Why Association Boards Fail & How to Fix Them


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A panel of five association management professionals share eight case studies on why boards fail and how to fix them. This is a panel at the 2014 ASAE Annual held August 12, 2014.

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Why Association Boards Fail & How to Fix Them

  1. 1. #ASAE14 Why Boards Fail and How to Fix Them #ASAE14 LL9 Steve Drake Marilyn Jansen Randy Lindner Russ Lemieux Greg Schultz
  2. 2. #ASAE14 Your Panel Steve Drake Accredited AMCs Manage and/or work with 243 associations Greg Schultz Marilyn Jansen Randy Lindner Russ Lemieux
  3. 3. #ASAE14 Survey Says: • 141 participants • Rank 25 board failures by priority • Top 10 (based on # EXTREMELY)
  4. 4. #ASAE14 Survey Says: Top 10 Board Failures 1. Too focused on operational or tactical matters 2. Does not understand role of board vs role of CEO/staff 3. Failure to vet board candidates 4. Poor leadership = unproductive meetings, distractions, lack of organizational vision, etc. 5. Mission/program creep; lack of adequate resources 6. Lacks skills and/or experience to help lead 7. Don't adequately prepare for meetings 8. Inadequate structure & governance 9. Failure to ensure execution of strategies 10. Unable to make key decisions
  5. 5. #ASAE14 8 Case Studies Illustrate some of the key issues in boards that fail
  6. 6. #ASAE14 Strategy & Vision Engaging Leadership to Eliminate Deadwood Programs
  7. 7. #ASAE14 Strategy & Vision Engaging Leadership to Eliminate Deadwood Programs: Repair, Replace, Reinforce • International trade association • 500 memberships (representing 1,500 members) • $1.3 million budget
  8. 8. #ASAE14 Problem • Board allows mission and program creep. • Board fails to evaluate strategic priorities, program effectiveness, impact on staff or bearing on bottom line and make needed changes.
  9. 9. #ASAE14 Solution Steps 1. Complete comprehensive analysis of current initiatives 2. Ask board for insights 3. Identify areas for evaluation 4. Brainstorm new options to accomplish goals 5. Gain board buy-in
  10. 10. #ASAE14 Take-aways a) Evaluate all initiatives annually b) Survey the membership c) Engage leadership to develop priorities d) Track staff time by project to provide data needed to determine program’s true cost e) Present the “real” costs, to implement new programs, (including staff time), for accurate decision-making
  11. 11. #ASAE14 Roles and Responsibilities Who’s Board Is It?
  12. 12. #ASAE14 Roles and Responsibilities Who’s Board Is It? • National professional association • 2,200 members • 15 board members • $750,000 budget
  13. 13. #ASAE14 Problem • It’s the president’s board! • President appoints 50% of board members • Thinks his role is Executive Director
  14. 14. #ASAE14 Solution Steps 1. Educate the board on governance best practices 2. Educate the president on roles and responsibilities 3. Coach board president 4. Restructure governance 5. Reduce/eliminate appointments
  15. 15. #ASAE14 Take-aways a) Begin governance restructure early in current president’s term b) Effect change with successor c) Orient president and board early and often d) Utilize outside resources (i.e. CEO Symposium) e) Conduct leadership training
  16. 16. #ASAE14 Succession & Skills Synergy in the Boardroom: Chaos to High Functioning
  17. 17. #ASAE14 Succession & Skills Synergy in the Boardroom: Chaos to High Functioning • 2000 members • 16 board members • $1.75 million budget
  18. 18. #ASAE14 Problem • Lack of cohesion • Programs in silos • No mapping to mission • Subjective evaluation of services • Creativity without discipline
  19. 19. #ASAE14 Solution Steps 1. Demonstrated lost opportunities 2. Re-do on the strategic plan 3. Policy to ensure vetted proposals 4. Re-engineered board development process –Gap analyses –Year-long recruitment –Strong criteria for slating 5. Board training
  20. 20. #ASAE14 Take-aways Drive your Board to … a) Consistent business mentality b) Focus on mission, vision c) Embrace efficiency, structure d) Demand high-performance
  21. 21. #ASAE14 Strategy & Vision What Color is Your Shirt?
  22. 22. #ASAE14 Strategy & Vision What Color is Your Shirt? • National association • 350 members • 15 board members • $300,000 budget
  23. 23. #ASAE14 Problem • Board members spent time on trivial matters … like … • What color of shirt!
  24. 24. #ASAE14 Solution Steps 1. Called attention to trivia 2. Board time non-renewable 3. Coach board president 4. Board orientation 5. Modified consent agenda 6. Focus on strategic objectives
  25. 25. #ASAE14 Take-aways a) Focus board time b) Monitor performance c) Share weaknesses d) Coach the board chair e) Good board meeting management f) Consider consent agenda format
  26. 26. #ASAE14 International Governance Governing Board – Not Governing?
