During a recent “board-savvy CEO” workshop I was conducting, the president & CEO of a nonprofit economic development corporation provided the group with an excellent case example of turning her board members into satisfied owners of their governing work and, therefore, transforming them into partners she could count on through thick and thin. She began by explaining that the approach they’d traditionally taken to developing the corporation’s annual budget – in a nutshell, the finance committee’s sending the full board a finished tome filled with line-item expense detail that board members had to thumb through – had become a really big issue. For one thing, most board members found thumbing through so much detail an excruciatingly boring exercise that made them feel they weren’t making an important difference in the corporation’s affairs. For another, several board members had begun to take advantage of all the detail to indulge themselves in some classic micromanagement – for example, digging into the specific trips staff members were planning that made up the travel line-item.
The antidote? This really board-savvy president worked closely with her board’s new planning and development committee in tweaking the corporation’s budget preparation process by building in opportunities for board members to influence and shape the budget document, rather than merely wading through a mountain of detail at the end. For example, the planning and development committee would host two three-hour work sessions involving all board members early in the following year’s budget preparation process, well before any line-item detail had been filled in: the first focusing on major conditions and trends influencing revenue and expense projections and operational issues deserving special attention; and the second focusing on the various departments’ annual goals and performance targets and on significant innovation initiatives being contemplated.
This approach – designing process to engage board members in a meaningful fashion in order to turn them into satisfied owners of such major governing “products” as the annual budget – is a proven antidote to the erroneous assumption and insidious foe of a solid board-CEO partnership that I discuss in my April 7 article on this blog, “Governing Is Very Simply Policy Making.” Engaging board members is what the incredibly board-savvy CEO Cheryl Ronk, President of the Michigan Society of Association Executives, talks about in her new podcast for extraordinaryceo.com. Cheryl makes clear in her informative podcast that policy making doesn’t begin to describe the complex processes that make up the MSAE Board’s governing work.
I was struck by Cheryl’s positive attitude toward her Board, which she calls a “great asset,” by her commitment to continuous diversification of her Board’s composition, and by her orchestrating her Board’s influential involvement in updating MSAE strategic directions. You’ll be impressed by the practical wisdom that Cheryl shares in this new podcast.