Is your organization in need of a governance system redesign? One of the biggest frustrations non-profit CEOs face is underperforming or ill performing boards. The cause(s) can be embedded in the current structure of the governing system, governance practices or governance policies or any combination of these. Likewise, the solution can be found in changing the structure, updating practices and/or policies.
Although the task of transitioning your board to a high performance governing body can seem overwhelming, it can be best accomplished if you are intentional about determining where you want to go and how you want to achieve your change objectives. First, you have to understand where you are and what high performance governance looks like.
It is also important to be open to the fact that no one governance approach may be ideal for your organization and a hybrid approach may be best depending on your organization’s life cycle stage or culture (or desired culture). In the end, the goal is to create a system that facilitates the governing body’s ability to engage in best practices, and efficiently and effectively fulfill the governing needs of your organization.
Ultimately, you will need the support and willingness of the board to make the necessary governance changes. However, before you approach your volunteer leadership, it is important that you fully analyze the situation and develop a suggested plan for moving forward.
Steps to Governance Redesign
- Determine or clarify why you want to change the system.
- Formulate a vision of what a high performing board/governance system would look like for your organization.
- Identify what isn’t working right and the root problems/causes for the underperformance. A thorough understanding of the current governance shortfalls and their root causes is critical and will inform your decision on whether structural changes or changes in practices are in order (or both), and to what degree each may be necessary.
- Identify what is working well from a practice and structural standpoint.
- Craft specific objectives for your governance system redesign. What, specifically, do you want to accomplish?
- Design a proposed process that the organization can follow to evaluate the current situation, and explore and adopt appropriate governance system changes.
- Consider the pro’s and con’s for engaging a governance consultant.
- Identify potential governance change champions on your board. Hopefully, you will be able to recruit your chairperson as the chief change agent.
Now, you are ready to recruit your change champions. Start with your board chairperson, with the ultimate goal of recruiting 5 to 10 percent of your board as governance change champions. When approaching your champions, it is important that you share your vision and communicate the need for change using positive terms; don’t criticize the current structure or practices, instead focus on the positive outcome(s) of governance redesign.
Once you have your champions on board, you will probably want to have the board form a governance task force. Depending on the how strong the desire for change is across the entire board, the task force could either be charged with evaluating the current governance system and making change recommendations, or considering options and making a recommendation on a process that could be engaged to review and make governance system change(s), as appropriate.
Of course, one of the first items the task force should consider is whether or not to engage a governance consultant. Then, the task force should engage in steps 1 through 5 above, prior to crafting specific recommendations for change. Although as a CEO you initially engaged in steps 1 through 5 above, it is important that the task force collectively engages in these same steps. After all, it is the collective vision of the board that is important, as is their perspective on what is working and not working, and why.
As the task force deliberates, it should consider what objectives could be achieved through changes in governance practices and what objectives are better achieved by changing the structure of the governance system. Some objectives might be best met through a combination of structural change and change in practices. Engaging in comprehensive root problem analysis and having a thorough understanding of best practices and the roles and responsibilities of a board are key to the design process.
Finally, the task force is ready to design a new governance system and make recommendations to the full board.