Stephen Covey’s first habit of highly successful people, “begin with the end in mind”, also applies to organizations. The purpose of strategic planning is to articulate goals for the organization for the next one to five years. These goals define what the organization is expected to achieve by the specified dates.
Setting such specific goals is a key aspect of the board’s responsibility to direct the organization. Effective directors are proactive about generating ideas for organizational progress. They develop specific and time-bound goals that state very clearly “what” the organization is expected to accomplish. Then the board asks the staff to develop an operational plan indicating “how” the desired results will be achieved. The operational plan outlines the action steps or tactics that will be completed to get the desired results.
Too often board members are happy to let the staff who work for the organization many more hours per week develop the strategic plan, and then the board members simply rubber stamp the staff proposal. Such board members are abdicating their leadership responsibility. (more…)
“A key person on our board died several months ago and it is taking us a while to recover.” Three people have shared this challenge with me in the past week.
All of these organizations had been proactive in succession planning for officer and committee chair positions. One had a quality experienced board member in place to become board chair at its annual meeting in January. The other two had top notch people chairing committees that were gathering momentum to lead major organizational initiatives.
Due to sudden deaths, all three boards are backpedaling. One has called a former board chair back into service. The others are redoing work that an enthusiastic individual had done himself and sorting through notes to determine the current state of developing programs.
As is the case for most boards, some members are highly skilled while others have little board experience or understanding. The boards have not being requiring certain skills in their board member nominees nor providing governance training to equip less experienced board members for board excellence. Succession planning on these boards has not been as deep or broad as desirable. A few capable people have carried the minimal contributors. Now that key capable people have passed away the other capable people are burning out picking up the slack because the minimal contributors’ are not equipped to fill the holes. The organizations’ effectiveness is at risk.
Changing organizational structure has come up in so many of my conversations in the last week that I thought I should touch on it for all of you who are in the midst of such changes. One of the biggest issues in mergers coming out of these conversations was, “Who should champion the change?”. There was common agreement that the owners or members of the organization need to be served by any change in structure.
Two different types of structure change were being considered by various organizations. Some were dramatically changing how board members are selected and/or how many board members they would have. Others were in various stages of the merger process. In both types of situations there needs to be a buy-in by the owners. Most constitutions or by-laws will indicate that such changes require a 50 to 75% vote of the owners or members. Since board members are selected to be trustees on behalf of the owners, the board members have the responsibility to carefully consider structure change specifics and to communicate with the owners so they can make an informed decision about whether to support the proposed structure change.
This week I attended the public interviews of candidates for school superintendent in a nearby school district. That night the school board members clearly demonstrated two disciplines from the Governance Excellence Model.
The board demonstrated “respect for the owners”, the residents of the school district, by choosing to have public interviews. The board members realize that they are accountable to the residents. The meeting room had capacity for many observers so the public could understand the process and the range of people considered for this high profile position. The board provided an opportunity for community members to submit questions for board members to ask the candidates. It also provided refreshments and scheduled time for the candidates to meet and dialogue with those in attendance. The board members also talked with the attendees, giving the opportunity for feedback. Showing such respect for the owners builds the community members’ trust in the board to serve their interests.
The board’s focus that evening was to “select prominent leadership”; to ensure that the operational leader is equipped to serve the organization’s purpose well. Each superintendent candidate was asked to make a 30-minute presentation sharing information that he thought would help the board members better understand his capacity to be an excellent superintendent. Board members then asked questions to learn how the candidate would address various challenges within a school superintendent’s role. The board, in advance, had considered some important criteria for selecting the successful candidate and followed a process that uncovered relevant information.
The school board took thoughtful action to fulfill what is often considered a board’s most important job, the selection of a new senior staff person; and the board is keeping the owners informed along the way. When the new superintendent is announced in a few weeks I expect the community will have confidence in the board’s choice. The next phase of this school district’s work will be positioned for success.