Sunday, April 27, 2014

Board Meeting Rules of Thumb: The First 45 Minutes

Your board members have an inner compass that pre-calculates the effectiveness of every board meeting within the first 45 minutes.

Much like the first five minutes of your pastor’s sermon… (“Wow! What a great intro. I’m taking notes!”)

Or the first 15 minutes of meeting new friends for dinner… (“Boring already? This is going to be a long evening.”)

…the first 45 minutes of your board meeting sets the tone for the entire meeting. So here’s my rule of thumb for ensuring maximum engagement of every board member.

Facilitate a discussion exercise so every board member verbally contributes within the first 45 minutes of every board meeting. 

News Flash! Your board members did not get up extra early to get their “day job” assignments completed, then drive across town (or hop on a plane) only to sit and listen quietly in the board meeting to boring CEO and senior team reports. (In the hallway, and driving home, they wonder, “Why am I needed here?”) 

There’s a better way. Extraordinary boards leverage the wisdom in the room by engaging board members in the first inning—not the ninth inning of a board meeting. How?

In the first 45 minutes, toss out a probing question. “Our management team is looking at the Vision 2020 goals and we’re wondering if we should go with Plan A or Plan B on Goal #4? Take eight minutes, in teams of two or three board members each, and wrestle with your thoughts. Maybe you have a Plan C?  Then, we’ll take 15 minutes for each team to report back.”

Thoughtful questions will engage your board members. And in small teams, everyone gets a chance to talk. Everyone is engaged! 

I facilitated this exercise with a board several years ago, and at the end of a four-hour meeting, the chair told me. “For two years, Jim has never spoken up in a board meeting—but his insights today were stunning.” I remember what happened. Because of the process, all the regular “talkers” were quiet and all the quiet folks were given space to talk. 

I heard Rebecca Manley Pippert share this wisdom some years ago:
“Jesus always seemed to be doing two things:
asking questions and telling stories.
Christians always seem to be doing two other things:
giving answers and preaching.”

QUESTION: How much time do you allocate in board meetings for questions versus answers?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Good to Great Governance: Who Cares?

You’ve heard the sad story of the board that belatedly realizes their CEO has learned very little from 20 years of CEO “leadership.” Instead, the scorecard would reveal that he or she has had just one year of leadership—but repeated 20 times.

How about your board?

Are your governance competencies improving, plateauing, or declining—and who is monitoring this? As a Christ-centered organization, are you—actually—becoming more Christ-centered? Are you more concerned about “how many” or “how well?” And who cares about this?

After the success of Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, he supplemented that best-seller with a 35-page monograph for nonprofits, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer.

Collins wrote, “The moment you think of yourself as great, your slide toward mediocrity will have already begun.” He doesn’t footnote that statement with Scripture, but you could.
Do your vision and mission statements
trumpet arrogance or humility? 
And what are you measuring?

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance,” adds Collins. “Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.” Your board will appreciate his insights on how a nonprofit or church measures results.  As an example, Collins notes how the Cleveland Orchestra measures “greatness.” 

Yet contrast Good to Great with the new book, The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes, by Gary Hoag, Scott Rodin and Wes Willmer. The authors add insight and richness to the critical measurement questions that great boards must ask. (Order one for every board member from ECFAPress.)

Collins says, "All data is flawed. It doesn't really matter whether you can quantify your results. What matters is that you rigorously assemble evidence—quantitative or qualitative—to track your progress."

The authors of the The Choice challenge Christ-centered boards and CEOs to care about results, yes, but, more importantly, to
understand the mega-difference
between “Earthly Oriented Metrics”
and “Eternity-Oriented Metrics.” 
Now that’s a boardroom conversation I’d like to videotape.

QUESTION: Hoag, Rodin and Willmer write, “Just because a goal is so big it can only be accomplished if God shows up, does not mean it aligns with His will.” Do you agree? How do you “right-size” kingdom goals in your organization?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Laughter Is an Instant Vacation

Sometimes board members take themselves too seriously. I speak from personal experience.

