Friday, January 31, 2014

Stop and Smell the Culture!

Here’s another “board member temptation” on my list:

“To assume that all Christ-centered organizations
have similar organizational cultures.”

What happens when a new board member (and even a new CEO) doesn’t take time to study your ministry’s unique and distinct culture? He or she could run the risk of dramatically misreading and misunderstanding critical, historical and theological nuances that matter. Cultures grow either by default or design—and Peter Drucker often shared this warning:
“Company cultures are like country cultures.
Never try to change one.
Try, instead, to work with what you've got.”

Suppose that same new board member, recently named to the strategic planning task force, challenges the board with this often-repeated powerful idea, “Vision helps your dreams become bigger than your memories.”

I love that quotation, but what could go wrong? Well…what if the organization’s founder is still alive and highly influential? What if the focus on the future is misread as a repudiation of the past? What if cheerleaders for your ministry’s history are your major donors? What if the tribal stories are replaced by the “Vision 2020” campaign” brochures? Oops!

Past seminary board chair and corporate CEO, Max De Pree, author of Leadership Is an Art, alluded to culture issues when he said: “One of the important things leaders need to learn is to recognize the signals of impending deterioration.”  He kept a list and observed that leaders, especially in large organizations, fail to see the signs of entropy, including: 
   1) a tendency toward superficiality
   2) no longer having time for celebration and ritual
   3) a growing feeling that rewards and goals are the same thing
   4) when people stop telling tribal stories or cannot understand them
   5) when problem-makers outnumber problem-solvers.  

His list was longer—but you get the idea.My counsel for those board members with rolled-up sleeves and teeth clenched for the next—but possibly premature—visionary initiative? 
Chill out!
Yes—for the Christ-centered board member on a mission—time is short.  But slow down and smell the roses. Enjoy the journey. Pray. Spiritually discern God’s voice. And…before you push too hard on the “Vision 2020” campaign, be sure you understand the unique calling and unique culture of the ministry.

A.W. Tozer said, “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything.” So study your ministry’s culture and you may uncover the rich and thoughtful motivation that explains, in part, God’s blessing on the past. It could be a key to future impact.

BOARD EXERCISE: At your next board meeting, divide into groups of two for 10 minutes, and ask each group to bullet-point your ministry’s unique culture.  Share the results and then ask board members for one-minute fill-in-the-blank responses to: “Wow! I learned that…”

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Battle-ready Boards

In my last blog, I mentioned my running list of what I call “board member temptations.”  Here’s another one:

“To confuse the three hats of a board member:
governance, volunteer and participant.”

Here are four snapshots of recent conversations:

1) A well-meaning board member prodded others at a board meeting, “But if we’re not volunteering in numerous areas of this ministry—how will we know if our ministry is doing a good job or not?”

2) A board chair whined to me that board members are bringing their “volunteer hat” concerns directly to the board meeting—and not addressing those items through the appropriate staff channels. “Those issues have no place on our board’s agenda,” he said.

3) A CEO grimaced that the board had established a task force to research a topic that is unrelated to the board’s agreed-upon policy governance operating model.

4) Another CEO shared that his board members are hopelessly divided on the governance role of the board. Three board members micro-manage, yet the other board members apparently don’t have the character or the courage to address this dysfunction. (The CEO is seeking to “pastor” them out of this hole, but he will likely hit a dead-end and resign.)

THE SOLUTION? Sooner or later, every board must define roles and responsibilities—for the board, the board chair and the CEO. Some boards are proactive and document their operating philosophy in advance—before trouble hits the fan. 

Other boards, sadly, wait for the crisis before clarifying board roles—but that’s a terrible time to do your best governance work. Peter Drucker said,
“Fortunately or unfortunately,
the one predictable thing in any organization
is the crisis.
That always comes.”  
He added that the job of the leader is to build an organization that is “battle-ready.”

The Christ-centered board knows that a board’s operating style is rooted in its theology, its philosophy and the God-given past experiences of every board member around the table. The confusion over board hats (the governance hat, the volunteer hat, and the participant hat) will only get worse if you ignore the signs (like the four snapshots above).

There’s help!  Order the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 2: Balancing Board Roles (The 3 Hats) and view the 12-minute DVD at your next board meeting. Give the Read-and-Engage Viewing Guide to each board member and leverage the ideas in the Facilitator Guide.  Then pray and discern how your board will specifically eliminate the confusion between the three hats.

QUESTION: When a new board member prospect is interviewing three current board members about your board’s operating style, would all three agree on how you balance the three hats: Governance, Volunteer, and Participant?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

What Everyone Knows Is Usually Wrong

I keep a running list of what I call “board member temptations.”
  Here’s a common one:

“To make board decisions based on anecdotes and less-than-stellar analysis—versus requiring thoughtful and objective data, reports and dashboards that are in alignment with a God-inspired mission statement, Big Holy Audacious Goal (B.H.A.G.), crystal clear annual S.M.A.R.T. goals, and a strategic plan rooted in spiritual discernment.”

So this week when I read the new book, The Practical Drucker: Applying the Wisdom of the World’s Greatest Management Thinker, by William A. Cohen, I was reminded of this temptation. Peter Drucker, the father of modern management preached:
“What everyone knows
is usually wrong.”

The author notes, “What Drucker wanted to emphasize was that we must always question our assumptions, no matter from where they originate. This is especially so regarding anything that a majority of people ‘know’ or assume without questioning.” 

We’ve all been there.  The board is wrestling with an important decision—and a board member pontificates, “Well everyone knows that ABC equals XYZ! Let’s just go with Plan A and move on.”

Caution! We must not be intimidated by the bluster or the “everyone knows” rhetoric of a self-confident, self-appointed spokesperson for personal opinion that masquerades as objective truth.  We must not yield to the temptation to substitute anecdote for analysis. The voice and wisdom of Drucker needs to echo through our meetings:
“What everyone knows is usually wrong.”

In our journey to be Christ-centered board members, our opinions and interactions must be grounded in graciousness and generosity first, and then supported by data and discernment. In addition to the wisdom from the world’s greatest management thinker (who was also a Christ-follower), we are abundantly blessed to have direct access to the One the hymn describes as “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.”

QUESTION: In board meeting interactions, how will you inspire your members to graciously move from anecdote-based decisions to data-based and discernment-based decisions?