Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Happy Birthday! (When Is It?)

Pop quiz for board chairs and all board members:

1.    When is your CEO’s birthday?
2.    When is your CEO’s employment anniversary at your ministry? How many years?
3.    Is your CEO a reader or a listener?
4.    What are your CEO’s Top 5 strengths from the Gallup Organization’s StrengthsFinder assessment?
5.    What are your CEO’s most dominant spiritual gifts?
6.    On the social styles chart, is your CEO a Driver, Analytical, Amiable, or Expressive?
7.    What is your CEO’s love language?
8.    What is one thing on your CEO’s bucket list?
9.    What is your CEO’s favorite Bible verse?
10. What are three of your CEO’s measurable goals for this fiscal year?
11. Describe how God led your CEO to accept the leadership post at your organization.
12. In honoring your CEO for achieving a key annual goal, would he or she prefer a plaque on the wall, or a cash bonus?

How well do you know your CEO?  (Stay tuned for “Lessons Learned” in the next blog post.)

QUESTION: How well do you know your CEO—and why might that be important?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Monitoring (Not Micro-managing) Programs and Services

Here’s a common question from board members: “How do we appropriately monitor programs, products and services without becoming micro-managers?”

According to BoardSource’s Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, the fifth responsibility is to monitor and strengthen programs and services. “The board’s fundamental responsibilities begin with ensuring that current and proposed programs and services align with the organization’s stated mission and purposes.”

Richard T. Ingram adds, “What the organization actually does, and how well it does it, should be at the heart of board curiosity.”

So how do you discern “how well it does it” without getting into the weeds?  I tilt toward customer/client survey information to keep the board at a high level.  In assessing organizational activities, Ingram lists four bullet points including this:
   • “Studying both the cost-benefit ratio of major undertakings and user satisfaction data (hearing from users of certain programs and services) to facilitate an exchange of information and learning.”

I’ve observed ministry boards use a variety of user satisfaction data including:
• Conducting focus groups with their “primary customers” (per Peter Drucker’s definition)
• Assessing their Net Promoter Score (one ministry I work with has improved their score from 52, to 56, to 58 in the last three years)
• Using inexpensive online survey tools, like SurveyMonkey

Excellent boards inspire their CEOs and senior team members to set annual customer satisfaction goals—and then report on them (quarterly is helpful, annually is essential). Multi-year benchmarking trends will help the board discern program directions and the allocation of resources to where the results are most promising.

Excellent boards balance cost-benefit ratios with Henry Blackaby’s classic aspiration, “Find out what God is doing and then join Him.”

When CEOs and board chairs observe that their board members are micro-managing, they stop and ask if it’s because the board has failed to affirm three to five annual “S.M.A.R.T.” goals for the CEO (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-related). Or, if the goals are in writing (and in the minutes), perhaps the CEO is not reporting goal progress in monthly or quarterly reports.

For the Christ-centered board, a focus on S.M.A.R.T. goals and dashboard reports (including one for customer satisfaction) also becomes a focus on prayer. An occasional email from a board member to the CEO (“How can I pray more effectively about your five annual goals this month?”) will bless the socks off any CEO!

QUESTION: Facilitate an around-the-board-table quick response exercise to this question, “Are we appropriately affirming, monitoring, and assessing our ministry’s programs, products, and services? If not, what should we change in the next 30 days?"

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Gold Standard Question for Board Members

This week I’m conducting one-on-one phone interviews with nine board members who serve together on a ministry board. Here’s my favorite question:

“You’re driving away from a ‘typical’ board meeting (or sharing the experience with a friend or family member), and you say, ‘THAT WAS A GREAT BOARD MEETING TODAY!’ Tell me, what happened at the board meeting to provoke that positive response?

I call this my Gold Standard Question because the responses are always immediately indicative of a board member’s satisfaction level with his or her board experience.

Over the years, when I ask this question, board members with unsatisfactory experiences often respond:
• “No one asked me for advice, wisdom, counsel or ideas.”
• “The staff read the reports that all of us had read in advance.”
• “Boring. Routine. Pure agony.”
• “Clearly, I’m not needed at the board table. The CEO did all the talking.”
• “There was no sense of the holy, except the perfunctory bookend prayers.”

Conversely—here’s what highly committed, deeply engaged, thrilled-to-be-serving board members tell me:
• “Everyone’s prepared. Everyone participates. Everyone prays. It’s the best board I have ever served on!”
• “It happens all the time! We’ve deleted the petty stuff and focus on the important agenda items only. And…we’re on target financially.”

