Issue No. 284 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting features a dialogue on how to move micromanaging board members into a new-and-improved paradigm, “The Corporate Model.” The author quotes William Bowen, former Princeton University president, “Finding the appropriate balance between executive authority and board oversight is more likely to require strengthening the hand of the CEO than building up the powers of the board.” Plus, this reminder: check out my Management Buckets website with dozens of resources and downloadable worksheets for your staff meetings.
Analysis Paralysis vs. Rubber-Stamping
Leaders and readers of this eNews fall into several categories:
--CEOs, senior team members and church leaders who work with board members
--People who will serve on boards in the future (Listen up!)
So let's be real here: much of what happens in the boardroom (nonprofit and corporate) is highly dysfunctional. In my opinion,
most governance fuzziness emanates
from unvoiced assumptions about
the board's role and the CEO's role.
Role clarity should always prompt a discussion about governance models: the Hands-on model, John Carver's Policy Governance model, the Board Policies Manual tool, and so many other options. Yet with all of these models and resources available with a simple Google search, why is there still so much dysfunction? (Maybe no one reads this stuff?)
So here's a resource—with a very unique writing style—that will help clarify board roles and responsibilities. The author begins with the key question: what's Job #1 for a board?
According to Eugene H. Fram, the most important job of the board is “to find the best possible person to manage the organization, then stand back and let that person manage.”
That's just one of dozens of quotable one-liners and wisdom-filled paragraphs in Policy vs. Paper Clips: How Using the Corporate Model Makes a Nonprofit Board More Efficient & Effective (3rd Edition).
“Volunteer directors who micromanage their agencies are, in blunt terms, cost centers for nonprofits, since they affect staff time so dramatically.” (Preach it!)
“Good governance helps eliminate the many hidden costs associated with pursuing activities that have nothing to do with the organization's purpose.” (Amen!)
“Your board should not be primarily focused on outcomes (e.g. success of specific programs) but concerned more about assessing the 'impacts' of those outcomes.” (High five!)
In putting flesh on the bones of the “generative mode” of governance (read my review of Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards), the author says boards must focus more on the “what if” and other long-term questions.
“Because directors' questions in this mode are different from the questions that they ask when day-to-day operations take up the agenda, they will find themselves focused on identifying available opportunities and vulnerabilities.
“This enables board members to tap their special expertise and professional experience in board discussions. To draw upon this outside wealth of knowledge and perspectives, nonprofit executives should avoid acculturating board members to the 'conventional wisdom' of the organization.
“In practical terms that means, for example, that a director with marketing strategy experience should be asked to help uncover new markets to serve but not asked to write advertising copy.”
Then Fram adds, “Separating operational and policy issues is more complicated than it sounds.”
Oh! I haven't shared this bonus factor: The entire book (240 pages) is a series of short email conversations between a fictitious nonprofit CEO (an acknowledged expert and speaker on the “Corporate” board model) and a golfing buddy who just joined a nonprofit board.
Fram mentions two board sins, analysis paralysis and rubber-stamping. His solution? Use the “Corporate Model” to focus the board on policy, not operations. The quick-reading email dialogue between two friends eliminates the typical boring governance rhetoric (yada, yada, yada) and replaces the blue sky stuff with in-the-trenches, to-the-point conversation and thoughtful next steps.
About every other chapter, I would inject, “Wait a minute. That wouldn't work!” And then in the next paragraph, the rookie board member would email my objection to his mentor—and the practical drill-down response would satisfy. (I may steal this brilliant idea: an entire book of email conversations. It works.)
The emails are segmented into 12 chapters including:
--The Corporate Model: A Board Alternative
--How the Model Is Structured: Intentional Simplicity
--Assessment and the Model: The CEO Cannot Be Insecure
--The Model and the Future: The Planning and Resource Committee
--The Model at Work: The Executive Committee and Its Responsibilities
--The Model Creates a New Culture: Trust Is the Critical Factor
--The Model and Commitment: Board Members Must Be Involved
Five practical charts are included detailing the differences between the Corporate Model and the Traditional Model. The last chapter asks, “Is your organization ready for the Corporate Model?” and features 23 pages of very, very practical Q & A.
To order this book from Amazon, click on the title for Policy vs. Paper Clips: How Using the Corporate Model Makes a Nonprofit Board More Efficient & Effective (3rd Edition), by Eugene H. Fram with Vicki Brown.
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) In one email, the rookie board member asks, “We also need more information about how to keep board members truly involved without the ego satisfaction that often comes from dealing with operational issues.” Have you ever considered that a board member's temptation to micromanage might be related to ego satisfaction?
2) PowerPoint Rules? One email mentions this: “Directors hate [PowerPoint presentations] when they are far too long, the slides are overwhelmingly dense, or they touch on issues tangential to the case being made, or frankly are being used to stifle real dialogue).” The author prefers a limit of 10 slides. Interesting! Do your board or staff PowerPoints encourage micromanagement and/or stifle dialogue?
The Meeting Before the Meeting
Insights from Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit
If I could add another ball to my Meetings Bucket, Chapter 20, in Mastering the Management Buckets, it would be this wisdom from John Maxwell: “The secret to a good meeting is the meeting before the meeting.”
The “no surprises” rule is critical for the key people in each meeting—and typically, that means you must meet with them in advance. Maxwell preaches:
--If you can’t have the meeting before the meeting, don’t have the meeting.
--If you do have the meeting before the meeting, but it doesn’t go well, don’t have the meeting.
--If you have the meeting before the meeting and it goes as well as you hoped, then have the meeting!
To read my review of Maxwell's chapter on meetings, click on this book title: Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading. For more resources, plus seven book recommendations from the Meetings Bucket, click here.
P.S. For more on boards, visit the ECFA weekly blog on governance issues, including my latest post, "6 Board Dysfunctions."