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Investing in Your Board as Leaders

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, November 5, 2019
Board room

by Darrin Hubbard

When non-profit association board members are elected, they bring a variety of experience and talent to help further the organization. Some board members have risen through the ranks of volunteer leadership while others may be industry figures who elevate the stature of the organization. What can we as association executives do to not only maximize their contributions, but also provide a rewarding volunteer experience? In my 15 years working with non-profits, I have seen boards coalesce and perform as a high-level team and others finish their term feeling like they did not accomplish as much as they could have.

What is the difference between the two? While no single factor typically determines a board’s success, I will review two common challenges I have seen and some strategies to address them.

Challenge #1: It takes the board too long to get going

For the purpose of this example, let’s assume a board is seated for one year with staggered terms. At the beginning of your board year, you will add new board members; at the end, some will transition off. Even if you maintain a strong core on the board, the dynamics (and likely the performance) change.
What can you do get new board members up to speed faster? Effective board service starts with an orientation. Several models and examples are available online to use with your organization. What I find most effective is an orientation that addresses:

  • Both the history of the organization and the current state of affairs;
  • Key documents like bylaws, policies, procedures, board-staff responsibilities, list of staff with contact information, etc.;
  • Time for you ask key questions of your incoming board: What do you want to accomplish during your term? Why did you decide to run for the board?

I try to schedule at least an hour for my board member orientation to discuss the materials at a high level and allow time for Q&A. Typically, I do this soon after the election, often using a video conferencing platform so it can be recorded and referenced again later.

An effective orientation will allow for a faster start and give you information about individuals’ desires so you can better align their interests with opportunities and understand individual dynamics that are being added to the group.

Challenge #2: Leaders have different talents

When you have an effective leader or someone who was adept at managing the board, their successor may possess a different skill set.

What can you do so the organization does not lose momentum? The governance of many organizations allows for the incoming leadership to be named through succession of the chairs or elected well in advance of the beginning of their term. This is your opportunity to understand and influence the preparedness of your next leader.

Several in-person and virtual trainings are available to help you and your incoming leaders prepare for their term. ASAE has an Exceptional Boards course where the chief elected officer and chief staff officer attend together. BoardSource has an online certificate program. Perhaps there are organizations in your industry that provide training programs specific to that vertical.

Another strategy you can use is including that incoming leader in “business review” meetings with current leaders. These meetings allow the incoming leader to be involved in determining the strategy in ongoing projects, so they have the background and knowledge to bring it to conclusion during their term. Some associations do this in-person for a day, meet at an association event or in a series of meetings as their term approaches.

Start early! Several organizations publish quality thought leadership around board effectiveness. ASAE has its Guide to Volunteer Leadership, Bob Harris has a library of templates and resources available at no cost, BoardSource is a DC-based organization with a focus on effectiveness, to name a few. Check with your local SAE to see what kinds of resources they have. By sharing resources throughout the year with your leaders, you demonstrate your care for their development and also the success of the organization.

Invest in your volunteer leaders today to reap benefits tomorrow. Keep your Board’s momentum strong by developing your volunteer leaders.

What are some things you do to invest in your volunteer leaders?

Tags:  board  board member  leadership 

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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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