Communication Governing Board Leadership

We recently completed a survey of a governing board I am a member of. We were seeking to identify the unanswered questions of board members as well as their ideas on how the board experience could be improved.

There is a good deal of national data that supports that overall, board members are dissatisfied with their board experience. Turnover is high because directors feel as if they are not contributing sufficiently to warrant the time commitment they are asked to make.

This same sentiment arose in our recent board survey. There are plenty of reasons for this. A principal one is that, according to national data, boards spend 60+% of their time dealing with what has already occurred; e.g. approving financial report, report of chief executive, etc.. What board members want is to feel that they are contributing ideas that lead to a better future for the organization.

But, how to get there? After all, time and commitment of directors is limited. I would submit that it is limited because what the time is spent doing is not engaging board members. Rather, they are passively approving what is fed to them.

Some thoughts on how to get there:

boardroom table with notepad
  • Bring in provocative speakers that address vital issues for the organization. Get folks outside their comfort zone, stimulate new thinking. I saw this when my wife had a pre-retreat meeting at our house of her church board. One of the members suggested watching You Tube videos of a South African clergyman who definitely was “outside the box”. Heads around the room were spinning and to a man and woman, people were saying, “I have never thought about these matters”, “we need to redefine ourselves”, etc. In short, provide opportunity for intellectual and personal growth at the meetings. Board satisfaction will go up, and potentially innovation in the organization will result.
  • Devote time at the meetings for presentation and then brainstorming on key issues for the organization. It takes courage for the CEO to call for this as it may disrupt the status quo, prevailing thinking and his/her plans. But, if the prevailing thinking and his/her plans are sound, they will ultimately prevail. What gets organizations in trouble is linear extension of today’s thinking and plans. At the root of this is the fact that all CEO’s and management teams have blind spots, and one of the key functions of outside board members is to identify them before they do damage. But, you have to allow time and process for this.

Begin with an open dialogue with your board members on their current level of satisfaction with the governance experience and how it might be improved.

What’s your experience? Send me what has worked and what hasn’t for your board via e-mail.

Bill Dann