Monday, July 24, 2017

Called to Serve: The Ten-Foot Pole Tension

Note: This is No. 22 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: “In the letter on the role of trustees, I reviewed some ideas on the matter of evaluating a board member’s performance. This is guaranteed to produce tension. Most boards and committees I know won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.

In another “dire warning” on living with tensions in the boardroom, De Pree challenges and inspires healthy boards to look in the mirror—but he acknowledges this is tough duty. He adds:

“Suggesting that a volunteer be evaluated seems a little crass, and it probably is—
   • unless we’re serious about our mission, 
   • unless we truly believe members want to grow and reach their potential and serve society, 
   • unless we take our clients seriously, 
   • unless we respect our donors.”

He closes with, “Maybe we ought to be ready to deal with this tension.”

I’ve observed several ways that healthy, God-honoring boards assess their own performance:

#1. Annual Self-Assessment Survey. The ECFA Knowledge Center has three sample board self-evaluation forms (for the board, for an individual board member, and for feedback on a board colleague). Click here to download the forms

#2. Board Meeting Quick Assessment. Much like Ken Blanchard’s advice in The One Minute Manager (one-minute praisings and one-minute reprimands), healthy boards don’t wait until year-end to address inappropriate board member conduct.  So, some boards use a paper or verbal feedback tool at the end of every board meeting. (See “Quick Fix Tools for Board Self-Assessments.”)

#3. Third Party Assessment. True, most boards wait until the crisis to call in the cavalry. But healthy boards--when times are good--invite a third party (a consultant or another experienced CEO or board chair) to conduct a “healthy boards assessment” with one-on-one phone calls, an online survey, and then a report and recommendation. This often follows the consultant’s observation of a board meeting—where the true culture and Christ-centeredness of the board is best revealed.

Peter Drucker wrote, “Self-assessment is the first action requirement of leadership: the constant resharpening, constant refocusing, never really being satisfied.” That aspiration, in my theology, is beautifully biblical!

BOARD DISCUSSION: Has your board addressed this common tension—board member evaluation and assessment? How long is your board’s pole?

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, July 10, 2017

Called to Serve: When Your Organization Is Bleeding and Boring Board Members


Note:
This is No. 21 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: “Any diligent board suffers certain tensions. Perhaps this letter should be labeled ‘dire warnings.’”

Dire warnings! Mention those words and you’ll scare off all the recruits you have in your board prospect pipeline. But—think about this—the very candidates you want to invite onto the board are those who drink deeply from the reality cup and understand, like Max De Pree, that there are numerous tensions that spoil a healthy boardroom and a deeply satisfying board experience.

De Pree mentions several tensions:
   • “Good people disagree,
   • Do a little politicking,
   • Try to make decisions in the bathroom (the worst form of exclusion),
   • And come to meetings totally unprepared.”

Add your own dozen or more bullet points here…

I was struck, mostly, by his insightful acknowledgement that money is never the problem—or the solution to living with tensions. (My gut: most boards and CEO don’t yet believe this.)

De Pree notes that one of the “certain tensions” is that boards “need to deal constructively with constraints.” He adds:

“Often people think that with a few more resources, their problems will disappear. Of course this is not true. Few of us ever have all the resources we wish for. Our job is to help board members see that constraints are a fact of life. They are—believe me—along with reasoned restraint, one of the secrets to outstanding performance. Constraints perceived and understood are especially valuable to the creative processes that feed our strategic thinking. In fact, Charles Eames, perhaps the most famous industrial designer of this century, often said that constraints are liberating.

Huh? Our boards must think about this—deeply, strategically, discerningly, spiritually.

De Pree mentions other tensions—and his brief page on tensions created by a crisis is a must-read. Almost as a throw-away line, he notes this: “Sometimes tensions develop into a crisis…the organization is bleeding and boring board members.” That’s another PowerPoint-worthy slide. Is your board bleeding or boring board members—or both?

Perhaps the secret to living with tensions in the boardroom is to first understand that sin exists, yet grace abounds. (Romans 5:20)

BOARD DISCUSSION: Do we address governance tensions appropriately? Are we bleeding and boring board members? Discuss!

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).

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Called to Serve: Use White Space to Practice Hospitality


Note:
This is No. 20 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: “Hospitality has to do with equity for each member.”

Honest…my plan for this thin, quick-reading book was to crank out five, maybe seven or eight blogs—and then move on. Not! De Pree’s wisdom is so rich—so convicting. At least we’re 75 percent on our way to page 91, so stay tuned. The end is near.

I’ve never read a governance book, blog, or paragraph that said the practice of hospitality was a key ingredient of a board chair’s effectiveness.

De Pree explains with a few reminders:
   • “Asking people to sit in a circle with no table is surely a distracting and ineffective way to work…”
   • “…as is putting people at a long, narrow table where they can have contact with only those adjacent to them.”

