, if the goal of the meeting is to reach a decision, the committee will express their decision.

After the meeting, it is important to thank everyone for their participation, and end the meeting on positive terms, no matter any conflicts that may arise during the proceedings.

One important consideration to keep in mind is taking enough time to prepare. Also, management will be most concerned with progress and cost, so focusing on those in the presentation materials are important.Focus the content of the meeting around what the committee would care about hearing. Most importantly, present everything with honesty and accuracy to maintain the trust of the steering committee.

What Makes Steering Committees successful?

There are some specific features that ensure success of a steering committee, outside of its members.

  1. Focus on collaboration, cooperation, and communication. Leadership should act to promote member communication, collaboration, and cooperation while creating a positive, open, trusting environment.
  2. Plan meetings ahead and decide ahead of time how to handle decision making between meetings.
  3. Show demonstrations, rather than describing what has been done and what is to come. This promotes better understanding and awareness of the project and its issues.
  4. Be honest and transparent. Tell it like it is, and indicate issues when they arise, not when it is too late to react.
  5. Make decisions and communicate those decisions.
  6. Ensure that the project manager is the one who is actually managing the project, rather than the steering committee; their role is to “steer,” not manage.
  7. Ensure a good working relationship between the project manager and sponsor.
  8. The steering committee members should help a project by providing active support and providing the necessary resources.
  9. The steering committee should establish how project success will be defined and measured. Generally, success should be based on project delivery, product or service, and business.

10. The steering committee should take responsibility for business success by directing, controlling, and managing the required changes in the business.

11. The sterling committee should be a strong advocate for the project, actively supporting it and acting as an advocate for its outcomes. This boosts organization morale.

12. The steering committee should provide some governance. This means approving the project approach and methodologies; establishing delegation authorities and limits for project management; defining the acceptable risk profile; overseeing stakeholder management and change management programs; overseeing the project quality assurance programs; reviewing and approving or rejecting project plans; monitoring project progress; and approving project closure.

What else should be taken into account when organizing a steering committee?

Some other factors to take into account:

  1. Provide training and coaching. For members that are new to serving on a steering committee, this can be helpful in easing them into their duties.
  2. Composition. The individuals who make up a steering committee will make or break its success. Not only is their role important, but their ability to work in a team with others and keep the end goal in sight will lead to the success of the committee and the project.
  3. Competence. Each member of the steering committee should have a strong understanding of the project and the organization, as well as a strong grasp on the inner workings of the industry that they are working in. They should have the knowledge and ability to make important decisions.
  4. Authority. Larger tasks in a project will require a high-level decision-making authority. Steering committees are entrusted with decisions that can make or break a project.
  5. Responsibility. The steering committee is given a great deal of responsibility with making these types of decisions and ensuring the success of the project; they must be diligent, attentive, and ultimately, comfortable with their role.
  6. Commitment and Continuity. Above all, the individuals in a steering committee must be dedicated to the project or the organization, and be prepared to put in the work required. They should also be prepared to commit to however long the project will continue for, as continuity of leadership in terms of decision making and overall knowledge base are extremely important, so that there is no delay or miscommunication that comes along with turnover.  
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