Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Quick Fix Tools for Board Self-Assessments

At least once a year, the best boards conduct a board member self-assessment exercise. Yet some boards delay the process until they have engineered the perfect assessment tool. Bad idea!

Peter Drucker wrote, “Self-assessment is the first action requirement of leadership: the constant resharpening, constant refocusing, never really being satisfied.”

Jim Collins also chimes in: “To throw your hands up and say, ‘But we cannot measure performance in the social sectors the way you can in a business,’ is simply lack of discipline. All indicators are flawed, whether qualitative or quantitative.” (Read more in his 35-page gem, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great.)

Whether your self-assessment takes five minutes or 50 minutes—anything is better than nothing. So here are some quick fix tools and ideas:

Five Minutes.  At your next board meeting, ask each board member to rate their annual performance on a scale of one to five (5 = excellent); and share their rating (and why) with a 30-second comment.  (Some do this at every meeting—see the blog, “Fast Feedback Tool” and “We All Need Feedback.”)

Five Tools. Pick one:

1) BoardSource has several options for board self-evaluations and board self-assessments.

2) Ram Charan’s latest book, Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem, has excellent questions for board self-evaluation. Customize these questions for your unique use.

3) Use the one-page Self-Assessment in the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey (62 pages) published in 2014 by ECFA. You can download a PDF here.

4) Customize the annual ECFA governance survey for your own use and benchmark your responses against the average responses of other ECFA-accredited organizations. 

5) Adapt the 20 board self-assessment questions from the book, Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards (Second Edition), by Richard T. Ingram (90 pages, BoardSource, 2008). 

The first title of six in BoardSource’s “Governance Series” delivers the generally agreed-upon list of the 10 roles and responsibilities of nonprofit board members. (Christ-centered boards will likely add one or two more.) The book includes an excellent 20-point self-assessment for board members, with probing questions like:
   • “Are there ways in which your talents and interests can be more fully realized at or between board or committee meetings?”
   • “Have you and the board taken steps to deal with real or apparent conflicts of interest in your board service?”
   • “Which aspect of your service on the board has been the least satisfying and enjoyable?”

Click here for a link to four governance books (including the one above) I reviewed in 2014. Again—the goal is not to create the perfect tool. The goal is to improve our board stewardship of the ministries God has entrusted to our oversight.

God is faithful and He will give you grace and courage as you trust Him. May God bless you in 2015!

QUESTION: How will you inspire your board members to measure and monitor their own effectiveness in 2015?

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Bigger Idea Than “Starbucks for Life!”

Your favorite coffee stop has a big idea this holiday season: “Starbucks for Life!”

Just go online and enter the code from your Starbucks receipt and you’ll be entered in the promotion to win Starbucks for life. (Or as the company defines life: “Starbucks for life means one free food or beverage item per day for 30 years.”) 

Maybe if you drink coffee for almost 11,000 days straight, it will do you in after 30 years?

So what does all that caffeine have to do with the governance of Christ-centered organizations?

The coffee promotion (a pretty big idea) got my attention. And then I wondered,
“What might be some of the truly
God-inspired big ideas coming in 2015?”

One of the classic governance roles of boards, according to BoardSource, is to “ensure effective planning.” (Read the Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, by Richard T. Ingram). Board members in 2015 will either add value or diminish value as they discern future priorities.

For some boards, it will be business as usual. Cross the “t’s” and dot the “i’s” and operate without faith goals.

Perhaps you’re on a board that’s worked very hard in 2014—and you’re tired. You just need a quiet, uneventful year—maybe focused on faithfulness and obedience versus human-size big ideas. That may be entirely appropriate.

A few boards, however, will pray for attentiveness to God’s voice and, with hands open, will embrace both big and small ideas from our Holy God. Imagine…the privilege of discerning God’s voice and following His plan! (And funding often follows when we follow His plan.)

We already know God’s biggest idea (which leaves Starbucks in the dust): eternity! And that unimaginable gift of Grace doesn’t expire in 30 years. Wow.

QUESTION: How will you help your board discern God’s voice for 2015? Are you chasing after Big Hairy Audacious Goals or Big HOLY Audacious Goals?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gen. McChrystal: “Go White-water Rafting With Your Board”

Effectiveness in the boardroom was addressed in The Wall Street Journal’s annual meeting of the CEO Council (100 CEOs of large companies). The insights were summarized in the paper’s December 9, 2014 special section, “CEO Council.”