He also reminds us about the tools of hospitality: pens, writing pads, agendas, minutes, records, reports—and how they’re organized. He notes that hospitality includes attention to social needs. “Things go better with snacks, drinks, timely breaks, and no anxiety as to where the toilets are—small matters that should never become distractions.”

The spiritual gift of hospitality, according to author Bruce Bugbee, is “the divine enablement to care for people by providing fellowship, food, and shelter.” If you were not blessed with that spiritual gift, however, it doesn’t let you off the hook. As board chair, discern who on your board or staff is specially enabled by God to practice hospitality—and invite that person to help you create a warm and inviting board meeting environment.

In the tremendously helpful new book from ECFAPress, Call of the Chair: Leading the Board of the Christ-centered Ministry, David McKenna, reminds board chairs to sense the need “for the white space of coffee and bathroom breaks,” and “pauses for prayer before casting votes.” (Read my book review here and watch for future blogs on the board chair’s role.)

By the way, practicing hospitality is not limited to the board chair. Board members will practice God-honoring hospitality by arriving on time (with homework done), pocketing all devices, listening, engaging, speaking thoughtfully—and not leaving early. And most important—every board member (and the CEO) will learn the spiritual gifts of colleagues around the board table—and encourage each person to leverage their spiritual gifts, their strengths, and their passions.

BOARD DISCUSSION: Do we practice God-honoring hospitality before, during, and after our board meetings? How could we be more hospitable? Why does this matter?

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, June 24, 2017

Called to Serve: The Phone-Book-Size Board Packet Syndrome


Note: This is No. 19 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: “A friend told me recently that when he gets his agenda package only a day or two before the meeting, he knows he is not being taken seriously.”

In his two-page section on “Be a Good Communicator,” De Pree touches a raw nerve—one that board members whine about frequently. He notes that effective communication between the CEO, the board chair, and all board members involves:
   • Agenda packets arriving well in advance of the meeting
   • “Producing usable minutes of the meeting in a short time.”
   • Being a "lavish" communicator.

I was reminded of the helpful Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes Great Boards Great,” by Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld. He, too, whines about late-arriving board meeting materials:


“What kind of CEO waits until the night before the board meeting to dump on the directors a phone-book-size report, that includes buried in a thicket of subclauses and footnotes, the news that earnings are off for the second consecutive quarter? Surely not a CEO who trusts his or her board. Yet this destructive, dangerous pattern happens all the time.”

I know. I know. It’s very, very challenging to gather all the materials and documents and get them out the door to board members on a timely basis. Solution? Some boards memorialize the frequency of board reports (and arrival dates for board meeting pre-reading materials) in their board policies manual. (See Fred Laughlin’s and Bob Andringa’s excellent resource on BPMs here.)

Effective communication is fueled by trust. As Dan Busby writes in Trust: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness, there are eight teamwork examples from the Old and New Testaments, noting that trust starts at the top. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever given a board devotional talk using Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from Daniel 3.) 

Busby also writes, “The largest penalty paid by Christ-centered ministries is the ‘low-trust’ penalty.” Have you ever connected the dots between effective board communication and God-honoring trust?

BOARD DISCUSSION: Does trust fuel our motivation for effective communication? Do we communicate lavishly? Do pre-meeting materials, reports, and minutes arrive with adequate time to reflect and discern next steps? Are board members being taken seriously?

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, June 12, 2017

Called to Serve: If No Progress—Skip the “Progress Report!”

Note: This is No. 18 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: “…one of the great time wasters for any group is the routine of giving progress reports when there’s been no progress.”

In his excellent chapter on “A Chairperson’s Guide,” De Pree continues to dispense governance wisdom in chunky nuggets and tongue-in-cheek witticisms. It’s the chair’s role, he says, to check with subcommittee chairpersons “to ensure there will be substance to their reports. If not, don’t risk frustrating the commitment of good people.”

Perhaps your executive committee could invest two minutes per committee (and I hope that’s not more than 10 minutes total!) to review the committee reports presented at your last meeting. Were they fruitful or frustrating?

Here are three reasons they might be frustrating:

#1. No SMART Goals. The best committees have three to five annual “SMART” Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-related). Without crystal clear goals (recorded in the minutes), you risk wandering into the foggy wilderness.

#2. No Clarity Between Board and Staff Roles. Too many committees (let me say that again)…WAY too many committees…become a volunteer arm of the staff instead of a sleek, mission-driven committee that addresses fork-in-the-road policy issues.

#3. No Alignment With the Vision, Mission and Strategic Plan.  An astute committee chair will always introduce an agenda topic by connecting it to previous or future board action. Example: “As you know, our Rolling 3-Year Strategic Plan calls for us to introduce XYZ by the second quarter of next year—so our committee has been reviewing the staff recommendation on how this program might impact our Board Policies Manual section on outside audits of programs over X dollars.”

