Creating Excellence in Board Leadership

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Evaluating Board Performance

Everyone is in favor of performance reviews so long as it doesn’t involve them.

Good leadership at the board level involves a rigorous review of board performance. Boards have a tendency to view executive performance as the only evaluation necessary – an erroneous conclusion. In fact, the best evaluations of executive performance are grounded in exact and transparent reviews of board performance.

This is a revelation for most boards, especially in the non-profit arena!

In a national study (by USA/Hendrick & Struggles) regarding overall board effectiveness only 60% rated their directors as “effective,” and only 31% rated their directors as “very effective.”

Executives have confidence in, and readily submit to, boards that hold themselves accountable to strong benchmarks of leadership behavior; in particular boards who spend quality time assessing the effectiveness of their own performance.

True improvement in Board performance requires precise evaluation means collectively and individually. Findings should be shared openly and transparently and personal accountability must flourish.

There are a variety of means to enhance this commitment, many of which can be found on line via numerous vendors. Good means do not have to be arduous or complex. Whatever the means, the most important thing is for an evaluation to be fair, objective and useful. Therefore, performance must be measured against approved board criteria; namely, board policy – things like values, norms and job products.

To be sure, the first few rounds of evaluating board performance will be tenuous. Some board members will be fearful of findings, how to treat suggestions for improvement, or worse, how to respond to a failing grade. However, in the context of good deliberation responsible board members will respond positively to the encouragement of their peers. Improved board performance, collectively and individually, will thrive.

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings detail and coaching to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Evaluation – Steps to Improvement

Assessing the performance of subordinates is championed by virtually everyone regardless of the organization. Chances are good that those reading this blog are expressing some form of affirmation to the aforementioned statement; some exuberantly. But, who is evaluating the board and the execution of its role?

A board’s pursuit of excellence should be perpetual; which means every board member at every meeting should be cognizant of how well they carry out their work. Good board evaluation (of the board as a whole and its individual members) fosters the quest for improvement and diverts the temptation to settle for the status quo. Every board should have a competent process for objectively assessing effectiveness at fulfilling its work in the context it designed for itself. Engaging this process should take place annually.

Objective, systematic and rigorous monitoring of board performance must be solely against pre-determined criteria. What would that be? Start with this question: in the past twelve months has the board been consistently compliant to its own policies? You might choose to rank them using a Likert scale format (1-5), 1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree. Based on previous blogs, consider the following list.

1. The board defined its role in writing and remained true to it

2. Board meetings are free of personal agendas and politics

3. The behavior of each board member contributed to board success

4. Board members have effectively demonstrated trust in board context

5. The board Chair has been a key to board success over the past year

6. The board maintained a strong governance position rather than gravitating to management

7. The board established and communicated a clear vision for the organization?

8. The board done a good job monitoring progress of the organization toward vision

9. The board adequately protected the organization with clear policy

10. The board established a values-based context for leading

11. The board adhered consistently to its own values

12. The board recorded its job products and delivered them on time

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings detail and coaching to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Value-based Leadership

Effective boards are characterized by clearly articulated values!

Once identified and recorded …

1. Board-level subjects should pass through the grid work of values
2. Relationships of board members in meetings are framed by values
3. Discussions and decisions are guided by values
4. Values guard against personal agendas and politics
5. Management or staff should be influenced by board values
6. Stakeholders should view the board in the context of its values

What are values? They are descriptions of worth; qualities on which the board depends; a narrative of how the board works collectively; a clear context for the board’s role as strategic thinkers.

Examples are helpful.

Character: in every endeavor we commit to be honest, truthful and trustworthy. Irreproachable conduct encompasses the working relationship in every venture and serves as a model for each client. Dependability is a staple of rapport.
Excellence: every project is entitled to exemplary work. We pledge to provide peerless achievement commensurate with our skills.
Unity: in mission and vision unanimity prevails. In function, the collective wisdom of the group exceeds the wisdom of any individual.

When properly defined, owned and articulated, values can serve as change agents for the entire organization. They can act as guardians against the tendency boards have to drift away from good governance and regress to ineffective attempts at management.

As the board conducts an annual review of its performance (an upcoming blog subject), it should include an evaluation of how well it adhered to its values.

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings detail and coaching to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Protecting the Organization

In previous blog posts clarity has been given regarding the board’s role – boards are saddled with the fiduciary duty of governing their organization. They maintain a moral, legal, and financial accountability for the organizations they lead. That translates into a laundry list of issues and activities – e.g. personnel, compensation, accounting, risk management, communications, facilities, investments, record keeping, reporting, and staff methods. That said; the board holds control over those items and must protect the organization regarding each. However, in reality, it is impossible for the board to keep up with all those issues.

Facing this conundrum, how can the board realistically fulfill its fiduciary role and protect the organization? The board has two options:
  1. It can choose to meet more often in an attempt to review all the issues listed above and prescribe the strategic means for handling each. Additionally, it can peruse, refine, tweak and then approve all management means brought to them.
  2. It can ensure that all activities and actions regarding the issues listed above are prudent by deciding in advance exactly what functional and operational means are unacceptable. Any staff decision, activity, or action that doesn’t violate board specification is routinely approved, then, implemented and doesn’t require the board to meet.

