This 12 Questions post is Part III of a three-part series I am publishing during the month of January. You can read Part I here and Part II here. In each post, I will present four questions, and you are invited to join the conversation about Part III on Foresight First Live on Facebook this Wednesday, January 31 at 10 am EST.
Part III: Critical Governing Priorities
In the first two parts of this series, I wrote about the importance of nurturing high-performing boards and the imperative of intentional learning as the underpinning of a 21st-century approach to governing. The rationale for building truly capable, learning-focused boards is to address the profound governing challenges that associations must confront right now and in the years ahead.
To situate these challenges in context, association boards will benefit from adopting a new and more helpful definition of governing: an intentional and dynamic process for enabling the coherence, capability and continuity of the system. Working with their staff partners and other contributors, boards must govern to ensure the systems for which they are responsible 1) understand their reasons for being and the outcomes they intend to achieve (coherence), 2) can take effective action to make progress toward achieving those outcomes (capability) and 3) can thrive even as they confront the disruptive impact of societal transformation (continuity).
The 12 questions in this series are offered to help boards think differently, spark fresh conversations and inspire a sustained commitment to capacity building. The four questions below present some critical governing priorities that demand the immediate attention of all association boards during this calendar year.
Question #1: How will your association seat a truly diverse board of directors within the next 12 months?
After years of pleas and admonitions to take action, it has become impossible to ignore the continued inability of both corporate and non-profit boards to achieve greater diversity of composition and greater inclusion of fresh thinking. Unfortunately, multiple recent reports also suggest a lack of willingness within some organizations and boards to fully embrace the absolute necessity for greater board diversity along all dimensions, including (but not limited to) age, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status. For association boards, the message is crystal clear: there can be no more excuses and no further delays. To reassert their governing legitimacy and renew the trust and confidence of all stakeholders, associations must take action this year to seat truly diverse boards of directors.
Proposed Board Action: Identify and remove any impediments, especially the constraints created by legacy governing documents, that may prevent your association from seating a more diverse board of directors within the next 12 months.
Question #2: What are most significant risks your association must anticipate and prepare to address?
As part of their fiduciary responsibilities, and consistent with the duty of foresight, association boards have a crucial role to play in anticipating, understanding and preparing for potential risks. In today's world, in addition to financial and legal risks, boards also must focus on business model, political, reputational and technological risks. On this last point in particular, cyber risks, including algorithmic risk, data security and privacy protection, are now areas of concern for corporate boards and should be for association boards as well. While boards are not responsible for managing any of these risks directly, they must create the stewardship conditions that build organizational resilience, responsibility and readiness to enable effective staff action.
Proposed Board Action: Develop a robust set of risk principles to guide your board's policy-making and decision-making, and facilitate the design of effective risk management practices and processes by staff.
Question #3: How will your association achieve long-term thrivability?
The disruption created by societal transformation is a source of both threat and opportunity for associations. It also offers association boards an excellent chance to rethink how they approach the work of building their organizations to thrive in the years ahead. To accelerate innovation, boards should step back from direct participation in crafting short-term strategy, and invite new voices who bring a more empathic understanding of stakeholders' problems, needs and outcomes and new ideas to address them, to advance that work. At the same time, boards should concentrate their attention on learning with the future through the work of foresight. This kind of focused and intelligent collaboration with other capable contributors will enable boards to maximize stakeholder value creation, develop more adaptive and resilient business models and create a shared sense of responsibility for nurturing long-term thrivability.
Proposed Board Action: Organize a thrivability team that includes both board members and other contributors to connect your organization's strategy, business model and foresight conversations.
Question #4: What is your association's responsibility to society?
Most associations exist, either explicitly or implicitly, to serve their members. In 2018, however, association boards must look beyond those more specific interests to consider how their organizations can be positive contributors to solving broader societal problems. Climate change, health care access, immigration and income inequality are just some of the pressing challenges that demand action, and association boards cannot afford to ignore them. In addition to the clear strategic, business model and moral considerations these issues raise, younger stakeholder cohorts are deeply concerned about these problems and will take notice of organizations that choose to act in the public interest and strive to build a better future.
Proposed Board Action: Connect your board's commitment to the duty of foresight with its commitment to addressing societal problems through governing intent.
Key Points to Remember
- Board diversity is an essential condition for both high performance and effective learning, especially through the work of foresight.
- Understanding risk is a critical board responsibility and essential to any effort to nurture long-term thrivability.
- Association boards must make a clear connection between their stewardship responsibilities and their organizations' responsibilities to society as a whole.
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