Dani Robbins

Archive for November, 2012|Monthly archive page

Engaging the Board

In Non Profit Boards on November 28, 2012 at 8:11 am

One of the most obvious signs that a Board is disengaged is quorum issues. If you have consistent issues with having enough Board members in the room to make decisions, I recommend you take a look at how your board was built and how it is being developed.

Is your Board built intentionally?

Intentionally looks like this:  There is a Board Development (also called nominating or governance) Committee that assesses the strength of your current Board, looks at the gaps, and puts together a list of prospects that are later vetted and voted upon, to fill those gaps.  The committee also plans for officer succession, Board education and evaluation.

Unintentionally looks like this:  A Board member invites someone to join the Board without a discussion with the Board Development Committee as to what the Board needs, or what the expectations for service are.  The person is not vetted, or told of the commitment required. There is no formal process that is followed, no education and no evaluation. Yet, the person is voted upon and joins your Board.

Once the Board is in place, intentionally or not, the next question is:  Is your Board engaged and are members being developed?

Most community leaders join Boards for the right reasons.  Sometimes not.   If someone is seeking to join your board for the wrong reasons, that will become obvious during the vetting process.  This requires you to have a vetting process, but vetting alone is not enough.  After a member is added to your Board, they must be engaged.  What we as nonprofit leaders do to engage and continue to engage members after they have joined the board is what makes the difference.

Engagement looks like this:  The vast majority of Board members are in the room for most meetings, you have 100% Board giving, each member acts as an ambassador in the community and your events and public meetings are well attend by members who bring friends and colleagues. The Board understands the organizations’ mission, programs and impact; participates in robust discussions; and actively seeks ways to support the Executive Director and the organization.

Disengagement, on the other hand, looks like this: People stop coming to meetings – leading to quorum issues. They stop coming to events. They stop volunteering for things. They stop giving or supporting the organization.

Once your Board becomes disengaged, quorum issues, which maybe the most obvious, are only the tip of the iceberg.  The problems underneath the surface include a lack of understanding of some or all of the following: their role, the Execs role, the finances, the mission or strategic vision for the organization and how programs support that vision.

By now you may be wondering about the level of engagement on the Board you serve.

Some questions for your consideration:  Are Board and committee meetings productive, engaging and worth the time to attend?  Does the Executive Director meet individually, at least annually, with Board members?  Is there a plan that everyone is aware of and working toward?  Are there strategic and generative discussions happening in the boardroom?  Is there meaningful work for individual board members to do?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no” or “I don’t know” I encourage you to put a plan in place to move your answers to yes. Talk to your Board members individually and ask about engagement. Ask about how they would like to be engaged, why they joined the Board and how you can make their experience more meaningful.

For the organizations with which I work I encourage a written plan detailing an intentional process to build and develop the board; annual retreats to set or recommit to strategic goals; board training on everything from how to read the financials, to raise money, to the role and responsibilities of the Board; and an annual evaluation process that assesses individual members as well as the entire board against the expectations and the organization’s aspirations.

Board engagement is critical to building an organization that moves the needle and impacts the community.  What’s been your experience? As always, I welcome your experience and insight.

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Names Withheld to Protect the Guilty

In Leadership, Organizational Development on November 1, 2012 at 8:27 am

The first Executive Director I ever worked for got mad at her boyfriend for getting a haircut when her mom was coming to town. She also had us fill out two time sheets each week; one that said 9-5 every day and one that listed the hours we actually worked. She offered some vague explanation on why that was reasonable. She wouldn’t let me read the grant that I was hired to implement.

I was 22, fresh out of college and didn’t know how completely and utterly wrong each of those was. (It was a victim services agency; I knew the haircut thing was a problem.) I received very little training, absolutely no feedback, and no explanation of what my job was or how my performance would be evaluated.

As you might imagine, this was not the most helpful way to learn how to lead. Most of what I have learned, I’ve learned the hard way, by trial and error and baptism by fire. I fear it is how most nonprofit professionals learn.

Worse than that even is that most of us have at one time or another worked for someone who follows the model illustrated above: the command and control model. I know that because it is how most leaders lead – regardless of field or tax status. It’s not the best way, but it’s the way most us have seen modeled and it’s the easiest. It’s also the least effective as it reduces employee engagement, which consequently reduces productivity.

The problem with command and control is this: one person gives the command and holds the control. That means everyone else does what they’re told. They don’t question; they just do. And what do they do when they’re done? They come back!

Command and control leadership looks like this: (Let me know if any of this starts to sound familiar.)
• There’s a line out your door, and not just of the people that report to you, but of all the staff. Because the culture says that even though people may report to someone else, you have the answers, and the decision making power and you use it.
• People don’t question your instructions, even when they know the instructions are wrong, even when they conflict with something you said yesterday, even when the instructions are stupid, or worse, dangerous. Because the culture says they can’t.
• People don’t actually know what their jobs are, what your expectations are, how you are going to evaluate them and what that evaluation might be based on; they are trying to do what you want, but they don’t really know what that is and they can’t read your mind.

To be fair, there are times when command and control is the right style, but more often a more innovative approach will be more successful. “Do what I say” and “think for your selves” are mutually exclusive goals. If you want people to think for themselves, consider moving towards a more innovative leadership style.

As most of us have not had the opportunity to see a variety of styles modeled, each of us has seen multiple lessons of what not to do and plenty of opportunities to learn things the hard way. The lessons we learn the hard way tend to be the lessons we never forgot. Here are two lessons that took me too long to learn but once I understood and could articulate them, the world – and my capacity for leadership – changed:

• HR systems must match organizational values.
• Being good at your job isn’t enough. You have to be on the team and moving the organization forward.

Just because it’s what we’ve seen doesn’t mean it’s who we have to be. Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives offers another choice and path to develop your leadership style. There are many leadership books out there. Pick ours up. Pick another one up. Choose the type of leader you wish to be: Find a model that works for you; find a coach, friend or colleague who can assist, champion and challenge you; and start! You and your team will be glad you did!

Lead on!

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