Monday, December 30, 2013

Equal Opportunity Talkers

At a debrief session with the board chair and the CEO, following a half-day board retreat, the board chair (gratefully) was elated:

“I don’t know how you did it, but one board member engaged more deeply at this meeting—and spoke so insightfully—
than he’s done in a whole year of board meetings.”

To explain what happened, let me paint the picture with two scenarios:

Scenario #1: Aggressiveness Wins—But the Board Loses

In this scenario, when the board chair asks that dreaded question, “Any thoughts? Anyone?”—and while others are thoughtfully discerning what might be said, the extroverts and expressive personalities on your board jump right in. (“Caution! Please connect brain with mouth before speaking.”)

The good news—immediate input gets the conversation going. The bad news—you never have a second chance to make a first impression.  If all the talkers do all of the talking (“Take a breath, please!”), agenda time is swallowed up before the thinkers have weighed in.

Scenario #2: Equal Opportunity Talkers

I call this preferred scenario, “Equal Opportunity Talkers.”  At least once at every board meeting (twice is better), the board chair seeks input on a strategic high level issue—and divides the board into teams of two's. (Some call this “2X2.”)

Example: “For the next seven minutes, I’d like you to discuss this in teams of two’s.  I’ll remind you at the halfway point so your partner has time to share his or her thoughts.  Then, we’ll ask each team to give a 90-second report—and we’ll summarize your thoughts on the flipchart. I’ll use the timer on my iPhone to keep us on track.”

I employed the Equal Opportunity Talkers facilitation method at that board retreat and the board chair immediately recognized that a quieter board member—when given equal time—had significant insights to offer.  That will happen with your board too. (For more on this subject, see The ‘Quieter’ Pool of Board Members.)

Why does this work?  There are many reasons, but the methodology perhaps goes back to the powerful leadership method modeled by Jesus. “After this the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.” (Luke 10:1, NIV) By the way, as your board discerns God's direction (Plan A or Plan B), the 2X2 approach is also a very powerful way to maximize your prayer time.

QUESTION: When your board members exited your last board meeting, what percentage of them would have said, “I made a very significant contribution today on an important topic”?

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Peaceful Urgency Continuum

What tone would characterize your board’s work and your board’s aspirations for your ministry?
   • Results-driven?
   • Activity-driven?
   • Reactive?
   • Focused?
   • Discerning?
   • Watchdog?
   • Cheerleader?

How about this tone?
Peaceful Urgency!

A CFO of a large church used that intentional phrase this week during our phone conversation.  I immediately wrote it down—because that’s a thoughtful blend of two worlds: Peaceful. Urgency.

Some years back while anxious over the pace of his life, John Ortberg called a wise friend who coached him back to sanity with this wise counsel,
“You must ruthlessly eliminate
hurry from your life.” 

He describes what happened next in his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Chapter 5: An Unhurried Life: The Practice of “Slowing”):

“Okay, I’ve written that one down,” Ortberg tells his friend somewhat impatiently. “That’s a good one. Now what else is there?”

After a long pause, his wise friend responded, “There is nothing else.”

Ortberg quotes Thomas Kelly:
“People nowadays take time
far more seriously than eternity.”

Whoa! There’s the other side of the Peaceful Urgency continuum.

Eternity—for the Christ-follower and for the ministry board member—matters. There is an urgency about eternity—and every time we stand with Handel’s Messiah—we’re reminded:
   • “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountains…”
   • “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised in corruptible, and we shall be changed.”
   • “…and He shall reign for ever and ever.”

So what is your board’s tone for this next year?   Eternity demands urgency—so how will you discern what level of urgency?  My suggestion: ask the Prince of Peace.

QUESTION: John Ortberg writes, “Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.” What do you do, in your board meetings and day-after-day, to forge a Peaceful Urgency as your board stewards God’s work?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pop Quiz on Your Elevator Speech

Try this at your next board meeting:

Board Chair: “OK. On a blank sheet of paper, write down our ministry’s elevator speech. Then, we’ll ask each board member to read what he or she wrote. Our CEO promises that if there’s alignment, we’ll get dessert with our meal!”

