Thursday, April 20, 2017

Called to Serve: The Prospect Pipeline


Note: This is No. 13 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree lists six duties of the Governance Committee (sometimes labeled “Trustees Affairs Committee,” or “Board Development Committee”).

I summarize the Governance Committee duties similarly:
   1. Cultivating and recruiting board prospects
   2. Orientation and training of new board members
   3. Engagement of all board members (including committee work)
   4. Helping board members evaluate their own board service
   5. Honoring and recognizing board members for their service
   6. Reviewing the “vitality and effectiveness and appropriateness” of the board’s work

So on a scale of one to five (with five being “Extremely Effective”), how would you evaluate your board’s governance committee effectiveness on each of these six duties?

In my experience, the failure of a board to focus adequate time and energy on the “board prospect pipeline” often creates a cavalcading series of missteps. Those missteps include:
   • The board expecting the CEO to find suitable board candidates. (The literature says it’s not the CEO’s job—it’s the board’s responsibility. I agree.)
   • The board being satisfied with the status quo—and content with a lack of new blood and fresh thinking.
   • The board being too focused on the present—not the future.
   • And, frequently, the board not investing time in praying and spiritually discerning who God is preparing for board service.

If you don’t have a governance committee, you need one. If you do have a governance committee, ask for a “prospect pipeline” report at every board meeting. For more help, download the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members—Leveraging the 4 Phases of Board Recruitment: Cultivation, Recruitment, Orientation and Engagement.

BOARD EXERCISE: Agree on how many names should be in the “board prospect pipeline” (at various stages in the “dating” process) at any given time. 

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Called to Serve: Coherence With Corrals


Note:
This is No. 12 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree: "It is also important to formulate guidelines that bring coherence between the vision and mission of the organization and the way strategic planning is developed to reflect them.”

In a phone call this morning, a client and friend mentioned to me again how helpful the “corral” metaphor has been as he coaches CEOs and board members about the policy-making role of the board.

I began using the “corral” language after reading John Carver’s immense, 418-page treatise on Policy Governance®, Boards That Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations. (You may prefer his 26-page summary, Basic Principles of Policy Governance.) In his four-point approach to governance, Carver notes that “Board decisions should predominantly be policy decisions.” 

Max De Pree says boards must establish guidelines for the organization and the CEO. Carver labels them “executive limitations” (a corral). “The board establishes the boundaries of acceptability within which staff methods and activities can responsibly be left to staff. These limiting policies, therefore apply to staff means rather than to ends.”

You’ll find similar themes in another helpful resource, Good Governance for Nonprofits: Developing Principles and Policies for an Effective Board, by Frederic L. Laughlin and Robert C. Andringa. 

Whatever your view of Carver's approach, or other models of governance, you must agree that a “corral” is a brilliant way to describe policies, guidelines or boundaries.

The board sets the fences to the corral—thereby giving the CEO and senior team clarity on what needs, or does not need, board approval or even reporting. CEOs, however, must report when policy has been violated. “You should know that last Friday, I had to operate outside the corral due to the following extenuating circumstances.”  

When a board hears that, it has three options: 1) enlarge the corral and affirm the CEO for good judgment; or 2) caution the CEO that the fencing will remain intact and not to violate the policy again; or perhaps 3) make the corral smaller—tighten the policy.

De Pree says that board policies/guidelines must inspire fertility and fruitfulness. “While your board should insist on a high degree of focus, it should also be giving the kind of guidance that will result in the natural fecundity of a well-run operation.”

I confess: I looked it up at dictionary.com! “Fecund and its synonyms ‘fruitful’ and ‘fertile’ all mean producing or capable of producing offspring or fruit—literally or figuratively…noun…the quality of being fecund; capacity, especially in female animals, of producing young in great numbers…fruitfulness or fertility, as of the earth…the capacity of abundant production: fecundity of imagination.”

CEOs and board members of Christ-centered organizations understand the power of guidelines. We affirm and live by the clarity of the 10 commandments (the boundaries are crystal clear!). Yet we also live by grace and we do want policies/corrals that unleash creativity and fruitfulness to Kingdom ends. Thus, in our personal lives and in our governance lives, we need discernment to operate ethically, spiritually, and fruitfully.

