Review, Reflect, Represent & Replace: A board’s added value

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series How a board adds value.
Control buttons on a media player

Used with permission.

Wouldn’t it be neat if the board chair had a remote control for the board so that, just like a media player, the board could rewind, pause, fast forward, and eject from time to time?

In fact, by setting the agenda the chair already has that ability. But the whimsical image of a board chair holding a remote control will help you remember four of the ways a board adds value.

Rewind = Review Reverse button

The board reviews the ministry’s performance, but it also needs to review its own performance, including its adherence to the organization’s values.

Board performance

The board adds value when it improves its skills and work processes, so here are some reviews that could be done:

  • Have directors do an annual board performance review and suggest ideas for board development. Consider inviting senior staff to participate in the review because they work with the board and should have useful insights. Rather than using a single performance review template every year, you might think about asking different questions to get at different aspects of the board’s work. Over the years, the CCCC board has:
      • examined how it produces value
    • tested its satisfaction with our policy governance model
    • evaluated how the board works as a group, and
    • had the directors evaluate (anonymously) their own participation and commitment
  • Review the performance of the board and committee chairs to ensure that good leadership is in place. Senior staff who work with the committees might be invited to participate here too. The CCCC board is in the midst of designing this process.
  • This might be a bit far out, as I’ve never heard of it being done before, but it came to mind so here it is for your consideration. If your corporate membership is larger than the board, select a committee from the members who are not directors and ask them to review the minutes for the year and offer their comments and suggestions related to governance matters. This makes board accountability to the corporate membership more meaningful.
  • Examine how well the board’s support systems are working, and whether it has all the support systems it needs. For example, does the board have a system to keep itself informed about the external environment? How does it orient new board members? One support system the CCCC’s board has is a board website that posts all board documents, bios and contact info for directors, pages for board committees, and so on.
  • At each meeting, the board could assign one person to do a mini-review of that meeting focusing on how well the board complied with its own policies and how effective the meeting was. Here are the questions CCCC uses for this report.

Adherence to values

Most organizations have corporate values that reflect its particular ethos. Since the board meets only periodically and the directors are likely associated with organizations that have their own sets of values, it is important that when they serve as this ministry’s directors they keep its values in mind. The board adds value when it ensures the organization acts in accordance with its declared values by:

  • considering how the corporate values relate to the issue under discussion
  • reviewing periodically how well the board is living out the corporate values
  • checking that management has also adhered to the corporate values

Pause = Reflect Pause button

Great board deliberations

Boards add value by not rushing through an agenda but giving time for directors to reflect. Time should be allowed for group spiritual discernment, dialogue, and discussion; the three foundations for great board deliberations. I cover this topic in Serving as a Board Member, but often spiritual discernment is assumed to be an individual, private practice, and people usually think they already know what is best and skip over dialogue without even realizing it, going straight to discussion. When discussion is all you do in your deliberations, you have missed the most creative parts of developing a great solution.

  • Group spiritual discernment gives the Holy Spirit room to speak to the board as a whole. This adds a whole different dynamic to the board’s spirituality.
  • A dialogue is a free-ranging exploration of ideas without any judgements about those ideas. It helps you understand the topic at hand and find as many viewpoints as possible.
  • A discussion is about analysis and persuasion. Promising viewpoints are researched to find factual support and to test assumptions. Then discussion turns to persuading people to one or the other of the options so that the board can reach a consensus.

Mission progress

The board should also periodically sit back and reflect on what the board and management are spending time on and the results they are achieving. They can do this by looking at agendas and committee and management reports. Then they can assess whether or not the ministry is really moving forward in its mission.

If either the board or management feels like they are just going through the motions, or are stuck on a treadmill, it is time to discuss mission, outcomes and impacts, and how to shake things up. It may be time for field research, new blood on the board or staff, or a really challenging goal that revitalizes the organization.

Fast Forward = Represent Fast forward button

The board is in a unique position to help the ministry. They are not staff; they are quasi-outsiders who know the ministry very well. But unlike complete outsiders, they have detailed knowledge of the ministry. And unlike staff, they usually aren’t as comprehensively encultured. This means that directors are reasonably independent boundary spanners, linking the internal and external worlds of the ministry, with much to contribute to organizational life.

Senior management also spans organizational boundaries, but it crosses from the inside out, while directors cross from the outside in. Each contributes to a full understanding of the organization in its environment.

Directors are additional eyes and ears for the ministry, potentially acquiring a significant amount of market research. They also have a wide variety of experience and expertise through which to interpret what they discover in the field.

This all means that directors can hit the fast forward button, project current plans and activities into the future and, acting as representatives of the constituencies with their perspectives, provide the board and management with advice about the likely reception and outcomes of those plans and activities.

Eject = Replace Eject button

Senior leader replacement

The board must ensure that the right leadership is in place. This responsibility doesn’t end when someone is hired because, as with any other decision, a hiring decision has a “shelf life.” Circumstances may change and require a different skill set, so the right person today may become the wrong person tomorrow. The board needs to ask every once in a while, “Have we still got the right leader?” (Here’s what the senior staff leader can do to make a favourable answer more likely.)

Boards should do what they can to support their senior executive’s success, and one way is by providing frequent performance reviews. I am amazed how many senior leaders have said they’ve never had a performance review! They’re in the minority, but there shouldn’t be any at all.

When it is determined that the leader is no longer the right person, and is not likely to become such, then the board must do what is best for the ministry and bring about a leadership change. A termination or non-renewal of a contract should be handled sensitively and in a manner that exemplifies life in the kingdom of God, recognizing that the leader who is leaving was called by God (and the board) for a period of time and has served to the best of his or her abilities.

Board member replacement

The board should have an intentional program of building and maintaining the ideal board by recruiting directors who add value to the composition of the board. People might add value in a number of ways:

  • They represent part of the constituency.
  • They are great fundraisers or have an excellent network of useful contacts.
  • They have strong governance skills.
  • They have expert knowledge of the ministry’s field of work.
  • They have any useful attribute.

To guide the recruiting process, the board should consider what kinds of people would make an ideal board for the next season in the ministry’s life. I say season because what makes an ideal board may change from time to time as the issues facing the board change.

The board must also deal promptly with any director who either inhibits the board’s work or who does not fulfill the expectations of a director.

The theme today

These four ways of adding value all relate to the board spending time in reflection. Romans 12:3 is aimed at the individual person, but it can equally well apply to the corporate body: Think of yourself with sober judgment.

Series Navigation<< How boards can improve the success of the senior staff memberBoard Engagement: A board’s added value >>
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