A key document for many Boards is the Strategic Plan for their organization. But what is strategy and how should the Board engage in setting strategy and overseeing its implementation? Merv Hillier is the founder of consulting firm Nuvision. He is an educator, CEO, and Board member and he sat down with us to talk strategy. If you are wondering how involved the Board should be in both the planning and execution stages of strategy then this is the episode for you!
When I lead board orientations, I always try to take myself back to when I first joined a board. As a new Board member, I didn’t understand much about the role of the board, how the group functioned or much about how the organization worked. Sometimes my lack of experience and knowledge left me sitting there with little to say. Or if I did have something to say, sometimes I would worry that my comment or question would be off base and I might embarrass myself. Board members I serve with now sometimes look at me skeptically when I tell them of my first year of near total silence. Although these feelings are natural, if you’re going to serve as a board director, you need to contribute something, you need so say something, you can’t just sit there in silence. You would just be taking up valuable space from someone else who could contribute something. A great starting point for any Board member to contribute to the work of the Board is to always be prepared to ask good questions.
I developed a list of ten questions I believe its always okay for board members to ask. I give this list to board members and ask them to put it on the outside cover of their governance binder so that they always have it handy to refer to during meetings if they feel they have nothing to say. On the board I chair, I encourage board members to “get their stick on the ice” by making sure they speak at least once each meeting.
When Andrew and I discussed doing an episode on my ten questions, we came up with a better idea. Why don’t we take advantage of the expertise of our guests and ask them what questions they think are always okay for board members to ask? I’m glad we took this approach because our experts suggested some questions I hadn’t thought of. I won’t spoil the episode by reflecting on their questions now, but we encourage you to check out this, our tenth episode, for a revisit with some of our guests for their insights on questions.
We have a lot more to say about the value of questions in board meetings, but too much for this short blog. If we hear you liked this episode, we’ll do another one in the future and will include more discussion on the value of questions in this space.
How does Cathy Brothers, CEO of Capacity Canada and “Governance Queen”, describe what makes Boards work well and what to avoid? Find out in this episode and listen as we glean some of her wisdom gained from decades of experience advising, supporting, and participating on Boards across the country.
Capacity Canada is also our resource of the week. Find more information about this great organization at www.capacitycanada.ca
Dr. Gillian Kernaghan is the President and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health Care London and she has been able to animate the mission of St. Joseph’s at every level of the organization. In addition to her role at St. Joseph’s, she is the Chair of the Catholic Hospital Association of Ontario. Listen in as she discusses the role that the Board plays in determining, protecting, and promoting mission as well as tips for making sure your organization remains focused on its purpose, its “why”.
More background on Dr. Kernaghan is available here: https://www.sjhc.london.on.ca/about-us/about-st-josephs-health-care-london/leadership-team
A Board’s role does not change in a crisis. The dual role of the Board to protect and direct (as Jim Brown writes in The Imperfect Board Member), remains in place whether your Board is on a summer break when times are great or when you are wrestling with the chaos of a global pandemic.
That being said, the intensity of the level of change in the external environment will require a Board to increase the level of attention they are paying to how the organization is faring. Plans for reopening for the year ahead not only need some consideration from the Board but those plans will benefit from the scrutiny of the people around the table. When businesses, schools, and offices were closed back in the spring, the next step was not to simply pop open the binder marked “What to do in a global pandemic when everyone is required to stay at home for several months and no one knows what is going to happen from day to day.” There is no step by step playbook that is guiding our organizations. There is, however, the Board and a dedicated staff who will put the best interests of the organization at the forefront of their decisions and who are armed with their set of questions to keep everything on track. Board members need to be mindful that their CEO will be likely dealing with frequent stressful situations while s/he is trying to make decisions “in the weeds”. As a result of the demand for the CEO to be looking inward right now, there is a heightened need for the Board to stay focused outward , with the mission and purpose of the whole organization as the primary lens.
In 2019, the Florida State University football team stopped using a conventional playbook for their season. Typically a team will have a thick binder of plays from which they will draw during a game so getting rid of a playbook was pretty radical. Here’s what one of the players said about the strategy:
Not having a playbook means that the players have to know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing at all times.
That means a lot of repetition. It also means a lot of time in the film room.
“We have to watch so much film and you have to stay around your coaches in learning so much because we don’t have a playbook,” Terry said.
“You have to be around and we have to stay focused and embodying and what you have going on because with no playbook, I can’t say it’s harder but it’s so simple we have to just stay focused and buy in.” (https://www.tallahassee.com/story/sports/college/fsu/football/2019/07/19/florida-state-buying-kendal-briles-no-playbook-offense-willie-taggart-james-blackman/1728926001/)\
I think there are some lessons for Board members here. In this time of uncertainty and in the absence of a “playbook”, be clear about your role, spend extra time understanding the challenges facing the organization, be prepared to ask tough questions, be supportive of each other and your CEO, and stay focused on the horizon and the mission.
After reviewing listener feedback and questions, it is clear that a common concern is on the minds of lots of Board members right now. How involved should a Board be in their organization during the unpredictability of a global pandemic? Paul and Andrew invite back governance consultant Fred Galloway to answer a listener question and dive a little deeper into this important topic.
Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-governance-guys/id1506642067
Listen on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7aDea06cFGCXdQTiONHaTM