The Savvy Director Blog

Welcome to The Savvy Director™ blog, a place to engage on board governance topics as you travel the path to being a savvy director. 

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Board vs. CEO

In last week’s Savvy Director post, I wrote about healthy tension among board members, and the need to prevent it from deteriorating into disruptive conflicts, or resolving the conflicts quickly if they do arise.

But there’s a certain kind of conflict that arises in the boardroom that I didn’t address – one that requires finesse and sensitivity to manage. I’m referring to conflict between the CEO (often called the Executive Director in the non-profit world) and the board.

The relationship between the CEO and the board is crucial, and has a huge influence on organizational success. The CEO and the board play different roles, but they have to pull together on achieving the organization’s goals. If they’re pulling in opposite directions, the organization is at an impasse.

Mutual trust is at the core of a strong board-CEO relationship. Of course, a harmonious relationship doesn’t guarantee success, but it can pave the way, clear out...

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Resolving Inevitable Conflicts

“Conflict is inevitable, combat is optional.” – Max Lucado, US author

As a board director, I find there’s nothing like robust boardroom debate to get me really engaged. After all, that’s what we’re there for, isn’t it? To wrestle with big, important issues; to help guide the organizations we care about around dangers and into a bright future; to make sound decisions in the interests of all our stakeholders.

But what about when the debate is not so healthy, when it degenerates into disruptive conflict? What are the consequences? What’s the impact on the issues we discuss, the guidance we offer, and the decisions we make?

And how can we deal with it?

 

What Boardroom Conflict Looks Like

It’s often said that ‘the board speaks with one voice,’ meaning that the board publicly expresses a consensus view. Getting to that consensus can be a messy process involving lively discussion, opposing points of view, and robust...

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Giving Back with Good Governance

From time to time, a Savvy Director reader has asked me to write about governance in the non-profit sector.

We can all agree that non-profit organizations (NPOs) play a vital role in our society. They provide services in many different areas including health care, education, religion, social support, industry and professional programs, amateur sports, and fundraising for medical research and public awareness.

These days, NPOs, like all publicly accountable organizations, face numerous challenges in a complex environment with heightened stakeholder expectations. Confronted with these challenges, well-governed organizations have proven to be more effective, and more likely to succeed, than poorly governed ones.

But directors on NPO boards may sometimes feel that those challenges and expectations are just too much. For example, a fellow director recently wrote to me as follows, inspiring the title of today’s blog post.

“When volunteers are recognized, it is for founding...

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The Strategic Board Agenda

If you’re like most directors, the first thing you do when preparing for a board meeting is check out the agenda. You want to get a feel for what to expect from the upcoming meeting.

Sometimes the agenda makes a lot of sense. The focus of the meeting is clear. The list of items for discussion is reasonable. There are some interesting, meaty topics to dig into. You find yourself looking forward to the meeting.

But let’s face it, sometimes the agenda is a dog’s breakfast. Multiple items have been crammed in, in no particular order. You know there’s no way the board will be able to get through all of it in one sitting. And the most important item appears at the end of the packed agenda. You can see what’s coming, and you dread it.

What separates a great agenda from a dog’s breakfast? The answer is planning, focus and collaboration. Good agendas don’t just happen. They require conscious effort. But the result is well worth it, because an...

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You're On Mute!

Virtual Board Meetings Post Pandemic

Without a doubt, “You’re on mute” was the most heard phrase during board meetings this past year. I encourage all directors and management people reading today’s blog to stop and take a moment of self-reflection and congratulation for a job well done.

You did this. You managed to get through an entire year of virtual board and committee meetings where few had previously been held. Remember what it was like a year ago? Everyone was learning on the fly. Board meetings were happening more frequently, and using technology that was new to most of us.

IT departments were swamped with requests for remote work arrangements and having to manage all the resulting cyber security risks suddenly foisted upon the organization. Webcams were sold out everywhere, laptops were in short supply, and Amazon was out of stock. And then what happened?

