Friday, November 18, 2016

Beware the Emotional Effects of Transitions

If your board has term limits, it's likely you say “farewell and thanks” to one, two, or three board members every year. It might surprise you, though, to understand what each of your departing board members are feeling.

In the bestselling book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges writes, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.”

He adds, "Change is external. Transition is internal."

At a recent board retreat, I challenged board members to pick one major change the organization had negotiated and then to pick one word that described the stage and the feelings that resulted—from their unique perspectives.

Bridges notes that "the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names," and suggests there are three phases of managing a transition: 
   • Ending
   • Neutral Zone
   • New Beginning

The author says it's important for leaders to be alert to the emotions and the psychological impact people experience as they journey through transitions. Perhaps you can reflect on a recent major change you have experienced as a board—and can pinpoint where people are along the journey. According to Bridges, here are the more common emotions in each phase:

   • ENDING: denial, anxiety, shock, confusion, sadness, annoyance/anger, fear, frustration, and cynicism.
   • NEUTRAL ZONE: curiosity, adjustment, exploration, learning.
   • NEW BEGINNING: creative tension, impatience, acceptance, hope or skepticism, relief, excitement, trust, enthusiasm.

One board member at the retreat circled the "sadness" emotion. His board term was ending and he was genuinely sad at the thought of being absent from the table. He spoke warmly of the relationships, the important mission of the organization, and much more.

"Oh, my," I thought. "Other board members often exit with glee—no more meetings, more time for leisure and family, and fewer deadlines. Yet this board member was sad.”

Really—that was wonderful. What a stunning board culture!

By the way, the board did a spectacular job of honoring him and one other departing board member. Well-prepared words. Short thank you videos from staff and clients. Coffee mugs with their top-five strengths from the StrengthsFinder assessment, framed photo collages, and personalized mementos with the organization’s mission statement.

The presentation was poignant and perfect. Oh, my.

The big changes facing your board may be in another realm: CEO succession, program changes, financial crisis, or other challenges. So this is just a reminder that changes produce transitions, and transitions produce emotions—and all of us may be at different levels of moving from the ending, to the neutral zone, to the new beginning.

Note: To go deeper on this subject, read the 21-page resource on Moses, “Getting Them Through the Wilderness,” by William Bridges. Here’s a taste:

“When Pharaoh finally let Moses’ people go, some of them surely thought that the Promised Land was just around the corner. But Moses was not so naive, for he saw that he still had two problems. First, he had to draw a line of no return between the ending and the neutral zone. Second, he had to keep people in the neutral zone long enough for them to be fundamentally changed by the wilderness experience.”

QUESTION: How sensitive are your board members, CEO, and senior team members in recognizing that the decisions you make can trigger a variety of emotions and responses among the staff, volunteers, clients/customers, and donors you serve?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The President Gets 100 Days—You Get 90!

Over the next 70 days, our nation will watch and pray that the transition between U.S. presidents will go well. But I’m reminded of the book, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, by Michael Watkins.

Watkins writes, “The president of the United States gets 100 days to prove himself; you get 90.” 

He’s writing to anyone transitioning to a new position—and while it’s most applicable to CEOs and senior team members, new board chairs should also read this wisdom.

The first chapter plows new ground with five propositions on transitioning to a new job. “Too often…the new leader behaves more like a virus…”  Really? Why?

Watkins, a Harvard Business School prof, delivers a thoughtful and well-reasoned plan for what he calls succession strategies. It’s the difference between virtuous and vicious. He says, per Proposition #3, “that the overriding goal in a transition is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility and by avoiding getting caught in vicious cycles that damage credibility.”

I’ve recommended this book hundreds of times. The first 90 days of a new job are critical for both first-time CEOs and experienced CEOs recruited to other organizations. But there’s hope! He notes:
“Like swimming, 
transitioning is a teachable skill.”

