Episode 17: Why Term Limits are so important (and why Paul is so passionate about them)

It is widely accepted that Board members should have a term limit and in this episode Paul convinces Andrew that this topic is not only important but actually pretty exciting. Term limits offer an opportunity for Boards to develop leaders within the Board, plan out skill development, and help Board members focus on making an impact that outlasts their years of service. Prepare to be on the edge of your seat for a solid half hour and thank you for listening.

Reflection on Episode 15: Board Orientations, Meeting Packages and Governance in the News

We have very big, very exciting news! We’ve been informed that the Governance Guys is the 41st top-rated management podcast in Japan! With your continued support, we look forward to continually climbing the ranks.

We discussed a local news story that touches on governing in the pandemic, managing reputation, and conflict between a Board and CEO. An important observation is that sometimes board will have one hand tied behind their back when managing reputation. When legal proceedings are involved or where ethical considerations require the organization to protect employee or beneficiary privacy, the board will be limited in its ability to make sure its version of a story is heard. Sometimes reputational perception will be unfair. Board members need to have the tough skin to deal with this reality. To feel more comfortable making tough decisions, board members should make sure they have channels to hear different perspectives on organizational values, priorities, and strategies. As outsiders hearing these stories, we should recognize we likely are not hearing the whole story and show empathy to imperfect people trying to run complex organizations.

On board orientation, we recommend orientation for all new board members with an open invitation to returning board members. Inviting returning board members offers an opportunity to refresh their understanding of their role, but also allows an opportunity for creating shared understandings. New board members should connect with more experienced board members in a mentoring relationship and regular board development sessions should happen throughout the year. We’ll continue the conversation on board development in our next episode.

Andrew and I also discussed what we like to see in a board meeting package. I tried writing out a list of everything we mentioned. When I saw it, it occurred to me that we are demanding guys. Those high expectations though reflect a belief that good process can influence good decisions for the organizations we care about. Those high expectations also demonstrate that much is expected of those entrusted to oversee and manage organizations that have the potential to make important contributions to our communities. Listen to episode 15 to hear more.

Reflection on Episode 14: The importance of understanding your Board’s governance model

After a long hiatus, we’re back! Our guest this week was Marion Thomson Howell, President of Shaugnessy Howell and Executive-in-residence at Capacity Canada. With extensive experience serving on a variety of boards, Marion shared her expertise on different board models.

Personally, this was one of my favourite episodes. Marion clearly explains each model and the benefits and risks of each. We hope this episode will prompt anyone serving on a board to think about which model currently fits their board and which board model would best serve their organization.

Marion outlines four models of boards:

Working boards are volunteer-driven community organizations with no staff.

Traditional boards have staff but there is limited role clarity around the separate roles of the board and staff.

Policy boards clearly define the role of the board and CEO as well as expectations and key processes through policy. Policies are monitored to ensure compliance with expectations.

Results-based boards are more outcomes-focused. These boards receive regular reports on progress towards board defined goals and may be less prescriptive in defining processes that must be followed to accomplish the goals.

These models make it easy for us to compare different types of boards and to make some generalizations, but it is important to remember boards may combine some characteristics of different models and that boards are constantly changing.  

Further, a board may evolve between models. For example, a working board may become a more traditional board once it develops the resources to hire staff. Factors such as board composition and environmental pressures may prompt these changes.

Boards are not always consistent. One challenge may prompt a board to take a more results-based approach, but another might prompt a board to temporarily shift to a traditional model. Different projects may require different tools.

These models can also be aspirational. A traditional board may want to improve their risk management so will work towards the policy model. I tend to see these models as a progression, with a hybrid of the policy and results-based board as the ideal.

These certainly are not the only theories of governance or board models. There are different ways to explain and predict board behaviour, but Marion has provided us with a clear foundation for board members to understand their board’s work.

Episode 14: Understanding Board Governance Models with Marion Thomson Howell

If you were joining a dance group then you would want to know what kind of dance the group practices. If you were joining a football team then you would need to know the type of offence and defence the team uses. When you join a Board you need to understand its governance model. Boards have different ways of broadly looking at their role in their organization. There are many different models of Board governance and it is important to know which one your Board uses so that you can understand more clearly your role as a Director. Marion Thomson Howell, President of Shaugnessy Howell Inc., Executive-in-Residence at Capacity Canada, and Vice-Chair of the Board of St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener, Ontario, sits down with us to review 4 general categories of Board governance models and what Board members need to know about the implications for each model.

Listen on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/2Eb0OM5ZULc2bmxmQLT3HJ?si=cbvN5WrwSsmTLlBvmajPAw

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-governance-guys/id1506642067#episodeGuid=http%3A%2F%2Fthegovernanceguys.com%2F%3Fp%3D405

Episode 13: How your Board can measure progress with Valerie Sluth

So you’ve sorted out your organization’s purpose, mission, vision, and values. Then you wrote a magnificent strategic plan that clearly aligns these elements and considers the challenges of your external environment. Now what? Well now you get to track your progress – a step all too often missed for many organizations and Boards. Enter Valerie Sluth, CEO and founder of Praxis Consulting, Board member on multiple Boards, and management consultant extraordinaire. Val speaks with us about the balanced scorecard and how you can properly oversee and measure the progress you are making on your strategic plan and initiatives.

Episode 12: Strategy and the Board of Directors with Merv Hillier

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!

Reflection on Episode 11: Values at work with Dr. David Malloy

On Episode 11 our guest was Dr. David Malloy, Principal of King’s University College. Dave helped us understand what values are and how they can be put to work in organizations. Values-based leadership isn’t easy but boards shouldn’t shy away from it. Here’s what Dave had to say partway through our conversation:

Making decisions based on numbers is so damn easy. You know, the bottom line, there it is, let’s move on. Or making decisions based on policy, it follows policy, or it doesn’t. It follows procedures or it doesn’t. That’s the easiest form of decision-making. A favourite author of mine Christopher Hodgkinson calls those decisions “reducing to managerialism”. That’s so easy. The difficult decisions and the decisions that are leadership decisions are ones that are value based, because you’re going beyond policy, you’re going beyond the numbers to make a morally consistent choice. Those are more difficult decisions because they are a bit more amorphous than a number. I think that’s where leadership lives. That’s not where managerialism lives. That’s where leadership lives, at the realm of values. It’s hard.

So what did we learn? Dave gave us some practical steps on how boards can put values into action.

First, recognize your limitations. Boards may not be best positioned to identify an organization’s values but rather should initiate these conversations and listen to their employees and those they serve to identify values.

Second, for new leaders or board members entering an organization, observe artifacts and rituals to help understand what an organization values.

Third, recruit board members who have the same values as the organization and include values education in board training. We all have a general sense of what values are, but some training can help us develop a vocabulary for discussing how we put values into action.

Finally, use values as a screen for decision making. When your board faces a dilemma, identify your options, then identify how each option fits with the organization’s values. Keep those values front and centre so that members of the organization and community can hold each other accountable for practicing those values.

Episode 11: Defining Values with Dr. David Malloy

Organizations use the term “values” in strategic plans, policies, annual reports, and any number of other places. But what is a “value” and how should values play a role in conversations and decision-making at the Board table? Dr. David Malloy, Principal of King’s University College, is a philosopher and an expert on values & leadership. He sat down with us to define the concept of a value and to offer some advice as to how values should be intentional, explicit, and put into action throughout the organization – starting with the Board.

Reflection on Episode 10: The importance of good questions

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.