One board member outlined four primary ingredients of memorable board meetings:
1. There is deep joy—consistently in every meeting.
2. The board is focused on strategic issues.
3. Energetic discussions abound! “We’re not looking for agreement—we’re looking for insight. Spiritual insight.”
4. There is solidarity. “We foster a board culture that eliminates the unhealthy giving up of personal beliefs for the sake of unity. Instead, we wait for the Spirit of God to speak.”

Wow! I pray that your board has frequent moments of the above and that when board members drive or fly home, their post-meeting evaluation is joy-filled!

QUESTION FOR YOUR NEXT BOARD MEETING: “Before we start this meeting, we’ll ask every board member to think back and tell us about a GREAT board meeting you attended—and why it was so memorable.”

Monday, August 31, 2015

Board Meetings on Holy Ground

The next time you set the table for your board meeting, set the ground also. The gospel song, “We Are Standing on Holy Ground,” by Geron La Ray Davis, is a powerful anthem to remind board members of our Kingdom roles and responsibilities.

“When I walked through the doors I sensed His presence
And I knew this was a place where love abounds
For this is a temple, the God we love abides here
Oh, we are standing in His presence on holy ground.”

I’ve been reflecting recently on the power of location. Whenever and wherever our boards meet, we’re on holy ground. God’s presence is promised. We can respond to, or ignore, the nudges of the Holy Spirit. Or we can keep one eye on our agendas, and the other eye on our smart phones. Holy ground? Where?

Good news! Many board chairs and CEOs leverage their creativity gifts to create space at board meetings so God’s love and direction abounds. Yet for others, sadly, too often the practical and pragmatic crowds out the holy.

To refocus and leverage the wonder of holy ground, consider a different location for at least one board meeting a year. For example:
   • A CEO friend arranged for a board meeting at an architect’s office. The beauty, the creativity, and the innovative use of space elevated the thinking, the camaraderie, and the praying at this unique meeting location.
    • A board chair asked a ministry partner to host a board meeting—and routine reports took on new meaning as they experienced God stories in person at this ministry to the poor.
   • I facilitated a mission agency’s board retreat on a Christian university campus. Interaction with students and profs in the dining commons was a highlight for many board members.
   • Another CEO friend recently reserved space for a board meeting at a knock-your-socks-off international exhibit, currently under construction. I’ve heard about it—and it will inspire board members to elevate their Kingdom thinking!

This month, a ministry board “took me out to the ballgame” where a meeting room was reserved for a two-hour board meeting prior to the Houston Astros’ no-hitter drubbing of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That too, I’ll reluctantly admit, was holy ground—as Christ-centered board members and their spouses enjoyed nine innings of high touch relational time. 

Matthew 18 in The Message is the holy ground promise: “When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”

QUESTION: What would change in your next board meeting if every board member understood the theology of location—that we are standing on holy ground?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The One-Minute Board Member

“How do we think more generatively?”
was the question that Mike Pate, executive director of camping for Transformation Ministries, asked at a board retreat recently. As the retreat facilitator, Mike noted insights from Bill Ryan, co-author of Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards.

Ryan comments, “Good governance is not just about doing work better; it’s about ensuring your organization does better work.”

Mike noted four proactive next steps from his study of generative governance:
• Carve out more time and space in board meetings to wrestle with issues that matter most.
• Spend more time in reflecting on “overall” situations facing your organization…consider the whole picture.
• Practice the “one-minute longer” exercise. “If this meeting could go on for one minute longer, what would you want to talk about?”
• Look outside your industry regularly. “What other developments in different industries might impact ours next?”

All four points are worthy of more reflection (and blog posts)—but the “one-minute longer” challenge got my governance juices going.

At the end of each board meeting, Ryan suggests you jot down anything else you might have said—had the conversation continued. Then hand your thoughts to the board chair as a possible topic for your next board meeting.

Great idea! But let me suggest a 10-minute exercise before the gavel hammers away all creativity.

Board chairs: At your next meeting, hold the gavel in your hand and announce this:

“Before we adjourn, for the next 60 seconds, turn to the person next to you and share your answer to this question: “If this meeting could go on for just nine minutes longer, what would you want to talk about?” I’ll take suggestions from each team of two—and I’ll pick one topic for a final nine-minute discussion. Then…we’ll discuss, pray, and adjourn.”

Ephesians 5 (The Message) reminds us: “Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness . . . So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!”

I can hardly wait to try this at my next board meeting!

QUESTION: What wisdom or question would you have added with an extra 60 seconds at your last board meeting?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Range of Normalcy: Where’s Your Board?

Recently in a board enrichment session, the CEO punctuated most topics with this question: “So, John, where is our board on the range of normalcy?”

I love that phrase—“the range of normalcy.”

