Is Your Board Future Ready? (Part 1 of 2)

 In Preparing for the Future

Four steps to determine whether you have the board you need

A speaker at a recent conference asked for a show of hands as to how many c-suite leaders are frustrated with their board right now. Seventy percent of the hands shot up across the room. Stunned, I decided to do my own straw poll to check the results.

My informal survey of executives over breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails, emails and meeting breaks turned up the same result – only around three in 10 senior leaders are happy with their board. While my poll and the show of hands in the room were far from scientific, these results are scary. With all the opportunities, change, challenges and pressures facing home-based care organizations, having the right board and a strong CEO/board partnership can be a competitive advantage.

CEOs owe it to themselves and their organizations to address these concerns. The first step is to figure out the source of your frustration. Here are four steps you can take to determine what isn’t working with your current board collaboration.

  • Composition – Is your board mostly comprised of major donors or long-serving volunteers? If so, you’re likely missing some diverse viewpoints that could help your organization go from good to great. Major donors and long-time volunteers bring history and passion for your mission to your board. But sometimes their proximity and history can limit their openness to innovation and growth. Make sure there’s balance on your board.
  • Competency – Board members should bring a unique or complementary skill to you and your leadership team. Some redundancy is okay, especially to support emerging functions or new leaders, but strive to fill gaps. Executive experts in human resources, mergers & acquisitions, marketing, the law or general management tend to make great board members. A high-functioning board should mentor and advise your team, providing a sounding board for strategic ideas, performance improvement approaches and growth plans. The best way for them to do that is by having opinions rooted in expertise, not only mission history.
  • Conversation – Note the caliber of conversation in your board meetings. If your board spends most of their time talking about details, chances are that you have a management group not a strategic board. The primary purpose of a board is to provide fiduciary and strategic oversight to an organization’s leadership team.

Also consider your conversation with your board president. Is this individual a trustworthy and supportive advisor to you in realizing your organization’s strategic vision and mission?

  • Clarity – Governing documents should clearly establish the role of the board, any board committees and the organization’s executive team. Roles, responsibilities and decision-making authority should be clearly documented. If you find your board slipping into the management space, use this documentation and conversations with your board president to right the ship.

But, also, make sure you’re being clear with your board on how they can help you. Without an understanding of your needs, even the most well-intentioned board members can vacillate between apathy and micromanagement.

Do you see your situation in one of these four areas? If so, do something about it. In an upcoming blog post, I’ll offer a few techniques to help you take your board from good to great.

However, if you don’t see your current situation represented in any one of these steps, there may be a disconnect on mission, values or culture. While those disconnects certainly merit conversation with your board president, they may be a signal that you’re leading the wrong organization. Consider a board performance evaluation, followed by a facilitated and candid conversation with your board.

Leading an organization is a lonely affair. You need a diverse board that shares your mission, embraces your vision, brings powerful skills, stays focused on the right things and understands their role to share the yoke.