Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Board in the Boat, Part 2

In my last blog (Part 1), I began a series on strategy alignment with “The Board in the Boat.”

I asked, “Imagine—if your board had the elegance, the unity, and the team harmony of a precision rowing crew, the world’s finest!”

This month in a professional publication for CEOs and board members in the credit union profession, Joel Trammel’s addressed this question in his article, “Align Your ‘Rowers’ With Your Strategy.” While he focused on staff members—the same issues relate to board members. He writes:

“Do any of these sound familiar?
• The guy who’s doing really powerful, fast strokes—in the opposite direction of everyone else.
• The gal toward the back of the boat who’s barely pulling on her oars (and thereby demoralizing the people sitting behind her).
• The guy who appears to be rowing along with everyone else, but is covertly pulling the left oar a bit harder to move the boat in the direction he feels is best.
• The gal who’s so utterly concentrated on perfecting the minutiae of her own form that she can’t see she’s out of sync with everyone else.”

What is the cost in ministry impact when your board members are not all pulling in the same direction?  

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you’ve seen this next quotation before. (Maybe you’ve memorized it!)  It’s worth repeating at every board meeting:

Ram Charan preaches:
“There is nothing more important for a CEO than having the right strategy and right choice of goals, and for the board, the right strategy is second only to having the right CEO.”

This assumes one foundational principle: there is a strategy!

In his book, Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, the fifth question is simply,  “Does Our Board Really Own the Company’s Strategy?” Charan recommends that at every board meeting, every board member has the organization's two-page strategy document on the board table. (Is your strategy summarized in just two pages?)

Discussion should always then flow back to the question: “Does this new idea or change in our programs, products, or services align with our board-approved strategy?”

Charan again: “Boards need to understand basic strategy, but it’s not their job to create it.”

QUESTION: As you pray to discern God’s strategic direction for your ministry, is everyone rowing in the same direction, based on your written strategy?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Board in the Boat, Part 1

With apologies to Daniel James Brown and his amazing bestseller, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Question for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (click here to read my review), over the next few blogs I’ll be addressing strategy alignment with “The Board in the Boat.”

Imagine—if your board had the elegance, the unity, and the team harmony of a precision rowing crew, the world’s finest!

Here’s a keeper from pages 234-235 in The Boys in the Boat. Listen to the wisdom as Master Boatbuilder George Yeoman Pocock coaches Joe, a young rower with promise and dreams—but a nasty childhood:

“He suggested that Joe think of a well-rowed race as a symphony, and himself just one player in the orchestra. If one fellow in an orchestra was playing out of tune, or playing at a different tempo, the whole piece would naturally be ruined.

“That’s the way it was with rowing. What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing. And a man couldn’t harmonize with his crewmates unless he opened his heart to them. He had to care about his crew. It wasn’t just the rowing but his crewmates that he had to give himself up to, even if it meant getting his feelings hurt.

“Pocock paused and looked up at Joe. ‘If you don’t like some fellow in the boat, Joe, you have to learn to like him. It has to matter to you whether he wins the race, not just whether you do.’”

Then this clincher about trust:

“He told Joe to be careful not to miss his chance. He reminded him that he’d already learned to row past pain, past exhaustion, past the voice that told him it couldn’t be done. That meant he had an opportunity to do things most men would never have a chance to do. And he concluded with a remark that Joe would never forget.

“'Joe, when you really start trusting those other boys, you will feel a power at work within you that is far beyond anything you’ve ever imagined. Sometimes, you will feel as if you have rowed right off the planet and are rowing among the stars.’”

Board members—have you ever experienced a board meeting where the board was so highly engaged, all pulling in the same direction, praying in unity, trusting God for Kingdom outcomes, that you felt you could have rowed the board boat right off the planet?

QUESTION: Are your board members in sync with Proverbs 15:22 (Amplified Bible)? “Without consultation and wise advice, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they are established and succeed.” Or, are your board members pulling in different directions?

Monday, January 11, 2016

New Board Members: Acronyms and Anxiety!

Today I hope to inspire you to walk a mile in the work boots of a new board member.

Although new board members may play it cool—and pretend to know what’s going on—few really grasp the culture or protocol of a board in their first few meetings. Every board is unique. Every board’s lingo is unique. Ask any board member about their first impressions and they’ll share several anxiety-producing board practices. Here are two:

#1. The Excessive Use of Acronyms and Inside Baseball Jargon. “As you all know, funding for the M2 Program is now at 65 percent.  Once the 2020 Vision announcement is blasted out in the X-Ray to our Century Club segment, the B&G Committee will address the gap budget ASAP.”


Savvy board chairs (and CEOs) must be in-the-room translators for report-givers who are not sensitive to rookies in the room.  And…new board members must be given permission to interrupt at the first (and twenty-first) mention of an acronym that doesn’t compute.

The best boards provide a one-page “Commonly Used Acronyms” summary as part of the new board member orientation process. 

#2. The Assumption That There Is a Common Glossary of Terms.  When you use the term “governance,” is everyone on the same page? And is there agreement on what governance model you’re using? Probably not.

BoardSource defines the term, "governance," in their “Glossary of Nonprofit Governance,” a helpful five-page list of 99 common board terms, including: board member matrix, confidentiality clause, D&O (Directors and Officers) insurance, duty of care, duty of loyalty, Form 990, intermediate sanctions, micromanagement (they’re opposed to it!) and private inurement.
“Governance: the legal authority of a board
to establish policies that will affect the life and work of the organization
and accountability for the outcome of such decisions.”

Would everyone on your board (including new members) agree with this definition of governance?

My favorite definition of governance for faith-based organizations is this one from David Tiede, president emeritus of Luther Seminary:
“Within Christ-centered organizations,
governance is the stewardship of powers to accomplish the mission
in service of the Church’s calling.”

The big idea here: remember what it was like in your first year on the board. Then, what must you do to create greater clarity and engagement for new members? When you eliminate acronyms, you’ll eliminate considerable anxiety.

QUESTION: Ask your newer board members: “What created unnecessary anxiety in your first year on the board?”