Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Staff Reports at Board Meetings: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Like you, I’ve observed and endured my share of staff reports at board meetings. They fit into three categories, but I’ll start with the ugly so we end on a high note.


The Problem: Ill-prepared and unrehearsed, some senior staff see a verbal board report as their opportunity to dazzle the board—should the CEO be downed by the proverbial bus. It’s all too obvious and frequently cringe-worthy. The “ugly” reports are rarely short and pithy—or helpful to the board’s role. They often regurgitate written reports that many board members stopped reading years ago. 

The Solution: CEOs must coach senior staff so their reports are humble, accurate, and related to board policy at the highest level. When staff misunderstand the role of the board—and the proper role of staff reports at the board meeting—it’s often too tempting for board members to inappropriately engage and micro-manage the tantalizing topics served up by staff. The board chair must nip this in the bud! One resource for every report-giver: 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations, by Joey Asher.


The Problem: Even with a well-coached staff member who understands where the board has landed on the policy governance continuum, bad things do happen—and it’s often spelled “PowerPoint.” 

The Solution: Board guru Eugene H. Fram preaches, “The maximum number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation is 10.” His new book for boards, Going for Impact, has nine more rules in the short chapter, “How to Use Board Members’ Time Wisely.” Balance the 10-slide edict with the social styles of your board members. Analyticals thrive on data. Drivers prefer just five slides. Amiables would enjoy PowerPoints with ministry stories and photos. And you’ll bless Expressives by inserting photos of them!


The Problem: You’d think board members would appreciate a buttoned-down, quick staff presentation on the 2020 Vision Project: on schedule, under budget, high customer satisfaction ratings, and powerful Kingdom impact. No problems! That’s always good news, but remember this: board members need to be needed. Even when delivering excellent reports, the CEO and staff must discern how to engage board members and inspire their best thinking and discernment. (For more on this, read “The Gold Standard Question for Board Members.”)

The Solution: Ed McDowell, executive director at Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center, Stanwood, Wash., works with his board chair to allocate one to two hours at each quarterly board meeting for what they call “heavy lifting.” Here the board practices generative thinking and wrestles with a big ministry opportunity or dilemma. They pray, they discern, they welcome conflicting views—and (get this) they drive home from those meetings with a holy sense that they were needed and each oar in the water actually mattered!

QUESTION: How could staff reports at board meetings be sharper, more helpful to the board’s role, and engage board members more deeply?

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