Somehow, we figured it out.

And from what I hear, virtual board and committee meetings are here...

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What Directors Get Wrong

Last week Ralph Ward interviewed me about how new directors should get ready for board meetings. Ralph is a writer, speaker, and publisher of the online email newsletter Boardroom INSIDER, a source for practical, first-hand advice on better boards and directors.

Since the topic was how to prepare for board meetings, I was more than ready to participate! I never turn down an opportunity to talk about our PREP Framework, a repeatable, reliable process for preparing for board meetings. (Click here to read more about the PREP Framework.)

Just as the interview was drawing to an end, Ralph asked me, “In your experience, what do new directors get wrong?”

His question got me thinking: What do directors in general – not just new directors – get wrong? (And then, of course, what can they do about it?)

Which leads to the topic of today’s blog post – my personal list of the top ten things directors get wrong. (Thanks for the inspiration, Ralph!)

And just to...

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What Must Go Right?

As I worked my way through a lengthy quarterly report recently – complete with tables, charts, graphs, and color-coded dashboard indicators – it occurred to me that there was very little there that would help me to anticipate what might come next.

The report provided lots of detail about what had been accomplished over the past quarter, the past year, and the past several years. From reading the report, I knew exactly where we’ve been been and where we are right now. Unfortunately, it gave me no idea where we’re headed and whether or not we’re likely to reach our destination.

It felt like driving forward while looking in the rearview mirror. It’s true that you should know what’s behind you, but you had better also anticipate what’s ahead of you!

Which brings us to leading and lagging indicators.

But first, how do Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) fit into the work of the board?

 

The Board’s Three Main Functions

It’s...

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Director Conduct - A Higher Standard

Lately there has been a bit of a furor in our local press about a government-appointed board chair who travelled out-of-country, contrary to public health guidelines. There have been dozens of letters to the editor, editorials and opinion columns on the topic, as well as the usual social media storm. All of this ended up with the government changing its position, stating that all appointees must refrain from travelling for leisure purposes or risk losing their positions.

Don’t worry. I don’t intend to weigh in on that controversy. It’s become quite political, and that doesn’t really fit with the role of The Savvy Director blog. But the situation gives rise to an interesting governance question.

 

The Governance Question

What caught my attention about this situation - from a board governance point of view - were opinions expressed by two government-appointed board directors.

One opinion was based on the argument that the offending behavior –...

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Take Your Board to the LAKE

The care and feeding of high performing board cultures has taken a hit these past months. This has been observed many times by any number of board directors in my network. I imagine you’ve heard the same comments.

Still, we should feel grateful for our near universal access to affordable virtual meeting software that makes it possible for us to meet in real time with actual faces in front of us and voices in our ears. Can you imagine the alternative experience if all those virtual meetings of the past year had been conducted by teleconference?

Even with video conferencing software, we’re learning that directors really miss the extra 'je ne sais quoi' that helps create a cohesive board team resulting from the extra touch points that happen at in-person meetings. Think about the brief social conversations that take place in the food line, during breaks, in the restroom, before and after the meeting, and maybe over a beverage afterward.

We all know that’s tough...

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Getting the Most Out of Committees

The Savvy Director blog usually focuses on the director role as it relates to the board as a whole. But in the past few weeks, I’ve found myself spending far more time on my role as a committee member. And that’s not unusual.

With committee work on my mind, it seems like a good time to write about board committees.

I like to include quotations in these blog posts, so I did a quick Google search on ‘Quotes about Committees’. It pains me to say it, but apparently nobody has ever had anything good to say about committees. Here's a sample of what I found:

“If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.”

“A committee is a group of the unprepared, appointed by the unwilling to do the unnecessary.”

“A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.”

And so on. You get the picture.

If committees are so universally deplored, why would you want to be on one?

First of all, committee work is an...

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