January 15, 2013
Psychology. Why is it difficult for many?/most? boards to move to a comprehensive, logical system of governing? What’s that old joke: “Why did the man stop hitting himself with a hammer? Because it felt so good when he stopped.” See my blog post about 30-year-old technology. Why would good, smart board members subject themselves to something klunky, old-fashioned, cumbersome, time consuming, frustrating….when it can stop? See the
March 3, 2012
The ad reads: “Car ‘phones. They’re no longer the privilege of the chosen few.” In 1982, I actually had one of these Vodaphone babies. I was climbing the corporate ladder of a Fortune 500 company in Chicago and got one installed in my company car. Yes, the company provided me with a personal car (every 50,000 miles I got a new one) and all the gas and maintenance (those really were the good old days). My employer was on the cutting edge of management effectiveness and efficiency. I was part of testing the technology.
My “mobile” car phone was the size and weight of a very large brick. And it was truly a car phone because the base was mounted to (and used power from) the car. I didn’t need to go to the gym to lift weights because the handset provided a good deal of dead weight training. Those of us testing the Vodaphone used to joke that if it quit working, it would make a great boat anchor. I’m surprised I never got whiplash from lifting the handset to my ear while driving. Okay, so yeah. If using your cellphone with your bluetooth is a driving hazard, just imagine how dangerous I was on Lakeshore Drive!
Now here’s what I carry around today: a phone that is not tethered to anything (except maybe my hand or earbuds). It’s about the weight of a pair of scissors and about the size of three packs of dental floss laid side-by-side. And it doesn’t merely connect me by voice-to-voice over cellular. It’s my personal data assistant, office manager, and personal entertainment center. It also responds to my whims. (Siri is my new love, but don’t tell my husband!)
So why do boards of all types and sizes still run with 30-year-old technology? Yes, the basics are still sound. Compare today’s smart phones with my car phone 30 years ago. Why would you choose to carry around a big, old brick that doesn’t do much versus a small, sleek device that caters to your every whim? Is your board functioning with a mindset from 30 years ago? Before you say no, consider this. Nonprofit organizations proliferated in the 1980’s (Board Source, 2003). Much nonprofit regulation did too. Not surprising that governance structure, culture, and practices emanated from that period. Businessmen populated boards and they brought their management expertise to the boardroom. Unfortunately, management expertise does not necessarily translate to governing expertise. In the management mindset, governing is typically viewed as “management one level up” and tethers a board to the past instead of creating the future.
Why does it seem like transformational governance is still the privilege of the chosen few? Board members and executives, please throw the 30-year-old+ mindset out the window. C’mon now. Don’t say that you don’t know what I’m talking about. At association and nonprofit organization conferences, I still hear the same complaints that I was hearing 20 years ago. Here’s the chronic complaint: why does my board micromanage (i.e., get caught up in administrivia)? Because they don’t have anything more important to do. Because they haven’t found a way to delegate effectively and know their wishes for the organization will be fulfilled. Or, the board recently had a crisis that involved a major financial risk (e.g., embezzlement, lawsuit, the ED who was the “rainmaker” just left). The list goes on and on. People tend to revert to old, dysfunctional behaviors when they feel unsure or threatened or are just plain bored. Governing from this mindset is like picking up the Vodaphone and expecting to have Siri grant your next wish. Remember the implication when you expect different results from doing the same thing over and over again.
The magic of smart phone technology did not happen because Steve Jobs said, “Let’s redesign the Vodaphone!” The magic happened because Steve Jobs had a vision of something sleek, powerful, and ready to go to work for you out of the box. Why would you buy 30-year-old technology when you could have an iPhone?
Unleash the power of your board and explore how you can best use the collective wisdom of all those smart minds in the room. Don’t make them sit through one more staff report or approve one more budget until you think about why you’re asking them to do it. What is the value added? What magic could they envison if given the time?
March 1, 2012
Most of my client teams (board and staff leaders) are geographically dispersed. As an organizational and governance consultant, I give them the value of my expertise in organizational structure, policy development, and implementation. Usually I end up working as a leadership coach as well. When the client board and staff meet face-to-face only once or twice a year, communications and consistency is a challenge. In some cases, the entire board never gets together face-to-face.
I talked with Keith Ferrazzi who is an expert on relationship development. When I asked him if geographically dispersed teams can work together effectively, he asserted it was absolutely essential for the team to get together face-to-face at least once (personal communication, June 15, 2010). I believe he is correct. The ability to see someone’s facial expressions, gestures, and body language helps you interpret what you hear in that person’s voice and read in their emails. It’s also more difficult to get angry with someone you’ve met.
Working with a board is challenging in the best of circumstances, but working with a virtual, geographically dispersed, or technology-networked board creates unique group process problems leaders need to recognize. Forging a cohesive team from individuals in the same building is challenging. A dispersed board team faces multiple difficulties of time, distance, social, and cultural differences. Subgroups form and sometimes this leads to in-group versus out-group conflict and competition. Dispersed teams need to establish shared norms and agreement for common action toward overarching (i.e., superordinate) goals.
