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?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

4 Tips When Board Members Dip Into Operational Areas

If your board members are never tempted to dip into operational areas—please nominate them today for the “Board Member Hall of Fame!”

It’s an easy trap:
   • The CEO casually mentions a problem area—and a board member with expertise in that realm jumps in with both feet and mouth.
   • Or…a senior team member sincerely values feedback from the board, but inappropriately invites board members—during the board meeting—to weigh in with their opinions, irrespective of their expertise!
   • Or…a board member, wearing her volunteer hat, questions a tactical decision in her favorite program—but it’s not an agenda item, nor should it be.

Mary Lynn McPherson, senior consultant with STRIVE! (a governance consulting firm), recommends four tips to help boards reach “an appropriate level of oversight,” while still keeping their fingers out of the operations.

The full article is posted here.  Here’s a quick summary:

TIP #1. Prioritize questions to management. For example, is there a violation of board policy? McPherson says that would be a high priority question, even if it’s “operational.” 

TIP #2. Start with the facts—end with a question. (This is my favorite tip.) She writes, “The manner in which we probe either builds or threatens rapport. When we assume others have a positive motivation to do what’s best, that goodwill is conveyed in our tone. Taking an objective focus on the facts is less threatening compared to ‘what are you going to do about…?’”

TIP #3. When it is tense, clarify your position. “When we suspect our queries might be received with sensitivity it can be helpful to state your positive intention.” (The tip includes two examples on thoughtfully probing without creating unnecessary tension.)

TIP #4. Ask yourself “is this issue ‘material’?” This is an excellent question. Not every question that bounces into the fertile minds of board members must be spoken out loud. Be sure to read this tip.

Download the article for your next board meeting. Perhaps divide the board into four groups for a do-it-yourself spiritual insights segment—and ask each group to drill down on one tip, and then suggest one or two Bible verses that would enrich the big idea behind each point. 

Example: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words cause quarrels.” (Proverbs 15:1, TLB)

QUESTION: In his book, The Power of a Whisper, Bill Hybels noted that at the end of a Willow Creek Community Church elders meeting, the chair posed this question: “Does anybody need to make amends for anything, clarify a point or apologize for a wrongdoing of any kind?” Have you ever asked that question at your board meeting?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

10 Organizational Dangers—Caution If You Check 3 or More

Here’s a quick gut-check for your next board meeting. According to Ted Engstrom (1916-2006), who retired as president of World Vision in 1987, some organizations often begin with a man [or woman], become a movement, develop into a machine, and eventually become a monument.

If your board checks at least three of the 10 organizational dangers listed here, there may be trouble looming, said Engstrom. Does your ministry:
   [  ] Settle for the status quo?
   [  ] Eliminate creative tensions?
   [  ] Fail to plan in depth?
   [  ] Fail to listen?
   [  ] Depend on past successes?
   [  ] Depend on personal experience?
   [  ] Neglect the highest good?
   [  ] Forget unity?
   [  ] Lose the joy of service?
   [  ] Forget the bottom line?

To drill down further, Engstrom lists 10 questions that relate to the 10 dangers. He adds, “Note that none of them are bad in themselves. In fact, they may be very good. However, if you check three or more of these as being characteristic of your organization, perhaps it is time to evaluate. Perhaps you have already succumbed to some of the dangers we have outlined above.”

Ted Engstrom’s “Danger Ahead” Checklist

[  ] Our organization chart hasn't changed in the past 12 months. 
[  ] I haven't been faced by a new creative idea in the past two weeks. 
[  ] We have no way of measuring the quality of our programs against a set of standards. 
[  ] Most of our executives are 50 or over. [I would add: Most of our board members are 50 or over.]
[  ] There is a great sense of satisfaction in the organization and all that God has accomplished through the organization in the past. 
[  ] Most of the leaders of the organization have a real sense of being on top of their jobs. 
[  ] Few of the leaders in our organization are what one would call real Bible students. 
[  ] The average person in our organization would question whether we have true biblical unity. 
[  ] Most of our leaders think that the primary function of leadership is to lead.
[  ] We seldom ask the question as to whether the ministry we are performing is there for the primary purpose of honoring God.  

For more, read Chapter 29, “Understanding the Dangers,” in The Essential Engstrom: Proven Principles of Leadership, by Ted W. Engstrom (Timothy J. Beals, Editor).

