This instructive true story goes back almost 25 years. I’d worked really hard crafting what seemed like a pretty compelling report, recommending that the board and CEO of my client, a regional economic development corporation, take a number of important steps to clarify the board’s governing role, fine-tune its committee structure, and upgrade the process for board evaluation of the CEO’s performance. So I was taken aback at the special work session we’d scheduled for me to present the recommendations when several board members picked the report apart while the CEO sat back as a mute witness to my suffering. The bad news is that I took a beating while failing to generate badly needed change. The good news was in two parts. First, my failure happened at the very beginning of my consulting career. Second, I took the chastening lesson I’d learned to heart and made sure I wouldn’t ever again be caught in a similar situation.
What did I learn? Above all else that people who have been involved in some meaningful fashion in shaping recommendations for change are far more likely to feel ownership of the change recommendations and, hence, to support them. So over the years, I’ve tested some practical ways to engage people in shaping recommendations, for example, involving all board and executive team members in a daylong retreat aimed at reaching consensus on the need for change, or working with a significant number of board members in a task force charged to come up with recommendations. I’ve also learned that board members are much more likely to adopt change recommendations if they are presented by their peers on the board. It’s been at least twenty years since I’ve stood before a board – alone – presenting recommendations. Instead, I always back up a task force or committee of board members, who – as Change Champions – take the lead in convincing their peers to support change initiatives.
Speaking of ownership, you’ll be interested in an article that Rich Browdie, President and CEO of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, and I co-authored for a special LeadingAge e-publication on governance:http://www.leadingage.org/bettergoverningpartners.aspx. We describe how Rich, a truly board-savvy CEO, ensured that the BRI Board of Directors was intensively involved in shaping a dramatic strategic decision that board members ultimately owned and followed through on. You might also want to listen to Rich’s fascinating podcast describing the process of making this turning-point business decision: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbbri5kWqlo.