In a sidebar Q&A with the WSJ and Retired General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, we learn this:

WSJ: “If you had the president and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a room, what would you advise them from a leadership standpoint on what to do now in Afghanistan?”

GEN. McCHRYSTAL: “I’d tell them to go get three cases of beer and go white-water rafting. It sounds like a joke, but when you get in the National Security Council room for the first time you think, ‘Boy, I made it. I’m in this room. This is kind of amazing.’

“And you look around and you’re not really a team. You’re polite to each other, and you talk. But think about it. We’re fighting a war. You spend months preparing a football or a baseball team for the season, but we take the most senior leaders, we put them in a room, we expect them to be a cohesive team to make tough decisions.

“And so, I would do things that started to build relationships so that you have something to fall back on when you disagree on the issues.

“I see the same thing in boardrooms for corporations. If they come in periodically, they don’t really know each other, they’re not cohesive; you’re not apt to get a very effective outcome. And I think that’s huge. 

“The strategic part is not that hard. Figuring out what to do, you can do that on a Saturday morning.”

Well said! Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld had similar advice in his Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes Great Boards Great.” (Read my review here.)

Or…take a page from the New York Times bestseller, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. George Yeoman Pocock, the master craftsman and leading designer and builder of racing shells in the 20th Century, advised a young man from the University of Washington rowing team:

“If you don’t like some fellow in the boat, Joe, you have to learn to like him. It has to matter to you whether he wins the race, not just whether you do.”

Depending on your organization’s doctrine and lifestyle statements, you could skip the General’s beverage recommendations, but the white-water rafting idea has merit. And for Christ-centered boards, I would build in a spiritual discernment component and ways to leverage the spiritual gifts of your board members. That will dramatically enhance relationships and boardroom dynamics.

Do you want Kingdom outcomes? Build cohesiveness. 

QUESTIONS: Are the relationships between your board members strong enough so when you disagree on the issues…you can do it in a Christ-honoring way? If not, is it time to get in the boat (or raft) together?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Only Bad Question Is the One You Had, But Didn’t Ask

Here’s savvy advice for new board members (actually all board members): “Do not rely on someone else to do your thinking.”

That’s from the very helpful book by John Pellowe, CEO of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities. Serving as a Board Member: Practical Guidance for Directors of Christian Ministries, based on a seminar and a DVD of the same title, the book is one of the best Christ-centered governance books available.

As you think about your next board retreat—and a book for every board member to read, consider this one.

In his foreword to Serving as a Board Member, Jim Brown, author of The Imperfect Board Member, notes “now it seems like ‘governance consultant’ is a pre-painted shingle that goes with every early-retirement, golden parachute check that gets handed out. The web is fraught with blogs and e-books on the topics of boards.”

So…pick your books carefully. Why this one? Right from the get-go in the first chapter, “Readiness to Serve,” Pellowe speaks to the hearts of future board members about passion and calling:
   • “If the ministry’s mission is not closely tied to your interests, your board service will be a draining experience…”
   • “The Holy Spirit can nudge us towards those good works that God has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10); this nudging is usually described as a call.”
   • “God’s individual call is normally in line with the gifts that you already have.”

And he’s just warming up on pages 4 and 5! He adds on page 7, “You really should be able to think theologically about the mission, governance, and leadership of the ministry you are serving. If you are new to the Christian faith, you may not yet be well enough equipped for board service in a Christian ministry.”

The book’s format is unique with the voices of other experts blended into sidebars. Pellowe, CEO of CCCC since 2003, sprinkles in his personal insights and stories (like his home church board meetings!) every few pages—fascinating stuff! Example: His story on page 126 on the “Bad” 3 Rs: boards that waste enormous amounts of time on “Reviewing, Rehashing and Redoing.”

This paragraph grabbed me—and is illustrative of Pellowe’s insights in every chapter:

“You must be diligent as a director. Make sure that you ask any questions that are on your mind. As the saying goes, the only bad question is the one you had, but didn’t ask. You may think that since you have a banker on your board, you do not need to ask any financial questions because someone else is looking after that. It is your duty to ask these questions anyway. Do not rely on someone else to do your thinking.”

QUESTIONS: When is the last time every board member read a helpful governance book? What’s the next book your board should read?