QUESTION: What one danger should be addressed in the next 90 days?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

10 Mistakes to Avoid at Your Next Board Retreat: Part 2

In my last blog, I noted that BoardSource has just released a jam-packed treasure chest of ideas and insight, Board Book Essentials: Checklists + Infographics + Topic Papers + Guides+ Tools + Templates

The 136-page PDF (free to BoardSource members only) includes six “how-to” pages for your next board retreat. So my here’s the second installment of my “Top-10 Mistakes to Avoid at Your Next Board Retreat.”

#5. Reporting. All talk—with no note-taking—will challenge even the best brains on your board. For at least half of your retreat sessions, divide the board into small groups of three or four people each. Appoint a recorder and reporter.  While the reporter shares verbally, the all-important reporter summarizes the wisdom of each small group session and delivers the written findings to a designated person. All notes are then summarized in one document and shared at the next board meeting for a consensus/prioritization exercise. Avoid all talk and no note-taking!

#4. Reflecting. The best boards pull the best thinking out of each participant—and bullet point the good stuff on flip charts. But…wait! There’s no need to rush into decision-making mode. Let the ideas simmer. Pray. Reflect. Discern. If possible, wait for your next board meeting to move ahead on the big ideas—so everyone has had a chance to think and reflect. (The Analyticals on your board will appreciate having time to think.) Avoid jumping to conclusions—before you’ve had time to reflect.

#3. Reversing. Need new ideas for an old program? According to Army intelligence, there are nine principal ways to change a subject. A 56-card creativity tool, Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, uses the acronym, S.C.A.M.P.E.R., to describe the nine approaches:
    • Substitute something.
    • Combine it with something else.
    • Adapt something to it.
    • Modify or Magnify it.
    • Put it to some other use.
    • Eliminate something.
    • Reverse or Rearrange it.
Avoid the tendency to operate in the same old/same old mode. Maybe God is calling you to something new.

#2. Relating. Perhaps the greatest value of getting your board away from the wired rat race is to give them time to build relationships. Many board retreats include spouses, with selected sessions for both board members and spouses. (I frequently facilitate a StrengthsFinder exercise and encourage the board to leverage each person’s “3 Powerful S’s: Strengths, Spiritual Gifts, and Social Styles.”)

According to the Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes Great Boards Great,” the author says, “It’s not rules and regulations. It’s the way people work together.” And you can only learn to work together when you spend time with each other. Avoid those jam-packed schedules and tight meal times that leave little room for growing relationships.

#1. Renewing. At board retreats, I frequently hear these typical responses from board members who agreed to participate, but with great reluctance:
    • “Oh, my. That last half-hour of quiet time for us to reflect and discern was golden. That never happens in our board meetings.”
    • “This has been so helpful. Reviewing the job description of a board member was a great reminder (and a wake-up call)! And I will step up my giving—this month!”
    • “I need to interrupt—and ask you to pray for me. Right now, I’m sensing that the Lord is speaking to me about perhaps applying for that open staff position. Whew! I’m overwhelmed and need your prayer.”
Avoid low expectations! When you build in time for prayer and reflection—expect God to meet your need, often in surprising and exhilarating ways!

QUESTION: Who needs to review these 10 board retreat mistakes—as part of the planning process for your next retreat?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

10 Mistakes to Avoid at Your Next Board Retreat: Part 1

BoardSource has just released a jam-packed treasure chest of ideas and insights, Board Book Essentials: Checklists + Infographics + Topic Papers + Guides + Tools + Templates

The 136-page PDF (available only to BoardSource members) includes boardroom “discussion starters,” dozens of board topics and helpful reference materials, including two glossaries (14 pages) of governance terms, board leadership terms, and financial terms.

If you’re planning a board retreat this year, you’ll appreciate the six “how-to” pages covering:
   • Why have a retreat?
   • What topics should we address?
   • Where should we host our retreat?
   • When should we host our retreat?
   • Who should be involved in our retreat?
   • And 11 tips on what to do, and what not to do at a board retreat.

I’ve enjoyed (and endured) my fair share of board retreats over the years. In reflecting on the best and the worst, the BoardSource resource prompted me to write this board retreat list for Christ-centered organizations:

Top-10 Mistakes to Avoid at Your Next Board Retreat

#10. Preaching. As Christ-followers, we all share one common methodology—the weekly sermon. Board retreats, however, do not need sermons. Instead, use the away-from-the-routine setting to engage every board member in reflection, spiritual discernment, and discussion. Skip the talking heads and ask your facilitator to bring out the best in each board member.

