The dream job is one which allows you to make a difference, inspire others and share in the applause and cheers for the team you are on—every day. Good thing it’s so energizing because it takes a lot of energy and emotional strength to keep at peak performance—including weekend board meetings.
I’ve been living this dream for 30 years with boards of directors of more than 600 national organizations—all with boards considered “private.” There are many more private boards than public corporation boards and these private boards include associations, certification commissions, non-profits, school boards, city councils and family businesses which do not sell their stock to the public, such as Albertsons and PricewaterhouseCoopers, just to name a few. For the most part, these board members are volunteers who receive no pay and are there to make a difference about something that matters to them. They are the brightest bulbs, the smartest leaders in their chosen industry or profession. When united in a vision, a cause, and funded by those they benefit, they are awesome and unstoppable.
Do Boards Matter?
Do we need boards and commissions at all now that the world is virtual and the organizational charts were disrupted by the reality that any customer or end user can find and approach the CEO of the organization though LinkedIn, Twitter or any other app on the CEO’s smart phone?
We violently agree with thought leader John Battelle, a founder of NewCo, who tells us business is the single most important agent of change in our society, and right now, our society desperately needs fundamental change. John showed us that our half-century run of Milton Friedman-driven “profits at all costs” capitalism is coming to a close, and we need new solutions to our systemic crises of economic sustainability. Now that we see the world through that lens, Vicki and I agree with John: “These solutions won’t come from some magical, top-down governmental edict. They’ll come instead from hundreds of thousands of decisions taken, one by one, in board rooms around the world. And if those board rooms are filled with diverse, thoughtful, independent minds, a new, more sustainable approach to business will emerge.”
The Nightmare Side of the Dream
The nightmare side of the dream did not come to mind until I met Vicki Hawarden last year. She’s been working with private boards as long as I have and brings a ton of wisdom and truth to a new conversation we started around why boards matter. That brings us to the few, bold questions Vicki and Georgia have dared to ask the all-powerful boards. We know there is something to these questions because we haven’t been fired or tossed out of the board meeting; rather, most just say “I never thought about it that way.”
The boards who cannot answer these questions are causing the nightmare. Until now, Vicki puts on her consultant waders and goes into the swamp, trying to fix or change dysfunctional boards. Until now, Georgia wraps up her engagement of creating and launching a new certification enterprise or guiding the board to the preferred future they always wanted, and moves on to the next board, the next inspiring adventure.
Be The Change You Want to See
Gandhi got it right. Instead of railing in the wilderness about ideas that seem painfully obvious to us, Vicki and Georgia agree it’s time to “Be the change you want to see in the world” and put the questions in front of the boards who have all of the power to win, change the game or corrupt. Here’s our handful of questions and we encourage you to write to us at info@nullCommunicators.com if you have better questions—or great answers.
We’ll be taking these questions into every board that invites us back and to new boards of directors we will meet or discover this year:
#1-Who died and put you in charge? We’ve wanted to ask this question for a long time. By what criteria and process did you get to fill that seat at the board table? Because this is a private board, there are no stockholders, so do you know who your owners are? Essentially, you, who make the rules for others, what is your strategy for holding yourself accountable for good work? What is you plan for ensuring someone who is better than you and “trained up” even smarter than you can take your place when you leave?
#2-Starting with certification enterprises, can we ask you to live by the same processes you create for others? We’re going to start with those who already know us instead of expecting to hear from board members we’ve never met. If you are a board that creates bodies of knowledge, recognizes training courses, builds and administers exams, and awards certification marks, what are you doing to create a training program for board members? Why not follow your own values of recognizing expertise by issuing a “badge” for board members that you use as a prerequisite for running for a board seat? It won’t help everyone avoid the toxic board member, but it could put some board members on notice before they run that there are conditions they should meet and if they can’t meet them, they shouldn’t run.
#3-What is your accountability? To whom and for what? Board members find they have great authority and power to make a difference or totally corrupt. Most start out wanting to make a difference. Many still do. What systems and staff and resources have you put in place to stay totally in touch with those you are supposed to serve? Are most of your conversations around what you learned recently that your customers, end users or focus or your organization expect to see next? And expect to see it coming from you? Or did you waste time bickering about a budget that has very little data from customers to support your arguments?
#4-Do you know the business you are in charge of? This is not a trick question. People who are brilliant at running their own business are not necessarily good at running an association, a school or a city. Professionals may be thought leaders in their particular profession, yet may know nothing about what makes an association or credentialing enterprise start, run, and finish in the black each year. Before we put people on boards, so massively in charge of more money than they’ve ever seen in their own checking account, can we step back and find out what experience, training or credentials they have to be in charge of this specific kind of business?
#5-Would you load software into a system not designed to work with it? Of course not. Then why does your board allow one or two disruptive board members to hold hostage the entire agenda of the board? Does your board have a system set up to govern effectively? Do you have performance standards set up for how board members are supposed to show up (prepared and professional)? Does your board have ways to get over or around obstacles created by their colleagues who are not working for the good of those to whom you are all accountable? If not, in the worst cases, your board becomes a source of corruption that ends up with all members of the board and the CEO being removed by those to whom they are accountable. It doesn’t happen every day but when it does, it makes headlines and shifts the culture. The customer base, the citizens, those most affected by the board always find a way to say “enough” and when then get activated and moved from their comfort zones—watch out. Here’s one example: Citizens asked an entire board to resign because staff embezzled and the board utterly failed in its obligation to provide proper oversight of the owners’ (citizens’) money. http://www.wbrc.com/story/36341666/residents-ask-for-remaining-green-pond-water-board-to-resign
Are You Ready for Reboot?
If any of this resonates with you, tell us your story. Vicki and Georgia are now turning their 30 years of experience and reputations as the guys with the white hats, guiding boards up the high road to a totally new and bold approach. Because we know how to put a board together and make it run like the winning system crossing the finish line at any NASCAR track, we know how to take it apart and make it run even better. We would like to help organizations blow up their current board and start again–to improve performance and results–with a few raging visionaries, full of passion and driven by a cause, a focus, a greater good. They are the ones who want sustainability and include Generations X, Y (Millennials) and Z (never knew a world without cell phones) in their plans to actively seek, “mentor up” and collaborate with that board room that John says we need to achieve.