Monday, March 25, 2013

Board Input Versus Board Output

Last Saturday, I facilitated a half-day board retreat and asked the board members to rate the meeting on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being high). One thoughtful board member answered, “I’ll give you my rating after we see the next draft of the strategic plan.”

Bingo! That was a brilliant answer! Effective input is important, but output is critical.

“Directors should not confuse hard work, as commendable as it is, with meaningful results,” says Ram Charan in Owning Up: The 14 Questions Ever Board Member Needs to Ask.  

In his chapter, “How Can Our Board Self-Evaluation Improve Our Functioning and Our Output?” Charan quotes an influential board member. This proud-of-his-work director explained, “I personally spent 250 hours on board work last year, including my committee work. And most of my fellow directors did about the same.”

Unimpressed by input only, Charan asked him, “What would you say are the one or two things your board did that really made a difference for the company?”

He added, “The director took a long pause and looked up at the ceiling. He seemed lost in thought, like he was struggling to come up with a concrete answer. As I waited for him to respond, I realized that he probably had never thought about his board work in that way.”
“The board’s output—the quality of the decisions
it makes and actions it takes—is the 
acid test of effective corporate governance.”

Adapting the author’s counsel to Christ-centered boards, I would add, “Does the board in fact help the CEO and the ministry achieve better Kingdom results both short-term and long-term?”

“When boards fail to consider their output,” says Charan, “they can easily convince themselves and others that they’re doing well when in fact the essence of their governance is weak.”

Last Saturday, I was blessed to be in a room with board members who understood that output is critical.  Faithful board service (showing up) is not enough—Kingdom work demands meaningful results because the Great Commission stakes are so high.

QUESTION: “What would you say are the one or two things your board did in the last 12 months that really made a difference for your ministry?”

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Board Meeting Body Language

THE PROBLEM—annoying boardroom behaviors!

Email Eddie: His life on the outside is so important (so he thinks) that he’s reading or sending emails (click, click, click) throughout your board meeting.

Sidebar Sally: Her need to add side comments to virtually every agenda item distracts everyone within earshot. 

Tardy Teresa: “Did I miss anything?” is the annoying interruption (cue the loud voice) from this always late, often-clueless board member.

Tortoise Tom: Worst case—this guy’s your board chair and talks very…very…slowly…and chairs the meeting with the speed of an hour glass of molasses. 

THE SOLUTION—talk about it!

What if…one of the distinctives of Christ-centered governance was that we reject the silliness of silent suffering and address the mini-elephants in the room?

What if…we challenge Email Eddie, and all board members, 
to focus on the agenda 
and silence the cell phone
instead of God’s voice?

What if…we trust God (and our families and staff members) to handle things outside the board meeting, while we steward the work of God in the meeting?

What if…instead of whining about Sidebar Sally in the hallway after the meeting, we ask the chair to address her annoying sidebar conversations?

What if…we affirm the value: “If you’re not early, you’re late.” And what if…Tardy Teresa understands why being late does not honor God or God’s people?

What if…frank, but gracious feedback was shared with Tortoise Tom—and he was open to coaching to improve his board chair competencies? (“Thanks for this brief discussion, now who will propose a motion to approve?”)

We delude ourselves when we think we can hide our boardroom body language. Our raised eyebrows, rolling eyes, tightened lips and folded arms project our discomfort.  If your style is to ignore annoying boardroom behavior—rather than to appropriately address it—I have a name for you: Ostrich Oliver. 

QUESTION: What are your unwritten rules about board behavior? What guidance do you get from Scripture when confronting character or behavioral flaws?

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Meeting Before the Meeting

John Maxwell says, “the secret to a good meeting is the meeting before the meeting." He credits his meeting management wisdom to Olan Hendrix, the first president of ECFA.

In 10 quick-reading pages in his book, Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading (read my review), Maxwell builds the case for turning routine meetings into productive action-oriented gatherings.  Following the counsel of Hendrix, he writes that the meeting before the meeting: 
   • helps you receive buy-in
   • helps followers to gain perspective
   • increases your influence
   • helps you develop trust
   • avoids your being blindsided.

The “no surprises” rule is critical for certain people in each meeting—and typically, that means you must meet with them in advance.  Maxwell preaches: 
“If you can’t have the meeting 
before the meeting, 
don’t have the meeting. 
If you do have the meeting before the meeting, but it doesn’t go well, don’t have the meeting. If you have the meeting before the meeting and it goes as well as you hoped, then have the meeting!”

Many CEOs, board chairs and committee chairs can profit from this counsel. Board members who are not on the Executive Committee or part of what C.S. Lewis called “the inner ring,” often do feel blindsided or ignored in the decision-making process—and that’s deadly.

CEOs sometimes whine, “What went wrong?” when their 30-slide PowerPoint fails to persuade board members.  In retrospect, the meeting before the meeting would have alerted leadership to opposing viewpoints, the need for more data, or the appropriate timing of a new big idea.

Proverbs 11:14 (The Message) says, “Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances.”

QUESTION: How will you know the perspective of your board members, if you don’t have some form of “the meeting before the meeting” (lunch, phone call, Skype call, etc.)?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Why Do Board Members Micromanage?

Why are some board members so easily tempted to micromanage? There are many reasons, but I believe there is one big reason.

In the absence of a rolling strategic plan process and a crystal clear ministry strategy, board members are given permission (by default) to roam the highways and byways of any topic that tickles their taste buds.

Proverbs 16:3 (The Message) says, “Put God in charge of your work, then what you’ve planned will take place.” (There is an assumption here that planning is in place.)

On this blog, I’ve mentioned Ram Charan’s helpful book for corporate boards, Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask (read my review). It’s packed with wisdom and caution for nonprofit ministry boards too.  

Charan’s fifth question (paraphrased) should be front and center in every board meeting: 
“Does Our Board Really Own 
the Organization’s Strategy?”

His best practices for the strategy question are both brilliant and practical—but the CEO will need to dramatically increase face time with board members to implement the ideas. But the pay-off could be huge—as you move micromanaging board members to a new level of strategic thinking.

He notes, “Strategy should always be in the back of directors’ minds. It helps to have the strategy brief or a two-page sheet of bullet points in the binder for every meeting.”  

Fred Smith said, 
     “I learned to write to 
     burn the fuzz off my thinking.”

Micromanagement happens in the vacuum created by ineffective planning.  It happens when the Big Picture is not clear and when the path to the target (if there is a target) is mostly verbal and/or frequently changing. It happens when the focus is on the Great Committee and not the Great Commission.

Finally, Charan cautions boards, “If the board and the CEO have lasting substantive differences, they have a choice: stay with the strategy or replace the CEO. Consider that management has a shelf life too, just like the strategy.”

QUESTION: What would be the upside if the board and senior team agreed on a two-page strategy document?