This 12 Questions post is the first in a three-part series I will publish during the month of January. In each post, I will present four questions, and you are invited to join the conversation about Part I on Foresight First Live on Facebook this Wednesday, January 10 at 10 am EST.
Part I: Board Performance
As we begin 2018, it is crucial for association boards to prepare for what promises to be another challenging year. The relentless and powerful forces of societal transformation will continue to reshape every field of human endeavor, as well as the organizations that serve them, and association boards need to be ready for whatever might come next.
The 12 questions I will post over the next few weeks are offered to help boards think differently, spark fresh conversations and inspire a sustained commitment to capacity building. The first four questions below relate to how associations boards intend to nurture their high performance, both in the year ahead and over time.
Question #1: What are your board's orthodox beliefs?
Any serious effort to build a high-performing board must begin with the careful and consistent scrutiny of orthodox beliefs, i.e., the deep-seated and often sacrosanct assumptions that boards, staff and other stakeholders make about how the world works. (This examination process must include the orthodox beliefs of governing itself as well.) Orthodox beliefs are mostly invisible to us, which is why they can exert profound and often detrimental influence on the way boards pursue the work of governing if left unexamined, especially when it comes to exercising the duty of foresight.
Proposed Board Action: Surface and question orthodox beliefs through on-going deep conversations involving the board, staff and other governing contributors.
Question #2: What is your board's governing intent?
While most stakeholders have a rudimentary understanding of the roles that boards play, many aspects of the work of governing are less straightforward. Given the difficult and complicated issues facing both their organizations and stakeholders in the years ahead, it is essential for boards to be as explicit as possible about the outcomes they are striving to achieve through stewardship. In addition, by crafting a thoughtful expression of governing intent, association boards can make a public commitment to the duty of foresight and explain its beneficial impact on those they serve.
Proposed Board Action: Craft a "stewardship statement" to provide the clearest possible expression of the board's governing intent.
Question #3: How will your board manage its attention?
Association boards are typically composed of busy working people. Yet the most finite and precious resource that boards have is not time, but attention, i.e., the ability to remain focused and concentrate without distraction. The attention resources of association boards are already highly fragmented as a result of directors' other personal and professional commitments. Board presiding officers, working with their staff partners, must do more to help manage the attention of both individual directors and the board as a whole.
Proposed Board Action: Design a meeting agenda that wisely applies the board's attention resources by focusing on the most critical governing and learning priorities.
Question #4: What is the most important learning your board needs to do?
For many decades, the work of association governing depended heavily on the knowledge and experience of the board. The disruptive impact of societal transformation, however, is quickly rendering such past information less meaningful to future stewardship. To go beyond what (they think) they know, association boards must embrace intentional learning in all aspects of governing, and through the consistent practice of foresight in particular. By focusing their attention on learning with the future, boards will be able to prepare their organizations for a full range of plausible futures and strengthening their overall performance as stewards.
Proposed Board Action: Identify critical learning priorities the board can explore through a continuous learning cycle of sense-making, meaning-making and decision-making.
Key Points to Remember
- The on-going examination of orthodoxy, including the orthodox beliefs of governing itself, is essential to nurturing high-performing boards.
- Association boards can elevate their performance by making their stewardship intentions plain and working toward them with focused attention.
- The pursuit of intentional learning is the foundational imperative for the work of governing in the 21st century.
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