February 11, 2021

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Ten Purposeful Provocations for Association Boards in 2021

Download a PDF version of the Ten Purposeful Provocations visual shown above.

With the future arriving with full force in 2020, the urgent challenge before association boards in 2021 is crystal clear: strengthen board performance to begin shaping a better future for stakeholders and successors.

To act on this imperative, directors, officers, chief staff executives, and other governing contributors must collaborate to establish a new shared point of view on board purpose, composition, structure, and work for the rest of The Turbulent Twenties. In this article, I share ten purposeful provocations to frame generative conversations and accelerate board reinvention this year.

Boards must embrace their voluntary service—Association board service is a privilege and a responsibility. It is also a choice that directors and officers must make freely every day and includes a binding agreement to perform at the highest possible level for the full duration of that service.

Boards must choose capacity over comfort—In the last year, external conditions of radical uncertainty, volatility, and risk have put association boards under extreme stress that required ongoing learning. Boards now must prevent complacency by intensifying their capacity-building even though it will increase their discomfort.

Boards must discard their orthodox beliefs—Orthodox beliefs are the deep-seated assumptions we make about how the world works. Boards need to confront the orthodox beliefs that keep them and their associations tethered to the past, prevent necessary learning, and undermine performance.

Boards must end inequities in their composition—Association boards are not diverse. To achieve genuine diversity and inclusion that strengthens performance, boards must strive to remove the longstanding structural inequities preventing the identification, recruitment, and selection of diverse candidates to serve as directors and officers.

Boards must pursue their stewardship with intention—As their association’s primary stewards, boards must concentrate on leaving those systems better than how they found them for the benefit of stakeholders and successors. A critical aspect of this work is inspiring all stakeholders to contribute meaningfully to stewardship.

"With the future arriving with full force in 2020, the urgent challenge before association boards in 2021 is crystal clear: strengthen board performance to begin shaping a better future for stakeholders and successors."

Boards must focus on the essential outcomes of governing—Association boards are trained to focus on governing’s traditional activities, including policymaking and oversight. In The Turbulent Twenties, boards must devote greater attention to the essential outcomes of governing: enabling the coherence, capability, and continuity of the systems for which they are responsible.

Boards must stand up for the future—For many decades, boards have waxed nostalgic for the past and protected the status quo inside their associations and fields. In this turbulent decade, boards must accept the duty of foresight and direct their agency toward shaping a different and better future.

Boards must step back from strategy—To reclaim the attention and energy they need to pursue the duty of foresight, boards must step back from hands-on involvement with strategy. In their place, associations should invite under-40 contributors to accept primary responsibility for shaping stakeholder value creation.

Boards must reject ideological division—Boards cannot permit the ideological division corroding our public discourse to interfere with the critical work of stewardship, governing, and foresight [SGF]. To prevent the politicization of facts and sustain expertise, boards must create a principle-centered context of collaboration grounded in shared trust.

Boards must sacrifice for their successors—Throughout The Turbulent Twenties, boards will need to take self-sacrificing actions for the primary benefit of successors. By prioritizing the long-term interests of people they will never know, directors and officers will honor the privilege and responsibility of their board service.

What do you think about these ten purposeful provocations? Please share your thoughts in the comments or email me at jeff [at] foresightfirst [dot] io.

Two Conversation Opportunities

If you would like to discuss these purposeful provocations, I am conducting two board reinvention conversations on consecutive days during the week of February 15.

On Wednesday, February 17 at 12 pm EST, I am speaking for the Association Xchange (formerly ASAE's DC Idea Swap) on the topic of "Ten Purposeful Provocations for Association Boards in 2021." Registration for this event is free.

On Thursday, February 18 at 2 pm EST, I am holding an AMA (Ask Me Anything) about Reinventing Association Boards on the new social platform Clubhouse. To let me know that you're interested in joining this conversation, please use the signup form. (If you're already using Clubhouse, please use the signup form AND follow me on CH.)

Jeff De Cagna FRSA FASAE, executive advisor for Foresight First LLC in Reston, Virginia, is an association contrarian, foresight practitioner, governing designer, stakeholder/successor advocate, and stewardship catalyst. In August 2019, Jeff became the 32nd recipient of ASAE’s Academy of Leaders Award, the association’s highest individual honor given to consultants or industry partners in recognition of their support of ASAE and the association community.