The Master Key to High Performing Boards

An effective strategy cuts through the clutter and focuses on what will make a difference. If you had to choose one area of focus to improve the performance of your Board, what would it be?

In High Performing Boards, Gazley and Bowers report that the “benefits to be gained from a more strategic orientation are universal,” yet 47% of Boards spend less than 25% of their time engaged in strategic thinking and discussion.

Here are some actions that can strengthen the strategic thinking capacity of your Board.

Create a Strategic Plan: Having a properly developed strategic plan is an absolute must. Not only does the plan provide a strategy for the organization, it can serve as the centerpiece for engaging in strategic dialogue during regular Board meetings. Surprisingly, Gazley and Bowers report that 25% of organizations either don’t have a plan or the plan was created without Board involvement.

Improve the Board Selection Process: Make sure that intellectual curiosity and strategic thinking are on the list of attributes you look for when considering potential Board candidates.

Ongoing Governance Training: Board development must go beyond new Board member orientation. It must be ongoing and regularly focus on developing critical thinking skills and the role of the Board in developing strategy.

Strong Volunteer Leadership Commitment to a Strategic Direction: It is not uncommon for a Board member to lead a discussion “into the weeds.” It is paramount that Board chairs are committed to keeping the discussion on a strategic level. The top two key attributes for evaluating a Board member’s candidacy for Chair should be the individual’s strategic thinking ability and her / his commitment to developing the Board’s strategic thinking capacity.

Clearly Defined Roles and Responsibilities: Clearly articulate the difference between the role and responsibilities of the CEO and those of the Board. The Board’s role and responsibilities could be in the form of a Board member job description or a list of Board responsibilities. Clearly articulate the Board’s strategic role and the CEO’s responsibility for operational issues. Have the Board actually adopt written roles and responsibilities, which can be referred to as necessary.

Agenda Design: Agenda’s should be full of strategic issues and void of operational issues. Make sure the agenda raises strategic questions and stimulates strategic discussions, as opposed to raising operational issues. Spending time on framing the issues in a strategic manner may be well worth the investment. Organizing the agenda around pillars in your strategy is a useful tactic to keep the Board engaged in strategic discussion.

If you had to choose one area of focus to improve the performance of your Board, what would it be? Would it be building the strategic thinking capacity of your Board or something else?


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