Bonus Reason #4. The BHAG is Just a BAG!  Maybe…the reason that committee meetings (and their lack-of-progress progress reports) are so frustrating is because board members (or staff) pull trustees into the weeds—rather than into the heavens.  If your BHAG (Big HOLY Audacious Goal) lacks the HOLY, then slow down and assess your “called to serve” core values and commitments. Do you experience holy ground moments—even in committee meetings?

Remember 1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NIV): “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 

BOARD EXERCISE: At your next board meeting, present a gift card to the first committee chair who courageously announces, “We have no progress to report, but we are working on our three to five annual SMART Goals that the board approved at the last meeting. Thus ends our report!” 

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, May 24, 2017

Called to Serve: Be a Frantic Learner!


Note: This is No. 17 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: “Be a frantic learner. Feel a strong obligation to learn everything you can about your organization’s history, about its vision, its mission, its present circumstances, and the people in it.”

But wait…be a frantic learner about what? And what else?

Here are four more topics where “frantic learning” will pay rich dividends:

#1. Be a frantic learner about Governance 101. Many highly competent people enter board service through the volunteer door and—no surprise—inappropriately wear their volunteer hats in the boardroom and—without thinking—wear their governance hats when volunteering. Be a frantic learner and view the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 2: Balancing Board Roles—Understanding the 3 Board Hats: Governance, Volunteer, Participant.   

#2. Be a frantic learner about policy governance. Some boards claim they operate with a “Policy Governance®” model, but in my experience, few do. (And not every board should.) I encourage boards to understand the continuum between “Policy Governance®” and hands-on/in-the-weeds board governance. At least one person on your board should be a frantic learner and read Boards That Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations, by John Carver.
    
#3. Be a frantic learner about dating board prospects. Inviting a friend-of-a-friend-of-Cousin Eddie to serve on your board (“He is wealthy!”) might fill a slot at the last minute, but the best boards take 18 to 36 months to “date” board prospects before proposing marriage. Be a frantic learner and view the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members—Leveraging the 4 Phases of Board Recruitment: Cultivation, Recruitment, Orientation and Engagement.

#4. Be a frantic learner about spiritually discerning God’s voice. It’s possible that your board is skilled at decision-making, but not discernment. Bill Hybels notes, “…I meet many people who claim to have never heard the promptings or whispers of God. Not even once. Sometimes when I probe a little deeper, I discover that their lives are so full of noise that they can’t possibly hear the Holy Spirit when he speaks.”

So when your board is faced with that critical fork-in-the-road decision when you must spiritually discern God’s voice—what if your board is made up of individuals, who in their own lives “have never heard the promptings or whispers of God?” Big problem! Be a frantic learner and read The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God. Having the Guts to Respond, by Bill Hybels.

BOARD EXERCISE: Before you order your next “everyone read this book before the board retreat,” take time to discern where frantic learning is needed. Seek God’s voice—not the hype from the bestsellers list.

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, May 17, 2017

Called to Serve: Board Member Self-Measurements


Note: This is No. 16 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: “How will I know if I am doing a good job?”

I gotta say…“What Does a Trustee Promise?” (pages 53-60) is a powerful summary of a board member’s role and responsibilities. I could milk this chapter for at least five blogs, but I won’t.

Chew on these morsels:
    • “The opportunity to be a member of a non-profit board is a special gift to us as persons seeking to serve and grow.”
   • “Like other forms of leadership, it’s not a position or an honor, but rather a demanding responsibility, a meddling in other people’s lives, and hard work that requires continuous learning.”

So…how should board members discern if they are doing a good job—if they are effective? Max De Pree says “a trustee should work to establish pertinent and compassionate ways to measure what matters.” It might look like this:

#1. Courtesy. Do I prepare for meetings, arrive early for meetings, and pocket my iPhone during meetings?

#2. Commitment. Do I affirm the mission and advocate for it—and do I know, affirm and practice our organization’s core values? (Can I recite them right now?)

#3. Context. De Pree asks, “Who am I in this context?” and “What is my purpose?” and what unique gifts do I bring to this context?

#4. Covenant. De Pree again on covenantal relationships: “It means that we spend reflective time together; that we’re vulnerable to each other; that we can challenge each other in love and deal with conflicts as mature adults.”

#5. Critique. “…evaluation is such a ticklish matter with volunteers that I have come to be a great believer in the need for written reflections as a way of gauging service and contribution.”

Imagine…if twice-a-year, every board member self-assessed their courtesy, commitment, context, and covenant—in writing—to discern if they were doing a good job. Imagine!

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24, Living Bible)

BOARD EXERCISE: Before your next meeting, ask board members to read De Pree’s chapter, “What Does a Trustee Promise?” and then write a confidential, self-assessment, “How will I know if I’m doing a good job?” Discuss.

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).