Friday, March 28, 2014

Embed Succession Planning!

In a brilliant new governance board, Boards That Lead, the co-authors devote an entire chapter to CEO succession, which they call “The Ultimate Decision.”

When I think of an “ultimate” decision for a Christ-centered board, I’m thinking about giving God the glory—and ensuring that our fork-in-the-road decisions are guided by a spiritual discernment process, grounded in Kingdom values with eternity in view.

Yet certainly one of those big decisions is about CEO succession.  Even the book’s subtitle is a helpful guide for board members:
“When to Take Charge,
When to Partner, and
When to Stay Out of the Way.”

Warning boards that “nothing can fully make up for the choice of a wrong CEO,” the three co-authors, Ram Charan, Dennis Carey, and Michael Useem present an insightful list—and color commentary—on “Ten Principles for Finding the Right CEO.”  

This list in Chapter 6 is just one of 18 practical checklists from these experienced governance gurus who work on the for-profit side. Here are their 10 points:
   1. People set strategy.
   2. Implement a CEO and successor evaluation methodology.
   3. Include in the CEO’s evaluation an assessment of how well the company [ministry] is building a succession plan for the next generation of company leaders.
   4. Place the board leader [board chair, in nonprofit circles] in charge of the succession process.
   5. Retain a high-performing chief executive, but also work to keep capable successors.
   6. Seek candid comparative data on inside CEO candidates from those who have worked with all of them. (Here they reference a 450-degree assessment.)
   7. Make direct contact with both sources and candidates to verify information.
   8. Review outside consultants carefully to prevent conflicts of interest.
   9. Maintain confidentiality.
   10. Embed succession planning in corporate culture.

At your next board meeting, ask “What would it look like for us to embed succession planning in our culture?” And you’ll need to address the obvious next question: “What board chair, or board member, or search committee has time to thoroughly meet these high expectations?” 

My answer: That’s why I encourage people serving on Christ-centered boards to ask themselves two questions: 
     1. Is my calling crystal clear? Has God called me to serve on this board—and is that calling affirmed by my spouse (if married) and perhaps even my organization (if not retired)? This will take big doses of time, thought and prayer!
     2. And to engage deeply and effectively as a board member/steward of God’s work, have I limited my board service to just one or two boards (until retired)?

The Christ-centered board, of course, will add to this above list of 10 principles. For example, David L. McKenna’s excellent book, Stewards of a Sacred Trust: CEO Selection, Transition and Development for Boards of Christ-centered Organizations (published by ECFA Press), reminds us of the holy opportunity and duty for Christ-centered boards:
CEO selection
is a sacred trust.

Are you ready?

QUESTIONS: If tomorrow, your current CEO gave you a 60-day resignation notice, is your board prepared for the succession process? Who should read these two books—and recommend next steps at our next board meeting?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Empty Chair Syndrome

An analyst for a forensic crime lab, an attorney who works with the poor, and a young entrepreneur…all walk into a two-day board training session.

Sorry…no punchline.  It actually happened last week.

No joke.  These three were joined by 35 other board members, plus nine CEOs, at a foundation-sponsored board leadership and development program for nine non-profit ministries. Before the program ends, these highly committed board members will miss four days of work at their day jobs this spring because they want to improve their competencies in their board jobs.

Lately, I’ve been stunned at the commitment level of hundreds of board members.  One university professor had unavoidably missed two board meetings recently, so to be both physically and mentally present at a board meeting last month, she skipped a long-planned, albeit short, family vacation.

I’ve noticed that when board chairs—and the whole board—set the bar high, the “empty chair syndrome” is not a problem at board meetings.
Fruitfulness starts
with faithfulness.

And when boards are plagued with absent board members and unexcused absences are the norm, and not the exception, it's past time to address the syndrome.

My Christian camp and conference center colleagues often say, “You can’t minister to empty beds.” We could turn that around for board members, “You can’t spiritually discern God’s direction with empty chairs.”

Sometimes the empty chair syndrome has a simple solution:
   • Perhaps the board meeting agenda needs to be more compelling—with background reports, ready-for-the-minutes recommendations, and think pieces.
   • Maybe, as John Maxwell suggests, you need to have the meeting before the meeting.
   • Or maybe the board materials need to arrive sooner (7-14 days in advance)—with a call-to-prayer request for the fork-in-the-road decisions ahead.
   • Or the chair needs to reiterate the board attendance policies—and have one-on-one conversations (in person, if possible) with board members teetering on the edge.  (Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for absences, and with relief, a board member might appreciate the grace given to step down.)

Well-executed board meetings inspire high commitment.  And highly committed board members inspire board chairs and CEOs to deliver board meetings that are God-blessed and joy-filled.  We all experience deep satisfaction, and an indescribable sense of God’s leading in our lives together, when we have our board ducks in a row.

Galatians 5:22-23 reminds us, “But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”
QUESTION: Are you inspiring your board members to be faithful in board attendance—not for the rules, but for the Kingdom opportunities?