Monday, May 21, 2012

The Perfect Board Member (PBM)

Jim Brown’s quick-reading board novel, The Imperfect Board Member, poignantly captures the reality of governance. There is no perfect board member.

Over the last several months, I’ve been listening to the whining, complaining and sighing of nonprofit ministry CEOs (and a few senior pastors).  For the most part, the positive comments about their board members outweigh the negatives—but they would agree that we all have our share of imperfect board members.

Yet if we could create a perfect board member, what would he or she look like?
Here’s my draft list:

#1. The Perfect Board Member (PBM) has an impeccable sense of timing.  Whether in board meetings or via phone calls or emails, a PBM knows when to bring up issues and when not to. (“This is our CEO’s busiest month of the year—I think my ‘helpful’ comments could backfire. I’ll wait until she is fully rested up.”)

#2. The Perfect Board Member is a student of the CEO.  A PBM knows and leverages the 3 Powerful S’s (strengths, spiritual gifts and social style) of the CEO. A PBM focuses on the CEO’s strengths, not his or her weaknesses.

#3. The Perfect Board Member is a student of fellow board members.  A PBM ensures that committee and task force assignments are based on gifts and competencies—so members serve out of joy, not duty or obligation. A PBM also knows his own unique gifting and strengths—and graciously says no to assignments that do not align with how God wired him.

#4. The Perfect Board Member has memorized the ministry’s mission statement, core values and the Big Holy Audacious Goal—and is constantly asking the question, “Is everything we’re doing in alignment?”  A PBM calibrates all agenda items against the mission, the strategy, the strategic plan, three to five annual S.M.A.R.T. Goals, and the Board Policies Manual.

#5. The Perfect Board Member affirms Ram Charan’s counsel in his book, Owning Up: “There is nothing more important for a CEO than having the right strategy and right choice of goals, and for the board, the right strategy is second only to having the right CEO.”

#6. The Perfect Board Member, per Jim Brown, keeps his nose in the business and his fingers out. A PBM doesn’t have time to micro-manage because she is deeply engaged in more important work: governance.

#7. The Perfect Board Member of a Christ-centered ministry rejects the old formula of sandwiching board work between a beginning and ending prayer—and instead—engages year-round in a spiritual discernment process to ensure that the board is hearing from God and not just asking God to rubber-stamp human endeavors.

QUESTION: What would you add when creating the Perfect Board Member?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Policy: The Board’s Chief Occupation

Not everyone is a “policy governance” zealot—and I’ve been in board consultations where just the mention of those two words will cause board members to feign illness (or worse).

Policy Governance Guru John Carver writes in his book, Boards That Make a Difference, “Governing by policy means governing out of policy in the sense that no board activity takes place without reference to policies. Most resolutions in board meetings will be motions to amend the policy structure in some way. Consequently, policy development is not an occasional board chore but its chief occupation.”

Frankly, few boards would see their “chief occupation” as policy development—but three board conversations just this week have reminded me that we waste a lot of time when the policy is unclear. And unclear policy likely means that our ministry outcomes will be fuzzy—and our kingdom work will be shoddy. “Ineffective governance” in Christ-centered organizations ought to be an oxymoron.

One CEO asked me to facilitate a board retreat to address the board’s proper role in strategic planning. (They are not yet all on the same page.)

Another board member had received a “constructive criticism” letter from an unhappy customer who wanted him to forward the email to every board member. I referred him to an existing policy regarding who can speak for the organization. We also talked about the difference between staff work and board work, and various policies now buried and forgotten in ten-year-old minutes.

Another CEO wanted clarification on the board’s role versus the CEO’s role in creating and casting the vision. No conflict yet, just confusion.

Had you listened in on my calls, I would have sounded like a broken record. (Oops—that’s an outdated term, but “broken MP3” doesn’t work either.)

An effective “Board Policies Manual” (BPM) would address all three of these questions.  And a good BPM is always a work in progress, designed to be amended at almost every board meeting; always available to every board member at every meeting (and/or posted on their iPads); and—I agree with Carver on this one—is the chief work of the board.

Question: At the beginning and end of each board agenda item, are you asking the key question: Is our policy on this issue current and clear, or does it need to be amended?