The latter of these two options is by far the better. It demonstrates true board leadership and provides protection for the organization, even when the board is not in session. In progressive, advancing organizations boards cannot meet often enough to stay abreast of all the issues and prescribe meaningful strategic means for handling each one. However, boards can govern those strategic means by setting limitations (functional and operational activities, decisions or means that are unacceptable), boundaries or general constraints for staff. Once identified, those limitations should be placed in writing and given to staff.

This proactive protection also serves as empowerment for staff. Any means chosen by staff, if they fit inside the boundaries provided by the board, are automatically approved. Staff doesn’t have to wait for the board to meet and grant permission to implement. As long as staff is compliant to board-stated constraints they should consistently feel board support in the context of empowerment.

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings detail and coaching to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Monitoring Progress – The Duty of Good Governance

In spite of best efforts, it’s unrealistic for boards to “know everything” about an organization. Instead of wading through agendas packed with a minutia of detail (making decisions, crafting programs, resolving problems, critiquing projects, directing staff, supervising money, tweaking and approving the ideas of others), the board needs to operate at the macro level, specifying what it needs to know about mission execution, vision achievement, financial and legal compliance (fiduciary health), and limitations compliance. Within that information spectrum the board rigorously executes its governance duties.

Who and what should be monitored? Pertinent question! Here’s the answer – chief staff officer, financial and legal matters and the organization’s progress toward achievement of a vision crafted and articulated by the board. Monitoring executive performance is synonymous with monitoring organizational performance. The purpose of this monitoring is to determine the degree to which the chief staff officer is achieving the Board’s vision for the organization and remaining compliant to board policy.

That said; systematic monitoring of executive job performance must be solely on the basis of the achievement of board vision, fulfilled job products and compliance with executive imitations. Further, it is incumbent on the chief staff officer to objectively demonstrate to the board that achievement of board policy is occurring.

Good monitoring requires three specifics.

One: a stated gauge of predetermined key result areas. The data requested by the board is specific, never general. This information is judgmental in that it rigorously and intentionally measures achievement of predetermined criteria – criteria set by the board.

Two: type and method of reporting. Relative to type, reporting is either internal or external. If the information is supplied by someone outside the organization (independent financial auditor) the reporting is external. Data supplied by staff is internal. Method refers to format. Facts can be written, oral, graphed, charted, tabled, or diagramed. Data supplied by the chief staff officer is always historical or retrospective.

Three: timing. When and how often key result areas are measured must be defined. Determined frequencies for reporting helps communicate what the board thinks is most important. More specifically, if the board meets quarterly it must decide what data is most important to monitor or measure in each quarter. Should the board meet monthly it must determine the information critical to each month.

Once the monitoring process is determined, the board is in a strong position to celebrate and award achievement or effect timely corrective action.

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings detail and coaching to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Establish Vision: A Word Picture of Success

Vision is a buzz word in the vocabulary of every leader of every organization these days. That’s important. Unless an organization has a well defined preferred future toward which all strategic endeavors are aimed, it merely continues to execute the same thing over and over expecting different results – some call that insanity.

Don’t confuse mission with vision. Mission defines why an organization exists and what it does. Mission is described with verbs and objects. Mission statements reflect hard work, sacrifice and investment. Conversely, vision defines where the organization is going, what it intends to become and how it characterizes success. Vision is described with nouns and adjectives. Vision statements reflect creative thinking, innovative yet realistic descriptions of what the organization could look like in ten years. A true vision statement provides direction, destination and the stretch necessary to get there.

Some “do not’s” when writing vision:

1. Do not use verbs or objects
2. Do not include actions or means-related activities
3. Do not include people, programs, buildings or forms of education
4. Do not use interim-type words like “try,” “examine,” “seek,” or “strive”
5. Do not use pretentious, cosmetic words or terms that exaggerate
6. Do not be vague – precise, realistic and achievable yet challenging is a must

“Layers” versus objectives. A very important concept in crafting a powerful vision. The word “objectives” has been applied in management settings since the 1950s or earlier; and when used they prescribe means-related activities or the “how to” for achievement. In the context of good governance boards refrain from engaging objectives. They leave such strategic planning work to staff or management.

A vision statement without definitive “layers” or “ENDs” (special terms in the context of board governance for defining vision) is open to anyone’s interpretation. Boards cannot afford to be vague when crafting vision. Layers provide necessary definition.

Here’s an example of a good vision statement (using nouns and adjectives) with defining “layers” from Starbucks. “The premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world.” Check out the “layers.”

1. Work environment with respect & dignity
2. Diversity in the way we do business
3. Excellence in purchasing & roasting
4. Satisfied customers all the time
5. Profitability is essential to success

Starbucks believes that if they achieve the layers (which may have additional layers under each of the five above) they become, by their own definition, “The premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world.”

When crafting vision the insights above can be very helpful.

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings detail and coaching to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

PO Box 5010 Bloomington, IL 61702
Phone:309-275-9734 or 309-287-0834