Improving knowledge-based governance
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Being asked to serve on a board is exciting. It is an opportunity to learn and demonstrate leadership skills, advance a cause and join a team. But the excitement wears off as the responsibilities of governance take over.
A knowledge-driven board improves outcomes. Good board members base their deliberations on fact.
Decisions guided by groupthink are to the contrary. That’s when the enthusiasm of the discussion drives voting. You recognize groupthink when you hear, "I voted for it because I thought the rest of the board would."
Start with a Question
Simon Sinek, author of the book "Start with Why," suggests great leaders and organizations are always asking, "Why?"
"Any organization can explain what it does; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why. WHY does your organization exist? WHY does it do the things it does? WHY do customers [members] really buy from one company or another?"
Asking questions is practically a fiduciary duty. Leaders should have the curiosity and courage to ask difficult questions.
To improve understanding of why items are being discussed, the meeting chair should open a discussion by explaining, "This is on the agenda because it’s a part of our strategic plan and supports our advocacy goal."
Trust and Verify
While questions are good, there is a respectful way to manage them. A good example is based upon the adage, "Trust, but verify."
It was a signature phrase of President Ronald Reagan who used it in discussions about U.S. and Soviet Union relations. It means to trust what you hear and follow up after the board meeting to allow more time for the substantive issues.
Avoid questions that delve into staff administrative details. Be leery of the board query, "I just have a question." Innocent-sounding requests take discussions down rabbit holes.
Ask directors not to wait until the board meeting to ask questions. There should be communication channels between directors and the officers, committees and staff to acquire information needed for decisions.
Recognize a Knowledge-Based Board
There are signs of a knowledge-based board. Any of these concepts can be adapted for improved outcomes.
Sounding Board — Directors monitor trends and needs of the members they represent. Maintain two-way communication channels so directors can receive input and exchange information. The information they glean will benefit board decision-making.
Comprehension — Directors need an understanding of their responsibilities and their role in knowledge-based governance. Provide an orientation and a leadership manual. Offer micro-bursts of continuing education from meeting to meeting.
Directors should be conversant in the areas of finances, risk awareness, strategic plan and membership trends. Discourage the nominating committee advising, “You won’t have to do anything when you get on the board.”
Economic Impact — The association wants to be positioned as the credible source of data and trend information. One association maintains a full-time staff economist. When directors have questions, the economist had the answers.
Without the budget for an economist, use resources available from a college, accounting firm, government reports or the national association office.
Dashboards — Dashboards improve understanding of the facts. They are a set of data (i.e. membership growth, conference attendance, finances) presented as charts.
Lengthy reports can be inconsistent and difficult to read while dashboards allow the board to see the same information as a chart.
Strategy — Directors and committees often say, "I have a good idea." A knowledge-driven board will ask, "How does your idea advance our mission?"
Nearly every discussion should be grounded by the strategic plan. With limited resources, some proposals may have to be "parked" for future consideration.
Knowledge and strategy go hand-in-hand in a high performing board.
Infographics — Given a choice between listening to a report and viewing a concise graphic, opt for the graphics.
An infographic communicates information or a story about economics, jobs, impact, etc. Lengthy reports leave room for misinterpretation. The adage "brief is better" is usually true.
Benchmarking — Every business sector has some sort of benchmarking reports available. They facilitate the ability to compare a current situation against external data. Associations most commonly compare operating ratios (budget) and compensation. ASAE and its state affiliates provide excellent data.
Continuous Improvement — Encourage the board to promote continuous improvement through various means of monitoring and evaluation.
For instance, the executive committee might meet twice a year to review strategic plan progress and committee performance. Nearly everything in the association can be measured and progress monitored.
Knowledge should be the basis for discussions and decisions in the boardroom.
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