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Recapping Board Performance: Practice Meets Strategy

Posted By Murphy Pickett, Thursday, September 8, 2016
Updated: Thursday, September 22, 2016

On August 31, I attended the Board Performance: Practice Meets Strategy event co-hosted by Association Forum and Association Management Center. This session was promoted as “key strategists will share corporate lessons learned and how their experiences translate into organizational performance in the association community,” and that was what piqued my interest. We do quite a bit of work on strategic planning with our clients and I was curious as to how the planning process and implementation in corporate America differs from the non-profit industry. I also wanted to learn what strategies could translate to help improve the implementation of our client strategic plans.

The panel presentation kicked off with speakers Mark Miller, Partner, Performance Improvement Consulting, Ernst & Young, LLP and Carrie Shea, Managing Partner, Phoenix Strategic Advisors, sharing the process they use when working with Fortune 50 corporations. Their process included both an internal and external analysis where the board and senior management consider the following:

        External Analysis                                                                        Internal Analysis

1.     Industry Trends                                                                           Purpose (core values), Vision and Goals

2.     Consumer Trends                                                                       Core Competencies

3.     Competitor Positioning                                                                Structural Assets/Barriers

4.     Technology and Innovation                                                         Financial Positioning

The Board would then go through a process where the strategic initiatives developed during the SWOT Analysis would be vetted and prioritized in order to find 6-8 critical strategic initiatives. From these strategic initiatives, the Board would develop its strategic plan that cascades down throughout the company and divisions. It was noted that often the planning process will involve staff at all levels to get buy-in and help identify core issues/ideas from each level of the organization.

A few key takeaways I got from this part of the presentation:

  • Many of our groups follow a similar process, where a SWOT analysis is conducted, strategic initiatives are developed and prioritized, and a formal strategic plan is adopted. Rarely, though, do we have a group that takes a month or several months to complete the process. The process is usually condensed into a half-day, one-day or two-day meeting.
  • In most cases, corporate clients are not conducting full strategic planning sessions annually. More commonly, the board will meet and review progress, adjust timelines, revisit initiatives for as the industry evolves.
  • First, start with defining and focusing on core competencies. From there, expand into opportunities that are adjacent to the core and beyond the core. As you move away from your core, the risk increases. Focusing on your core can be difficult to do as new opportunities present themselves.

The program continued with Mitchell Feiger, CEO and President, MB Financial, Inc. Mitch discussed how the strategic planning process works with his Board of Directors and how the strategic planning is communicated and implemented across the 3,000+ employees of MB Financial, Inc. Mitch is in a unique position as he is the only employee to sit on the 11 person Board of Directors.

With the general differences between for-profit and non-profit boards, I found myself thinking about how the board dynamic might change if non-profit boards took a page from corporate America:

  1. Composition – If non-profit boards recruited for talent, knowledge or skills that would help advance the organization rather than having board members elected, how might that change the board process, culture and outcomes for the organization?
  2. Term and decision making – If the resolutions and actions you made as a board stuck with you in perpetuity, rather than your 2-3 year term on the board, how might that affect the board process?
  3. Constituents – If decisions you make were done solely to increase value to shareholders, rather than to the various segments of your membership, how might that change the board deliberations?

Mitch also talked at length about the importance of defining core values and how that influences the corporate culture. MB Financial has a “Culture Committee” that ensures the core values permeate throughout the company. These are the thoughts that were going through my mind during the presentation. I walked away energized, thinking about how to meld the best of both worlds within the governance structure of non-profit organizations.

Finally, Linda Caradine-Pointsett, PhD, MBA, MJ, Account Executive, Association Management Center, and Executive Director, Society of Cardiovascular Anesthesiologists, shared highlights from her doctoral research which focused on organization leadership. An interesting differentiating point between for-profit CEOs and non-profit CEOs came in the discussion about strategic plan leadership. In the for-profit world, the CEO is celebrated for having complete and total ownership of the company strategic plan, whereas in the non-profit world, CEOs often need to tread carefully so as to not overstep the board. Many of the thoughts throughout this piece were introduced during Linda’s presentation.

This session was thoughtfully composed in a logical manner where the corporate process and implementation were discussed as well as the impacts and takeaways for non-profit organizations. The presentation by the panelists was both thought-provoking and practical. This was the second session in a three-part series; the final presentation is in production and will focus on culture. I intend to be there as well.

Tags:  analysis  board  board performance  strategy 

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