What to do When Your Board of Directors is not Getting the Job Done
When I was growing up, I worked at the local A&P grocery store from the age of fourteen to twenty. Although I loved the job and the opportunity to connect with customers, what I found most difficult was attempting to satisfy multiple bosses at the same time.
Every shift I received a variety of feedback and directions from not one, but up to four separate bosses. The floor manager told me what he wanted to stock on the shelves. The senior cashier would direct me as to which check-out I was to pack groceries at. Tthe assistant manager would identify various clean-up duties around the store. And, periodically, the store manager would come up with some special needs that only I can satisfy.
I had no problem doing any of the tasks asked of me, and for the most part, each of the managers was cordial and easy to get along with. All too often, however, timelines were unrealistic, and priorities conflicted.
You’d almost think I was working with a board of directors ...
In retrospect, this experience was nearly identical to dealing with a board. Fortunately, in my case, each boss had similar objectives, experiences, and a strong relationship due to working with each other every day. Not always the case with a board of directors where members have different experiences and objectives for participating.
But what if the board of directors is so diverse that they are truly unmanageable?
That’s a question that I’m asked often by many CEOs and ED’s who have reached their breaking point with attempting to align and deal with what I call a bum board.
How to Fix a Bum Board of Directors
Through the dozens of board strategy and governance sessions I’ve facilitated over the years there are several strategies that have resulted in creating alignment and re-invigorating a board that has become a challenge to deal with. Here are five of these strategies that you can introduce during your next board meeting:
- Identify the objectives for the meeting to the board, including expectations of everyone in attendance as it pertains to participation, courtesy, collaboration, and attitude. Ground rules are a key component of a successful board meeting or board retreat and need to be revisited frequently.
- Prior to the meeting, reach out individually to each board member to discuss their perceptions around the current state of the organization, it’s challenges, and opportunities. Individual dialogues help to build rapport and ensure that, as the CEO or ED, board members believe that you fully understand their perspectives.
- During the meeting, participate actively in the discussions (rather then attempting to facilitate them or to sit back and observe). Facilitation is not easy if done correctly and can reduce the effectiveness of meetings. If facilitation is required either select an external facilitator or share the responsibility amongst the board of directors.
- Following the retreat, reach out to board members individually to obtain their feedback on the meeting, their key take-aways, and to understand their ideas around the priority of next steps. One-on-one follow up sustains the rapport and ensures that there are no misunderstandings about priorities and next steps.
- Do not bury specific actions in meeting minutes. Instead, summarize the feedback and ideas in the form of a working document, meant to guide the course of action for yourself and the board until the next board meeting. No meeting is worth its time if there aren’t clear and actionable items that result.
- Of course, you may get pushback from the chair as to whether some of these steps, specifically the individual outreach is necessary. In my experience, it is. Collaboration begins outside of a group, requiring a conduit to create alignment and focus. The more challenging the board the more crucial these strategies to ensure a difficult board does not become a bummer.
Is your board of directors suffering from infighting and conflict over who is in charge of what? Is this affecting your association's ability to function properly? If so, check out How to End the Turf Wars and Build Cohesive Relationships Between Units in Your Association by Ron Knowleds, FCMC.
Shawn Casemore is the President and Founder of Casemore and Co Inc., a management consultancy helping association executives improve the performance and profitability of their association through their people. As the author of Operational Empowerment: Innovate, Collaborate and Engage to Beat the Competition from McGraw Hill, Shawn travels the globe speaking on topics related to improving business performance by capitalizing on employee empowerment.