Friday, May 29, 2015

Sorry! There Is No ONE Thing!

Warning! Beware of board members, CEOs, consultants, self-proclaimed governance experts (or any warm body clutching Robert’s Rules of Order) who would pontificate, “There is just ONE key to effective governance.”

Sorry. There is no ONE thing. 

• 3 Hats. There are at least three important hats every board member wears—not one. More info at: ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 2: Balancing Board Roles: Understanding the 3 Hats: Governance, Volunteer, Participant.

• 5 Questions. Peter Drucker says there are at least five questions that boards must address, including: “Who is our customer?” and “What does our customer value?” Read: The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization.

• 10 Responsibilities. BoardSource reminds us that there are 10 responsibilities of nonprofit boards, including the need to assess, monitor and strengthen programs and services.  Read: Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards.

• 12 Best Practices. Former foundation executive Dave Coleman preaches that boards must focus on 12 key areas, not just one. His fifth essential: “Boards have an effective CEO/Board Chair partnership.” Read: Board Essentials—12 Best Practices of Nonprofit Boards. Plus! The helpful Christ-centered book, Best Practices for Effective Boards (Fairbanks, Gunter, and Cauchenour) also has 12 best practices, including: “Board members are outstanding examples of giving regularly and sacrificially to the church, college, or organization they serve.”

• 14 Board Questions. Prolific governance author and guru, Ram Charan, eloquently convinced me that there are 14 critical questions for boards, including my favorite, “Does our board really own the [organization’s] strategy?” Read: Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask.

• 20 Buckets. While I see management positioned on a carefully balanced three-legged stool of Cause, Community, and Corporation—I believe a staff/board team must master 20 critical competencies. The “Board Bucket” is just one, but a critical one. Read: Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit

• 33 Principles. Really…there are more? Just this year, Independent Sector announced their list of 33 principles. The short version is available free as a two-page PDF.  The 86-page reference edition, Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice: A Guide for Charities and Foundations, is sold online. More info here.

• 85 Answers.  (We’re almost done!) BoardSource’s third edition of their board answer book now includes 85 questions and short answers. (The first edition was co-authored by Ted Engstrom and Bob Andringa.) This helpful guide has seven major categories, 85 topics, and 363 pages. If you’re looking for one of the big ideas in board service, Question 9 is a good place to start: “How does the board avoid the extremes of ‘rubber stamping’ and micromanaging?” Read: The Nonprofit Board Answer Book: A Practical Guide for Board Members and Chief Executives.

My recommendation: the Bible has the first and the final say on the keys to effective governance. One Great Commission (the mission), nine fruits of the spirit (core values), 10 commandments (character), 66 books—and a lifetime of learning how to walk in wisdom. Psalm 119:105 (NIV): “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” 

QUESTION: As a board, how should we discern the key essentials of effective Christ-centered governance? What’s the risk if we don’t have this discussion?

Friday, May 22, 2015

How Long (or Short) Should a Board Meeting Be?

When CEOs gather, a common question pops up from both rookie and experienced executives: “How long should our board meeting be?”

One size doesn’t fit all, of course. I usually answer with this Q & A directed to the 16th president of the United States: "Mr. Lincoln, how long do you think a man’s legs should be?" Lincoln responded: "Long enough to reach the ground."

Ditto board meeting length: long enough to accomplish your goals.

Some boards meet monthly over lunch. Others meet quarterly for a half-day. Another common pattern: two 24-hour meetings per year, plus two conference calls per year. One board I served met from Monday 2 p.m. to Tuesday 2 p.m., so board members could fly in on Monday morning and fly home on Tuesday afternoon—just one night away from home.

Local or regional organizations have different needs than national or international ministries. I have my druthers on meeting frequency and length and I tilt more toward the underlying values described in Jeffrey Sonnenfeld’s Harvard Business Review masterpiece, “What Makes Great Boards Great.”  

After studying board performance and CEO leadership for 25 years, Sonnenfeld’s conclusion is startling. “It’s not rules and regulations [or meeting length?]. It’s the way people work together,” says the author.

Sonnenfeld studied the common wisdom on effective governance (board size, age of board members, independence, active committees, etc.)—and discovering that these “pillars” made little difference in effectiveness, the author asked, “So if following good-governance regulatory recipes doesn’t produce good boards, what does?”

“The key isn’t structural, it’s social.”

Read the article (it’s convicting) and I’m guessing you’ll wonder if your entire board governance package is time-appropriate.  Some questions:
   • Has your board invested adequate time on the “social” side of building and enhancing relationships so, as Sonnenfeld suggests, your board practices a “virtuous cycle of respect, trust and candor?”
   • Are board meetings rushed—with no time for prayer, except the perfunctory opening and closing tip of the hat to Almighty God?
   • Are big issues (including possible conflicts of interest) identified on the agenda with appropriate time to hear from God and all board members?
   • Is there a spiritual discernment process in place for inviting new board members to join this holy circle?
   • Is serious time allocated for the CEO’s annual performance review?
   • Is thoughtful agenda time budgeted for the board’s annual self-assessment process?

Again, one size doesn’t fit all. Short meetings often short-circuit effective governance. Long board meetings may be long for all the wrong reasons. 

Noting “phone-book-size board reports,” Sonnenfeld asks, “What kind of CEO waits until the night before the board meeting to dump on the directors a phone-book-size report, that includes buried in a thicket of subclauses and footnotes, the news that earnings are off for the second consecutive quarter? Surely not a CEO who trusts his or her board. Yet this destructive, dangerous pattern happens all the time.”

Like I said: convicting. 

At your next meeting begin with Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (NIV)

QUESTION: Is it time to focus on governance objectives and outcomes—and then discern perhaps a new pattern for the frequency and length of your board meetings?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Board Prayer: The Least Words, The Least Intensity, The Least Volume!

After you reflect on the eight foundations of trust (Truth-Telling, Center Stage, Perceptions, The Tone of Trust, Rules, Serving, Courage, and Perseverance) in Dan Busby’s new book, Trust: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness, a powerful prayer awaits you on pages 86-89.

Here’s a taste:

“Dear God...Help me to SPEAK CAUTIOUSLY.
   • Let me use the least words, the least intensity, the least volume needed to be understood.
   • Help me voice my opinions with care, strength and meekness.
   • Help me to ask good questions, open dialogue, explore options, and deepen discussion.
   • Help me to say nothing degrading and nothing that would draw lines of conflict unnecessarily.
   • Help me to affirm and agree whenever possible.
   • Help me to give second voice to a courageous and wise first-voice; those who risk presenting a new, contrary or unrefined perspective.
   • Lord, help me to accept compliments and approval with humility.
   • God, give me the grace to watch with dignity as my proposal fails, and give me humility when my idea meets with approval.”

The Lord inspired Dan Bolin, International Director of Christian Camping International, to write this humbling prayer while serving board members during an overseas trip. Last week, a rescue mission CEO mentioned to me that after sharing the prayer at a board meeting, it’s now a regular agenda item as board members prepare their hearts for God’s business by reading the prayer together.

The entire prayer is also included as a supplementary resource in the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 3: Conflicts of Interest

The prayer concludes, “Grant us the joy of arriving at adjournment closer to one another because we are closer to you.”

QUESTION: When the gavel sounds, are your board members closer to God and to each other?