Perhaps the biggest “Aha!” moment for me was his brilliant segmenting of the four kinds of organizations (or departments). When your board is searching for your next CEO, how would you describe your ministry? Your candidates will want to know! 

The author’s acronym, “STARS,” describes the four: 
     • Start-up
     • Turn-Around
     • Realignment
     • Sustaining Success

This past year, I facilitated a board meeting when the CEO-elect disagreed with the board on their "STARS" status. Whew!

Caution! A successful CEO of a Turn-Around may fail at a Realignment. Chapter 3, “Match Strategy to Situation,” is worth the price of the book. The “STARS” theme oozes out and through all the chapters. Example: rewarding success is easiest in a Start-up, and rarely acknowledged in a Realignment.  He explains why.

Why is this important? If your new CEO (or your new board chair) has only 90 days to begin creating a “virtuous cycle,” then time is very, very important. Psalm 90:12 (TLB) reminds us, “Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should.”

Donald Rumsfeld was White House chief of staff for President Gerald Ford. In Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, he quotes Jack Watson who served President Jimmy Carter. Watson: “The role of White House Chief of Staff is that of a ‘javelin catcher.’” 

Who is the Chief Javelin Catcher in your organization?

Rumsfeld also noted, “Arguably, there is no more consequential staff position in the U.S. government, perhaps even the world, than the position of White House Chief of Staff. At its core, the job is about making sure the President is able to focus on what is important for the country, that he is prepared, on schedule, and safe.” (Who is focusing on those four issues for your CEO?)

QUESTION: How does your board discern where the CEO should invest his/her most valuable resource—time? Where does your board invest its precious time? 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Communicating Between Board Meetings to Your “Listeners” and “Readers”

If there’s one common whine from CEOs, it’s this: “My board members don’t read the reports I email them.”

Yet some board members also whine: “We don’t hear much from our CEO in between board meetings. He (or she) doesn’t call and we rarely have lunch together.

Here’s help from Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005), the father of modern management. Drucker noted that people are either readers or listeners. And…ditto board members!

In the classic Harvard Business Review article, “Managing Your Boss,” by John J. Gabarro and John P. Kotter, the authors discuss the boss/subordinate relationship—but the insights are equally valuable for board members, board chairs, and CEOs:

They write, “Subordinates can adjust their styles in response to their bosses’ preferred method for receiving information. Peter Drucker divides bosses into ‘listeners’ and ‘readers.’ Some bosses like to get information in report form so they can read and study it. Others work better with information and reports presented in person so they can ask questions. 

“As Drucker points out, the implications are obvious. If your boss is a listener, you brief him or her in person, then follow it up with a memo. If your boss is a reader, you cover important items or proposals in a memo or report, then discuss them.”

So ask each board member—“What’s your preferred method of receiving information? Written report or verbal report?”

I can hear the moans now from CEOs: “You expect me to give verbal reports to half my board if that’s their preferred style of receiving information?”

Calm down. There are options. But the big idea here is that emailing pages and pages of written reports to board members who are “listeners” will not be effective. And phoning or Skyping board members with verbal reports will be ineffective if they are “readers.”

With the wide ranges of digital options today, there are solutions. Some CEOs will record a verbal report and email an audio file to the “listeners,” along with the traditional written report. Others will host (and record) a conference call as a nod to the “listeners” on the board. 

Perhaps graciousness and respect means tilting towards what works for board members, not what’s convenient for CEO reporting (or what’s convenient for the CEO’s executive assistant).

One context for Christ-centered governance is from Psalm 139:14, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..."

Reminder! Our Creator fashioned the minds and learning styles of our board members. One size doesn’t fit all—and we praise Him for that! So what will you do—moving forward—to bless both the “readers” and the “listeners” on your board?

AND ONE MORE QUESTION: What’s your CEO’s preferred method of receiving information? Is he/she a “listener” or a “reader?”

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Peter Drucker on Outside vs. Inside Results

Bloggers, apparently, misappropriate almost every life event as fodder for the next blog. (Guilty!)

