Stop Blaming Your Boards for a Wrong Approach to Governance

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Today we published a newswire based on a BoardSource study, and the finding we are reporting on is that executive directors generally give their boards a B minus. The low mark is based on the fact that executives believe that boards over-attend to monitoring and under-attend to mission. Specifically, the report states, “The findings reveal that boards are generally better at technical tasks, such as financial oversight and compliance, than they are at adaptive work related to strategy and community outreach.”

Of course they (often) are. Haven’t we been recruiting them for those very skills for years? Using a matrix, we often recruit for skills bases instead of passion for mission. Well, you get what you wish for—in this case, technocracy over social vision.

There are other ways of recruiting board members and there are professionals who are willing to advise you from their own specialized skills bases outside of board meetings. In other words, you need not conflate these two things. In “Board Stories Involving Humans,” we talk about the need to test people’s appropriateness for board service in ad hoc committee work.

Here are some thoughts articulated in the article:

  • Asking a person onto your board whom you have not previously worked with on committees is pure folly in terms of group dynamics.
  • If you want a good board, have many routes for engagement through committee work. It takes more effort, but in the end you will have more volunteers—which, if they are happy, makes for more community support, donations, and ambassadors.

In other words, this is a conceptual issue. Stop following the unimaginative, isolated board norms of old, and begin to enliven your organization with real engagement . . . and see what happens then.

And stop blaming your boards.