You know, of course, the definition of an elevator speech. It’s that succinct, compelling and powerful blurb you share with a person on a quick elevator ride. The Big Idea: by the time your elevator descends from the eighth floor to the first floor—you’ve briefly communicated the essence of your mission and your listener is enthusiastically asking for more information.

If your organization’s elevator speech is wordsmithed with precision, each board member can then customize your mini-story so it rolls out naturally with the right dose of personal passion and polish.
But if there is no agreed-upon elevator speech,
it’s likely your board, your staff and your key volunteers are mangling the mission and confusing potential clients, customers and givers.

The goal: get everyone on the same page—sharing the same elevator speech.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times ran a lengthy obituary on Russ Reid (1931 – 2013). His fundraising company, Russ Reid, serves rescue missions, ministries and other charities—and in 1966 helped put World Vision on the map.  The paper quotes Tom Harrison, Russ Reid’s chairman, who noted this about charities:
"These guys know how to do their work
but not how to tell their story."

The L.A. Times story added, “To many of them [nonprofit leaders], aggressive marketing was unseemly.

“In a 1987 talk to the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, Reid recalled a pastor on a conference stage being worried about how to introduce him moments later.

"'Would it be possible for me to introduce you as anything other than the president of an advertising agency?’ the pastor whispered.

"’No,’ Reid responded. That's what I am.’"

It’s possible that some of your board members tilt towards the view that marketing, elevator speeches, and all the rest, is unseemly.  It’s not.

John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide, explains:
“Marketing is getting people who
have a specific need or problem 
to know, like and trust you.”

Jantsch pioneered the “Talking Logo” concept and says that when describing what your organization does, you must communicate three things:
“I show.
I teach.
I help.”

That preaches! Imagine the impact if every board member of every Christ-centered organization could succinctly articulate their elevator speech—and their Kingdom ministry—with this simple three-point pattern: We show. We teach. We help.

QUESTION: So…what is your ministry’s elevator speech? Does it prompt the listener’s next question, “Wow! Tell me more!”

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Blunt Board Member Blesses His CEO!

A CEO confessed to me recently that several years ago a board member told him, “Now’s not the time for us to launch a strategic plan.”

Expecting just the opposite response, the ministry leader asked for the bullet points on why a planning process should be postponed.

The board member was blunt, but gentle: 
“Because you don’t have the discipline 
to implement a strategic plan.”

Whew! That’s one way to create conflict between a CEO and board member! But after reflection and prayer, the CEO agreed with his insightful board member.

Proverbs 25:11-12 (The Message) says, "The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry, and a wise friend’s timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger."

Side note: Patrick Lencioni’s brilliant book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Businessincludes a helpful pyramid of values:
Lencioni says that after you build trust, you need healthy conflict. And this dynamic duo of a visionary CEO and a pragmatic board member trusted each other enough to risk conflict by engaging conversationally in what, for some, would have been an awkward dust-up. (Interestingly, Lencioni also says that the reason some meetings—board meetings perhaps—are so boring is because they don’t have enough conflict!)

So what happened?  The CEO put the strategic planning process on hold, developed a sound and sustainable annual planning process, with metrics and dashboards—and now, he discerns, the organization just might have the discipline to not only create a strategic plan, but actually execute one.

As Eugene H. Fram and Jerry L. Talley acknowledge,

“Strategic plans are most vulnerable not in their development, but in their implementation. And implementation often hinges on some measurable indication of progress. Without those metrics, the plan is a group of intentions always on the verge of greatness. Without hard data on which to anchor organizational outcomes, the organization can wobble off course without a clear warning signal.”

And sensing that a strategic plan process will test the full capabilities and brainpower of his staff and board, the CEO told me the team will pursue a spiritual discernment process in tandem with the planning work. He loves Ruth Haley Barton’s wisdom, “Just because something is strategic does not mean it is God’s will for us right now.”

QUESTION: What’s the trust level between the board and the CEO? Is hard truth spoken frequently, sometimes, rarely or never?