I opened my first one-on-one coaching session with a new chief executive client a couple of months ago by asking him to describe the critical issues he was facing in working with his fifteen-member board of directors. He recounted a classic tale of woe: several board members getting into the executive management weeds, board meetings regularly running over five hours, abusive tirades directed at executive managers in board meeting – and more. “So what’s your prescription for turning what’s obviously a highly dysfunctional board into a really effective governing body?” I asked. His response: “They need a really comprehensive training session. Would you be interested in conducting it?” I told him that I’d seriously consider designing and running a governance workshop for his board, but that he should understand that training alone – while it would be a sensible first step – almost certainly wouldn’t turn the situation around. He’d have to follow it up with a detailed, systematic board capacity building effort.
I can’t tell you how often over the years that I’ve been working in the nonprofit/public sector governance arena I’ve heard CEOs suggest training as the solution for a dysfunctional governance situation. But there have been, I’m pleased to report, notable exceptions, and one of the most notable is the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). Eschewing a simplistic, quick-fix training solution, ACCE has on President and Chief Executive Officer Sheree Anne Kelly’s watch made systematic, well-planned board capacity building a top priority. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that ACCE has turned developing its board’s governing capacity into a fine-art.
The January 23, 2023 post at this blog, “Enriching ACCE Board Composition on CEO Sheree Anne Kelly’s Watch,” features my video interview with Sheree Anne, who describes the first major steps in ACCE’s very thorough, multi-year board development program: a number of initiatives aimed at diversifying the Board’s composition and systematically identifying qualified candidates to fill openings on the Board.
In my June 7 interview with them, Sheree Anne and her Board Chair Christy Gillenwater describe the next major step in ACCE’s comprehensive Board capacity building effort: initiatives they are spearheading to elevate Board member engagement, including, for example:
- Creating more robust agendas for Board meetings, by, among other things: staging roundtable discussions of strategic issues with external experts; and holding micro-sessions at which board members share their chambers’ innovation strategies and management practices
- Holding regular meetings of a “brain trust” consisting of the current, past, and incoming Board Chairs and the CEO, who discuss Board development needs and critical issues meriting Board attention
- Engaging Board members in shaping long-range goals and strategies early in the ACCE strategic planning process
- And employing Board members in reaching out to important external stakeholder organizations and fostering strategic partnerships.
One of the most important factors accounting for the success of ACCE’s Board capacity building initiatives is the strong leadership and support of a cohesive Board Chair-CEO Strategic Leadership Team. Christy and Sheree Anne see the Board as an organization within the wider ACCE organization that can and must be continuously and systematically developed to ensure sound governing decisions and judgments. And they devote serious time and attention to board capacity building, making it one of their top-tier leadership priorities.