In November 2022, the Board of Directors of the transit authority serving the residents of Kalamazoo, Michigan – METRO – took two critical steps that have transformed an already effective Board into an even higher-performing, higher-impact governing body consisting of actively engaged and satisfied members. First, the Board adopted a “Role and Responsibilities Description” clarifying its detailed governing functions. And second, the Board put in place an updated standing committee structure aligned with the Board’s broad governing areas (such as strategic and operational planning and performance monitoring) and committee operating guidelines. The most transformative guideline requires the regular, systematic rotation of committee chairs and members to expand Board member leadership opportunities and in-depth exposure to all major governing areas.
As you’ll learn from the video interview I recently recorded with Board chair Greg Rosine and Executive Director Sean McBride (see the link at the end of this post), at this point, a little more than a year since the Board took these transformational actions, the new committees are firmly established and are functioning as highly effective vehicles for actively and meaningfully engaging Board members in shaping the Board’s governing decisions. This new structure has also – by enhancing Board members’ governing experience – significantly strengthened Board members’ satisfaction.
As most if not all of our readers well know, METRO’s success story is the exception to the rule in the public/nonprofit sector. Transformational change tends not to happen, primarily because of a formidable barrier: the very normal human resistance to far-reaching change like METRO’s in the governance arena. The secret to METRO’s beating the odds? Board ownership of the change. As Greg and Sean recount in our interview, they worked closely with Metro s governance consultant to build into the design of the METRO “Governance Fine-Tuning Initiative” early, meaningful engagement of Board members in shaping major change recommendations such as adopting the new committee structure. The METRO change process couldn’t be more different from the traditional – notoriously ineffective – approach of merely hiring a consultant to study the situation, identify issues, come up with solutions, and present a report to the Board.
For example, as Greg and Sean explain, at the get-go they created a Governance Fine-Tuning Steering Committee chaired by Greg and consisting of five other Board members and Sean to oversee the whole change process. This Steering Committee, to which the METRO governance consultant reported, played an active role in developing the agenda of a daylong Board-executive team “Governance Fine-Tuning Work Session” that was held in mid-July 2022, at which all Steering Committee members led breakout groups that assessed Board governing performance, identified governance issues, and brainstormed possible solutions. And the Steering Committee was not only actively involved in shaping the recommendations in the Action Report that was submitted to the Board, they also presented the key recommendations in the Report at the special Board-executive work session held in November 2022.
As they say, the proof’s in the pudding: Employing METRO Board members as actively engaged drivers of change, rather than as mere audience members, has resulted in a striking governance transformation that would have been far less likely to succeed without the power of Board ownership at work.