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?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

4 Tips When Board Members Dip Into Operational Areas

If your board members are never tempted to dip into operational areas—please nominate them today for the “Board Member Hall of Fame!”

It’s an easy trap:
   • The CEO casually mentions a problem area—and a board member with expertise in that realm jumps in with both feet and mouth.
   • Or…a senior team member sincerely values feedback from the board, but inappropriately invites board members—during the board meeting—to weigh in with their opinions, irrespective of their expertise!
   • Or…a board member, wearing her volunteer hat, questions a tactical decision in her favorite program—but it’s not an agenda item, nor should it be.

Mary Lynn McPherson, senior consultant with STRIVE! (a governance consulting firm), recommends four tips to help boards reach “an appropriate level of oversight,” while still keeping their fingers out of the operations.

The full article is posted here.  Here’s a quick summary:

TIP #1. Prioritize questions to management. For example, is there a violation of board policy? McPherson says that would be a high priority question, even if it’s “operational.” 

TIP #2. Start with the facts—end with a question. (This is my favorite tip.) She writes, “The manner in which we probe either builds or threatens rapport. When we assume others have a positive motivation to do what’s best, that goodwill is conveyed in our tone. Taking an objective focus on the facts is less threatening compared to ‘what are you going to do about…?’”

TIP #3. When it is tense, clarify your position. “When we suspect our queries might be received with sensitivity it can be helpful to state your positive intention.” (The tip includes two examples on thoughtfully probing without creating unnecessary tension.)

TIP #4. Ask yourself “is this issue ‘material’?” This is an excellent question. Not every question that bounces into the fertile minds of board members must be spoken out loud. Be sure to read this tip.

Download the article for your next board meeting. Perhaps divide the board into four groups for a do-it-yourself spiritual insights segment—and ask each group to drill down on one tip, and then suggest one or two Bible verses that would enrich the big idea behind each point. 

Example: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words cause quarrels.” (Proverbs 15:1, TLB)

QUESTION: In his book, The Power of a Whisper, Bill Hybels noted that at the end of a Willow Creek Community Church elders meeting, the chair posed this question: “Does anybody need to make amends for anything, clarify a point or apologize for a wrongdoing of any kind?” Have you ever asked that question at your board meeting?