So when I saw an airport hotel sign last weekend, it cried out to me, "John, here's your next blog topic!" Below the hotel name, the big reader board announced:

It reminded me of an important insight from Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005), the father of modern management. Good governance mandates attention to Drucker's counsel.

In 1986, Bob Buford and Fred Smith at Leadership Network invited me to a week-long summit with Peter Drucker in Estes Park, Colo. Drucker held court all day with about 30 Christian leaders. I'll never forget his insights on outside results versus inside results. 

If a hospital, he said, focuses on keeping the nurses happy (inside results) but neglects the care of patients (outside results), the patients will all die and the hospital will go out of business. He acknowledged that it is good to keep the nurses happy. But when an organization focuses predominantly on inside results (administration, maintenance, policies and procedures) rather than on outside results (mission, customer, sales, donors, recipients), it is on the path to failure. 

Alert board members will look for signs of an inappropriate focus on inside results. So what is being touted in your newsletter—inside or outside results? When you casually ask your CEO, "How's it going?" does he or she enthuse about the new and faster computers—or changed lives? Do donor appeals raise funds for a new 12-passenger van—or the discipleship initiative?

The hotel manager, I'm guessing, is an inside results guy and there are at least two problems with his sign:
   1) When the big reader board does a shout-out to prospective employees, it misses the opportunity to highlight its unique features to prospective customers. "Free Breakfast! Free Shuttle! Third Night Free!"
   2) And worse...when you use prime promo space to announce you're short of housekeeping and laundry staff—count me out. I'll pick a cleaner hotel down the street.

Is it time for a quick “results audit” in your organization? Does your ministry tilt more towards inside results or outside results? What you talk about—and what you measure—matters.

But before you rush off to prioritize outside results without spiritually discerning which results are truly kingdom-focused, read the counter-intuitive wisdom in The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes, by Gary G. Hoag, R. Scott Rodin, and Wesley K. Willmer:

“The key to grasping eternity-oriented metrics is realizing that the quantitative is subservient to the qualitative. Could this be why the modern church has so many professing Christians
and so few disciples of Jesus Christ?”

QUESTION: Does your ministry tilt more towards inside results or outside results?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bacon, Eggs, and Board Chairs

I love this big idea from James Belasco:

“You can never do enough looking over the wall to learn how to do things. Seeing excellence in action helps individuals visual how they can do it for themselves.”

“Looking over the wall” is a lost discipline for many boards. If your organization is more than 10 years old, I’m guessing:
   • Board members sit in the same chairs at every meeting.
   • The same old/same old agenda reigns supreme.
   • The same people talk often—rarely waiting for more thoughtful voices to speak at least once.
   • You tend to ask God to bless your plans versus inviting God to give you the plan.

So how do you disrupt the status quo?

Some ideas:
   • Invite a CEO or board member from another ministry to observe your board meeting—and offer unvarnished feedback.
   • Visit another board meeting—and then debrief with the CEO and board chair on their best practices.
   • Zero-base your agenda. Is our stuck-in-the-rut routine helping us adjourn on time, or achieve our mission?
   • Practice spontaneous prayer—based on the needs of the hour, not the agenda.

Last week, a board coach/colleague mentioned he once organized a 24-hour retreat with three other board chairs. The topic: “What was your best board decision/policy action in the last 12 months—and why?”

His big take-away: “I returned to our board with a recommendation that we budget for an eight percent margin each year.” The board approved and he said that one new idea has been transformational for the ministry.

Here’s the good news: while 24 hours with three board chairs would be a remarkable experience—to be sure—you can begin with bacon and eggs. Invite three other board chairs to join you for breakfast in the next 60 days—and glean from the combined wisdom around the table, as you “look over the wall” for excellence in action.

Proverbs 15:22 (NIV) says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

QUESTION: When is the last time you’ve looked over the wall to improve your governance best practices?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

What Would Grace Enable Our Board to Be?