Shared norms start with setting ground rules about communication and how conflicts will be resolved. Conflict is normal. That’s why it’s so important to establish how your board will deal with conflict before it happens. One rule you should have is to avoid prejudging each other. Listen first (or read email first) as an advocate, as though you will need to defend your fellow board member’s position.
Everyone on the board brings a unique set of information, resources and knowledge. After setting the ground rules, the board needs to fully discuss the benefits of sharing mutually. The enhanced ability to generate knowledge, stimulate creativity, and increase efficiency through diversity is a major advantage. Diverse points-of-view make for better decision-making. A full discussion helps board members learn how to value diversity and share the wealth of knowledge and skills available. From this sharing, trust is built.
Setting ground rules, communicating and sharing mutual knowledge help create trust. But for everything to work, everyone on the team needs to take responsibility for the board’s success. If things aren’t going well, take the initiative to suggest an alternative communication tool — teleconference, data conferencing (Skype, NetMeeting, etc.) — that allows for simultaneous discussion. The more variety, the better.
No matter what’s going on, be sure that you stay upbeat. Nothing helps a board work together better than proactive, positive board members!
July 14, 2011
My fellow Rotarian Andrew Oczkewicz put out the call for volunteers for the Saint Martin’s burger & curly fries booth at Lakefair in Olympia and I responded. Last night was opening night and I had the very important job of inside coordinator. What that means is that I took the orders from the lovely ladies serving our customers (Cindy, Stella, and Alicia) and made sure the best curly fry cooks on the planet (Caren and Tony) knew how many baskets of fries to drop into hot oil.
Then I handed the order to Caren’s multi-talented daughter Tatiana to get the burgers made to order and the soft drinks dispensed.
What is cool about the Saint Martin’s truck is that all the fries are cut on site using great quality fresh potatoes. The oil is changed frequently and the curly fry cooks are true artists in making these fries the right consistency of crunchy and soft and with great flavor.
And the Saint Burgers are great too!
If you go to Lakefair, be sure to stop by the Saint Martin’s truck and tell them Sherry sent you!
I came home smelling like a big curly fry and my feet hurt, but the people in the Saint Martin’s truck made it fun and worthwhile. Even on the first night, we were a formidable short-order team. If this governance stuff doesn’t work out, I now have experience coordinating fast food orders. Hear that McDonald’s?
January 24, 2011
Along the way, she tried to enlist others in the barnyard for help to plant the seeds, take the wheat to the mill, and bake the bread. All who were asked said, “Not I!”
When the bread was done, she asked who would help her eat it. Of course, everyone wanted a piece.
The course of Policy Governance can look much the same. In the beginning, planting the seeds and developing the framework for better governing practices is a lot of work. But in the end, the board has a practical and robust system for managing its work. In the end, everyone wants on board!
A client said, “We had trouble filling board seats and getting board members excited and engaged before we started governing by policy. Now that we’ve had a few years of success, everyone wants to be a part of it.”
One person had the vision of how governing by policy could improve the effectiveness and efficiency of board’s work and create a transformed, successful organization. Once the seeds were planted and the bread was baked, the sweet smell of success attracted everyone.
Does Policy Governance take a lot of work? Yes.
Will Policy Governance make a difference in your success? Yes.
Will everyone take part in the creation of a transformed organization? No. (Just ask The Little Red Hen).
Is having a board organization that everyone wants to be part of worth it?
Well, you need to answer that question for yourself.
An update to what was written here. This group is still together but we’ve moved beyond Policy Governance to conceptualizing what it takes to create beneficial change in organizations that results in better communities and healthy societies. We are now called The Xylem Group and our new website will be live soon!! If you are a thought leader about what it takes to measure corporate accountability and sustainability, please stay tuned. I want to invite you to join the dialog and discussion with Xylem. In upcoming blogs, I’ll show you where I’m going to join dialog started by others.
Policy Governance practitioners and users are a small ecosystem in the realm of governance. To move Policy Governance consulting from a collection of individual consultants into the next generation, several individuals have banded together in a cooperation experiment called The Governance Corporation. What is behind our cooperative enterprise is developing and evolving the practice of Policy Governance. The main idea is investing in expanding core capabilities through collaborative learning and reinvesting returns into the ecosystem to provide a place for future generations of practitioners.
By pooling development of leading edge governance practices, we believe clients will receive the benefits. Our collaboration will lead to clients having a competitive edge through effective governance. We believe the rewards to the client are products, services, and practices that no one of us could bring individually; or at an affordable price to the client. Our cooperation, collaboration, or coopetition is not just for our mutual benefit but for the benefit of the clients. It’s a win-win-win situation. I win, my colleagues win, you win.
Go to the Governance Corporation website, if you’re interested in watching our experiment unfold. Check out our blog. I’ve started a rant on the current state of governance. Add your comments, join the dialog, or start a debate! All are welcome.