Over the years, I’ve often reminded participants in my workshops on board and CEO leadership that an organization’s “Strategic Governing Team” – the governing board, its CEO, and senior executives – has to answer a critical question over and over again: Do we merely inherit the board of today and yesterday – in terms of its governing role, structure and processes – or do we consciously fine-tune our board’s role, structure and processes in the interest of stronger governance? Answering this question on an ongoing basis means making a really high-stakes choice since, as you well know, in today’s rapidly changing, challenging world just standing pat, resisting change, is likely to exact a huge cost in terms of diminished effectiveness and resources. Unfortunately, the pressure to keep things the way they are can be daunting, primarily, in my experience, because of the siren song of comfort, ego investment in current practices, and just plain fear of change.
The good news is that many Strategic Governing Teams of organizations around the country are choosing to tackle updating their boards’ role, structure and processes, and, perhaps not surprisingly, they often have boards that are already doing an excellent job of governing. The good do, indeed, tend to want to get better, in my experience. My most recent example is the Strategic Governing Team of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), headquartered in San Jose, California in the heart of Silicon Valley. This past Friday, I was privileged to facilitate the VTA Strategic Governing Team’s “High-Impact Governing Work Session,” at which we reviewed dramatic developments in the rapidly changing field of public/ nonprofit governance and discussed practical ways to take the VTA Board’s leadership to the next level.
What really struck me last Friday as I facilitated the work session was the tremendous positive energy in the room. It was palpably clear that the members of the VTA Strategic Governing Team were not only sincerely interested in learning about developments in the governance arena, they were really open to the possibilities for change. I’m keenly aware that I can’t take credit for the change-friendly culture at VTA. It has a lot to do with the leadership of a board chair who is passionate and knowledgeable about the governing process – Ash Kalra, a member of the San Jose City Council – and a General Manager/CEO, Nuria Fernandez, who is truly board-savvy, putting the governance function high on her list of CEO leadership priorities. It also has to do with a solid VTA track record of leading change, including maintaining services and financial stability during the economic downturn of the past few years.
The next phase of VTA Board “reinvention” is well on its way, and I’m confident that VTA governance will be taken up a notch in the coming months. I’ll keep you posted.