Oh, my.
If it’s been a while since you’ve read Max De Pree’s powerful book (excuse the pun), Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community, maybe this is the nudge you need.

De Pree was chairman and CEO of Herman Miller, Inc. (the office furniture manufacturer) and served many years as board chair of Fuller Seminary (check out the Max De Pree Center for Leadership).

In his chapter on the importance of measurements (worth the price of the book!), he seemingly exits the outcomes highway for a profound detour into grace. He writes: 

“I once posed the following question to a senior vice president of sales and marketing during a performance review:
‘What would grace enable us to be?’

A strange question in a profit-making organization, but I repeated it to the five people for whom I was accountable.  The man to whom I first put the question responded with a four-page essay on what grace could enable a corporation in the capitalist system to be.  It was an astonishing response.  I couldn’t measure it, but it gave us such a foundation for a future, such a wonderful forum in which to discuss potential.”

I hope De Pree’s insights will whet your appetite to read this masterpiece.  De Pree adds, “It’s so easy to fall into the trap of measuring only what’s easy to measure.”  Then he suggests you measure the “tone of the body” in your organization. Not easy—but he gives you clues on how to do it, like gauging a team’s sense of urgency.  Good stuff!

And speaking of grace, check out this perfect companion book with a unique look at grace. Read The Cure: What If God Isn’t Who You Think He Is and Neither Are You, by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall.

QUESTION: What would grace enable our board to be?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Staff Reports at Board Meetings: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Like you, I’ve observed and endured my share of staff reports at board meetings. They fit into three categories, but I’ll start with the ugly so we end on a high note.


The Problem: Ill-prepared and unrehearsed, some senior staff see a verbal board report as their opportunity to dazzle the board—should the CEO be downed by the proverbial bus. It’s all too obvious and frequently cringe-worthy. The “ugly” reports are rarely short and pithy—or helpful to the board’s role. They often regurgitate written reports that many board members stopped reading years ago. 

The Solution: CEOs must coach senior staff so their reports are humble, accurate, and related to board policy at the highest level. When staff misunderstand the role of the board—and the proper role of staff reports at the board meeting—it’s often too tempting for board members to inappropriately engage and micro-manage the tantalizing topics served up by staff. The board chair must nip this in the bud! One resource for every report-giver: 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations, by Joey Asher.


The Problem: Even with a well-coached staff member who understands where the board has landed on the policy governance continuum, bad things do happen—and it’s often spelled “PowerPoint.” 

The Solution: Board guru Eugene H. Fram preaches, “The maximum number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation is 10.” His new book for boards, Going for Impact, has nine more rules in the short chapter, “How to Use Board Members’ Time Wisely.” Balance the 10-slide edict with the social styles of your board members. Analyticals thrive on data. Drivers prefer just five slides. Amiables would enjoy PowerPoints with ministry stories and photos. And you’ll bless Expressives by inserting photos of them!


The Problem: You’d think board members would appreciate a buttoned-down, quick staff presentation on the 2020 Vision Project: on schedule, under budget, high customer satisfaction ratings, and powerful Kingdom impact. No problems! That’s always good news, but remember this: board members need to be needed. Even when delivering excellent reports, the CEO and staff must discern how to engage board members and inspire their best thinking and discernment. (For more on this, read “The Gold Standard Question for Board Members.”)

The Solution: Ed McDowell, executive director at Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center, Stanwood, Wash., works with his board chair to allocate one to two hours at each quarterly board meeting for what they call “heavy lifting.” Here the board practices generative thinking and wrestles with a big ministry opportunity or dilemma. They pray, they discern, they welcome conflicting views—and (get this) they drive home from those meetings with a holy sense that they were needed and each oar in the water actually mattered!

QUESTION: How could staff reports at board meetings be sharper, more helpful to the board’s role, and engage board members more deeply?