I chair the board of a credit union and last week our CEO emailed me some very disappointing news (I thought). I quickly scanned the news release—and was dumbfounded! 

In credit union circles, the regulators have a rating system, C.A.M.E.L., to assess a financial institution’s condition -- (C)apital adequacy, (A)ssets, (M)anagement Capability, (E)arnings, and (L)iquidity (also called asset liability management).

Trust me. I had created a brilliant memory device for C.A.M.E.L.—and it helped me pass the rigorous Board Financial Literacy online exams the regulators now require of all board members.  So when the news release, from a professional services firm, arrived in my inbox—I was fit to be tied!  The regulators had dropped C.A.M.E.L. for a new rating system, C.O.U.G.A.R.  All that work and study gone to waste!

At our executive committee meeting last week, I suggested that this important new requirement be addressed at the next board meeting—and, perhaps, it might require a full one-hour discussion at our next board planning retreat.  Our CEO just nodded his head and asked for our recommendations.

Then Mike, who obviously reads ALL of the materials more thoroughly than I do, gently interrupted:

“John, did you notice the date on that C.O.U.G.A.R. press release? It was April 1—April Fools’ Day.”


In Jerry and Mary White’s new book, To Be a Friend: Building Deep and Lasting Relationships, they quote Milton Berle’s great line,
“Laughter is an instant vacation.”

So, apparently, I treated our CEO and executive committee members to a mini-vacation.

QUESTION: Do you laugh enough at your board meetings? (And do you laugh at the appropriate times? Read the wisdom from Olan Hendrix who said, “There are two things you should never joke about: prayer and fundraising.”)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Benchmarks for the Perfect Board Member!

I’ve been hanging out with board members for more than 40 years, including 30 years as a nonprofit CEO, so what I’m blogging today is remarkable. I’m stunned. You’ll be stunned.

Last month I met
the Perfect Board Member!

We spent 48 hours together, including the three-hour trip from the airport to the board retreat center (just the two of us), and ditto for the return trip. 

Connor (not his real name) left me speechless. He is truly my new benchmark for the Perfect Board Member.

I’ve always resonated with Jim Brown’s practical book, The Imperfect Board Member: Discovering the Seven Disciplines of Governance Excellence. But now, perhaps I could write the sequel, The Perfect Board Member

At the board retreat that weekend, I heard Connor share what I’m calling “7 Stunning Commitments.” I’ve wordsmithed them a bit, but the core idea came from Connor, a young entrepreneur with a generous passion for the organization’s mission—and a savvy understanding of God-honoring governance. Here are my new benchmarks:

“Connor’s Commitments”

1) “I only serve on one board at a time—so I can give high priority to leveraging my time, talent and treasure—and my passion and spiritual gifts—for this wonderful ministry.”

2) “My spouse and family are enthusiastically ‘all in.’ God has called each of us to give high priority to this ministry, as volunteers and ambassadors. In fact, my wife wants me to cut back my hours at work—so I have more volunteer time.”

3) “I usually respond to our CEO’s emails and phone calls on the same day, but never more than 24 hours later. I guess others don’t do that—because she thanks me every time!”

4) “I read board and committee reports, financial reports, and all supplementary materials prior to board meetings. I jot down comments and questions—and email those to the CEO at least two days before the meeting. I don’t want to surprise her or play ‘The Gotcha Game’ in a board session.”

5) “I honor our board policy protocols and never bring my ‘Volunteer Hat’ questions or concerns to a board meeting. I bring those to the staff person overseeing my volunteer role.”

6) “I send birthday cards to our CEO and last year several of us treated the CEO to lunch on her employment anniversary.”

7) “Prayer changes things, so recently I’ve been encouraging the board to move from decision-making to discernment. We are trying to build spiritual discernment into all of our thinking and planning. Prayer is changing my life (and my day job) too!”

So how did this CEO recruit the Perfect Board Member? She didn’t. (Today is April Fools’ Day.)

QUESTION: But seriously, when your board members are driving home from a board meeting or board retreat, do they have benchmarks for self-assessing their effectiveness as board members?