  27. 27. #ASAE14 International Governance Governing Board – Not Governing? • International professional society • 5,500 members • 15 board members • $880,000 budget
  28. 28. #ASAE14 Problem • Board members not engaged. • Did not know what they were asked to vote on!
  29. 29. #ASAE14 Solution Steps 1. Facilitate governance review 2. Develop new governance structure and election process 3. Increase in-person board meetings 4. Assure that all regions of the world were equally represented
  30. 30. #ASAE14 Take-aways a) Involve staff and legal counsel from the beginning b) Encourage member engagement c) Communicate early and frequently to gain buy-in d) Proactive messaging to avoid misunderstanding and political posturing
  31. 31. #ASAE14 Strategy & Vision From Administrative Management to Strategic Leadership
  32. 32. #ASAE14 Strategy & Vision From Administrative Management to Strategic Leadership • National professional society • 2,500 members from academia, media, nonprofits and commercial organizations • Annual budget of $1.25 million
  33. 33. #ASAE14 Problem • Board members understand their roles as management, not leadership • Board members have a vague sense that there is somewhere else to go, but no idea where • Board and staff roles are unclear, overlap
  34. 34. #ASAE14 Solution Steps 1. Hired strong executive director, increase staff capacity 2. Provide board and staff job descriptions, scope of authority 3. Acknowledge, validate and visualize with board. 4. Put strategic discussions on the agenda for the bulk of each board meeting – not at the end! 5. Reconsider the frequency and productivity of board meetings 6. Set goals and evaluate progress for association 7. Build trust… • between and among volunteers • between the board and the staff • between the president and president-elect 8. Improve the nomination process, and prepare new board members 9. Expose board members to best practices for association management
  35. 35. #ASAE14 Take-aways a) Capacity and expertise on staff makes it possible b) Earn the board’s trust and confidence by demonstrating respect for the organization’s traditions and culture c) Board members cannot become good leaders until they have seen good management d) Most people have more experience doing than leading e) Foster leadership continuity and skills f) Find a volunteer champion for change g) Make strategic thinking part of the culture h) Help the board connect the dots between their roles and results
  36. 36. #ASAE14 Leadership The New Chair: Stepping Into It
  37. 37. #ASAE14 Leadership The New Chair: Stepping Into It • International trade association • 400 member companies • 11 board members • $3 million budget
  38. 38. #ASAE14 Problem • Structure leads to inexperienced board • Micro-managers • Rogue chairs • Ignore policies, procedures • Dismissive of staff, committee chairs • Ill-advised initiatives
  39. 39. #ASAE14 Solution Steps 1. Amped-up communication 2. Leadership training 3. Chair roadmaps 4. Chair-elect orientation, training 5. Board allies needed 6. Rigorous leadership vetting
  40. 40. #ASAE14 Take-aways • Assess leaders early • Customize orientation, training • Trusting rapport set early • Strong nomination processes • Demanding leadership requirements
  41. 41. #ASAE14 Governance Yes, You Can Restructure Your Governance Model!
  42. 42. #ASAE14 Governance Yes, You Can Restructure Your Governance Model! • Healthcare certification board • 1,000 certificants • 15-member commission • 9 staff supported committees • $400,000 budget
  43. 43. #ASAE14 Problem • Top-heavy, complex governance structure caused 10 years of decision-paralysis • Losing revenue and board micromanaged staff with no measurable results
  44. 44. #ASAE14 Solution Steps 1. Reduce commission size and number of committees as part of proposal 2. Provide appropriate staffing model to accomplish governance changes 3. Add marketing role to boost development and growth
  45. 45. #ASAE14 Take-aways a) Do the needed research and engage board & stakeholders in decision b) Use momentum of change for significant long-term impact c) Engage legal counsel early d) Focus on what really matters e) ED critical to “push the envelope” f) Communicate, then communicate more!
  46. 46. #ASAE14 Resources • CEO Symposium for Chief Executive and Chief Elected Officers • ASAE Exceptional Boards Symposiums • Associations Now Leadership Issue • “Resources” section of ASAE Website • Board Source • Board Roles & Goals by Bob Harris • Govern More, Manage Less Harnessing the Power of Your Nonprofit Board by Cathy A. Trower, Ph.D. • Governing for Growth by Nancy Axelrod • Road to Relevance 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations by Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAE • Race for Relevance 5 Radical Changes for Associations by Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAE • The Dangers Of Complacent Leadership forbes.com (Aug 5 2014) • Managing Scope Creep: Newsletters, Publications & Resources – ASAE