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?

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.


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).

Friday, February 17, 2017

Called to Serve: Governance Through the Prism of the Agenda


Note: This is No. 6 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.)


Whew! This book is packed with meat and potatoes! Today’s meal is from page 23—and we haven’t even tasted 75 percent of the book yet.

Max De Pree says the best way to look at what a board does is “to see it through the prism of the agenda.” (I’ve never seen “prism” and “agenda” in the same sentence.) What an intriguing thought!

This former board chair of Fuller Seminary writes that the agenda ought to have a future orientation and the following areas should be given high priority on the agenda:
   • Strategic plans
   • Financial enabling and soundness
   • Facility needs
   • Governance
   • Succession plans

People who are task-oriented and get-it-done “Type A” movers and shakers may not (my opinion) have the wiring, or the gifting, to be effective board members. De Pree cautions, “The board is not an instrument for doing.”

He adds, “Of course, it does some important things—but primarily the board exists for other purposes. To reflect the mission and vision and strategy of the organization, the board is responsible for determining the philosophy, the values, and the policies of the organization.”

That’s a timely and insightful reminder—especially to nominating committees. As you create the criteria and a matrix for future board members, the job description of the board member must be established before you consider any nominees. What the board does will determine the profile for board members. What competencies do you need?

Does Karen have prior experience in spiritually discerning issues of mission, vision, and strategy? Does Alberto understand (and does he believe) that board members are recruited to wear governance hats—not volunteer hats? Will Tashawna add value when the board annually reviews the emergency and long term succession plans? (Who has that competency?)

As we pray and spiritually discern who should be in our board prospect pipelines, Max De Pree is calling us to see governance work from a unique viewpoint—“through the prism of the agenda.” And he quotes Walter Wright: “A board holds the future and mission in trust.”

Will Karen, Alberto and Tashawna make great board members? Are they future-oriented? Hold up your recent agendas to the light—and discern if their experience and wisdom would help your board address those critical fork-in-the-road agenda items and policy decisions about the future.

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: Do our board agendas align with our philosophy and theology of governance? Do they “hold the future and mission in trust” by focusing on priorities that are future-oriented? Do we nominate people who have demonstrated competence in hearing God’s voice about our future?

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 10, 2017

Called to Serve: How to “Table” a Thank You

Note: This is No. 5 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.)

I quote this Max De Pree insight at least once a week: 
“The first responsibility of a leader
is to define reality.” 


But do you know the rest of the story? He adds, “The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

So after highlighting 10 marks of an effective board in Called to Serve (the previous two blogs), De Pree throws in a bonus measurement of board effectiveness:

#11. “An effective board says ‘thanks.’”

Imagine the ripple effect if board members were thanked as creatively as Kareem Abdul Jabbar was once thanked. (NBA coach Pat Riley and players Isiah Thomas and Julius Erving have called him the greatest basketball player of all time.)

Max De Pree writes about Kareem’s last season, 1989, with the Los Angeles Lakers:

“Seven feet two inches tall and on his last circuit of all the towns the Lakers played in, he was honored in every city because of who he was and what he had done for basketball. 

In Dallas, a businessman presented a gift to Kareem and had obviously thought about saying thank you. He had a special table built, higher than usual, on which to place the gift for Kareem. The businessman observed that you shouldn't ever make a person stoop to receive a gift. Now I think that is a marvelous lesson, isn't it?”

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: How does your board thank people? Do you consider the recipient's “love language?” Read how one board honored a retiring board chair—and why the thoughtful gift still brings tears to his eyes.

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).