Today I googled it and found more ammo for future enrichment sessions. Here are two definitions and more commentary:

“Normalcy: being within certain limits that define the range of normal functioning”
• A related word: “Averageness: the state of being that is average; indicates normality but with connotations of mediocrity”

“Normalcy: expectedness as a consequence of being usual or regular or common”
• A related word: “Expectedness: ordinariness as a consequence of being expected and not surprising”

Three Thoughts:

#1. “Normal” Might Be a Low Bar. I certainly understand the desire for a board’s work to fall somewhere within the “range of normalcy.” Yet, if normalcy becomes averageness—and that carries a whiff of mediocrity—then normal could be a very low standard.  

Example: In the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey, just under 31% of board members said “Yes” or “Probably Yes” that their boards were well prepared to name their next CEO.  If you landed on the “normal side” with the other 69%, that’s not a good thing!  The survey revealed that the majority of boards do NOT have an effective succession plan in place. It’s normal, but not wise.

#2. Watch for Signs of Mediocrity. Several years ago, a board member cornered me at every meal and coffee break at a board retreat. His comment/question: “I think we’re a pretty good board. But how would you evaluate us?”

He was fishing for compliments—and I resisted.  Finally, at the last snack break I told him. “You are a pretty good board. Maybe in the top ten percent of all ministry boards—but this will shock you—you could be even more effective as a board. And if you’re diligent about moving forward, the improvements will surprise you. Don’t rest on your laurels. You’re not there yet.”

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and the Social Sectors, adds this: “The moment you think of yourself as great, your slide toward mediocrity will have already begun.”

#3. Know the Difference Between Human Standards and Heaven’s Standards. You already understand my third point and if you’re read the powerful book, The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes, you know that our board work is measured by eternal metrics, not earthly metrics.

So…yes, it’s good to know the “range of normalcy,” but I really love the standard used by Holy Trinity Brompton, the London church that launched the Alpha course. Nicky Gumbel, Holy Trinity’s vicar, says they
“aim for perfection
but settle for excellence.”

QUESTION: How does your board measure its work and effectiveness?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

More Annoying Boardroom Habits: Part 2 of 2

In Part 1 of 2, we mentioned several annoying boardroom habits—from the list in the convicting book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: Discover the 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break, by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter.

Here are several more:
#9. Withholding information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.
#12. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.
#14. Playing favorites.
#16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
#18. Punishing the messenger.
#20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.

There are another 10—equally convicting for some of us.  But here’s the good news: Goldsmith says that these faults are simple to correct. Yet there’s bad news:
“The higher you go [in your career],
the more your problems are behavioral.”

If you’re gutsy enough to read this, you will not get to page 223 unscathed. If you read with a pen, like I do, you’ll have few unmarked pages. As a bonus along the way, the leadership wisdom oozes out:

--Why not listening sends an “Armada of Negative Messages” (page 86) and three things all good listeners do (page 147). Goldsmith says “80 percent of our success in learning from other people is based upon how well we listen.”

--One big reminder about people styles: “You are not managing you” (page 208).

--Why the most successful CEOs and senior leaders often have the best personal assistants (page 196).

--Why people’s common sense gets fuzzy and opaque—when you’re talking about interpersonal behavior, and why leaders often choose the wrong thing to fix (the easy one, not the glaring one). See Goldsmith’s seven rules on the change process, including “Rule 1: You Might Not Have a Disease That Behavioral Change Can Cure” (chapter 13).

--Why you must say “Thank You” when receiving requested feedback—and then stop. Say no more. Nada! (Chapter 11: Following Up and Chapter 12: Practicing Feedforward)

As a Christ-follower, I have one caveat to the book. There is a spiritual dimension missing, as is common in many business/leadership books. For the Christian, behavioral change is a mandate, but we’re not dependent on only bootstrap discipline and frank feedback. Made in the image of God, we can understand and implement real change only from a theological, biblical worldview. It’s not either/or, it’s both. (If I could thoughtfully integrate the practicality of this book with the deep spiritual context of some of my favorite business books, then, wow, that would be the perfect balance.)

Two additional notes: First, Chapter 12, Special Challenges for People in Charge, encourages leaders to write a document: “Memo to Staff: How to Handle Me.” If written with humility and transparency, it’s a brilliant, brilliant tool.
Perhaps—if done well—your CEO and board chair
could trade memos with each other.

Second, the appendix features a “Global Leadership Inventory” that can be used as a 360-feedback assessment. Respondents are asked to rate their leaders on a five-point scale from Highly Satisfied to Highly Dissatisfied. (Example: #44: “Asks people what he/she can do to improve.”) This is worth the price of the book.

QUESTION: How well does your board leverage the strengths of board members—while not putting their heads in the sand when annoying habits disrupt the governance process?