By Robert Nelson, CAE
Robert Nelson, CAECEO
Nelson Strategic Consulting
CEOs are not always innocent when it comes to boards engaging in micromanagement. In fact, CEOs are sometimes culpable in creating and sustaining such behavior and are most often in a position to refocus boards on true board level work and what really matters. If you are tired of your board's micro management and you want create change, you must be willing to make undertaking such change a priority and be intentional about doing so.
In some cases, a dramatic change in culture is required. In other cases, it's more a matter of changing the behavior of some individual board members. Of course, the first step is to determine why your board micro manages. In other words, the first step is defining the root problem(s) / cause(s). Once you have done this you can craft a strategy and a plan to transition your board's culture or change the behavior of a few. Toyoda's 5 Whys and an Ishikawa Diagram are two methods you can use to determine root causes.
As you consider root causes, also ask yourself: What am I doing, or not doing, that may be contributing to Board micromanagement? Be brutally honest in answering this question.
The next step is to create your change strategy. This begins with creating a vision of the future state you are seeking and identifying the barriers that will impede that change. Likewise, you will want to identify factors (driving forces) in the current environment that can be exploited to facilitate moving toward the future state. Craft your strategy in a manner that strengthens the driving forces and weakens the barriers.
Although your strategy and associated tactics will be dependent on the root causes you uncover, following are eleven tactics that are often engaged to diminish or eradicate board micro management:
- Written job descriptions: Craft written job descriptions for each of the officers and for non-officer board members. In addition, make sure that you, the CEO, have a well-written job description.
- Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for board and CEO: Develop a document that clearly defines board roles and responsibilities versus CEO roles and responsibilities. Have the board formally adopt the document.
- Governing mission: Engage a governance task force in writing a mission specific to the board. This is different from your organization's mission; it simply spells out the mission of the board. Have the board formally adopt the governing mission then use it as a guide post for board involvement and as something to point to when the board's discussion or behavior gets off track.
- Governance training/leadership development: Design a comprehensive, formal training / governance development program for your board members. Don't assume your board members know how to govern well.
- Board member orientation: Develop a comprehensive board orientation process. A comprehensive board orientation is more than a single event or session. See Board Orientation: A Development Framework.
- Board self-assessment: Institutionalize a board self-assessment process. Effective board self-assessment programs act as training tools themselves, as well as provide a basis for developing a sound governance-training program tailored for your board's needs.
- Change board agenda: Use a strategic agenda rather than a traditional agenda. At a minimum, make sure the type of agenda items that are placed on the agenda aren't items that invite micro-management and that the agenda contains "big issue" items.
- Audit board materials: Review the briefing and background materials that you have sent to your board over the last year or two. As you review them, ask two questions: do the materials provide the board with the type of information that allows them to engage in board level strategic discussions and does the information / detail in the materials encourage micro-management?
- Key performance indicators focused on outcome: Make sure your strategic plan and annual operating plan contain measurable key performance indicators. By including measurable success outcomes in these documents, you can better keep the board discussions focused on outcomes rather than micro-managing at the tactical level.
- Nominating process: Key to effective governance is having the right people on the bus. Although a non-profit CEO should not be involved in actually selecting people for the board, a CEO does have a role in the nominating process. This begins with ensuring that a sound process is in place to identify outstanding, qualified candidates. In addition, the CEO should always be on the lookout for great candidates to be introduced into the process.
- CEO professional development: Ultimately, if you want to change a board's culture to one that does not engage in micro management, it will take persuasion rather than coercion. The more a CEO can develop his or her expertise, more effective he or she will be when it comes to leading by persuasion.
If you have a board that micro manages and you are contemplating setting out on a journey to change your board's culture or behavior, the road will be easier if you've cultivated a strong partnership with the Board chair. Likewise, it is always helpful to have 5 - 10 percent of your board on board as champions for change.
Robert Nelson, CAE is the CEO of Nelson Strategic Consulting.