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?

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?