#9. Protocol. When senior team members are invited to participate in the board retreat, ensure that the protocol is clear between the staff, the CEO, and board members. Insist that direct reports to the CEO do not conduct “end runs” around the CEO—and share information and opinions that have not been shared first with the CEO. Ditto for board members: they should avoid inappropriate conversations with senior team members about the CEO. Use your annual 360 for that fact-finding process.

#8. Prayer. In an unhurried, relaxed environment of a retreat setting, don’t miss the opportunity to invest significant amounts of time in prayer together. Praying only when scheduled to pray: Big Mistake. Instead, pray as a group. Pray in small groups. Pray in groups of two. Pray when you sense the Holy Spirit’s nudge. Pray without ceasing. 

Corrie ten Boom once asked,

“Is prayer your steering wheel
or your spare tire?” 

#7. Planning. While not every board retreat must involve strategic planning, a retreat is the perfect time for the annual look back and bold look forward. The most common mistake, however, is the expectation from less experienced board members that an entire strategic planning process can be completed in one board retreat. When you fast track the agenda, and minimize the spiritual discernment process, you’ll get what you paid for.

#6. Popcorn! While you’ll want to steward your time well, don’t forget to have fun food and fun times. (I call it hoopla!) Invite board members to complete the online StrengthsFinder assessment—and ask your facilitator to plan a session on leveraging board member strengths. You'll have fun comparing those with "Harmony" strengths to those with "Activator" strengths.

If working on your strategic plan, divide into teams and role play a preferred ministry outcome that could happen five years from now. Put some of your more expressive board members on stage (Expressives love the stage!) and they’ll create many funny and memorable moments.

Stay tuned for five more board retreat mistakes in the next blog.

QUESTION: Could a well-executed board retreat help enrich our relationships, our planning, our dependence on God, and our trust factor with the senior team?

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Widow’s Mite Is NOT the Gold Standard of Giving!

Last year I wrote two blogs on “10 Fundraising Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix” with a follow-up post on “Board Giving and the Generosity Circle.” This issue keeps popping up in board meetings—so here’s a summer re-run on this important topic.

Fred Smith, Jr., president of The Gathering, has noted that there are at least seven models of giving in the Bible—and his insights will help you think biblically about your giving.

He writes, “A few years ago I heard an earnest, well-intentioned speaker present a message on the topic of the Biblical model of giving. It was the story of the widow’s mite and, as you might guess, the conclusion was we should be willing to give everything we have.

“I started thinking about that because I had heard almost my whole life that this story was the Biblical model for giving and, ideally, the gold standard. However, as I started looking at the different stories about giving in Scripture I realized there is a wide diversity of giving styles in Scripture—not just one.”

Smith lists seven examples: 
   • David (a leadership gift)
   • Solomon (the extravagant giver)
   • Elisha (gift of an opportunity)
   • The Wise Men (team givers)
   • Zacchaeus (exuberance and precision)
   • The Widow (giving even to a flawed institution!)
   • and Barnabas (powerful return on investment).

So how would you respond to Fred Smith’s question? “I hope you ask yourself which of these individuals would be most like your own style of giving, and in doing so, you begin to recognize how your giving is a part of God’s workmanship in your life.”

To read the entire blog from Dec. 28, 2015, click here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Before You Get Your Point Across—Listen!

Of the four social styles gathered around your boardroom table (Drivers, Analyticals, Amiables and Expressives), at least two of the styles prefer to talk than listen.  There’s help! Ruth Haley Barton lists 10 listening guidelines in her important book, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups.

She writes, “Don’t take it for granted that people know how to listen. We live in a culture where people are much more skilled at trying to get their point across and arguing their position than they are at engaging in mutually influencing relationships. The following are a few guidelines for entering into and maintaining a listening posture that helps us hear and interact in ways that are most fruitful.”

Guideline #5 is the most challenging for me:
“Do not formulate what you want to say
while someone else is speaking.”

(Note: This is one of several “summer re-run” blogs. To read all 10 listening guidelines, click here for the entire blog from May 24, 2014. In a board meeting this week, I’m sharing a copy of the guidelines with each board member—and I’ll try to model it myself. Not easy!)