Monday, February 29, 2016

Oops! Tension Between Clarity and Generative Thinking!

First, my confession. I chaired a board meeting recently and later discovered that our board’s brainstorming (sometimes a good cover for meddling!) ended without clarity on the staff’s next steps.

A recent ECFA governance survey of almost 2,500 CEOs, board chairs and board members noted that of the three aspects of governance: fiduciary, strategic, and generative—all three segments rated their “generative governance effectiveness” significantly lower than the other two aspects.

The authors of Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, Richard P. Chait, William P. Ryan, and Barbara E. Taylor, describe “generative governance” as:
• being often overlooked,
• a broader re-imagining of the organization's nature and role in light of emerging trends, 
• and, where board members also explore "opportunities to be a source of leadership as well as a source of advice, expertise, and fundraising."

It’s a delicate dance, a fine line, a slippery slope (insert your favorite metaphor here). But as the authors note, “…in their ‘day jobs’ as managers, professionals, or leaders of organizations, trustees routinely rely on generative thinking, so much so they have no need to name it or analyze it. They just do it. But in the boardroom, trustees are at a double disadvantage. Most boards do not routinely practice generative thinking.”  

They add,
“When it comes to generative governing,
most trustees add too little, too late.” 

So…at that board meeting, while we had fun with generative thinking, the staff probably saw it as “sensible foolishness” (another way the authors describe the term).

At the next board meeting, I apologized for the confusion and suggested to our board members that whenever we go down the generative thinking path, we conclude the mental hike with crystal clarity. If an action item or policy change does not make it into the minutes, then the staff will conclude that there was no harm/no foul.

Our goal, always, is that great line from Policy Governance® Guru John Carver, “The board speaks with one voice or not at all.” And I would add, “and with properly documented minutes.”

As I reflected on the meeting, I sensed a nudge from the Lord, asking that while one apology was good and needed—why had it been so long since the last time I had apologized to the CEO, the staff, or the board? 

Scott Rodin reminds us in his powerful book, The Steward Leader: Transforming People, Organizations and Communities, “If I could put one Bible verse on the desk of every pastor and every Christian leader in the world, it would be this: ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8).” Yikes.

QUESTIONS: When your board adjourns, is your CEO and senior staff crystal clear on next steps—or has fuzzy dialogue replaced well-written action items? And, when is the last time someone apologized in your board meeting?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Board in the Boat, Part 3: Discombobulation

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this three-part series on strategy alignment, we’ve used the “board in the boat” metaphor to discuss the importance of inspiring board members (and the CEO and staff) to all be rowing in the same direction

But alignment is not enough!

In his short and succinct book on board service, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, Max De Pree (former CEO and chairman at Herman Miller and a former seminary board chair), writes:
 “An effective board decides what it will measure and does it.
  • A good board measures the effectiveness of its executive team.
  • A good board reviews the effectiveness of its members.
  • And a good board is going to ask at the right times, ‘How are we doing against our plan?’
  • A good board will always measure the results of any major investment.
A good board will measure the appropriate inputs as well as outputs.”

Then he adds, “Failure to measure what matters damages our future.”

Ask your board to also reflect on De Pree’s memorable line in his excellent book,
Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in ServingCommunity:

 “In my experience a failure to make a conscious decision about what it is we’re going to measure often causes discombobulation and a lack of effectiveness and a lack of achievement.”

For Christ-centered boards—even more is at stake say Gary G. Hoag, R. Scott Rodin, and Wesley K. Willmer in The Choice:The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes.  They note:
“…defining success may be the most
important decision we make as God’s people.”

QUESTIONS: So how is your “board in the boat” doing? Are you in alignment—moving, at the right cadence, in the right direction? Have you defined Kingdom outcomes? Are you measuring what matters?