BOARD EXERCISE. Divide into three or four teams at your next board meeting and invest 20 minutes on these questions: Is our policy document (corral) current and crystal clear? Does it result in the natural fecundity of a God-honoring organization?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Monday, March 27, 2017

Called to Serve: Do Not Censor What the Board Receives



Note: This is No. 11 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: "The administrative team should never see themselves as the censors of what the board receives. The administration should be especially careful not to screen out things that may bring pain to the board. Like a good leader, a good board doesn't inflict pain; it bears pain."

Many boards create a culture of trust with a "no surprises" core value. Rule No.1 for CEOs: Never surprise the board. Rule No. 2: Deliver bad news early and often.

De Pree reminds CEOs and senior team members that putting their best foot forward often means putting the bad news forward--not censoring what goes to the board.

Some years back, when coaching a young CEO, I helped his board affirm five annual SMART goals for their CEO (SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-related). Then we created a simple one-page monthly dashboard report with color-coded bullet points on each goal (green, yellow, red).

On the 15th of every month, the CEO emailed the dashboard to the board. One problem though. The CEO was very reluctant to color-code any "progress" report with yellow or red. (And trust me...most of his ambitious goals were not on target.)

It took several weeks, but I finally convinced this young CEO that his board loved him. They were cheering him on. And they wanted to help him.  "All green" sometimes unintentionally communicates to a board, "I have it all under control. I don't  need your help."

CEOs: what message (intentional or unintentional) are you broadcasting to your board?

Boards: do you respond appropriately to bad news--so you create a culture that affirms your CEO for delivering bad news early and often?

Recently, I awarded a Starbucks card to a board member who piped up, "You know...it's been a while since our board has heard some really good bad news!"

I love Proverbs 29:2 in The Message: When good people run things, everyone is glad, but when the ruler is bad, everyone groans." 

Perhaps a corollary might be, "When good leaders deliver bad news, everyone is glad, but when bad leaders pretend everything is good, everyone groans."

BOARD EXERCISE: How frequently does our CEO deliver bad news? How appropriately does our board respond to bad news?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Called to Serve: What's More Important Than Structure?


Note: This is No. 10 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board

Max De Pree: "Structure is important, but what is much more important--in fact, critical--is the willingness and ability of the people involved to establish and maintain amiable and productive relationships."

Amen! Years back, I remember my shock (and that's not too strong of a word) when two long-serving members of a small board were chatting before the board meeting began. "Remind me again," one board member asked of the other board member, "what company do you work for?"

By then, this small board should have known each other intimately, and as often happens on great boards, they would have become great friends by this time. It wasn't happening.

At another board retreat, a too-busy board member pushed back (no subtlety), on the best practice that knowing the strengths, social style (driving, analytical, amiable, or expressive), and spiritual gifts of each board member would enhance the board's relationships and thereby its productivity.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld's excellent Harvard Business Review article, "What Makes Great Boards Great," will inspire your board. The author lists all the ill-informed views of board effectiveness and then says this:

“The key isn’t structural, it’s social.”

He adds, “The most involved diligent value-adding boards may or may not follow every recommendation in the good-governance handbook.  What distinguishes exemplary boards is that they are robust, effective social systems."

If your board chair and/or CEO are not relationally focused (the literature says only about half the population is), then appoint a board member who is--to help you ensure that structure doesn't trump relationships.

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: Discuss the theological values that undergird your ministry--and assess if the relational values of the Good News are alive and well in your boardroom and in your 24/7 year-round board culture.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).



Saturday, March 11, 2017

Called to Serve: Death by Committee


Note: This is No. 9 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. (Click on the title to order the book for every board member.)


Max De Pree: “Be ruthless about terminating a temporary committee when its assignment is completed.”

Where do we start? Oh, my. Power-hungry committees, unnecessary committees, committees that never meet…it appears we’ve successfully raised committee dysfunction to an art form.

So Max De Pree’s insight on terminating temporary committees is a breath of fresh air. When asked to weigh in on the committee bucket, I usually mention three foundational issues:

#1. AFFIRM A GOVERNANCE PHILOSOPHY. Your committee structure must flow from your governance philosophy. If you lean more towards John Carver’s Policy Governance® model, you’ll have fewer committees and they’ll met Carver’s acid test: “In governance process policies, the board commits itself to use committees only when they are necessary to help the board get its job done, never to help the staff with theirs.”

