“Well, to be honest, my role as a board member is apparently all about sitting through endless staff show and tell presentations and thumbing through documents that are essentially finished. If it doesn’t sound very interesting, much less exciting, it isn’t! I guess I feel more like an audience member than anything else, and I really doubt that I’m making much of a difference.”
All too frequently over the years I’ve gotten responses like this to a question I always ask when I’m interviewing board members in preparation for a retreat I’ve been retained to design and facilitate: How would you describe your experience on the board? My diagnosis of the situation is that many nonprofit/public chief executives don’t wear what I call the “Chief Process Designer” hat. They aren’t board-savvy enough to pay serious attention to mapping out processes for engaging their board members in a meaningful fashion in the affairs of their organizations. Consequently, these CEOs fail to transform their board members into satisfied owners of their governing decisions and judgments who make reliable partners for the CEO. Long experience has taught me that CEOs neglect their process design responsibility at the expense of a solid partnership with their board that can withstand the inevitable stresses and strains at the top of every organization. As my recent video interview with Bill Cronin, President/CEO of the Pasco (Florida) EDC, indicates, Bill is a truly board-savvy CEO who – wearing the Chief Process Designer hat – pays close attention making sure EDC Board members have a rich, energizing experience.
Board member engagement can take different forms. Beyond the traditional – and preeminent – role of board members in shaping and making decisions about such governing products as an updated strategic plan and annual budget, board members’ experience can be enriched by engaging them in creative problem solving that capitalizes on their experience, talents, knowledge, skills and professional passions. This is the subject of my recent video interview with Bill, who describes how the members of the Pasco EDC Board are invited to participate in ad hoc task forces that focus on specific issues, such as the county permitting process. The Pasco EDC has proved that such engagement not only enriches the board member experience, but also doesn’t have to detract from the board’s traditional governing role. The payoff for the Pasco EDC has been handsome. Not only has diversifying board member engagement through the use of task forces provided board members with a more satisfying experience, it has also enabled the EDC to more fully capitalize on the board as a precious asset.