#2. TRUST THE STAFF. Each committee needs a written charter, or statement of purpose—and three to five annual “SMART” goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-related). Some boards in a misguided attempt to increase “board member engagement” (whatever that is!), will often give assignments to committees that should be completed by the staff. Sometimes that indicates the board doesn’t trust the CEO or the staff. Not good!

#3. TRUST THE COMMITTEE. If the board inappropriately rehashes committee reports and recommendations in every board meeting, then you must fix the committee or fix the board! 

De Pree adds this wisdom I’ve never read before:

“My friend Jim BerĂ©, who was a corporate leader, presidential advisor, and worker/advocate for many non-profits, once told me that he would serve only on boards that had hard-working executive committees.”

Brilliant!

I’ve observed some committees that stick to their charter, assess their work, and leverage the God-given gifts and strengths of their faithful committee members. When that happens, it’s a Romans 12 practicum in action.

For more resources on conducting effective committee meetings, read Patrick Lencioni’s classic leadership fable, Death by Meeting, and visit the ECFA Knowledge Center.

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: Rate the effectiveness of each committee on a scale of one to five—with five meaning “high performing” and one meaning “no performance at all.” List three next steps to improve our committee structure.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Called to Serve: No Reading Allowed!


Note: This is No. 8 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. (Click on the title to order the book for every board member.)

Max De Pree: “The chairperson should not permit anyone to read to the board.”

Preach it! We’ve all been in boardrooms and endured this agonizing and unnecessary process:
   • Via email, senior staff send very detailed, single-spaced, typed reports (often rambling, and often duplicating the previous quarter’s report)—and board members dutifully read these reports prior to the meeting.
   • Then senior staff read the reports at board meetings.

Stop the madness! Bring a large poster to your next board meeting:
“The chairperson should not permit
anyone to read to the board.”


De Pree notes, “This is both a waste of time and a mark of poor preparation and therefore of inadequate respect. A board meeting is an important time together and should be used judiciously by all participants.”

One of my favorite books, 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations, by Joey Asher, says you can give a presentation in just seven minutes and leave eight minutes for Q&A.

Begin with “the hook.” Asher writes. “Start by putting your finger on the business issue that your [board] cares most about. A good way to arrive at your hook is to think, ‘If I were to ask my [board] what worried them most about the topic I’m going to talk about, what would they say?’”

“The hook often starts with the following phrase, ‘I understand that you are concerned about…’”

Proverbs 18:2  (MSG) is a good reminder to both talkers and readers: “Fools care nothing for thoughtful discourse; all they do is run off at the mouth.”

CEOs and Senior Staff: the purpose of your report is to enable board members to monitor, measure, and assess alignment with the mission they hold as stewards, before God. Help them do that!

Board Chairs: “The chairperson should not permit anyone to read to the board.”

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: Peter Drucker said, “At least once every five years, every form should be put on trial for its life.” (Ditto routine board reports—and maybe once a year!)

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Friday, February 24, 2017

Called to Serve: The Bell Curve of a Board Meeting


Note: This is No. 7 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. (Click on the title to order the book for every board member.)


Max De Pree: “I have found it very helpful to think about designing an agenda by following the lines of a bell curve.” 

He adds, “At the top of the curve (that’s my shorthand for the way energy at board meetings starts out slowly, then rises, then declines) for regular board meetings we will want to focus on the future and plan time to be thorough.”

Do your critical agenda items align with the prime energy spurts in your board meeting? At the top of the bell curve, De Pree suggests you focus on:
   • Strategic plans and the potential for achieving stated goals and results
   • Significant issues
   • Vexing problems
   • What the board has agreed to measure
   • Key appointments and promotions (“because these people are our future”)

On being “thorough,” De Pree notes that the following agenda items should never occur at the bottom of the bell curve—and should never be delegated to committees:
   • Time to dream together
   • Time to ask questions
   • Time to scrutinize
   • Time to voice contrary opinions

Where would your board place prayer and discernment on your bell curve? (My confession: for a board I chair, I recently moved our substantial prayer time to the end of the meeting—due to extenuating circumstances. Yet—big surprise!—when we arrived at the end of the meeting, time had evaporated and we missed the opportunity to seek God’s wisdom together.)

At our next meeting, I’m bringing a graphic of a “bell curve” to remind me to leverage the best energy for our most critical agenda topics (including prayer).

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: At your next meeting, ask one board member to observe and plot the bell curve for the entire board meeting—and then share an end-of-the-meeting analysis if the most critical agenda items were discerned at the top of the bell curve.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).